Clayton Christensen hopes 'The Power of Everyday Missionaries' spurs discussion about member missionary work

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Member missionary work doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, intimidating or difficult. In fact, it can be a deep source of happiness.

That’s one of the main messages behind “The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel,” a new book by Clayton M. Christensen aimed at helping members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engage in missionary work.

“It need not be hard,” Christensen said.

Deseret Book will release “Everyday Missionaries” on Monday, Dec. 31.

The world knows Christensen for his distinguished position as a Harvard business professor, his highly regarded ideas on innovation and his New York Times critically acclaimed, best-selling books.

Christensen only sees himself as a Latter-day Saint missionary.

“Hence, under license given to each of us in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I ‘called myself’ on a mission,” Christensen wrote in the book’s introduction. “I love my life as a missionary, keeping myself on the front lines. The image in my mind is that God, my general, stands at the door when I go out every morning; and, knowing what the war is like, day after day he gives me his most powerful weapon: his Spirit. For this I am grateful.”

Over the years as Christensen has served in various church responsibilities, he has observed that church members generally struggle to magnify their callings because they simply don’t know how to do them. That realization led to another realization, which became his motivation for writing “Everyday Missionaries.”

“I realized, 'Oh, my goodness, this is why most of the members in the church aren’t engaged in sharing the gospel.' They want to — they just don’t know how,” Christensen said in phone interview from Boston. “So over the last 10 years or so, I’ve tried to be reflective of my own experiences and how I have learned to share the gospel. Friends and others have encouraged me to share it so other members have access to it.”

The book is structured in three sections. In the first part, Christensen shares ideas for how to find people to introduce to the missionaries.

The second part focuses on how to help those who are investigating the church progress more resolutely toward baptism and a life of committed membership.

The third part contains a collection of what Christensen calls “latter-day miracles,” personal experiences that illustrate ideas he has discussed.

“In every chapter I have tried to teach ‘how’ in the way that the Savior taught — through parables,” Christensen wrote. “I use them to simply show what we have tried to do, what has worked and what has not, and what we have learned from each other about how to do what God wants us to do.” Christensen discusses three key principles with regard to finding friends who are interested in the hearing the gospel. These principles are accompanied by specific suggestions, which he shares in great detail.

“First, I do not know who is interested in the church. God doesn’t want me to judge other people; therefore, I need to figure out how to have a conversation about the church with everybody I meet,” the author said.

“Second, because I can’t predict who is interested, I need to have opportunities with everybody. But I need to give them the opportunity to use their free agency to say they’d like to know more. That’s why in every conversation I use ‘Mormon’ words. Then everybody knows, ‘This guy is a Mormon.’ I open the door to have a conversation about the church. Most people just don’t walk in the door, and that’s fine. But on occasion, somebody comes in, giving me an opportunity.

“Third, people only learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we are ready to teach them. The insight there is we need to know the questions on their mind that they’ve not been able to get good answers to, and that then helps you determine what they are interested in. Then you can help them answer their own question.”

In the second part of the book, Christensen describes various ways to help investigators progress toward baptism and a life of committed membership.

“When an investigator stops making progress, sometimes they are not interested in what they are learning, but most of the time they drop out because they don’t know how to progress,” he said. “It’s an odd thing, but very true.”

Christensen has observed many investigators struggle because they don’t understand how to pray, study the scriptures for answers, or they don’t grasp how to keep the sabbath day holy.

“We assume people know how to do these things,” Christensen said.

Oscar Pike recently served as president of the California Arcadia Mission and is a faculty member at BYU. He recently considered some of Christensen’s member missionary ideas and gave a positive review. He especially liked the title.

“I like the phrase ‘everyday missionaries,’” Pike said. “Effective member missionaries see sharing the gospel as part of who they are, a natural extension of their everyday lives.”

Larry and Lisa Laycock returned from presiding over the Chile Santiago East Mission last July. Larry Laycock also endorsed several of Christensen’s ideas and even added a few suggestions from his own experience.

“Everyone can share a story or experience about how the gospel has blessed their life. If you carry that in your heart, and are willing to share it, people will naturally be drawn to the gospel message because it’s filled with joy,” Laycock said. “Of course, the best missionary work is a living example and being happy, showing the gospel really does exist within us.”

At one point in the book, Christensen talks about using the Internet as a missionary tool. Laycock illustrated the truth of that concept by relating how his wife kept a blog during their mission, and when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the country, she typed an email to family and close friends that described their remarkable experiences and how the Lord protected their missionaries. Before long, the email had zipped around the world and was published in the LDS Church News.

“Information can go viral,” Laycock said. “We need to be careful. Everything we say should accurately reflect what the brethren and scriptures teach us.”

A few people have already seen the book and experimented with the ideas, Christensen said, and they have found success in sharing the gospel, which makes him happy.

Ultimately, Christensen hopes the ideas in the book are shared and discussed by member missionaries. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers — he just wants to get people talking. Readers are invited visit the book’s website, www.everydaymissionaries.org, to share their thoughts, ideas, impressions and experiences.

“I think this is one reason why the Lord invented the Internet — so members can teach one another how to succeed in assignments the Lord has given us, and to give us opportunities to inspire and bear testimony in a horizontal way,” Christensen said. “Hopefully, little by little, the book can become a mechanism by which the members of the church teach themselves and each other how to be great missionaries.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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