After being called somewhat against his will, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah’s mission went from bad to worse. Finally, he was thrown into jail.
“O Lord, thou hast deceived me,” Jeremiah said. “I was deceived: … I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. … I will not make mention of [thee], nor speak any more in [thy] name” (Jeremiah 20:7,9).
While speaking to newly called mission leaders on June 26, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles added his own unique commentary to Jeremiah’s thoughts: “You didn’t tell me anything about jail time, Lord. I went back through my notes from the mission leadership seminar, and there was not one word about handcuffs and incarceration. …
“I have told my last account of the First Vision. I am not handing out another pass-along card, and I am unfriending everyone except perhaps my children on my Facebook page. I am through, I am done, I am finished, kaput.”
Then, in spite of rejection, homesickness, “rainy days and Dear John letters and opposition in all things,” Jeremiah uttered a telling line: “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I [grew] weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:9).
“What kept him in the harness?” Elder Holland asked. “What kept him from going home? What makes a missionary get up on time, love every companion, work hard early and late, trying to be the best he or she can be every day of that mission?”
The answer — “The Words of Christ” — was the title and focus of Elder Holland’s address during the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders, held online for the second consecutive year due to COVID-19.
“Please teach the scriptures to your missionaries,” Elder Holland said. “Stand in front of them with your scriptures in your hand. Let those elders and sisters see where you find your inspiration. …
“Make your testimony of and from the scriptures so obvious that nothing negative your missionaries will face in their marriages, in their universities, or in their professions … will ever deflect them from the course on which you have set them.”
A mission leader’s call
Elder Holland suggested there are three things that come with a mission leader’s call — “a responsibility, a delight and a crucial opportunity.” First, mission leaders are sent into the world to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. President Russell M. Nelson has said that “gathering Israel” is the most important work on earth.
Second, as husbands and wives serve as mission leaders, they will have more time serving, talking and traveling together than they have had previously in their wedded life.
“Your marriages will be stronger, sweeter, more united and more exemplary than ever before. … You will be closer to each other spiritually,” Elder Holland said.
And third, he said, “to the degree possible, you have the crucial opportunity — which is also a responsibility and a delight — to save the souls of the missionaries who are called to labor under your direction.”
Elder Holland noted that the loss to inactivity of a returned missionary is of “immense concern” to the Brethren and to the Lord. “Those numbers may not be large, but any number is too large if it is my son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter — or yours,” he said.
“As you immerse yourself in this work, you will undoubtedly lose some of the newly baptized converts who don’t quite make it fully into the sheepfold, but we must not ever lose the shepherds of that flock.”
Expressing deep gratitude for his mission president, Elder Marion D. Hanks, Elder Holland said “the most wonderful thing” Elder Hanks did was deliberately and personally teach the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the scriptures.
“In virtually every setting we were in, he would take us into the standard works and teach us the gospel until it was so deeply and so firmly driven into our souls that wild horses could not have torn it out of us. He taught us the words of Christ,” Elder Holland said.
To help mission leaders, the Lord has provided an “unending supply” of motivational, missionary-oriented material in the standard works. “We must never ‘treat them lightly’ and never, ever neglect them, especially the Book of Mormon,” Elder Holland said.
Understanding the ‘why’
From lifetime members to brand-new converts, elders and sisters will come from a variety of backgrounds, but very few will already have the kind of mature and tempered testimony needed to be a powerful missionary. What they need — and what Elder Holland needed as a young missionary — are the words of Christ.
Paraphrasing German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Elder Holland said, “Tell me with sufficient conviction ‘why,’ and I will figure out ‘how.’”
Elder Holland described “Preach My Gospel” as “the finest collection of ‘hows’ ever provided for a missionary in this modern era of the Church.”
“But as good as the ‘how’ of missionary work may be,” he said, “those insights and helps will be effective and reliable through good times and bad only to the degree that the missionary knows ‘why’ he or she is studying or praying or planning, finding or refining teaching skills, working with members, or improving their social media methods and so on.”
He continued, “Better tools can never be a substitute for a burning testimony, and finely tuned techniques will never be a substitute for revealed scriptural witness.
“If we get the order straight, with testimony and truth first laying the groundwork for the tools and technique to follow, we will have the powerful formula for missionary success God intended.”
Elder Holland referenced the examples of Abinadi, senior Alma, young Alma and the sons of Mosiah, who taught “with the power and authority of God.”
“If you want a convert like Abinadi or Alma Senior or a missionary like Alma Junior or the sons of Mosiah, if you want to awaken a missionary, member or teaching prospects from a deep sleep and lead them out of darkness into the light, then remember that ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’” he said.
“Remember that our Latter-day Saint story began with a 14-year-old boy reading James 1:5 from the New Testament. … Remember that from 1820 to 1830 Joseph was to do one thing and one thing only — prepare to receive and translate the Book of Mormon. He was to pursue, the fifth section of the Doctrine and Covenants says, no other gift.”
Holding up a personal copy of the scriptures, Elder Holland closed by encouraging mission leaders to “give your missionaries the gift that will keep on giving.”
“Give them personal experience with and an abiding love for the holy scriptures, words of Christ, the revelations of the Church,” he declared. “Teach them to hold fast to the iron rod. … If you do, and if they will, your missionaries will call your names blessed all the days of their lives. And so will the God and Father of us all, whose work — and words and redeeming doctrine of His Son — we have been commanded to take to all the world.”