President Jeffrey R. Holland: ‘Becoming lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ’

‘Among all the precious converts you will have during the next three years are the missionaries themselves,’ President Holland tells new mission leaders during 2024 seminar

PROVO, Utah — Moments after expressing his love and assuring new mission leaders that they are equal to their call, that the Lord is aware of them and their families, and that missionary work is “God’s work,” President Jeffrey R. Holland instructed them to teach the same truths to their missionaries.

“My plea to you this morning is that you help your missionaries believe this and help them remember it long after they have left your supervision of them,” said the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I am going to stress again and again that among all the precious converts you will have during the next three years are the missionaries themselves. We want them to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.”

President Holland was the first speaker at the 2024 Seminar for New Mission Leaders at the Church’s Provo Missionary Training Center on Thursday, June 20.

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, teaches on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in the Seminary for New Mission Leaders at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. | Leslie Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

‘Unparalleled relationship’

Mission leaders have a unique relationship with their missionaries. For the next two years or 18 months, President Holland said, mission leaders become “among the most important human beings on the planet for their missionaries,” serving as teachers, cheerleaders, key holder, confessor, disciplinarian, cook, doctrinal arbiter, fellow missionary, nurse, voice of the prophet, warm father figure and sympathetic, ever-listening mother figure.

“In short, the two of you as a couple are everything to these young men and women in the mission moment,” he said, emphasizing the “everything.”

“At no other time in their lives or yours will one couple represent so much to so many.”

It’s a heavy burden to bear, yet “it will be the most rewarding conversion experience you could possibly have,” he said.

“In this unparalleled relationship between missionary and mission leader, you cannot live their lives for them, either on the mission or after,” he said. “But you can teach them. That makes your influence on them during the two years they have with you even more crucial.”

Focusing on the missionaries does not diminish other elements of a mission leader’s calling, but ultimately, President Holland said, “surely the greatest and most permanent investment of your faith, your love and your testimony will be in the lives and hearts of your missionaries.”

‘Teach, teach, teach’

A mission leader’s principal duty is to teach the gospel to their principal audience — the missionaries, President Holland said.

“This mission should be the principal hinge point in the lives of these young men and women, just like it was for all of you who served as younger men or women. It should be the juncture where they take the road toward lifelong discipleship, just as you did. It will shape their mature testimony of the gospel,” he said. “So, presidents and sisters, teach your missionaries the gospel. Teach, teach, teach.”

President Holland said some of the sheep who come into the Church’s fold may not stay, but “we cannot afford to lose the shepherds — your missionaries,” he said. “They are the future of the Church. They must come and take your place here someday. Furthermore, they are someone’s son or daughter. Their parents have raised them the best they could, praying they would go on a mission and serve under mission leaders who are as perfect as possible.”

Preach My Gospel” was designed to facilitate and deepen a missionary’s conversion, helping them to face the realities of marriage, the needs of children, pressures of professional life and other challenges after the mission, President Holland said.

“When such challenges come, these young women and young men will need to reach down to their moorings, to their foundation, to the very roots of their convictions to get them through,” he said. “And for me and millions like me, we will reach back to the teachings and testimony of our mission leaders for memories of our first real faith and belief. Legions have survived later in life on the strength of the gospel learned as young missionaries sitting at the feet of a mission president and his wife.”

Newly called mission leaders listen to instruction on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in the Seminar for New Mission Leaders at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. | Leslie Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

6 requests

Drawing from 35 years of touring and teaching missionaries, President Holland made six requests of new mission leaders.

1. Please consider the conversion of your elders and sisters among your top priorities during your leadership in the mission field.

2. Please prepare to teach your missionaries the gospel of Jesus Christ with the intent that they will become His lifelong disciples. “If your elders and sisters can come to know the real depth of faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, they could change the world,” he said. “Teach, teach, teach.”

3. Please teach out of the scriptures, especially and specifically the Book of Mormon. A mission leader’s message should not come from the “Reader’s Digest” or “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” “Teach from the word of God,” he said. “I promise you that the degree to which you make your mission a Book of Mormon mission is the degree to which you will convert your missionaries with lifelong permanence and affection.”

4. Please bear your testimony regularly to your missionaries. “Make it genuine and personal and passionate, not an obligatory statement at the end of a meeting,” he said. “In some future day, they will remember that you knew the gospel was true, even if they were struggling at the time.”

5. Please pray in the presence of your missionaries whenever you can arrange to do so. “You will almost always be in a presiding position where you ask others to pray,” he said. “As with your teachings and testimony, your prayers uttered in their presence will strengthen your missionaries later when they may be struggling.”

6. Please “think celestial” of every missionary you are about to meet. “That includes the newest, least-prepared, most troublesome elder and the most homesick, ill-prepared, introverted sister, as well as the seemingly perfect prospect you want every missionary to be,” he said. “They are all children of God, gods and goddesses in embryo. Treat them that way.”

Poster child

President Holland served in the British Mission under the leadership of President Marion D. Hanks in the early 1960s.

“No young man was ever more affected by a mission and his mission president than I was,” President Holland said.

“If you need a poster child in your mission for what it means to receive a 19-year-old hayseed from St. George dressed in an olive-green corduroy suit with a burnt-umber vest and watch him grow to where he loves the gospel of Jesus Christ with all his heart and soul, then look at me,” he said. “My mission meant everything to me and still does to this day. I can truly say that virtually every good thing, every possession, every opportunity and blessing I have received in a very blessed life has come, one way or another, from those 24 months.”

President Holland showed a photograph of his mission president, President Hanks, who also served as a general authority before his death in 2011.

“That is a mission president teaching his missionaries,” he said. “This is my mission president teaching me. And the rest is history.”

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shares examples learned from his mission president on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in the Seminary for New Mission Leaders at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. | Leslie Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Words of encouragement

Referencing the Lord’s promises to a missionary in Doctrine and Covenants 31, President Holland assured the new mission leaders of blessings for them and their families through their missionary service.

“In truth, you and your families are going to be blessed in ways you have never known at any other time in your lives,” he said.

“I assure you that you can do this. Many of you are wondering if you can, or if you can do it right now, or if you can do it where you are being sent. My answer to all those questions is, ‘Yes, you can.’ Look back to the generations of men and women who, just exactly like you, had the same fears, found the same faith and came to love their mission like nothing else that had ever happened to them. Yes, you can do this. Stop worrying.”

President Holland said the most important thing a new mission leader can hold in his or her heart as they start is that “this is God’s work” and that He is “fully aware” of them and their missionaries.

“As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I promise you that you will have His help and His success as you live righteously and ask for it,” he said. “I count on that every day in my calling. I am confident in promising it to you.”

‘Lifelong disciples’

President Holland concluded his remarks at the 2024 Seminar for New Mission Leaders with his testimony of the gospel and a summary of his main message.

“Presidents and companions, teach and love your missionaries in such a way that they will remain lifelong disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Teach in such a way that you will remain lifelong disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And love them with all your heart, because that is the way the Lord Jesus Christ loves you.”

Related Stories
President Jeffrey R. Holland: ‘Motions of a Hidden Fire’
How Elder Holland shares the influence of mission leaders without using words
Leaders of the Church teach from ‘Preach My Gospel’ during 2023 mission leadership seminar
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed