Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Is serving a mission a right or a rite?

Over at Times & Seasons, the thread about "raising the bar" for mission worthiness has taken a nasty turn. It seems to me that people are a little to quick to condemn their fellow saints as unworthy for missionary service.

One commenter makes the point that serving a mission is not a right. Obviously, this is true. But given the social importance of missions in our tightly-knit religious community, I think we're fooling ourselves if we don't acknowledge the stigma attached to non-mission servers.

Lest it be thought that I do protest too much, let me say that I would have qualified under the new standards when I went on my mission. Which is, really, part of the problem. At certain times of my mission, I was probably the exact kind of elder these people want to purge, but I had no previous transgressions making me act that way.
Even though I have ambivalent feelings about my mission, I am still glad that I went, and I think that I did some good while I was there. I wasn't always convinced I was doing the right thing, but I think it would be a shame to deprive thousands of young men of this irreplaceable growth opportunity.


Anonymous said...

They said they were raising the bar, but was it actually raised?

I was a little sickened by some of the comments over at T&A, those to the affect that the "bad" missionaries were those who had sinned and hadn't repented; that some sinners just aren't good enough to be missionaries. Nobody has actual data on that, it's just self-righteousness showing through.

Face it, missionaries might be on the Lord's errand but that doesn't exempt them from any of the idiot behavior typical of 19 year old boys. Didn't matter if they were "good" missionaries or "bad" missionaries, some of the stupidest things I've ever witnessed were done by missionaries.

I almost didn't make the bar when it was raised 15 years ago. At the time I didn't want to go on a mission and didn't want to stay in the church so worthiness wasn't anything to me. But I had a change of heart, was converted and had a burning desire to serve a mission. Lucky for me, this happened well before it was time to submit my papers--the new policy back then was, "deathbed" repentance in an attempt to serve a mission meant required GA approval and a one year wait. I don't know if I'd even make it under the new deal, and I know other missionaries, never repented before hand, were converted in the mission field and became fine missionaries.

Anonymous said...

I need to add, I don't think they shouldn't make some effort to urge missionaries to repent and take care of things before they leave-- but in a culture where a man isn't worth much if he hasn't been on a mission, I think you will end up with young men who should repent avoiding it because it will prevent them from serving a mission.

Tess said...

It's interesting that the posts that call people's righteousness into question are always popular.

Serving a mission is definitely not a right. I think many boys go because it's expected of them. Two years is a LOT to ask of someone. It's mind boggling to me that going on a two year mission (that you pay for yourself!) is perceived as a normal expectation for a nineteen year old.

Boys should be educated as to what they will encounter on their missions before they go into the MTC. I think going on a mission should be considered very seriously, and shouldn't be done just because everyone tells you to do it.

Justin said...


I'm all for boys being "educated as to what they will encounter on their missions before they go into the MTC," but am perplexed as to how this education might be received.

Most of the hardest stuff on a mission is, I think, unteachable in any real way except through the experience itself.

How could we do a better job?

Tess said...

Hi, Justin-

I think the missionary experience (like marrying in the temple, having children, etc.) is glorified to children from a very early age - which raises expectations that serving a mission will be "the best two years of your life."

Clearly, this is true for many missionaries (i.e., they look fondly back on their missions), but I think for many other missionaries, these high expectations make them feel inadequate and frustrated.

So, you raise a great practical question - how do we educate boys (and girls) better about what to expect on a mission?

I think one possibility may be to stress the fact that serving a mission is a choice, not a commandment (although I'm not sure whether or not going on a mission IS still a commandment?), and then emphasizing the hard work and frustrations as well as the joys that come with missionary work.

In all my years in the Church, I've heard only one or two missionary stories that I felt were honest accounts of serving a mission, complete with the ups and downs as well as the joys and happiness.

Anyway, you raise a good question, and I'm interested in learning what "raising the bar" for those who want to serve missions will entail. I hope that people won't be so quick to equate sin with an inability to serve a mission - that should go a long way in removing the stigma from non-RMs.

Zerin Hood said...

Hot topic. I'm undoubtedly one of those smug self-righteous types. According to all of the statements from the GA's, missions are not about converting the missionaries. Serving a mission is about being a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

I agree that some of the stupid things I have seen were done by missionaries (myself included) but occassionally doing something stupid is not the same as a worthiness issue.

The bar has been raised (for the whole church) to get better prepared missionaries. I really like the idea the these young men (not boys) who are approved to serve missions must meet higher standards -- a mission is no longer a mere rite of passage -- it now means something (or at least should mean something).

Teaching missionaries -- they need to be able to deal with adversity especially mentally, but also physically and spiritually. Parents and leaders need to demand more from them as youth to better prepare them as missionaries.

Is that smug enough?

NFlanders said...

I have no quibble with wanting better prepared missionaries. We will never have great success converting new members if our missionaries aren't acting professionally. But part of the difficulty of this conversation is that we don't know exactly what standards have been changed and to what degree the drop in missionary numbers is due to this change. (I'll leave it to T&S to debate this.)

What I do have a problem with is the assumption that by banning certain groups of young men from serving we will get a better missionary force.
I think many are assuming that past transgression missionaries equal bad missionaries. As there can be no scientific studies of the topic, all evidence is necessarily anecdotal and incomplete (including my own). Maybe there's a connection, maybe there's not.

I think a much better solution would be to kick more people out of the mission if they are really not acting appropriately. That way, you are punishing the people who have already shown they don't want the opportunity.

Zerin Hood said...

I would like to know how so many folks know their companion or some others from the mission field had worthiness issues before the mission? I could not identify one elder from my mission who had previous worthiness issues -- although I'm sure there were some.

Certainly your idea about sending home the deadwood has merit -- and I expect that may be a part of the bar having been raised. Higher standards to go, and (based on something posted at T&S or maybe elsewhere) apparently more closely monitored performance once in the field. I do suspect that once the missionary is there, a certain reluctance exists to send him back early unless absolutely necessary. Maybe the attempt is to try to save the costs up front.

If raising the bar gets us better young men, it would stand to reason that it would create a better missionary force.

NFlanders said...

Mr. Hood--
They way I knew about previous transgressions, and I suspect the way everyone else knows, is because these missionaries told us. Some briefly alluded to it, others provided much unwanted details.

I think we'll have to agree to disagree. You think we can predict which missionaries will be problems beforehand, and I disagree.

Zerin Hood said...

Mon cher ami,

You concluded:
"You think we can predict which missionaries will be problems beforehand, and I disagree."

Not really my point. I support raising the bar and hope it will inspire better young men and better missionaries. I recognize that missionaries with less spotted pasts can screw off as much as those who had more repenting to do. I recall Elder Ballard specifically mentioned those with mental and physical issues and suggested alternative missionary service for them. But I do actually tend to agree with you that the raised bar is no guarantee of fewer problems once in the field. My statement about better young men and better missionaries was qualified with the "If" -- so please don't think I was trying to pick at you and your position, so much as I was being hopeful about the raised bar while recognizing the validity of your statements.
Whoa, that almost sounds like Clinton-speak. Perhaps I should have stopped rambling sooner.

my own site is FairAsTheMoon.blogspot.com
But I make no claims to high quality posting.