Saying No to Baptism: A Philosophical Account

December 9, 2004 | 36 comments
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A couple of days ago, Bob Caswell reposted at BCC a wonderful old post of his, dealing primarily with the complications of missionary work in an area (in this case, Bulgaria) where there are significant racial, social, and economic factors which get in the way of preaching the gospel to everyone equally. In the comments following that post, Gary made an observation which has been made many times before, but which probably cannot be repeated too often:

This issue forces us to think about what baptism really means. If baptism is simply a saving ordinance performed for people who profess faith in Christ and are willing to make a commitment to become his disciple (think Alma at the waters of Mormon), then there is no reason to deny baptism to anyone because of their race or their perceived weaknesses. In fact, denial of baptism to such a person would be unthinkable. However, that is not how we see baptism. For us, it also entails membership into our “club.” Since the existing members have obligations to new members, we think we have to be somewhat selective. We want people who will build up the organization. We don’t want people who will subsequently prove to be a burden, so we sometimes try to screen out those who are likely to become burdensome. To some extent, the Word of Wisdom and the commitment to pay tithing fulfill that function. If people are willing to give up money, coffee, smokes and booze, that is a sign that they are serious and will be contributors to our community. But should we think this way? The people who are too weak to contribute do not go away. The gypsies, the mentally ill, the poor and the otherwise dysfunctional are still with us. By denying them admittance to the church do we really relieve ourselves of the burden to care for them, or do we just keep them invisible? Are we really made stronger by screening out the weak, or are we just deceiving ourselves? When we screen out people because they will be high maintenance, we are subordinating the saving ordinance aspect of baptism to our goal of building the organization.

The reason this cannot be repeated too often is because any serious thought about missionary work cannot allow itself to forget the near-total irreconciability between efforts involved in building or maintaining a community and those involved in participating in a univeralist project. That’s not to say that Gary’s point can’t be disputed; it can. What if salvation and membership in the organization are identical, after all? I think that’s correct doctrine, but as a prescription for what missionary work must involve I think it’s too easy. Proselytizing with an eye on “the organization” is going to be concerned with building and maintaining an identity, and specifically the process by which an individual chooses to abandon their old one and adopt a new one; proselytizing with an aim to the “saving ordinance” alone is going to be concerned primarily with preserving an intention, a call to everyone that ought to supercede any or every socially constructed concern. I just don’t believe it is possible to talk and work both ways simultaneously. Missionaries are going to be turned loose as baptizing crusaders, or they’re going to be weighed down with the onerous realities of administrating to the newly (and too-quickly) baptized, or they’ll swing back and forth depending on the situation. But both ends of the stick cannot, I think, be grasped simultaneously, at least by mortal creatures like ourselves. (That is, I can see my way clear to an understanding of their unity on a particular ontological level, but not everyday practice.)

I thought about this while listening to our local mission president at stake conference last Sunday. I know nothing about the man or his agenda; I’d like to give him the benefit of every doubt, and have no doubt he is a worthy, faithful, and well-meaning man. But it was rather remarkable to hear him repeat exactly the warnings about rapid baptism, poor retention, and the costs of inactivity that have been much discussed in the church lately (thanks in no small part to the work of our own Wilfried Decoo), and then in practically the next sentence fall into the usual universalist aspirations: you know, if every member would commit to introducing the missionaries to one of their neighbors each month, baptisms would triple overnight or some such thing. It did not seem inconsistent to him to want the saving ordinance of baptism to be delivered to as many people as possible, while at the same time want to see the members do a much better job than we’re currently doing at taking care of all the people which the missionaries deliver to us (“because,” as this good church leader put it, “missionaries get transferred, so it’s important that you all be there to take care of those they baptize”). And maybe it isn’t crazy to assume that between miracles, good old-fashioned hard work and priesthood power, as all sorts of creative new plans and strategies and technologies fresh from Salt Lake City, these two wholly opposite approaches can be brought together. But allow me express my doubts. Taking (spiritual) care of one’s own, and on the other hand refusing to see any distinction between one’s own (spiritual) needs and the (spiritual) needs of every other person, whether rich or poor, committed or flakey, far or near, prestigious or ignominious, are both tremendous goods. The former is a “tending” desire; it is an attempt to construct good lives out of available human material, both material and emotional. The latter is an “intending” desire; it is the experience of goodness in exactly its own boundlessness, its own refusal to be constrained by material. Both are worth choosing, or even going back and forth between as appropriate; every theory of social or economic life is going to include aspects of both. But it does neither approach any good to pretend that, in embracing one, you aren’t turning away from, at least temporarily, the other.

