I had the chance to speak in church again yesterday. Much smaller audience than last time, and a topic that might not have as broad of an appeal to a general audience. That said, if you’re looking for my personal thoughts on how to share the Gospel, look no further. As one might expect, I have a bit of a different take on it than the classic “Go out and ask all your friends to talk to the missionaries” take. Anyway. Here’s the talk in its entirety:
Sharing the Gospel
Confession time. When I hear the phrase “Sharing the Gospel,” my first instinct is to duck and cover. Images of being asked to go to my friends and challenge them to take the discussions come to mind, and those that know me can attest to the fact that this is a very un-Bryce-like thing to do. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking to people about what I believe. I’m right at home discussing my faith with just about anyone, anywhere, and I’ve got the track record to back that statement up.
No. It’s the discomfort of doing something that I personally would rather people not do to me. We’re taught to avoid hypocrisy in the church, and the plain truth is that if someone were to approach me and ask me to have representatives of their religion over to teach me about their beliefs, I’d shoot them down as politely as possible, but without ever seriously considering their request. I’m uncomfortable with having strangers in my house, and I’m even less comfortable being jolted out of my routine.
It doesn’t feel right, making a request of others to do something I wouldn’t do myself.
So you’d think I had it pretty rough as a missionary. I’m not sure exactly how things are run now, but back in the day, the first thing that sprang to mind when I heard “missionary” was an image of people knocking on doors and accosting strangers. Let’s just say I was excited to go on a mission, but I was much less excited by the thought of tracting. Still, it seemed an inescapable fact of missionary work. I wanted to be the best missionary I could be and the ideal missionary in my head was one who had no hang ups with going door to door.
The first few days in the Missionary Training Center weren’t the easiest for me. It seemed like I was different from so many of the other missionaries there. I didn’t take things as seriously, and I wanted to have fun while working hard at the same time. Was I going to have to squelch the fun-loving side of myself for the next two years? The thought was more than a little depressing, but it seemed inevitable. After all, that ideal missionary in my head was hard working from morning to night. The primary song “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” says the goal is to “teach and preach and work.” It doesn’t say anything about having a good time while you’re doing it.
It got to the point that I was dreading the next two years. I felt like I was going to fail as a missionary before I ever began. That I’d never realistically be able to even come close to that ideal missionary in my head. And so I did the only thing that made sense. I prayed for help.
I read over the experience in my journal to prepare for this talk. January 17, 1997. I still remember it well today. The feeling I got in response to that prayer is hard to describe, but it was very clear to me: I hadn’t been called to that mission in spite of my personality. I had been called because of it. God knew my quirks and tastes, and He was placing me into a spot where those quirks could be assets, not negatives.
I learned that evening that my thoughts about an ideal missionary were off base. There is no single ideal missionary—a perfect example of every aspect of missionary work. But there was an “Ideal Bryce Missionary:” me operating as the best missionary I could be.
Once I could stop focusing on being something I wasn’t, and instead being the best “me” I could be, it became much easier to succeed, or at least to feel like success was an option. This is a principle that I’ve applied many times in my life since then, and I’ve seen it at work in other people’s lives.
Often in the church, we try to take a one-size fits all approach to living the Gospel. There are standards, and ways to live those standards, and if you don’t fit them, then it’s assumed that you’re doing something wrong. I’m not trying to say that the ten commandments are up to some interpretation, but the directive to share the Gospel certainly is.
My grandfather passed away earlier this month, and in the days after his passing, I had the chance to reflect on his life quite a bit. He wasn’t necessarily an outgoing man. He preferred to get things done behind the scenes, although he could be a force to be reckoned with back behind that curtain. My uncle told a story about him at the funeral. My grandfather was the organist for the Tabernacle Choir for almost 27 years, and when he retired, President Hinckley threw him a big party. In the middle of the party, President Hinkley rose to give a speech, calling for quiet.
“Today is a great day,” he exclaimed to the room. “Today is the day we’re getting rid of Bob.”
It was certainly meant in good humor, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the sort of drive my grandfather had. He’d get an idea in his head, and he wouldn’t stop until that idea became a reality.
I don’t think I ever saw him go out on splits with the missionaries. He wasn’t the sort of person who was up front leading church meetings or jostling for leadership roles. That wasn’t who he was. But he’d cultivate relationships and find ways around obstacles that seemed insurmountable.
