Union alumnus and church planter Timothy O’Day returned to campus this past week to speak about his experiences working among the Mormon population in Utah as part of Union’s Global Focus Month and GO Trip emphasis.
O’Day and his wife, Haley, serve in Lehi, Utah, an area of about 630,000 where only .049% of the population claims to be evangelical and 90% claim the Mormon faith. O’Day warns that while Lehi feels like any other American city on the surface, a heavy spiritual darkness has a grip on the area.
“We’re not just engaging in arguments or conversations with people,” O’Day said. “We’re waging war against spiritual darkness. We’re not dealing with flesh and blood. We’re dealing with spiritual powers.”
O’Day said that they knew that they were going to be engaging in spiritual battle every day and that being in this place can be deceptive because of the kindness of the community and the blurred lines between the Christian faith and the Mormon faith.
A survey conducted in Utah churches among former members of the LDS church who have turned to faith in Christ reveals that it takes an average of three and a half to seven and a half years for a Mormon to profess faith in Christ after hearing the gospel. O’Day says that, while they are expectant that the Lord will work in hearts every time, they don’t expect to see instantaneous fruit. They aim to start people on a three and a half to seven and a half year “faith journey” and are confident that they will see fruit in the future. In the meantime, he hopes to get “knots untangled” when having spiritual conversations with people.
“We’re seeing people on different levels of their journey,” O’Day said. “What we’re trying to do is be a faithful presence where they are.”
For O’Day, planting a church isn’t the most important part of the work.
“Even though I’m a church planter and I want to see a church planted, that’s not my primary objective,” O’Day said. “My primary objective is to see the kingdom of God go to people. Our focus is to see the gospel go to people, and we believe that when the gospel goes to people, God will use that and churches will be planted.”
O’Day says that being faithful and involved in a local church, as well as being active in initiating ministry, is the most important thing to do when preparing to support or be a part of a church plant team.
“Evangelism starts and happens best within the context of the local church,” O’Day said. “Church planting is evangelism that results in conversion.”
O’Day advises not to get caught up in conversations about secondary matters such as baptism or communion when talking to Mormons, but to focus on the nature of God and salvation. Mormons believe that Jesus’ atonement bring us to a neutral level before God and that good works are needed to reach a higher level. They believe that there are multiple levels of heaven and that if they do enough good works, they can reach God or even become a god of their own planet.
O’Day shared about his personal challenges of leaving family and friends behind and seeing old friends living connected lives. While raising his kids in a community heavily influenced by the Mormon faith is challenging, he said that praying, educating and entrusting his children to the Lord are vital.
He also said that reading the Book of Mormon, studying primary sources and talking to LDS missionaries are the best ways to prepare to engage with the Mormon community and that we should encourage healing, not bitterness, for former Mormons who have been hurt by the LDS church.
Daniel Ashworth, junior elementary education major, was part of this past summer’s Utah GO trip team. Ashworth says that he was prompted to go to Utah when O’Day came to speak at his church about what he was doing in Utah and mentioned that the area needed more teachers. Ashworth recalls hearing O’Day say that he could be used in his vocation even if he wasn’t called to full-time ministry, so he decided to seize the opportunity to see if Utah was where God wanted him in the future.
“I definitely recommend that people think about what their vocation is and how they can be used,” Ashworth said. “It’s also good to get that church planting experience.”
O’Day views Union’s GO trips to Utah, which involve training, door-to-door surveying and street evangelism, as internships in which students learn how to lead a church plant, how to be on a church planting team, how to support church planting or just see how ministry happens. He encourages those who are interested in or feel led to being a part of a church plant to go on the trip and get a taste of the work. Any skill is beneficial to the work, and what he wants are people who have an openness and willingness to go.
“You don’t have to say ‘I’m the best evangelist that I know, so I better go to Utah,’” O’Day said. “We just want someone to say ‘I love the Lord Jesus, and I want to be obedient, and I want to grow in obedience… and love [for] Him by sharing the Gospel with others’… We’ll do the training, we’ll walk with you.”
He also wants to help students become more confident and competent, and he cares about the spiritual growth of each person who goes on the trip.
“When you come out on these trips, this is not just something where you’re coming to serve in our area, but we want to serve you,” O’Day said. “God has a plan for you too. He has an agenda for your heart too.”
Students will have two opportunities to go on a GO trip to Utah in 2018. One will take place during spring break, and another will take place next summer. The deadline to apply for a GO trip is Sept. 29.