The Gift of the Gospel

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by Bonnie

This is the twelfth and final in a series by our writers and guests regarding spiritual gifts. We hope you have enjoyed our take on giving and receiving spiritually this Christmas season.

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My gospel doctrine class sat on the edge of its collective seat as I told the unbelievable story of the milkman from Maine. He presided over a small branch into which 451 people were baptized in one year, and then 190 more people were baptized the next. The spirit filled the room – a missionary spirit – as a subject that usually produces inward groans of guilt inspired people with lighter steps and a renewed sense of their ability to succeed in arguably the most important covenants members of the church make.

Such is the effect of this thin powerhouse, set to be released in January 2013 by Deseret Book.

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Clayton Christensen is probably best known as the innovation guru from Harvard, arguably one of the most influential thinkers in the business world today. He has received numerous awards while serving in his post at Harvard Business School, but he signs his name at the end of the book, “Clayton Christensen, Missionary.”

On his website, www.claytonchristensen.com, the tab for beliefs sits next to tabs outlining his business-building expertise in a 20-year book-writing, consulting, and professorial career. A youthful missionary picture of Clayton standing in a throng of Korean children tops his professional bio.

bio1This is a story of doable missionary work written by a man who has been doing missionary work for 25 years.

What this book is not is as important as what it is. It’s not the Church’s new weapon of choice in a marketing campaign designed to Mormonize America. It’s not a panacea in an endless march to “brainwash heathen” (to quote a Deseret publicist) and usher in the dratted, delayed Millennium once and for all. It’s not a manual, a plan, a study guide, or a training system. It doesn’t come with a binder, and there are no pull-out cards.

What it is is a refreshing testimony with true-life experiences, one right after another, sandwiched between a lifetime of  observations derived from trial and error. Unvarnished, he shares his early throw-your-cake-in-their-face attempts at sharing the gospel and what he learned from them. With a complete lack of self-importance he gives equal time to every vibrant success that anyone he could find would share with him from their own life experience. The power of testimony was tangible around me as I read this book with increasing hunger.

It has been the most life-changing book I’ve read in years.

I judge what I read by how I’m inspired to live or think differently when I put the book down, because, after all, it’s really fairly difficult to inspire someone to change. I was inspired to fast for missionary opportunities. You’d have to see a picture of me to know how life-changing that is. I bake cinnamon rolls. I look like a cinnamon roll. I’ve not spent enough of my life fasting. I’m also a bit of a hermit, though I do wear nice jewelry and the occasional great scarf. I comfortably teach the gospel to people who already have it. I’m the furthest thing from a missionary you could imagine.

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Why was I so inspired by this unintimidating 150-page lightweight? He made everything easy. The Power of Everyday Missionaries is about making slight tweaks to one’s daily living, altering our intent in ways that alter the effectiveness of simple things we do without requiring wholesale changes.

  •  How to speak easily and naturally about the church in ways that invite questions.
  • How to reach people’s hearts who don’t see any particular need for the gospel.
  • How to set goals that invite the partnership of the Holy Ghost to land opportunities right in your lap.
  • How to exercise discernment so that you understand what people truly want and need.

I walked away from this book understanding how to fold missionary work into the way I already live by exercising the gift of discernment, utilizing the gift and power of the Holy Ghost to help me love more fully and completely. I don’t have to worry about offending people, sharing awkwardly, or doing harm with my bumbling attempts. Being free, I can speak honestly and naturally in the ways needed. I am excited about missionary work for the first time in my life!

Even if you are truly an impenetrable rock uninterested in any permanent alteration to your present course, the stories at the end of the book are the best material for talks you’re ever going to find. I found myself grinning and the kids’ mouths dropped open as I rushed to read them in family settings. My soon-to-be-departing missionary sons nodded with confidence. This was real life, they realized. This was how the sons of Mosiah really felt.