For my part, in the church at least, I prefer “tending.” I’ve written before about some reforms I’d like to see instituted in the missionary program, and I stand by them. Don’t transfer missionaries, but make them a part of the structure of a congregation; make prospective members attend all church meetings for two or three months straight before baptism, as well as demonstrate sustained commitment to the scriptures and the commandments; and so on and so forth. But more than any of that, I’d like to figure out a way to teach an awareness of this dichotomy, of the difference between tearing through a field ready to harvest and the limited and limiting work of gardening. It’s a hard thing, as Wilfried noted in a recent comment, for a missionary to be able to say “no” to another ordinance performed, another statistic gained; maybe an understanding of these very distinct roles and readings of missionary work would help.

Years ago, a friend of mine (who comments somewhat frequently here at T&S) told me a story about his mission, which involved a couple of elders in a van, a dozen or so migrant workers picked up on street corners, some food and quick lessons at the church building, and a bunch of baptisms before nightfall. Everyone has heard such stories; some of us have lived them. What struck me so powerfully about this story is that my friend defended this form of missionary work; he didn’t see any good reason to assume that the Spirit isn’t just as capable of converting the heart of any of those baptized that day as it might the heart of someone dyed-in-wool Mormon who has spent 40 years sitting bored to tears in the pews. And the thing is, he’s right of course. If we really want to be radical about it, really want to be on fire about it, it makes perfect sense to sense to baptize any and every person we can lay our hands on. It’s just extending salvation (or at least the possibility of such) after all. I wouldn’t ever do that, and probably couldn’t ever feel good about others doing that, but that doesn’t stop me from somehow admiring it. It is a good thing, sometimes at least, to embrace pure, interventionary, liberating intentionality: to be a tool, a scythe, a holy weapon, a gift. Sometimes we shouldn’t worry about tending to the long run, since–to adapt the quote of another great interventionist–in the long run we’re all dead, and God will judge us all, so why not cram what we can in before that great and dreadful day? I don’t condemn those who make that decision, since we probably all will in one context or another at some point. But I do question those who don’t recognize that in cramming the harvest in the chances are pretty good we’ll end up trampling part of the garden and losing some of the crop, just as I wonder about those who want us to make sure the field is properly tended without at the same time acknowledging that doing so will sometimes (or maybe more than just somethimes) probably mean closing the garden gate.

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36 Responses to Saying No to Baptism: A Philosophical Account

  1. […] not my attitude. Even when it comes to temple work, I think it’s more appropriate to tend to one’s own, than to make it seem as though all the places in the world (including, m […]

  2. Ronan on December 9, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    This needn’t be so complicated, and here a standard Church answer will do nicely: baptism is just the gate to salvation, not salvation itself. You know, endure to the end and all that good stuff. So we are right to be concerned about the potential church activity of a convert, as baptism without it is nigh on pointless.

  3. David King Landrith on December 9, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    You’re right that we certainly believe that those who upon themselves the name of Christ (and its accompanying covenants) have certain obligations. But isn’t there also a belief that those who cannot fulfill these obligations are better off not making such covenants to begin with?

  4. Kevin Barney on December 9, 2004 at 4:32 pm

    Good post, Russell.

    As a missionary I was socialized to be a baptizing crusader. Dunking people in swimming pools at midnight, baptizing a couple who was living together (because we determined, after consultation with the mission office, that their relationship [probably] qualified as a common law marriage under Colorado State law). The more cowboy we could be about it, the better. It was a very macho culture. We didn’t care a whit for the concerns of the members (and they had concerns!) who would be left with the mess we left on their doorstep. We were trained not to care; it was us against them. All that mattered was the numbers: baptize, baptize, baptize, baby!

