"It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor," the Lord said to his young church in December 1832 (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:81). And that command has been reiterated by every prophet of the Restoration.
Is our missionary obligation discharged by full-time missionary service? Plainly not. When President David O. McKay issued his famous dictum "Every member a missionary," he had in mind the entire membership of the church, not just formally set-apart missionaries.
How should we do it? In whatever way we feel inspired to do so, using whatever talents and abilities we have. There is no single right approach.
Writing to the mid-first-century Christian community in Corinth, the apostle Paul testified that "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law … so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law … so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, New International Version).
In other words, Paul was willing to employ any legitimate method that would convey the message of Christianity.
The gospel can, of course, be overtly preached by full-time missionaries. But the message can also be conveyed by blogging, by inviting friends to church events, by sharing the church's new Bible videos or online "Mormon Messages," by handing out pass-along cards, by joining in online conversations regarding media stories about the church, by contributing to the missionary fund, by donating books to libraries, and a thousand other means.
By simply being sociable with those who aren't church members and openly talking about the things that matter most to you and occupy your time, you'll become involved in conversations about the church.
Such conversations can arise when you tell of a trip to Utah, or explain how you learned to speak Thai, or mention an experience at the welfare cannery.
"Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue," says the Lord, "and in his own language" (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11).
And this may refer to more than mere linguistics. Every person on the planet has a unique personality, and "language" that reaches some may not reach others. The story of the Restoration needs to be retold and its doctrines celebrated in ever new visual forms and in eloquent music. Perhaps the "language" that most effectively conveys the message of the gospel will be, for some, that of a quilt, or a pie lovingly prepared and offered, or some unexpected service, or a seemingly insignificant kindness.
Perhaps you speak a "language" that can touch the heart of somebody out there better than anybody else on the planet can. There are no limits to the possibilities. And inspiration is available to help.
The most important thing is that you — we — be engaged in this greatest of all works as member-missionaries.
"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
"For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
"But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29).3 comments on this story
You may not think that there's much that you can do. But there is.
"Think globally," goes the saying. "Act locally."
"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great." (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33.)
Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, where he also serves as editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He is the founder of MormonScholarsTestify.org. He blogs daily at www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/.