It can be intimidating to join a missionary discussion. You may feel a lot of pressure because important things are at stake, but take heart. First of all, lots of missionaries feel exactly the same way. They’re young, and a lot of them are still new to this kind of thing. The most important thing you can remember is that if you’re doing it right, the Lord is the one leading the lesson.
But, of course, trying to prepare and become better are always great things to do. So without further ado….
Seven things you shouldn’t do in a missionary discussion
1) Talk about deep doctrine.
This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often members try to teach big things really fast before investigators are ready. It doesn’t mean we’re hiding it; there is plenty of information on the internet that we would be crazy to even try to hide it.
Deep doctrine may seem relative to different people. Things that may feel totally normal to us may be big developments for them. For example, baptisms for the dead are taught in the missionary discussions, but it’s usually after people have gained a very basic understanding of baptism or the priesthood. Please don’t bring it up when the discussion is about The Book of Mormon. Just follow the missionary’s lead on this one.
2) Bring up lots of new topics
For most investigators, learning the discussions is similar to trying to drink from a fire hydrant. There is already so much new information. It’s really easy to get excited about teaching the gospel. I’ve seen it happen a million times. Members are really excited to bear testimony and share gospel principles that mean a lot to them. However, hearing lot’s of new buzzwords like “sealings” or “Pearl of Great Price” or “Word of Wisdom” prematurely can grab their attention, make them feel overwhelmed, and detract from the Spirit.
Let me give you an example.
We were having a great discussion with an investigator. The member we had brought with us was enthusiastic and friendly, and they were a good fit. Things were going really well, and the member was doing a great job. However, as we got to the end of our lesson about the Restoration and The Book of Mormon, the member bore their testimony about how The Book of Mormon brought all sorts of wonderful knowledge into her life and then proceeded to throw out buzzwords. We were out of time and needed to get to another appointment which meant the investigator was left a little confused about all of these things they had never heard about before.
This can potentially cause two problems. They can leave the discussion with a sense of being overwhelmed and confused, or they can go try and google some of these new buzzwords. Google can be both a blessing and a curse.
3) Make an “off” comment
Many of us get nervous while trying to share the gospel with friends or even trying to sit in on a discussion with a stranger. One of the ways that I’ve seen these nerves manifest is by “off” comments. They try to break the pressure they feel with a joke, and sometimes these jokes don’t come off super well.
Sometimes these comments come in the form of self-deprecation. “I don’t always live the gospel very well, but it’ll bless your life.” Sometimes they come in the form of teasing about our culture. “Man, members can sometimes be really judgemental, but we shouldn’t really worry about that.” Once again, they detract from the Spirit.
These are really specific examples, so try to take general principles from them. For example, if the investigator brings up a judgemental member they once met, it’s okay to briefly address it. It’s important to resolve their concerns. It’s equally important to not give them new concerns.
4) Interrupt moments of quiet
One of the very first (and honestly, one of my very favorite) investigators I ever taught was a young college kid. He had taken most of the discussions, had plenty of friends who were members, and really felt the truth of what we were saying. He had felt the Spirit plenty of times. His hold up was his family. They were extremely worried about him joining the church, and it was making him pause.
We brought him to a family’s house and decided to read The Book of Mormon with him. We read in 3 Nephi 11, and it was one of the best discussions I ever got to participate in. The house felt like it was on fire from the Spirit. As we read the scriptures, I could almost see the Spirit working on him. The member bore an incredible testimony that I remember to this day. I don’t know that I can describe just how powerful the Spirit was in that room. We looked at our investigator who had become our dear friend, and we invited him to be baptized on a specific day.
This was it. He could hardly talk; the Spirit was so strong. I saw it all over his face that he was going to say yes. The Spirit was literally testifying to me to give him a second because he was going to say yes. I knew it in my heart that this kid was going to get baptized.
And then this dear, well-meaning member proceeded to break the silence and say, “It’s okay if you’re not ready yet.”
The moment was broken. He broke his gaze from us and nodded at her.
My companion and I were devastated.
Sometimes our nerves can lie to us. They tell us that a pause is awkward or that our friends feel really uncomfortable, and we need to save them. This isn’t always true. The most powerful teacher is the Spirit, and the Spirit can be very difficult to hear. Especially when we talk over it.
5) Push commandments prematurely
Modesty. Word of wisdom. Let them grow into it a bit. They’ll get there, and the Spirit will help them get there. They are learning what you’ve been learning over a lifetime. The very best thing you can do to help them follow the commandments is to love them and be an example. I think that we sometimes believe sharing the gospel and crying repentance means correcting everything. While it’s important to grow and stand up for what we believe, it’s not always required in the moment. If you don’t believe me, look at how Heavenly Father teaches you. He waits until you’re ready before He gives you a nudge in one direction or another to improve. Love them, and they will keep coming and eventually get there.
I kinda mentioned this in the beginning of the article, but leave the lesson to the Lord. Prepare yourself as much as possible spiritually, and trust Him to do His own work. Though you’re there participating, He is the one giving power to your words. He is the one changing hearts. He is the one who makes a lesson life-changing. Let Him do it. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.
It’s really hard to just tell yourself not to worry. We seldom follow that advice when we try to give it to ourselves. So instead I want to teach you about what worrying really is and how it comes from Satan.
When you’re feeling worried about a lesson, who are you focusing on? Yourself. You’re worried that you’ll ruin something, or you’re worried that you’ll look dumb. You may be worried about disappointing the missionaries. Whatever it is, it stems from thinking about yourself too much.
That may be a hard pill to swallow, but once it sinks in, it’ll change your life. I wasted a lot of my life being nervous around other people because I was so focused on how I was being perceived. The second you can start worrying about the comfort of the other person, is the second your worry starts to disappear.
Want to know what happens when you start focusing on someone else? You access a whole new level of the Spirit. The best thing you can do to help in a missionary discussion is to invite the Spirit, and the best way to invite the Spirit is to forget about yourself.