At District meeting this week the missionaries shared the great successes they are having here. It is amazing how the work here has grown and developed!

I shared some insights into leadership while serving on a mission:

Becoming a Leader

At some time, almost every missionary will be called to a leadership position. This is a great honor and comes with great responsibility. As a regular missionary, your example and actions influenced the many people with whom you came into contact. As a leader, you will influence many times more people. Every missionary you affect for good or ill will, in turn, affect everyone they meet. This means you must be more diligent about living the mission rules and being a good example, as you have the opportunity to inspire or corrupt those who serve under you.

Bad Leaders

Bad leaders provide excuses for those who break mission rules. They may even abet them in their efforts. I have seen leaders who arranged district and zone meetings where all who were in attendance broke mission rules. This not only promoted disobedience and dishonesty but completely sabotaged the mission president’s ability to manage the missionaries and the mission. Bad leaders are just bad missionaries magnified.

Good Leaders

Good leaders take their responsibility seriously. They know they are examples and take extra care to obey the mission rules. They are always on time, always prepared, and always positive with their thoughts or criticisms. They always leave a missionary better than they found him.

  1. The key to motivation is splits (exchanging companions).

You can only motivate other missionaries when you are with them, by going on splits. Every missionary loves splits. Splits take them away from mundane routine and energizes them with something different, even if only for a few hours. The more often you split with those serving under you, the more influence you have. The more often you split, the easier it is to pick up problems and help resolve them; the better you will be able to see their strengths and bolster them; the more you will see their weaknesses and help overcome them.

  1. Always be positive.

The way to any missionary’s heart is through positive reinforcement. Instead of trying to find things they are doing wrong and correcting them (any gentile can do that), spend your time looking for the good things they do and praising them. The praise will reinforce the good things being done and motivate them to do more. Tell them stories of other missionaries who have found success and help them see how they can have the same success in their area. Help them become better than they are.

  1. Ask lots of questions.

The only way to help other missionaries with their problems is to understand them, and the only way to understand them is to ask questions. It is the story of the well again. The more you find out about them, the more information the Lord will have to draw upon to inspire you as to what to say and do while you are with them. Sometimes you will acquire information that will need to be passed on to the mission president. Do not hesitate to do this! A mission president lives and dies by the information he receives from his missionaries. If his information is limited, or if he is lied to, it can disrupt the spiritual flow of the entire mission. A good leader knows when he can directly help those under him and when he must seek the help of the leaders above him.

  1. Give spiritual talks.

One of the characteristics of a good leader is the ability to communicate to large groups of people through talks. There is almost nothing more motivating than a powerful spiritual talk. It can bring clarity to confusing doctrine, it can help people see new ways to solve their personal problems, and it can help them feel the Spirit of God. I have already mentioned one example of how powerful this tool can be—the Regional Representative’s talk about the power of prayer. That one talk changed my life forever. It motivated me to develop my relationship with my Savior and to bring that relationship to a higher level. It helped me become a more effective servant of God. One talk. You should try to do the same.

  1. Always be up front and honest.

Even though it is absolutely essential to create positive experiences with those you serve, do not exaggerate or mislead missionaries about who they are and what their problems are. Exaggeration and sophistry are simply lies and deception. This never helps; it only creates the illusion of helping. If you are asked your opinion, give it to them honestly and to the point—always remembering that you are there to help. If you offer honest criticism, you must also be prepared to offer honest solutions. There is nothing more debasing and frustrating than having a problem brought into the open only to have no solution. You are there to help missionaries become better people and more effective servants of God. Make sure your desires and focus are in the right direction.

If you are ever called upon to chasten a person, never chasten beyond the balm you have within you to bind up. (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 278)

There is a reason the scriptures talk about “reproving betimes with sharpness.” Leaders are supposed to alter the course and build the character of those they serve. When done with love and the Spirit, there is rarely anything more powerful or influential in a person’s life. I cannot count the times I was moved, even required, by the Spirit to talk to people about problems they had and what they had to do to get right with the Lord. I cannot remember a single time it turned out to be a negative experience or had anything but a positive response.

In addition to learning how to do this, you will need to teach others how to confront people and solve their problems.

For example, as a priesthood leader, I used to go on splits with the home teachers in my quorum so I could see how and what they did during their visits. I was surprised at the timidity of home teachers when confronting people about their problems. Even though they were teaching less-active members, no one asked them why they left the Church or why they had become less-active, so I showed them how to do it. I went with them and asked the tough questions for them. In almost every case, those being home taught would immediately open up and tell us the hows and whys of their lives. Then, knowing what the real problems were, we could begin to help them. The concept is simple, but it does take spiritual courage to confront people about their weaknesses and problems.

