Elder Holland explains why a ‘divine’ missionary companionship should include the Holy Ghost

For full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, divine companionship should be considered on at least two levels, explained Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

First is the actual pairing of two elders or two sisters. “Every missionary companionship ought to be a brotherhood or sisterhood that is truly divine — sweet, sensitive, kind and unforgettable, bathed in the Spirit of the Lord,” he said, adding that any disunity or division offends the Spirit and cripples the work.

The second level is that every missionary companionship should have the Holy Ghost as the third companion, taught Elder Holland in a worldwide missionary devotional.

He called three “a sacred number in the mathematics of the gospel” — such as the Godhead, the First Presidency, the three degrees of glory and the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. “Three is a wonderful number in witnessing of God’s work,” he said, adding that every companionship, in its quest to be effective and divine, should expand to include the Holy Ghost as the third member.

The prerecorded devotional was broadcast Thursday, April 15, on the missionaries’ online portal, conducted by Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department. The devotional was taped earlier in a Church Office Building meeting room, with a handful of missionaries from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission in attendance.

Elder Marcus A. Nash, General Authority Seventy and Missionary Department executive director, waves to missionaries from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission as they arrive to listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as he records an April 2021 missionary devotional at the Church Office Building on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Elder Marcus A. Nash, General Authority Seventy and Missionary Department executive director, waves to missionaries from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission as they arrive to listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as he records an April 2021 missionary devotional at the Church Office Building on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder Holland began his message by recounting Moses’ pleading on Mount Sinai with Jehovah — despite a stiff-necked people, a golden calf and broken tablets — to continue to guide the Israelites. Touched by Moses’ honesty and humility, Jehovah promised: “My presence shall go with thee” (Exodus 33:14).

Just as His guidance and companionship was necessary not only for navigation to the promised land but also to help set apart ancient Israel, the same is true for missionaries today, Elder Holland said. The divine presence is “our imprimatur, our brand, our seal of approval, the distinctiveness that lets the world know that we are authorized representatives [of God].”

He listed two truths that missionaries must embrace and bear personal witness of — first, “this is the true work of Almighty God, that He is our Eternal Father, that Jesus of Nazareth is His Only Begotten Son and the Savior of the world; that the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the Book of Mormon as another testament of Him, has been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one church on the face that has the priesthood authority to teach the fullness of the gospel and administer the ordinances of exaltation that are central to it.”

The second truth is that the companionship of the Holy Ghost is absolutely essential to missionary success, “because it is the Holy Ghost — as a member of the Godhead — Who bears witness of your witness and carries your message to the heart of those hearing the gospel, the friend who is considering membership in the Church.”

Missionaries should not rely on teaching skills or personal charm when “teaching repentance and baptizing converts.”

“Repentance is a wrenching, personal, spiritual experience and powerful conversion is more of the same,” Elder Holland said. “A missionary cannot of himself or herself manipulate in another person true repentance or genuine conversion. It cannot be done. A truly changed heart can only be produced by the Spirit of God.” 

Elder Andrew Salway, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, takes notes as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, teaches during a missionary devotional taped at the Church Office Building on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Elder Andrew Salway, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, takes notes as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, teaches during a missionary devotional taped at the Church Office Building on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He recalled that when the Brethren were to name then-new missionary materials nearly two decades ago, they identified the phrase in Doctrine and Covenants 50:14 that embodies the missionary commission: “Preach my gospel by the Spirit.”

For brevity’s sake, only the first three words were used in the title. Elder Holland said he worries “too many missionaries forget the second, crucially qualifying part of that language — that they are to ‘Preach my gospel by the Spirit,’ . . . by the Comforter, by the Holy Ghost, ‘which was sent forth to teach the truth.’

“And if the missionaries try to teach without the companionship of the Holy Ghost, without the Spirit of truth, then obviously they teach ‘some other way’ (Doctrine and Covenants 50:17-18) — and any other way is ‘not of God.’ ”

One additional truth missionaries must realize, he added, is that those hearing the gospel must receive the message with the same spirituality and humility that the missionaries have in delivering it. For missionaries questioning possible inadequacies or a lack of the Spirit in their teaching, “they must remember that those who are hearing the message have to invite — or at least allow — the Holy Ghost into his or her heart if your message is to bear fruit.”

He continued: “If you grasp the importance of the Spirit in your teaching and in the receptivity of the learner, then soon enough you will learn an attendant truth — that you need the Spirit at all times. It can’t be put on and off like an old sweater. 

“You can’t live in Babylon most of your missionary day and then hurry over to the City of Enoch to prep quickly for a lesson you have to give. No, we should try to have the Holy Ghost with us from start to finish.”

That includes during study and prayer, during planning and proselyting, during finding and teaching and testifying, during time with members as well as those learning — and even on preparation days, he said.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh or be happy or have fun in this work. Indeed, the Spirit should make us very happy, but our spirituality can’t be something we drag out of the closet just as we go out the door to give a lesson.”

A slide used by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in an April 15, 2021, missionary devotional shows the "companionship" relationship between the Holy Ghost and missionaries as well as with those they teach.
A slide used by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in an April 15, 2021, missionary devotional shows the “companionship” relationship between the Holy Ghost and missionaries as well as with those they teach. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Using a series of graphics, Elder Holland underscored a progression of groups of three in missionary work — first the Godhead, then the Holy Ghost as “the Great Teacher of Truth” and a missionary companionship, and finally the Holy Ghost, the missionary companionship and the friend or family learning of the gospel.

In addition to teaching by the Spirit, missionaries need the help the Holy Ghost gives in finding by the Spirit and everything else they do, said Elder Holland. He said he has found 581 references to the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit in the standard works and has categorized them in 50 types of spiritual influence.

He cited 12 types that have particular significance in the life of a missionary. The Holy Ghost:

  • Is a revelator, a guide to action.
  • Conveys the words of Christ, which tell all things one should do.
  • Leads when one does not know beforehand the things one should do.
  • Prepares people to hear the gospel.
  • Teaches truth, carrying it to the heart.
  • Teaches what to say and how to say it.
  • Provides in the very moment of need.
  • Purifies the teacher and the learner.
  • Intercedes to strengthen prayers.
  • Provides language proficiency.
  • Brings all things to one’s remembrance.
  • Is the Comforter, conveying peace and joy.

“Just as I should never do anything to offend or hurt my mortal companion, so should I never do anything to offend or hurt my divine companion, the Holy Ghost,” Elder Holland said. “I want Him with me all the time. I should never say anything or do anything or go anywhere or be anything that would alienate me from either of these companions.”

Sister Natasha Lowe, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, sings before Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivers a missionary devotional at the Church Office Building for a future broadcast in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Sister Natasha Lowe, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, sings before Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivers a missionary devotional at the Church Office Building for a future broadcast in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder Holland promised that if missionaries will spiritually draw near to God, He will draw near to them, proving comfort and blessing them with this spiritual kinship and association. He applied the imperative blessings of Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46 to the missionaries.

“Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God … [and] the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion. … Thy scepter [shall be] an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”

Remember that God keeps His promises, which He seals upon individual’s heads and in their hearts through the intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit, Elder Holland added. “That pledge of the Holy Ghost’s constant companionship should be reassuring to elders and sisters who so much want to have missionary success flow freely and abundantly ‘without compulsory means.’ It can — and with heaven’s help it will — and your scepter shall be an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.”

Concluding with an apostolic blessing on the missionaries, Elder Holland returned to Moses’ experience on Sinai for a final charge to them: ”‘Go up hence,’ the Lord says, and ‘my presence shall go with [you].’ ”