Wait, what? Aren’t we supposed to be sharing the gospel at all times and in all places? Well … maybe. Sure, we should be an example of the believers 24/7, but sometimes the best way to spread the gospel is by NOT sharing it. I know that sounds like probably the most apostate thing you’ve heard all week, but bear with me.
Many missionaries (including myself several years ago) return home with the fire of missionary work burning brightly within them. I was absolutely set on sharing the gospel with “every creature” I came across because there’s nothing more important than sharing the gospel, right? Time passed. I had a few good experiences and an abundance of cringe-worthy experiences. Looking back, I don’t think I understood the following principles very well:
First, keep in mind Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,7
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted …
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
In essence: Sometimes silence is golden.
Speaking truth versus using truth
Check out this 1987 quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks (who was in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time):
Truth surely exists as an absolute, but our use of truth should be disciplined by other values. For example, it is wrong to make statements of fact out of an evil motive, even if the statements are true. It is wrong to threaten to reveal embarrassing facts unless money is paid, even if the facts are true. We call that crime blackmail. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are forbidden to reveal facts they have received in confidence, even though those facts are true.
Just as the principle of justice must be constrained by the principle of mercy (see Alma 42), so must the use of truth be disciplined by the principle of love. As Paul instructed the Ephesians, we ‘grow up into’ Christ by ‘speaking the truth in love.’ (See Eph. 4:15.)
“It is often more important to love than to be right”
I put that line in quotes because I’m sure I didn’t make it up, but I can’t find who said it first. Wherever it comes from, it’s true. Elder Oaks touched on this principle (above) when he counseled that truth must be “disciplined by the principle of love.” To supplement that, here’s another quote from the same talk:
The virtues of patience, brotherly kindness, mutual respect, loyalty, and good manners all rest to some degree on the principle that even though something is true, we are not necessarily justified in communicating it to any and all persons at any and all times.
Satan has a habit of taking good things and using them for evil purposes. For example, the “brazen serpent” that Moses lifted up for the Israelites represented Christ, yet snakes ofttimes represent Lucifer as well. The pentagram (or inverted star), a symbol found on many temples, also used to represent Christ (among other scriptural symbology), but now it’s widely associated with the occult.
Similarly, truth is a good thing, but the adversary can use it for evil purposes. When our efforts to “share the gospel” turn into a weaponization of the truth with the goal of simply winning doctrinal squabbles, we need to stop. It’s a clever trap, indeed.
Are they ready to learn or are you just ready to teach?
Here’s yet another quote from Elder Oaks (who is, in turn, quoting Clayton Christensen) about sharing the gospel:
We need to remember ‘that people learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them.’
After returning home from my mission, I was ready to teach, but my approach was off. I essentially had a list of people I wanted to talk to, and I tried to teach them irrespective of their circumstances, desires, or preparation. That kind of approach can come off as forceful and overbearing (which, in my case, it was).
Being able to know when someone is “ready to learn” usually requires some measure of discernment, one of the gifts of the Spirit. And when deciding whether or not to share the gospel, that’s what it comes down to—the Spirit. If you feel moved upon by the Holy Ghost to share the gospel in whatever your scenario may be, then do it. If you feel like it’s just not the right time, wait until the opportune moment arrives.
“The most effective way to preach the gospel”
According to President Uchtdorf back in 2011, “The most effective way to preach the gospel is through example.” In the same talk, he quotes the famous phrase attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi,
Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.
Living Christlike lives will attract more attention to the gospel than our words may ever be able to. If we’re looking to increase our personal missionary efforts, we may need not look farther than living the gospel more fully in our daily lives.
Be wise when sharing the gospel online
The internet has revolutionized how we do missionary work. That said, we need to be extremely wise when choosing how to go about sharing the gospel online. For example, take a brief glance at the comments section of virtually any social post dealing with politics. You’ll quickly find yourself wrapped up in a cyber mudslinging contest that’s going to leave everyone feeling a little cruddy. Both sides of any argument may firmly believe they’re speaking truth, but remember what Elder Oaks said: “It is wrong to make statements of fact out of an evil motive, even if the statements are true.”
So, what do you do when you see the comments section of a new MormonHUB article blow up with controversy? Or what do you do when you stumble across a hostile Reddit thread about Mormonism? What do you do when you find yourself doctrinally at odds with even your fellow believers?
We shouldn’t forget Elder Cook’s counsel from back in January:
But notice that Elder Cook uses “love” as a pre-condition to standing up for our beliefs online. If our intentions stray from, “I respect your opinions, here is what I believe,” to, “Your opinions are ridiculous and I’m going to prove you wrong,” then we need to censure ourselves.
It is entirely possible to disagree with someone without being disagreeable with that person (even online, believe it or not). God’s stance on contention is clear:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Causing (or exhibiting) anger and contention is a poor way of sharing the gospel of peace.
“O be wise, what can I say more?”
You might recognize that scripture from Jacob 6:12. It’s one of my favorites. The last thing I want is for people to misconstrue this article as one that antagonizes missionary efforts. Sharing the gospel is a commandment, we should do it however we can. But we should be wise in our efforts. Sometimes less is genuinely more. Wherever you are and whatever circumstances you may be in, remember the principles the prophets (both ancient and modern) have outlined about sharing (and NOT sharing) the gospel:
There is a time for everything
Never use truth with an evil motive
Temper your use of truth with the principle of love
Teach the gospel when others are ready to learn the gospel
Follow the promptings of the Spirit
Preach the gospel first and foremost through your example
Disagree if necessary, but do it without being disagreeable
What are your thoughts? Do you agree that sometimes the best way to spread the gospel is to NOT share it? Let us know in the comments.