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.

Characteristics of a Good Missionary

JosephFSmithMissiontoEnglandA common topic of discussion I have seen regarding mission preparation is ‘What are the characteristics of a good missionary?’  President Joseph F. Smith, LDS Church President from 1901 to 1918, had much to say on this subject. While it would be difficult or impossible to create an exhaustive list of good missionary characteristics, here are a few highlighted by President Smith:

  1. Constant Communion with the Spirit
  2. Humility
  3. Knowledge of Gospel Principles
  4. Sociability
  5. Concern for the Welfare of Others
  6. Unspotted from the World

1. Constant Communion with the Spirit

President Smith said that the best way to do missionary work “is to live so that the spirit of God will have communion and be present with us to direct us in every moment and hour of our ministry, night and day.”  He said, “No man can preach God and godliness and the truth as it is in Christ Jesus except he be inspired by the Holy Spirit.”  President Smith further said that “Men are not converted by eloquence or oratory; they are convinced when they are satisfied that you have the truth and the Spirit of God.”  2 Ne. 33: 1 “When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”

2. Humility

Said President Smith, “No man is able to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ of himself…We can not preach the gospel of Christ without this spirit of humility, meekness, faith in God and reliance upon his promises and word to us.”  1 Corinthians 2:11 “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

See my previous post on Missionary Characteristics: Humility.

missionarystudying3. Knowledge of Gospel Principles

“Every missionary should strive to devote part of each day to study and prayerful thought on the principles of the gospel and the theology of the Church,” said President Smith.  “Missionaries are sent forth to preach and teach the first principles of the gospel, Christ and him crucified, and practically nothing more in the way of theological doctrine. They are not commissioned to expound their own views on intricate questions of theology.”  He further said that a missionary’s “mind should be well stored with thoughts worth uttering, worth hearing, worth remembering; then the spirit of inspiration will bring forth the truths of which his auditors are in need.”  D&C 11: 21 “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed.”

4. Sociability

President Smith taught that as a missionary, “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.”  He counseled missionaries to “avoid contentious argument and debate regarding doctrinal subjects…[Missionaries] are not to go out and make war upon the religious organizations of the world when they are called to go out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.” missionariesshakinghandsstreetInstead “they should teach as nearly as they can after the manner of the Master—seeking to lead by love for their fellows, by simple explanation and persuasion; not trying to convince by force.”

See my previous post on Missionary Characteristics: Sociability.

5. Concern for the Welfare of Others

President Smith taught that missionaries, “are sent out to offer the olive branch of peace to the world.”  Additionally, missionaries should be ready to say with him, “I am happy to say that I am ready to go through thick and thin for this cause in which I am engaged; and truly hope and pray that I may prove faithful to the end.”  He further taught that “Every missionary boy who returns from his mission full of faith and good desire should take it upon himself to become a savior as far as possible of his young and less experienced associates at home.” D&C 88: 81 “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.”

6. Unspotted from the World

President Smith pleaded, “We want young men … who have kept themselves unspotted from the world, and can go into the nations of the earth and say to men, ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ.’”  “No objection is offered to men being called who in earlier years may have been rough or wayward, if in later years they have lived a godly life and brought forth the precious fruits of repentance,” said President Smith.  He further taught, missionaries must “let our lives correspond with our professions, our words be consonant with the truth we bear, and our acts agreeable to the revealed will of God”

Aside from the scriptural references, all the quotes regarding characteristics of a good missionary are taken from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Chapter 9: Our Missionary Duty.

Missionary Characteristics: Humility

jesuschristflipchartMy wife and I recently watched a movie called Errand of Angels about a sister missionary in Austria. Watching the movie made me think a lot about my mission, particularly, I found myself reflecting on what I would do differently, if I had it to do over. I came to the conclusion that the number one thing I would do differently is not worry so much. Instead, I would try to more humbly accept God’s will and respect people’s agency, even when they rejected the message I wanted to share.

I can remember getting mad when people wouldn’t listen to our message. They would slam the door on us, or completely ignore us as we were street contacting. I guess it’s easy to say when not in the situation, but I wouldn’t let those rejections bother me so much now. Hard work was never something I lacked on my mission, so I would work just as hard, but if I had it to do again, I would work with more faith, humility, patience and trust in the Lord.

SWK_heroPresident Spencer W. Kimball made the following definition of humility which I have always loved: “If the Lord was meek and lowly and humble, then to become humble one must do what He did in boldly denouncing evil, bravely advancing righteous works, courageously meeting every problem, becoming the master of himself and the situations about him and being near oblivious to personal credit.” (Humility, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, Provo, 16 Jan. 1963, pp. 2–3.  Quoted in the Doctrine and Covenants Institute Student Manual.)  President Kimball continued, “How can I remain humble? the brilliant missionary asks. By reminding one’s self frequently of his own weaknesses and limitations, not to the point of depreciation, but an evaluation guided by an honest desire to give credit where credit is due.” (“Humility,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1963)

The Lord himself spoke from the Heavens to the prophet Joseph Smith and said that humility was one of the most important characteristics missionaries should possess.  “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh…That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers” (D&C 1:17–19, 23).

When you are humble you are teachable and the Lord is able to use you as an instrument in His hands.  The Church sends out armies of young, inexperienced missionaries every year, and yet the work doesn’t falter, in fact it flourishes.  And perhaps this is why the work is so successful, because this army, weak in the eyes of the world, has little recourse but to rely on the arm of the Lord.  And when the Lord is on your side, “nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1: 37)

Missionary Characteristics: Sociability

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.

paul-jr-mormon-missionary-italy

“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.