I learned this principle on my mission, but it solidified after I got married and was home teaching a less-active older couple in Utah. I had been visiting them for about six months, doing the standard home teaching visit, when one month my youth companion could not go so I went alone. I decided to try what I had learned on my mission. I asked permission to ask them some personal questions. I began asking them the hows and the whys of their less-active status. “Why don’t you come to Church anymore?” “Was there something that happened that caused you to lose faith?” At times, the air was filled with tension as my questions brought to the surface uncomfortable feelings and events. But as they were explaining to me their problems, and the reasons for them, it became clear to everyone that their reasons were really quite silly. Once they actually voiced their problems, they were able to see for themselves how silly they were being. Within two months, they were completely active again and taking the temple preparation class. I have never forgotten that experience and have repeated it many times. It is so simple, but it takes courage! You can do the same thing with the elders you serve and the investigators and members with whom you come in contact. It is a very powerful tool, but, unfortunately, it is a tool very few have the courage to use.

Help Other Missionaries

Always take time to help other missionaries with problems. Remember, we are God’s army, and an army must work together to obtain victory. I can’t count the times I had long conversations with missionaries with problems. Most of the time, they just wanted someone upon whom to unburden their souls; sometimes I was able to give counsel I think actually helped.

One missionary, nicknamed “trunky” because he was so anxious to go home, broke down and cried one night as I sat in the car with him. He was just one month away from going home, and he was lamenting all the time he had wasted while serving his mission. He had been so homesick that he spent his time and energy thinking about home and regretting all of the things he was missing while never focusing on why he was on a mission in the first place—to serve the Lord. He knew he had just wasted two years of his life, and, worse, he knew he would regret it the rest of his life. He desperately wanted to be a good missionary; to feel what it is like to have real success—but it was too late and so he cried. I will always be thankful that this elder opened up to me. I did not, could not, help him. But he helped me a great deal. After listening to his story of regret, I swore an oath that I would not waste a moment of time while on my mission. I never wanted to feel as I knew he felt. I never wanted to regret serving the Lord.

I believe I was able, in turn, to help a few missionaries in a positive way by helping them to overcome weaknesses, to work harder, and to find success in a very difficult assignment. It is not just leaders who are supposed to lift and motivate those around them—every missionary should look for opportunities to help and motivate those with whom they serve. It is not only our opportunity; it is our duty.

What to do with False Doctrine

As a leader in the district, zone, or mission, it will be your responsibility to look for, and combat, false doctrine being taught by missionaries. Sometimes it is very subtle. If in doubt, ask your mission president. While serving as a missionary for over 15 years, I have heard my share of false doctrine. The great majority is harmless and should be ignored. However, some can destroy testimonies and lives and therefore must be combated.

  1. False doctrine by new members.

The most commonly heard false doctrine is brought into the Church by new members. This is also the kind of false doctrine you do not have to worry about—it is harmless! There is not a single new member in the Church who knows everything. Therefore, what they have not yet learned is filled in by their previous belief system, which is usually distorted and filled with doctrinal errors. This is normal. New members must be given time to progress and learn at their own rate. They were baptized into the Church knowing a few basic truths, such as the truth of the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ is the Savior, and the restoration of the gospel. Their small testimonies of these new doctrines are primarily based upon the spiritual experience they have had with the missionaries. After they are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, and as they grow in their understanding of how the Church works, they will begin to gain a more powerful witness of the truth. The Holy Ghost will help them discern between truth and error, and the false doctrines they still believe will slowly vanish over time. Meanwhile, when asked a question about doctrine, they will have no choice but to rely on what they believed before they joined the Church.

Heresies abound in the sectarian world. But what of the true Church? Are there heresies within even that divine institution? Paul says such was the case among the Corinthians, and it is apparent that the same thing prevails in the modern kingdom of God on earth.

Speaking of our day, Nephi said that “because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms,” all men have “gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ.” Then pointing to these true saints, he added: “Nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Nephi 28:14.) That is, heresies are found in the Church today, even as in the meridian of time. For instance, what of the views of some on revelation, on the age of the earth, on the theories of organic evolution, on the resurrection of the sons of perdition, on a second chance for salvation, on whether God is progressing in truth and knowledge, and so forth?

The fact is that a major part of the testing process of mortality is to determine how much of the truth the saints will believe while they are walking by faith rather than by sight. And the more truths they accept, the clearer will be their views on Spiritual matters, and the more incentive and determination they will have to work out their salvation and gain eternal glory hereafter. Heresies and false teachings are thus used in the testing processes of this mortal probation. (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 2, pp. 362–3)

Let me give you a personal example. For months after I was converted to the Church, I continued to believe in the false doctrine of reincarnation! Nothing I had been taught or heard had told me it was wrong, so I had no reason to discard a belief I already held to be true. However, as time went on and I came to understand more fully what the resurrection of the dead meant, I came to understand that reincarnation was a false doctrine, and I changed my belief system. For months after coming back into the Church, I went through major doctrinal changes as I learned the truth and discarded my false beliefs. The fact is that this process has never ended! I am still learning new things, and modifying what I know and how I apply what I know, as the truth is revealed to me through the teachings of the prophets or through personal revelation. When you think about it this way, all members of the Church believe in and teach false doctrine to some degree or another, because none of us knows all things, and all of us are still learning. The key is to remain humble enough to continue to learn new things about the Kingdom of God every day!

