Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's Up With Utah Mormons?

Everyone knows that there are a lot of Mormons in Utah. It seems that many people, both in and out of the state, have the general impression that Utah is some kind of monolithic demographic block - that virtually "everybody" in Utah belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "LDS" Church. To many, this is Mormonville, USA.

It's true that we have a high concentration of Saints in this state - 58% self-identify as members - constituting a slight majority of the overall population. But that still means more than 1.2 million of our fellow Utahans are not members of the Church. And such raw data ignores the reality that the population is not static; people move out, and new people move in all the time. It also fails to take into account that many members may not be fully active and enjoying all the blessings the Church has to offer.

Demographic data aside, I think that a major stumbling-block to member missionary work in our area is not the numbers, but the perceptions those numbers evoke among the members. That is (and I may be making a false assumption, here), I get the impression that many members who might otherwise like to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends, neighbors, and coworkers make the false assumption that there aren't that many good opportunities - because of the demographics.

They may feel that "most people around me are Mormons already," or "the non-members I know have probably already been swamped with people trying to share the Gospel with them -- I'm not going to add to the pile-on."

The trouble with this attitude is that we don't share the Gospel with demographic groups or data sets - we share the Gospel with individual human beings, one-on-one. And each person is different, with different experiences, and a different receptivity to truth on any given day.

When we assume that a person will not want to learn about our faith and what it has to offer, when we prejudge that they will dismiss our message because they are not ready, or when we simply assume that a person won't be receptive to an invitation for whatever reason - we are preemptively denying them their agency. We're not even giving them the chance to say "no." In effect, we are saying NO for them.

Don't pre-reject yourself. The consequences are eternal.

President John Taylor cautioned us, “If you do not magnify your calling, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty.”

An important aspect of member missionary work is reactivation. Since the dominant demographic is LDS in Utah, it may be that you're more likely to find yourself loving an associate or neighbor back into full participation in the Church, rather than sharing the Gospel with a brand new investigator learning about the Church for the first time. Conversions of members are just as important as conversions of non-members.

In some ways, even more important, since those who have fallen away have greater accountability in the end.

So, before you let Utah's demographics, and the concomitant assumptions, derail your efforts and undermine your natural desire to share all the Lord's church has to offer...before you inadvertently allow your perceptions of the population at large to become a rationalization for withholding your testimony from specific individual children of God...remember these three points from above:
  1. We share the Gospel with individuals. We love each unique person, not some abstraction on a census chart.
  2. Assuming they don't want you to invite them is saying NO for them. A person can't accept an invitation that's never made.
  3. So many of our brothers and sisters need (and perhaps want) to be loved back into the Gospel, not just introduced to it. Here in Utah we may have more opportunities to do that than anywhere else.
Let's keep these truths in mind when we're tempted to let sweeping generalizations about Utah's Mormons dictate whether or not we fulfill the prophetic call of "every member a missionary."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will Power

All God ever asks of us throughout the scriptures, in all the commandments, and in all the covenants we ever make, can be summed up in one short phrase: "Not my will, o God, but thine, be done."

Consequently, consecration is all about us obediently giving God the one and only thing we truly have to give: our will. Once we voluntarily relinquish that fully to Him, He will take care of everything else, guaranteed.

The great thing about that principle is that if we follow it, we will become the kind of being He wants us to become, in every way. It will only be to our eternal benefit. It's probably the hardest thing to do in life (as it requires true humility and the shedding of selfish desires), but it is the most worthwhile pursuit of our brief mortal sojourn.

It's a great principle because it encompasses the entire gospel in a half-dozen (or so) words! And it sums up the Savior's life, perfectly.

There is so much power in freely turning over your will to God. It is indeed the great test of mortality to apply this principle in all things.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Faith and Blind Faith

As part of a long discussion thread on Facebook the other day, a friend of a friend who subscribes to no religion stated that he thought "faith and blind faith were synonymous."

I was quite surprised that anyone would make that mistake, and my first reaction was "REALLY? Wow. So that's what you think of believers." Yes, it felt a little insulting.

But I thought better of it and deleted that response before posting. I realized that for some people who are unacquainted with faith, the two might actually seem like similar phenomena. Instead, I wrote:

"Faith and blind faith are indeed different things. Faith is confirmed in the believer via a spiritual experience. Blind faith is uncritical acceptance. One is validated, the other is not. To conflate them is to misunderstand spirituality at a fundamental level."

For what it's worth, he liked my comment.

But it got me thinking...while my on-the-fly definitions were, I think, a pretty decent way to explain the distinction between "faith" and "blind faith," I think "blind faith" gets a little bit of a bad rap, as if it is an illegitimate way of thinking and feeling - something only for foolish people.

