How missionaries are ‘spiritual pathfinders, influencers’ in a social-media age, Elder Cook says

Missionaries are “spiritual pathfinders and influencers,” who are taking the lead on using technology to “proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in this internet-connected world,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“All of us have the obligation in this dispensation to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I believe that as missionaries master how to share the gospel using the technological advances that the Lord has provided, we will be helped tremendously in accomplishing our mission.”

Joined by his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, Elder Cook addressed elders and sisters preparing for service in home missionary training centers.

Prior to COVID-19, Church leaders delivered many missionary devotionals in the Provo MTC; the talks were broadcast live or tape-delayed to other MTCs worldwide. Underscoring the very technology which he highlighted in his address, Elder Cook’s message was also made available on Sept. 10, via missionary “portals,” to the rest of the Church’s missionary force to view on their phones or tablets. 

Elder Cook, who served as the executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department before his call as an Apostle, said missionaries are now engaging in finding and teaching methods that are dramatically different from the past. “Your generation has grown up using technology and the powerful devices that are now common in connecting us in all aspects of life,” he said.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

This will continue to be true even after the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved, he said.

“The Spirit will guide you in your endeavors to warn the world.”

Quoting Doctrine and Covenants 31:7 — “Yea, I will open the hearts of the people, and they will receive you. And I will establish a church by your hand” — Elder Cook promised the missionaries that if they will follow the Spirit, they can indeed be counted among the hands that help the Savior’s establish the Church.

He said one other verse in section 31 contains spiritually significant instruction: “[I]t shall be given you by the Comforter what you shall do and whither you shall go” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:11).

Wilford Woodruff in England is “a wonderful example of going where the Spirit directs,” he said. “He was having success, and the Spirit told him to go south. He traveled 80 miles south where people were praying for light and truth. Altogether, some 1,800 people were baptized in that new field of labor.”

The Spirit may guide missionaries today to find ways to use the internet and social media to warn the world in ways that far exceed what Wilford Woodruff achieved, Elder Cook said. He shared four areas of counsel for doing missionary work in this social-media age:

First, cast your online finding and teaching lines into several ponds.

Explaining the fishing analogy, Elder Cook said a mission president serving in California recently shared how two missionaries were maximizing the use of technology, including messaging, texting, video conferencing and social-media postings.  

Observing the missionaries consistently finding people to teach, their mission president asked what they were doing. He learned that they consistently keep “multiple lines in the water” —  using a balanced, multi-faceted approach in which they identify and contact part-member families, search for those who have been taught in the past, obtain referrals, offer service and utilize social media.

“Just as important, these missionaries are persistent — they keep their lines in the water,” said Elder Cook. “They contacted one who had been taught in the past 10 times before he finally responded and agreed to meet with the missionaries.”

Second, work with ward and stake leaders.

At the ward level, under the direction of the bishop, discussions about missionary work are held in ward council meetings, said Elder Cook. A brief, informal missionary coordination discussion — often called a “huddle” — is also held weekly, he said.

Likened to the brief gathering in which American football players receive instructions before a play, the meeting may be held remotely or before or after Sunday meetings. The purpose is to coordinate and to prepare to help ward members with missionary work in the ward, including in-person visits.

“Please understand the incredible importance of this meeting. You can win the support and assistance of the elders quorum, Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women in ways that can truly bless every aspect of missionary work.”

If these brief, informal missionary coordinating discussions are prayerfully held, “the Spirit will provide opportunities to teach that are spiritually appropriate for the area where you are serving,” Elder Cook said.  

Third, learn and teach all the doctrinal concepts in chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel.

This chapter contains the scriptural doctrine that has been taught by missionaries since the Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “You should feel free to use your own words as prompted by the Spirit,” said Elder Cook. “It should not be a memorized recitation. Seek to understand the interests and needs of those you are teaching. The spiritual impact of both the First Vision and the plan of salvation should be a primary emphasis. This doctrine can be taught with incredible spiritual power even in short lessons.”

