This category of posts is all about characteristics, traits, skills, and abilities that are needed in order to be an effective missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Expect Miracles

My niece began her mission recently and we have been getting weekly emails from her. Seems to be really enjoying her time in the MTC in Mexico City. She was called the Oklahoma City Mission and was assigned to labor speaking in the Spanish language. A couple of weeks ago she sent an email with the following encouraging words. After reading it, I thought to myself that I need to increase my faith so I can see more miracles of God in my life.

miracles at the mtc danielle smith

“One thing I love about the CCM (Spanish for MTC) is that they tell us to expect miracles in our lives. I really believe that God does work miracles in our lives, and we just have to look for them. I have already seen miracles in my time here and I know God can work miracles in your life. Our mission president here tells us ‘don’t settle.’ If you want to increase your faith in God, or overcome a challenge, or see more miracles, don’t settle. Pray to God, work hard, be grateful and look for the miracles. He can work miracles!” -Sister Danielle Smith, August 2017

Obey with Exactness

mormon missionaries talking to a womanThe success of a full-time missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is largely measured by their ability to find, teach, baptize, and confirm new members and to help them become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Mormon missionaries are generally young, they are mostly independent, companionships of two working alone each day in their assigned area, and therefore, a strict daily schedule and an exhaustive handbook of rules has been developed to help them be successful in reaching those goals. As missionaries obey with exactness, they will have the Lord’s Spirit more fully and they will be guided to the success the Lord desires for them.

Obedience is an Act of Faith

The mission rules and schedule can only help missionaries if they are obeyed. This is why missionaries hear repeated talks and lessons about the importance and blessings of obedience. And to drill in the point, missionaries are often taught about exact obedience, a phrase which comes from the Book of Mormon prophet Helaman in this recounting of the 2,000 stripling warriors. Said Helaman: “Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). And we know that due to their faith, bravery, and their exact obedience, though they fought in many battles, none of these 2,060 young men lost their lives.

This is what the Church teaches missionaries in the Preach My Gospel (PMG) study guide: “As a missionary, you are expected to keep the commandments willingly, to obey mission rules, and to follow the counsel of your leaders. Obedience is the first law of heaven. It is an act of faith. You may sometimes be required to do things you do not completely understand. As you obey, you increase in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom. Strive to be obedient to the Lord, the living prophet, and your mission president” (PMG p. 122).

Blessings of Obedience

I had the importance and blessings of obedience with exactness reinforce in me during my mission from the time I was in the MTC. As a result of an excellent lesson from an MTC teacher, I set a goal that stayed with me throughout my mission to work hard, obey, and love others. I was also lucky enough to have a great trainer in my first mission area who taught me through word and deed to keep the mission schedule and all the missionary rules and we were blessed with much success. In another area in my mission, I learned the importance of exact obedience when, even though it was difficult, we left our apartment on time in the morning, and if we hadn’t, we would not have met Juan Carlos Lopez, who was converted and baptized. I know that the success I had as a missionary was a result of my efforts to be obedient to the commandments and the mission rules.

Great blessings is what the Lord has said we can expect from obedience to His commandments. In fact, the Lord has said that any blessing we receive from Him is a result of obeying the heavenly law that it is based upon. It’s in D&C 130: 20-21 “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Speaking to missionaries, Elder L. Tom Perry spoke of the blessings servants of the Lord can expect when they are obedient to mission rules. “The discipline contained in daily obedience and clean living and wholesome lives builds an armor around you of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality” (Elder L. Tom Perry, “Called to Serve”, May 1991).

Joseph Smith was Taught to Obey with Exactness

Joseph Smith was taught by the Angel Moroni of the importance of exact obedience. The follow story is related by the Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith:

“On the twenty-second of September, 1824, Joseph again visited the place where he found the plates the year previous; and supposing at this time that the only thing required, in order to possess them until the time for their translation, was to be able to keep the commandments of God—and he firmly believed he could keep every commandment which had been given him—he fully expected to carry them home with him. Therefore, having arrived at the place, and uncovering the plates, he put forth his hand and took them up, but, as he was taking them hence, the unhappy thought darted through his mind that probably there was something else in the box besides the plates, which would be of some pecuniary advantage to him. So, in the moment of excitement, he laid them down very carefully, for the purpose of covering the box, lest some one might happen to pass that way and get whatever there might be remaining in it. After covering it, he turned round to take the Record again, but behold it was gone, and where, he knew not, neither did he know the means by which it had been taken from him.

“At this, as a natural consequence, he was much alarmed. He kneeled down and asked the Lord why the Record had been taken from him; upon which the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and told him that he had not done as he had been commanded, for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, and, contrary to this, he had laid them down with the view of securing some fancied or imaginary treasure that remained.

