Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book-slinging tips, pt 2. New paradigms, goals, attitudes.

In Part 1, I wrote about the foreign language (non-English) angle of making encounters, and gave tips on how to initiate an encounter that leads to you offering someone a Book of Mormon (or other church material) in their native language, plus an optional copy in English for use as bilingual material.

In Part 3 I'll discuss possible scenarios for offering material to English-only speaking people. However, this post should mostly apply to both foreign-language and English-only speakers.

I briefly touched upon the idea of considering the goal of an encounter to be a verbal offer of a Book of Mormon (or Sunday School manual, or Joseph Smith Testimony pamphlet) to the people you meet. And, by considering your success to be overcoming your fears by making the offer, you are "divorcing yourself from the outcome" and not attaching your attitudes to the decision of the other person to accept or reject your offer. By doing this you are respecting the agency of the other person. This attitude of respect will then be conveyed to, and have a positive effect on, the other person, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. People just naturally want to be treated with respect. People are more comfortable and open when they are treated with respect and their agency is honored.

The February 2005 Ensign article "Seven Lessons on Sharing the Gospel" by Clayton M. Christensen and Christine Quinn Christensen, pgs 36-41, has a paragraph titled "What Is Success?" Elder Christensen pointed out that success is in making the invitation.

So I want to re-emphasize "the offer." It's not a case of physically imposing a book on someone, it's not "Here! Take this!" but rather a verbal offer of "Would you like...?" usually before the object being offered is brought into view. (There are rare exceptions when boldness or a mild imposition is prompted of the Spirit. And some situations do call for putting books in the open such as at an ethnic restaurant or a cultural festival where foreign languages are spoken, where you can allow others to initiate the conversation when they see the material.)

Other points:

1. Unless you feel so inspired, you don't necessarily need to directly invite them to listen to the missionaries. If you include a pass-along card, or an info-flyer, you can indirectly invite them to initiate the next step. You could say "If you like what you read, there's a number in there that you can call for more information, or to have missionaries visit you." My info flyer includes a list of local chapels, because a common question I'm asked is "Where is your church?" I also include the nearest mission office phone number on the info flyer.

2. You can also put your name and number on the material, or put a personal calling card (not necessarily a business card, but it would work) in the material. Since some cultures consider marking scriptures to be sacrilege, I put in cards and flyers and use sticky-notes instead of actually writing directly on the Book of Mormon. Hopefully, you'll bear more fruit than I have, because only 4 people have ever called me out of over 1100 encounters. Although, a few more than that have investigated, usually due to arrangements made on the spot at their initiative.

3. Therefore you're giving them four possible contact points, for whatever they feel comfortable with: 1) the number on the church's professionally printed full-color pass-along card (usually goes to the MTC phone center in Provo), 2) local mission office phone number, 3) local chapel addresses, 4) your name and phone number.

4. My ability to read other people is limited. It's very likely that you're better at reading other people than I am. If you are, you might be able to tell whether the other person is fishing for, or open to, a direct invitation to visit church, or have the missionaries visit. Not everyone, actually few, are going to take the active approach. Most people "wait for the ball to bounce their way." I think my project would bear more fruit if I could tell who those people are, and make a direct and active invitation if they show signs they are open to it. But I haven't progressed to that level yet.

5. This "offering books" is a whole different paradigm (model or framework) than what most members (even RMs) normally think of as missionary work. If this idea intrigues you, then do not consider it as traditional missionary work! Church members need to get rid of the fear of drudgery and rejection, because this has been very exciting, and results in people actually receiving the material the vast majority of the time.

This model allows the Book of Mormon (or other material) to do the "work." After all, that's its job, its purpose, its reason for being. You are not doing any "work"! My common refrain is "I don't do missionary work, I just offer people books."

And it's nothing new. This model of offering material to almost anyone during casual contacts in public places is not new! This concept is fully included within President Benson's vision of "flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon." He didn't say "sprinkle" or "spritz." He said "FLOOD!"

