The Genius of Mormonism: Missions

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 61 Comments

I wanted to do a series of posts on aspects of the LDS church that I consider to be sheer religious genius.  These are religous practices or concepts that have given Mormonism its staying power, and when compared to other religions are “best-in-class” (to borrow a term from business).  The first practice I will address is full-time missions.

John Hamer did a post in April of 2008 called Laymen = Clergy:  The Genius of Mormonism.  Although the title from my series is derived from his excellent and well-researched post, I will take my series in the direction described above to do a series of OPs.

First of all, what do other churches do that might be considered on par with a “mission” experience?  Here are a few, and why they don’t quite stack up to LDS missions effectiveness-wise:

  • Bible camp. Religious retreats are just that, retreats from the world to rally kids to have their own born-again experience and to put Jesus first.  The nature of a retreat is temporary, and these are mostly for kids, not independent adults making their own way.  These are more like EFY than a mission, and can even be a great place to hook up.  Impacts are nowhere near as long-lasting as a 2 year mission.  Like EFY, you may pull out your faded baggy tee shirt later and chuckle to yourself about how naive and cute you were back then, as you reach across your live-in girlfriend to take another hit off your bong (OK, I made that last part up–anyone paying attention out there?)  Grade:  C-
  • Peace corps service. These are great for those who want to make a huge difference in developing countries and find purpose in their life.  These can often be non-religious, though, and the plight of developing nations can become a life-consuming quest for those who render this kind of service, one that supercedes one’s religious devotion or personal life and family.  Highly effective at making first rate human beings.  Less effective at promoting religious aims or transferability into daily life.  Grade B
  • Lay member proselyting. Jehovah’s Witnesses tithe their time through regular proselyting by lay members.  This certainly rates high on the effectiveness scale for increasing commitment, but over time, it’s got to be a bit of a grind.  One good thing about Mormon missions is that they end after 2 years and you can return to normal life.  Given the enormous sense of relief most missionaries feel once they are released, I have to think a lifetime ongoing missionary experience would be tough to face.  Grade:  B
  • Vocation or entering the priesthood. Those who wish to devote their lives to Christ in Catholicism can become a nun or priest.  This is usually considered someone’s calling in life that they feel compelled to do.  On the upside, this requires a lifetime of devotion and service.  On the downside, a lifetime of celibacy and its accompanying, uhm, feelings.  Very effective for those who enter it and who are cut out for it, but it does nothing for the average member personally, making it kind of an all or nothing choice.  Grade C

So, what makes “Missions” an ingenious practice?  Here’s my list of reasons:

  • A Personal Hero Myth.  Missionaries experience their own personal hero myth, with them in the role of hero.  They heed the “call to adventure.”  They see things others overlook.  They set aside the “normal,” and in so doing, they become leaders and heroes to those they serve.  They learn many positive things about themselves.  To their families, their GF/BF, and themselves, they are very much the hero in the story of their mission, and these experiences can provide the spiritual foundation for a lifetime.  And like all good Hero Myths, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Transferable Skills.  Many missionary skills are transferable to life:  how to get along with someone who drives you completely nuts day in and day out, how to meet new people, speaking in front of a group, language skills, being persuasive, listening, and new cultural exposure.
  • Persecution.  Let’s face it, obstacles and persecution bolster devotion.  At this stage of the game, it’s tough to get one’s undies in a wad over the suffering of Pioneers and early saints (particularly for those with no Pioneer heritage).  A mission is an excellent opportunity to be persecuted for your religious beliefs.  At most, you could get kicked out of a country, and at bare minimum, you might suffer the personal trials of a Dear John (or Jane) letter.  Personally, I didn’t get a lot of persecution, but some kids did bowl oranges down the street at us one day which was kind of surreal.
  • Testimony / Conversion.  As the saying goes, even if you don’t convert anyone but yourself, a mission is worthwhile.  Missionaries are confronted with the need to find their own religious conviction as they work to help others find theirs.
  • A Timely Distraction.  There are far less productive ways for young adults to spend their time, from a religious standpoint.  The need to remain worthy to serve a mission, the temporary celibacy of a mission, and the need to save money to go on a mission all provide helpful distractions from things that get teens in trouble.  This is also the time when many young people first establish their independence.  Doing so in a religious environment can build spiritual resilience.
  • Personal Ties to Others in the Community.  Missionaries love the people they serve.  Those ties are strong and can help missionaries develop a foundation of loving and serving others in the LDS community and throughout their lives.

On the downside, missions are not perfect.  Here are some of the potential issues that lessen the effectiveness of missions:

  • Boys are compelled to go.  Because a mission is so strongly encouraged for young men, there may be instances where those who go are neither physically nor emotionally fit for a mission, but they go due to social expectation.
  • Women are not encouraged to go.  While many women do go on missions, women are not encouraged to go.  The alternative path for women in the church can be passive by default.  A passive path may result in women missing out on some of the above benefits of a mission or even create inequities between men and women in marriages or in church.
  • Missions can be intense.  The pressure in a mission can sometimes result in practices that are at best stressful, at worst faith-shaking.  You may deal with a lot of rejection.  Oddly, not everyone enjoys that.

Overall, I would give LDS Missions an A- for their religious effectiveness. Despite the flaws of the program, the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives for the majority.  While the program could certainly be improved, it is a best-in-class program that is unsurpassed by other religions’ programs.  Do you agree or disagree?

Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 61

  1. I would give them an F-: the isolation, infantalization, forced obedience, propensity for martinet tendencies in MPs and APs…

  2. As someone who has been able to listen to released missionaries report on their missions immediately upon their return, I would give them an A or even an A+ for those for whom they work. I also am involved in those who are sent home early for serious problems, so I would give them a C- to a D for those for whom they don’t work. There also are those who drift along and for whom they don’t have a huge impact one way or another (for whom the grade would be about a C+ or a B-), but I believe that number has dropped dramatically over the last 6 years.

    Overall, as to what I believe is the “average” experience, I would give them a B+ to an A-, with the reasoning that there are FAR MORE missionaries for whom their mission was a wonderful experience than there are for whom it is like Yikes describes in #1.

    My son flies out to the MTC today, and he is as prepared as he can be. I hope it is a wonderful experience and that he is one of those for whom it is an A+. We will see.

    As far as substantive input, I think missionaries need to be prepared much better than many are – and that isn’t the fault solely of the Church. I think the Church has done an admirable job trying to do better in the past few years in this regard, but there are familial and societal issues that make it much more difficult now than it was in the past to send out missionaries that are prepared properly – especially for the rigors of the role.

    Finally, “Preach My Gospel” is a VAST improvement over the former models. If you haven’t taken a look at it recently, I would recommend it highly. I think many people in the Bloggernacle would be shocked at some of the statements in it.

  3. I too had the opportunity to hear a great number of returned missionaries and also to have them be my companions on speaking assignments. I would also give the mission experience an A overall. Having not had that opportunity yet, I am very much looking forward to spending that time with my wife serving the Lord. I know that that is a very different experience than as a young man or young women, but you see just as many, if not more older couples unwilling to make the sacrifice to serve.

    But I also agree that much more preparation is necessary. We’ve seen a few missionaries return early from our Ward due to illness that was primarily caused by their anxiety. Bishops need to be much more vigilant in assessing a YM’s or YW’s emotional preparation. Maybe, it is just this generation, I don’t know, but I know of many kids who just are not emotionally prepared to serve. They really suffer during a time when it should be an exciting joyful experience. What is more interesting is that those that I know that return under those circumstances are now fine.

  4. “Transferable Skills.”

    Like being able to sell pest control services, security alarms and Living scriptures until they get a real job! 🙂

  5. I give high marks too.

    Somewhere it should be included that missions usually helps marriages. I think there’s some stats floating around somewhere that shows the low divorce rate when husband and wife are RMs.

  6. “Transferable Skills.”

    Like being able to sell pest control services, security alarms and Living scriptures until they get a real job! 🙂

    And then riding their very loud motorcycles past the other student apartments at 2 AM. 😉

  7. I give high marks. While I recognize and have seen people broken, for those who made it through, they came back visibly more in control and more mature. Even some people who once everyone had thought, “That guy will never fly right and go straight,” if they were convinced of a mission and successfully completed one, they became changed.

  8. Well, personally my mission was one of the worst experiences of my life. I have seen that it works out much better for most people, but for those of us who don’t have such a great time, it’s pretty dang hard to recover from. I am still trying to bury demons from my mission, and it was 10+ years ago.

  9. #3-

    Jeff-

    I am curious to see how the teenagers coming up to mission age are going to leave all their e-mailing, texting and chatting behind. I have heard some remarks from teenagers that are laughable, such as everyone has a phone, I NEED ONE TOO! It is somewhat sad to me to see so much chatting and texting going on with teenagers to the point that they just don’t get together and talk anymore. I have one teenager that avoids using the home phone at all costs and would rather chat or e-mail someone over anything. I have had to say, “I’m sorry, your just going to have to use the regular home phone.” You would think I had asked him to give me his right arm. It is almost like you have to give them less options to help them learn to talk to people. How are they going to learn to communicate face to face with people if their communications are always electronic? I wonder how much these things relate to missionaries who struggle. I don’t know what the rules are for e-mail or phones now, but I can’t imagine they are allowed to use them whenever they want. That can be a big thing to these kids coming up to mission age and I wonder how well they will be able to communicate with people they don’t even know if they haven’t even learned how to communicate with people they do know.

  10. Jan,

    Missionaries have cell phones now because it is cheaper and easier for the mission to deal with than land lines, where no one is home most of the time. And they get to use email as well. All regulated and controled, of course.

  11. Jeff,

    Interesting. I think cell phones and e-mail are great if they are used in moderation and at appropriate times. I have seen too many times when a teenager is supposed to be spending time with their family and even though they are physically present they are texting someone and off in la la land, not even paying attention to their surroundings. Amazingly, I have seen adults watching movies in Sacrament meetings on their I Phone, so I guess it crosses all generations.

    Oh, it is Jen, not Jan. 🙂

  12. #8

    I’m with Yikes-

    Sorry to hear your missionary experience was so difficult. Hopefully you can find something good out of the bad experience. I have found that the most difficult things in my life were really hard when I was in them (and for years after as well) and I didn’t see any purpose in them whatsoever but to just make me miserable. I realize now though that I am a much better person because of the difficult things I went through, survived and overcame. I hope that this happens for you as well and you are able to heal.

  13. I think overall the missionary program is a great benefit to many. I really think there are some who just aren’t ready though and it can do more damage than good. I don’t know how the interview process works, but I wonder if it would help to talk to parents who are involved and a part of the teen’s life to see if they feel they are prepared. Maybe that is over the top and getting them too involved (cause truly some parents are a bit strange) but it seems it could help. Of course, would the parents be honest about what they really think or would they just end up saying the right things so they aren’t emabarrassed?