Fourth, do not forget your purpose.

“With all you are doing on the internet through technology, including social media and video calls, do not forget your missionary purpose as set forth in Preach My Gospel,” said Elder Cook.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

Sometimes missionaries ask why the brethren are so focused on the purpose in Preach My Gospel and, particularly, baptism, he said.

The last chapters of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the last two chapters of John, and the first eight verses of Acts are among the few accounts in the new Testament of the risen Christ.

“There may have been other things the risen Lord taught His disciples in Jerusalem and Galilee that were not recorded, but the overwhelming message in each of the accounts is to preach His gospel and to baptize….

“We hope and pray that all of you will be clear about a missionary’s purpose in this dispensation.”

Elder Cook told the missionaries the primary motivation for their service as a missionary “should be our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and Redeemer.”

Just as early Apostles traveled with and learned from the Prophet Joseph Smith, modern Apostles have had the privilege of working and traveling with President Russell M. Nelson. “There have been many revelatory experiences, and they have been powerful,” said Elder Cook.

Words Wilford Woodruff used to describe some of his experiences with the Prophet Joseph Smith, “are equally true of my experience with President Nelson,” said Elder Cook. “I have seen ‘the workings of the Spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfillment of those revelations.’

“I hope and pray that you precious missionaries will understand the sacredness and also the urgency of serving as an emissary of the Savior in this last dispensation.”

While several Apostles were serving in England in 1840, Brigham Young asked Parley P. Pratt to put together a hymnbook. “He not only did that in a very short period of time but also wrote the words to the hymn, ‘The Morning Breaks,’” said Elder Cook. “It is considered the quintessential hymn of the Restoration. Accordingly, it has been hymn No. 1 in the hymnbook since 1875.”

Elder Cook asked the missionaries — individually and as companionships — to read and, where appropriate, sing, the hymn’s five verses.  

“My purpose in doing this is to help you understand that you are part of ‘the dawning of a brighter day.’… Please understand the urgency of the work of salvation.”

‘Take heart and be patient’

During her remarks, Sister Cook said she can picture the missionaries in their home missionary training centers. “We join you with love, hope, and faith,” she said. “And we thank you for your service.”

This is a time of preparation “to fill our lamps with oil,” said Sister Cook. “None of us suspected that 2020 would be the year we would be challenged by a deadly virus. How we react to this situation says a lot about the people we are and will yet become.”

Being a full-time missionary at this time “presents challenges and requires us to think outside the box.”

Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020.
Sister Mary G. Cook addressed missionaries in home missionary training centers on Sept. 10, 2020. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

Sister Cook said when she was younger and had trying times, she would say, “’This, too, shall pass.’

“And you know, it did.”

She said the phrase, “And it came to pass,” appears 1,070 times in the Book of Mormon. “And it is true. It did come to pass, and it will come to pass, and even this virus will come to pass,” she said. “So, take heart and be patient and wait on the Lord.”

Sister Cook said that over the years, she has spoken to full-time missionaries about Christlike attributes.

“Striving to become like Christ is a lifelong process,” she said. “None of us is perfect, but we can do perfect, Christlike things every day — such as speaking with our Father in Heaven through prayer, studying the scriptures, and sacrificing our own desires for the benefit of others. We achieve a deeper faith in Jesus Christ and receive His image in our countenances as we become more like Him.”

She added that lately she has been thinking about patience. “During this time of COVID-19 we need an extra measure of patience. We are learning to wait on the Lord and trust in His guiding hand….

“I testify as you strive to become like the Savior, you will have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and the windows of heaven will open to you in ways you can’t even imagine.  Remember, you are your first convert.” 

Sister Cook asked the missionaries to immerse themselves in Preach My Gospel and receive every blessing that flows from its inspired counsel. “My prayer for you is that you might humbly teach with the Spirit, that you will have faith to be obedient and pure, that you can be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in this great work of salvation,” she said.