“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel, on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house, weeping for grief and disappointment.” Chapter 18, History of Joseph Smith By His Mother

joseph smith when lord commands do itThrough this, and many other experiences throughout his early life, Joseph learned the importance of obeying with exactness. In fact, he made obedience his motto. Said he, “I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it” (History of the Church, 2:170).

Follow the Spirit with Exactness

In conclusion, please know that as a missionary and throughout your life, perhaps the most important commandments from God are the ones you receive through the Holy Ghost. It is, then, equally important to obey the promptings of the Spirit with exactness, which is a principle recently taught by President Russell M. Nelson. He said, “My first recommendation is to learn for yourselves who you really are. Ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, how He feels about you and your mission here on earth. If you ask with real intent, over time the Spirit will whisper the life-changing truth to you. Record those impressions and review them often, and follow through with exactness. I promise you that when you begin to catch even a glimpse of how your Heavenly Father sees you and what He is counting on you to do for Him, your life will never be the same!” (see the Jan 2016 talk entitled Becoming True Millennials).

Fearless in Practicing Your Language

[colored_box color=”blue”]Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Joshua Bishop, founder of, a language learning website. We welcome him and encourage you to check out his website. [/colored_box]
missionaries practicing language

courtesy of

Learning a language as a missionary is a fantastic opportunity but it has its own challenges. Jimmy has shared a few thoughts of his experiences learning a new language and has given me the opportunity to share my own experiences and insights. I’d like to focus on how, much as we should be fearless in sharing the gospel, we should be fearless in speaking and practicing our mission language whenever possible.

Why is practicing so important?

Learning a new language isn’t like a spelling or history class, simply memorizing facts and rules and repeating them back. It is more like math, where you learn the rules but then need to practice to make sure you understand the rules and how to apply them. Perhaps comparing this to football would make this more interesting. As I never watched football until I was nearly 30 (soccer guy, myself) I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out the rules. Now that I feel confident that I know the rules, am I ready to play football? Not at all! I haven’t practiced, ever, and the few times I’ve thrown a football around show that the only thing I’m worse at than catching a football is throwing one. Knowing the rules, while essential, is only a single step at being good at something. If you want to speak the language, you need to learn the rules, then you need to get out there and practice.

So why would we, when we have this fantastic opportunity to learn a new language, not be fearless in practicing? What’s holding us back? While there are many reasons, and nobody’s are the exact same, these are two that I’ve seen frequently in myself and others.

Fear of failure

In President Uchtdorf’s January 2014 Home Teaching message he states, “We almost certainly will fail—at least in the short term. But rather than be discouraged, we can be empowered because this understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now. It acknowledges from the beginning that at one time or another, we may fall short. Knowing this up front takes away much of the surprise and discouragement of failure.”

You will make mistakes, there is absolutely no chance that you won’t. And because of that, it is expected not only by you but by those with whom you speak. They know you are learning and almost all will be incredibly patient and understanding. Most people also love to share what they know and are honored to help provide feedback and explanations of any difficulties in their language. But they can’t do so unless you speak with them and, just as importantly, make some mistakes with them.

Fear of offending

Religion is a controversial and sensitive topic and the additional difficulty of trying to discuss the gospel in another language can be daunting. I was often concerned that I would unintentionally say something offensive and turn people away from the gospel. I learned, however, that if the spirit was with us while we taught, we would not offend.

When the spirit is in a conversation, that feeling of love will be felt by those with whom you speak. If you say something that is misunderstood or seems offensive, that feeling of love will let them know that you have no ill intentions. This will allow you, or your companion, to clarify what you meant or, in some cases, they will even gently correct you and tell you how to say what you meant.

On occasion, things will go wrong. You will offend, you will meet mean people, and you will be embarrassed. In these rare instances, you will need to work through them with the help of the Spirit and your companion. However, as you continue to practice, you will be richly blessed and become a more powerful instrument in the hands of God.

Characteristics of Christ

jesus-christ-by-simon-deweyI was recently doing a project for work that required me to come up with a list of attributes or characteristics of Christ. It occurred to me that being Christ-like was an important part of becoming an effective missionary, so I thought I’d share the list. If the missionaries of the world could more fully adhere to these attributes of our Savior Jesus Christ, I have no doubt that the work of the Lord would accelerate.

The Missionary Preparation Teacher Manual says this: “Christlike attributes help missionaries effectively teach the restored gospel. As we become more Christlike, we become more able to radiate gospel light to others. As we emulate the Savior, our actions and words encourage others to “take upon them the name of Jesus Christ” (D&C 20:37)” (see Chapter 14: Christlike Attributes, in the old manual). And the Missionary Preparation Student Manual adds this: “The Christlike attributes of effective missionaries allow investigators to witness the beauty of the restored gospel in the missionaries’ lives.”