  14. Oh, it is Jen, not Jan.

    I knew that. My fingers didn’t know it as well. 🙂

    BTW, with cell phones, texting, email, facebook, etc, we are breeding the most anti-in-person, socially handicapped generation of all time.

  15. I think the preparation could be improved, especially with PMG. When I was a teenager my friends and I craved preparation for missions, but it was limited. One of our SS teachers agreed to leave the manual let us use his old “rainbow” discussions for lessons. The discussion were just not available to the general membership like they are now. We took turns taking one and teaching the class with it, and it was exciting to us that we were actually taking it on. I think before arriving in the field, a knowledge of who goes to a Ward Council meeting, who goes to a Missionary Correlation meeting, and what a Ward Mission leader does should be there. They should know that each ward has a Ward Mission Plan. These are things happening in each ward (hopefully) during their years of preparation, so they shouldn’t be totally unfamiliar with these pieces of full-time missionary work when they get there.

  16. Jeff said, “BTW, with cell phones, texting, email, facebook, etc, we are breeding the most anti-in-person, socially handicapped generation of all time.”

    I’m not sure I completely agree that we are breeding the most “socially handicapped generation of all time”.

    I think if anything, we are raising folks who are in many ways more social. I think this idea that meaningful socialization or communication has to always be “in-person” or “face-to-face” is becoming increasingly antiquated. I think that in the not too distant future most of our day-to-day transactions, including a working day for many, will occur not face-to-face but though electronic communications.

  17. I’m not sure why you list the resistance to sending women on a mission as a negative. Many people, especially in non-Western society continue to be very mysoginistic and policies which devalue women are seen as a good thing. Even in Western society, those most susceptible to conversion to a new religion are found generally among the lower income brackets where, statistically, the rolls of women are also seen as more subservient than in more affluent areas.

    As more and more religions become more progressive in accepting the equality of genders, the LDS church’s steadfast theological support of male superiority would, in my opinion, appeal positively to many, especially those most likely to be swayed to convert.

    Not meaning to pass judgment on the policy/theology – merely commenting on what I percieved as the original post’s intent to discuss the practicallity of LDS policy.

  18. PaulW-

    I have to disagree with you on this one. Having teenagers at home right now,(with two being more reserved and the other being very outgoing), I see electronic communications as a means for the reserved ones to avoid face to face interaction as much as they can. I don’t see this as a good thing, especially if they want to date and get married. Real life involves a lot of face-to-face interaction if you have a family or ever want one. It is much easier to express oneself online or in a text message, but many times a person would not even say the things they say online, in person, so you never know what you are really dealing with without that face-to-face interaction IMO.

  19. Jen,

    I think we’re talking about two essentially different kinds of communication. I will have to absolutely agree with you that the kind of communication that results in family relationships (dating, marriage, and children 😉 ) absolutely needs to take place face to face. Face to face association and communication should never be replaced in our families and loving relationships.

    I do think though that generally the technologies and services Jeff listed help us stay more social and connected, not less. I have been able to stay in touch with old friends and associates that I had completely lost touch with otherwise. Also, as society changes, electronic communications will enable us to spend less time commuting/traveling and more time with our families.

    Jen, just a short commentary one one of your previous posts:
    It is very likely that when I have teenagers that I wont have “a regular land line”. My children are 5, 2, and one-on-the-way. . .and we don’t have a land line now. I’m not saying they they necessarily will have their own phone (they may w/ restrictions). . .just that they probably won’t have a regular house phone available to them.

  20. It is much easier to express oneself online or in a text message

    I disagree with you on this one, unless by “easier” you mean that there’s less constraint on what they feel they can get away with. Of course, I’m pretty sure we’re on the same wavelength anyway :). Text and instant messaging are very convenient in some ways (when used appropriately, they can be particularly less disruptive; it’s a great way to contact my wife at work), but I think like any technology out there they have their good sides and their bad sides.

    PaulW, I think at best you can say that “we are raising folks who are in many ways [differently] social.” But to imply that electronic communication is equivalent to verbal (those “antiquated” phone calls) or other old-fashioned direct communications is a stretch. The assumptions and perceptions of the people on both ends are quite different. The clearest example to me is the lack of vocal inflection, facial expression, and body language. No amount of emoticons, LOLs, punctuation or abbreviated text (which I think, incidentally, does some serious harm to the rising generation’s common grammar handicap) can ever fully distinguish an actual sarcastic smile from one of true adoration.

    There is real a value to not being quite so “connected” 24-7. But I’ll try to stick with the topic at hand.

    While cellphones (and even text messaging, available in some missions) in the hands of missionaries can be very effective tools, they still need to know how to interact effectively with those they teach and the church members in their area. It’s hard to teach a missionary lesson over SMS. And if they don’t learn how to appropriately use the technology available, there’s a problem. It’s unfortunate, though perhaps useful in the long run, for missionaries to have to learn while on their mission how to be sociable. As I see it, one of the biggest marks against the missionary program is the way young men are expected in many ways to go out ASAP after they turn 19, but are not necessarily prepared socially by the church for the work they are expected to do.

  21. PaulW-

    I understand what you mean now. I think the part I am concerned about is the amount of time a lot of teenagers spend texting, e-mailing and chatting, IN PLACE OF or INSTEAD of personal interaction. I wonder how this affects their social development, especially if they are planning on going on a mission and will have to be able to talk to complete strangers in person.

    Also, about the land line, I have one intentionally because I don’t want everyone to be able to get a hold of me wherever I am. I like having a certain amount of privacy and I don’t want to feel obligated to have to answer the phone if I am out trying to have time with family, friends, etc. I know I can turn the phone off, let it go to voicemail, etc. but there is still a certain amount of obigation tied into that if you have the phone with you, compared to if you don’t IMO.

