No, this isn’t about that obnoxious missionary companion you had. “Mission creep” is a relatively new term that, according to the Internet, originally meant “a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.” Over time, the term broadened to include businesses and nonprofits, so it now includes “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization” and “the gradual addition of new tasks or activities to a project so that the original purpose or idea begins to be lost.” I’m going to offer a few possible examples from LDS history and current activities. There is lots of LDS mission creep. You can chime in with your own examples. It might be a long list.
Fast Sunday. Let’s start with an easy one. Originally there were fast and testimony meetings during the week. From LDS.org: “For half a century, beginning in the 1830s, fast and testimony meetings convened on Thursday, following a practice approved by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism tells us “Since 1896 these meetings have usually been held on Sunday.” So it became part of the Sunday meeting cycle. Somehow money became part of the process, so “fast offerings” are requested and collected. Until about forty years ago, each ward had its own bank account and the bishop sort of balanced contributions with expenditures to benefit those in need, possibly with some lending and sharing between wards. Presently, all the money goes into one big centralized LDS account, and individual ward expenditures are funded by that account. Financially, that’s probably a better system and allows for richer wards and stakes to subsidize needy ones.
So you can see the expanding objectives. At first the testimony meeting was for the spiritual benefit of the individual members and strengthening the faith of all. Fasting just made everyone more spiritual (that’s the theory anyway). Then it became part of the Sunday meeting cycle, with the new benefit to local leaders of a meeting they don’t have to plan! No speakers to arrange, no topics to choose and assign. Then it became integrated with the LDS welfare system, both at the local level (fast offerings and expenditures) and the Church level (bishop’s storehouses and that whole organization). Note that, in relation to mission creep, I’m not saying these developments are necessarily bad things. But it’s like with a government program: once it gets started, it just keeps growing in both size and scope.
LDS Missionary Program. Once upon a time, it was primarily about proselyting. In the early days, married men, sometimes with their wives, as well as single men were sent out. About the turn of the 20th century, single LDS women were eligible to serve as proselyting missionaries (which is an interesting development, as missionary work was previously a priesthood function of the office of a seventy, so women got the function without getting the priesthood office, which would be sort of like telling LDS young women they could now bless the sacrament but hey it’s really just a prayer so we’re not going to ordain you as priests). Foreign language instruction prior to entering the mission field started in the 1960s, and a separate Missionary Training Center was established in Provo in 1978. Up until the 1970s, serving a mission was more or less optional, but President Kimball issued the directive that “every able, worthy young man should serve a mission.” (I’m pulling that quote and some of the material from a Newsroom essay on the history of LDS missionary work.)
I’m sure you’ve noticed some shift in emphasis in recent years from proselyting success to LDS character development for the missionaries themselves. As the age of eligibility has continued to drop (now down to 18 for young men and 19 for young women), that “convert the missionary” angle has taken on new importance. It’s like serving an LDS mission is now part of the LDS youth program, which might actually sound fairly reasonable but is a significant departure from how the missionary program ran until recently. Also, as the service component of missionary service has increased, the proselyting focus has decreased. It hasn’t been abandoned, but it’s not like knocking on doors produces converts anymore. These days, there just aren’t very many people waiting for a knock on the door or an invitation from a friend or neighbor to find Jesus, much less join the Mormons (who aren’t even called Mormons anymore, which no doubt confuses a lot of folks who talk with LDS missionaries).
Think about this. One response to declining proselyting opportunities would be to limit the number of missionaries serving or shorten the term of service. We just don’t need close to a hundred thousand young LDS missionaries trying to find people to talk to and teach. Most missionaries struggle to find something to do with their time. But no — the program sort of runs itself and produces its own justifications. Proselyting doesn’t work so well anymore? Service! The young missionaries learn discipline, it contributes to future job success! They maybe learn a foreign language! Returned missionaries stay active in the Church! That’s all mission creep.
