I recently read The Power Of Everyday Missionaries by Harvard Business School professor and bestselling author Clayton Christensen. Up until this point, I was not a very good missionary in terms of talking to my neighbors and friends about the gospel. Christensen’s book helped me realize that I was making it too hard on myself. Two ways I was making it more difficult than it needed to be were:
1. I was taking on the responsibility for those with whom I shared the gospel to get baptized. If I shared the gospel with someone and they didn’t get baptized, I was a failure.
2. I thought the only way I could be a good missionary was to give a good sales pitch, up close and personal and in the face of the person with whom I was sharing the gospel.
On the first point, Christensen teaches us that we are not responsible for someone accepting the gospel. That’s their choice. It’s up to the Lord to soften their hearts, and the individual to accept the gospel. I am a successful missionary as long as I make the invitation. This doesn’t mean I make the invitation and then I could care less what happens afterward, but it does take some of the pressure off, making it easier to make the invitation in the first place.
This point was brought home to me as I read in the Book of Mormon this morning in 1 Nephi 8:14-18. In this part of the scriptures Lehi is having his dream of the tree whose fruit makes one happy. As the scriptures read:
14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!
15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him.
16 And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.
18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
This reminded me of a story told by a business mentor of mine, Rick Farr. As I recall the story, Rick told about the time he was invited by a friend to invest in a property, a duplex. It was a good deal and by buying this duplex Rick and his friend could put a little money into the place, flip it, and make some good money. But Rick didn’t feel right about it and decided not to invest. Rick’s friend ended up buying the duplex by himself.
At first Rick felt like he had made the right decision and patted himself on the back for a job well done. Then the duplex appraised for tens of thousands of dollars more than his friend had bought it for. Suddenly Rick thought, “I’m an idiot.” He missed out on a great deal.
Then the duplex caught on fire and burned to the ground. “I’m a genius!” thought Rick. He had just avoided losing his entire investment. Whew!
Then the insurance company wrote off the entire property and paid Rick’s friend cash for the place based on the appraisal price. “I’m an idiot,” thought Rick. Rick’s friend didn’t even have to bother selling the place. It was even easier money than Rick’s friend had thought it would be.
The point is that Rick only made one decision. He didn’t have control over the consequences. Likewise, in the story of Lehi inviting his family to come partake of the fruit, Lehi could only issue the invitation. He couldn’t force his family to partake of the fruit. Does the fact that Laman and Lemuel didn’t take the fruit make Lehi any less of a good parent? I’ve sometimes thought “Well, Lehi wasn’t a perfect parent, just look at Laman and Lemuel.” But this line of thinking makes no sense. God is a perfect parent, but a third of his children rebelled against him before they even got to earth. And plenty of his children here are disobedient as well.
How might I think differently about Lehi if Laman and Lemuel had been good children? I would hold up Lehi as the perfect parent. And yet Lehi didn’t do anything different, as near as we can tell, for Laman and Lemuel vs. Nephi and Sam. It wasn’t in Lehi’s control to make Laman and Lemuel be obedient to the Lord. That choice was theirs and theirs alone. All Lehi could do was invite them to accept the gospel. Likewise we cannot control our neighbors, friends, and family. We can only control what we do, and all we can do is be good examples, make invitations, and provide information and support where needed. Others may label us successful missionaries if a lot of the people we invite are baptized, but someone who makes a lot of invitations that never result in baptism is just as successful as a missionary, because a successful missionary is one who makes lots of invitations, or makes invitations under the guidance of the Spirit.
On the second point, I’ve realized I don’t need a good sales pitch to share the gospel. Thinking this way just prevents me from sharing. Christensen’s book helped me see that I don’t need much of a pitch at all in many situations. Sometimes I just need to make space for someone to ask me about what I believe.
I go to a lot of business meetings and lunches. It frequently comes up that I lived in Brazil for two years and speak Portuguese. But in the past I’ve rarely added the fact that I was a Mormon missionary. By adding this little tidbit, I make it safe for someone to say “Oh, that’s interesting, can you tell me more about the Mormon church?” If I neglect to share that information, they don’t even know to ask. Now when it comes up, I try to remember to say “I lived in Brazil for two years. I was a Mormon missionary there,” rather than just “I lived in Brazil for two years.” I don’t always remember. Two days ago I had a lunch with someone and remembered. Last night I met with someone, Brazil happened to come up in our discussion, and although I told them I used to live there, I forgot to tell them why I was living there. Doh. I’m still working on developing the habit.
By measuring my success as a missionary based on making invitations and finding ways to bring up my religion in a non-in-your-face way, I have found it much easier to be a good missionary and not stress out about it.