As always, prepare using the official Gospel Doctrine Manual. Here are a few supplemental ideas that may be helpful:
For this week’s Gospel Doctrine Prep, I decided to provide an excerpt from my book, “How To Be An Extraordinary Missionary.”
Along with this excerpt, I might also recommend two articles from the Ensign:
“Ammon Helped Me Reach My Neighbors” by S. Michael Wilcox, Ensign, March 1995.
“Christ and the Creation” by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, June 1982.
EXTRA! EXTRA! TEN EXTRAORDINARY STEPS OF MISSION PREP
I often have the opportunity to visit with young people, and sometimes extraordinary young men and women ask me, “What books would you recommend as I prepare for a mission?” I always answer, “Alma17–26.” Although the sons of Mosiah didn’t wear neckties or drive Corollas, they gave us timeless advice on how to be successful missionaries. Following are a few things we can learn from the sons of Mosiah:
Step One: Search the Scriptures (Alma 17:2). The sons of Mosiah were men of “sound understanding” because they had “searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.” You can’t teach something you don’t know, so the Doctrine and Covenants also reminds us, “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21.)
Step Two: Fast and Pray (Alma 17:3). The sons of Mosiah had given themselves “to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy.” You can have the spirit of prophecy too, because “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10.) One might think, “Well, the sons of Mosiah saw an angel! They must have had a strong testimony already.” But remember, others in the Book of Mormon witnessed miracles and saw angels too, and they didn’t change a bit. Signs and miracles don’t necessarily bring testimony. Searching the scriptures, fasting, and praying do.
Step Three: Be Patient in Trials, Be Good Examples (Alma 17:11). The Lord told the sons of Mosiah that their success might not come instantly: “Ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” Extraordinary missionaries learn to be patient when the trials come — and not only to be patient but to be a good example as well, and then the promise comes: “I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” What a promise! What an honor!
Step Four: Have a “Called to Serve” Attitude (Alma 17:25). When Ammon was bound and brought before King Lamoni, he was asked if he wanted to dwell among the Lamanites. Ammon answered that he did. The king asked Ammon if he wanted to marry one of his daughters. Ammon answered, “Nay, but I will be thy servant.” Ammon had the perfect attitude; he knew he was called to serve. The mission anthem does not begin “Called to prove . . .” or “Called to date the king’s daughter” but “Called to serve.” Extraordinary missionaries keep the “Called to serve” attitude throughout their missions. They find ways to serve investigators as well as people they don’t know.
Step Five: Win Hearts, Then Lead Them to Believe (Alma 17:29). When King Lamoni’s flocks were scattered by enemies, Ammon saw an opportunity to “win the hearts” of his fellow servants. Perhaps winning hearts is as vital to missionary work as leading people to believe in our words. Someone once said about investigators, “We have to warm them before we warn them.” Similarly, Stephen R. Covey wrote, “People to a degree must first be converted to the messenger before they will become converted to the message” (Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, (Deseret Book, 1970), 266). Why do missionaries dress so conservatively? Perhaps it’s to help win hearts. Why are the young men counseled to keep their hair short and their faces clean shaven? Perhaps it’s to help win hearts. Perhaps it’s to help win hearts. When people see our missionaries walking down the street they may say, “What kind of organization produces young people like that— young men who look so sharp and young women who dress with such class and modesty?” Those people are better prepared to hear the missionaries’ message. Perhaps Ammon is teaching us an important sequence: First, win hearts; second, lead them to believe.
Here’s a story to go along with Step Five from my book, What I Wish I’d Known Before My Mission:
Four hundred and fifty teenagers won some hearts in Tennessee at an “Especially for Youth” camp at Austin Peay University in Clarksville. At the beginning of the week, I spoke to the group about Ammon and about “winning some hearts.” I explained, “When you leave this place on Friday, the people on this campus won’t know your name. But they’ll remember that you were LDS. Let’s win a few hearts this weekend, shall we? When you go through the line in the cafeteria, when you get new towels from the ‘Dorm Mom,’ when you interact with anyone on campus, do something that very few teenagers at other camps have ever done. Smile and say thank you. Treat people with kindness and respect. Keep your dorm rooms clean, keep the halls free from litter, and respect the grounds outside. Be uncommonly classy teenagers, okay?” These youth were wonderful. They didn’t need my help. I stood with them in the cafeteria line, and I heard them talk to the servers. “Would you like chicken or fish?” asked the cafeteria lady. “What’s your name?” the young lady on my left answered. “Keesha,” responded the slightly confused server. “Keesha, I love your braids,” answered the young lady as she walked away with her chicken. “What’s your name?” she asked the next server. “Barbara,” another slightly confused worker answered. “Thanks for serving us today.” “You’re welcome,” Barbara responded, wondering what in the world was going on. Think of it: Four hundred and fifty classy teenagers, three meals a day, for five days. At the end of the week, the cafeteria workers were saying, “We don’t want the students to come back; we like y’all!” On Friday, we gave away seven copies of the Book of Mormon. We won some hearts!