The Mission of the Church as a Whole. Let’s tackle the big picture. Joseph Smith’s original mission (read the D&C) was to translate and publish the Book of Mormon. Then that expanded to founding a church, which happened in 1830. An active proselyting program kicked in almost immediately, with the founding and missionary work melding together as “establishing Zion” at a shifting set of locations, ending up in Utah. There was a strong millennialist element that became joined to that project, with a sincere expectation that Jesus would return before the close of the 19th century.
Temples entered the picture, first in Kirtland, 1836, then in Nauvoo. To the physical establishment of a temple (a house holy enough for the Lord to come visit here on planet Earth) was added the temple ordinances to join families together, another mission for the Church. Then along came polygamy, which as a flashpoint of controversy with the rest of American Christendom and the US government became a loyalty test for Mormons. In a practical day-to-day sense, defending and practicing plural marriage became the most important mission of the Church for the second half of the 19th century.
Moving along, normalizing the status of the Church became the focus during the first half of the 20th century — yes we’re Mormons, but we’re good patriotic Americans, too. In the 1960s and 1970s, missionary work and success once again became the primary mission of the Church as convert baptisms skyrocketed: “every young man should serve a mission” and lots of talk about the stone cut from the mountain that will roll forth to the whole world. As missionary success and Church growth have waned over the last generation, there’s a new shift happening. Building temples everywhere, lots of temple talks in Conference, a lot more emphasis on getting youth groups to the temple for baptisms, and of course constant encouragement to pay your tithing so you can get or keep your temple recommend so you, too, can go to the temple. That’s my sense of the replacement mission of the Church now that missionary work just isn’t working anymore. At least that’s what the leadership seems to be trying to do. It’s possible that the harsh truth is that the Church doesn’t really have a mission anymore. We just go to meetings once a week, give checks to the bishop, who forwards them to Salt Lake, where they use it to make payroll, pay the bills, build more temples, and use the excess to buy more land in Florida and grow the $100 Billion Fund. Maybe there’s no real mission anymore, just a well-funded organization that’s running on autopilot.
Some Background. It’s usually in the first paragraph that I talk about how I stumbled on the topic for my weekly post, but better late than never. I’m reading The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (Simon & Schuster, 2021) by Craig Whitlock, a Washington Post reporter. One thing I’ve learned: just about everything the US government said publicly about the war in Afghanistan over twenty years, from Presidents to Secretaries of State and Defense to generals, was a lie. The other big lesson is mission creep. Initially there were narrow and specific aims for the incursion into Afghanistan (identify and eliminate Al Qaeda and its bases in Afghanistan, punish the Taliban for supporting and protecting them) but it quickly morphed into occupation and nation-building. As that floundered, the strategic aim for remaining there sort of withered away and the generals and troops there just muddled through, achieving certain local, tactical aims and trying not to get killed or wounded. So that’s where I got the idea for the post. [And let me quickly note to any reader who served in Afghanistan or who has a family member who served there — thank you for your service and your sacrifice. Some good was certainly accomplished.]
Not all mission creep is bad. Sometimes it is responsibly altering the focus of the organization or war to meet new developments or challenges. But often there is an organizational bias towards growth and expansion that moves forward without any particular need or even in the face of obvious failure. Organizations are good at creating justifications for their own growth, some of which are flimsy or simply false. This pitfall looms for churches and businesses as well as governments and armies.
How has the Church done? One of the challenges of good senior managers is to avoid that kind of mission creep and organizational bloat. How has the Church done? It does manage to kill a program from time to time, Scouting being a recent example, and home teaching being another. Pageants are now a thing of the past. But other programs just seem to be out of control. Temple building. Correlation. Sunday School is on life support but just won’t die. What do you think?
Has the Church engaged in mission creep during its history? Of course. Just like any large organization would. And I really would not expect an organization in 2021 to look the same as it did in previous generations. So I really have no issue with mission creep or change in of itself.
My issues with the organization in terms of change (and mission creep) are :
(1) the Church seems to change right along with society, only 30 years after the fact. We never lead the way and we always seem to follow conventional wisdom.
(2) the Church never seems to offer unique or special insights that can’t be found elsewhere. Where’s the prophecy or real revelation?