    Now that I am one of those members, I lean rather heavily to the tending side of the fence. But I don’t think all that much has changed over the years. I don’t think we will ever see real change until someone in authority makes a decision to stop using the naked baptism statistic (i.e., without controlling for actual activity) as the end all and be all of success in missionary work. (Or, in the alternative, to stop pretending that we’re actually going to take care of all of these people.) It’s an inherently flawed statistical measure, as mere baptisms without more put an incredible strain on an already overburdened volunteer infrastructure (e.g., the poor slobs who are expected to home teach all of those people, many of whom barely even know that they’re Mormon now).

  5. Larry on December 9, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Ronan,

    Just a clarification. As a gate does that not mean that baptism puts them in the Kingdom?

    Even if they do not really comprehend all that they have done, doesn’t the ordinance, in and of itself, have some power? In this life or the next, is it possible for them to gain that understanding that will allow them to more fully appreciate what they have covenanted and achieve full blessings?

  6. Wilfried on December 9, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    Tough topic, Russell, but crucial to discuss. There are various sides to this question. Some have been mentioned in the previous comments. These past few years, at least in missions I’ve known, I have seen a marked improvement in the approach of potential converts, to avoid some of the problems Kevin mentioned.

    Let me just try to enlighten two aspects from my European perspective, explaining some of the policies discusses in the post:

    – For some groups, I can understand the policy to not teach them the Gospel at present. E.g. Muslims, even if they are settled in a West-European country. A conversion to Mormonism (or any Christian Church) puts these people in the most awkward position in their own families and sometimes in terrible jeopardy (to the risk of their lives). The anger can also turn to the missionaries. The same or similar concerns may be true for other tight-knit communities, like Gypsies, where a conversion to Mormonism could be dramatically disruptive. Think of Orthodox Jews, and others.

    – Our branches in the mission field are sometimes like hospitals in the African hinterland: perhaps a poorly trained doctor or nurse, well-meaning, dedicated, but totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of sick and unable to provide proper care for all. So, what is needed first of all, are more trained doctors and nurses before bringing in scores of sick and needy. Hence, in the mission field, an understandable emphasis on converts who can become leaders and take care of the more needy. But, like Kevin mentioned, if missionaries fail to see that and just work for the numbers, the consequences may be dramatic for the local leadership and the loss to inactivity is heavy.

  7. David on December 9, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    Is there in fact a policy not to baptize Muslims? Is it in writing, or unwritten guidance? Is it just in Europe (I knew several members in Virginia who had converted from Islam)? Is it a hard and fast rule, or is it simply to discourage (or not encourage) conversion? Is it akin to the pre-1978 practice in some areas not to actively proselyte African-Americans, but to baptize them if they requested it?

  8. Clark on December 9, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    I think the Islamic rule is mainly in countries with or near significant Islamic populations because converts are often risking death if they are baptized. I had a friend serving in Siberia and the had to get permission to teach anyone Islamic precisely because of that. I don’t remember the details, but I seem to recall that the families of some converts murdered them. This was a problem because of the number of Islamic migrant workers in the area.

  9. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    I worked closely with some Muslims who were baptized but this happened only after the converts had spoken with their extended family and gotten permission or at least a tacit ok. Even then (a few years later) I heard from one source that the head of this family was beaten up by his brother … though I have some doubts as to the truthfulness of that account.

  10. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Perhaps I should add to this that besides the potential (Muslim) converts conferring with their extended family, we also had to get permission from upper echelons of the Church. I don’t know how high exactly the permission had to be granted but it was higher than the stake level. Now that I think about it, I believe I was told a certain member of the Quorum of the Twelve (who was in charge of that area) had to give permission for this to go forward.

    The main concern all along was that the Muslim community this family lived in might rise up in violence against this family. It was a pretty serious concern and even afterwards the family was actively encouraged to keep their conversion fairly private, if not a secret.

  11. J. Stapley on December 9, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Having served in France and Belgium, this was a big deal (France has the largest Arab minority in the World – something like 10-15% if I’m not mistaken). The rule (’95-‘97) was neither hard nor fast. The Mission President had received council from the area president, and we took every situation individually to him. I know of at least a couple of Arab converts. There is a large disparity as to the practice and secularism of French Arabs.

  12. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    J. Stapley,

    I hope you won’t mind me adding that there are Arabs of all different religious persuasions. So I’m assuming you mean French Arab Muslims and not just French Arabs(?).

