Every missionary and returned missionary is familiar with the commitment pattern, and thanks to Preach My Gospel, this pattern is increasingly known among the general body.
The pattern is divided into four parts: we invite them to act with a direct question, “Will you…?”, we promise blessings, bear testimony, and follow up to see how they are doing with the commitment they’ve made.
But there is a danger inherent in this pattern, and I feel it’s important to bring it up. For the Elders and Sisters and RM’s, How important is the commitment pattern for you? How often are you leaving invitations to others? How much do you want people to commit to the invitations you leave? For most missionaries, the commitment pattern is an integral part of helping people to develop faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel. Faith comes by action, and the more freedom and options to act, the more opportunities to have conversion experiences with those we teach. So it is only natural that missionary leaders, district and zone leaders, will begin committing the missionaries they teach and serve as well. Monday during personal study you feel impressed that you should focus your studies on Christ’s life in the New Testament and you develop a study plan with this in mind. Then Tuesday morning, your district leader invites you and all the other missionaries to focus on the Book of Mormon in your studies, promising that your investigators will begin to read it, and bearing witness of its truthfulness. Yet you know doing so will nullify the plans for New Testament study. What do you do? You certainly want your investigators to read and gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and if you want then to say yes and follow through with your commitments, shouldn’t you also say yes?
Has the above sort of scenario happened to you? It has for me, and quite often. As a District Leader, I wasn’t much better. After one District meeting following the invitation I left, my companion threw his hands in the air in exasperation saying “I’ve got to study a chapter a day of Preach My Gospel for the AP’s, read the Book of Mormon for the Zone Leaders, and now you want me to read general conference talks too?”
This was a key moment for me that changed the way I use and think of the commitment pattern. We get used to being very specific for our investigators that we fall right into the danger of the commitment pattern when we invite other missionaries and members. That of usurping personal revelation. We leave specific commitments because the people we teach are brand new to the gospel, they are trying to learn what we believe and determine if it is right, let alone who Nephi, Moroni or Thomas S. Monson is. We are giving them a way to apply the principles we are teaching. So we give specific chapters that deal with specific topics. The trouble is when we try to give applications to other members and missionaries, we forget that they have the Gift of the Holy Ghost. They have the promise of His constant companionship and guidance, and they are responsible for themselves to seek His applications for them and act on those promptings. Does that mean we can’t invite members or missionaries? No, everyone can use invitations, but the invitations must be catered to the individuals or groups. For those that are active in the Gospel, let your invitations be centered on doctrines and principles rather than applications. As Joseph Smith says, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” (Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54.) we must not let our invitations get in the way of anyone’s spiritual development, as they seek to act on personal invitations from Heavenly Father and eventually from within themselves.
The second danger is the why and what of commitments. What am I committing to? Why am I committing to this thing?
Another time in my mission, a regional mission doctor taught us in a Zone Conference. He taught us the “correct” application of the Word of Wisdom based on his medical expertise mingled with D&C 89. At the end, he used the pattern to commit each missionary to his application. This was some months after I had learned about some of the dangers of the commitment pattern from my companion and here so I declined the invitation. I said I did not believe that this interpretation was truly the Word of Wisdom but I would be willing to try it for a month. The danger here is in the perceived pressure to commit because that’s what everyone else is doing, that’s never a good reason to commit to anything! The other part was the fact it was not truly a gospel commitment. I did not feel it was true. I once had an RM who worked as a car salesman attempt to use the commitment pattern to get me to buy a vehicle. Such wanton uses for the pattern cheapens the significance of invitations in general.
Since I have been home from my mission, I have scarcely been in a class or meeting without someone using this pattern to commit everyone present to some action. These dangers are more prevalent than ever. Quite frankly, the sheer number of invitations can be overwhelming and if all are accepted, it’s often impossible to accomplish any of them.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
Often at Institute we are invited to do things that will, hopefully, bring growth to the institute. From talking to everyone you see to giving a free t-shirt away to another person and committing them to give another t-shirt to someone else, there’s always some sort of invitation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are empty blanket applications. Upon being invited to the aforementioned t-shirt handout, a friend noticed that I did not say anything and so she said “Come on, you’re an RM, you know better!” Hopefully I will have the chance to explain to her that I no longer commit to things that are not truly part of the gospel, that I won’t commit without feeling the truth of what is being presented.
I chose to say nothing because I believe that some that did commit needed to hear that invitation and I do not want to create doubt in their hearts by speaking out.
Of the invitations I have heard in the past year of institute, there has only been one that stood out as something that I should do. It was vastly different from all the others because it was a commitment of principle rather than application. The Spirit gave me my own personal application as I listened and committed in my heart.
You may notice the seemingly interchangeable use of commit and invite in this now lengthy musing. They shouldn’t be that way. We should invite others to act, not commit them to act. When inviting, we should remember to clarify that you should only say yes when you truly feel that is something you ought to do. We should also focus on broader doctrinal invitations and allow them to find their own personal applications.
When being invited, be honest with yourself and be brave enough to say no when it doesn’t feel like something you should do. Remember sometimes even a good thing isn’t the right thing for you. Don’t give in to peer pressures, or guilting, and don’t accept invitations of this pattern that aren’t centered in the gospel.
5 ¶Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.