(3) Church leadership likes to simply ignore previous leadership and pretend like they never said what they said. Of course, that makes many of us think that tomorrow’s Church leaders will some day treat today’s leaders the same way so why wait for them ignore first when we can do so right now?
One important aspect of mission creep, whether in the Church, the government, the military, or private business: the organization that was set up to accomplish certain specific goals gradually becomes the primary end, in itself. Changing this “dynamic of stasis” becomes incredibly difficult.
I worked for the federal government for 40 years. My co-workers and I had a cynical joke: Question: What do you do when you realize you’re beating a dead horse? Answer: continue to beat the dead horse.
This also applies to the Church and the private business sector.
To quote George Bernard Shaw: too true to be good.
“The young missionaries learn discipline, it contributes to future job success! They maybe learn a foreign language! Returned missionaries stay active in the Church! That’s all mission creep.”
I would say this phenomenon is a result of post-hoc reasoning rather than pure mission creep. Mission presidents typically have a final interview with missionaries at the end of the missionary’s service, just before he or she heads home. If a young departing missionary feels bad about their overall low baptism numbers, low success rate or otherwise feels like he or she didn’t accomplish much, it has long been common for the MP to console the despondent young person by emphasizing that “the purpose of this mission was really to convert you, not anyone else, and you got to learn a new language too” or something to that effect to make them feel better. So the idea of a mission being primarily to convert the missionary probably grew from a standard pep talk rather than a purposeful shift by Church leadership. Meanwhile, mission presidents have no reservations about putting their missionaries to work in futile labors (door knocking, street contacting), grinding down their spirits, starving them, weaponizing guilt against them and otherwise treating them like expendable resources. All part of the program.
Another example of Church mission creep–using talks as talks, and recycling General Conference material ad nauseum for every talk and lesson. It probably started out innocently as one leader’s bright idea, and eventually became standard Churchwide. It happened so gradually, I’m not even sure when it really started to become a thing (maybe 10 or 15 years ago?). But now we are so far down that road that I’m not sure if it’s possible for someone to give an original talk in Church anymore.
Been thinking about this topic of missionary service a lot lately. We have four kids from teen to preschooler. I served a mission in England. My experience was the stereotypical “best two years FOR my life,” but in no way was it the best OF my life. A lot of difficult days, lack of “success” by conversion standards, tough companions, feeling like a failure, so much door-knocking, empty blue-planner weekly calendars that depressed my very soul. But it did a lot for my willpower, my grit and determination, my ability to interact, communicate, and empathize. Trouble is, I look back now and wonder how much was unnecessary suffering. I have dreams (nightmares really) of being called to serve again at this stage of life, having to do another two years of the same, and I basically refuse.
So with that in mind, and given the fact that we are parenting in a much more loose fashion regarding institutional molding of our children (did not force cub/boy scouts, do not require YM activity attendance, do not pressure to walk the well-prescribed LDS path for adulthood) I do not think our kids likely to serve under the current program. And I have this inner guilt mixed with a peaceful contentment about that. I think it has to do with the way the mission experience is still mostly about baptisms, obedience, boredom, and lacks a lot of what I think could be an amazing and productive experience for missionary and communities. We are considering spending money sending our kids to do a few humanitarian trips or similar experiences if they do not want to serve a mission.
I fully appreciate the call in the NT by Christ to go into the world and preach. I see that same flavor of discourse in the early days of this church, recorded in the D&C. But we are living in 2021 right now! There is no reason to refuse to completely overhaul this antiquated and often useless system of missionary work. The church has adopted so many modern practices and technologies to implement its programs and institutional missions, and there certainly has been a number of changes since I was a missionary that trend in this direction. Why can we not let kids choose their own missionary experience? You want to serve for just a few months, or two years? Great, we can accommodate either, both completely honorable. You want to go on a far off adventure to a foreign land, let’s get you ready to go. Prefer a service mission with lot’s of physical labor? Here’s a shovel and a blueprint. Some serious organizational infrastructure and cost will be necessary, but last I checked they have the resources required.
