As promised, I did a lot of sitting and listening over the weekend (and yes, perhaps a healthy bit of napping too). But there was a lot of listening, I swear. And in all that listening, one talk stood out to me personally more than the others. Don’t get me wrong–there were a lot of talks that stood out to me. A lot of food for thought. But the one I felt the most connection to was Elder Bednar’s discussion about why Mormons are so big on preaching the gospel to everybody.
Why did it stand out to me? Because he managed to pack two different messages into one single talk, addressing two different audiences in unique ways, while being interesting (I think) to both. That’s quite the feat of rhetoric, but he pulled it off very well. On the one hand, he’s speaking to non-members, explaining why Mormons are so eager to knock on doors.
The stereotype is clear enough that it carried a whole Broadway musical: chipper young men, going from door to door across the globe, trying to talk to strangers about how awesome the Mormon church is. That’s pretty much what that ad for the musical (posted at the top of this article) says in a nutshell. I think the easy justification people like to use for why Mormons are so chipper is because we’re all deluded, brainwashed, or just plain simple-minded.
I think Elder Bednar does a fantastic job of giving a fourth alternative: that many of us are just flat out sincere. He gives a lengthy account of how his sons helped each other out when they were injured, and how they then went to help their friends out, as well:
Why did that little boy do what he did? Please note that he immediately and intuitively wanted to give to his friends the very thing that had helped him when he was hurt. That little boy did not have to be urged, challenged, prompted, or goaded to act. His desire to share was the natural consequence of a most helpful and beneficial personal experience.
Many of us as adults behave in precisely the same way when we find a treatment or medication that alleviates pain with which we have long suffered, or we receive counsel that enables us to face challenges with courage and perplexities with patience. Sharing with other people things that are most meaningful to us or have helped us is not unusual at all.
But at the same time, Elder Bednar is talking to members, as well–telling them in a subtle way how they ought to be sharing that Gospel they love. Take this quote, for example:
When we invite you to attend church with us or to learn with the full-time missionaries, we are not trying to sell you a product. As members of the Church, we do not receive prizes or bonus points in a heavenly contest. We are not seeking simply to increase the numerical size of the Church. And most importantly, we are not attempting to coerce you to believe as we do. We are inviting you to hear the restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ so you can study, ponder, pray, and come to know for yourself if the things we are sharing with you are true.
He lists off those non-reasons fairly casually, and he gets a good laugh out of them, but they’re a distinct reminder to members about what sharing the gospel isn’t about. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about being right. It’s not some multi-level marketing scheme. It’s about individual relationships with God.
Longtime readers will remember a post I wrote a while ago that started a lengthy Facebook discussion. I wrote that post as a reaction to a discussion I’d just had. It’s fairly inflammatory, which represents my immediate feelings at the time. Would I still write it the same way today? Doubtful. Do I still hold some of those sentiments? Definitely. And Elder Bednar’s speech did a lot to talk to that part of me–the part of me that bristles over members’ approach to missionary work at times.
We need to remember to keep the focus on Elder Bednar and away from Glengarry. Sharing the gospel isn’t something that needs to be forced at all. When you’re truly converted, it practically shares itself.
There are other reasons the talk resonated with me–his mention at the end of absolute truth, for example–but those are the two biggies. Anyone else impressed by this one? What other talks stood out to you? Why? Please share.