HOW TO USE THIS BLOG: Since this blog covers various Ward Mission subjects, I've made it easier to find exactly what you're looking for by grouping posts together by topic. On the right side of this page (above the photo of the shaking hands), you'll find the list of topics you can click on to find the information you're looking for

Friday, January 28, 2011

Struggling converts

In this month's new-member newsletter, I included something meant specifically for recent converts who are struggling with their testimonies and have stopped attending church on a regular basis for one reason or another. Something that they have in common is that they aren't doing the things they need to in order to feel the Spirit and increase their testimony.


One of our Sacrament meeting speakers recently spoke on priorities, specifically how we can make excuses for why we don't have time for things of the God, but we always make time for what is really important to us. It was an excellent talk, but I was secretly wishing that more people who really needed to hear that message would have actually been at Church that day to hear it.


Out of my personal frustration with multiple situations like this, I wanted to do something to address it without being directly confrontational to specific individuals. I wanted to be bold, yet kind. My former Mission President, A. Keith Martin, always referred to it as "sweet boldness".


I basically just laid out what should be done if you feel like you're struggling. I hope that this will help at least one of our new members. Maybe it will help some of yours? Feel free to use the text for your own new-member newsletter if you like....



Are YOU struggling with your testimony?

At some point in our lives, we have all experienced a time when we've had limited understanding of the gospel. Sometimes people (even long-time members) may find themselves struggling with their faith and testimony. This can be especially difficult for those who are new to the Church. What can you do?


Remember the basics- Reading the scriptures, prayer, attending Church (including Sunday School and Relief Society/Elders Quorum). These are the things that the missionaries had you do before you were baptized...how did you feel then?


Counsel with the Bishop about your personal concerns- He is available to help you and private matters will be kept confidential.

Make time to let the Ward-missionaries teach you the "new-member lessons"- These lessons are meant to strengthen the knowledge and testimony of new members as they continue to learn.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reaching out to the Less-Active - part 1

"This is the first post in a series of posts that will be called, "Reaching out the Less-Active"...

Lately, I've been thinking about our brothers and sisters who have become what we call "less-active"...meaning that they don't attend Church meetings or participate in the Church regularly anymore. Many of these men and women were less-active (or totally inactive) long before I ever heard their name. Even more disheartening for me are those converts who I have seen go through the conversion process, but have now fallen away.

Why have these people fallen away? What could have been done differently to help prevent this from happening? What can we do to help these people return to enjoy the full blessings of the gospel?

In the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:3-8, we learn that the type of ground that a seed lands in impacts the future productivity of the seed. A seed that lands on rocky ground, for example, soon begins to grow, but doesn't develop any deep roots. Without a secure root system, it doesn't have any stability or sufficient long-term nourishment...so, as soon as the sun comes out, the seed dries up and dies.

According to Jesus' explanation of this parable (Matthew 13:18-23), a seed that has fallen on "the stony ground" is like a convert who is very excited about the gospel. However, without a strong testimony and support system, the convert only continues on as an active Church member for a short time. These people (and the other types of "seeds" mentioned in the parable) become disinterested when the full-time missionaries are transferred, are drawn away by old habits or the ways of the world, become ashamed when persecuted, or are offended by some small thing, etc, etc. Basically, any of these issues can become a problem without a firm foundation.

There are many reasons why a person may no longer be an actively participating Church member. Reactivation of the "lost sheep" is the duty of every Ward member in a general sense, but as Ward-missionaries we may not have the specific responsibility to seek out and reactive every man and woman in our area. This usually falls under the jurisdiction of the Relief society and Priesthood quorums. However, reactivation is part of missionary work. One area that Ward-missionaries might especially focus on is the reactivation of recent converts who have fallen away, or who may not be progressing as they should.


To do so, its important that we understand why people fall away (or fail to progress), what we can do help them come back, and what we can do to prevent the same thing from happening to others in the future. In upcoming posts, I will cover some of these other topics. Today I want to provide some information about WHY...


I have selected some quotes that directly apply to this topic: ("Feed My Sheep" - Elder Ben B. Banks)

"We ask ourselves, 'Why is it that some who were once warm in the faith have grown cold in the faith?' ...We must succeed in our efforts to strengthen those who have grown cold in their faith. To begin this endeavor, it would be well for us to know the feelings and reasons why they do not attend meetings and participate in the fellowship of the Saints.

Most active members believe that less-active members behave differently because they don't believe the Church's doctrine. A study by the Church's Research Information Division does not support this assumption. It shows that almost all less-active members interviewed believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Church is true.


As part of another study, a group of active members who previously had been less active were asked why they did not attend church previously. The most common reasons given were:

Feelings of unworthiness.
Personal or family problems.
Parents or spouse were less active.
Teenage rebelliousness or laziness.
Conflicts with work schedules.
Church too far away, lacked transportation.