 I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter-day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It doesn’t prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine. (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 183)

  1. False doctrine by nonmembers.

False doctrine distributed by other churches and anti-Mormon groups can be devastating to investigators, new members, and occasionally even naive missionaries. There is only one way to combat this type of false doctrine—with the truth! Most of the pamphlets, books, and movies that are created by anti-Mormon groups are full of false statements, quotes taken out of context, and exaggerations. In almost every case, if you can persuade those having trouble with these to talk to you, you will be able to overcome it. Without exception, I lost an investigator or new member to false doctrine only when they refused to talk to me about it. If they read it, make their mind up about it, and then refuse to talk to you about what they have read, there is not much you can do. They have been deceived and will suffer the consequences. However, if you can get them to sit down and listen, you should be able to take them through the doctrine step by step and alleviate their concerns and fears. Remember, we have the truth! There is no reason to worry about discussing with people what they have read or heard; the truth will always win in the end.

I had an experience confronting false doctrine while serving as ward mission leader. A missionary who had been out for about a year was teaching a family that had been given anti-Mormon literature by their minister. This family, in turn, gave the literature to the missionary and wanted him to explain it. After the missionary read what he had been given, he, too, was ready to leave the Church! He finally came and asked if I could help him through this trial of his faith. No sweat. We talked for about two hours, and I took him, point by point, through the information he had been given. At the end of the evening, he was converted again and ready to combat this false doctrine on his own. How did I do it? By knowing the truth and where to find it. I was well read and knew where the quotes had been taken out of context. When I was able to show him the full context of what was said, the whole meaning changed!

I also was able to help because I knew the anti-Mormon literature of the time. Since I knew the Church and its doctrine are true, I had no fear of reading any and all anti-Mormon literature that I could lay my hands on.[i] If I found anything I did not understand or could not easily combat, I took the time to look it up. It did not take long to discover how deceitful this literature was and how easily it could be refuted, given the right information. I remember going to the Hill Cumorah pageant with some very new members we had helped bring into the Church. There were many anti-Mormon pamphlets being handed out by other churches. Most people tried to avoid them. Not me! I walked right up to each one and took as many as I could get my hands on. While we waited for the pageant to begin, I even shared some of the pamphlets with these new members of the Church! We had some good laughs over some of the things they were trying to say about Mormons. I had no fear about doing this because I knew the truth. The new members had no fear because they knew I was confident in my knowledge of the gospel and my ability to combat anything the anti-Mormon groups tried to promote.

Now as a rule, I would recommend trying to keep this type of literature out of the hands of most investigators and new members simply because they are weak in the faith. However, it is not something you have to fear, because, once again, we have the truth![ii]

  1. True doctrine that is misunderstood.

The kind of “false doctrine” that is as damaging as that produced by anti-Mormons is true doctrine that is given to those not ready to hear it. This is like giving a slab of red meat to a child not yet weaned from his mother’s milk. This is perhaps the most difficult type of “false” doctrine to combat because it is true, and if those who hear it or read it do not accept it, or cannot understand it because they have no foundation to do so, how does one make them “instantly” ready to hear and understand? It is very difficult but can be done if they are willing to be patient and listen to the truth.

One incident I will never forget happened while serving in the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. We spent a lot of time studying while serving there. This was partly because there was a lot of down time we needed to fill and partly because we wanted to be prepared to answer any question asked of us. Since I loved to read and had already read everything they had in their small library, I wrote home and had my family send all 26 volumes of the Journal of Discourses! I was working on volume one (which has many powerful doctrines in it from polygamy to the Adam God theory) when I was called to take a tour. For some reason, I left my book at the front desk at the start of the tour and asked the senior missionary couple to watch it until I got back. They kindly said they would. When I was through with my tour (about 20 minutes), this faithful couple was arguing about some doctrine they had noticed in my book (I always underline important passages), behaving like they were ready to leave the Church over some of the things they had read! I took my book back and never let anyone look at it again.

