We have a new missionary, Elder Harding, who is serving with Elder Pape as a Zone Leader in the French area on St Martin. He is a great missionary and will be spending his ‘last days’ here on the island. He said that Pres. Mehr asked him where he wanted to serve in his last area, and he told him St Martin…so here he is!
We took one of the cars in for service and it turned out it needed a LOT of service! All four breaks, the alternator, and a new battery, along with the usual service stuff…
We all received training on Saturday in becoming self-reliant. All members of the Church here will begin receiving this training, along with specific training on how to gain more education, greater job skills, and even how to start their own businesses!
I spent part of the day on Monday fixing problems in one of the missionary apartments (a light that did not work and a handrail that was broken). And confirmed that all the safety measures in the apartments were working (such as the smoke/CO alarms, propane gas locations, etc.). I think perhaps they might have had another accident, because they were directing everyone to double check these items…
Since it is the first of the month I have to do all of the monthly reports, and pay all the bills (rents, utilities, gas, etc.). We also took part of a day to help move one of the members to their new apartment.
We also took a member to the airport, and had the opportunity to teach with the missionaries a few times.
The Fast and Testimony meeting was great—making two in a row that have been extraordinary! The spirit was so powerful…many visitors told us they had never been to a meeting so full of the spirit!
The missionary work here is going very well—the young missionaries continue to increase the number of discussions they are teaching, the quality of their teaching, and the number of people committing to baptismal dates. It is quite exciting!
As some of the missionaries have been having problems getting people to commit to baptism, I taught and handed out the following lesson at last week’s District Meeting:
The Point of Baptism
The most important and sometimes most difficult process to learn is how to commit people to baptism. Most people perceive the truth when they hear it, but understanding the truth and being willing to live it are two different things. Developing the ability to convince people to commit to living the truth—to commit to baptism—is the final step in learning how to be a great missionary. This chapter will deal with how to approach this subject, how to deal with investigator concerns, and how to deal with your own fears.
How to Commit People to Baptism
For most missionaries, the most difficult discussion to teach is the one where they commit the investigator to live the commandments and be baptized. It is stressful because missionaries want so badly for them to say yes, but fear they will say no. You don’t want to scare them away by being too pushy, on the other hand, you know you need to broach the subject and prepare them for “the question”: Will you be baptized?
- Be up front and honest.
As stated in a previous chapter, the best way to prepare people to say yes to the question of baptism is to let them know up front that baptism is a requirement for joining our church. This is such an important principle that it deserves repeating! Almost everyone will say no the first time you bring up the subject of baptism. They will say they are interested in hearing what you have to say, but do not want to join the Church. You should always come back with an assertive and positive response, stating that you knew all along how they felt and that you did not expect an affirmative response, at least not now.
“Of course we don’t expect you to join our Church right now. In fact, we would not permit you to join right now! You see, God has a plan for all of us. He expects each and every one of us to make covenants with Him to prove our worthiness. In these covenants, we promise to do certain things for God, such as keeping his commandments; and God promises to do certain things for us, such as bless our families and us on earth and inherit the Kingdom of God after this life. Because these covenants are so sacred, we do not permit anyone to enter into them without first making sure they are prepared to live them. The discussions we teach will give you an understanding of what God expects. After you hear all of the discussions, the decision will be totally up to you: you can either decide to go on with your life as it is, or you can decide to accept the promises God has given and enter into the covenant of baptism.”
At this point, two things have happened. You have calmed their fears about making a commitment right now, and you have given them something very deep and sacred to ponder. They will want to know what these sacred covenants are! After you have broached this subject once, you never have to worry about it again. Whenever it comes up, if they are still nervous or say they don’t want to join, you can remind them that you told them up front it was their decision and if they are not ready, it is okay. Then continue to teach them until they are ready.
- Don’t wait.
The longer you wait to bring up the idea of baptism, the harder it will be to get them to commit. People must have time to ponder before making a life-changing commitment. If you “spring” it upon them at the last discussion, of course they will say no! “You never told us you expected us to join your Church!” “You never mentioned we had to get baptized!” People need time to decide. More importantly, people need time for the Spirit of God to work upon them. This is a recurring theme in this book. God cannot draw from an empty well. If your investigators have never been taught about baptism, if the thought isn’t even in their mind, how can God then work on that thought? Paul understood this when he said, “And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”[i] The Spirit must have something to work upon. If you place the idea of baptism in their minds, even if they reject it at first, it will give the Spirit of God a chance to work upon them over a period of time. Then when you do ask the question, they will be prepared to say yes.
- Make sure they are ready.
For most missionaries, this is not a problem. By the time they find the courage to ask their investigators to be baptized, they are more than ready! But occasionally there will be some missionaries, even some entire missions, so zealous to get baptisms they do not wait until the family is truly ready. This creates a frightening scenario, because it almost ensures the family will eventually leave the Church. They will be the seed in the Savior’s parable of the sower[ii] planted in soil without dirt; therefore, they did not grow roots. As a result, it was just a matter of time before they withered and died.
You must make certain your family is ready to take upon themselves the sacred covenants of God. This does not mean you take upon yourself the responsibility to decide for them (God forbid) as only they can say yes or no; only they can decide, only they will be held responsible for whatever decision they make. What does it mean, then, to make sure they are ready?
– It means you make sure you have not taken any shortcuts.
– You teach them all the discussions.
– You make sure they understand what you have taught.
– You make sure you have resolved all their problems and concerns.
– They are going forward with full knowledge of all of the commitments and responsibilities they will be taking upon themselves. If you help them hide their sins (oh, it really isn’t that bad) or pretend to overlook the problems they have with the doctrine (I know they don’t believe in prophets, but they want to be baptized!), you will be doing both them and the Church a great disservice. You cannot make the decision for them, but you can make certain you have taught them correctly and well!
- Get the members involved.
When investigators are hesitant to be baptized, it is rarely due to the doctrine (after all, it is the truth). It may be a result of their fear of the change in their lifestyle or of meeting and associating with so many new people. The way to overcome this fear is to make certain they meet as many members as possible while you are teaching them the discussions. I promise you, the members can do a much better job of overcoming their fears about baptism than you! Put away your pride, realize you cannot do it alone, and get some help from the members.
Even if you find it hard to get members to split, as your investigators near baptism the leaders of the ward should come and help you. For example, the elders quorum president should come to meet the father and talk about the priesthood, the Relief Society president should come meet the wife, and the Young Men’s and Women’s presidents and Primary president, etc. (or their counselors) should come meet the various members of the family. The more members that visit the family prior to baptism the better, as your investigators will then feel more comfortable coming to church because they already know people.
- Make sure they go to church.
One of the natural fears people have is the fear of the unknown. Getting your investigators to come to church as soon as possible is the best way to get them over this fear. They need to meet other members of the church, know where the church is, where to park, where the door is, and which class to go to. These things may seem small but can loom quite large in the minds of your investigators. This also means that before they go to church, you are to tell them all about it. Not just what time it starts, but everything about it. You tell them, “We start in this class for an hour, then go here for an hour, then go into sacrament meeting for an hour. The sacrament is bread and water, and you should not partake of the sacrament yet, until after you are baptized.” The more you tell them about church and the more specific you get, the more at ease they will be when they get there.
- Don’t turn them into professional investigators!
If you have taught your investigators all the discussions and they still refuse to be baptized, it is time to move on. Occasionally, people take a long time to make up their mind (I have seen some people take a year or more). As missionaries, you do not have that kind of time. When it comes to extended teaching assignments, it is appropriate to turn these investigators over to stake missionaries to continue the work. As full-time missionaries, you should not continue teaching a family very long after they have progressed through the discussions. If you continue to visit and eat dinner with them without having them make any kind of commitment to the Church, you will create professional investigators! It is better to leave them for a time—months, even years—so another missionary might have a better chance of committing them to baptism when they are ready.
I had an example while serving as a Seventy in Utah. We were teaching the discussions to a young couple who, after all the discussions were given, declined to be baptized. We were not sure what to do. We could not simply give them the discussions again, and we did not feel it was in our best interest to meet with them every week, as though we were their home teachers, since they were not members of the Church. After some discussion, we turned them over to an older stake missionary couple. They were wiser and more patient than we could have been with this young couple. A year later, the diligence of these stake missionaries paid off—the couple was baptized.
Another example happened in Connecticut while I was serving as ward mission leader. One of the part-member families I was home teaching finally committed to taking the missionary discussions. It was another example of simply being bold and asking the nonmember husband, directly and forcefully, to hear all the missionary discussions. Once he said yes, the path seemed clear: have the full-time missionaries teach this family and get the husband baptized. Everything seemed to be going exactly as planned, until all the discussions had been taught and the husband still refused to be baptized. He was not yet ready. What should we do? Once again, we decided to turn the family over to someone older and wiser. We assigned this family to one of the senior missionary couples serving in our ward. About eight months later, this good husband and father was baptized.
This is how it should work. Full-time missionaries teach only those who are prepared to be baptized into the Church. If all the discussions have been taught and your investigators still refuse to come to church and be baptized, they should be turned over to the local priesthood—the stake or senior missionaries—to continue contact. This will prevent them from becoming “hooked” on the missionaries. It will prevent them from becoming professional investigators.
What Happens if Only Part of the Family Wants to Join?