Characteristics of Christ

I hope that all missionaries can represent the Savior well, by taking on his attributes. I’ve come up with 103 characteristics of Christ so far. As I become aware of others, I’ll add them to the list.

  • Accepting
  • Advocate
  • Alive
  • All Knowing
  • Anointed
  • Bold
  • Brave
  • Brotherly
  • Charitable
  • Cheerful
  • Clean
  • Compassionate
  • Confident
  • Conscience
  • Considerate
  • Consoling
  • Courteous
  • Dedicated
  • Diligent
  • Disciplined
  • Divine
  • Dutiful
  • Easy
  • Economical
  • Educational
  • Emotional
  • Encouraging
  • Equity
  • Eternal
  • Exact
  • Faithful
  • Familial
  • Fatherly
  • Forgiving
  • Friendly
  • Fulfilled
  • Generous
  • Gentle
  • Glorious
  • Goal Oriented
  • Godliness
  • Good
  • Gracious
  • Grateful
  • Guiding the way
  • Helpful
  • High Above Us
  • Holy
  • Honest
  • Hopeful
  • Humble
  • Intellectual
  • Joyous
  • Just
  • Kind
  • Knowledgeable
  • Living
  • Longsuffering
  • Loving
  • Meek
  • Merciful
  • Non-judging
  • Obedient
  • Omnipotent
  • Optimistic
  • Organized
  • Passionate
  • Patient
  • Peaceful
  • Peculiar
  • Plain
  • Powerful
  • Prayerful
  • Prepared
  • Pure
  • Purposeful
  • Redemptive
  • Relevant
  • Responsible
  • Reverent
  • Righteous
  • Sacrificial
  • Sensitive
  • Serving
  • Simple
  • Spiritual
  • Straightforward
  • Strict
  • Strong
  • Submissive
  • Teachable
  • Temperance
  • Thoughtful
  • Tolerant
  • Trustworthy
  • Truthful
  • Unchanging
  • Understanding
  • Unified
  • Uniform
  • Unselfish
  • Virtue
  • Wise

Always Stay Within the Comfort Zone

Mormon missionaries walking toward sunsetAt church, I have often heard that we need to be prepared to step out of our comfort zone, and do the hard thing such as talking to a neighbor about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ or otherwise reaching out to other people in friendship. In fact, I have frequently discussed the need for missionaries to open their mouth at all times, a task that can require shy people to extend far beyond their social comfort zone.

While I believe this comfort zone analogy is a fine teaching tool, I want to talk about a different kind of comfort zone today, one you should always stay inside. I’m referring to the comfort zone provided by the Holy Ghost. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

The comfort zone that I want to speak about today is the companionship of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. The power of the Holy Ghost can be felt by all men and women on earth, if they choose to pay attention to the whisperings of the Spirit. The gift of the Holy Ghost is a more powerful manifestation of the Spirit, and brings with it great blessings. The gift of the Holy Ghost carries with it the right to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, whenever one is worthy. Below are some reasons, and accompanying scriptural references, why every missionary (and member too) should want to stay in the comfort zone of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost will…

  • help you speak the right words. “And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good.” (D&C 42:16). As a missionary and representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing the words that He wants you to speak is an indispensable gift if you are to succeed in your mandate to bring souls unto Christ.
  • testify to your listeners of the Father and Son. “For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son” (D&C 42:17). As important as your personal testimony is as a missionary, it is the testimony of the Holy Spirit that converts.
  • show you the way to go. “And I will send upon him the Comforter, which shall teach him the truth and the way whither he shall go” (D&C 79:2) Knowing where to go as a missionary is a priceless gift. Nearly every day you will have to make choices about what neighbor to knock, or what street to turn down, or what park to go do street contacting in. The guidance of the Spirit will lead you to the elect that God has prepared.
  • fill you with hope and perfect love. “Because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God” (Moroni 8:26). There will be times as a missionary when you will be tried and tested, by the people in your area, by your companion, or by other circumstances. Staying in the comport zone of the Holy Ghost will give you greater hope and help you love, perfectly, those around you.
  • bring comfort and joy to your soul. On his mission to the Zoramites, the prophet Alma the Younger saw their wickedness and exclaimed, “O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ.”  And then, the scripture says the Lord “gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31: 31, 38). Home sickness, the pain of being rejected by yet another investigator, and other trials may cause you, as a missionary, exceeding sorrow. But know that those afflictions will be swallowed up in the joy of Christ if you stay in the comfort zone of the Spirit.
  • teach you what the Lord wants for you. In 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord to the Elders of the Priesthood exhorting them to “[call] on the name of the Lord for the Comforter, which shall teach them all things that are expedient for them” (D&C 75:10). You will learn many lessons on your mission that will influence the remainder of your life. It is the Holy Ghost who will help teach you these lessons and help you to know what is the will of the Lord for you.

