What’s Missing From the Three-Fold Mission?

I don’t really know much about the history of the Three-Fold Mission of the Church:

To Perfect the Saints, Proclaim the Gospel, and Redeem the Dead

(Perhaps someone can refer something to read)

I do know, however, that the Three-Fold Mission has been a central component of my church experience as long as I can remember. It seems, in most regards, that the Three-Fold Mission is meant to express the purpose of the Church (a “mission statement” for our religious organization). If I were to restate it succinctly it would be something like: To make (and keep) people a part of our church. 

It also seems, in light of our previous discussion here at FPR, that the Three-Fold Mission does not account for all aspects of religious life-elements of a “social gospel” (feeding the poor for instance, who are not members of our church), may fall under “perfecting the saints”, but it isn’t an explicit purpose of the Church. I remember on my mission (which is certainly not indicative of all missions), “service” was often viewed as a “finding opportunity” (i.e., proclaiming the gospel).

Also, the purpose of the Church is not to be ecumenical (which I personally find a valuable part of my religious life). In other words the Church is concerned with its sustained growth and not in the relationships it has with other organizations (at least not explicitly). I’m sure there are other areas we could think of that fall outside the purpose of the Church. The question is then, should the mission of the Church be more comprehensive? 

Or maybe I’m missing something here. Is the Three-Fold Mission of the Church already comprehensive? If not, should the mission of the Church be more comprehensive, or has it defined itself appropriately for a religious organization that makes the claims it does?

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “What’s Missing From the Three-Fold Mission?

  1. a random John

    I posted on this topic a while back. It is worthwhile to note that the 3-fold mission of the Church is not a concept that has been with Mormonism since Joseph Smith Jr., it first appeared under Pres. Kimball. I don’t think that it has been emphasized as much in recent years. As my post hints at, I think that it is less than comprehensive and maybe even causes too much emphasis to be placed on certain things.

  2. Matt W.

    The 3 fold mission was strongly emphasized in the 6th missionary discussion, but when “the discussions” were replaced with preach my Gospel, the 3 fold mission idea pretty much disappeared with it. I think the three fold mission of the church is a fine concept, but becomes problematic when one confuses the church for the Gospel. Living the gospel requires us to give service and love our neighbors. The Church is a vehicle to spread the Gospel, and thus it’s mission is focused on this spreading.

  3. I think it is quite comprehensive. I also think it is consistent with the claims of the church.

  4. a random John

    I think it is quite comprehensive.

    As is your comment. :) Care to add some meat?

  5. Instead of Perfect the Saints, I would prefer something along the lines of “Perfect the World.” I don’t think that is entirely synonymous with Proclaiming the Gospel, but I know that there might be some readers (and a couple of GAs) that disagree strongly with my view.

    To compare mission experiences, in my mission, service was completely deemphasized, to the point that we had to get approval of the ZL to do it. I think that attitude mostly came from the fact that it was not treated as a finding opportunity, so it seemed completely pointless to the leadership. Service in order to serve and bless others with the actual service rendered (and not with a chance to hear the Gospel) was NOT a part of my mission.

  6. Gee RJ, I didn’t think you cared.

    This is the mission of the church. If you missed out on the ordinances necessary for a fulness of salvation, we will eventually provide them. Redeeming the dead in this way is pretty much all we can do for them at this time – unless I am missing something. So this aspect is quite complete in my view.

    If you are not a member of our church, then our top long term priority is to help you become one. At this point I think something like – feeding the entire world – would be outside the scope of the church, and not realistic or practical.

    If you are a member of the church, you personal improvement or perfecting is sufficiently broad that it is quite comprehensive in concept. The programs of the church go a long way toward doing this.

    So I feel everyone is covered with broad strokes in this mission statement.

  7. a random John

    So you fall back on the argument that “perfecting the saints” encompasses any good that the saints might/should do? Then why not just have that as the mission of the Church as the other two clearly fall into that category as well? Note that the converse is not true: Redeeming the dead and proclaiming the gospel can’t cover everything that might be expected in perfecting the saints.

