I’m giving a talk in church on Sunday. Part of the territory when you don’t have a paid clergy is that the members of the congregation are regularly called upon to speak, teach lessons and the like. In fact, when I was in Slovakia, I talked twice in three weeks (fewer members = more frequent speaking duties). What am I going to talk about? Missionary work. Specifically, why I was surprised so many people in my church thought my new calling (Ward Mission Leader) was a bad one. I think sometimes members of the Mormon church look at the church’s missionary efforts as something sort of like going to the dentist. They know they’re supposed to be doing it, but it’s uncomfortable and often painful. For those of you not in “the know,” the Mormon church has a stated threefold mission:
- Perfect the Saints–meaning that the Church ought to be helping its members become better individuals. This is a mission I think most religions see no issue with and try to do as well. Nothing too noteworthy here.
- Proclaim the Gospel–meaning that the Church tries to inform people about what the church is, with the ultimate goal of having people join the Church. One of the missions of the Church that alarms other religions quite a bit and can come across as threatening to
- Redeem the Dead–Quite possibly the most unique mission of the Church. We believe that all people–living or dead–must be given the opportunity to choose whether or not to join the Church by being baptized. Thus, baptisms are performed by proxy for those who are dead. You might have read some news articles about this. The Church can sometimes land in hot water when boneheads get baptized for Hitler or some other asinine thing happens. Lots of members means that sooner or later, stupidity happens. I can discuss this mission of the church later, if people care to know more about it. No time right now.
In any case, the second mission (Proclaim the Gospel) is the reason for all those Mormon missionaries scurrying around all your cities, dressed in white shirts and ties, scriptures in hand. In addition to this, members are encouraged to let their acquaintances and friends know about the church and even (gasp!) see if people would be interested in having the missionaries over to learn more. This is where I think the trouble starts, and where missionary work gets a bad rap. Because no one likes to feel like they’re selling out their friends. And it can be a nerve wracking experience, trying to ask someone you know and respect (and who hopefully knows and respects you) to see if they’d be interested in learning more about your religion. But I don’t think it has to be like that.
Ideally, Mormons are Mormons because they believe in the doctrines of the church and have found that living by those doctrines helps them be happier. I think everyone I work with knows I’m a Mormon, and they have a general idea of some of the things I do at my church. If/when religion comes up, I’m happy to talk about it and share my beliefs. But did you see that word? Share. It’s a two way street. I don’t believe in me just spouting out about this that and the other and not letting other people get a word in edgewise. I’m interested in what other people believe. And I realize I’m getting on a soapbox now, and I really ought to shut up. Suffice it to say that I think the worst thing a Mormon could do is become friends with someone for the sole purpose of telling that someone about the Church.
I was born into this religion, but I’m still a part of this religion because I studied it, prayed about it and felt strongly it was true. It’s made me a happier man and brought me a lot of joy. If other people want to know more, I’m happy to tell them more. I don’t hide my religion from others, but I don’t jam it down their throats, either. At least I hope I don’t. Feel free to say if I do in the comments. 🙂
Anyway–sorry about this rambling post. Just thoughts for my talk on Sunday. If you’d like to hear the full thing, come to the Mormon meeting house on Sunday morning at 10:00AM. 🙂
Have a nice weekend.