  13. J. Stapley on December 9, 2004 at 5:42 pm

    So I’m assuming you mean French Arab Muslims and not just French Arabs(?).

    Yes, however the vast majority of them (Algerian and Moroccan) were Muslim in principle. It’s kind of like how I am hesitant to say French Catholic except for the 10% that are actually practicing.

  14. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    I just throw that out because I know in some places I’ve been there’s a rule that Arab Christians can be converted and baptized to Mormonism but that Arab Muslims (or any Muslims, for that matter) cannot be converted or baptized. The last time I visited Amman, Jordan years ago, that was the rule in place. A surprising number of Christian Arabs were in fact approaching the church and being baptized. I don’t think the actual number was huge but the Church was in fact growing there.

  15. Wilfried on December 9, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    I guess those policies also have to do with the Church wanting to have good relations with Muslim nations, just like with the State of Israel, where, I understand, our proselyting is strictly prohibited – both by the State and the Church. Was that not one of the conditions to allow the BYU Jerusalem Center to be built?

  16. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    Yes. To my knowledge there is no proselyting happening in any of the Arab countries or in Israel. Muslims in Arab countries and Jewish people in Israel who are express interest in the Church are usually turned away. Only after unusual persistence and extended periods of time do a very few make it to baptism — and even then there are usually special circumstances. The Jewish conversion I am thinking of was of a woman who was married to a Mormon for years before she was baptized.

  17. The Only True and Living Nathan on December 9, 2004 at 6:06 pm

    And the thing is, he’s right of course. If we really want to be radical about it, really want to be on fire about it, it makes perfect sense to sense to baptize any and every person we can lay our hands on. It’s just extending salvation (or at least the possibility of such) after all. I wouldn’t ever do that, and probably couldn’t ever feel good about others doing that, but that doesn’t stop me from somehow admiring it. It is a good thing, sometimes at least, to embrace pure, interventionary, liberating intentionality: to be a tool, a scythe, a holy weapon, a gift.

    Really? As a missionary, I certainly wouldn’t have admired that kind of thing, knowing that a) I’m doing someone no favors if I help them enter a covenant they have no intention of keeping, and b) I would probably be held accountable myself for those broken covenants.

  18. danithew on December 9, 2004 at 6:06 pm

    Also, with the Muslim family I mentioned earlier, the mother of the family had already been baptized a Mormon and was originally from a Christian background. So perhaps in a sense (from the examples I know) it is one-partner-Mormon one-partner-not-Mormon marriages that contribute to Jewish or Muslim conversions in the Church. That’s just a guess though based on very few observations.

  19. Aaron Brown on December 9, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    “But I do question those who don’t recognize that in cramming the harvest in the chances are pretty good we’ll end up trampling part of the garden and losing some of the crop, just as I wonder about those who want us to make sure the field is properly tended without at the same time acknowledging that doing so will sometimes (or maybe more than just somethimes) probably mean closing the garden gate.”

    As one much more inclined to “tending”, I fully acknowledge that doing so will often mean closing the garden gate. I am relatively unconcerned about this, however, because I realize that my closing the gate now cannot really serve to prevent others from entering in; it can for a time, but ultimately, they’ll have their chance to enter. That’s what it means to take teachings like “Baptisms for the Dead” seriously.

    Aaron B

  20. An investigator on December 9, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    I find this an interesting conversation to contrast with the previous post “Are Mormons a ‘myopic’ people?” The sentiment expressed here seems to be one of concentrating on supporting members. This is certainly what I’ve encountered during the course of my investigation; indeed, I’ve been referring to Mormons as myopic for some time now.

    My investigation has left me with the distinct impression that Mormons care about you if (1) they think that you’ll be baptized soon or (2) you’ve already been baptized. There appears to be little interest in someone like me who is actually investigating the Church, asking questions, and struggling through the process. (Certainly, there are exceptions but they appear to be few are far between.)

    My point isn’t to solicit sympathy but, rather, to indicate that as bad as the emphasis on conversion is (I’ve seen converts who didn’t recognize the name Nephi), “tending to your own” is no better.

  21. Rusty on December 9, 2004 at 8:13 pm

    Investigator,
    You are in an interesting position. I think part of the reason the emphasis is either on conversion or tending to our own is that your position is usually something that is somewhat short-lived. Generally, those investigating the Church are baptized shortly or they lose interest and don’t return. We are members for the rest of our lives (presumably). It’s rare that someone is an “investigator” over a long period of time (not that that is any excuse, but rather an explanation).

