In the week leading up to last Sunday’s missionary broadcast, a missionary department employee gave a talk to the Southern Virginia University peeps, which had emerged online. These are some things that especially stood out to me:
“If you want to know if the heavens are open, show up.”
“The meeting of the century.”
“Will change missionary work for the rest of this dispensation.”
“This is one of those things where you’re going to want to say, ‘Yes, I heard this thing live.’”
By now it’s no longer news: missionaries are going to be more active on the Internet, and they are going to give more tours of chapels. Of course I was there live for this, and as you can imagine, it left me stunned. I mean, I had been prepared for something big, but not something so… not actually big. The meeting was mainly a collection of sermons and stories about missionary work.
As I was leaving the meeting, I felt frustrated. I had been anticipating this thing so much, it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, both Saturday and Sunday morning. I was giddy. And when the announcements were made, I assumed they were just saving the announcements for the end. I felt like I had been kind of duped. Of course, not by the Church, whose track record of earth-shattering announcements at meetings sort of stares back at me going, “um, not my fault.” But by that guy. And I’m still completely confused why he used the language that he used to describe it.
But moments after the meeting, as it was sinking in, I tried to think about how it would have felt if I had not been expecting fundamental policy changes, and my feelings of dupe-ishness dissipated. In fact, I think these changes will lead to huge improvements in the way we go about doing missionary work in the church. And the meeting, as a reflection of principles and spiritual ideas, was edifying.
So I want to propose two ways that Sunday’s “historic meeting” are likely to steer the Church in a good direction.
The first way this may change missionary work for the better relates to how we trust our missionaries. Elders and sisters are highly supervised, and there is not a whole lot that we leave up to their discretion as adults. And as much as that will continue, the fact is, it will be impossible to monitor every activity the missionaries do on the Internet. That means we will have to just treat them like adults and expect them to be responsible. That’s a good thing.
The second point is more of a change in emphasis that could lead to a wonderful paradigm shift in the culture of the church. Members have always been invited to befriend people who are not members of the church, but often this invitation has felt like a strategy, a means to an end, and on Sunday, it was blatantly stipulated that when non-member friends are not interested in the church personally, our friendships with them should be completely unaffected, and move forward at full speed.
Personally, I believe that as Mormons, we have a lot we can offer to people who are not Mormons about how to think about the universe, and how to live good lives. So I am fundamentally on board with missionary work. But where it always breaks down for me is when our eagerness to share trumps a humble eagerness to hear and understand. As much as we can offer, we have a whole lot to learn as well, and I see a huge shift toward that side of things as a result of the principles taught on Sunday.
Of course, I’m still waiting for greater gender equality in the missionary program of the Church (which really has had some progress in the last 9 months. #onemiracleatatime, right?), but I am glad for this meeting, and the reminder that change happens, but it happens slowly.
How else do you anticipate missionary work changing as a result of this new vision from church leadership?