The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel by Clayton M. Christensen

Oct 26, 2014

I don't normally post on Sundays, but this seemed like an appropriate review for the day.

If you know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., Mormons), it might be that we focus heavily on missionary work. In fact, I don't know of another religion that devotes so much attention, time, or money on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No matter where you live, there's a chance you maybe have run into, or had your door knocked on, by Mormon missionaries.

The stereotypical missionaries are clean-cut young men in dark suits with name badges, but young women also serve missions and so do senior couples. It is expected that every young man who is worthy and able will devote two years of his life to sharing and teaching the Gospel. While young women are not under the same obligation, their service is still valued and appreciated.

Several of my family members have served missions: before my mom got married, she served in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mike served in the West Indies. One of my brothers served in Sydney, Australia. Another brother served in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And I have another brother who is currently serving in Fresno, California.

 My brother, Gordy (on the right), serving in Australia

I did not serve a full-time mission. At that time, young women weren't able to serve until age 21 (the age has now been lowered to 19), and I got married when I was 20. However, all members of the Church are encouraged to share their beliefs with their family, friends, and acquaintances (David O. McKay, who served as prophet of the Church from 1951-1970, coined the phrase, "Every member a missionary.")

But sometimes it's difficult for me to share those beliefs because I'm worried about being overbearing or offending someone or even finding the right words to clearly explain some of our doctrines. Plus, I live in Utah where there is a much higher concentration of members of the Church, and so it's easy to assume everyone has already been asked a million times if they want to know more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm worried I might seem pushy, even though my motives for wanting to tell other people about my beliefs are pure (for more about why ordinary members of the Church want to talk about the Gospel, read or watch this excellent talk by Elder David A. Bednar).

And now that I've told all that, you might not be surprised to hear that I would read a book called, The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel. Because, let's be honest, even though I strongly believe in the doctrines and practices of the Church, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to share those beliefs with others.

My brother, Ben (on the right), serving in Pennsylvania

Honestly, I might not have picked up this book if it hadn't been the assigned reading for a family reunion last month. In fact, I maybe began reading it a little halfheartedly. I think I was a little worried it was going to be really intense and make me feel guilty if I'm not delivering Books of Mormon to all of my neighbors.

But in fact, it did just the opposite. It talked about how to share our beliefs in as natural and authentic a way as possible (and let me tell you, knocking on my neighbor's door with a Book of Mormon in hand is not authentic or natural (at least for me).

Clay Christensen talked about including the tenets of our faith in normal, everyday conversations, which I definitely feel like I do both here on this blog and in real life. Going to church, reading the scriptures, and praying are so ingrained in my daily habits, it would be virtually impossible for me to censure myself and never bring them up. If I'm talking about my life, then I'm talking about my faith because I can't separate it from who I am.

I really appreciated Clay Christensen's emphasis on discovering the questions of interested family and friends. Missionary work is not formulaic; it is individual and personal. It wouldn't be productive or even helpful for me to launch into an explanation of temples if my friend is really just curious about why we don't drink alcoholic beverages.

 My brother, Steve (wearing glasses), in the missionary training center (he is now serving in California)

I also really liked his thoughts about keeping an open mind and never pigeon-holing people into prescribed boxes of "definitely interested," "probably interested," "would never be interested." Only the Lord knows peoples' hearts. And so it's important to live our lives authentically (as I mentioned before) and not hide that authenticity from those we think might be offended by what we have to say.

Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have many organizations that present many opportunities to serve and teach others. For example, Relief Society is the organization for the women. Besides meeting together on Sundays, we have weeknight meetings approximately once a month where we learn a new skill, listen to a speaker, or participate in a service project. These meetings are a time for women of all faiths to come together and learn from one another, and I'm grateful that other women in my community are willing to share their talents and expertise in these types of settings. In this book, Clay Christensen devotes an entire chapter to the importance of asking for help from people outside of our faith. This gives them a chance to see what the Church is like from the inside and also gives us a chance to be blessed by other people in our community. He said, "Even though many prosperous, comfortable people don't feel like they need religion, almost all of them have a need to help other people."

For those individuals who are investigating the Church and taking the missionary discussions, I was really impressed with his counsel to thoroughly teach the practices of prayer, scripture reading, Sabbath observance, etc. He said, "When investigators repeatedly fail to keep . . . commitments [such as reading The Book of Mormon or praying], we and the missionaries are prone to conclude that the investigators really are not interested. But often investigators don't do these things because they don't know how." I feel like these principles of teaching, guiding, and showing are vital to all, whether we've been members of the Church our entire lives or not. In the Church, all positions are filled by volunteers, and sometimes I think we err on the side of less instruction instead of more. We assume people will know how to lead the music or teach Sunday School and so don't provide them adequate training.

With all of these points, Clay Christensen provided personal examples. These were not only enjoyable to read but also helped me see how to apply certain advice to real life situations.

 My mom (in the blue dress) serving in New Mexico in 1982

If you are not Mormon but have questions about the Church, I would encourage you to seek out an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (such as myself!) rather than searching for answers on the internet. Even if it's just to satisfy your curiosity on a certain point, I would love to hear and answer your questions. Feel free to send me an email: sunlitpages {at} gmail {dot} com.

And if you are Mormon, then I would definitely recommend this as a great resource to help you reach outside your comfort zone and share those beliefs that you hold most dear and precious.


  1. Good timing. We just got asked to give talks on this subject right after Christmas. So I guess I better read the book and start trying to live by it ;)

    1. Wow, your ward is really on top of things if they're already scheduling talks for after Christmas! Is this your new ward? I want to come see your house!


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