Understanding the true reasons why people become inactive should be the first step in helping them return - AND in helping to prevent the same thing from happening to others in the future.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Full-time Missionary "Friends"?


What is our relationship, as Ward-missionaries (or any other Ward member), to the full-time missionaries? Are they here to serve us, or is our role to serve them? Should we like a parent to them? A friend? A buddy?


As a full-time missionary, I felt that my role was to serve the Ward/area, primarily through proselyting (teaching) efforts, but also by helping encourage member-missionary work. If you think about it, the full-time missionaries assist the Ward's growth by helping to bring new members into the Ward family. It is then the Ward's responsibility to nurture the new member (and seek out and reactivate those who have fallen away). After all, the full-time missionaries always move on to another area and eventually go home, but the leadership and other Ward members are constant.


That said, I wanted to comment on a common problem that I've seen over the years- the gray-area of the missionary "buddy". As a full-time missionary, there is no argument that its nice to have members of the Ward where you are serving who are friendly and helpful. We have found that we have a better working-relationship with the full-time missionaries serving in our area if we are friendly and try to go out of our way to be helpful to them. After all, they are sacrificing to serve and are far from home/family. However, sometimes members (and even non-members) go too far with trying to be "friends". I sincerely believe that there is a line that should not be crossed. It kind of reminds me of parents who want to be the "cool mom" or the "fun dad" instead of providing structure and discipline. Full-time missionaries are warned against this, but Ward missionaries and other members need to be aware of the situation as well.


For example, during my own mission, when I was meeting a member family for the first time in a new area, the wife immediately told me that they were a "surrogate family to the missionaries" and that we were "welcome to hang out any time of the day or night" and to "make long-distance phone calls home to friends/family" from their phone whenever we wanted. "Don't worry," she said, "I won't tell on you*" Oh boy. I was very serious about the purpose of my mission and keeping the mission rules, so I was pretty shocked by what she said. Mostly because I could tell from how she worded her "offer" that there must have been plenty of full-time missionaries who had taken her up on it in the past.


Many times, these "buddies" are non-members (such as "perpetual investigators" who just like the missionaries' company). They may not be aware of (or totally understand) the mission rules and Church standards. Or maybe they know about them and don't care.


Unfortunately, there also seems to be one of these families/individuals who are members in many Wards as well. These people usually mean well, but may not be aware of how some of these things can actually be detrimental to the full-time missionaries. The main problem is the temptation. I can imagine that many missionaries who are sincerely trying to keep mission rules could be easily tempted by something like a bonus phone call home if they are having a hard day. Things like that are just temptation that servants of the Lord don't need.


Even if you don't totally understand or agree with the mission rules yourself, understand that the missionary has promised to keep those rules and breaking them compromise his/her integrity and the influence of the Holy ghost that they rely on to do their work. Since you're reading this blog, I'm sure you're interested in helping the missionaries and missionary work, so I'm sure I'm preaching the choir. However, as a Ward missionary (or other Church member) you may recognize this problem in your own Ward.


Our role isn't to be an "informant" with the mission-president on our speed-dial (in case we see the Elders walking in to their apartment at 9:01pm or something silly like that!), but we can be watchful and aware of serious situations that might need attention by the Ward mission leader, Bishop, or Mission President...depending on the situation (I suggest using the "chain of command" if you feel there is a situation that is serious - let your W.M.L. know and let him take it to leadership if that is appropriate).


Here are some of these things that I feel are appropriate or inappropriate, based on my personal experiences. Most of these things are usually meant to be helpful, but may do more harm than good:


APPROPRIATE: Signing up to have the missionaries over for dinner once or twice a month, if appropriate in your Ward.


INAPPROPRIATE (PROBABLY): Signing up to have the missionaries over for a meal every week or several times a week**


APPROPRIATE: Giving the missionaries a ride somewhere (if there is another adult of the same gender as the missionaries in the car)***


INAPPROPRIATE: Driving around with the missionaries for fun, running non-urgent errands with them on a non-"preparation day," giving rides very frequently (such as every day) when they should be walking/biking****


APPROPRIATE: Offering to let the missionaries use email or call family from your home on occasions approved by the Mission President.


INAPPROPRIATE: Offering to let the missionaries use email or call family from your home on occasions NOT approved by the Mission President.


APPROPRIATE: Providing extra groceries & household supplies to the missionaries, if appropriate to your financial situation.


INAPPROPRIATE: Offering to assist the missionaries in breaking mission rules (inappropriate phone calls, taking them out of area without permission, letting them watch TV/movies at your home, etc), no matter what your intentions.