  22. Let’s let Hawk have her blog post back. But this would probably make a good post. I’ll have think about that.

  23. Jen,

    I’m with you on the kids spending too much time on stuff. I’m not there yet so I haven’t experienced it myself. I see it as the same as if they spent too much time on TV or Video games. . .or even too much time OUT with friends. Too much of anything is never good.

    I didn’t have a cell phone and even got rid of it for a while for the same reasons. . .ultimately I decided I’d like to have one and be able to get a hold of my wife when she was out. . .she would go to the store and take a really long time, I’d get worried etc, lol. Anyway, sometimes I don’t answer or don’t keep it on me. The other day we went to the pool and I left it locked in the car. I don’t feel obligated to answer anymore than if I had a land-line and let the machine pick it up.

    Anyway, this all feels a bit like a complete thread jack. I think having a cell phone and being able to email on my mission (97-99) would have been really useful. My mission was a wonderful experience for the most part and even the few parts that weren’t so fun were still good for me I think. . .

  24. #22-

    Jeff,

    I was thinking of that when I was writing my comment and that is why I tied it back into a mission.

    PaulW-

    I won’t respond on this topic anymore for now (to avoid further threadjacking), but thanks for sharing. 🙂

  25. Post
    Author

    bewarethechicken – cool name, BTW – I’m not sure I agree with you that basing church policy to woo mysogynists is a great approach to missionary work. Perhaps you were being tongue in cheek? IME, sisters were highly successful missionaries, which contradicts the idea that those who are ready to convert wish to see females only barefoot and in the kitchen. The church doesn’t discourage women to go, it just doesn’t encourage either; it’s considered optional, and historically, women viewed it as a Plan B if an early marriage was not readily accessible. Surely creating skilled, spiritually independent women will do more to advance marital happiness than marrying young will. While either path can possibly lead to happiness, why not go the route that seems more likely to create strong marriages (statistically it is shown to be so)? When contrasted with the compulsion for men to go, it seems an inequity worth addressing. Why not encourage ALL to go (who meet the standards) but compel none?

  26. I think we should encourage all to go and require more sevice in the community and less (or no) “cold” door-knocking. I relate to the feelings of the personal hero myth, especially towards the start of my mission and the personal connection with the community, especially towards the end.

  27. Why not encourage ALL to go (who meet the standards) but compel none?

    Good point. How do you think would this affect the number of missionaries serving? The other thing I wonder, particularly if we’re encouraging all to go, is what the reasoning is for having women wait until 21 (I’ve never heard an “official” explanation), and if that would still make sense if all are encouraged to go.

  28. I have seen that it works out much better for most people, but for those of us who don’t have such a great time, it’s pretty dang hard to recover from. I am still trying to bury demons from my mission, and it was 10+ years ago.

    Interesting observation, and I’m not sure how to teach people resilience.

    I’m grateful for my mission.

  29. Jeff,

    I enjoyed my mission, but to be calling it an “an exciting joyful experience” is simplistic at best. There is “joy”, there is occasionally “excitement”, but mostly there is a lot of “experience”. Experience being away from home, praying, learning the gospel, being rejected day in and day out, following the Spirit, contacting (usually knocking on doors for me), teaching the gospel (I loved this), and being with someone else you didn’t choose for 24 hours a day. I wouldn’t trade my mission for anything, but it is a serious mistake to idealize them too much. Missions are (or should be) hard work. They are difficult.

    Some people are natural salesmen. They love meeting strangers. The rest of us had to get over our fears and develop new skills. Out of the eight new missionaries going out in my group only one of us seemed completely ready. He became an AP in record time, but I suspect that he had stuff to learn too. All of us were making a leap of faith.

    Nearly all of the missionaries I knew eventually became effective, but it was challenging for most of us. I knew a few missionaries that never became effective. One person hated his mission and cursed the girlfriend that talked him into going. Another (as best I could tell) suffered quietly, but passively his whole mission from a combination of depression and/or fear of people. My mission president talked him into not going home early and moved him into the mission office for the last year of his mission. That was better than going home a “failure”, but it was still tough.

    I think the rising generation of missionaries will be as ready for the challenges they face as any that proceeded them. The Lord really is in charge. I expect my boys and at least one of my girls to go on missions. I hope to serve several missions with my wife eventually (what a great companion!) I am very grateful for the many missionaries, leaders, and members who move this Work forward.

  30. I truly loved my mission. But, I have a friend whose younger brother cut himself on his mission. He was that depressed. Obviously, I’m not blaming the mission for that, it sounds like he had some underlying struggles. However, my point is, the mission can be a great place, and it can be an awful place. Obviously, a lot of great development can take place for the missionary. But does that make it good? A lot of great development can occur as a prisoner of war. That doesn’t mean the incarceration is a good thing. Are missions effective in spreading the gospel and developing the missionaries into stronger members? Absolutely 100% yes. Are missions a good thing? If the church is true? Yes. If not? No.

    A question I think would be interesting to discuss:

    Does the church benefit more from the spreading the gospel aspect of missionary work or the strengthening the missionaries to be strong members/leaders in the future?

  31. I agree with the OP. There was plenty on my mission that I didn’t like and drove me crazy. Ultimately, however, my mission was the making of me. I gaine a testimony of the Gospel, I gained knowledge of the Gospel, I learned I could live on my own (almost) under difficult circumstances, I came home knowing how to study and focus and with a particular interest in something to study (premission I had no idea), I learned I could memorize things, I met thousands of people and had to climb out of my shell a bit, I became a good public speaker, and the list goes on and on.

