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Being a Good Example is Not Good Enough

Years ago, when I was serving as the Ward Mission Leader, it struck me one day that there are members who say the most important thing they can do to share the Gospel is to be a good example. I believe these people are missing something – a fundamental understanding of the world around them that is absolutely critical to sharing the Gospel.

Of course, it is vital to be living the Gospel to the best of our abilities in order to share it. Of course, living the Gospel is of paramount importance – and, if one thing is to be done, living it is better than talking about it. However, the idea that just being a good example ? is enough to share the Gospel ? and attract others to the Church is fundamentally flawed and actually dangerous outside areas of Mormon social dominance, since it misses two critical realities of this life in areas where the Church is small and members are not well known.

1) There are numerous people of all religions and denominations who live their lives in accordance with the basic principles of the Gospel – whose lives are examples of true Christian discipleship in every objective measure, even within non-Christian religions. Many of these people are closer to being truly Christ-like than I am. Joining them is important, but it does NOTHING to distinguish us from them – especially if . . .

2) People generally have no idea what religion someone else is unless there are obvious outward signs or that someone tells them. In my area, for example, if I am a wonderful example of Christian discipleship, most others will assume correctly that I am Christian – but not one of them (OK, maybe one or two) will assume I am Mormon. In fact, the vast majority probably will assume I am not Mormon, due to their misconceptions about the Church. So, in a very real and powerful way, my silent example of Christian discipleship actually will reinforce their negative view of Mormonism and harm the Church.

This is one case where living the Gospel ? cannot be divorced from openly proclaiming our membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is important to be a good example, but that example must include opening our mouths ? and including our allegiance to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot be just another example of spirituality; we actually must share what we have in order to be righteous (“right with God”).

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • nanacarol January 6, 2009, 12:37 am

    Ray your article is so timely. I was reading something yesterday about just that very thing and it really had me thinking. Was being a good example enough and should I open my mouth more. Whatever it was I was reading and I just can’t remember where I was reading because I read alot of things yesterday, it said we had to open our months! And here you say the same thing.
    This morning I was thinking about my dear friend who I love dearly who lives in England and not a member of the church. Before we left them in the Spring of 1991 we as a family signed a Book of Mormon and gave it to them. We introduced them to geneology which the husband really took an interest in. Not sure what he had done with it since we left them but he seemed to want to know more. They came to visit us two weeks after Kiar and my son were married and I took them to the Oakland temple and showed them where they were married. Laurence and the kids loved the temple and the Vistors Center. Lisa was very quiet and would not talk about anything. Since then I have not mentioned the church other than what I do in my callings. She is in the process of losing her parents to old age and I want to comfort her and give her reason to hope. But I hesitate to tell her how much comfort the gospel gives me when it comes to death. However, after this article and comtemplating whether to share with her my feelings, i will now open my mouth and share with her.
    Ray, thanks for giving me the courage to do it by your article. Your kind words gave credance to what the Spirit was whispering to me yesterday.

  • Naismith January 6, 2009, 10:11 am

    I wonder, though, about the role of timing in all this? In my experience, if I tell folks too soon, they drop the friendship or don’t invite me to serve on a committee or whatever. And of course you point out the danger of waiting too long to reveal your religion.

    But it seems like the most powerful witness comes when I’ve already gotten to know folks and work with them in common causes and interests, and AFTER they have come to know and respect me, then they find out that I’m a Mormon.

    They can’t start to distrust or discount me then, because I am a known quantity. It forces them to accept that Mormons can be good people who share their values. They are often very shocked, especially in professional circles. And it seems to be thought-provoking for them.

    So I think that being a good example is a vital first step that should not necessarily be hurried. I agree we also need to open our mouths, but I am not sure that act has to be simultaneous with being a good example; it might be best coming later on.

  • Ray January 6, 2009, 10:29 am

    I agree, Naismith, that there are many instances where the example MUST be established before the mouth is opened wide. I just think the example has been erected as the automatic default – and that we miss many opportunities to share with people who are ready to listen, whom God would put in our paths if we were willing to listen for promptings and open our mouths.

    Ultimately, this post is about not relying exclusively on being a good example – believing that those who really are prepared will see our example and ask about our religion without us having to open our mouths first.

    Ultimately, I think we have to be in tune with the Spirit to understand the difference – but we need to be willing to speak in every case, I believe, in order for the Lord to place people in our paths who are ready but whom we don’t know well enough for our example to have an influence. Sometimes, it’s not about those we know; it’s about those whom we don’t know whom the Lord will lead to us.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 6, 2009, 3:04 pm

    Ray, I have a half-written article about this that I can now relegate to the someday book file. Thank you.

    Every time I have taught a RS lesson on missionary work–EVERY TIME–the answer is “be an example.” Of course that is important, but I also think it’s a cop out. It really means, “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and assuage my guilt over ignoring all the lessons and talks on missionary work by telling myself I am already doing it–by example.”