This model I'm describing is not to replace the other "sharing the gospel" models of introducing your friends and associates to the gospel through your normal interactions with them. This is an additional thing that can be used to expand your circle of influence to those who are not already your friends, neighbors, and associates.

6. Forget the "committment pattern!" Avoid it entirely for this type of contacting. Leave it to the missionaries. If you are so inspired of the Spirit to initiate (whatever you consider to be) the "committment pattern" in getting the person to commit to reading the material, then fine. But, people can be like cats; the harder you try to "get them" to do something, the more they will resist. So leave it up to them. They've already given you a positive answer in agreeing to accept the material, so they already have shown that they will likely browse it at least. And even if they don't read the material, as long as they keep it, or give it away, or sell it for $.10 at a yard sale, it can eventually filter out to someone who the Lord has in mind.

7. You don't necessarily have to bear testimony. If you feel so inspired/prompted, then by all means do. But in the hustle-and-bustle of public places, that calmness of spirit may or may not be able to fit in. However, be open to what I call "the miracle moment." Sometimes, topics that we normally would feel out of place due to our cultural conventions, can be the right thing to do/say in the right moment. God's ways are not our ways. So just be open to it, but don't feel like it's always a required ingredient.

8. Be open to the Spirit. Not all directions/promptings/impressions will contain the notice "this is going to be a book-placment". I was offering books for a little less than three months when I received inspiration to go someplace out of my way. And in that inspiration, I wasn't told what would happen. It wasn't even a direct order. It was more of an impression, like an implanted desire.

In writing about spiritual gifts, the apostle Paul mentions "differences of administrations" and "diversities of operations". In this project, I've learned about five different ways that the Spirit can guide me to placement opportunities. It's hard to describe personal spiritual experiences, but I want to say that the Lord can use the Spirit to reveal amazing information and give simple little instructions that end up having enormous effects.

The Lord knows who is ready for a seed to be planted, and the Lord knows exactly where they are. If you're driving nearby, and are willing to plant that seed, the Lord is perfectly capable of directing you to that person. If you're willing to follow simple instructions such as "take this exit,", "turn left," "turn right," "keep going," "stop here," then you are able to "find" anyone in public places where casual conversation can be initiated. In terms that full-time missionaries use, it's called "spiritual tracting."

Maybe the reason most full-time missionaries don't often get such spiritual "driving directions" is that they are under charge to talk to everyone. My guess is that once a full-time missionary is willing to talk to literally anyone and everyone, and starts to actually do it, taking that active leap of faith, then the Lord opens the faucet and revelation (of where to go, and who to talk to) flows to those missionaries.

However, you and I, as "civilians," don't have time to talk to everyone. But, we have to be willing to talk to anyone. And that's the crux. Willingness to talk to anyone is our "leap of faith" which the Lord will then reward by turning on the revelation faucet.

It's a progression that I touched on in Part 1.
  1. Go out and create an opportunity on your own. Such an action shows faith. The Lord can reward that faith by/when...

  2. He dumps an opportunity in your lap, without you having to go out of your way. If you take advantage of that opportunity, and make the contact and make the offer, your actions (active faith, not just a mental belief) both show more faith and grow more faith and confidence within you. Then the Lord can reward that faith by/when...

  3. He directs/guides you to a new opportunity with promptings/impressions of the Spirit.
What comes after step 3, I'm not sure. I've been stuck there for a few years. I'm sure there's more. There has to be more. But at the least, I've learned that I have to constantly repeat step 1 in order to have type 2 opportunities. And I have to repeat step 2 to have type 3 opportunities. And I have to be obedient in following type 3 directions, or else the Spirit withdraws for a while.

9. The Spirit may guide you to point A as a waypoint to point B. Or to person A in order to get to person B. On several occasions I've been prompted to talk to person A, but it was person B who overhead the conversation, joined in on their own, and requested material. If the Lord wants to get us to someplace that we aren't aware of, He may direct us to someplace we know about, and from there we can see or discover the ultimate destination. Look at the step-by-step directions that Philip received in Acts 8:26-29. First was "head south." Only after he did that was he told "join thyself to this chariot". Then after he did that, he heard the eunuch reading, and Philip recognized an opportunity, then he opened his mouth and initiated a conversation.

