Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Member Missionary Sunday School Lessons

Posted by robf on November 13, 2008

In our ward we’ve started a Member Missionary Sunday School class, based on the lessons found online at Elder Clayton M. Christensen’s Missionary Leaders website. This series of three lessons covers seven major principles of member missionary work, and our bishop wants everyone in our ward to rotate through the class over the next year or so.

I taught these lessons to our first batch of member missionaries this past month, and thought the format allowed us to talk about some very important concepts. I covered the main points of the lesson, but we also spent a lot of time talking about the plan of salvation rather than looking at some of the stories provided in the lesson outlines.

I won’t run through all the lesson stuff here, but just wanted to mention a couple main thoughts I’ve had and shared while thinking through these lessons:

1) Most members really don’t have faith in missionary work. We may have some sort of testimony or feeling that it is important, but we don’t actively nourish the words in our hearts that we need to in order to really share the gospel with others.

2) Probably this comes from not taking the gospel seriously enough. Oh, we may be “active” and all, but sometimes that becomes a false gospel of “activity” where we think everything is fine if we a) go to church, b) “do” our callings and c) can answer the temple recommend questions appropriately. While these are important, they don’t go far enough in really challenging our everyday view of reality and don’t bring the reality of the Atonement, covenants, angels, etc. into our daily lives–the very things that have to be living and breathing aspects of our personality.

3) Part of our complacency is that Satan has lulled us into thinking a) we’re OK if we are “active” and b) everyone else is OK just going to whatever kingdom in the hereafter that they are comfortable with. I’m OK, you’re OK!

I think this last part is an excuse we tell ourselves all the time to avoid sharing the gospel. The “my neighbor is a good person, who goes to Church, so who am I to tell them what they should do” syndrome (and its derivations). Something that’s been gnawing at me for weeks is something we discussed here on the Feast blog a little while ago–the idea that Satan’s plan was to take the possibility of exaltation off the table in order to prevent any soul from being able to become a Son of Perdition (ie. “lost” cf. Moses 4:1).

The more I think about it, the more it seems to resonate with me. Which means, that everyone here on earth would have at one point before coming here made the choice that they at least wanted the option of exaltation–rather than just the possibility of a Terrestrial or Telestial glory. All our neighbors wanted this as an option–and we’re the only ones who can help bring that option to their remembrance through bearing testimony and inviting them to explore that option with us. When we think that its OK for others to just go to whatever church they want and get a Terrestrial or Telestial glory we are just ratifying Satan’s original plan. Ouch!

According to Satan’s plan, we wouldn’t have to do member missionary work, because a) we wouldn’t be needed and b) only He would have qualified for exaltation (God’s glory). According to God’s plan, we have to do member missionary work in order to a) help with his work and glory to exalt his children and b) so that we can become like He is.

So member missionary work is not just a matter of comfort zones for us or our neighbors. It is central to the plan of salvation–and if we neglect it, no matter how “active” we are, we are really missing the whole point and have been deceived.

Now to just help the members of my class see this and help them (and me!) shake off the shackles and cast off the blinders that we’ve allowed to be placed on us through our diligent “activity”!

Thoughts, comments?

24 Responses to “Member Missionary Sunday School Lessons”

  1. Julie M. Smith said

    I didn’t realize that there was mechanism for having SS classes that aren’t part of the correlated curriculum–how did your bishop go about getting approval for this?

  2. robf said

    Don’t ask, don’t tell?

    Elder Christensen, who came up with these lessons, is one of our Area Authority 70s.

  3. Matt W. said

    We’ve done this repeatedly in our stake. I believe there is room for this, a genealogy class, and for a “marriage and family” SS class, all three without official manuals, so far as I know. We cut them out because there weren’t enough people in our ward to sustain 6 adult sunday school classes. Now we are down to just Spanish GD, English GD, Gospel Essentials, and we may be restarting a “marriage and family” class.

    Our member missionary class focused on getting ourselves rock solid in the Gospel, then being open to opportunities as they come up.

  4. robf said

    We also have Spanish Gospel Essentials class, English GE, English GD, Family History Class, Temple Prep Class, and Melchizedek Priesthood prep class, but the last two just finished and only run occasionally. Then of course there is the “roaming the halls” class, which the ward council agreed to let me start taking attendance on, so we know who still can’t make it to class given all their options!

  5. Kim M. said

    robf, this is a *fantastic* insight. We often talk rather tritely about the necessity of missionary work simply in terms of the “blessings” it will afford converts, but I think looking at it in these terms is incredibly significant.

    The Celestial Kingdom is the *sealed* kingdom–the kingdom of families. That relationship (or at least the possibility of it) should hold sway over our actions. Our brothers and sisters came to earth hoping for the possibility of still being our brothers and sisters in the afterlife. By not doing missionary work, we’re denying our identity as sealed members of God’s family in mortality and, I would submit, jeapordizing its veracity in the hereafter.

  6. Bonjo said

    I think a member missionary class is a great idea.