At Temple Square, next to the Tabernacle, there’s a building called the Assembly Hall. Back in the seventies, the church was trying to decide what to do with it. At the time, prevailing wisdom was that it should be torn down to free up space on Temple Square. My grandfather heard that idea and went into action, drawing up plans to turn the Assembly Hall into a world-class concert hall. He designed an organ for the space and used his connections to make that vision a reality, securing donations from private donors. Today, it’s a beautiful building, and they hold many concerts there year round.
When he was called on a mission to the BYU Jerusalem Center, it came with a fairly big caveat: there was no proselyting allowed. The Center had been the focus of quite a bit of controversy in Jerusalem, and the church had signed very specific agreements to reassure citizens we weren’t coming there to “convert the Holy Land.” So in a situation like that, where you couldn’t bring up religion at all, how could you be an effective missionary?
My grandfather found a way. The chapel where we have sacrament meeting at the center has a glass wall at the front. You sit there, and all you can see outside is Jerusalem spread out in front of you. The Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s all there, with a spectacular view. It also happens to have a great organ.
Not long after he arrived, my grandfather started weekly concerts at the center, arranging for visiting musicians of any faith to come perform each Sunday night. When I went there as a student, I had the chance to go to some of those performances. They drew in people from across the city, and they changed the view many people had of the Center, turning it from a strange place for foreigners to a venue many locals admired and loved to take advantage of.
Through his music and his work, my grandfather was able to share his testimony with many people, but he did it in his way, using the strengths he had. I’d like to think each of us can do the same thing.
We hear the phrase “Share the Gospel,” and we immediately think about going door to door, or approaching our friends and giving them a copy of the Book of Mormon. Don’t get me wrong: those are excellent ways to share the Gospel. But they’re not the only ways. They’re not even (necessarily) the best ways.
There’s no “ideal member missionary” any more than there is an “ideal missionary,” but sometimes I think when we’re challenged to share the Gospel, we might be tempted to dodge the challenge. “I tried that once. It didn’t work for me.” “All my friends know I’m a member already.” “I’m too scared.” But when we think of those excuses, we’re pigeonholing ourselves into a single gospel sharing approach.
Imagine a different scenario. A scenario where when everyone hears that challenge, they look at themselves and their lives and they come up with their own unique way of rising to meet it. Maybe it’s by doing increased service in their neighborhood. Perhaps they start sharing gospel talks on their Facebook feed. They might just look for ways to increase their own testimony to make it easier to share it with others.
However they do it, they follow a few simple steps. First, they involve God in the decision making process. God knows each of us individually, and I believe He’s put us in positions where we can do the most good in our lives. By asking Him how we can best fulfill his requests, we have a much greater chance of actually accomplishing them.
Another thing I’ve learned through my years of being in the Church is that God doesn’t turn down an honest effort. Sometimes we can be tempted to go into decision lock, where we don’t know what the best choice is, and so we make no choice at all. As if only the one right choice matters, when that isn’t it at all. What matters is that we take action. Any action.
In D&C section 60, the early church members are in a situation similar to what many of us find ourselves in. They’re not sure how to go about sharing the Gospel. In verse 2, Christ says, “with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.”
Some hear that phrase, “open their mouths,” and they think only of going up to people and challenging them to learn more about the Gospel. It’s where the focus often ends up. But we ignore the other part—the tailor made part. “The talent which I have given unto them.” God has blessed us all with different strengths. Which do you think He would prefer? That we all try to use the same approach toward sharing the Gospel, or that we all try to use the best approach that works for us, individually?
Later in section 60, Christ continues to instruct the early saints on how to open their mouths and share the Gospel: “Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.”
“It mattereth not unto me.” Think about that phrase for a moment. How the saints got to St. Louis was immaterial. What mattered was that they got there. There was no one best way. Any way would work.
I do my best to involve God in all of the major decisions in my life. I try to make the best choice whenever possible, and I pray about those choices quite a bit. But sometimes I don’t have time to look at something from every angle. Sometimes I’m not certain that the choice I’m about to make is the best one. What do I do then? I don’t just sit back and do nothing. I pray and tell God the choice I’m going to make, wait to see if there’s any last impressions, and then moved forward as planned, confident at that point that if I were making any big blunders, God had plenty of chances to have me pump the brakes.
Sharing the Gospel is much more than a one note effort. Plink away at the same note or in the same key for too long, and you miss the chance to explore the whole instrument. It’s my hope that we can each add a few octaves to our ranges as we strive to do the things God wants us to do. I know that as we involve Him in the decision making process, we can’t go wrong.