    My answer has always been, “Really? We’re having ANOTHER lesson/talk about missionary work because God just wants us to keep the commandments?”

    That said, Naismith is spot on, too. I have experienced the same thing, where people say, “YOU are a Mormon? Wow, you’re so…normal.” And, as she said, once people have decided you are acceptable, it’s hard for them to back-peddle JUST because you are LDS without FEELING like a bigot. That doesn’t always stop them, though. I’ve seen that, too.

  • Michelle D January 6, 2009, 9:17 pm

    Both being an example and speaking out are important aspects of sharing the gospel. I think the key is recognizing the Spirit to know whether to speak sooner or later, depending on the people involved and the situation. IMO, being an example in ALL things is always important. It doesn’t have to be only in religious or spiritual ways. Having said that, I admit to squirming a little here as I recognize my tendency to cop out with this…

    Luckily, my oldest doesn’t have this problem. Facing misinformation and stereotypes in high school about 4 years ago, he was asked about Mormons having horns. He joked about filing them down and asked if the acquaintance wanted to feel his head. The kid did, but obviously couldn’t feel anything. When he said as much, my son replied, “Really? You don’t feel anything? Not even stupid?” My son then continued to explain the falseness (and ludicrousness, if one really thinks about it) of the claim, and how they both were stereotyping unfairly. The acquaintance was sheepish and apologized. But the friends who were there remembered the exchange, and when this and other questions were raised at later times, many jumped in to defend Ryan and his beliefs before he could do it himself. I guess one needs to know when the Spirit is telling one to inject some humor into a situation instead of being offended or mean in response. This experience certainly made it easier for Ryan to stand up for his beliefs – and he still has friends who will jump in to quell misinformation before he can do it. They know he is both normal and peculiar, and they accept and respect him for both sides of who he is.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 6, 2009, 9:19 pm

    Posted By: Michelle D“Really? You don’t feel anything? Not even stupid?”


    A kindred spirit, that boy. Give him a hug for me, will ya?

  • Michelle D January 6, 2009, 9:29 pm

    Will do, Alison! He will be glad you appreciate his humor.

  • Ray January 7, 2009, 12:27 pm

    Ryan’s example is an excellent one – in that there really are humorous ways to react to things that normally might make us mad or upset. If we can laugh at ourselves and our peculiarities, it might help others accept them as ok.

  • facethemusic January 7, 2009, 7:24 pm

    That story is hysterical Michelle!!
    I’ve been asked the “horn” question, myself. SOOOO annoying because it’s SOOOO insanely stupid!
    Ray– your whole point is 100% spot on in my book. I brought this up in a Gospel Doctrine class one time and hands flew up everywhere wanting to counter my point.
    Example is absolutely crucial, no doubt about it. All the talk and invitations in the world won’t do much good if you aren’t LIVING what you SAY you believe.
    But if ALL you do is “be a good example” to neighbor “A” and the Baptist or COGIC person next door is ALSO a great example and they actually INVITE neighbor “A” to go to church with them, and neighbor “A” starts going to THAT church, then what good was your “example”?
    TALKING about the gospel and INVITING people is just as crucial as the example. Just as were commanded “be thou an example of the believers” we’re also commanded “open your mouths and they shall be filled”.
    Great post, Ray!

  • Johnpacklambert January 9, 2009, 4:58 pm

    While it is good to be a good example, I have learned that unless you actually at some point tell people you are a member of the Church they will not know. So many people have such bizarre ideas about the Church and its beliefs that you have to proactively tell them you are a member for them to ever suspect.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 9, 2009, 5:18 pm

    Welcome, Johpacklambert!

    Amen to that.

  • Lewis_Family January 9, 2009, 6:11 pm

    Of course unless you live in Utah, specifically Utah county, where they already assume you are lds 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith January 9, 2009, 7:08 pm

    True that. You have to tell them you’re NOT.

  • nanacarol January 10, 2009, 9:45 am

    This whole scenerio also works when you are working with inactive members. They have to be reminded that they are members and what the gospel once did for them. I have a good friend who lives in SL and she is very inactive. Has disliked her bishop and he is now released. Plus she has had some issues herself to deal with. Yesterday she was trying to decide whether to move or not because her daughter is active, thank goodness, and I opened my mouth andd said, isn’t it time for you to go back and get over it. I encouraged her to read the book of Alma. I could not have done it over the phone or in person. Oh, we were chatting on line. I just hope I can convince her to come back. She has so much to offer. I have always told her to try out for the MoTab and she has laughed at me. But she can do it. But this conversation on being an example came into my mind when we were chatting so I took advantage and opened up. Next time I hope it is with someone who needs to hear the gospel! Little steps!

  • Alison Moore Smith January 10, 2009, 12:03 pm

    nanacarol, if she’s really serious about auditioning for MoTab, have he read this page. The Tab has the most grueling audition for a volunteer choir that I have ever seen. It has multiple parts and takes many weeks to complete. It’s not the kind where you just get up one day and sing a few bars.

