Changes due to COVID-19 should be seen as refining advantages, President Oaks teaches mission leaders

The uniqueness of this time in the world’s history does not change the fundamentals needed to lead missionary work, President Dallin H. Oaks said on Friday, June 25.

Speaking to 109 new mission presidents and their wives at the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders, the first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church thanked them for accepting their new callings. 

“You are great role models for the way you have responded to your covenants of consecration by turning your lives over to the Lord for three years,” he said. 

President Oaks then spoke about both the unique aspects of missionary work at this time and some aspects of it that are timeless and vital. 

Complicated time

“Looking at these unusual circumstances from the point of view of the missionaries, you must anticipate that some of your missionaries are feeling unusual anxiety and disappointment,” he said. “They need special help.”

Regardless of the changing circumstances of the work, President Oaks said, the new mission leaders should follow the guidelines and programs that come from Church leaders. 

“The COVID-caused disruptions have also required some fundamental changes in the ways we can share the gospel,” he said. “None of us and none of our missionaries should look at these changes as new obstacles. We should see them as advantages to help us refine our practices to be more effective.”

Those changes to the work and opportunities to learn and adapt will have benefits beyond those seen during the time of missionary service, President Oaks said. 

“Because of what they must do in this new environment, they will be better prepared for leadership in today’s world, in their homes, in the Church and in the world,” he said. 

The most important remains unchanged

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, emphasizes fundamentals of missionary work at the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on Friday, June 25, 2021.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, emphasizes fundamentals of missionary work at the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on Friday, June 25, 2021. Credit: Leslie Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Too much focus on the adjustments being made to missionary work during the pandemic may dilute “vital fundamentals,” President Oaks said. 

He underscored four fundamentals of missionary leadership:

  1. Understanding of and commitment to Jesus Christ.
  2. Internalizing the power of the Book of Mormon.
  3. Learning to teach according to the different needs of contacts.
  4. Embracing the dual role of preaching the restored gospel and preparing the rising generation for the future. 

“Our most important resource is our testimony of the Risen Lord and His Atonement,” he said. “He is central to the Father’s plan of salvation. He is the Light and Life and the only hope of the world. He is central to the restored gospel.”

Emphasized on Thursday, June 24, by the President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson, the second fundamental is the Book of Mormon. President Oaks said missionaries need to learn how to use the Book of Mormon personally in order to effectively teach of its power to others. 

He said missionaries need “to learn its truths, how to ponder and pray over them, and how to testify of them.”

The third fundamental principle President Oaks described is the importance of being prepared to share the gospel in different ways based on the needs of the individual being taught. 

“Some of your missionaries may thrive with digital communications but need help in face-to-face communications. How to teach different contacts will always be fundamental.”

Different approaches and styles of teaching come second to being worthy of the companionship of the Spirit, President Oaks said. 

“I hope that every missionary in the world understands how vital it is to their missionary labors to partake of the sacrament regularly in the appropriate way.”

Preach My Gospel,” which is studied daily by each missionary, teaches that partaking of the sacrament “helps us remain worthy to have the Spirit with us always.” 

Explaining this fourth fundamental, President Oaks taught that mission leaders ultimately have to understand their dual roles of both preaching the gospel and teaching and preparing the rising generation.

“As you pray for inspiration, you will be able to handle individual problems as an inspired, informed, wise and loving leader.”

Mission leaders frequently have the opportunity to strengthen the rising generation by helping missionaries overcome fears and anxieties. 

“It is very common for missionaries to be homesick in their first months of service and even to announce that they want to go home right away,” he said. “Listen carefully to the counsel you are given [in this seminar] … on how to help missionaries keep their personal commitments, serve the full duration of their call, and thereby grow into mature and successful servants of the Lord.”

Opposition is not new

The pandemic is not the only challenge to missionary work today. President Oaks said there are “many other challenges” and this is not a new situation. 

He said leaders need to know the challenges facing their missionaries. 

“Be familiar with the most current opposition your young missionaries face — the kind of things that are most troubling to them,” he said.

Some of that opposition is faced by more than just missionaries, he said. 

“An overall challenge for all of us is to understand and live the principles of the gospel, despite the opposition of worldly persons and values.”

The Church and its doctrines will not conform to the current desires of those who are not members of the Church, he said, quoting President Joseph F. Smith. 

For that reason, it is important to have pure motives in sharing the gospel. 

“The motive with which missionaries teach will be evident to many of their contacts,” he said. “If those motives are pure, they will encourage persons to listen.”

What is that motive? 

“We need to be clear about our true motive in our missionary labors — to bless the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children, whom we love,” President Oaks said.

That motive is different from that of strictly baptizing a lot of people, he said. 

“We want our missionary effort to bring real growth, which means to bring people into the Church and nurture them so they will develop meaningful relationships with their Savior and with members.”

President Oaks said the Church needs to be more effective in its missionary efforts among members. Members shouldn’t judge for themselves whether a friend or neighbor is ready to receive the gospel, he said. 

“The Lord knows the hearts of all of His children, and if we pray constantly for inspiration, He will help us.”

That constant prayer requires a willingness to act, President Oaks said. 

“To be most effective, prayers for this kind of inspiration should demonstrate ‘real intent’ by promising the Lord that if He will inspire them to speak to someone about the restored gospel, they will do it.”