Now here’s a question – if we had tried to give away seven copies of the Book of Mormon on the first day, do you think it would have worked as well? No. We used Ammon’s sequence. We won their hearts, then we hoped we could persuade them to believe in our words. Some of those hearts we knew about, and there may have been other university employees who watched our little LDS group from afar. Perhaps your mission call will be to Tennessee, and maybe you’ll knock on the door of someone who’ll be willing to listen to your words because some other Latter-day Saint laid the groundwork and won that person’s heart.
Step Six: Be a Friend (Alma 18:3). Ammon defended the king’s flocks and disarmed a few opponents; then he went right back to work. Ammon’s fellow servants returned to the king with a few visual aids and told the whole story. The king thought Ammon was the “Great Spirit.” The servants weren’t sure who Ammon was, but they did know that Ammon was “a friend to the king.” Extraordinary missionaries know it’s important to be a friend. What do friends do? They love, listen, care, and serve whenever and wherever they can. Missionary work is an extraordinary act of friendship. Joseph Smith taught “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:23-24)
Step Seven: Be Faithful and Obedient (Alma 18:10). When the king heard the whole story, he was astonished. Why? Because of how Ammon defended the flocks? No, because when Ammon finished his shepherding duties, he immediately began working on the other things the king asked him to do. In the king’s words, “Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.” Ammon’s faithfulness and obedience were all part of preparing the king to hear the gospel. Our extraordinary faithfulness and obedience might help influence others as well.
Step Eight: Focus on Teaching (Alma 18:18–22). The king, after pausing and remaining silent for about an hour, finally blurted out, “Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?” The king wanted to know what power Ammon used to defend his flocks, and he offered Ammon whatever he desired! An ordinary missionary might be tempted if a king offered him anything he wanted. He might ask for land, gold, or some other national treasure. But Ammon, more than anything else, wanted to teach. Ammon responded, “Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things?” Of all the things Ammon could have asked for, he simply wanted the king to listen to his message. Even on a mission, there are lots of distractions— historical sites to visit, funny things to take pictures of, or beautiful places to see— but extraordinary missionaries focus on what Ammon did: teaching and testifying.
Step Nine: Teach the Three Pillars (Alma 18:36, 39; 22:13). You may recall seeing a video in seminary depicting a bridge supported by three columns labeled “Creation,” “Fall,” and “Atone – ment.” These three things have been called the “three pillars of eternity” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, June 1982. 9-15). Consider what missionaries are trying to tell people: “You need to be saved!” They might ask, “From what?” The answer is, “From the effects of the Fall.” They might answer, “The fall from what?” We would respond, “From the association we had with God at the time of the Creation.” If we don’t understand the Fall, we don’t understand the Atonement! President Ezra Taft Benson said it beautifully: “Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ. No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Bookcraft, 1988), 28). Ammon taught the three pillars: “He began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him all the things concerning the fall of man. . . . But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption.” Extraordinary missionaries teach people not only that we need Christ, but why we need Christ as well.
Step Ten: Love the People (Alma 20:26). After King Lamoni’s conversion, Ammon and King Lamoni ran into King Lamoni’s father. Among the events that transpired, the old king “saw the great love [Ammon] had for his son Lamoni.” This extraordinary love helped prepare the old king to also hear the gospel message. How will people know that you are a disciple of Christ? Will it be by your knowledge? Will it be by your command of the scriptures? Will it be by your public speaking skills? How will people know? Jesus answered that question for us: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Extraordinary missionaries “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [they] may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:48).