Well, it’s not as if this is top secret stuff I’m going to be writing about here, but I’m not sure how interesting it’ll be for non-Mormons, so if you’re a coffee drinker, this one might not be for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I was having a conversation with my brother over the weekend. He was recently called to be the Ward Mission Leader in his congregation. (An assignment I had for over a year here in Maine. I wrote a talk on my thoughts on the calling back when I received it.) In our chat, he expressed his frustration with some of the expectations placed on Mormons when it comes to missionary work. And let’s be honest: they are legion. It’s easy to feel at times (if you’re a Mormon) that unless you go to work each day with an “I’m a Mormon” button on your shirt and have a minimum of three gospel-related discussions with non-Mormons, then you aren’t fulfilling your God-given duty to spread the Gospel.
Which is complete hogwash, if you ask me.
But why it’s complete hogwash didn’t snap into place until I was in the middle of that talk with my brother. And once it did snap, I knew I had to blog about it.
One of the things I love about Mormonism is how inclusive it can be. I know that sounds strange–especially if you’re not a Mormon. (Why are you still reading this, by the way? Did you not read the bit at the top about how it was going to be boring for you?) From an outsider’s perspective, we can be pretty darn insular. We have strict rules about what we can eat or drink, how we should dress, what sort of language we ought to use, and that’s omitting that huge bit about gay marriage that we’re just not going to get into in the middle of this post. But believe me, once you know a fair number of Mormons, you start seeing that we’ve got a lot of variation between us. Let’s put it like this: we’re a church that can have Glenn Beck and Harry Reid both be active, passionate members of our religion.
I’d say that’s pretty inclusive, wouldn’t you?
But even putting politics aside for a moment, there’s a lot of inclusion in the way people can live their religion. You’ve got commandments that give a great deal of latitude for personal interpretation. “Keep the Sabbath day holy” might mean nothing but scriptures and hymns to one family. It might mean walks on the beach or heading out sledding for another. What I mean is that there are “things we’re supposed to do,” but we’re given a lot of leeway in how we choose to do those things, generally speaking. In fact, Joseph Smith even has a quote that’s often referenced that directly applies to this: When asked how he managed to govern so many people so well, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
And that’s how it is for many things in Mormonism–at least in my experience. Yes, there can be overzealous Mormons who get mad if another Mormon is doing something they don’t think is appropriate, but life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking about what you’re doing. This is a religion where you do your best in the way you see best (within a certain definition of “best.”)
When it comes to missionary work, I think this degree of personal choice isn’t as readily embraced, and it should be. The way it’s usually portrayed in the church, we’re all supposed to be always actively looking for ways to inject discussions about Mormonism into our day to day lives. For opportunities to shove a Book of Mormon into someone’s hand whenever possible. It’s like if we don’t invite ten people to church each week, we’re not doing our job.
Don’t get me wrong. If any of the above describes what you do, and you’re comfortable doing it, good on you. I’m not writing this post to say you shouldn’t do that. I’m writing to ask why is it that those who share the Gospel in another way should be made to feel like they’re doing it wrong? (I’m also not here trying to defend myself. I’m comfortable with how I share the Gospel. But I know of many people who aren’t.)
Really, there are tons of ways to share the Gospel. I personally find the most rewarding being the approach to simply be an active Mormon and not be afraid to let people know that. If you’re an active Mormon–really living the Gospel to the best of your ability–then you will be doing some things that normal people don’t do. You will also not be doing some things that normal people do do.When people ask why you are or aren’t doing something, tell them. If they have questions, answer them.
It’s that easy.
But instead of that personalized approach, I feel like [an] approach [sometimes] preached in the church* comes down to a certain scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, a monologue by Alec Baldwin. (I’d link it here, but it’s got some harsh language, and the irony of having an f-bomb laced tired in the middle of a post about sharing the gospel would not be lost on me. But it’s very famous, and it’s a fantastic piece of acting and film.) Baldwin plays a high-powered salesman come to encourage some minions to be better at selling. The top two salesmen for the month will be given prizes. Everyone else will be fired. They’re all encouraged to ABC–“Always Be Closing”. Here’s a snippet that’s clean:
This is not how sharing the gospel is supposed to be. The Gospel isn’t something you shill on QVC. It isn’t something you have to ram down people’s throats. It’s something that’s supposed to be making you genuinely happier on a day to day basis. Something that improves your life and brings you comfort and peace. That’s what it does for me. I’m happy to share that with others if they want to hear about it. Why wouldn’t I be?
Anyway. My main point is that I feel like Mormons should be encouraged to share the Gospel, but the how should be up to them, just like with many things in the church. (I wrote an extensive piece on this idea about four years ago–it’s really good stuff, if I do say so myself. Check it out.)
What are your thoughts, Mormons? Do you see this same sort of thing happen? It’s not really like that in my current ward, but it’s been like that in a lot of other wards I’ve lived in in the past. How do you share the Gospel, and what are your feelings about it? (And if for some reason you’re not a Mormon and have still read all the way to the bottom of this post, congratulations. Also, do you have experience with Mormons who wanted to talk about religion with you? Would you care to share an outsider’s perspective? I’d love to read it–just keep things civil.)
*NOTE–I realized after I posted this that I’d used some wording that made it sound like this post was directed at all church missionary work. Not my intent, and I’ve tweaked a few words to reflect that.