Preach My Gospel, written primarily for full-time missionaries, says a missionary’s purpose is to “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” Sounds good—and I agree. But I wonder if that is really the purpose of just missionaries or if it shouldn’t have much broader application. Isn’t that the purpose of a disciple?
The Savior was speaking to twelve special disciples when he admonished them to continue to minister to people who were struggling. He said, “unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”
This scripture indicates a special relationship between these disciples and Jesus—but perhaps that same relationship extends—or should extend—to all disciples. Disciples are to minister to individuals in a way that help them come to the Savior. He is clearly the one who will—and the only one who truly can—heal them. Nevertheless, disciples may “be the means” of bringing the patients to the physician.
Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, Nephi addresses a similar topic. Speaking of the Savior, he says, “Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”
“His people” are to “persuade” others—all others, in fact—to come partake of the “free” salvation he offers. Note that persuasion is cited as an important attribute for exercising priesthood power. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;…” Note also that the invitation, or rather, commandment, to persuade others toward the Savior is intended for “his people,” a reference that seems to encompass more than just full-time missionaries or special disciples.
On a related note, we also learn from Preach My Gospel how to measure success. “Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.” Or in other words, your success is measured, not by the choices other people make, but by the commitment you and I have (and, I’m sure, exhibit) toward pursuing our purpose of inviting others to come to the Savior.
Encouraging people to come to the Savior is the goal. Our level of sincere commitment and resulting effort to so doing is the measure of our success. Influence should be sought and exercised—in the Savior’s kind, loving, respectful way, of course. Like wealth, influence is a good thing if used the right way, but unlike wealth, we are specifically commanded to acquire and use it.
To what extent are followers of Christ obligated to not just follow but to lead? Must all followers of Christ lead? Can that leadership be passive? Can I get away with leading “merely” by example? Or must I lead with active intent?
What did the Savior say? Certainly his instruction to “let your light so shine” (on a conspicuous candlestick, no less) was aimed at all of His followers. Likewise his identification of disciples as “the salt of the earth” seems like an admonition to all. To Peter, he said, “strengthen thy brethren” and “feed my sheep.” Can we excuse ourselves from doing the same by thinking he was speaking exclusively to a priesthood leader? I don’t think so.
In a talk given in 2001, Sherry Dew described righteous women who inherit eternal life as enjoying “eternal increase in… influence”—as well as wisdom, joy, and posterity—all things we desire in this life and not merely the next. Influence is a desirable and worthy possession. We should strive to both acquire it and exercise it as best we can – for the purpose of leading others to Christ.
How do we acquire influence? We care. We accept. We love. We offer real encouragement (not nagging or riding). We make it personal. We get involved with others and build friendships. Introverts may need to overcome some things – though being the life of the party isn’t a requirement.
The Savior acquired influence by spending time with people. He reached out to those who particularly needed reaching out to. He walked and talked with people, asked them questions, and provided relief. He certainly set an unwavering example of devotion to His Father in Heaven and to principles of love and commitment. His consistent example provided authority for his words.
You and I must set an example, but we must also strive to do more. We should be with people providing sincere love, acceptance, support, and encouragement. We should even dare to teach in the right ways. We should strive to influence for good and be intentional about it. It isn’t enough to set an example and hope somebody catches on – though whatever example we set, good or bad, others will most certainly “catch on.” We must seek to acquire and exercise influence for good.
According to Church Handbook 2, “being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.” Further, it says there are four specific things we can do:
- Remember names and become acquainted with people. (Moroni 6:4)
- Love without judging. (John 13:34-35)
- Strengthen individuals “one by one.” (3 Nephi 11:15 and 17:21)
- Build friendships and visit with people. (D&C 20:47)
Those are things we can do!
The challenge: Increase our own discipleship, but don’t wait to be perfect before reaching out to others. Identify the people we can influence and develop sincere love, interest, and caring for them. Strengthen relationships and in our relationships provide encouragement toward greater discipleship of the Savior. Be sincere enough in our efforts that these relationships will endure beyond the unwillingness of others to more fully embrace the Savior. We can do this. Doing so brings great rewards to all of us.