In fact, I think "faith" and "blind faith" are only different because they are at opposite ends of the same spectrum - the spectrum of belief. Much of what we call faith (as I described above - a knowledge or sense of truth that is confirmed by the Holy Ghost) might actually start out as "blind faith" (that which is uncritically accepted because it has not yet been confirmed).

And really, there's nothing wrong with that.

It's quite noble that someone who is not yet mature in his faith would take that "leap" and believe without having yet had a confirmation. Isn't that how belief starts for anyone? You may only have a desire to believe. Blind faith is perhaps the act of planting that seed in your heart, and nourishing it, and patiently awaiting its growth as it blossoms into a much more confident - and thus less-blind - faith.

So, blind faith is not - in and of itself - a bad thing. However, it's best if it is nourished, and grows and develops - via confirmation of the Holy Ghost - into a faith that is solid and sure and supported by a lifetime of personal spiritual experiences that strengthen the faith and make it unshakable, because it is built on the foundation of Christ. However, if blind faith is all you can muster - if you are, for whatever reason - unable to meet the challenge of developing your faith beyond the blind variety - I am sure you will still be blessed, as long as your faith is placed correctly.

One final thought: it may be easy to mistake faith for blind faith because a faith that is strong results in not having to question and confirm every little thing. For example: if the prophet issued an official statement regarding a certain point of doctrine, I would automatically accept it. While this might appear to some to be "blind faith," it is in fact the consequence of having already decided, as an act of non-blind faith, to follow my prophet and believe that he is the mouthpiece of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth today. Yes, we are encouraged to pray about what the prophet says and get our own confirmation of the truth, but there comes a point when such an exercise is not always necessary, because of the nature and strength of your well-developed faith. Another example: once I knew the Book of Mormon was true, there was no need to ask in prayer, after every verse, if that verse was also true. I just knew it was true in its entirety, and did not require constant confirmations every step of the way and with every turn of the page. My faith was strong, not blind.

So while I can see how a non-religious person might get it mixed up, faith and blind faith are definitely different...but blind faith can grow into faith, and faith might even sometimes look like blind faith, just because it is so well-founded.

What do you think? Did any of that make sense? What kind of faith do you have?

Monday, February 24, 2014


Last night, I co-hosted our latest quarterly dual-ward Ward Mission Conference - a fireside we hold once every three months. We get together with another ward with whom we share the building, and focus on ways to hasten the work of salvation - namely, to get the members fired up about member missionary work and give them tools for success in their missionary efforts. It's one of my responsibilities as the ward mission leader.

Last night's topic was GOAL SETTING  within the context of member missionary work. The idea was to explore ways that we can use goal setting as a tool to help us bring souls unto Christ.

After an opening song, prayer, and remarks, we split off into three rotating breakout sessions. Here is the material that I prepared for presentation:

Breakout #1 – Overview

Goal setting, planning, and accountability can help many people receive the restored gospel.

Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish. Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action. Goal setting and planning are acts of faith (see Preach My Gospel, ch. 8). As families and individuals, we should prayerfully set goals that contribute to the fulfillment of our Ward Mission Plan.

A key part of our goals as member missionaries is names. Names of people we know who will help us achieve our missionary-oriented goals. This includes neighbors, friends, family members, work colleagues, families we home teach or visit teach, or anyone else we may know who needs the gospel in their lives to a greater degree. We should set goals for what we hope will happen with these people  attend church, read the Book of Mormon, set a baptismal date, and so on (see Preach My Gospel, ch. 8). These goals should be specific and include milestones with target dates.

“I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.” –Elder M. Russell Ballard

Carefully considered, challenging goals will give you clear direction and help to stretch you as you strive to do the Lord’s work. Here are some important guidelines as you set your goals:
  • Do the gospel things that will help you to feel the desire to succeed in member missionary work. Pray for the motivation to do your best as a member missionary.
  • Focus on specific people, not abstract numbers.
  • Be specific and realistic, but set goals that will make you stretch.
  • Set meaningful weekly, monthly, and annual missionary goals as a family.
  • Once you’ve set goals, decide how you are going to achieve them.
  • Take note of your successes and also note where you may have fallen short or missed an opportunity. Review those notes in a family council and adjust your goals accordingly.
  • Approach your goal setting and planning with the idea that you will account for your efforts to the Lord through prayer.
  • Feel personal responsibility for the sacred trust the Lord has given you as a member of His Church.
  • Above all, live worthily to feel the Spirit and follow His promptings. Pray for inspiration.

Remember, setting goals is very valuable, but it is worthless if we do not follow through with implementation.

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.” D&C 58:26-29

Take a few minutes now to think about NAMES of people who may need the gospel more fully in their lives. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.

Breakout #2 – SMART Goals

You’ve probably heard of the concept of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym from the business world designed to help you make worthwhile goals. There are a few versions of the definition of SMART, but here’s the meaning we’ll work with:
  • Specific – not vague hopes, but a concrete objective you can put your finger on
  • Measurable –progress can be tracked (needn’t be numerical, just a benchmark of some kind)
  • Achievable – in other words, realistic
  • Relevant –the goal is tied to overall objectives such as the Ward Mission Plan
  • Time-based – specify when the result(s) should be achieved

SPECIFIC: Some of your specific member missionary goals might include:
  • Helping an individual or family to develop greater faith in the Savior
  • Teaching an individual or family to repent and make changes that will bring them closer to God
  • Guiding an individual or family on the path to receive the covenant of baptism and confirmation
  • Encouraging an individual or family to come back to the church and renew the baptismal covenant

MEASURABLE: Some benchmarks may include:
  • Having a non-member or less active individual or family over for dinner or FHE (maybe a certain number of times)
  • Bringing a non-member or less active individual or family to a ward activity
  • Bringing a non-member or less active individual or family to church on Sunday
  • Giving away a Book of Mormon (maybe a certain number of them)
  • Bearing your testimony to a non-member or less active individual or family

ACHIEVABLE: Don’t overwhelm yourself by setting too high a bar, but be sure to stretch yourself. Also, be sure that your goals do not rely too much on the agency of others. You can only control what you can do. You can set a goal to invite 10 people to church, but you can’t set a goal for them all to say “yes.”

RELEVANT: Make sure that your goals are ultimately about bringing souls unto Christ.

TIME-BASED: Your goals should not be left flapping in the wind with no chronological anchor. Your goals should not have a deadline of “before I die.” Put a realistic time frame on your goals – a little pressure from the clock or calendar can be a good motivator!

Take a few minutes now to think about some SMART goals that you can set as an individual or family – specific things you’d like to achieve as a member missionary. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.

Breakout #3 – Implementation

Now that you understand the general approach, the motivation, and how to set SMART goals, you need to focus on the actual steps you can take every day to make those goals become reality. This is how you MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Some things to consider:

Overcoming fear – President Monson has taught us that when we act in faith, the Lord will show us how to strengthen His church. He said that the Lord will sanctify your efforts and you will gain a capacity beyond your own to lift and bless the lives of others (see Special Broadcast). Also, Elder Oaks has said that when we are doing the work of the Lord, the power that's behind us is greater than any obstacles that are before us (see Hastening the Work in Europe video)Finally, remember the principle of "Jehovah-jireh" as taught by Abraham (see Genesis 22:14). This is what Abraham named the mountain where he was to sacrifice Isaac. It means "the Lord will provide." And He did - He provided the ram - but only after the trial of Abraham's faith. Faith precedes the miracle. Thus we see that if we are willing to sacrifice for the Lord in faith, He will provide what we need to accomplish His purposes. 

Time management – We are all busy, but with a little organization we can find ways to fit member missionary work into our lives – and many of the things we do can actually take very little time with wonderful long-term results. Some things may require no additional time at all in our schedules, such as orienting our attitude toward missionary work.

Forming good habits – Just as we work to form the habits of daily prayer and scripture study, weekly church attendance, and temple worship; we can form the habit of member missionary work. Try to set goals that you can implement via the formation of simple good habits.

Accountability within the family – Hold one another accountable for the goals you set. Lovingly encourage each other and remind each other of the importance of the work.

Accountability to God – Include your thoughts on your missionary goals in your personal prayers. Report to the Lord, and ask Him for help. He will provide. 

Truly loving others – We can have a mighty change of heart that impels us to seek after the lost sheep, to love our brothers and sisters who do not currently have the gospel in their lives. We can show our gratitude for all we've been given by answering His call to share the joy we have with others. President Monson said, “May we ever increase our faith and faithfulness in fulfilling our sacred duty to rescue our brothers and sisters.” I can tell you from sacred personal experience that it is so very rewarding to love a family into the gospel!

With these general guidelines in mind, you should be able to develop a list of specific steps that you intend to take as you strive to meet your member missionary goals. The steps should be customized to the actual people on whom you plan to focus your missionary goals.

Before the final exercise, grab a tissue and watch this wonderful video:

Without words, this video shows so many beautiful ways to be a  missionary. Three takeaways I got were that having a focus on prayer and scriptures is key to being open to inspiration; service is an excellent way to share the gospel; and when it comes down to it, it's all about simply loving others. What did you notice in the video?

Now, take a few minutes now to think about WAYS that you can achieve your goals as an individual or family – specific things you can do to succeed as a member missionary. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.


And that was it. We regrouped for a few closing words, a song and a prayer, and then enjoyed some treats. I also made sure that all in attendance had the phone number of the full-time missionaries in their cell phones.

All in all, it was a good meeting! 

What is your family doing to hasten the work of salvation?

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

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