One of the most difficult decisions to be made occurs when only part of the family is ready to be baptized. Generally speaking, it is good to wait as long as possible before creating a part-member family. If one family member is not ready, wait a while longer, especially if it is one of the parents. If the father is not ready but the rest of the family is, wait. It is better to be patient and baptize the family as a group rather than create tension within the family unit by baptizing only part of the family.
Remember that the family is the most important unit in God’s kingdom. It is inappropriate to be about the work of splitting up families. Whenever possible, the family should be taught together, progress together, and be baptized together. No missionary should be so zealous as to tear a family apart by baptizing only part of the family when, with patience, they could have been baptized into the Church together.[iii]
Sometimes you just have to let them go and let time resolve the issues and problems. Let me give you an example.
We were teaching an older couple who seemed very interested in joining the Church. After a while, the husband became disinterested and even antagonistic toward us while the wife continued to progress toward baptism. It became clear they were going in separate directions. They had been perfectly happy as a couple until we had introduced the gospel into their family, but now it seemed as though the gospel would break up their family. Finally, it came to a crisis. If the wife continued with the discussions, their marriage would probably end. The husband demanded she stop meeting with us. What should we do? What should they do? All I can tell you is what finally happened and I believe the Lord accepted it. The wife, with our blessing and encouragement, decided to stop taking the discussions. Her relationship with her husband had to come first. We knew that God would bless this good woman either way. It was a tough decision and we believed that, in time, her husband might come around. I knew that God could see the desires of her heart, and she would be blessed and, in time, be rewarded for her faith.
There is another principle involved, however. Every man, woman, and child will have to stand before the bar of God to be judged by their works. What they did in this life and the decisions they have made, including the decision to accept the gospel and be baptized will all be a part of this judgment. Since this is a personal decision, not a group one, each individual must be accepted on their own merits and desires. What this means is that in spite of our desire to bring families into the Church together, sometimes this is impossible. If it becomes clear some members of the family will not join the Church and others are definitely ready, we should not, can not, deny them the blessing and opportunity to be baptized. There is another profound principle behind the decision to proceed with baptism. The spiritual growth within the faithful spouse will eventually save the husband or wife.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)
I believe this principle is much broader than stated here. I believe a parent or parents can sanctify their children and faithful children can sanctify their parents. I believe we underestimate the power of the Spirit to influence those around us. The presence of the Spirit of God touches and influences everything around it. When thinking about this principle, I always think of a little history. Just a few years before the Iron Curtain fell and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union opened their doors to the preaching of the gospel, a significant event happened. A temple of God was built in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. I believe the building of this temple was directly responsible for the eventual change in the hearts of the people of Germany, which, in turn, led to the fall of the Iron Curtain. This being true, what influence can a faithful member have on their spouse who lives with them day after day?
Even in part-member families, the family must come first. This is a principle that must be affirmed over and over if the entire family is to one day become united in Christ. Let me give you an example.
We were teaching a wonderful family in Connecticut. The wife had been a Jehovah’s Witness, which almost cost her her marriage. The Jehovah’s Witnesses demanded she always put their church first, so, time after time, she was choosing strangers over her husband and children in matters that directly affected their family like tithing, finances, and the time she spent away from her family. Eventually the family was in crisis, and the wife had to choose between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and her husband. She chose her husband.
Not long afterward, she met the Mormon missionaries and was converted. But once again, perhaps because of her recent history with the other church, there arose a conflict within the family. Her husband did not want her to be baptized. As ward mission leader, I went with the missionaries to help resolve the conflict. After assessing the situation, I told the husband that, considering the circumstances, we would not baptize his wife without his permission as we did not want to break up his family or do anything that would cause problems for them. We decided to follow the principle we had been taught in almost every priesthood meeting we attended: The family comes first.
Within a few days after our meeting with this family, the husband gave permission for this good woman and her son to be baptized. Our concern for the unity of his family had convinced him this Church would be good for his family. I was assigned to be their home teacher. Not long afterward another problem arose—tithing. This sister had been faithfully paying tithing on the money she earned at her job. The family was going through some tough financial times and the husband demanded she stop. I was brought in to resolve the problem. Once again, I put the family first. I told this sister she was to obey the wishes of her husband and not pay tithing. I told her that God knew her heart and knew that she would pay tithing if she could. I told her it was more important to keep a good relationship with her husband than to fight over money. I told her I knew the time would come when she would be able to participate in this law and receive its blessings. I told her how lucky she was to have an honorable husband who worked hard, financially supported her and her children, and did not abuse them but loved and cared for them. This was not a man for whom she wished to cause problems, but one with whom she wanted to stay! I read her the scripture quoted above and promised she would have a much greater influence on her husband by loving him than by doing things to disrupt her family.