Future missionaries, before, during, and after your mission, do what it takes to remain worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Always stay within that comfort zone. This means obeying the law of chastity, following the standards in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, reading your scriptures and praying daily, repenting when you make mistakes, and doing all other things to remain clean, pure, and worthy to serve a mission. If you do so, I know the blessings of the Lord mentioned above and many more will be poured down upon you by our loving Heavenly Father.

Natural and Normal Ways to Share the Gospel

young people sharing the gospelLDS Church President Thomas S. Monson once explained an effective way we can each share the gospel and help bring the blessings of eternal life to those around us. He said: “Our missionary experiences have to be current. It is not enough to sit back and ponder former experiences. To be fulfilled, you have to continue to naturally and normally share the gospel.” (emphasis added, “Status Report on Missionary Work: A Conversation with Elder Thomas S. Monson” Ensign, Oct. 1977)

As a full-time missionary, what is natural and normal will vary from what it is before or after your mission. On your mission, you have a calling, you have been set apart as a representative of Christ, you wear a white shirt and tie and a name tag, and therefore approaching strangers, opening your mouth, and having spontaneous religious discussions can be completely natural and normal. As a member spontaneous religious discussions with complete strangers would likely not be natural and normal. Natural and normal ways of sharing the gospel as an everyday church member do occur, but generally under different circumstances.

In his April 2012 General Conference talk, Was It Worth It?, Elder David F. Evans expounded on the theme natural and normal ways to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Said he:

“The work of naturally and normally sharing the gospel with those we care about and love will be the work and joy of our lives. Let me tell you about two such experiences.

Dave Orchard grew up in Salt Lake City, where most of his friends were members of the Church. They were a great influence on him. In addition, Church leaders in his neighborhood constantly invited him to activities. His friends did the same. Even though he didn’t join the Church at that time, his growing-up years were blessed by the influence of good LDS friends and Church-sponsored activities. After he entered college, he moved away from his home, and most of his friends left on missions. He missed their influence in his life.

One of Dave’s high school friends was still home. This friend was meeting every week with his bishop in an effort to put his life in order and be able to serve as a missionary. He and Dave became roommates, and as would be both natural and normal, they talked about why he wasn’t then serving as a missionary and why he was meeting frequently with the bishop. The friend expressed his gratitude and respect for his bishop and the opportunity to repent and serve. He then asked Dave whether he would like to come to the next interview. What an invitation! But in the context of their friendship and circumstances, it was both natural and normal.

Dave agreed and was soon meeting with the bishop himself. This led to Dave’s decision to meet with the missionaries. He received a testimony that the gospel is true, and a date for his baptism was set. Dave was baptized by his bishop, and a year later, Dave Orchard and Katherine Evans were married in the temple.”

“…Sister Eileen Waite attended the same stake conference where Dave Orchard told of his conversion experience. Throughout the conference, all she could think of was her own family and particularly her sister, Michelle, who had long been away from the Church. Michelle was divorced and trying to raise four children. Eileen felt impressed to send her a copy of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s book Our Search for Happiness, together with her testimony, which she did. The very next week a friend told Eileen that she too had felt that she should contact Michelle. This friend also wrote Michelle a note, sharing her testimony and expressing her love. Isn’t it interesting how often the Spirit works on several people to help one in need?

Time passed. Michelle called Eileen and thanked her for the book. She said that she was beginning to recognize the spiritual void in her life. Eileen told her that she knew that the peace she was seeking could be found in the gospel. She told her that she loved her and wanted her to be happy. Michelle began to make changes in her life. Soon she met a wonderful man who was active in the Church. They married and a year later were sealed in the Ogden Utah Temple. Recently her 24-year-old son was baptized.

…The end of this story has not yet been written, but blessings have been given to this wonderful woman and her family as those who love her acted on a prompting and in a natural and normal way shared their testimony and invited her to come back.

I have thought a lot about these two experiences. One young man who was working to put his own life in order helped another young man who was seeking the truth. One woman shared her testimony and her faith with her sister who had been away from the Church for 20 years. If we will pray and ask Heavenly Father who we can help and promise to act on the promptings He gives us letting us know how we can help, He will answer our prayers and we will become instruments in His hands to do His work. Acting in love upon the promptings given by the Spirit becomes the catalyst.