A number of our writers have previewed the book and share some of their thoughts below. If you are considering gifts this season, wondering about gifts of the spirit you might wisely request from a loving Father or how to share the ones you already have, the gift of the gospel of Jesus Christ might be high on your list. This incredible powerhouse could be a great way to structure your new year’s resolutions with the gift that keeps on giving – forever.

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Marsha Keller – I was sent a copy of Clay Christensen’s book to read and digest.  First, a little background on me. I’ve written online apologetics for many years; I’ve been both a ward and a stake missionary; and I’m the pioneer stalk member, born under the umbrella of the covenant. I am also very reserved when it comes to sharing the gospel unless directly asked. I’ve never felt comfortable approaching anyone cold and always feel extremely uncomfortable with the missionary programs of goals and such that have been presented over the years.

It isn’t that I don’t love the gospel, I do, but I am not at all comfortable encroaching on anyone else’s time or life. That said, my thoughts as I read through the chapters, instead of “here we go again,” unexpectedly ended up being, “Wait, I can do that… I can do this…”

I was left with concrete ideas of things I can actually incorporate into my unique experience, personality and circumstances.

What I can do: I can write. I write on several blogs and on many non-LDS sites. I can include LDS words in my thoughts that may nudge further questions.

I can give openings. I teach piano and voice to many non-LDS students. I can do the same, use examples, I’ve even done so in the last week or so and they have been received graciously, though not as of yet with any further questions. The beginning, “In my church… ” is becoming more natural. “No thank you, we are Mormons… ” as well. I planned a recital at an LDS Nativity Exhibit that subsequently invited and embraced twelve non-LDS families into our building for an uplifting and non-threatening experience.

I can set a goal. I’ve always ALWAYS dragged my feet on this, feeling it was far too constrictive and systematic for my tastes. I loved the “Show the Lord He can trust you” slant. So I have. Jan 2014.

I can share Clay’s book  with others. I am doing so, through personal and online reviews and sharing like this one.

I can teach with questions. Good questions are much more an invitation than giving information. We even asked the man who sold us our truck if we could drive up around the temple for the test drive. He asked questions about the church and shared feelings the whole drive! We’ll invite him and his wife over for dinner.

Mostly, I learned that it isn’t a frightening imposition, it is simply opening doors and allowing others to enter at their will and desire, then being prepared to answer their concerns, needs and questions, not show how knowledgeable I am.

Both of my long-held mantras of, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” and “A man convinced against his will, holds the same opinion still” come into play.

Clay has presented a plan in a loving and hands-on way without too many non-concrete principles, and a whole lot of, “We did this, you can do this too, really” ideas.

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Angie Fears:  I served a mission in Brazil.  Even though I am reserved and introverted by nature, I felt no fear to open my mouth in that foreign land.  Maybe it was the Portuguese I was speaking, maybe it was merely the knowledge that while I loved the people I was meeting and teaching and serving, I was not there to make and maintain long term relationships.  I was there for one purpose only. So, I suppose it was no surprise that upon my return, I found myself stumbling once again to share the gospel with the people with whom I worked and played. I was excited to preview this book because I wanted gospel sharing to be easier; I needed it to be easier.  Clay opened my eyes to ways to make sharing the gospel easier, but also to ways in which I had been making it more difficult for most of my life.

Clay Christensen talks about introducing our membership in the church into our daily conversations, into the regularness of life.  I realized that for most of my life, instead of introducing my membership, I had been sanitizing my membership out of my conversations.  I grew up in Virginia, around few other members of the church.  I was always explaining and seeking common ground, using generic words like “youth group” and “Sunday activities” instead of proclaiming my church membership. Clay helped me see that I had been disappearing the easy interactions and opportunities for questions out of my life.  No wonder it was so much more difficult!

Now, this sanitization was not entirely borne of youthful anxiety about being different.  I made several invitations in my youth, to dear friends, in the most thoughtful and prepared way I could and had my heart broken as they not only rejected the message, but me.  Part of me lived in fear of that heartbreak, which led to my self-editing style of discourse.  Clay’s book gave me a new paradigm for this problem.  Success is in making the invitation, not in its acceptance.  As painful as it is to lose a friendship for whatever reason, when I extend an invitation borne of love, I have succeeded whether or not the invitation is subsequently accepted.