So to answer Dave B., yes, there needs to be a faster creep towards a better system. Make President Monson’s fourth mission of the church to serve the poor more prominent. Fail to do that and more young adults and their parents will not be as inclined. I believe that if the church would make the whole of missionary work based on Christ’s teaching of love, service, improving communities and lives, and implement some of the above options, you will actually see more people joining the church. So if that’s what they primarily care about, then they are really unwise to not consider it.
The focus on missions creeping away from proselytizing (outward-focused) endeavors to the conversion and retention of the missionaries is well cited by GA talks to mission presidents, the statistics on RM activity rates, actions by SL such as the age shift, and other supporting evidence. Why else would they keep accepting missionaries during COVID when proselytizing opportunities are minimal at best? Because missions are perceived by SL as primarily for the missionaries, and secondarily for any other potential converts. One cannot convert others without a testimony, so -in the minds of planners and organizers– first things first.
Loved Dave B’s post and Counselor’s response.
Counselor: do you realize how MANY of us have experienced that same dream? I used to have that same dream (with a few minor differences; I was in my 40s or 50s, but somehow single, even though I was married, and I was already back on a second mission, living in 4-elder apartments, riding my bicycle in terrible traffic, and tracting again in Taiwan). The dreams weren’t nightmares, but they were somber and unsettling. They continued well into my late 50s. And I had enjoyed my mission (1977-1979)!
There must be psychological reasons for it, but many, many people have this dream.
I think Taiwan Missionary’s analysis is closest to my understanding of mission creep, not surprising since he worked in the federal government and I in a large multinational corporation. It is not changing focus, it is not evolution, it is calcification.
Temples are a great example of mission creep. Temple work began with a focused objective, to save our kindred dead by being “saviors on Mt. Zion.” In order to accomplish that goal we needed temples. Over the years, especially in the last 20 or so, temples have morphed from being the means to accomplish a specific end into being the end in itself. When was the last time you heard about being a savior on Mt. Zion, a phrase I heard regularly in my childhood and YA years in the 60s and 70s? I never hear it anymore, just like I rarely hear about saving our kindred dead. When people talk about temples now they talk about personal benefits like getting answers to prayer and feeling inner peace that accrue from “temple worship.” The temple is no longer a tool, it has become the goal itself, a spiritual spa for members.
Another more recent example is the self reliance program. It has the wonderful goal of helping people help themselves. But there is a limited pool of people interested in participating in it. One would think that once that pool had been given the chance to participate the program would say “mission accomplished” or at least be dialed back. That hasn’t been the case in my stake. They still want all 4 classes going every quarter. When participation started to wane they asked all ward council members to take the classes. They are now asking all HS juniors and seniors to take the classes. They regularly ask multiple people in the wards to take on the responsibility of leading these 12 week classes in addition to their other callings. It looks like self reliance is becoming not a means to an end but the end itself. That is mission creep.
In response to KLC, I have been involved with family history for roughly 15 years and I don’t sense any shift in the nature of temple work. There has been an increasing emphasis on bringing your own names rather than relying on the temple to provide them. The process of finding that name may bring spiritual benefits, but that is largely a function of connecting with your kindred dead instead of the random dead that you will get from the temple. But either way, it is primarily about the dead guy. And a spiritual spa? If it were truly that, they wouldn’t have to sell it so hard.
As for the “Saviors on Mt. Zion phrase” I avoid it because it can so easily be misconstrued. It makes it sound like we are placing ourselves on the same plane as Jesus, especially when people leave off the “on Mt. Zion” part after the first reference. That’s not what Obadiah intended, but nobody these days listens with the ears of Obadiah’s audience.
Spiritual spa. Yes this exactly—the end in itself. People pat themselves on the back for completing the list of requirements and then head off to do temple tourism.
lastlemming, i’m really not interested in parsing any of the phrases that I used, I use them only as a way to illustrate that the way we talk about the temple has changed. I never claimed that the nature of temple work has changed because I don’t believe that the nature of temple work has changed. But I really believe that the way we talk about the temple and the way we think about the temple has changed over my adult life, which is much more than 15 years.