As you have listened to these experiences of naturally and normally sharing the gospel with those you care about, many of you have had the same experience that Eileen Waite had. You have thought of someone to whom you should reach out and either invite to come back or share with him or her your feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ. My invitation is to act, without delay, on that prompting. Talk to your friend or family member. Do it in a natural and normal way. Let them know of your love for them and for the Lord.”

Why it is Important to Bear Testimony

Missionaries testifying to a family in FijiNot too long ago, I was out doing exchanges with the full-time missionaries in our area. We visited several investigators and new members. At the home of a member family, the missionaries taught a discussion to a non-member friend of one of the teenagers in the family. I was very impressed with the missionaries’ teaching skills. They had a mastery of the gospel doctrines and taught them with effectiveness to the young investigator. As the lesson was drawing to a close, I was expecting one of the missionaries to bear his testimony of the truthfulness of the principles taught, but he didn’t. Instead, he quickly wrapped up the lesson and asked for the closing prayer.

As I sat through that closing prayer, my heart burned within me. I had felt the Spirit of the Lord with power throughout the lesson, and my heart ached to have the additional witness of a verbal testimony from someone in the room. The lesson seemed incomplete without that closing testimony. The importance of bearing testimony, especially for missionaries, was reinforced to me through that experience.

Bear Testimony Frequently

In Chapter 11 of Preach My Gospel it says:

“Bear testimony often to seal the truth of the principles or doctrine you are teaching…When you testify, pray that those you are teaching will feel the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. When you testify, you help create an environment for investigators to feel the Holy Ghost confirming your witness of the truth. This prepares them to accept the commitments you will extend.”
“…Bear testimony several times in each lesson, not just at the end. Bear testimony that what your companion has taught is from God. Bear testimony that the principle you are going to teach will bless the investigators’ lives if they will follow it. Talk about how living a principle has blessed your life.”
“…Sharing your testimony often is one of the most powerful ways of inviting the Spirit and helping others feel the Spirit. It adds a current, personal witness to the truths you have taught from the scriptures. An effective missionary teaches, testifies, and invites others to do things that build faith in Jesus Christ.”

The Holy Ghost Bears Testimony of the Truth

The scriptures explain why bearing testimony is such a powerful tool in missionary work or in any gospel teaching situation. In D&C 100 verses 5 and 6 are found some very familiar missionary work related scriptures which read: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.” The Lord continues in verses 7 and 8 to add this statement about bearing testimony: “But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.”

Also, in John 15: 26, the Savior reiterated the role of the Holy Ghost in testifying of the truth of our message. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”

Pure Testimony

When I think of the power inherent in bearing testimony, the story of Alma the younger comes to mind. Alma gave up his political/government role as chief judge in order to devote himself to the ministry and the building up of the church. “And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them” (Alma 4:19).

As Alma went about preaching, he testified that  the doctrines and commandments “are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” (Alma 5: 46)

Humble Testimony More Powerful than Eloquent Speech

Brigham Young once said: “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence or talents for public speaking, who could only say, ‘I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and a light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true” (Journal of Discourses, 1:90).

Bearing Testimony: A More Powerful Effect

Alma had learned that preaching, teaching and testifying “had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (see Alma 31:5). Peter, the Lord’s Apostle and leader of the Church after Christ’s ascension into Heaven, had also seen the powerful effects of testifying when on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted and baptized. In Acts 2: 36, Peter testifies of Jesus’ resurrection: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Then in says in verse 37, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” so Peter answered them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And “many other words did he testify.” Then, the scripture says, “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (verse 41).

Conclusion: My Testimony

Brothers and sisters, I know that bearing testimony is a powerful way to bring the spirit of the Lord into your missionary discussions and other teaching situations. You may find that investigators will argue about points of doctrine and interpretations of scriptures, but it is difficult to argue with pure testimony, borne in humility, and carried by the Spirit of God into the hearts of men and women. So bear testimony often. Conclude your lessons with your testimony of the truthfulness of the message you shared. Doing so will make you a  more powerful and effective teacher. And remember, that your testimony is recorded in heaven and you will be blessed for bearing it. D&C 62:3 “Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.”

Leadership Part 3: Neal A. Maxwell Looking at Leadership

It was months ago when I published two articles on leadership: Part 1: Jesus, the Perfect Leader and Leadership Part 2: Captain Moroni. I meant at that time to also post a third article on leadership. I got a little side tracked, but I’m happy to finally present part three of my leadership series.

Leadership: Ducks in a RowThis final portion on leadership comes from Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s 1967 talk entitled “Looking at Leadership” which used to be but is no longer posted on and I hear it also appears in Maxwell’s book: “A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints.” As with many of Elder Maxwell’s talks, much of it is over my head, so I know it may not be easy for pre-missionary-aged young people to understand. Still, these are important concepts in leadership, and with careful study, I think we can all learn to become more like Jesus, the perfect leader.