    I would not be the success in life I am today but for my mission.

  32. I don’t think missions are a blessing to those missionaries who go out without a strong testimony, with unresolved sin and with emotional and physical problems. I feel it is a big mistake to put undue pressure on a young man to go when he doesn’t have the desire to serve. If a parent has a child that doesn’t want to go they really need to be honest with themselves about why their son doesn’t wish to serve. I’ve seen some very naive parents send some unworthy/unprepared sons out. A mission ultimately is not helpful to them and their sons (or daughters) can cause a lot of problems in the mission and beyond. I’d rather have my son not serve that go and become a notorious “problem missionary.”

    Missions can be very worthwhile experience, yet if a missionary isn’t prepared the opposite is true. I wish more parents understood this.

  33. rk – “I feel it is a big mistake to put undue pressure on a young man to go when he doesn’t have the desire to serve.” An excellent point. I do feel there’s a serious downside to the compulsion angle. In some ways, it makes parents feel less responsibility to help sons prepare because, after all, it’s just a rite of passage like becoming a deacon at 12, teacher at 14, priest at 16 or scouting advancements in rank. Some parents will take as little thought to it as the other ‘rites of passage’ as a consequence of it being a compulsion–they figure sending a son to seminary then possibly a semester at BYU will prepare him without truly taking stock of his emotional maturity, his skills at independent living, his personality traits, etc. They figure the Lord will take care of him “in the hollow of thy hand,” but that is just not how life works, sorry to say.

  34. I think missions are great for the Church and not so great for missionaries, on a whole.

    The Church wants fresh-faced youngsters who are “not much to look at, but all it’s got” to preach the gospel. After all: they’re the Church’s brand; the Church’s labor force; the Church’s excuse for baptizing people poorly trained, and quickly. After all, the “elders” are only teenagers! How can they be expected to know every single thing about the church! How handsome they are! How hungry and homesick! Yes! I’ll buy some of what they’re selling.

    In the meantime, missionaries fret about minor indiscretions, don’t eat well, are forbidden from regular face-time (verbal contact) with friends and family, rat on their peers, etc., etc., etc. Some man up and learn to love the experience; many, many others don’t.

  35. I am not sure if this has been mentioned I only skimmed, I’m sorry for being lazy. But some missions are very different from others. I went to a place where there was no members of the church and no one was interested and no one liked us (not even the members). For some reason I still loved it. However, some people who were ‘prepared’ really struggled. Maybe the church should do more in the application process to assign particular personality types to missions with experienes that fit their character. If you can’t take tracting or forced obedience then put them with a mission president who is relaxed and not goals oriented and where they will teach alot. This would take more time, but might reduce some of the problems people have highlighted. This of course is not foolproof.

  36. “Peace corps service. These are great for those who want to make a huge difference in developing countries and find purpose in their life. These can often be non-religious, though, and the plight of developing nations can become a life-consuming quest for those who render this kind of service, one that supercedes one’s religious devotion or personal life and family. Highly effective at making first rate human beings. Less effective at promoting religious aims or transferability into daily life. ”

    Apologies if this has been already mentioned. But too me and it appears many on the bloggernacle the above is where we should be going as a church.

    1st It will have a lot more impact on society and our standing as members in it.

    2nd Missionaries will be looked at instead of a nuisance those young guys or gals who really make a difference.

    3rd From what it sounds like those who join out of service, stick with it longer.

    4th Hope you don’t mind me rewording this Hawk “Highly effective at making first rate human beings. MOST effective way of promoting religious aims or transferability into daily life. ”

    5th Mission memories – We were Ammon missionaries and we made a super long lasting effect with the society we served in.

  37. I think however, that from a Church point of view, the current structure of working, teaching and failing (depending on where you are) is quite powerful in producing commitment. So some change toward this would be positive but I don’t think a full swing would be realistic, or in my opinion serving the purpose of a mission which is spiritual in intent i think.

  38. My experience with Sister missionaries is consistant with Hawk’s, for the most part highly effective missionaries. In many instances I would use Sisters as my secret weapon. If there was a family that I could not reach the Sisters always could. I think this is due to three main reasons:

    1. Sister missionaries are older and more mature than Elders.

    The extra life experience they have gained in the two years longer they have to wait is irreplaceable.

    2. It is not a commandment.

    Sister missionaries, almost without fail, are serving a mission because they want to and not because they “have” to. This leads to better preparation and less coercion making them better suited for the work and definitely happier about being there. And…

    3. Sister missionaries just seem to be able to love more and better than Elders.

    I would say that a Sister missionary developes a love for the people she teaches far quicker than an Elder. Also, I think fewer Sisters ever finish a mission without that love developing than missionaries do.

    One last thing about Sister missionaries, A good Sister is 10 times more effective then a good Elder. However, a bad Sister can often times be 5 times worse than your worst Elder.

    I loved my mission, warts and all. I developed relationships that have lasted for the past 20+ years and believe that many of those will continue for a lifetime. I have often stated that a mission accomplished for me things that few other experiences could have and hope that I can teach and train my sons and daughters well enough that when the time comes for them to choose, they will serve and be prepared for the struggle.

    I look forward to serving with my wife.

    And “Bowling Oranges”, muahahahahaha, I remember it well.