    My wife and I are good friends with a couple in which the she is a member of the Church and he is very interested in it. He’s always asking me questions about it, goes to Church with us half the time in Brooklyn and the other half to the singles ward in Manhattan, and from all appearances, people treat him very well and are very interested in him. Of course that’s one example, and I’m sorry if you haven’t had that kind of an experience. I would hope that members would be interested in you regardless of your baptismal intentions.

  22. Adam Greenwood on December 9, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    We had a couple of people in your shoes, Investigator. They got socialized and taken care of really well, but that’s because everybody eventually just assumed they were members. :)

  23. Gary on December 9, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    We have to keep in mind an important distinction between not baptising somebody because we don’t believe they are serious about the commitment they are making and not baptising somebody because their membership will entail new burdens on the congregation. It is easy to justify denying baptism to the former group. However, it does not seem right to screen out the burdensome for that reason alone. We already have the obligation to care for them, whether or not they are members of the church. My concern is that when we deny them baptism for this reason, we are turning away the very people we are sent to nurture and save. I say this as one who is also usually in the tending camp, but feeling rather guilty about it.

  24. Ken on December 9, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    This was an intresting discussion.I dont know if the missionaries in my area are told to screen people or not. A few years ago there was this “homeless” man who could be seen almost any day sitting on the street corner holding up a sign begging for money. It got to be a common sight.
    Well one day in church I saw this same man, long scraggly hair and all walking down the hallway. I overheard someone say that the missionaries had indeed baptised him.
    It has been several years now and I still occasionly see him at church ( he is not in my ward). I never see him on the street corner any more so I guess he either got a job or is retired, but I cant help but think he is happier.

  25. clark on December 9, 2004 at 9:24 pm

    Just a note, but it seems to me that the only places there are people urging a “triage” approach to conversion is in places where the Church is new and recently baptized members suddenly are the leaders of the church. That can be very hard and the sad experience of the church is that if you grow too fast, things fall apart or other problems arise. The situation with Islamic converts is somewhat unique and has to do with that particular community and the violence often found within members of that community. (Not that the majority are like that, but there is a sizable minority which is sadly violent)

    I do think that some members are worried about conversion for conversion sake. I can just point out that Pres. Hinkley has repeatily condemned this in conference talks. Also while some missionaries do this, almost all returned missionaries I’ve spoken to have nothing but harsh things to say about such people. At the same time I think a lot of the fault lies with members who somehow think all the missionary work is done by missionaries. Ideally most of it is done by members and even the most excited investigator is given only the beginning by the missionaries. It takes members to continue to answer questions and be their friend over the subsequent months. When members don’t do that, out of time restraints or simple slothfulness, then the missionary work falls apart. I’d say that most missionaries would love to go on splits with members and get them involved. It is rarely the missionary’s fault when this doesn’t happen.

    It does seem odd to criticize missionaries for baptizing people who are interested. Perhaps they could do more preparation and certainly there are a few bad apples in the buch. But by and large if there is a failure, it isn’t on the missionary’s side. I think many of us who were missionaries recognize this, even if we have perhaps forgotten it.

  26. Wilfried on December 9, 2004 at 9:27 pm

    Gary mentioned the case of “not baptising somebody because their membership will entail new burdens on the congregation.”

    In my 35 years in the mission field, I must honestly say I have never seen such a case of refusal, where the (poor, needy, marginal) candidate had a testimony and was willing to commit him/herself to the Gospel. In my experience such a person has never been denied baptism. On the other hand, I have sometimes seen that a local priesthood leader (or a wise mission president) would question the intents of a candidate for baptism. Interviews would be conducted, evaluation made, and eventually a longer time frame set for the baptism date. Often the candidate would then lose interest… or go “shopping” in another Church.

    Investigator, I am sorry to hear of your experience where you said: “There appears to be little interest in someone like me who is actually investigating the Church, asking questions, and struggling through the process.”