  8. JKC

    “feeding the entire world – would be outside the scope of the church, and not realistic or practical”

    Couldn’t you also make the same argument about missionary work? Is our eventual goal to fill the whole earth? That’s what Joseph Smith’s prophecies indicate. Isn’t that a bit unrealistic and impractical right now?

    Of course, even though our long term goal might be impractical and unrealistic at this moment, that doesn’t stop us from working towards smaller, intermediate goals. The same reasoning applies to the fight against world hunger.

    I don’t think ending hunger is outside the scope of the church, either. Not if we take King Benjamin and the Doctrine and Covenants seriously, anyway.

  9. a random John

    adding to what JKC just said:

    You’ll have a hard time teaching a starving person a discussion. Of course, I had a hard time teaching wealthy people as well…

  10. RJ:

    I think the mission of the church could be to “Invite all to come unto Christ” and that could be it. I am not against simple. But mission statements do not usually go into every singel detail – for good reason.

    JKC:

    Good point on missionary work, but doing that is more in line with the core goals of the church than is providing the whole world with welfare relief. I think that this charitable relief needs to largely come from individuals instead of the church. We as individuals need to be generous. So ‘feeding the world’ would probably fall under the perfecting the saints in that if we have a lot of saints being generous in their fast offerings, and charitable toward their neighbors, that we will then begin feeding the world. But I think it is proper that providing the entire world with welfare assistance as a core mission of the church as a whole is wise.

  11. JKC

    Eric, you’re right that charity can be subsumed into perfecting the saints, and that it is more effective when it comes from individuals rather than from the institutional church.

    But the same things can be said about missionary work or temple work. Of course, member referrals do a better job than tracting, but that doesn’t stop us from calling young men on missions and having them go door to door. And yes, temple work is a lot better when the saints do it on their own initiative, but that doesn’t stop the church from calling elderly couples to do it full time. We have a sense of urgency about missionary work such that when there are no referrals we send the elders tracting (at least in my mission they did, around here the elders seem to try guilt tripping members into giving referrals).

    I’m not saying that the church needs to start providing welfare to the whole world, but why don’t we have the same sense of urgency about feeding the hungry?

    And by the way, I agree with your comment to RJ, that the mission of the church ought to be simple. But I hate mission statements anyway. They’re usually ignored, can be limiting, and give you a false sense of accomplishment when you come up with one.

  12. a random John

    Eric,

    I like your suggested mission statement more than the three fold mission. Much more.

  13. JKC:

    I think the breakdown was members/nonmembers/deceased and the primary effort among each group.

    I also hate mission statements. Our stake has its own mission statement. That had it printed up on nice paper with a picture and had it distributed to all the members of the stake so we could hang it up on a wall in our homes! Blech! I think they are a bit full of themselves personally.

  14. a random John

    Eric,

    Each ward in our stake is supposed to have a mission statement and to have some sort of handout associated with it. The bishops come up with their own for the ward.

  15. Matt W.

    I like Mission Statements. It has to do with my personality. Anyway, to go along with what Eric i ssaying, and to back up what I said in my comment #2. While the 3 fold mission was strongly used in the last iteration of missionary lessons, it is absent in the current model. It was the final discussion of the previos model, which is now a lesson called laws and ordinances covering priesthood and auxilaries, missionary work, eternal marriage, temples and family history, service, and teaching and learning in the church. It culminates with a message to endure to the end. This is essentially the same material as was covered before, sans the 3 fold mission premise.

    Further, in a section discussing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it notes that the Church’s work is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the resotred gospel” (like Eric said) and that the purpose of the Gospel s “to cleanse people of their sins so they can recieve the savior’s mercy at the day of judgment”. While I personally feel there was probably a more clear way they could have stated the purpose of the Gospel, I find the stated mission of the church in line with what I said in comment #2.

