Robert Mortensen has just been called to his stake high council in Meridian, Idaho. Prior to this call he was the ward mission leader where he developed some remarkable strategies to inviting people to Christ. He shares these ideas in the following article and we discuss them in audio form on the attached podcast episode.
Being a ward mission leader (WML) can be an exhilarating experience. If you desire, you can learn how the Lord wants missionary work to go forward in your ward and you can become an instrument in His hands. Being a participant on the front lines of the Atonement with all the highs and lows that go along with this great work…now that is really living!
I am currently blessed with the calling as ward mission leader for the second time. My first opportunity was in Mesa, Arizona ten years ago and now again in Meridian, Idaho. I don’t claim to be some great or special ward mission leader because I’m not. I’m observant and have studied the WML role and I am striving to be useful to the Lord.
One of the things that we are doing in our stake that we find very helpful is the stake high councilor over missionary work holds a monthly training session with all the WML’s. Time is given in each meeting for WML’s to share their inspiring stories as well as their best practices. This collaboration is so advantageous and motivating. I hope sharing some of my experiences and practices might help other ward mission leaders across the church.
It is important for WML’s to recognize that the bishop is the mission president for his own ward mission and he and his counselors preside over the work. The WML is the executive assistant and head cheerleader; the assistant to the president, if you will. The WML acts with delegated authority through the keys of the bishop. Be careful not to tread on the stewardship of the bishopric and auxiliary presidencies, but rather be a steady support to them.
I’d like to stress the importance of a ward mission leader and of ward missionaries being able to share current missionary experiences, not just experiences from the past. Pray in faith and act in faith for daily missionary opportunities. When the Lord shows you the opportunity, act on it immediately. If you haven’t had a missionary moment that day, make one happen. It can be as simple as sharing an uplifting scripture on social media. Having missionary experiences is exciting. Sharing these experiences energizes fellow ward members.
Ward Missionary Meetings
Ward Council & Priesthood Executive Committee (PEC):
As a member of the ward council the WML can insure that all ward activities, including service, are missionary activities. Activity Days, Cub Scouts, and youth activities are some of the most successful missionary opportunities. As a member of the ward council, a WML can demand encourage strong home and visiting teachers for new members and part-member families.
Missionary Coordination Meeting (MCM):
Make sure missionary coordination meetings are short, but powerful and spiritually uplifting. Make sure every ward missionary leaves with an assignment. I was terrible at this my first time as WML, but I am trying to do better this time round. Ward missionaries need to feel valued and challenged. In this meeting we get updates on the status of the people the full-time missionaries are teaching as well as reports from ward missionaries on their visits to part-member families and potential investigators. We also make assignments to visit active member-missionary families and cheer them on in their efforts.
In my ward, we make visits on Thursday nights at 7pm and follow those visits with our MCM with the full-time sister missionaries at 8:15pm at the Church or in my home. We sometimes also make visits on Sunday afternoons or evenings.
Focus on Finding
I love this statement of faith from Preach My Gospel, page 169: “Believe that people who are being prepared to receive the message of the Restoration will be placed in your path. God will also place you where your good acts and words will prepare people to receive missionaries and Church members.”
Ward missionaries are not glorified home and visiting teachers, though they are often seen and used in that capacity. Visiting less active members and “lost sheep” are good and worthy efforts, but perhaps should be the focus of the high priests, elders and the Relief Society. Ward missionaries should focus on finding through visits to part member families including members of record that are not yet baptized and confirmed. We want to know who every part-member family is and what their status is. We will take them wherever they are at and invite them to progress at whatever level they are willing. They can also focus visits on a select few active member-missionary families and cheer them on in their efforts.
Ward mission leaders would do well to re-enthrone work as the guiding principle of missionary work. Getting out and making weekly visits is a sacrifice offering to the Lord. Weekly visits are an act of faith and faith in action. President Benson famously said: “One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work. If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people, and he will be happy. … Work, work, work–there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.”
When the Lord accepts our offering of prayer, desire, and willingness to act through hard work he will trust us to help those he will place in our path and he will bring people to us. It is the Lord’s work and He will do it through us if we will let Him.
Something amazing happened during my time as WML in Mesa, Arizona. We had every auxiliary praying for specific people. We had members actively praying for and inviting their friends. Members were generally pretty pumped about missionary work. But interestingly, not a single person on the lists we were praying for and inviting to activities…not a single one of them joined the Church during that time. Yet, we began having monthly convert baptismal services. The Lord knew who he had been preparing and they seemed to rain down from heaven into our ward’s welcoming arms. Referrals from outside of our ward boundaries were plentiful. Golden investigators seemed to come out of the woodwork. Miracles abounded and we knew the Lord was in charge of his work and that he was hearing our prayers and accepting our offering of desire.
You never know who the Lord is preparing. To illustrate this, may I share an experience?
When we moved to Star, Idaho we prayed to have missionary experiences with the couple across the street, Bill and Connie, because they seemed like a good ready-to-be Mormon family. We invited, but they never accepted, yet we remain friends to this day. Little did we know that the Lord was preparing Don and Jill who lived next door to Bill and Connie. We continued hosting neighborhood barbecues. Don would bring his beer and colorful language and we loved him for what he was. Jill was regularly in our home and became good friends with my wife, Jessica. She asked lots of questions about the Church. Jessica invited her to every church activity. She never came. They invited Jessica to their son’s Catholic confirmation. Jessica went. Jessica invited them to hear her speak in church. They came. We invited them to our son’s baptism. They came. Shortly after that we moved to a ward in Eagle, Idaho.