Elder Maxwell talks about three basic leadership styles and how each has its advantages and weaknesses.

Ultimate Model of Leadership: Jesus Christ

“The ultimate models for us are, of course, God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith advises us in his Lectures on Faith that God has perfected each of the attributes that make him God. That is, he is perfect in knowledge, power or faith, justice, judgment, mercy, truth, and love… Any leader on the proximate, mortal scale who does not seek to work on these same attributes, cannot be fully effective or fully safe in terms of the power he possesses to influence and to direct the lives of others.”

Style 1: Manipulative Leadership

“There is, first of all, manipulative leadership, ranging in its more sinister form from the Machiavellian kind on through to the kind of modest manipulation each of us at times may consciously or unconsciously practice on those around us.

…The disadvantages of this form of leadership are: it can be, and usually is, crushingly condescending; it seeks to carry out the wishes of the leader and to meet his needs, not necessarily the needs of the group. It can miscarry badly with an evil leader or end in chaos with a leader who is not sophisticated in his manipulation, and therefore, who is more apt to be exposed early. It uses or ignores people and their feelings without aiming at their growth.”

Style 2: Directive Leadership

“A second basic pattern of leadership is directive leadership, in which the leader seeks to maintain his greater “psychological size” in relation to the members of the group. He is the dominant figure and though he may be very sincere and dedicated, he clearly calls the shots and makes the most crucial decisions.”

“…We have all seen examples of this kind of leadership in a crisis. It is not a popular form of leadership in some quarters today, but we must be reminded that it has real advantages. [Former United States President] Herbert Hoover observed that while the American people like the “common man,” when they are in a crisis, such as war, they want the “uncommon general.”

“…But there are disadvantages to directive leadership: it can create very dependent followers who rely too much of the time for too many things in too many circumstances on the leader.”

Brigham Young said of this type of leadership: “I am fearful they will settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation.”

E Maxwell continues: “It is neither realistic nor wise to expect leaders to provide all of the answers all of the time, to provide solutions to all of the problems that will arise.”

“…Over-dependency can thwart the purposes of God, who desires our individual growth and development, and followers who can be much more effective and supportive of leaders by sharing the commitment of the leader. Directive leadership also has the potential disadvantage that the leader is often not aware of all the facts and feelings present among the followers. The talents of the followers and members of the group cannot be as fully developed unless they share more extensively in decision-making and implementation.”

Pigeons and Eagles Analogy

“Very often the talented directive person becomes very impatient with clumsiness and mediocrity in other people. The talented person may also bridle under the supervision of someone whom he believes to be inferior to himself. Abraham Maslow has observed: “When the pigeon bosses the eagle, the eagle is miserable.” But in a Church of eagles and pigeons, people need to learn to follow as well as how to lead, and there are times when pigeons temporarily lead eagles, and the eagle has a responsibility to learn from this experience as does the pigeon.

…[The talented] can become so anxious over their superiority that they hold back the full impact of their talents for fear they will be seen by others as being too dominant and too adequate. What often arises in these situations is a kind of false display of humility. If, however, the “pigeons and the eagles” have a commitment to each other and each other’s well-being, there is a way they can draw on each other for appropriate skills, talents, and help—but this requires a system of openness and trust.”

Style 3: Participative Leadership

“A third kind of leadership is participative leadership in which members of the group share widely in decision making, in which the group is democratically run, in which procedures are adopted and traditions built to insure that this will be the case. This kind of leadership has these advantages: it often uses the talents, feelings, and facts of group members very effectively. It gives group members a chance to invest in goals and in problem solving so that there is greater group compliance and team work in obtaining these objectives. It often creates excellent conditions for individual growth.

Participative leadership seeks to call upon the maximum resources of the group members. When it succeeds, this kind of leadership results in a higher achievement than the individual alone could produce. Participative leadership assumes that everyone has something to give, which is not inconsistent with the teaching that “For all have not every gift given unto them; there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” ( D&C 46:11 .)

…The disadvantages of participative leadership are that, at times, groups focus too much on feelings and become too immobilized to take needed action. A group may listen and hear only the signal of “an uncertain trumpet.” Group problem solving can, when it miscarries, result in the stifling of individual creativity and can result in a great deal of mediocrity.”

Best Leadership Style: A Blend of Directive and Participative

“Both experience and the scriptures suggest the need for a blend of leadership styles— directive and participative, in which these styles are used in those circumstances most appropriate for them. We have an unique blend in the Church of directive leadership and participative leadership in which everyone grows and everyone moves forward in terms of eternal goals.

“…A leader is best apt to be able to blend directive and participative leadership if he is personally and seriously engaged in the divinely intended process of improving his attributes of knowledge, faith, justice, judgment, mercy, truth, and love.”

