Speaking of the blessed opportunities and events awaiting new mission presidents and their companions, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said an ancient missionary-themed prophecy is being fulfilled.
Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah envisioned the present day and the Church's missionary efforts: "Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them: and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks" (Jeremiah 16:16).
At the Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 23, President Eyring said that Jeremiah was speaking of the gathering of Heavenly Father's children to His church and kingdom. And he was speaking of missionary work today, and beyond. The fishers and hunters are those involved in taking the gospel to the world. Much of that growth is found in an increase of full-time missionaries. But an increase will also come through rank-and-file members becoming more involved in missionary work.
"The miracle is unfolding slowly before our eyes," President Eyring said.
The Church leader shared an account of one young bishop who met frequently with the full-time missionaries serving in his ward. The bishop learned from the missionaries about the investigators they were teaching. He loved each person who was hearing their message. Enlisting prayer, that bishop pondered the best way to utilize the ward council. Each Sunday felt like a missionary day.
"The bishop sees missionary work as at the heart of his being a minister and a shepherd," President Eyring said.
That bishop would come to know each investigator and their respective needs. Long before their baptism date, the bishop considered their future callings, home teachers and visiting teachers. As much as possible, he ministered to the new members following their baptisms. He tracked their progress.
"He knows that a love of individuals by name always precedes improvement in the numbers of people baptized and those who endure," President Eyring said. "He is guided by a simple rule for holding the hearts of investigators and new members: Give them personal contact early and often.
"You can imagine that in his ward the full-time missionaries get not only referrals but invitations to teach. Every member has an opportunity to love and nurture people being taught and those who are baptized. They have felt the joy of a person who is finding the truth. In time many of the members will themselves have felt the joy of coming into the waters of baptism and being embraced warmly by their fellow citizens in the Kingdom. They will want the same experience for their friends and for every person they meet."
President Eyring spoke of his own experiences as a young man serving as a district missionary in New Mexico, and of the pivotal role that local priesthood leaders played in fellowshipping those that young Brother Eyring and others taught and baptized.
It's natural for new mission presidents to wonder how they can hasten the unleashing of the member missionary power. President Eyring pointed out a few things that won't help. First, don't "nag" the members into missionary duty. And second, don't beg.
"You can build in your missionaries a love of the gospel and of the people," he said. "That love shows when it is deep and genuine. Your missionaries will be trusted when their motive is pure love of the gospel and of people."
President Eyring then reminded the mission presidents and their wives of President Thomas S. Monson's counsel to increase missionary effectiveness.
The "Preach My Gospel" guide to missionary service, he added, also includes several valuable suggestions directed to mission presidents.
President Eyring said the wives of new mission presidents have a special opportunity to give praise and encouragement to the faithful women in wards and branches.
"You know that it is women and girls who issue many of the invitations to friends to be taught by the missionaries," he said. "It is often women, both as leaders and as members, who become the friends and the nurturers of new members."
It has been said that the success of a mission president cannot be judged until "we see the children and grandchildren of his missionaries."
"The likelihood of that success is becoming greater as more members and more bishops become devoted missionaries," President Eyring said. "They will surround your missionaries with examples and influence to lift their hopes and change their choices over a lifetime." Jason Swensen