Temple work used to be talked about as a duty and as service that we render for those who can’t do it for themselves, it was outwardly directed. And while that essential nature of temple work has not changed, I think it is undeniable that we now usually talk about the temple with an inward focus and with an emphasis on personal blessings that can come to us as we participate in “temple worship,” a phrase I had never heard until about 20 years ago.
As a defense contractor, this hits home, as I see mission creep (or the attempts for mission creep by customers/management).
One thought that hit me was the idea of mission creep of the church to keep people involved and staying plugged in is this whole concept of “the restored gospel” vs. the newer version touted now as “the continuing restoration”.
Well, Is it restored or isn’t it? I am now 66 years old and was many years ago pretty confident that the gospel was already restored. This concept of it continuing is a fairly new take on this idea, and helps the church present the need for some new “revelations” to tweak things a bit.
So the mission creep then is that there is still much more to do and reveal, cause we just don’t know enough yet. This enables the church to push a greater involvement and control to keep the members involved in a much greater (which is yet to come) cause of getting us ready for Jesus to return. Whereas, back when the gospel was “just” restored, things get pretty boring and tired with no real great urgency to address newer issues and concerns that we see in today’s world.
So the church in my mind has definitely had some mission creep in this aspect.
“It’s possible that the harsh truth is that the Church doesn’t really have a mission anymore. We just go to meetings once a week, give checks to the bishop, who forwards them to Salt Lake, where they use it to make payroll, pay the bills, build more temples, and use the excess to buy more land in Florida and grow the $100 Billion Fund. Maybe there’s no real mission anymore, just a well-funded organization that’s running on autopilot.”
For example, look at the the youth program. We used to use the Boy Scout program as a proxy for our youth program. While I had loads of issues with scouts, not the least of which was the exclusion of the girls, at least we learned something. Because of scouts, I can cook, camp, start a fire, administer first aid, hike and use a compass, am financially literate, I could go on and on. All my son knows how to do is play basketball and clean the sacrament trays. We went from a mission of teaching practical skills to doing nothing. When I asked if I could take the kids to learn indoor rock climbing skills, I was shut down as that one event would waste the entire year’s budget. We have decided to no longer support this program and instead our son signed up for a coding class on Wednesday night with some school friends. What a huge missed opportunity.
I’d love to see mission creep if it’s in the direction that I want the church to go. 🙂
I loved this comment: “It’s possible that the harsh truth is that the Church doesn’t really have a mission anymore.”
Monson’s announcement of a fourth mission of the church seems to have been all but forgotten. In my view the other three missions have little value outside of growing the church. Let’s review:
1- proclaiming the gospel is about recruiting church members in this like
2- perfecting the Saints is really about retaining members. I mean you could argue that this includes making people better, from what I have seen it focuses on busy work of meeting attendance and expressions of belief in the church, and a bit of patting ourselves on the back for being so wonderful.
3- redeeming the dead is actually an extension of the first two.
4- help the poor and needy
For several years, off and on, it seemed like the main purpose of the church, other than those missions, was to fight gay marriage. I have seen the church also lobby against medical marijuana and gambling, which I think is undesirable mission creep. And I would like up see more focus on service and charity.
I’ve also had the dream that I am back on the mission at my current age (mid 40s). I’ve got to figure out a way to get a month off of work to finish that last month of the mission. Craig Harline talks about these dreams in his great missionary memoir, “Way Below the Angles.”
As far as mission creep, I see it with Sunday School and missions. Missions should be service focused if an area is otherwise unproductive, full stop. Sunday School can be SOOOO boring. Perhaps the most important calling to keep youth and adults engaged.
I came here to make the same comment as Rockwell: mission creep has happened but when the church actually tried to deliberately expand its mission in a meaningful Christian way, it failed. Why care for the poor and needy when you have a stock portfolio and hedge fund to worry about?
Jack Hughes mentioned General Conference. Hoo boy that’s a fantastic example of mission creep. Perhaps in the past it made sense for the general membership to convene for a multi-session, multi-day meeting to vote on church officers and hear the latest news and discuss current church issues. But it seems to have ballooned into something with no clear purpose in the 21st century.
