Have you ever wondered how a manual in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gets put together? Especially one that has impacted missionary work for the last decade? The history of how Preach My Gospel was assembled is as fascinating as missionary work is inspiring. Here are the highlights:
President Gordon B. Hinckley was concerned about some of the trends occurring in missionary work in the late 1990’s.
Those worries can be grouped into 4 categories:
1) Convert Retention
2) Returned Missionary Retention
3) Number of Baptisms
4) Quality of Missionary Teaching
Members of the missionary department went to work to see what could be done to address these concerns. The most revealing of their discoveries was the scripted format of the missionary discussions. These lessons often lead to a heavy reliance upon memorization as the primary vehicle for presenting the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Missionary Guide, which was produced to accompany the 1986 missionary lessons, outlined a number of important missionary skills. However, an overemphasis on these skills and over-dependence on memorization led to a quenching of the Holy Spirit.
With direction from President Boyd K. Packer and Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland, additional committees were formed to explore changes in the missionary program of the Church. They felt a need for missionaries to rely more heavily upon the Holy Ghost in all areas of missionary work instead of a memorized script. The official green light from the First Presidency of the Church came on November 1, 2000 to evaluate and determine if the missionary discussions should be rewritten.
For the next two years, multiple committees examined all areas of the missionary program in the Church. Not only were staff members of the missionary department called upon, but former mission presidents were gathered to give their input and solutions to problems. A number of possible solutions were explored and presented during this time. One of the most important discoveries was the baptismal interview questions asked of investigators who were preparing to join the Church. After careful study of the scriptures, committee members realized the questions asked at a baptismal interview did not line up very well with what was being taught in the missionary lessons. Elder Holland took particular notice of this development, brought it to a priesthood level with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency and after being reworked, the new baptismal interview questions were sent out Church wide over two years before Preach My Gospel would be completed.
Another significant influence upon the creation of Preach My Gospel came in the summer of 2002 when Elder M. Russell Ballard came aboard. He took what had been worked on for the previous two years and added his revelation to the process. Elder Ballard felt an inspired need to put the message of the Restoration at the forefront of the missionaries’ message to the world. Understanding the Prophet Joseph Smith in the context of dispensations and the apostasy would naturally have a sifting influence on those who wanted to learn more about the Restored Church.
These developments began to become public through a number of messages from Church leadership. To name a few, Elder Ballard’s October 2002 General Conference address, The First Presidency’s five page letter to Church leadership in December 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley’s message at the First Worldwide Leadership Training in January 2003, and finally the new instruction about teaching by the Spirit at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah in February 2003. All of these messages once again emphasized the need for missionaries to rely more on the Holy Ghost in teaching the gospel from their hearts. It must be emphasized here that all missionaries in the Church since the 1830’s have needed to rely and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit in all areas of their missionary work. The movement that eventually yielded a new missionary manual simply re-emphasized the Comforter as the primary vehicle by which this message was to be conveyed.
The first inklings of a spiral bound missionary manual began to appear around this time. It was not until the summer of 2003 that the concept for an all-inclusive missionary manual finally took hold. This manual would reduce and simplify the amount of materials a missionary needed in the mission field. The first names for the manual began to be produced as well including “Obtain the Word,” “Fishers of Men,” and “Teach All Nations, Baptizing Them…” Finally, the name of “Preaching My Gospel” was presented with a scriptural reference to Doctrine and Covenants 42. After dropping the “ing,” the name was approved in August 2003 and was consistently referred to as Preach My Gospel.
The rewritten missionary lessons, which now appear as Chapter 3, were at the heart of the new manual. These were in place as early as January 2003. The first three lessons would build the doctrinal foundation for the gospel but the fourth lesson was structured differently. Thirteen commandments were given in this lesson with instructions to teach them before baptism but with the flexibility to teach them in whatever order the missionaries felt inspired. The fifth lesson was structured the same as the fourth but with instructions that they could be taught after baptism. Again, flexibility was the key. These lessons could be adapted to the needs of the investigators as dictated by the Holy Spirit.
The first spiral bound draft of Preach My Gospel appeared in December 2003 with a picture of Dan Jones on the cover. Corrections and modifications would come to the manual, including the cover, for the next few months. With a solid manual prepared and ready for testing, Preach My Gospel was put through a rigorous review process unlike any other Church manual. From March to May 2004, multiple portions of the new missionary manual were tested in fourteen different missions around the world, including Japan, Mexico, England, and the United States. Over a thousand pages of feedback were generated that would help solidify and complete the manual.
The first preview draft of the entire missionary manual was presented at the seminar for new mission presidents in June 2004. The cover of Preach My Gospel had been changed to include the current picture of Christ’s baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. This picture was chosen because of the perfect example Christ set for us in following Him into the waters of baptism. The manual was close to being completed but needed final approval from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each of these 15 brethren were hand delivered a copy of Preach My Gospel for their review. Their final feedback was generated and put into one last draft called the redline edition. It addressed all the changes requested by the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and correlation and editing department. Some changes were substantial, including the addition of whole paragraphs and other changes were as minimal as a word or even a letter.
Finally, Preach My Gospel was presented on October 15, 2004 to missionaries around the world in a special satellite training broadcast. For two and a half hours, the First Presidency, Quorums of the Twelve and Seventy, and leaders from the missionary department trained missionaries about the new missionary manual and how to use it. Preach My Gospel was introduced in print to the entire church on November 6, 2004 in the Church News.
The most significant paradigm shift with Preach My Gospel is that all five previous sets of missionary lessons were addressed to the person investigating the Church. Preach My Gospel is addressed to the missionaries. The inspired intentional focus of the text to missionaries is designed to have these ordained servants become fully converted to the Lord’s Restored Gospel. With this conviction residing deep within their soul, these truths then become a natural extension of how the Spirit directs them to teach, adapting the message to the needs of those they instruct. There was also a significant emphasis placed on convert retention put in the manual.
Preach My Gospel was also revolutionary because it broke the color printing barrier for manuals in the Church. It was designed with technologically savvy young people in mind with a twenty first century design, pictures, and graphics. Preach My Gospel was assembled for a missionary to use throughout his or her mission and be interactive, with places to take notes and ideas for study and application at the end of every chapter.
President Boyd K. Packer said it best: Preach My Gospel was “designed beyond the veil and put together here.” From the staff member all the way up to the highest levels of church leadership, all acknowledged the hand of the Lord in the process. Preach My Gospel is a testimony to the truthfulness of our ninth Article of Faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” As of April 2006, one million copies of Preach My Gospel had been printed.
In conclusion, great attempts were made to address President Hinckley’s concerns about missionary work. Over ten years have now transpired since this manual was introduced to the Church. My attempt here has not been to draw conclusions about how well Preach My Gospel has addressed President Hinckley’s concerns but simply present the history of how the manual was assembled. Writing the history was an extremely faith building experience for me personally. I am honored with the trust placed in me to assemble and present its contents.
I now offer only one glance into the future and take full responsibility with this opinion. I personally feel the greatest influence of Preach My Gospel is still yet to come, as missionaries who used it in the field return home, establish families, and raise children in a “Preach My Gospel” centered home. Then I feel we will have a new generation raised with a more acute ability to recognize the Holy Ghost. Therefore they will be better equipped to teach and testify of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as the influence of this great manual permeates throughout the Church.
To read a more detailed account of The History of Preach My Gospel, please visit www.benjaminhyrumwhite.com.