I was totally astonished that faithful members of the Church could turn away from the Church so quickly simply because they had read something they did not fully understand. The doctrines I had underlined in this book were true. This senior missionary couple, though lifelong members, obviously were not spiritually ready to hear, understand, and accept what they read. This is not uncommon in the Church. Many members struggle to understand some of the deeper doctrines of the Church. How often do you hear a Sunday School discussion about the doctrine of polygamy? Seldom, if ever. Yet this doctrine had a profound effect on both the history of the Church and the people and leadership in it! The “Adam God theory” is a doctrine not one Sunday School teacher in a hundred will touch, yet it is a wonderful doctrine taught by both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and is, in fact, very easy to understand, if taught correctly. That, of course, is the key to all of this. Learning the truth. If both members and missionaries will take time to study the scriptures, study the words of the prophets, and gain a spiritual testimony of the doctrines of the Church, nothing will be able to shake their faith. If we come across false doctrine, we need not fear or fall away. We need only to use our faith to have the confidence to know that the Church is true and that once we fully understand the truth, the false doctrine will vanish and our faith will be enhanced. If done in such a manner, we will always find ourselves on safe ground with our faith firmly established. People have trouble with doctrine only when they jump to conclusions before finding out the whole truth.

  1. Stand up for what is right.

When false doctrine is taught in Church (and it happens all the time), it is usually appropriate to let it go. Most members will recognize false doctrine when they hear it and will understand the context in which it was taught (usually by an inexperienced member). They can just smile, knowing that, in time, everyone settles into the truth. There is usually no need to make a big deal out of it. Just take the time to take the person aside privately to explain that what they said was incorrect, and then lead them to where they can look it up and learn it for themselves.

Occasionally though, when the doctrine is taught in such a way, as to truly mislead, or is taught by someone in authority so that it may actually be accepted as truth by the congregation, members or priesthood leaders should step in and publicly correct the doctrine so there is no question as to what the Church teaches on the subject. I have seen this done several times by bishops who felt it necessary to step up to the podium to correct false doctrine that had been expressed in a talk. This can happen often in wards full of new members who tend to take anything said over the pulpit as truth. In these cases, the bishop has a responsibility to correct any false doctrine being taught to the congregation.

On one occasion, my wife had to step forward in Relief Society to counter some false doctrine being taught. The lesson was on the priesthood and its value to women. In the course of the lesson, one of the long-time members of the Church felt it necessary to quip, “The only reason the brethren have the priesthood is because women are co-creators with God in bearing children. Men had to have something to do!” There were many new members and investigators there, all taking what was said as the position and doctrine of the Church. No one was objecting or saying anything that would lead these women to think otherwise. In tears that such a sacred power would be so haphazardly tossed about, my wife rose and corrected the false teaching and replaced it with the truth. It was a lesson no one will forget, and no one in that room will ever again confuse the doctrine being taught that day.

Embarrassing someone in public is the last thing we want to do. Under normal circumstances, it is appropriate to take the person aside in private to let them know of their error. However, occasionally, when the group is accepting the false doctrine being taught, we have no choice but to publicly correct the doctrine being taught so no one will be led astray or deceived.

Always Choose People Over Meetings

True success as a leader comes from working with people, not in holding endless meetings, filling out forms, or measuring statistics. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to waste time sitting in an unproductive meeting, knowing you could be spending your time much more effectively talking with, and working directly with, those you are serving. Leaders who think they are being productive by creating work for those under them are unwise stewards. Their actions are doing just the opposite of what they hope. Instead of inspiring those who are working in the trenches with statistics of how well they are doing, or being able to tell them precisely where they are failing through all the paperwork they require of those below them, these leaders hinder the work of the Lord. Instead of spending productive time meeting with, and serving, those for whom they are responsible, they end up spending too much time in meetings, doing paperwork, and being a “clerk” instead of a leader.

We all understand there is a need for paperwork, and I know full well how important clerks and secretaries are. Much of the Church could not function without them. In fact, while serving as the priesthood leader in a very small ward, when given the choice of getting a second counselor or a secretary I took the secretary and made sure he was more competent than even my counselor. Why? Because I recognized how important a secretary was to make any organization work correctly! However, there are things required to be done in order to make sure the work of the Lord goes forward in an organized and proper manner, and there are things that are nothing more than make-work projects that serve no other purpose than to make some leader feel important, or like they are accomplishing something. A true leader never places a greater burden upon the shoulders of those below him than he has to. In fact, a true leader spends much of his time trying to find ways to lighten the load of those who serve under him.

As a leader, make certain any assignment you give someone has meaning. Make sure you only ask people to do things that actually help the work of the Lord go forward. Make sure you do not burden those who serve below you through unthinking decisions. Make sure you make their lives better, their burdens lighter, and their assignments meaningful to them and to those they will be serving.

[i] “Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?’ says one. Yes, if you please and when you are done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth in addition to reading those books. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 256–257)

[ii] “No man can disprove a truth.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 10)

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