Neal A. Maxwell: Disciple Scholar

A favorite speaker at general conference when I was growing up was Neal A. Maxwell. Eloquent and deeply thought out talks were something of a hallmark for him, with plenty of alliteration thrown in for good measure. His life and discipleship was discussed in a recent interview with Bruce C. Hafen at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview. 

The specific focus of the interview was on Neal A. Maxwell’s approach to discipleship. Hafen described how discipleship “meant different things at different times in his life.” For example, at one point:

It didn’t refer simply to someone who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but rather a member who was trying to disengage from the secular world enough to be a real follower of Christ. These were people who were consciously choosing and following the Savior. They were thinking about discipleship and praying about it—it’s really what they wanted to do. It was a kind of governing force in their lives. …

And for Elder Maxwell, it also meant continuing to grow and develop. That’s part of the reason why you see him begin to write and think and talk about discipleship when he was called to be a general authority.

And even later in life:

Elder Maxwell’s approach to discipleship took one more turn. This time, his focus was on the role of adversity. He began to get acquainted with people who had adversity in their lives. The theme fascinated him because he wanted to help people who were having struggles. And he found that it helped true followers of Christ to know that they could look to Him for strength.

You see that theme begin to show up in some of his writings about that time. It hadn’t been in his books earlier, but now a disciple became somebody who saw adversity as an opportunity to grow closer to the Savior. …

Elder Maxwell likened it to the relationship between a tutor and apprentice. He came to see discipleship as being an apprentice to the Master who was trying to shape his character by imposing certain experiences—including those that are sometimes very difficult.

Elder Maxwell was constantly striving to be a disciple of Christ, and his understanding of what it meant to be a disciple evolved as he did so.

That commitment to discipleship was part of why Bruce Hafen felt blessed to have gotten to know Neal A. Maxwell. As he wrote:

It really was a privilege to know Neal A. Maxwell so closely, to gain entrance by invitation into his life, to come to know a disciple who took discipleship so seriously. He really, really meant it and really, really tried to live it. That example helped me a great deal. It was a mentoring experience.

In fact, every once in a while I find myself instinctively wanting to behave in certain ways—higher and holier ways. And I’ll ask myself, “Why do I reflexively want to do it like that?”

It’s because I watched Elder Maxwell do it.

That’s the type of impact that Elder Maxwell’s quest for discipleship has had on other people.

For more on Neal A. Maxwell’s discipleship, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.

2 comments for “Neal A. Maxwell: Disciple Scholar

  1. I used to look forward to Elder Maxwell’s conference talks the way I look forward to Elder Holland and Elder Uchtdorf today. (That wasn’t universal: he didn’t have their raw charisma, and you really had to focus to follow him.) He shaped my understanding of what discipleship means as well. It’s a very personal relationship, and when I don’t feel that I know whose fault it is. I also credit him for the fact that adversity has never triggered a faith crisis for me. Elder Maxwell made it very clear that adversity is one of the Lord’s greatest tools for changing hearts and disciples should expect plenty of it.

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