    Also, you have to be a member in good standing (and active). You don’t have to hold a recommend, but you have to have a bishop’s recommendation indicating that you are worthy to hold one.

    I’m on an email list with all the old alumni of BYU’s A Cappella choir. A huge percentage of them have ended up in MoTab at one time or another. Years ago one of the members (upon request) posted an article about how to audition for the choir. That was later expanded into an article for the Ensign a few years back. I couldn’t find it in a cursory search of lds.org, but maybe someone else remembers it? (On further inspection, that link, above, might be the article I’m thinking about.)

    Also, I just noted that all the quick links at the beginning of the article are broken. :confused: I just left a message at the choir office letting them know. Hopefully someone will fix those soon. The next auditions are next summer.

  • nanacarol January 10, 2009, 11:18 pm

    Thanks for your amazing info. Now I will pass it on to my friend and tell her to get her bottom in gear and get worthy!

  • The truth October 17, 2011, 5:41 pm

    Wow, you used your religion and the word dominance in the same sentence. You people are truly frightening. I found this post by accident and read no more than a few sentences, but that’s all I needed. Here’s the truth. You as a women won’t reach salvation without your husband, and you believe this, and once you reach salvation you will have servants, you also believe this, furthermore your faith’s creator was a convicted of fraud only months before he had his so called vision from Morni, and OK i’ll mention that fact that he couldn’t even duplicate his own story when asked to. I’ve been on two deployments to Afghanistan. Seen the devil in person many times and still have many inside me, and even though I can’t see your overweight face I know by your libel facade that one has manifested itself in you. If you think I’m full of sh*t just wait you haven’t been put to the test yet. I live in south eastern Idaho and have plenty of experience with your so called literature and lets face it sales tactics that’s what you people deploy, sales tactics.Who comes up to your door asking you for something? Salesmen, but then again this is just the righteous persecution that real religion endures. RIGHT?

  • jennycherie October 18, 2011, 2:10 pm

    “The truth,” you cannot possibly know the whole story if you only read a few lines. I’d like to respond to some of your accusations, but your writing is very hard to follow. I appreciate your service in Afghanistan. Your service and that of so many others allows me the freedom to believe as I choose and allows you to believe as you choose. If you are confident in your beliefs, why do you find yourself spewing hatred and vitriol at others who believe differently? The best way to convince me I am wrong would be to show me how you are right. Wanna try?
    jennycherie recently posted…Fear 101My Profile

  • Tracy Keeney October 18, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Okay Truth– you want to talk “truth”? Let’s talk truth.

    “”You as a women won’t reach salvation without your husband, and you believe this,”‘

    No, we don’t.
    We can reach salvation all by our little selves. 🙂
    If you knew LDS doctrine (the way you seem to think you do), then you’d know that we believe in two kinds of Salvation. Salvation from physical death and salvation from spiritual death. Both of which can be achieved by anyone WITHOUT anyone– anyone besides Christ that is. I don’t need my husband for either one.
    Salvation from physical will come to everyone, no matter what they’ve done, no matter who they worship or if they worship at all. Christ made that possible when He broke the bonds of death and was resurrected– it’s a free gift with no strings attached. EVERYONE (the just and the unjust as the Bible says) will be saved from physical death, be resurrected and judged. And no one needs their “husbands” for that—just the Lord.
    Then there’s salvation from “spiritual death” which is being separated from the Father and Son because of sin. This is a salvation which DOES have “strings attached”. We have to accept Christ as our personal Savior, repent of our sins (something which doesn’t only happen once) and do our very best to keep His commandments and follow Him. I don’t need my husband for THAT either.
    EXALTATION on the other hand is something different. Exaltation is more than merely living forever in hereafter. It’s becoming “heirs with God and joint-heirs with Christ” as Paul said in Romans 8:17. And yes, we believe that the highest of glories can’t be acheived without our husbands— but my husband can’t inherit that without ME either. It’s not a “women can’t get it without men” thing. It’s a “marriage is ordained of God” thing. A “marriage is meant to be forever” thing. So I won’t get there without him and he won’t get there without me. Spouses will be there TOGETHER arm in arm. “…Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” as Paul told the Corinthians.
    And besides the fact that Joseph wasn’t ever “convicted” or found guilty of fraud — only charged and accused– and you should note WHAT he was “charged” with…
    “falsely pretending to discover lost goods” under a “disorderly conduct” statute.

    yes— crime of the century

    But maybe more important to the point….
    Christ himself was accused, charged, and put to death. And when he was asked questions and given a change to defend himself– he didn’t say ANYTHING much less tell the same story without using the exact same words.
    So if you want to criticize someone and call them a phony just because they were accused of a crime (and found innocent, by the way– just like Joseph Smith was) but was killed anyway, then go ahead and make the same criticism against Christ himself and see how far that gets you.

  • Ann August 12, 2012, 8:42 pm

    Thank you, Tracy! Great response! Clearly, ‘The Truth’ didn’t want to talk truth after that smack-down. Great job! 🙂

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