Mormonism is not just a church or a belief system, but an all-encompassing identity. So our goal in mentoring former Mormons is not just to convince them of different beliefs, or help them find a place in a different church. Those are important, but our ultimate goal is to help a former Mormon navigate a cultural journey to find a new identity in Christ. This process will take some doctrinal adjustment, and it happens best in a local church. But always keep in mind that former Mormons need to find their identity in Christ, not in any church. Here are some ideas on how to mentor former Mormons on this part of the journey.
You do need to understand the shaping power of Mormon culture. But within that culture, there are differences. For some, the Mormon cultural influence is stronger or weaker than for others. We can identify the most common values and experiences of Mormonism in general, but we can never know how those norms are lived out by individuals until we listen to them personally. Mormons don’t all believe exactly the same things, and they don’t all have the same experience in the church. So former Mormons will come from different starting points within that broader culture. You have to listen to their story to find out what their cultural experience has been.
Be Patient, Not Pushy
Give former Mormons time to explore faith and church. Don’t try to force a quick decision to receive Christ or to join a church. Theologically, their doctrine will be a mixed bag. They will have figured out some things by the time they meet you, but they will still have turmoil and confusion over many things. Don’t push them to embrace all of biblical theology at once, or to repudiate all of Mormonism. The LDS church urges new converts to make quick decisions, so someone leaving Mormonism may be leery of that approach. Put yourself in their shoes. They have been lied to before. They don’t know if they can trust you yet. They don’t know entirely what you stand for. Sometimes they aren’t even sure they can trust themselves. So be patient. Check your motives for wanting to push. Remain available, and trust that the Holy Spirit is leading in his own timing.
Go Beyond Doctrine
As we’ve said, don’t limit your conversations to comparing doctrine or truth claims. The Mormon experience is so much more than that. People – including former Mormons – are not just what they think or believe. So we have conversations in the Faith After Mormonism library that cover four main transitioning issues. Doctrine is one. But you also want to be alert to emotional issues, relational issues, and church-culture issues.
Encourage a Connection with a Church
Help your ex-Mormon friend to get involved in a church. The local church, as the gathering of God’s family, is God’s instrument for our growth and maturity. It’s not perfect, but we miss out on much when we go it alone. Obviously, start with your own church. But honor other churches as well. Former Mormons are coming out of a “one true church” mentality. Don’t portray your church as the only or even the best option.
Be aware of the questions former Mormons are asking as you invite them to church involvement:
- Will these people welcome me?
- Will this be weird?
- What if they find out I was a Mormon?
- Why do they do things like they do at this church?
- Is there anybody here like me?
- How do I start to feel at home in this church?
Ask them what questions they have about the customs and practices of your church. Try to see your church through the eyes of a newcomer who has never done it that way before.
Don’t forget how hard it can be for newcomers to stick with a church. It’s even harder for former Mormons. They will want to bounce from one to another. That’s okay to a point. But help them discern what issues are worth making a switch over and what issues they should try to work through.
[Related Series: Choosing a Church]
[Related: Finding Community in Your New Church]
Be Aware of Their Feelings
First, you can encourage your former Mormon friend to be aware of his or her own feelings. Ask them what practices of this new church make them feel uncomfortable. Help them reflect on why they feel that way. Encourage them to talk to you about what they are feeling, and why. Then try to tune in to those feelings. Don’t invalidate them. Listen carefully and help provide emotional security for the journey.
Let Them Take Responsibility
Advise your friend to take responsibility for the transition process. They may feel paralyzed. That’s okay. But they should not expect others in the new church to understand what it feels like for them. We hope others will take the initiative toward them, but your friend should not expect others to do that or even to know how. Help them to be patient and gracious toward the people in the church and their response. By the way, don’t introduce your friend as a former Mormon. Many ex-LDS are sensitive about their past and worried about how people will view them. Leave it up to them to decide when and how they want to talk about their past religious identity.
Help Them See that God Is at Work
Encourage transitioning Mormons that God is at work in their lives. Affirm that God will see them through this unsettling journey (Philippians 1:6). Hopeful prospects lie ahead, because God has a purpose for them, and he will fulfill his plans for them (Jeremiah 29:11).
They may not be able to see it now, but as former Mormons learn to find their new identity in Christ, they can trust God that the past is not wasted and the future is not hopeless.
[Related: Mormonism as a Cultural Identity]