Once again, her husband was surprised and touched by the tone of my words. How different from the other churches he had experienced! Instead of trying to divide his family, we were doing everything we could to keep them together. It wasn’t long before she began to pay tithing again with the full blessing of her husband. Soon he was attending Church socials and participating in Church at various times. We eventually moved, so I don’t know their status now, but I’m sure we did the right thing. She remained faithful, her son was married in the temple, and her husband fully supported her membership. In time, I know he will join the Church, too.
We will never know, nor can we as mortals adequately judge, the trials people must go through to become members of the Church and remain active. I remember one wonderful young woman for whom I was a home teacher. She had been converted and had been a faithful member for about two years when she came up against a real problem—marriage. There were no available men in the ward and she wanted children and a family. She fell in love with a nonmember. She had to choose between the Church in which she believed and loved, and the man she loved and could have a family with. She chose to experience the love of a good man and have a family, and I could not tell her she was wrong! I could not judge her heart or the path on which the Lord might take her. I wished her all the blessings that could come to her in her life, prayed she would find joy, and said goodbye.
These are hard decisions! We are but mortals with limited understanding about how God works in the lives of men on earth. Therefore, we cannot presume to judge the decisions of others, especially when it concerns something so sensitive, private, and personal as love and family. We are fortunate to be able to leave that judgment in the loving hands of Jesus Christ.
If they say yes, baptize!
I have stressed a lot the need to make certain you teach people properly, so they understand what you have taught, and that you do not baptize them if they are not ready. But the bottom line is, if they desire to be baptized, you must baptize them! You cannot judge their hearts, only God can. You cannot assume they are lying, or assume they are not ready, or assume anything else about them. You must take them at face value and ask the standard questions prior to baptism. If they say yes, baptize them!
In the first place, I want to say to the Elders who go forth to preach the Gospel—no matter who may apply to you for baptism, even if you have good reason to believe they are unworthy, if they require it, forbid them not, but perform that duty and administer the ordinance for them; it clears the skirts of your garments, and the responsibility is upon them. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 327)
What to Do After They are Baptized
People fall away from the Church for a variety of reasons but primarily as the result of two things: either they were not prepared properly before being baptized, or the members of the Church did not properly follow up after baptism. Let us talk about the follow-up that must take place with every new member of the Church.
- Joint member/missionary visits
Preferably these visits should begin before investigators are baptized, but it must certainly occur after they are baptized. There must be a formal “passing of the torch” from the missionaries to the home teachers. There should be at least two visits where both the missionaries and members go together to visit the new member. The new members know the missionaries and trust them. This feeling of comfort and trust must be passed from the missionaries to the home teachers. This is very simply done by teaching a few joint lessons together. This will show the new members that the missionaries trust the home teachers, so the new member will trust them as well. By teaching together, they show a united front that the doctrine taught is the same, and the Spirit of God is present. There is a transfer of trust.
- New member discussions.
All new members should be given the new member discussions in the weeks following the baptism. The stake missionaries, senior missionaries, home teachers, or any combination of the three can teach these lessons. These discussions are simply a review of the missionary discussions with a greater emphasis on the temple, so they can begin preparations for the temple. These discussions will reinforce everything taught by the missionaries. The new members will remember the sweet Spirit they felt and why they made the commitments they did. The lessons will solidify their testimonies and give them another chance to bring up, and overcome, any doctrine they did not understand or principle they hesitated to believe.
- Give new members a calling.
Every new member should be given a calling as soon as possible. Some bishops are hesitant to call new members to positions of trust, assuming that because they are new they will not do a good job or will make mistakes. These bishops must overcome their misgivings because it is in error. Everyone makes mistakes in their callings; no one is perfect. The growth these new members will gain far outweighs any problem they might create or experience while serving in that calling. What do branches do? Some countries have branch presidents who have been members of the Church only four months! If they can survive and grow with the help of the Lord, surely your branch or ward can continue to grow by placing inexperienced new members in positions of trust within the ward.
- Give them a new goal: the temple.
Make sure new members understand their eternal progression has just begun. As they begin to serve faithfully, they must begin preparations to enter the temple of the Lord. Obtaining their temple endowments and having their family sealed for eternity should be a well-established goal for every new member, even before they are baptized.
- Frequent interviews with the bishop.
The bishop should set aside time to interview all new members on a regular basis. Not only should he interview them after baptism and for new callings, but he should interview them every few months to gauge their progress, foresee any problems, and make assignments to other leaders in the ward to help them through the first few difficult years as members.
[i] Romans 10:14
[ii] Matthew 13:3–9
[iii] “And if children embrace the Gospel, and their parents or guardians are unbelievers, teach them to stay at home and be obedient to their parents or guardians. . . . But if a man forbid his wife, or his children, before they are of age, to receive the Gospel, then it should be the duty of the Elder to go his way.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 87)