  16. Doc

    I think pretty much any and all concerns with the mission statement could be eliminated by realizing that “perfecting the Saints” is actually a vast and expansive concept. Tagore, could you explain why you feel that feeding the poor, gaining some spiritual humility and ecumenically learning from others spiritual experiences are not part of perfecting the saints?

    Ecumenism, by requiring teaching our beliefs in a more back and forth manner, with explanation of what we find valuable, even if baptism never happens, is proclaiming the gospel in my book. It seems to me that these things are only limiting if you let them be.

    In fact, building Zion is arguably what all three missions work for. We want all the children of God to return to him and receive all he has. We are in the business of bettering mankind and giving anyone the light they can bear. I know I have the ability to be overly effusive and cheery talking about this stuff, but I think the Church really has a beautiful vision and mandate. It is our lack of imagination and our pride and imperfections that limit us.

  17. a random John

    Doc,

    Who are you talking to? I don’t see any comments from Tagore here.

  18. Peter LLC

    As A Random John hinted above, President Hinckley introduced the three-fold mission concept at the April 1983 General Conference in a talk reassuring the saints at a time when the First Presidency was mostly out of action:

    “I take occasion now to say to all that the Church is moving forward with great strength and power. I give you my assurance that the work in the office of the First Presidency is current and up-to-date. Nothing is being neglected, and action is not being postponed.
    [...]
    As has been said before from this pulpit, he has given us a three-fold mission: first, the teaching of the restored gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; second, the building of the Saints in their faith and encouraging them in all of their activities to walk in obedience to the commandments of the Lord; and third, the great work of salvation for the dead.”
    Gordon B. Hinckley, “He Slumbers Not, nor Sleeps,” Ensign, May 1983, 5

  19. I think pretty much any and all concerns with the mission statement could be eliminated by realizing that “perfecting the Saints” is actually a vast and expansive concept. Tagore, could you explain why you feel that feeding the poor, gaining some spiritual humility and ecumenically learning from others spiritual experiences are not part of perfecting the saints?

    I don’t deny that “perfecting the saints” can be construed as an encompassing mission, but I do feel that making the claim that it is so inclusive misses the point that feeding the poor etc., is not all about us . This would also be the problem that I would have with including ecumenism under the umbrella of proclaiming the gospel. To make these claims is lose part of the value of these activities. The outcome of the activities should not be purely measured by the impact it has on us (i.e., growing/strengthening our organization in this sense). This isn’t to say that the strength of our organization is not a top priority, but perhaps the mission is more broad.

  20. Doc

    My apologies, SmallAxe, for the name confusion.
    If ecumenism has no value to us “Perfecting the saints”, nor to others “Proclaiming the Gospel” which I believe had been defined to encompass all truth, wherever it may be found, not just the Church, then what exactly is it for?

    Also proclaiming the gospel is best done by living it. Feeding the hungry and serving the poor falls well be within this, after all, you yourself refer to it as “Social Gospel.”

    I guess the vibe I’m getting here, and let me know if I am misunderstanding, you feel that we lose something by focusing on strengthening the Church because everything is motivated by self interest. I can’t see perfecting the saints that way. To be anything other than the hypocrites Christ so strongly condemns, our motives have to be pure. We have to become Christlike, losing ourselves in order to find ourselves. This is a difficult goal and we often fall short, but paradoxically, it is only about us when we realize it is not about us.

  21. JKC

    Whatever the phrase “proclaim the gospel” might be construed as, in real life we use it to describe missionary work. I have never heard a local or general church leader refer to ecumenical efforts or caring for the poor and hungry as “proclaiming the gospel.” Has anyone else?

  22. Doc,

    Don’t worry about the name confusion, I’m sure Tagore is a good person to be mistaken for.

    If ecumenism has no value to us “Perfecting the saints”, nor to others “Proclaiming the Gospel” which I believe had been defined to encompass all truth, wherever it may be found, not just the Church, then what exactly is it for?

