RS/MP Lesson 13: “Doing Our Part to Share the Gospel” (George Albert Smith Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on July 7, 2012
On p. 135 of the manual, Pres. Smith noted that the Church’s members “are esteemed for their virtues” and that critics
are quickly divested of their unjustified prejudices, by coming in direct contact with the Latter-day Saints in their daily lives. . . . They then judge us by our fruits, from personal observation, and such information, as they impart it, can have but one effect , and that most favorable to us.
I don’t know about you, but although I remember hearing claims like this growing up, I haven’t heard this claim for a long time and the idea of taking it seriously is rather startling. How true is it, really, that the interaction with the Saints has “but one effect” that is “favorable”?
In thinking about just one case, the one that I know best (i.e., me!), I’m afraid I can think of a large number of examples where non-members’ impression might have been less than favorable. Thinking about these examples is sobering, but also instructive. Most of these negative examples in my own life can be traced back to a laxity on my part that is actually rather easy to correct.
This is one of the themes I see in the lesson: sharing the gospel is not so much a matter of making some heroic effort to do something unnaturally bold or courageous; rather, it is mostly a matter laxity—that is, of being attentive to opportunities as they arise rather naturally in the course of our lives attuned to the Gospel. In fact, my experience is that making “unnatural” efforts are much more likely to fail compared to simply being constantly vigilant and aware of “natural” opportunities to discuss the gospel with our friends as the arise. (I was recently called as a ward missionary, and this is the explicit instruction that was given to me with the calling, so if I’m reading into the lesson a bit, this is why. But I’ll elaborate more below.)
On pp. 136-137, Pres. Smith says:
I am grateful to have a host of friends in the various churches of the world, scattered in different places. I am grateful for those friendships, but I will not be satisfied until I can share with them some of the things which they have not yet received.
What strikes me about this admonition is the way that sharing the Gospel is so intimately related to natural friendship. I find sometimes that I make discussion of the Gospel awkward. That is, when a Gospel issue is arising naturally in conversation, I have sometimes gotten nervous and self-conscious, and secretly (often self-deceptively) taken some action to avoid discussion of the Gospel because I was afraid to go there—or, if the conversation did end up veering in a Gospel direction, my own self-consciousness made the conversation awkward rather than natural.
My wife and I were talking with a neighbor from our ward recently about the deeper sense of friendship that we have because we our members of the Church. The degree to which we cherish this friendship attests to a sense in which our friendships with our nonmember neighbors are stunted. Being aware of the sense in which we are not as close with our nonmember friends as we are with our member friends can help us recognize those parts of our life that we have cordoned off from our friendships with nonmembers. (Oftentimes I think we are closer with nonmember friends than with member friends, but I am referring to the aspects of the friendship in which our membership in the Church makes us closer to our member friends.)
Pres. Smith continues on p. 137,
It is not necessary for you to be called to go into the mission field in order to proclaim the truth. Begin on the man who lives next door by inspiring confidence in him, by inspiring love in him for you because of your righteousness, and your missionary work has already begun.
Again, I like how missionary work is described as a natural part of being a good neighbor and friend, rather than something distinct or separate from this relation. The following quote on p. 138 strikes me as being in this same vein:
There should be in our hearts a desire to share with every other soul as far as possible the joyous truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
On my reading of this admonition, our effort to share the gospel should follow naturally from our sacramental covenant to have the Spirit with us always. As I reflect back on my failures as a missionary and neighbor-example, it is ultimately a failure to really live in accordance with my sacramental covenant. That is, I get distracted by other concerns, with the various cares of the world that hamper my relationship and enthusiasm for living the Gospel.
On p. 138,
Remember, we all have responsibilities. We may not be called to some definite duty, but in every neighborhood there is opportunity for each of us to radiate a spirit of peace and love and happiness to the end that people may understand the gospel and be gathered into the fold.
I like the non-definite description offered here, that we may not “be called to some definite duty.” In this sense, missionary work is not a planned or controlled activity that accords with preset agendas. Rather, we are to live by the Spirit, which “bloweth where it listeth.” This requires constant vigilance, on the one hand, but it also entails a feeling of being alive on the other hand. We can’t just come up with a missionary plan and then go on autopilot.
I am a big fan of soccer, and having just finished watching Spain win the Euro 2012 Final, I can’t help but think a bit about the difference between American football and soccer. Perhaps there is an American tendency in us to want to follow predesigned plays where there is a preset play with a set of actions given to us which we just have to execute. That is, after all, how I think we often read the scriptures, as a kind of playbook of concepts and principles that we just have to re-familiarize ourselves with from time to time and then execute. This playbook attitude toward scripture often seems to get in the way of our being able to really feast, and to become fully engaged with our whole mind, might, strength, and soul, in pondering, looking, searching, and praying how to respond in truly new ways to the text of the scripture and it translation to the fabric of our lives. This is very different than reading the scriptures and living in our more frequent tendency to default to autopilot-living-the-Gospel mode.
Well, my time is up. What parts of the lesson pique your interest? How are you planning to teach this lesson, if you’re a teacher? What parts of the lesson do hope to see more discussion of?