With the Internet, the first presidency can communicate directly with anyone at any time, or pre-record any number of messages with any audience in mind, so there’s no longer any business to conduct or announcements that need to be made, or any unique opportunity to hear from them. The vote is noted but has no effect on anything. Nope—it’s all just talks, music, and more talks. And while there are some occasional gems, most of the talks aren’t worth taking 8 hours out of your weekend for. I used to look forward to staying home for church on conference weekend to have waffles with my sermons, but covid made that the norm anyway. So if I can have waffles any time I want then what is the point of Conference exactly?
My apologies for inflicting yet another comment on this excellent post and comment thread:
Another important component of mission creep, whether for the government, the military, the business sector, or the Church: the need to seek scapegoats, particularly those who attempt to get the organization to deal with unpleasant truths. This often takes the form of shooting the messenger rather than deal effectively with the issue. A bureaucracy that becomes an end in itself is dominated by careerists.
During my 40-year long government career, I was able to accomplish good things. But that was despite, not because of the bureaucracy I had to work in. We used to say that this was caused by REMFs. The printable version of this acronym is Rear Echelon Meddling Fools.
Likewise with the Church. Good things happen in the Church, but the structure the Church has set up to govern its affairs is in my opinion more a strangler of good initiatives, than a promoter. Good things happen largely because of individual members.
Please feel free to label me as a contrarian (I prefer the word libertarian). I am a believer, but cynically so.
Regarding mission creep for General Conference: It is clearly not a Conference for the General membership of the Church in any meaningful way. It’s certainly not a trade conference that lets the people who attend talk about issues, make plans, and network in a peer-to-peer fashion that also allows for opportunities to mingle with speakers, organizers, and VIPs outside of sessions with scheduled talks. There’s no time for questions after each talk and barely the flimsiest shred of pretense of consulting the members on anything, in the form of the sustaining of Church officers. I suppose if there is any meaningful conferring and discussion among attendees, it must be in separate, closed-door, meetings for Seventies, mission leaders, etc. Calling the event an “Annual/Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” may have made sense in pioneer days or when the vast majority of members still lived on the Wasatch Front, but it’s an outdated moniker that no longer describes the event as it is today. My recommendation: keep the event, ditch the name. Call it the “Annual/Semiannual Worldwide” … um … something or other. I can’t quite think of a better name at the moment, so hold that thought and leave the name as-is while I riffle through the thesaurus. Is the name of the event one of those things that’s non-negotiable?
I think temple mission creep is also how much and how early we talk to kids about the temple. I went to Primary in the 60s/70s. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I didn’t hear much about temples. Now it is talked about relentlessly, and maybe to the exclusion of other worthwhile topics. Kids are geared up for the temple to be the most significant, meaningful, beautiful experience of their lives … and then what if it isn’t? It’s hard to find your spiritual home in the church if your temple experience was just “okay” – or worse.
The largest benefit of my mission was to myself, also. Much less so in terms of converting myself, or semi-learning a new language, than in seeing people, up close, in their own homes. I don’t think extensive travel would yield the same understanding. Probably study abroad would, and possibly reporters who deep dive into a topic that requires many months of investigation.
Before my mission, I never saw a dad come home drunk (friendly drunk), I didn’t meet adults who learned single-digit addition and subtraction alongside their first grader doing homework (because their formal education ended very early so they could work in the fields), I didn’t know any homes with 20+ family members from multiple generations living there (if we stayed at all late, we had to step over sleeping children to get to the front door), I didn’t know narrow, one-bedroom duplexes were shared between two family units (8 people total), I didn’t know the bathing set up in a home might be a gurgling upright pipe to the side of the kitchen, etc. etc. etc.
I served a domestic mission (USA)(wealthy area).
One thing that surprises me most about return mormon missionaries is that quite a lot of them are persuaded by the narrow focus conservative media offers. Even having had their own expansive experiences that parallel mine.
