I was recently reading Gospel Doctrine by President Joseph F. Smith and I was struck by a comment he made regarding the necessity of missionaries to be sociable in order to be effective.
“There are many excellent men but very few really good missionaries. The characteristics of a good missionary are: A man who has sociability—whose friendship is permanent and sparkling—who can ingratiate himself into the confidence and favor of men who are in darkness. This cannot be done offhand. You must get acquainted with a man, learn him and gain his confidence and make him feel and know that your only desire is to do him good and bless him; then you can tell him your message, and give him the good things you have for him, kindly and lovingly. Therefore, in selecting missionaries, choose such as have sociability, who have friendship and not enmity towards men; and if you have not any such in your ward, train and qualify some young men for this work.” -Gospel Doctrine, Joseph F. Smith, page 356
It is interesting that President Smith says that sociability is a skill that can be learned. Certainly sociability is something that comes more naturally to some than others. I, for one, am not exactly an extravert, therefore it was something I had work at. In the first area I was assigned as a missionary in Argentina, there was a little girl in the branch who called me Elder Serious. I never liked this moniker. I always thought of myself as a happy person, but the adjustment to being dropped in a foreign country must have been a little overwhelming and it showed in my facial expressions. Realizing I didn’t want the name to stick, I worked at being a happier missionary and letting it show. I think by my third or fourth area, I had made significant progress. am one of those to whom it comes less easily, though I still think I was a pretty effective missionary. Perhaps my other characteristics of hard work, faith, and knowledge helped compensate.
Elder L. Tom Perry, in his 2007 talk called Raising the Bar, also discussed the need for missionaries to have good social skills. Said he, “Prospective missionaries also must be prepared with the social skills needed to serve a mission. More and more, young people are isolating themselves from others by playing video games; wearing headphones; and interacting through cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, and so on instead of in person. Much of missionary work involves relating face-to-face with people, and unless you set the bar higher in the development of your social skills, you will find yourself underprepared.”
Photo Above: My brother Paul Smith Jr. in the Italy Catania Mission.