  39. Hawkgrrl, being a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, I appreciate your name as well.

    No, I’m not being tongue in cheek, just following up on your practical theme. I don’t think you are suggesting that a theology/policy that encourages persecution is necessarily a good idea, but, as you point out, it does build internal devotion and is, to put it blunlty “good for business”.

    Religion in general is something that for many people provides comfort and stability. These are valuable commodities especially for those in poorer, less stable regions and in lower income brackets, which make these prime targets for church growth – any church. I suspect if you were to ask any congregation they would tell you that they rarely see doctors, lawyers, bankers showing up Sunday morning checking things out. That demographic generally is set in their ways, whatever they might be. But the lower income groups are often seeking the comfort, stability, sense of community that is offered by a church.

    It’s my belief that this desired sense of comfort and stability does not come so easily from a church that promotes a very progressive, liberal attitude/theology. People are comforted by what they know – and they know their mother stayed home and looked after them. They know that gays are abnormal. They know that there is a true-right religion. They know that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. These are comforting religious norms which, I think are most attractive to those who are most susceptible to conversion.

    But, I’m probably wrong.

  40. I do wish couples could go on a service mission at a young age. My husband and I are considering the peace corp after we are finished with school but we don’t want to make the 2 year commitment (although that is the length of the church mission). I I think it would be cool if we could do a 1 year church service mission right after school. I also wish the church did missions like the peace corp that utilized the academic disciple to serve others.

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    Bewarethechicken – Well, if you want to look at the question of populist preaching, that is a valid question. Personally, I disagree with your point, but many many religions do exactly as you are saying. In fact, one of the founding principles of methodism was to gather the poor, those who had been jailed, those who were homeless, as the foundation of their church. Populism certainly gets you some critical mass. You could say that Jesus was also a populist in preaching to the disenfranchised (the prostitues and the destitute). But that was one of the most stark criticisms of the early church – basically that Christianity was a religion for losers. The pagans looked down on the Christians as their social inferiors. Paul did a lot to reverse that by 1) building strength within the member base, and 2) proselyting more effectively to the higher eschelons of society than his predecessors.

    If the church were really interested in a populist approach, they would lower the standards. I don’t see that happening. I’m not a populist, personally. If church was full of mysogynistic, gun-toting, squirrel-eating rednecks, I would have a hard time attending. The few we have now occasionally make it unpalatable.

  42. Hawkgrrl – populism isn’t exactly what I was getting at. Possibly my choice of the word “mysogynistic” was a poor one (my personal biases getting in the way I suppose).

    As you point out, the LDS church does many things which, either intentionally or unintentionally lead to greater devotion, greater numbers, greater retention – or, in your words, provide “staying power.” You point to the missionary practice as a positive method in this regard, but comment that the unequal attitude toward women vis a vis missionary work, is problematic.

    My only point is that this unequal view of women by the LDS church (and certainly not only by the LDS church) is itself a positive factor behind a denomination’s staying power. You point out “rednecks” and I perhaps I can use that as a better example of my point. NASCAR is a very popular sport among that particular demographic – and it’s growing. Advetising is huge in the sport, not because “rednecks” are extremely wealthy, but because they are extremely loyal. I may like my hometown baseball team, but the fact that “Tide” or some other detergent sponsors them does not influence my purchasing decisions. This is not so for those in lower income/education demographic – who tend to get that sense of belonging, of fitting in, of success, by associating themselves with a successful or popular third party – like a NASCAR driver. That association causes them to be loyal to the driver, the team, and the sponsor.

    To exhaust a tired analogy- those same feelings of belonging, self-worth, loyalty that some get from sports teams, are also achieved through church. And just as the lower income/education crowd are more likely to be more easily swayed by what their sprots team is selling, are also more likely to be loyal to their particular chosen denomination.

    Another characteristic of this demographic is an unequal viewpoint of women and minorities. It is not a coincidence that there are no women NASCAR drivers any more than it is that there are no women priesthood in the LDS (or myriad of other) church. The group who are the most loyal, the most ardent, also tend to be more “conservative” vis a vis inequality of gender. And this is not surprising, based on the demographics of those most seeking the comforting sense of belonging.

    That probably made no sense.

  43. #38, RobertM

    Agree completely!

    #42, Bewarethechicken

    “That probably made no sense.”

    Agree completely!

  44. Then let me try another analogy.

    Hawkgrrl thinks going on missions supports the church’s “staying power”; therefore she thinks encouraging women to go on missions would further encourage “staying power.”

    I doubt however, anyone would think sending cross dressing homosexuals on missions for the church would improve “staying power” and not because these individuals wouldn’t experience the same things and be instilled with the same loyalties current missionaries do.

    The point is – there are sellers and there are buyers. Sending more women on missions may result in the positives Hawkgrrl discusses vis a vis the sellers (ie, the missionaries) but ignores the effect on the buyers (ie. those the missionaries are trying to reach.

    In my opinion, the buyers like the fact that the church treats men and women un-equally.

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    bewarethechicken – I see where you are headed now. Here’s my point of disagreement. First, I don’t believe the church discourages sisters from going on missions, just that they don’t encourage. Second, the reason for that lack of encouragement, IMO, is completely unrelated to the effectiveness of sisters in reaching prospective converts or the likelihood that converts will be off-put by sister missionaries. I’m quite sure statistics would bear this out and demonstrate that women, on the whole have higher conversion and retention rates.