Jill was a school bus driver. She had a great young LDS girl on her route and wanted her own daughter to be like this fine young woman. Jill mentioned this to the girl’s mother at the bus stop. The next day, the girl’s mother presented her a copy of “For the Strength of Youth”. Jill read it and called my wife in tears saying, “This is exactly what I want for my daughter. This is what I want for our family.” Jessica invited her to receive the missionaries. Jill was ready, but her husband Don was not. The invitation was declined. As Jessica and I visited the Temple seeking the Lord’s guidance on a job change and relocation, I got the confirmation I needed, but Jessica was overwhelmed by the spiritual promptings to invite Don and Jill to hear the missionaries again. Jessica went to Don and told him the that the Lord had commanded her to ask him to open his home to the missionaries. Don accepted. We moved to Bountiful Utah. A couple months later, Don called asking me to baptize him. We made the trip back to Idaho. A year later Jessica and I escorted Don and Jill through the Bountiful Temple and witnessed them being sealed as a family. Jill’s mother moved to Middleton, Idaho from California and began taking the missionary lessons. I was honored to baptize and confirm her too. (Names were changed to respect privacy)
Engage the Ward Council in Missionary Work
Report on your visits by email to the entire ward council. Information is always best when it is as close to real-time as possible. We like to recommend a ward council action of some form or another regarding the people visited. For example a quick email report and call-for-action may look like this:
“We had a great visit with the Jones family. They have not been active in church for three years. They have two children that are not yet baptized. We recommend following up with their home and visiting teachers to insure that uplifting visits are happening there regularly. We are confident that if the Home Teachers have the goal of helping the Jones family take next steps toward baptism and confirmation, that this will happen. We also encourage the Primary and Young Men organizations to reach out to the kids Sarah(10) and John (13) and invite them to activities so that they will want join with us. We will also ask the Sister missionaries to visit them in the coming week.”
Ward council members are generally anxious and willing to help, but they may need some guidance about how they can assist in missionary work. E-reporting on visits also has the benefit of reducing the time needed for reporting during meetings.
Every time we go out to do visits we always have at least one special experience that confirms to us that the Lord is guiding His work. Sharing this with the ward council will excite them for the work.
Engage Ward Members in Missionary Work
Keep missionary work on the member’s hearts and minds and in their prayers. One way we do this is through a weekly email blast sent out through TinyLetter (an app associated with MailChimp). I don’t see that WML’s currently have the ability to email the ward through Leader & Clerk Resources at LDS.org, so I’ve opted to use TinyLetter. This newsletter service also allows people to unsubscribe if they don’t enjoy the thrill of missionary work. These emails must be short and sweet. You’ve got to be able to read it 30 seconds or less. We like to include a photo in the email to jazz it up and catch the eye. We alternate between two different types of emails as follows:
- Monday Member-Missionary Message – This type of email includes tips from “Power of Everyday Missionaries” by Clay Christensen, quotes from General Conference talks, and scriptures about “how” to be a member-missionary. We focus on the simplest of ways that members can be missionaries rather than over-emphasizing the commandment and duty to share the gospel. While we love and cherish those duty-focused scriptures and quotes, many members don’t enjoy being hit over the head with them year after year. We try to avoid “guilting” members into missionary work. We’ve never seen the guilt-gimmick work successfully. We help members to see that they succeed when they invite.
- Monday Member-Missionary Moment – We focus on inspiring members to proclaim the gospel by highlighting positive experiences other ward members are sharing with us. You know you’re on the right track as WML when members are sharing with you their experiences.
Make Attending Church a Great Experience
Help create an atmosphere of warmth and welcoming at church. When I was in the bishopric, I did the Mormon culturally correct thing of making the rounds before church shaking hands with people. I never did that before I was in the bishopric, but I found that I really enjoyed having those moments with my fellow ward members. Get out of your comfort zone and greet people as they enter the building. Warm welcomes are contagious. When a ward becomes welcoming and loving the Lord will send them those individuals and families He has been preparing.
Make sure Gospel Principles Class is a “safe place” for new and returning members to ask questions and share concerns openly. It’s okay to talk about the differences between “doctrine” and church policy, practices, and culture. In this particular class it is important for class members to be real – no guile, no pretense – just real human beings and candidates for the grace of Christ’s atonement.
Technology for to Assist in Missionary Work
We use the Trello app with our ward missionaries. Trello is a web-based task management tool which allows for fantastic team collaboration. Within Trello you create a “board” upon which you place “lists” and “cards” under each list. Our board is entitled “The Ward Mission”. We have invited all the ward council members and ward missionaries to be members of the ward mission Trello board. We have created the following “list” categories: Investigators, New Members, Part Member Families, Member-Missionary Focus Families. We create a card for each individual or family and place it on the appropriate list. We have created template cards for each list category and checklists. Our Trello checklists are based on the Church’s official “New and Returning Member Progress Form” and customized to the needs of the individual listed on the card.
We also copy and paste our emailed visit reports into the appropriate cards in Trello. If the entire ward council used Trello, we wouldn’t have to have this redundancy, but it works for now. It also creates a virtual area book for the ward missionaries. Those histories can be helpful.
Ward Mission Leader Resources:
Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home – Elder M. Russell Ballard