When Jesus Christ began his mission on earth, he chose apostles to assist him. These apostles continued to run the church after His crucifixion and resurrection. They served as diligent missionaries, going out into the world to teach the gospel. Jesus Christ Himself worked to teach the gospel to everyone who came into his path. Sometimes people chose to approach Him, but other times He approached them. He and the apostles knew they had a message that would change lives if it were only listened to, and so they had the courage to approach people and share that message. When we love people we want them to have everything they need to make them happy and for Christians, this includes the gospel. In fact, Christians know Jesus Christ is the most important aspect of true joy. Missionary work is an act of love.
For this reason, Mormons have an extensive missionary program. They follow the Savior’s counsel to share His message with the world.
“19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Thomas Monson, the Mormon prophet, loves to talk about missionary work. Although he did not serve a mission as a young man because he served in the Navy, he did work as a mission president when he was only thirty-one years old, an unusually young age. He, his wife, and their children lived in Toronto, Canada for several years, overseeing the missionary work in that country. Since that time, President Monson has toured most of the missions of the church and has filled every position in the Missionary Department, and as a result, has more knowledge of missionary work through his church service than almost any other past or present church leader.
Because missionary work is a particular love of Thomas S. Monson’s, he speaks of it often.
There are several ways a Mormon can be a missionary for the Lord. A young man can, as part of his priesthood service (Mormons have a lay priesthood for all worthy males ages twelve and up) spend two years living away from home as a missionary. He goes at his own expense and lives by strict rules during this time. It is a time to develop self-discipline and a strong testimony, but most importantly it is a time to teach others about Jesus Christ. A young man who approaches his mission with the proper attitude will come home with a love for the culture in which he served, possibly a new language, the self-mastery to be successful at whatever he attempts, and a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ and the blessings that come from serving the Lord.
Women may also serve missions away from home, leaving at age 21 and staying for eighteen months. While they don’t have the same expectation to go, since they don’t have the priesthood, many young women do choose to do so and can often reach people the men can’t reach.
Older couples frequently serve missions together after they retire and so do retired singles. They also travel at their own expense wherever they are sent.
Some people choose to serve on a part-time basis from home. These missionaries are called ward missionaries and any adult can serve a ward mission who is worthy and is called to do so.
Finally, the church encourages all members to be missionaries. Without a specific calling, each Mormon can share the gospel through his actions and words with the people in his own life.
“Peter and John, those converted fishermen who became Apostles, were warned by the authorities not to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Their answer was firm: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
Paul, the Apostle, that sterling testifier of truth, was speaking to all of us—members and missionaries alike—when he counseled his beloved friend Timothy: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
Elder Delbert L. Stapley, who served as a member of the Council of the Twelve a number of years ago, quoted Paul in his epistle to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Then Elder Stapley added: “If we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, then we should not be ashamed to live it. And if we are not ashamed to live it, then we should not be ashamed to share it” (Thomas S. Monson, “That All May Hear“, New Era, May 1996, 4).
Thomas Monson encourages all young men and those young women or older people who want to go to serve missions. He teaches that it will be an experience that changes their lives. What better way to learn to know and love the Savior than to spend two full years of your life serving Him and teaching about him? As a result, he encourages young people to seriously prepare for the mission. By already having a testimony and living the standards of a missionary a young person can get the very most from his mission.
Missionaries are called to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thomas Monson taught this about the message missionaries present:
What is the gospel? It is the message we take, a message that declares that an angel flew in the midst of heaven and that the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored. If we’ll remember that and the other elements of the message missionaries bear, we’ll be effective. In that message is the Book of Mormon, which is part and parcel of every missionary’s library—internal, what he knows, and external, what he teaches.
The Book of Mormon, the true nature of the Godhead—the world hungers for this message. It’s part of that which missionaries will take to the people.
Another element that I have found very important is that the Church is based on a foundation of Apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:20). And we emphasize a “living” prophet today. I testify that President Hinckley is such a living prophet—the prophet, seer, and revelator of the Church.
If I could put my finger on that portion of the gospel which seems to penetrate a broader range of people and penetrate more deeply their hearts and their souls and move them to action, it’s the plan of salvation, or our Heavenly Father’s plan—where we came from, why we’re here, where we go when we leave mortality.
It’s been my observation that the stumbling block for investigators is not the Word of Wisdom. It isn’t Sabbath day observance. It’s a testimony that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It’s very important that we declare that message. The message is divine. Remember that (Thomas S. Monson, “The Five M’s of Missionary Work”, New Era, Mar. 2007, 42–45).