Friday, October 23, 2009

Mormon.org chat

--OztN Miller not an official spokesperson of the LDS Church or Mormon.org--
Many people in the world have a skewed view of Mormon missionary work--including many Mormon missionaries.  This has not been clearer to me since I started to work at the MTC Referral Center a year ago.

The purpose of missionary work in the LDS Church is to invite others to come closer to Jesus Christ, and to help them to apply His Gospel in their lives.  Missionaries are not professional counselors or consultants; they can offer little advice on personal or intrapersonal issues.  Likewise, missionaries are not LDS apologists; they are not here to defend attacks on perceived fallacies in LDS doctrine or history.  Missionaries are simply teachers.

The two action words in the missionary purpose are "to invite" and "to help".  Missionaries are not here to force religion on anyone.  Rather, we know that millions of people in the world (quantity arbitrarily estimated) are trying to do what is right.  They may not necessarily be looking for Christ--or for religion at all--but we believe that if somebody's core desire is to discover what is right and true and to live by it, they will eventually recognize the Gospel of Jesus Christ when they come across it, and they will want to be a part of it.  These are the people whom Mormon missionaries are looking for.

I am grateful that the Referral Center (RC) exists.  Like most aspects of proselytizing missionary work, the RC is not perfect; however, this system does offer one more way for sincere seekers of knowledge and truth to come in contact with the LDS Church.  The vision and hope is that anyone in the world can, at any time, and in any language, talk to a Mormon missionary if they have questions about who we are and what we believe.  We are not there yet, but the RC--and especially the chat feature on Mormon.org--is bringing us one step closer to that goal.

One may ask, "If this is so important to the LDS Church, why do they allow meagerly trained young adults to do the majority of their missionary work?"  I have a few answers to this question.

The first answer is that the basic, core doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not as complicated as many people believe.  Modern revelation has clarified what is important for us to know and understand.  Only a short time of devoted, prayerful study is really required to grasp the essential elements.  The LDS Church does not need to employ scholars or biblical experts to explain our beliefs.  In fact, the Lord has declared in modern scripture that He restored His Gospel through Joseph Smith in order "that [He] might show forth [His] wisdom through the weak things of the earth"
(D&C 124: 1; emphasis added).

The second answer is that missionary work is not the first priority of the LDS Church.  As I understand, the first priority is and should be family.  Young people who are not married do not have obligations to build or support a family.  They are thus able to devote their time and effort to teaching our core beliefs to those who want to know.

A third reason is that many young people in the LDS Church--especially if they have grown up with the church--do not always take the time or put in the effort required to gain their own conviction about the Gospel.  Preparing for and serving a full-time mission provides some incentive to these young people to do just that.  Young missionaries soon find that it is near impossible to teach as truth something that they do not yet wholeheartedly believe.

As a teacher in the RC, I have had wonderful opportunities to teach these things to new missionaries and to help missionaries to effectively teach other sincere seekers.  Occasionally, I have had time to actually take calls or chat with people on Mormon.org and it is an irreplaceable experience.  It is clear that much still needs to be done to help others understand who we are and what we are trying to accomplish, but I am excited by the steps that the LDS Church has taken.

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