Nice to see so many different takes on this one. For me, once correlation happened, there has been no mission creep. In their model the church does 3 things: it provides binding covenants, it provides teachings, and it provides buildings for the first two. Whenever they consider changes they simplify because their core functions are crystal clear to them. It just turns out that tithing provides far more income than they need because they have restricted their functionality to these three. Thus the mega billions. There are of course vestigial parts of the church such as fast offerings / welfare, patriarchal blessings, ward activities, etc. but because these are not so related to the core functions they don’t get much emphasis and the instistution doesn’t do very much about those.
I agree with Ruth that the temple creep is that it used to be an aspiration for a family to be sealed, not for everyone to spend large quantities of free time in repetitive temple trips over and over and over to the point that they are recycling the names of the dead.
And I too am flummoxed by anyone who can serve a mission and still embrace policies that hurt those who are disenfranchised.
The other mission creep I noted is that we were all (most of us anyway) glad that the Saturday evening sessions of GC were cut because I don’t know who out there is clamoring for replacing two hours of church with ten, but then immediately this change was reversed and the session was re-added. Another scope creep is the number of quorums of the seventy. Another scope creep, IMO, is the stake level callings that mirror the ward level callings but are mostly do-nothing callings. There’s so much bureaucracy and organizational bloat baked into the Church at this point. It’s just dumb and slodgy and waters down anything meaningful. Oh, and two more I can think of: 1) the adherence to the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, and trying to apply it to adults as well, and 2) early morning seminary vs. home study. Home study makes sense. You do it on your own and it doesn’t interfere with your academics. You meet once a week to review the booklets. Early morning seminary is a HUGE disruption to students and parents.
I was talking to a friend about our family house building trip to Cambodia that we did in 2013. He immediately assumed this was a Church trip, which almost made me laugh out loud because no, the Church doesn’t really do much of that. Instead we focus on serving the other upper middle class people within our ward boundaries, most of whom literally don’t need anything at all.
One of the problems I perceive with “mission creep” is the neglect of fundamental and often simple aspects of our faith and religious practices. I have walked away from much of what I consider “mission creep” and found the following to be the most edifying practices for me in no particular order:
1. Prayer and reflection
2. Humanitarian service/assisting others
3. Taking the Sacrament
4. Personal study
5. Cherishing time with family
Quite bluntly, anything the Church does which is outside my absolute covenant obligations or my locus of control… I walk away from those things. If for me it does not connect to the admonition of Paul as outlined in the 13th Article of Faith and Philippians 4:8, then I likely should not be engaged in those activities. I haven’t attended a Sunday School class in some time. The curriculum is a nightmare. I leave EQ meetings that turn political or lessons which are simple recitations of what some GA said. I end up visiting with people or taking a walk around a local park. I have never been so content and at peace in my life. One problem of mission creep is we never get good at being a disciple and we adopt a hyperactivity that is damaging to our own souls.
This is such an interesting topic! These aren’t related to the previous discussion, but two more examples of mission creep in a church context occur to me. One is in garments. I know they were originally longer (wrist- and ankle-length) but even as they’ve been shortened and made more convenient (from one piece to two piece) they’ve crept into doing modesty work that I don’t think they were originally designed to do. Now it seems like that’s their primary function. It’s a handy marker, like the WoW, that everyone can see.
Another example that I’ve seen discussed on and off on the Bloggernacle is the use of archaic scriptural language. We started using the KJV Bible in the 19th century because that was just the Bible everyone used, and then we stuck to it because we have all kinds of overlapping issues like that our other books of scripture quote from it, so if we updated the language of one, we would have a hard time not updating the language of all four. Anyway, I’ve seen a number of people argue that it’s *good* that our scriptures use out-of-date language, because it forces us to focus more on our studies, or separates our sacred and our profane everyday language. You see the same argument coming from GAs about prayer (e.g., Elder Oaks and the special language of prayer talk). All the “thees” and “thous” weren’t doing any particular special work when we took them up in the 19th century, but we’ve decided that they do all these other things in the meantime when we found we couldn’t easily change them.