    Please be assured that in the many cases I have seen, long-time investigators (in the sense of non-members coming to a Mormon chapel quite regularly for months and years) have always been most welcome. As Adam said, “everybody eventually just assumed they were members”. I remember many of them. Between us, we call them “eternal investigators” and we are happy they keep coming. For some reason (family, job, tithing, Word of Wisdom…), they just don’t get to the waters of baptism, but they keep returning to our meetings for, somehow, they feel at home. I think that’s wonderful.

  27. Jonathan Green on December 9, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    MDS, where are you?

    Russell, three years after the end of my mission, I went back and spent a year in one of the cities I had been as a missionary and discovered that the new mission president had implemented a number of your suggested measures. The missionaries stayed for six or ten months at a time, investigators were required to read substantial chunks of the Book of Mormon and to attend church for something like 3 weeks straight, and the missionaries in the ward even nixed one would-be convert because her testimony had more to do with UFO’s than with Christ. I was impressed. The changes made a lot of sense to me.

    At least, that was my perspective as a former missionary looking in from the outside at his one-time field of labor. My year there overlapped MDS’s time as a missionary in the same mission, if not in the same town. So, MDS, if you’re reading this: how much of the Fox Manifesto was enacted? How did it work out in practice from your perspective?

  28. John T. on December 10, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Yes, fellow Investigator, you’ll know you’ve really made it when they ask for your “records to be transferred”. That was asked of me 3 Sundays ago. I didn’t have any records to be transferred that I knew of; but on the other hand, who knows? Investigators and Members alike may be included in the Church “Clipping Service”.

  29. John Mansfield on December 10, 2004 at 8:10 am

    Changing priorities in missionary labor have come not just from the missionaries and mission presidents, but from the Church’s subcomandante himself. Kimball and Hinckley both have spoken of increasing the number of converts and of retaining the converts, yet I received a clearly different emphasis from each one. Also during the time of one president, the number of converts did increase and the church expanded, but not during the time of the other.

    I remember a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Missionary Training Center reading that month’s Ensign. There was a talk by Elder Benson on President Kimball’s vision of missionary work. We were supposed to have faith and work so that we could be used to convert hundreds or thousands. A missionary teaching hundreds of converts can’t nurture them personally. He can only share the gospel and leave it in the hands of the recipient to carry on.

    This is pretty much the only model the scriptures provide. Stephen and the eunuch have a talk during a chariot ride; the eunuch points out water which they use; the two part ways. The centurion invites Peter to his house; the Spirit falls on everyone; everyone is baptized. Alma at the waters of Mormon presents a more nurturing picture of the mass baptism of hundreds. Ammon spends time developing a relationship with Lamoni, but that results in thousands of converts, apparently in short order.

    In Jesus’ parable of the sower casting seed in various soils, some seed lies on the surface until the birds eat it. Other seed sprouts but is scorched or choked. He didn’t say so explicitly with this parable, but with many he started by saying “The kingdom of God is like this.” So are the scorched and choked baptized converts or are they enthusiastic investigators who lose the way before baptism? I tend to think the former, but that may not be so.

    I asked my father-in-law why this parable never comes up when we discuss the work of conversion. He thought it is better not to provide the saints excuses for ignoring retention work.

  30. MDS on December 10, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    I’m flattered that my input is requested! We did have relatively high expectations prior to baptism, as referenced by Jonathan Green: Three week church attendance, daily scripture study and prayer during that period, living church standards during that period, etc. At one point Elder Wirthlin visited us and commented on the incredible results these had in terms of retention. (Note that baptisms didn’t really increase, but retention, ordination, and temple statistics did, so the growth of the church was positively impacted). I don’t remember exact numbers, but it seems like just under 90% of our converts made it to Melchizedek Priesthood ordination and/or the temple in a year’s time.

    One reason I believe this worked is responsive to Kevin Barney’s post #3, which describes a polarization between members and missionaries, two different teams with apparently different goals. I have felt this conflict in the units I have lived in since returning. It is an extremely unfortunate one. Rather than spend time focused on accomplishing the mission of the church, members and missionaries spend significant time fighting over what is the most effective way to work, or whether Brother X is truly ready for baptism, or who has authority/jurisdiction over a given mission-related function or question. It is the height of arrogance as a missionary to be unconcerned about the unit in which one serves.