“There is ample opportunity—far more than we use—for us to become involved as leaders and followers in activities which will build the kingdom and also assist us to grow. We have more opportunities than we ever recognize to use our talents and to get our feelings and facts into the process of Church decision-making in those situations in which participative leadership is appropriate. . . .

If we would honor God in the particular style of leadership each of us assumes, we would honor him best by emulating him in developing those attributes which insure wise, effective, and safe leadership.”

Having a Positive Attitude

Having and maintaining a positive attitude, even in the face of setbacks and rejection, is a vital trait for becoming an effective missionary. The Mormon mission experience has rightly been called the best two years. But, in a lot of ways, it is also the hardest two years. And perhaps it is because it is so hard at times that it causes missionaries to grow and develop and have experiences that shapes their lives and make it a formative, best two years.

On your mission, there will be days (perhaps even weeks or months) where you feel like everyone is rejecting your message. You may feel like you are working so hard, and striving to be worthy, and trying to do the Lord’s will, yet you may not be seeing the fruits of your labor.  That can certainly be discouraging. But the missionaries who are able to maintain a positive attitude throughout those trials are certain to bounce back quicker, be happier, and be more successful instruments in the hands of the Lord.Positive Attitude Matt Biondi

Swimmer Matt Biondi’s Optimism

Matt Biondi is one of the most decorated swimmers in US Olympic history. He swam in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Summer Olympics, and won a total of 11 medals, 8 of them gold. But Biondi was also involved in a couple of the most notable defeats of any of the swimmers in the 1988 summer games.

Coming into the 1988 Olympics in Seoul Korea, Biondi was touted as having a good chance at 7 gold medals. His first race was the 100 meter butterfly, which he was favored to win. Biondi made it to the finals and had the lead in the race, when he chose to glide the last few feet to the finish line, rather than taking another stroke, and was beat out for the gold.

Biondi’s next race, the 200-meter freestyle, was another one he was favored to win. But he ended up coming in a disappointing third place. Many people wondered how Biondi would react, and if he would be able to bounce back from these discouraging setbacks. But a University of Pennsylvania psychologist named Martin Seligman didn’t wonder.

Seligman had a theory that how people respond to setbacks—optimistically or pessimistically—is a fairly accurate indicator of how well they will succeed in sports and other kinds of work. Seligman tested his theory on Biondi and others of the U.S. Olympic swim team prior to the 1988 games.

In the test, the coaches would tell the athletes that they had swum the event worse than they actually had. For example Matt Biondi swam the 100 fly in 50.2 seconds, but was told he swam it in 51.7. Disappointed, he swam it again a few minutes later, and swam it in 50.0 seconds. He got faster than his initial, seemingly disappointing, swim. Overall, the test showed that optimists either maintained or improved performance after a disappointment initial try. Pessimists, on the other hand, on average deteriorated by 2 seconds in a 100-yard event—generally the difference between first place and dead last.

So in those 1988 Olympic Games, when Matt Biondi had major setbacks in his first two races, those who knew of his positive attitude and ability to bounce back with an even better performance were not surprised when he won the gold in his next five events.*

*See Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

Opposition in All Things

When you are involved in the work of the Lord and the building of God’s Kingdom, as missionaries are, you can expect opposition from the devil. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, in Second Nephi 2: 11 and 15, taught that opposition is to be expect, and that it is even necessary.

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad…it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.”

Our Savior Jesus Christ, in Matt. 5: 10-11, taught us that we who are his followers can expect trials and persecution. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” If the Lord says that we are blessed for being persecuted, then I believe it. Having that attitude certainly help me stay positive in the face of rejections during my mission, and it will do the same for you.

Faith and Hope are the Opposite of Despair

The choices we make and the attitudes we have in the face of trials and opposition determine what kind of missionary we are going to be. When a door is slammed in your face, when someone gives you a fake address (this happened all the time in Argentina), when you feel like nothing is going right, how will you react? Will you put a smile on your face, and keep moving forward with faith and hope in Christ?

“Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity….And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.” (Moroni 10: 20, 22) If you ever find yourself in despair, which means to have no hope, remember that it is the Adversary, Satan, that wants you to get discouraged. So don’t let him do that to you!

If you have charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, in your heart, and if you truly feel that love for the people in your mission, you will have hope, and faith, and you will maintain a positive attitude, and you will be more successful.