APPROPRIATE: Offering to go to discussions or allowing the missionaries to have investigators discussions in your home (if there are an appropriate number of priesthood holders present)*****


INAPPROPRIATE: Assisting the missionaries in "hanging out" with members of the opposite gender, whether in your home or any other.


My main point is that its good to be friendly and helpful, but a true friend to the missionaries will help them with their work and not distract them from it. There are MANY positive ways that we can help, so lets concentrate on those!



*By the way, this is just one of my pet-peeves. If full-time missionaries keep the mission rules its because they choose to, not because someone forces them to.


**In some areas (such as those with small membership), multiple meals with the same family during the week/month could be appropriate. In general, providing meals is a responsibility that is meant to be shared across the Ward membership so that #1- any one family doesn't have an unfair financial responsibility for feeding them (even if it is well-intentioned) and #2- they don't become unnecessarily attached to a particular family that they may use as a crutch (instead of being out meeting new people or visiting other members). Check with your Relief Society President or Ward Mission leader for specifics for your Ward or branch.


***Many members are not aware of this, but full-missionaries are not to ride in a car with anyone (member or non-member) unless there is another adult of the missionaries' same gender in the car as well. This means that a single or married woman may not give any male full-time missionaries a ride unless there is another adult male (such as her husband) in the car (no matter how many other women or children are also in the car!). There isn't a double standard- the same thing applies to full-time sister missionaries (they are not to ride in a car with a man -whether single or married- unless there is another adult woman (wife, etc) in the car. Even age doesn't matter- thats right, its inappropriate for two male missionaries to get a ride to Church from their neighbor who is a 96 year old widow. This may seem silly in many cases, and means an inconvenience to the full-time missionaries in many situations, but please remember that the mission rules are there to protect the missionaries from situations that could arise. It would be awkward for male missionaries to say, "Sorry Sister-so-and-so, I know we were driven home by Sister-such-and-such yesterday, but we can't ride with YOU because YOU are younger and more attractive" So basically its a blanket policy to keep the rules clear and the same for everyone.

PS- My husband is the WML and he confirmed this with the local mission office - this is a Church-wide mission rule, not a rule just specific to our area/mission.


****I'm NOT talking about having a standing arrangement to drive the missionaries to Church every week. I'm talking about the "buddy" who the missionaries enjoy hanging out with and call every time they want a ride anywhere. The danger here would be with the tendency to avoid work and/or to rely too heavily on

one particular person instead of involving multiple Ward members in the work.


*****See "***" above - almost exactly the same rules apply to having the full-time missionaries in your home (or when they make visits to the homes of other members/investigators). To visit a single woman (or a married woman whose husband is not home), male full-time missionaries are to have an adult male priesthood holder with them. The only difference here is that they are to bring a priesthood holder (WML, male Ward missionary, or any other adult male priesthood holder) with them when visiting a woman. Full-time sister missionaries are not to enter the home of a man (single or married) when the wife is not present unless there is an adult male priesthood holder as well. So, basically the main difference between this and the car rule is that if they need to bring someone with them to visit a woman or man, it needs to be an adult priesthood holder.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New-member Temple Trip


Statistics have shown that the chances of a new member staying active in the Church is greatly increased if they participate in baptism for the dead in the first year of membership - especially within 3 months of their baptism.

My husband has been asked to plan several temple trips especially for our newer members to do baptisms for the dead. Many of our new members have questions about going to the temple, and we try to answer them as we make our new member lesson visits, but I've also included some information about the trip (and how to prepare to attend) in this month's "new member newsletter":

SPECIAL NEW-MEMBER TEMPLE TRIP!


WHAT IS IT?

This is a special trip to the __________ Temple to participate in baptisms on behalf of people who have died without the opportunity to be baptized by the proper priesthood authority (called "baptisms for the dead"). Temples are holy buildings that are specially built for sacred ordinances like baptisms for the dead. Doing baptisms for the dead is just like when you were baptized yourself, except that these baptisms take place inside a special area in the Temple.


WHEN IS IT?

(Date and time here)

You can expect to be at the Temple for around 1 1/2 to 2 hours.


WHO CAN GO?

Recently baptized members are invited to attend with us and participate in baptisms for the dead. This trip is specifically for adults who are new members of the Church, especially those who haven't been able to participate in temple baptisms yet. This is a great chance for you to experience the Temple as a new member. Ward leaders and Ward-Missionaries will also be attending, and will be there to help you & answer questions.


WHERE IS IT?

(Temple location here)

We will be arranging carpool for those who are interested.


WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO PREPARE?