Note that the Spirit did not say "Hey, there's an Ethiopian in a chariot heading south who's ready to be baptized."

10. The prompting "Talk to that person!" does not necessarily have to be preceeded by driving directions. You could be doing something you ordinarily do, at a place you ordinarily would be at. This is a "dumped in your lap" type 2 opportunity, because you didn't actively create it, and you didn't have to go out of your way. Remember, you likely only have a few moments to initiate something. It may be with the clerk/employee/cashier of a business, or it may be another patron.

Also keep in mind that when the Spirit tells you to initiate a conversation with a specific person, they, like the Ethiopian eunuch, are ready for some kind of contact. The Lord wouldn't tell you to talk unless they were indeed ready for some kind of seed. And even if they turn down the offer, the offer (as long as you mention the church or the book's name) will create a memory that the Holy Ghost can use later.

You'll be amazed! So many times I've tried to weasel my way out of having to talk to someone, coming up with excuses, and often I've disobeyed those promptings. But when I do talk to someone like that, it sometimes turns out they actually did want something! I'll start out with a Bible, and sometimes they look surprised, almost like a Twilight Zone moment, and say that they were thinking of buying a Bible. You could be the answer to that person's secret prayer! They might look at you like "How did you know?"

Like on the TV show "Touched by an Angel," you're the angel that the Lord sends to help that person.

Also remember that these promptings, impressions, and whisperings are not mere suggestions. When the Spirit communicates to us to do something, it is literally the will of Heavenly Father. The Holy Ghost will never tell us something that is contrary to the will of Heavenly Father.

11. The Lord's ways are not our ways. The Lord's instructions don't always seem efficient or make sense from our viewpoint. Nephi and his brothers had to go back twice to Jerusalem, once for the brass plates, and once for Ishmael's family. Why didn't they do those things before they left, or do it all on one trip? We don't know. Likewise, spiritual promptings don't always make sense to us. The Lord is not required to tell us ahead of time why he does things. He likely does it that way so we can exercise and grow our faith.

One thing I've noticed about promptings that don't seem to have a result: sometimes they are merely "timing loops" that keep me busy until the real situation comes along. If I hadn't made that little side trip, the "coincidence" of meeting someone who was eager for material wouldn't have happened at just the right second. And if I had arrived there early and just waited, it would have looked contrived. (Plus I haven't learned the trick to wait like a dog with a treat on its nose until the command is given.) I remember one such event, immediately after a "timing loop" where my contact spoke a certain language, but then he asked me for an additional pair of books in another language and English so he could give them to someone else. Would you be willing to drive around for an extra minute or two for the opportunity of meeting someone who would literally ask you for additional material?

A few times, the Spirit sent me back (on different days) to a certain store or restaurant several times. Each time there was either a new opportunity with a new person, or a meaningful follow-up. But the Spirit just said "go there", and I had to fight the temptation to brush it off with the excuse "but I've already been there."

The corollary is: The Spirit is always always right.

12. So what if you're wrong? What if you haven't learned how to listen/follow the Spirit yet, and you end up just imagining a prompting, and you offer someone a Book of Mormon anyway? Would you need to repent? "Oh Lord! Forgive me! I offered that person a Book of Mormon." Ummm, no, not a problem.

However, just because someone turns you down, or snaps at you, doesn't mean it wasn't a legitimate prompting. None of the prophets in the scriptures had 100% success with 100% of the people they talked to. Sometimes, the Lord still wants us to make a contact or an offer when He knows they will reject the offer. And I've only had four people snap at me out of over 1100 contacts. Pretty good ratio, I think. And over 90% of the contacts accepted some material. So those 10% percent who declined and the few who snapped back were a small price to pay. It's nothing.


Related posts: Tips, part 1. Tips, part 3. Tips, part 4. How this started, some of the overall-story. A quick-start quide. How-to at Chinese restaurants.

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