    I believe (rightly or wrongly) that the church’s stance is for two reasons:
    1 – the first is a little outdated and relates to the norm of marrying young in the church. If a woman marries young (I’m calling 19 a young average), this gives her 3 more years of child-bearing than a woman marrying directly after her homecoming talk. As the average marital age increases and the use of birth control becomes the norm within the church (it already is), the reason to not encourage women to go on missions (increased membership through breeding) largely evaporates.
    2 – fraternization. If the number of men and women serving is roughly equal, there will be more instances of missionaries being distracted from their key purpose through fraternization with the opposite sex. This is already curbed greatly by the age difference.

    I don’t see either of those two reasons as outweighing the potential benefits to women who serve at this point, although that has probably changed over time.

    I would also disagree with the premise that the church prizes converts at the lower socio-economic level. While there is mass there, there are accompanying issues:
    1 – great financial strain on the church. I know from personal experience that converts who were extremely poor immediately required assistance from local members and did not have the resilience or the resources to contribute. They were a drain on resources. It’s better to convert those who are stable so they can be contributors.
    2 – while you are right that the less advantaged are tribal (loyal), the leadership of the church are not from the ranks of the less advantaged. The church is prosperous. There is a vision of a church of prosperous, successful individuals that is at odds with your NASCAR description. Now, in some wards, the reality may be more NASCAR, but John Hunstman pays more tithing than Bro. NASCAR and is probably better equipped to handle the demands of a lay clergy responsibility. IMO, the leadership of the church sets their sights high. They want stable families to be converted. They want successful people. It’s much easier to bring them in that way than to build them from the ground up (which is the Plan B).

  46. The average buyer is going to see in an organization they want to join, things that they identify as fitting a value system that is inherent with their own social development. Nevertheless, you see conversions that are amazing because the individual’s social background seems counter to the outwardly perceived features of the church.

    I didn’t experience doors closing because women missionaries were diminishing the product in the view of the buyer. Quite the opposite, in fact. Investigators were impressed with women and men who believed in something deeply enough to dedicate two years of their life to it.

    I watched many conversions during my years attending singles congregations. The converts there had all types of social backgrounds and various levels of higher education. They were not looking for inequality between genders. They were looking for who they are, what their relationship is to Christ, and a community with sisters and brothers serving together toward fulfilling the mission of the church.

  47. Hawkgrrl, thanks for your thoughts on this. My only perspective on women missionaries was from a series of conversations I had with one who was serving her mission at a visitor’s center in the early ’90s. She related to me that, aside from merely not encouraging women missionaries, the church tended to steer women to missions that didn’t involve door to door and direct evangelical missions like the men did. Perhaps things have changed.

    But I was surprised you didn’t list in your reasons why the church didn’t encoruage women missions the fact that women aren’t priesthood. The office of Elder has traditionally been the prosyletizing (sp?) arm of the church and going on missions is surely a form of ministry. You don’t think this would be the primary reason that women wouldn’t be pressed into a type of ministry usually peformed by priesthood?

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    bewarethechicken – interesting perspective. It’s not true that women are “steered” toward non-proselyting exactly–many do serve in a proselyting capacity as I did. However, the visitor’s centers and historical sites are generally staffed with only women and older couples. I believe that is because they are deemed to “show” better (have more credibility in giving explanations, etc.) due to being a little older. Also, I balked at the word “steer” because where one serves a mission is not by choice. You submit your request, and it comes back telling you where and when to report. When I got my call, I couldn’t even locate it on a map for a few days (this was before Al Gore invented the internet).

    The priesthood angle is irrelevant at reducing the effectiveness of sisters because teaching is not linked to priesthood, just the performance of ordinances. Women teach in the church plenty. Ordinances like baptism and conferring the Holy Ghost must be performed by an Elder, but if there were fewer Elders than baptisms, a local member with the office of Elder also has the priesthood authority to perform a baptism. So I can’t imagine this would be a serious issue if more women were to serve. Women could probably not go into an area with no members to “open up” a new area. Elders would still be required to do that because of the ordinance angle. But that’s not so common an activity that there would not be enough Elders to accomplish it. I can only think of a few times in my mission where a new area was opened (and it was done by Elders).

  49. Sister Missionaries in Japan ride bikes…in dresses…even in the leg-numbing cold rain/hail…and sometimes, even snow! Go-kurosama de gozaimasu!!!

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  51. Is it really difficult for members who don’t serve missions to get married, I heard that a lot of sisters will only marry RM’s.

  52. #51

    Yes, JD, that can be true. I have a friend that is thinking of leaving the church for this very reason. He has a more fluid sense of religion and has never viewed the LDS church as the one true church. Perhaps because of this, he never served a mission. He is feeling ostracized right now and is looking elsewhere to find a wife, because he thinks he will never find one in the church.

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    OK, at the risk of being booed, I have to say that I always felt it was hypocritical of a woman who has not served a mission to refuse to marry a man because he did not. Put your money where your mouth is, I say. Let the rotten tomato-throwing commence!

  54. Well, I think it goes back to who is encouraged to serve and who is not. The boys are encouraged/expected to serve. The girls want an obedient servant of a husband. (Not servant to them, servant of God.)

  55. Re: 53,

    Yes, yes, yes, YES!

    I learned a lot on my mission. There were many good experiences and I forged some relationships that I would otherwise have missed out on. At the same time, some of the worst, most traumatic, horrible experiences in my life were also had on my mission. (I am still fighting PTSD over some of these things. It’s been 3 years. However, I am doing better than some missionaries I served with: we’ve already had an RM drive out into the desert and shoot himself, just months after getting home, and there was one hospitalization for psychological reasons I am aware of.) Re: 54, Given the “bar raising,” it is no longer reasonable or charitable to teach that RM status is sine qua non in husband selection. Missions just aren’t for some people. Working at the MTC, I see occasional signs that the Church may be considering other kinds of service for those who would be (and often are) damaged by the usual proselytizing experience. I hope that those opportunities open up, and soon.