    This is a bit off topic, however, but if that is Elder Clayton M. Christensen’s website, does anyone know why it doesn’t say so on the site itself (maybe it does and I just haven’t seen it)? There’s no name or information about who’s responsible for the content, other than some documents from stakes in the North East. I found a reference to some data he had collected, but it doesn’t indicate that he wrote the lessons. I suppose this is intentional since he can’t really lend his name to it given his current calling.

    This site has been attracting lots of attention in our stake, and I recently sat through a one hour training session where we did nothing but look at this website (even though there are suggestions that directly contradict counsel we’ve received from visiting general authorities in our stake — I guess I’m a “correlation” kinda guy at heart).

  7. robf said

    Bonjo, I hadn’t noticed. I suppose this is all I can say?

    Here’s the statement on the About page of this site:

    Though we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this site is not officially endorsed by the Church.

    At MissionaryLeaders.org, we strongly believe in the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the great good it has brought into our lives. As such, we wish to spread this message and source of happiness to those we know so that they can feel as we do. Our goal is to empower you with tools of missionary work so that you may do the same.

    By reading through these case studies, we hope that you can learn the principles that some great missionary leaders of our time follow so that you may preach and teach as they do. We pray that the Lord may guide you in your missionary efforts.

    So perhaps its just best to say that Elder Christensen contributed to this site? And others are involved somehow (the “we” in the first line of the About section).

  8. robf said

    Bonjo, more clues here and here.

  9. Julie M. Smith said

    “(even though there are suggestions that directly contradict counsel we’ve received from visiting general authorities in our stake — I guess I’m a “correlation” kinda guy at heart).”

    Such as?

  10. Robert C. said

    Thanks for sharing this, Rob. I liked the following quote from the teaching note on the “Elliott and Jennifer Quinn” case (my highlighting):

    I have found that the students who initially respond to this question [viz., was it good or bad for the Quinns to start by making a list of possible acquaintances to share the gospel with] believe it was an essential first step for the Quinns – after all, they needed to start somewhere. Almost always, however, if the instructor pushes for students who believe it was the wrong thing to do, students can be found who will note that some of the best converts to the church in their ward’s recent history were people who probably wouldn’t have been on any member’s list – because they didn’t look like “ideal Mormons” at the outset. Once this idea has been put into discussion, the instructor should draw upon the logic presented in the Sunday School lesson plan to help the students see that making the list was really a wrong way to approach the challenge. By calling on a sequence of volunteers from the class, the instructor should help students discover that we simply cannot know in advance who will accept our invitation. In fact, if history is any guide, those who look like “ideal Mormons” are probably less likely to be seeking deeper meaning in their lives than are people whose lives are in some way troubled. If there are current or former full-time missionaries in the class, some of them are likely to recall that some of their best converts “came out of the woodwork” in ways and from directions that they simply could not have predicted.

  11. NathanG said

    Elder Ballard is going to be upset, since making a list of people was an important part of the “Set a Date” program. However, I agree that it has its limitations.

    Rob: Great thoughts, I think it describes me fairly well, although I would never say I feel comfortable in my lack of missionary work. I think another problem is that we talk so much about sharing the gospel that it seems like it has to be something done perfectly. We teach people how to do it, we role play, missionaries are always bringing new finding opportunities. This results in making it seem either impossible to have the right conversation or a contrived discussion about the gospel. Then I see people from other churches talk so freely about their church and I wonder why I think it should be such a challenge to do.

  12. NathanG said

    One other thought about testimonies of missionary work, or a lack thereof. It’s ironic that when Christ visited the Nephites he told them at the end of the first day to go home and ponder the things that were taught and prepare to be at the temple the next day for more teaching. What did they do? They went around the land all through the night to tell people that Christ has returned so everyone could take part. On the other hand, we are told to go and share the gospel and instead we go to our homes and ponder over what we were taught.

  13. BrianJ said

    robf, I really like what you say here, especially the four paragraphs relating missionary work to war in heaven. Your numbered points kind of bugged me though—but maybe you meant them to. I’ve become increasingly frustrated by missionary work rhetoric used against me in order to get me to share the Gospel with my friends. I say “frustrated” and “against me” because, as I told one set of missionaries explaining a list-making program to me, “Look, they’re my friends, so I love them. If there was some way I could share the Gospel with them, I already would have.” I was irked and spat that out before I could bite my tongue. I don’t know which, if any, of your 3 points apply to me, but how would someone observing my missionary effort make that judgment?

    (I feel like I’m starting to get cantankerous, so I’ll stop for now. I had a bit more to say.)

    Nathan, interesting irony.

  14. Robert C. said

    I think BrianJ’s (only half-expressed?) concerns are important to get out on the table. One of the things I liked about the stuff I was reading on the website was the way in which it debunked (or at least started to debunk, on my reading…) the idea that we need to friendship others first, before inviting them to hear the gospel. The danger, of course, is that our friendships thus become disingenuous.