Thanks for the comments, everyone. No one reads the comments with as much interest as the author of the post. I can’t reply to every comment, but here are a few responses:
Jack Hughes: “Another example of Church mission creep–using talks as talks, and recycling General Conference material ad nauseum for every talk and lesson. It probably started out innocently as one leader’s bright idea, and eventually became standard Churchwide.” Yes. In other words, General Conference reruns have taken over our Sacrament Meetings. I’m surprised they don’t just put up big video screens and replay the actual talks.
KLC: “When people talk about temples now they talk about personal benefits like getting answers to prayer and feeling inner peace that accrue from “temple worship.” The temple is no longer a tool, it has become the goal itself, a spiritual spa for members.” I am going to store up that phrase “a spiritual spa” and use it just the right time in a talk or Sunday School lesson.
Chadwick, on the now non-existent LDS youth program. Yeah, I remember hearing rumors for a year or two before Scouting was ditched that there would be some kind of “Mormon Scouting” clone or program forthcoming, but as far as I can tell that didn’t really happen. There are activities and service projects and, yes, basketball, but I’m not sure there’s a program anymore.
Taiwan Missionary does the hat trick — three quality comments in the same thread. Thanks for contributing.
Pontius Python: “Regarding mission creep for General Conference: It is clearly not a Conference for the General membership of the Church in any meaningful way.” I’d never really thought of that comparison to the sort of professional conferences most of us are familiar with. You’re right: the only ones doing any “conferring” at General Conference are the GAs. For everyone else, it’s shut up and listen. How about an apostle does this during his talk at the next General Conference: “Now I’d like everyone in the Conference Center to split up into small groups of ten people, talk about how the Church could improve for ten minutes, then turn in your suggestion cards in the boxes up front with two good ideas each.”
Angela C: “For the Strength of Youth pamphlet …” Makes me think of this: You know you’re a Mormon if — you read teenage guidance pamphlets to learn how to live as an adult.
Ziff, thou hast spoken like unto a sage. May thy garments grow ever longer.
I would like to add the “Come Follow Me” mission creep. First it was for Sunday School, then families, then Priesthood and Relief Society and now Seminary. In addition, our bishopric has decided that it is easier to assign talk topics based off the Come Follow Me lesson that week. There have been some Sundays where I have heard the same three or 4 scriptures repeated 4 different times in leadership meetings, both talks, in the Sunday School Lesson and, lo and behold, in our Come Follow Me home study. I know it is done for ease, but it can also be overdone and cause dis-ease.
To Jack Hughes’ complaint about recycling Conference talks. Years ago, the RS president was asked to speak using a GC talk as her basis. She started, Elder so and so said this about (subject) – then proceeded to read the entire talk verbatim. I wasn’t sure she was doing that until at the end she said, “…in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. I agree with his words, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
This is a bit off topic, but I wish we got deep dives like this in General Conference instead of as many speakers as possible giving short, mostly generic, talks. This is a message the general body of the church could really learn from.
Also, one way I rationalize the term General Conference with the event is by noting that Ward Conference is for ward level leaders to confer with leaders the next level up (stake), Stake Conference is for stake leaders to confer with leaders the next level up (area), and Area Conferences used to be for area leaders to confer with leaders the next level up (general). So the Conference in General Conference is the general leaders conferring with each other before, between, and after the speaking sessions that get broadcast to the public.
Mission creep: From simple to more to even more. But not really seeming to go anywhere.
In fact, it feels like most every addition results in a constriction. A constriction in true agency, independence, liberty, beauty, and joy.
To echo what others have said, the Church needs mission creep when it comes to Prez Monson’s 4th mission of the Church: help the poor (and I suspect he meant global poor). Half of Church members now live in developing countries. The majority of these (and their neighbors) are undoubtably poor. The Church needs to invest in people more than structures.
Historically, the Church took the poor from Europe and other locales, and helped raise their standard of living. We need to try harder to do that for those living in Africa, SA, and SE Asia.
Mounting a serious effort at global assistance would give young members a reason to stay, and could certainly help the missionary program.