    I’m not sure if I completely understand this statement, but if you read my last post as saying that ecumenism has no value (and perhaps is not related) to “perfecting the saints” etc., then you misunderstood what I was saying. There is no doubt that ecumenism can serve to proclaim the gospel, but I do not think we can say that proclaiming the gospel necessarily entails ecumenism. In other words the language of the mission does not necessitate these kinds of activities, but (at best) only imply them. I don’t think you can deny that proclaiming the gospel as ecumenism is a minority interpretation within the church (and probably never used in conjunction with proclaiming the gospel in official church-talk i.e., General Conference). I’ll explain this a little more below in response to JKC’s comment.

    I guess the vibe I’m getting here, and let me know if I am misunderstanding, you feel that we lose something by focusing on strengthening the Church because everything is motivated by self interest. I can’t see perfecting the saints that way. To be anything other than the hypocrites Christ so strongly condemns, our motives have to be pure. We have to become Christlike, losing ourselves in order to find ourselves. This is a difficult goal and we often fall short, but paradoxically, it is only about us when we realize it is not about us.

    I think you’re getting part of what I’m saying, but allow me to refine it a little further. The TFM (Three-Fold Mission) is self-interested in a certain sense. Not in terms of “I’m doing this only because I care about myself” (which is what it seems you infer I was pushing toward), but in terms of “serving God’s children means making them a part of this organization”. It seems to me that issues of a social gospel and ecumenism may or may not entail membership. This is not to say that membership in our church or the “saving ordinances” are not important, but perhaps we other things to offer as well. In short “proclaim” does not necessitate “listen” (although perhaps other passages of scripture command a sense of listening), “perfect the saints” is different from “perfecting the children of God” which is what it seems you want to make “perfecting the saints” into.

    JKC,

    Whatever the phrase “proclaim the gospel” might be construed as, in real life we use it to describe missionary work. I have never heard a local or general church leader refer to ecumenical efforts or caring for the poor and hungry as “proclaiming the gospel.” Has anyone else?

    I’ve heard things closer to “setting an example” by local leaders and things that may borderline on ecumenical efforts in personal conversation with other members. But I think this speaks to the problem I was getting at in my last post (which I imagine we agree about)–we have to stretch the language to make it work. “Proclaim” in its normal usage doesn’t imply “listening” which I would imagine is part of an ecumenical dialogue.

  23. m&m

    I think proclaiming the gospel is broader than just getting more members in the Church. We do seek to relieve suffering, but ultimately, the best way to relieve suffering in the long run is to proclaim the gospel.

    I’m thinking along the lines of what Pres. Benson said:

    The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

    In one of the Church videos, Ensign to the Nations, Elder Morrison talks about this as well. To me, when I think of proclaiming the gospel in this sense, it brings more meaning into missionary work, and more understanding of the breadth of the gospel to change people’s lives in every way.

  24. M&M,

    Without questioning Pres. Benson, we could perhaps question the application of what he is saying. The way I see most members understanding this quote is that it’s saying we need to baptize more people. This of course equates “Christ” with the “Church”; and hence Christ changing them is done by membership in this organization, and this, therefore, is what “proclaiming the gospel” is all about. Now I don’t know if this is what you had in mind or not, but the problem I have is with the assumption that “Christ” is the “Church”. Not that I’m questioning whether he leads the Church or not, but whether “changing” them necessarily means membership in the Church. Not that membership wouldn’t be a good thing, but I just don’t believe that the Church has all the answers to the issues that Pres. Benson seems to be saying that Christ can tackle (hence a distinction between “Christ” and “Church”.

    If this is the position you’re taking, then perhaps you are expanding the definition of “gospel” in “proclaiming the gospel” to more than just membership in the Church. But even if this is the position you’re taking I’ve never heard of “proclaiming the gospel” used in this sense. “Gospel” sure, but not “proclaiming the gospel”.