    Of course, a great deal of one’s mission experience will be determined by the Mission President and other leadership. My mission experiences (and I had a good president) radically altered my theology and experience within the Church. I now have much less confidence in leaders in general and local leaders in particular. I don’t think I would could ever again approach a Bishop or Stake President with a concern –– that is reserved for those whom I trust (generally family members). Worse, even though I realize cognitively that righteousness = blessings (or should), I no longer feel it or trust it; there were too many occasions on which the opposite was consistently true.

    There were blessings the arose out of my mission service, but I know that I would be a happier person had I not served in that capacity. Perhaps one day I will see that my happiness is not the most important consideration, and that the blessings I received are of greater value. For now, though, I would trade it all back for the capacity to trust again and smile more often.

  56. I think #55 said precisely on a personal level what I said on a general level earlier:

    How someone views missions generally is dependent heavily (and sometimes entirely) on their own mission experience – or on the experiences of those about whom they hear, if they didn’t serve a mission. Since those who had wonderful experiences generally aren’t as vocal or visible on the internet, and since someone who is a bit (or grearly) disaffected would be more likely to find others who are the same, it can appear that missions are terribly destructive for FAR more people than they actually are. I don’t mean to downplay the trauma for those for whom it really was brutal, but I believe there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy and bias confirmation that happens for BOTH those who think missions are good and those who think they are bad.

  57. #50 – Hawk, I fully expected that you would.

    As for the new areas opened in your mission, I reopened two and they might have been ones you were thinking of. La Orotava, on Tenerife and Los Llanos on La Palma (technically not the first missionary there, but myself and someone you know quite well spent many a day on buses to try and find housing in that place).

  58. I think many people in the Bloggernacle would be shocked at some of the statements in [Preach my Gospel] Ray #2,

    True, its almost a new religion compared to what it was back in the early ’80s. But for me, as someone who despises his mission more as the years go by, I’d obviously give the missionary program a F!

    Plus if the church ever bothers to research this they will may find, in mho, an unacceptable level of PTSD, plus counting the injured and even dead missionaries -who are remembered less than Vietnam vets since at least the Vietnam guys have a monument. Dead Mormon missionaries? nope, just let the parents remember them!! and yes I am bitter about this.

  59. This whole issue is very complex, but one main problem surrounding this issue is utopia. Missionary work is cast as heroic effort, but its hardly that for some of those who have worked in the trenches. Although I can now look with fondness upon my mission (served 10 years ago) I really struggled upon my release to know how to explain it to others. I was in Canada and the people (members and the public) did not like us and the work was dreadfully slow no matter how hard you worked. I was a ZL and all that stuff, but even today I struggle with looking back on my mission. Many people from my mission went home and went less active. Some friends who also served missions came home from places like Brazil and always talked about the hundreds of baptisms they had performed. It was difficult to reconcile. Even today I have created my own myths about my mission to explain it to others as being ‘good’, since that is the only acceptable response in a public LDS forum.

    As for problems on the LDS missionary program, which are numerous, I’ll list a few.

    1) The push to baptize, and not convert. Very often missionaries are pushed to baptize and teach a certain amount of discussions, and often people are baptized and go less-active soon thereafter. The problem of converts leaving the church shortly after conversion is serious and not uncommon.

    2) Missionary health on the line. While many many others had it worse than I did, missionary healthcare was/perhaps still is non-existent. How often do missionaries go to the dentist while on their mission? Often none unless they need a tooth pulled, and so forth with other issues. I still have dental problems from my mission. On my mission our allotments were so small we sometimes had to pray for food just to make it through the month. With the limited funds obtained, we could only buy bulk and unhealthy foods. We couldn’t purchase fruits, vegatbles, or anything, and health was a regular problem on my mission. Flues and colds became more commonplace, and the cycle continued. Missionaries should be regularly checked for physical, as well psychological health while on their mission.

    3) Utopia about finding those interested and mission rules. I have a family member on a mission in the USA and the work is slow. In response, mission leaders have now made a rule that missionaries can’t be fed by the members on weekdays because the “best proselytizing time is between 5 and 7 pm”. Members can drop food off, but missionaries should be out tracting during this time. (I don’t live in Utah, FYI) And missionaries in some of the other US states I have lived in can only eat with members from 5 to 6. Since many people don’t get off work till five or later, many missionaries can’t be fed by members. Thus, the need more money for food, but mission leaders continue to keep mission funds low to teach missionaries to budget, which leads to the previous problem I mentioned. And overall, the whole issue of utopia could be discussed on numerous other issues, but I don’t have time to discuss them all.

    Overall, I would give the church’s missionary program a C- for effectiveness, perhaps lower since so many converts go less-active after baptism. I would challenge church leaders to be more practical and not so utopian about missionary work and its administration. I study the history of LDS missionary work, and certain unaddressed problems continue to occur because missionary work is viewed religiously and not practically. Its glorified drudgery for many, though some find ways to focus on the positive and push aside and forget the negative.

  60. And one more thing, the idea of how “laymen = clergy; the genius of Mormonism” (mentioned in this post), is hardly a Mormon idea. Baptist missionaries were practicing the slogan of ‘Every Baptist a Missionary’ before the LDS Church was even established, as were others. Again, utopia and myths about LDS missionary work. We need more honesty and serious reform on the program, but I see neither as forthcoming from LDS leaders in any timely manner.

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