    My mission president met regularly with the Bishops and Branch Presidents, and listened to them. They helped in the setting of goals, plans, and policies. We were challenged to do the same. We were intimately involved in PEC, Ward Council, etc., and not just in terms of giving superficial reports, but in really planning and coordinating the efforts of the ward or branch with respect to missionary work. This involved give and take and exchange of ideas, not one side imposing their will on the other. There was a true sense of teamwork and belonging between the members and missionaries, a Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl that was infused into the work. I miss this in my current interactions with missionaries. For example, we were not allowed to teach a discussion beyond the first discussion without a member present. Period. The members knew this and had committed to the mission president to make themselves available. It did wonderful things for retention to have converts exposed to normal members like themselves and develop friendships early in the process.

    One key that I felt was very important was the Convert Baptism Checklist (is that the right name?) which spelled out for potential members and the ward all that should be done for the year following baptism. Potential converts received this from the missionaries before baptism (I believe at baptismal interview if memory serves) in order to understand what was expected for the next year. Converts knew that they were expected to go to the temple one year later before they ever entered the waters of baptism. They understood that our mission was not to save, but to exalt, and that only the temple could help with that. The checklist was a major substantive portion of every New Member Discussion, of every ward council/PEC/Ward Mission Correlation. Too often I find that noone knows what this list is, especially the convert. They apparently never get a copy, and thus have no idea what is expected of them, or what it even means to be a good member during that crucial formative time.

  31. MDS on December 10, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    And we did stay in our units a long while, usually six to eight months, and sometimes longer if we held a calling. In my first city, I was the Young Men’s president and Scout Master. Things like that assisted our integration into the wards immensely.

  32. Jonathan Green on December 10, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks much, MDS. By the way, what was your first city?

  33. MDS on December 10, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    Osnabrück

  34. Jonathan Green on December 10, 2004 at 8:49 pm

    That finally triggered my memory. I’m looking right now at my journal for Monday, 2 October 1995, about having attended stake conference in Düsseldorf the day before: “And I met a missionary, Elder Stanger, who had just finished 8 months in Osnabrück…” You and I talked about the town and the ward and how much of an impact they had had on both of us. Is that freaky, or what? T&S is a funny place.

    Thanks for your comments above as well. I was very impressed with your mission president the few times I saw him speak, and I’m glad to hear that you had more or less the same reaction to how he ran things.

  35. MDS on December 11, 2004 at 9:50 pm

    I remember the encounter as well. President Charles was amazing. I’ve met a lot of brethren in higher positions since my mission, but none who would eclipse him. I remain convinced he could serve the Lord in any capacity in which he is needed.

  36. Kristy on March 4, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    What fun to find this website from Best of the Web! I like the garden analogy, and I think it should be extended. Good gardeners do a lot of different jobs. In the parable of the Lord‘s vineyard, nobody said, ‘Hey, grafting and pruning are different! What are we doing, people!’ The servants did both as appropriate.

    In the Lord’s vineyard, there are a lot of jobs to do. Somebody has to plant seeds in the greenhouse, somebody transfers the plants into the garden, somebody fertilizes, someone prunes. Some people stick around one plant long enough to do all these things for it, others specialize and just plant. Most of us rotate through most of the jobs in the Lord’s vineyard.

    In a well- tended garden there are good practices for planting, and foolish gardeners don’t follow them. Don’t plant tender plants before danger of frost is over. Bulbs need a good freeze. Some plants need a long time in the greenhouse. Maybe the great Book of Mormon missionaries were assigned to plant sunflowers that just seem to take off on their own. Maybe you are currently laboring among the roses that need a lot of care. Maybe ‘Investigator’ or a friend like him is a century plant. It sounds like you’ve heard stories about missionaries who were trying to sow without looking at the seed packet to consider the plant‘s needs. We learn wisdom as we learn to care for each plant properly.

    I’m not very concerned with closing the garden gate to protect the plants already there. They will do fine, if we make sure that the plants in the greenhouse are planted at the time, and in the circumstances, that are right for them.

    Maybe I‘m missing the point. My husband is a ward missionary in a ward that has plenty of time to consider each investigator individually. Nevertheless, our mission leader seems to be constantly looking for a program that will reap a big crop of petunias soon, instead of realizing that our ward garden has a number of unique plants in various stages of growth, that we just need to learn to care for.