PROVO, Utah — Teaching repentance and baptizing converts is the fundamental duty of those involved in missionary work, and other endeavors must not divert attention from it, Elder Dallin H. Oaks admonished Jan. 11.
Speaking at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, Elder Oaks spoke to a group of new missionary training center and visitors’ center directors and their companions, capping a four-day seminar in Provo and Salt Lake City. Earlier addresses from other General Authorities were reported in last week’s Church News edition and on the Church News website.
Elder Oaks, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke three days before being set apart as first counselor in the First Presidency.
“We have now completed the extraordinary expenditures of time required to accommodate the large variations in the numbers of missionaries that occurred after the age for missionary service was reduced,” Elder Oaks noted. “We are now able to increase our focus on teaching repentance and baptizing converts. That is the doctrinal purpose of missionary work: teaching repentance and baptizing converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Helping every missionary become more fully converted to the Lord and assisting priesthood leaders in rescuing the less active are important, Elder Oaks said, but must not detract from the fundamental missionary responsibility as outlined in Matthew 28:19.
“We want to help missionaries focus on their purpose and on more effective use of Preach My Gospel and the Book of Mormon so that more investigators repent and are baptized, more wards are strengthened, and more missionaries return home from their missions deeply converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Elder Oaks focused on ways to teach repentance and baptize converts such as the invitation to be baptized and working for better-qualified missionaries.
He posed the question of when in the teaching process the invitation to be baptized should be given to an investigator.
“Not too soon, but not too late!” was his response. Further instruction on that subject will be forthcoming, he said.
Regarding having better qualified missionaries, he said there are several ways to seek that objective, some long-term and some short-term.
“The most promising short-term effort is to reduce the significant number of missionaries who are released early,” he said. “By delaying calls for some missionary candidates who might have unusual difficulties serving in their current circumstances, we avoid taxing the effectiveness of their companions and the time of their mission presidents.”
If an insufficiently ready missionary does come to a missionary training center, the above problems can be avoided “by detecting his or her problem as soon as possible and, if he or she is to be released, helping them to return home as early as possible in their service” Elder Oaks added. “It is very important for missionary training center presidents and their companions to understand what we are trying to do in this new effort.”
Some early releases, such as for injuries or transgressions in the mission field, cannot be reduced significantly by actions taken beforehand, he acknowledged. “But those kinds of early releases are a small proportion of the total.
“Most of the causes for early releases, such as medical and emotional, belated confessions, and the insistence of the missionary, can be avoided if they are identified and worked through before the missionary papers are submitted.”
Elder Oaks pointed out that the First Presidency recently sent local leaders a set of standard questions to use when interviewing all prospective missionaries and suggested that the questions be shared with the youth and his or her parents well in advance of the interview.
He highlighted three of the 16 questions on the list. One pertains to physical, mental or emotional conditions that would make it difficult to maintain a normal missionary schedule: working 12-15 hours a day, including studying for two to four hours a day and walking or biking for up to 10 hours a day.
Another of the questions he highlighted inquires about attention deficit disorder and other conditions. Yet another asks about doctors’ supervision and whether and why prescribed medical treatment was discontinued.
Earlier in his address, Elder Oaks gave several specific suggestions, first for the eight couples bound for missionary training centers and then for the 12 who will be serving at Church visitors’ centers and historic sites.
“Your responsibility is not only to teach, but also to save the missionaries who come to your MTCs,” he said. “Focus your efforts on ministering to your missionaries.”
He admonished the new MTC couples to help the missionaries make the difficult transition from home to the mission field, noting that the difference in age eligibility has caused some transition pains.
“Help missionaries understand the purpose of missionary work and the importance of teaching repentance and baptizing converts,” he said. “Connect your teaching to the doctrine of Christ, and help missionaries experience that doctrine more deeply in their own lives. Use Preach My Gospel.”
To the other couples he said, “Help your missionaries know that they are called as teaching missionaries, not historians. Focus primarily on teaching people according to their needs, not on the facilities.”
He exhorted the new directors and their partners to promote member-missionary work.
“Don’t let members use you or your missionaries as conduits or authorities to answer doctrinal questions,” he said. “This is not your assignment.”
He reminded the couples that sister missionaries in all of the visitors’ centers spend about half their time responding to referrals and in chats on Mormon.org. “This is a sacredly important assignment for our sister missionaries. Visitors’ center directors and their companions should be deeply involved in assisting them in this. Make sure they respond well to inquiries and are effective at getting referrals to the field so they can be taught there.”