How to Get a Positive Attitude

So if you find yourself with a bad attitude on the mission, what do you do? Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, admonished us to study the scriptures and the words of the prophets in such instances. “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986)

Positive Attitude: Just Keep SwimmingI’ll conclude with a couple of passages from the Preach My Gospel manual: “The attitude you have toward your mission experience is a reflection of your love toward your Heavenly Father and His Son and your respect for the priesthood.” (PMG p. 151) “Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. It is believing and expecting that something will occur. When you have hope, you work through trials and difficulties with the confidence and assurance that all things will work together for your good. Hope helps you conquer discouragement.” (PMG p. 117)

So remember what Dory, from the movie Finding Nemo, said, “You know what you gotta do when life gets you down? Just keep swimming!”

Cultural Literacy and Language Learning

argentina culture horse carts in the streets Most missionaries who learn a second language understand that it is necessary for them to learn the vocabulary and grammar of the new language. It is less obvious, though, to many missionaries, that cultural literacy, or knowledge of the culture, will also significantly improve their ability to speak and understand the language. If you understand the culture of the people to whom you are called the teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, you will have more success because you will be more likely to:

  • Anticipate misunderstandings as you prepare to teach.
  • Understand what people really mean.
  • Express yourself appropriately.
  • Become one with the people.

Note: This post on cultural literacy is part of the language learning series.

Anticipate misunderstandings as you prepare to teach.

You should strive to understand the unique culture of the people you are called to teach so that you can communicate the message of the Restoration in a way that will be clear to them. As you anticipate how the message will be received, based on your cultural understanding, you may make adjustments to the way you teach certain principles of the gospel. Then, when you teach people, they will understand what you are telling them in the context of their own culture and experience.

Understand what people really mean.

As you become acquainted with the culture of the people where you are serving, it will be easier for you to understand what people are saying to you even if they don’t explain every detail. People in your mission may have many attitudes and practices that are foreign to you and you may come to the wrong conclusions about what they are saying if you do not understand their perspective. See, for example, the following true story that was sent to me:

Most people base their ideas of who God is on the culture in which they grow up. In my mission, we taught Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, and Evangelicals. Almost every religion I’d ever heard of thrived in my mission, as well as some I’d never heard of before. I quickly learned that when people talked to me about their feelings about God, if I didn’t have some basic understanding of their religion and culture, I wouldn’t know how to interpret what they were telling me.

Once, the day after I was transferred to an island I’d never served on before, we were teaching a young woman who seemed very receptive to our message. She was very willing to believe that God is our Father and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. She readily believed the Joseph Smith story and our account of the Book of Mormon. We were excited that she seemed so receptive. We moved through the discussion, teaching principle after principle, thrilled as she accepted one doctrine after another. Needless to say, we were very surprised when she did not accept our invitation to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.

Later that day, we stopped at a fruit stand to get a quick snack. During our chat with the vendor, I asked him if he believed in Jesus Christ. He replied that he did. He said, “We don’t want to offend any gods, so we believe in them all. I believe in your Christian god as well as in my own.”

That was when it hit me – the woman we’d taught earlier that day was polytheistic and willing to believe in many gods. She believed in our God because she didn’t want to offend Him, but that didn’t mean that she saw the need of changing anything about her life. She could fit the things we taught her right into her belief system. If I had known that when we were teaching her, I wouldn’t have been so puzzled by the situation and I could made it clear that we were bringing her something different. Then our invitations would have meant something.

Express yourself appropriately.

As a Mormon missionary, you should strive to understand the local culture so that you express yourself in appropriate ways. You should not assume that you can simply translate your thoughts, word for word, into another language and that people will understand. You must learn how to think and express yourself in the new language and in the way that is appropriate to that language and culture. A missionary learning Mandarin might ask, for example, “How do you say, ‘We love you’ in Mandarin?” Although a teacher could translate this statement literally, that would not be helpful since that is not a phrase the Chinese people say. A more appropriate question might be, “How does one talk about feelings in Mandarin?”

When I was in Argentina, I was amazed one day, several months into my mission, when I realized that instead of thinking in English and then translating my thoughts into Spanish, I was simply thinking in Spanish.  From then on, my language abilities began to improve more rapidly.

Become one with the people.

One of the greatest things you can do to gain people’s trust and admiration is to embrace their culture in appropriate ways. This has been the way of great missionaries since the apostle Paul in ancient times (1 Cor 9:20-22). Get to know the people among whom you serve. Strive to understand their background and values. Do not suppose that because you feel comfortable with the language and culture that that is sufficient.  What is equally as important as you feeling comfortable with the language and culture, is that the people feel comfortable with you, your language, and your behavior.

Also remember to always speak the mission language when you are in public. Speaking your native language with your companion when other people are around can be very impolite. Members and investigators will trust you more and you will have more opportunities to get to know them if you always speak their language in church meetings and other public venues.

As you learn the culture of the people in your mission, as well as the language, you will become a more powerful instrument in the hands of the Lord.