Sharing the Gospel with Human Beings

(These are the notes for the talk I gave in sacrament yesterday.)


When I returned from my mission in Japan, I was fired up about sharing the gospel. I wanted to be an effective member missionary. Back then, us missionaries had these big blue sheets of paper that we would use to plan our weeks. One side had a weekly schedule — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… The other side had spaces for keeping track of the people you were teaching. On that side of the blue planner, you would keep a record of your progress in teaching each person — which lessons you had taught, whether they had attended church, that sort of thing.

I mention these blue planners, because, like I said, when I got home from my mission I wanted to continue sharing the gospel, and I decided it would be a good idea to keep using these blue planners. So each Sunday night I would get together with my brother and sister (who were 10 and 12 years old at the time) and we’d hold these little mission meetings, where we’d talk about people we’d met that week and how we could share the gospel with them. Then we’d keep track of their names on the blue planners, set goals, and head off to share the gospel.

At this time I had a friend at UC Davis. We enjoyed attending cultural events at the university together. One weekend there was an African music-and-dance concert that sounded fun, so we went, enjoyed the music, and danced. While I was there, I met a girl named Amanda (remember, I said this story would be about her). She and I talked, and discovered that we had several common interests, including religion.

The next Sunday night, when I had my little weekly mission meeting with my brother and sister, I added Amanda’s name to my list, and I set a goal to invite her to church. Over the next few weeks, I’d call up Amanda and we’d go places together. Always in the front of my mind was the goal I’d set to get her to come to church, so every time we met I’d make sure to work that into the conversation. It was awkward, and after several invitations, she finally said something along the lines of, “Look Dane, I’m just not interested.” So, at my next weekly mission meeting, I crossed her name off the list and moved on. That’s the story of Amanda.


Now let me contrast that story with another story. This one’s a happier story. It’s about a guy named Jeremy. Jeremy and I have been best friends for nearly twenty years ago. We met just down the street from my house, back in seventh grade, when I was heading out to go hiking in the hills around Cameron Park. The two of us spent many hours together hiking in the hills, building Legos, and playing Street Fighter and Final Fantasy on the Nintendo.

At this point in my life, I wasn’t especially conscious of missionary work. I invited Jeremy to church and to youth activities, not out of a sense of obligation, but just because it seemed like a fun thing to do. He would occasionally ask me questions about the gospel, and I would give him the answers that I had. I hadn’t studied the missionary discussions, and I couldn’t present my answers in any sort of sophisticated, well-ordered format. I just answered sincerely, explaining the doctrines that I loved in the way that I understood them.

Jeremy’s family moved to Santa Cruz, but we kept in touch and visited often throughout high school. Then, in our senior year of high school, Jeremy told me that he had decided that he wanted to be baptized. I was surprised. He told me that he had been impressed by the examples set by the church members he knew, and that he appreciated the love and friendship he felt from them. Shortly after that, I got to drive down to Santa Cruz and baptize him. Now that we both live here in the Roseville area again, we occasionally even get to attend the temple together. That’s the story of Jeremy, and it’s a story that still continues.

Why were my experiences with Amanda and Jeremy so different? Was the problem with Amanda that I invited her to church? No, of course not. The problem is that I wasn’t treating her like a human being. I was treating her like an obstacle, a rock that had to be moved. I had determined that she would come to church and I was sure that I could get her there. In other words, I was sharing the gospel selfishly, not to address any of her needs, not to serve her, but rather to make myself feel better about myself.

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the phrase “bait and switch”. In a “bait and switch”, someone offers you something you want — the bait — but then turns around and gives you something you don’t want — the switch. In Amanda’s case, I offered her what looked like friendship, but it turned out to be merely manipulation to get her to come to church. It was inappropriate, ineffective, and I’m sure it left her with a bad taste in her mouth. On the other hand, the friendship I shared with Jeremy was sincere, and his impressions of the church grew naturally out of that. No bait, no switch, just friends.

10 comments for “Sharing the Gospel with Human Beings

  1. Yes, it is good to share with the right heart and to respect the other person. The person who shared the gospel with me did not just make one feeble attempt though. They persisted. However, it was not until I had a dream that I was receptive to take the Book of Mormon although I had taken an audio of Heavenly Father’s plan before and even prayed about it. I don’t think we can force a person before their time. But we can be sensitive to who is prepared and invite.

  2. Barb, you make a good point. I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t invite people (even several times). What I mean to convey is that we should treat people with love whether they accept or reject our invitations, and not cast them aside to move onto the next one, like some sort of assembly line.

  3. Your high school story reminds me of one from my own senior year. A bunch of us Mormon boys decided that we would go out and get drunk. One of the Mormon boys had a gentile dad, so he stole a bunch of booze from his dad and hid it out. A non-Mormon boy from school with a wild reputation learned what we were up and asked if he could join us.

    Sure, we said. On the appointed night, we went to get the booze, but someone had now stolen it from us. After that, the non-Mormon kid started to hang around with us Mormon kids and before we knew it, he was converted, baptized and then he went to BYU and on a mission.

    It was our good example, I guess.

    The thought occurs to me that, from Amanda’s perspective, her story might not be less happy at all. I don’t know. It might be.

  4. I get your point and generally agree with it. But I think you have made the Amanda story too much about you. As if she would have accepted your invitation if you had treated her better. But maybe it was really about her. Sometimes, people just aren’t interested.

  5. Dane, I’d say you were treating her like a goal to be met and not an obstacle to overcome, but the results are the same.

  6. Dane, I was in Jeremy’s shoes, though at a younger age, when my LDS friend (I didn’t know it at the time) invited me to Primary. Eventually his sister invited mine and his folks invited ours to a family home evening — over the space of months. Our family finally did join the church, but we knew they would have loved us as friends no matter what we chose to do.

    From our side, the invitations seemed sincere and natural. (And the first time I was invited, I didn’t go, but he invited me again and I went.)

    Interestingly, the invitation to hear missionary lessons came when my parents invited my friend’s parents (to reciprocate for the FHE invite) to dinner in our home. My folks were ready for the invitation and accepted.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong, but there appear to be other key differences between Amanda and Jeremy as you present them, which you have not emphasized.

    1. Jeremy was younger. Not to say that those older cannot convert, but teenagers are generally more malleable vis-a-vis religion that adults.
    2. Your conversations about the church and your invitations emerged naturally with Jeremy. But you were consciously trying to play missionary with Amanda.

  8. Last Lemming and Brad, you’re right on. There are lots of variables at play. My point isn’t that Amanda would have been baptized if I’d treated her like Jeremy. My point is that it wasn’t appropriate for me to befriend her with an agenda, then stop contacting her as soon as I realized that my agenda would not be fulfilled. Whether or not she would have ever joined the church is secondary (in my mind, at least) to the fact that I didn’t treat her with the care and respect deserved a child of God.

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