    I don’t disagree that we should foster genuine friendships with others who are not members of the church. And I think it is important that we make a conscious effort to do this because I think it is far too easy for us to hang out only with our immediate families and ward families, without ever finding occasion (because we’re simply “too” involved with our immediate and/or ward families) to spend much time with nonmembers. However, there is a very real danger here of being insincere, of fostering friendships that lead to an invitation to hear more about the gospel, and then, if the invitation is turned down, an obvious cooling of the friendship. I can’t believe that friendship can be built on a foundation where there is a hidden agenda, and far too often this is the pattern that is too easy to fall into with many member-missionary programs.

    At any rate, I really think this is a concern that deserves much, much more attention….

  15. robf said

    BrianJ, I appreciate the sentiments and feel free to elaborate on them. I’m really wrestling with all of this and appreciate the input. I don’t think we should use missionary work against anyone else as a weapon–because pretty much all of us are pretty miserable member missionaries. But I think most of us don’t think much about it at all and I would like to get us to think more about it–especially to help me in my own efforts. I’m on my third Stake/Ward Mission right now and I find it much more challenging than being a full time missionary.

    I like Robert C’s comments as well, and think that is one strong message of the MissionaryLeaders.org website.

  16. robf said

    For those who haven’t taken a look at the member missionary lessons linked to in this post, here are the seven principles of member missionary work outlined there:

    1) We succeed when we invite
    2) We must refrain from judging others’ receptivity and share the gospel freely “without any respect of persons”
    3) We need not and should not alter our relationship with someone before making a gospel invitation
    4) We must be honest, straightforward and sincere in making invitations to learn about the gospel
    5) We can actively participate in member missionary work in many different ways
    6) We can effectively share the gospel by inviting people to serve with us in the Church, rather than simply benefit from our service.
    7) We must seek guidance from the Spirit in responding to questions about the Church.

    I think these are some good guidelines, but since they all make sense, and knowing them still isn’t enough to motivate us to actually do much more missionary work, I’ve been thinking more about why that is. What is it that stops us from sharing the gospel more with our friends. Is it that we don’t know how to do it? I think this may be part of it. But I think one of the reasons we don’t know how to do it is we don’t really care enough to find out how. We’re not motivated.

    My initial take on this is that maybe we haven’t really thought it through…that we don’t take the plan of salvation all that seriously, and so we devise whole lifestyles where sharing the gospel just isn’t a priority. I don’t think we take the commandment seriously, or the consequences of the challenge seriously. For me, taking the pre-mortal life (and the nature of exaltation) more seriously is starting to make me re-evaluate my priorities.

  17. David Ellis said

    Years ago we did have a member missionery class during ss. It was designed around delivering 6 messages based on friendship, the church and the gospel. I still use these messages. They work. I only wish that the church didn’t get rid of the class. We baptized 50 to 60 a year and retained 90%.

    • Gene Huey said

      Yes, I’ve used those same messages to bring three families into the church, all temple endowed, sealed, and still active. I’m trying to get my ward and stake to use them but they don’t want to listen. It really saddens me. I’ve also improved on the “system” and have developed other tools as well.

  18. robf said

    David Ellis, thanks for popping in. Can you tell us more about these lessons? Thanks!

  19. Edward L Jones said

    Are these 3 week member missionary lesson plans still available? As a ward mission leader I would like to get a copy and use them in our ward.
    Ed Jones

  20. Gene Huey said

    Are you still open for suggestions? I have some really powerful member-missionary tools to share. I have brought three families into the church in the past few years and they have all been to the temple and are still active. I’m looking for a good way to share these tools. I am currently the High Priest Group Leader in my Ward.

  21. Dear Friends: I just now came upon your conversation above, and I decided that I needed to come clean. I wrote the member-missionary lessons that some of you have seen, and built and still maintain the website, missionaryleaders.org. I have developed a sense over these years that when members in our church don’t “magnify” their callings, occasionally it is because they’re not motivated. But most of the time, the problem is that they just don’t know how to do what they have been asked to do. This is certainly the case with sharing the gospel. Most of us want to share the gospel, but don’t know how to go about it. So the material in those lessons and on the website are my attempt to share with others what Christine and I have distilled from our attempts to be good missionaries.

    Many members in our church decide whether they can read and use something or not based upon whether it has an “authorized” brand affixed to the materials. Thankfully, however, there is a license that is free to all of us, in D&C 58:26-29, in which the Lord asks us to think stuff, write stuff, discuss stuff, and do stuff.

    I have kept by name in the background as best I can. My hope is that it forces the ideas to stand on their own weight; and forces readers to improve them and test them regardless of the assignment or calling that I or you have at any point.

    Finally, I broke down about a year ago, and decided to write a book that summarized what we have learned about how to be good member missionaries. I decided to put my name on it, and just this week Deseret Book, the publisher, has begun selling it. They are selling it at the lowest possible price so that as many people as possible will read it; any excess is given to the missionary fund of the church. I have been quite ill, as some as you know; and I think that the Lord might have allowed me to live longer in order to get this book done. I have been at this for 35 years. I would be grateful if you could please read it — a quick read of a couple of hours. And if if it inspires and helps you be a better missionary, I would be grateful if you could invite your family and friends to read it, too. I give you my thanks, in advance.

    — Clayton Christensen, missionary

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