Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing,” Ensign, Oct 2003, 10–17

I reminded the missionaries that some of our most important plans cannot be brought to pass without the agency and actions of others. A missionary cannot baptize five persons this month without the agency and action of five other persons. A missionary can plan and work and do all within his or her power, but the desired result will depend upon the additional agency and action of others.

Consequently, a missionary’s goals ought to be based upon the missionary’s personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others.

I don't remember how I heard it originally, but I remember thinking AMAZING! when I heard it. This quote has popped into my head various times throughout the past 5-6 years and I finally remembered to look it up at a time when I was at a computer and had the time to search for it.

I remember as a missionary being told to make a goal for how many people we were to baptize the coming month. We were to pray about it and come to a mutual decision w/ our companion. I never felt good about it, not bad per say, but never like, "Yes, it will be 5 this month if we do our part." Then, during the times when we got less than our goal we would beat ourselves up for not doing our part. Why else would we have not achieved our part of the "covenant?" The Lord doesn't falter on his side.

My brother-in-law is on a mission and I have heard him say a similar thing once about his setting goals for how many people will get baptized. I'm surprised this talk hasn't been photocopied and passed around in mass amongst the missionaries like other things.

Late addition:

I am similarly surprised to hear the brethren say repeatedly that we need to simplify by having less meetings and allowing people to be with their families more. Despite the repetition over the pulpit, this hasn't seemed to sink in enough. I know that people do both of these errors with good intentions and sometimes it can be hard to change the boat when it has so much inertia.

Another problem that I have seen in my life similar to setting goals based on other people's agency is when I place my expectations on other people's agency. A famous LDS psychologist and author, Bro. Lund recently mentioned in an adult meeting in our stake that all frustration comes from unmet expectations. I don't know that we can necessarily avoid having our expectations sometimes based in other people's agency, but as GI Joe said, "Knowing is half the battle!" Recognizing this may help us to own our expectations and therefore reduce the amount of things causing frustrations in our life.


Brian said...

I am glad you posted this. I always had this attitude during my mission and I tried to pass it on to the 5 "greenies" I trained. When sitting in our weekly district or zone meeting I remember the companionships reporting their accomplishments and some of the dissapointments some felt because they didn't reach their goal. I never felt bad when our goal wasn't met. I knew we were working hard and thought maybe we were planting more seeds than actually harvesting. I always knew it took more people than a missionary with a goal to achieve that goal. Agency is a beautiful blessing and I am thankful I had this understanding during my mission and even now.
Viva Argentina!

the narrator said...

during my last seven months of my mission, i decided that i was not going to set any more quantifiable goals. period. even if they were not dependent on others, i found that setting numerical goals shut off occasions where the spirit was trying to tell me to do otherwise.

i told my zone leaders they could either tell the mission president that i wasn't going to report any goals, or they could make them up. they made them up.

not only were those months the ones where i felt like i was being guided by the spirit the most, the happened to also be the most 'successful.'

Cody said...

I completely agree with Elder Oaks and your statements about agency. I however don't think that means we should altogether quit making goals for number of baptisms. We should still make reasonable goals so that we can push ourselves to knock a few more doors, talk to a few more people and pass out a few more books. As Brian said, if we don't fulfil that goal for the month, we shouldn't beat ourselves up, but should understand the role of agency. As long as the missionary knows that he/she was obedient to all the mission rules and tried to attain the goal by working hard, they can feel great knowing that they did what they could to meet that goal. That in fact is how I received my greatest spiritual confirmation from the Lord during my mission that what I did was pleasing to him. Not because of the families or priesthood members I had brought to the church, or the missionaries I had trained, but rather because of my obedience and efforts.
I know for me personally, goals help push me to go further and do more than I would have otherwise.
On a side note, I also knew many missionaries that tried to use this as an excuse for their lack of success, when in my opinion they didn't experience success because of a lack of spiritual guidance stemming from their disobedience and desire to truly convert people (to clarify, I'm not saying that all missionaries who experience low conversion rates are guilty of disobedience). It's a fine line to navigate between understanding that a lack of baptisms is due to the role of agency and excusing our poor efforts on the investigators agency. It's difficult to find that middle ground.

Carson Calderwood said...

Another quote I wish I had, but can't find for the life of me is from President Monson. He describes the importance of tracking numbers and the importance of reporting. The need is for accountability and effort/progress measurement. Without it we can't do the above. We just can't lose sight of the purpose or let the possibility of losing sight keep us from doing it at all. IOW, don't look beyond the mark or fall short of it...my personal motto.

I'll look through some old mission papers I recently found tonight and hopefully find it.

Carson Calderwood said...

I went back and reread the comments and saw that mine was in direct opposition to yours. It wasn't intended as such, even though I do think we shouldn't avoid setting goals...I didn't post that to directly contradict you and your experience.

the narrator said...


i didn't see much of a contradiction. i think there is a huge difference between reporting results and setting numerical goals. however, i think that when we begin to conflate the two that problems begin.

i had a mission companion who had a goal to have 40 baptisms (which was very high for hawaii). with less than a week left of his mission he was at 39. i knew a former investigator that i had dropped before he came into the area because she didn't care about getting baptized (or anything else really), but would if we told her to. so i called her up and we baptized her a few days later.

my companion went home with 40 baptisms and she never showed up to church again to be confirmed.