In my current life, I am surrounded most often by my children and other stay-at-home moms, many of whom are already LDS. While I try to volunteer in my children’s schools and with their sports teams, gospel sharing hasn’t always gone well in those arenas. I was pleased to read about the idea of online gospel sharing. I have a blog already. I have often wished for ways to share my faith-based posts with my non-LDS friends. I loved the idea to share draft messages with friends, asking for their editing and writing opinions. I loved the ideas to draw others into the gospel conversation, both those I already know and others I may meet online.

Clay’s book is really very simple.  My husband, our bishop, took my advance copy away from me and has been muttering and highlighting ever since. He is so excited for ward council. He has seen the power a few new members alight with the gospel has brought to our congregation in the desert. He is afire with these easy, unintimidating ways to bring that power, that light to more in our neighborhoods. I am realizing, through these simple and powerful ideas, that I don’t need Portuguese or a foreign land to open my mouth; I can add and change small habits so that what I am already saying and doing invites and encourages an atmosphere of gospel sharing where I already am.

Image credits: claytonchristensen.com, lds newsroom, deseret media

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

6 Responses to The Gift of the Gospel

  1. angee says:

    I can’t wait to read it, especially after your reviews!! My brother works with Clay Christensen and helped with putting together many of the parts. I’ve been hearing about it for months!! Thanx for the amazing review! I will definitely be purchasing this one! :)

  2. Becca says:

    I, too, am excited to read this book. It’s frustrating to me when people think that to be a missionary you have to shove the gospel down people’s throats. The same principles apply to parenting. You don’t have to shove the gospel down your children’s throats in order for them to understand the gospel. In fact, doing it that way is actually counter productive.

    Thanks for sharing the reviews!

  3. jendoop says:

    I had the chance to read an advanced copy of the book also. It really is wonderful, so many gold nuggets!

    One of the many things I appreciated was towards the end of the book where Elder Christiansen points out that sometimes we hold ourselves back, afraid to do something creative because it is out of the structured norm. His encouragement to act out of the box led me to call my RS president about something that I normally would think was not my business, considering that I’m not in the RS presidency. After sharing my thoughts with her, at the end of our call she profusely thanked me. Coincidentally, our ward RS focus next year is based on the things she and I discussed. It is not huberious or pride to speak up when the Spirit prompts, it is doing the work God put us here to do. We should not shrink out of some twisted pursuit of humility. The sections in the book about God trusting us had a big impact on my feelings about this also.

    Overall, from Elder Christiansen’s book I better see how the gospel permeating my life leads to great things, either in missionary work, professional work, family life, friendship, or church service. Like Angie said, when we hold back we hugely miss out. It isn’t shoving it down people’s throats, it’s being open and letting any goodness in our lives naturally flow outward to the people we interact with on a daily basis. They are then able to accept what they will. It is a beautiful way to view my place in the community.

  4. Reed says:

    Thank you for this review! This book has changed my life!

    In about a week, we will have a website with videos and places for people to share their thoughts and feelings about the book. So come check it out in a few days …. Everydaymissionaries.com.

  5. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this review, Bonnie. Reed, looking forward to watching the website unfold.

    One of the things that stood out to me the most from the book was the notion of inviting people to serve with us. I think this can also work well within the Church. I’m thinking, for example, of how easily youth cliques can develop and what it could mean for youth to serve each other more deliberately and to do more service outside of their own comfort zones as well. I’m thinking of the untapped power within quorums and the Relief Society. I am not sure that we really capture the power of service as we could within our wards and stakes. It’s easy to get caught in the same traditions year after year, rather than taking a deliberate look at local needs in the community and getting actively involved. At least I find this is true where I live, which is in a high-LDS-concentration area. I love our beloved traditions, but I do feel that sometimes we end up being fairly insular and autopilot-ish when we let them define our planning too much.

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