The Lord's Temples are the holiest places on Earth. The Temple is a sacred place- in order to keep it pure and holy, the Lord has set certain requirements to enter. One of the first requirements is that you need to have been baptized. Each person who plans to enter the temple will also need a "temple-recommend" card from the Bishop. To get this "temple-recommend", you will have a private meeting with the Bishop. He will help you make the necessary preparations to prepare to attend the temple, either now or in the future. This will include an interview similar to the one you had before you were baptized. You will be asked questions about whether you have kept your baptismal covenants (including keeping the commandments) since your baptism. You don't have to be perfect to attend the temple (otherwise none of us would ever be able to go!), so please don't let past mistakes keep you from preparing to attend the temple. If you have concerns, the Bishop is able to counsel and help you. Call (Name & phone number of Ward Executive Secretary here) to schedule an appointment with the Bishop.


WHY SHOULD I GO?

It is a special opportunity to do service for others. We are promised blessings for attending the Temple and for the service that we provide there. There is a special feeling of peace when you are at the Temple. Going to the Temple to do baptisms for the dead is a good way to help you experience and appreciate the sacredness of the Temple as you prepare for your endowment and sealing ordinances in the Temple (after you have been a member for at least one year).


A FEW MORE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE TEMPLE TRIP...


CLOTHING: There is a higher standard of dress for going to the Temple than when we attend Church on Sunday. When going to the Temple, appropriate clothing is always a suit & tie for men and a dress (or skirt) for women. Casual clothing (such as athletic clothing, jeans, etc) or clothing that is revealing (such as skirts above the knee or low-cut shirts) are never appropriate for the Temple. Dressing modestly and "dressing up" shows that we are setting aside the casual things of the outside world and shows our respect for the Lord when we enter His holy Temple. We don't need to wear expensive clothing, but we are asked to wear the best we have and to arrive neatly dressed/groomed. If you have any questions about what clothing is appropriate for entering the Temple, or if you need help with having appropriate clothes to wear to the Temple, please let a Ward-Missionary or the Relief Society President know. White baptism clothing and towels are provided for baptisms at the Temple, you don't need to bring them with you.


CHILDREN: There is no childcare available at the Temple and children (including babies) will not be able to come inside with you. This means that you will need to make your own arrangements for childcare if you plan to attend.

Baptism Preparation Handout

I've put together a handout to give to investigators who are preparing for baptism. It covers some of the information they will need to know (what to bring, what to wear, etc). The full-time missionaries will usually explain these things to the investigator as they get close to their baptism date, but not always. I try to personally speak to each person who is scheduled to be baptized to make sure that they know what they need to bring, etc, but we've had a definite shortage of towels / hairbands / brushes / and/or dry underclothing at some recent baptisms, so I figured it couldn't hurt to have another reminder - a handout that they can keep and (hopefully) refer to prior to the big day.


I have also include some other information about the baptism that I thought might be helpful for the investigator to be aware of ahead of time. For example, I included an explanation about when photographs are/aren't appropriate. During a recent baptism in our Ward, a friend of the woman being baptized began taking pictures on her cell phone during the ordinance. Everyone sitting around her was shocked, but nobody seemed to know what to do. Finally, a missionary had to go over to her to ask her to stop. The friend had no way to know that photographs are not appropriate during the baptism - its just something that we are used to and tend to forget that they may not have the same practice in another Church. It was a somewhat awkward situation that could have been avoided with just a little more preparation.


Here is the text from the handout I made - feel free to adapt/use it for any upcoming convert baptisms in your Ward:


PREPARING FOR YOUR BAPTISM DAY

Congratulations on your upcoming baptism! We are so excited to help welcome you as a new member of our Ward family! Here is some important info to help you prepare for your special day:


LOCATION:

Baptism services are held at _____________________________. Feel free to invite family and friends - everyone is welcome.


CLOTHES:

Sunday dress clothing is appropriate for baptism services, however, visitors are always welcome, whether they are wearing "Sunday" clothing or not. Right before your baptism service starts, you will change into a white jumpsuit (these are provided at the church, you don't need to bring white clothing to wear). The jumpsuits aren't see-through, but it is recommended that you wear white or light-colored underwear because dark colors/prints are sometimes slightly visible when the white fabric gets wet.


HAIR:

You will need to be totally under the water for you baptism to be complete, so if you have hair that is long enough to be put in a ponytail, please either have you hair braided or in a ponytail (girls/women who don't have their hair in a braid or ponytail sometimes need to be re-immersed several times because their hair comes up out of the water).


WHAT TO BRING:

You'll want to bring several things for your convenience after your baptism is over:

  • A change of underwear (because your under-clothing will be wet after your baptism)
  • A towel
  • A brush/comb
  • A plastic sack for your wet clothes


PHOTOS:

Since it considered a sacred ordinance, photos are not permitted during the baptism service. Photos are normally taken with the full-time missionaries/family/friends in the hallway shortly before the baptism service starts and/or while refreshments are served after the baptism service is over. If you are inviting friends or family to your baptism, you may want to make them aware that photos during the baptism are not appropriate.