My Mormon missionary friend is having a bit of an issue. Some of the people he’s teaching are learning, converting, and falling away. Here’s my advice to him.
I have a few theories about your baptism then “falling away problem.” I suspect, having read Preach My Gospel one rainy afternoon, that not enough emphasis is put on the full trajectory of the Mormon experience. Mormonism—as you know—isn’t just a religion it’s a lifestyle with an entire worldview. There’s a lot of stuff in there about being happy, finding peace and making commitments but not a lot about “this will change your life and it means A, B and C.” Remember that people are used to hearing about God and Jesus and Heaven. Those commonalities may be biting you in the butt because people think “I can get on board with those things, and Joseph Smith is great, so is the BOM” but they’re missing the bigger picture.
My theory is because Mormonism is so very different from other Christian denominations people aren’t prepared for the huge change. In your average Protestant denomination there’s no one keeping track of you, as a new convert or as life long member. Sometimes you go to church and sometimes you don’t and maybe someone who sits around you notices and maybe your priest does but it’s mostly considered no biggie. When I skip church it’s between me and God, not my whole parish. I’m sure you stress the importance of attending Sacrament Meetings but so does every other religion—the difference is that the LDS Church holds people accountable and expects a lot from its members.
And that’s a good thing. Having people watching out for you is a good.
I have a feeling, however naïve, that new converts see the LDS Church like any other denomination. Sure, they may be converted to its Trueness, the BOM and other doctrines but I think there’s a huge disconnect. You also have to remember in most Protestant denominations baptism and getting “saved” is the ultimate goal; they often believe their reconciliation with God can happen here and now and once you’ve got it, you have it, it’s not going anywhere.
There’s this saying in online Mormon communities that “the internet is not helping the missionary cause.” Let’s say someone makes it all the baptism and shortly thereafter peruses the Internet (If you Google “Mormon” church affiliated websites may pop up first but the anti Mormon stuff is not far behind and I don’t use the term anti-mormon lightly.) and they find all sorts of stuff. An average pioneer stock Mormon or a couple of generations Mormon might have some sort of crisis, may be able to label the info as anti-Mormon and move on or they might even resign after painful consideration. A lifelong member is more likely to stay because they have the means to navigate something like that in a healthy way.
If a lifelonger is having issues, I think a convert—for lack of a better metaphor—is up shit creek without a paddle.
Most don’t have the resources—the sense of community, knowledge or wonderful past experiences—to reason through the tough stuff.
I’m not a missionary and I’m certainly not a member so I can’t really offer any truly meaningful advice. I’m not the one in a foreign country, on the front lines, but I guess I do have some advice.
Sometimes prayer is action but sometimes, to quote Joanna Brooks, you just have to “do” and seek God in the process.
You can pray for these new converts until you’re blue in the face and God will hear but maybe he wants you to seek them out. A part of me thinks God is up there saying “That’s great that you’re worried about so-and-so (I’m sure Heavenly Father says stuff like so-and-so) but what are you going to do about it?” I think sometimes we sit around waiting for God to tell us what to do when he’s already given us a brain to come up with creative solutions to all kinds of problems. Maybe part of your mission is reaching out to disaffected members.
I don’t think it’s necessarily the Preach my Gospel book, any one missionary or the entire mission’s fault or even the converts fault that there’s a disconnect somewhere along the way. Maybe converts are getting baptized too early? Or they think they’re prepared but they’re not quite there yet?
As a Catholic who was told that when I turned eight and made my First Communion that I would feel wildly different I can say such pronouncements often go up in flames on the big day, and not the good Holy Spirit flames either. I turned eight. I went up ate the Eucharist and nothing. I felt just the same. I went to all the classes, learned all the prayers and did everything a good Catholic girl should. This was the first in several steps to my overall confusion with my faith. Therefore I wonder if new converts are not feeling the spirit during or after their baptism and confirmation. It could be a number of reasons and not the go to Mormon reasons like disobeying the Law of Chastity or the Word of Wisdom or they aren’t reading their scriptures.
We both know the spirit doesn’t always work the way we want it to so I kinda believe the seed has been planted. These people who are “falling away” have got a little piece of Mormonism in their heart but just aren’t ready to dive on in.
I don’t think you or any other person in your mission wants people to do things that make them feel dishonest. As hard as it is for you to wrap your head around it, maybe these new converts need a few kind words or just need the space to work their way back to the faith. I think it’s your job, and really all of our jobs, to be understanding and loving and really hear people out.
Sure there are eternal consequences to our actions but I just have to believe that Heavenly Father gets it. He sees everyone working through hard things and takes note. He sees you working hard at teaching and he sees your investigators processing it all.
I guess my advice, however misinformed, is if you’re concerned about someone you should try to help them and find out what’s going on. And remember that it is a huge thing to change your worldview and to make commitments and covenants you’ve never made before. And I really can’t say it enough: sometimes disaffection is a lot more complicated than people not reading their scriptures or disobeying church teachings.