BYU Women’s Conference: Clayton M. Christensen on member missionaries

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Clayton M. Christensen offered words of wisdom about member missionary work alongside his daughter, Ann Christensen, at the BYU Women’s Conference Thursday.

“We think that there aren’t many people who are interested in religion, when in reality we’re surrounded by people with questions,” Christensen said.

Christensen is a BYU graduate and currently serves as the Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, receiving an M.Phil. in applied econometrics and later an MBA with High Distinction from the Harvard Business School in 1979. Christensen was born in Salt Lake City and served an LDS mission in the Republic of Korea from 1971 to 1973. He is a best-selling author of nine books and more than 100 articles, each garnering numerous awards and worldwide recognition.

His daughter Ann received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and is currently the president of Christensen Institute.

Together they gave examples of member missionary work they had experienced both together and separately, giving innovative advice on how to be a better member missionary.

Both Christensens emphasized the importance of not counting anyone out when it comes to approaching them with the gospel. “We simply cannot predict and cannot judge who is ready or not to receive the gospel,” Ann Christensen said.

Sharing an example of how she gave out 12 copies of the Book of Mormon to friends while at Duke, Ann Christensen said how although none of those friends joined the church at that time, many years later, one of those friends was baptized. While she initially viewed her effort as a failure, she later found that her success “was actually sharing the gospel in the first place.”

Following up on his daughter’s remarks, Clayton M. Christensen said one of the best ways to bring up the gospel in conversation is to use “Mormon words.” Christensen defines “Mormon words” as anything that references things specific to the church, such as missionary work, attending church each Sunday and institutions such as BYU. “Whenever we use a Mormon word it’s as if we open a door to a conversation about the gospel,” he said.

Christensen emphasized the importance of encouraging those interested in the church to come up with their own questions about the gospel instead of simply being told doctrinal facts. “People will only learn what they’re ready to learn … not what we’re ready to teach them,” Christensen said. Having investigators come up with their own questions is important, but Christensen argued that teaching them how to answer their own questions is an equally important, but often neglected, priority of member missionaries in the church.

Christensen gave an example of a friend who had initially given up on religion due to the inability of a minister to answer specific questions he had. Intrigued, Christensen asked his friend to write down these questions again. Instead of answering his friend’s questions straight away, Christensen encouraged his friend to not only search in specific chapters of the Book of Mormon for answers, but to write them down and pray both before and after each answer came. When Christensen met with him again, this time with the missionaries, his friend proceeded to teach the missionaries the answers to his questions and was later baptized.

Ann Christensen shared that one of the best ways to have success as a member missionary is to invite others to serve alongside members of the church, rather than only asking how to serve them. By inviting others to participate in musical numbers, service projects and teaching lessons, “we are helping them understand that we need them,” she said.

Quoting Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Clayton M. Christensen next suggested that members take the time to set a date to share the gospel by. “It really has helped me find people for the missionaries to teach by setting a date,” he said. This way, Christensen believes having a deadline will help members be more conscious of their missionary efforts.

Many members are frightened to share the gospel, but that fear is “not from God,” Ann Christensen said. The promise and blessings of missionary work far outweigh potential fears, and “there are great blessings that come back to us” from doing so. “It is my testimony that sharing the gospel isn’t meant to be fearful,” Ann Christensen said.

Clayton M. Christensen agreed, sharing how being focused on missionary work has benefitted the spirit in his home. “The Spirit is in our house every day, and that is a great blessing.”

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