There’s a mantra in sales, which is that in order to be effective, you have to buy what you are selling. In essence, you shouldn’t try to sell something you don’t think is a good enough product for you to buy. The buyers will pick up on your lack of sincerity, your lack of confidence. It is also helpful that you are familiar with the product or service through use, enough to understand the customer mindset. It’s one reason that a lot of “celebrity” endorsements (or podcasters touting products) rely on giving the spokesperson free access to the product or service so they can honestly say they use it when they are explaining the benefits to their followers. Influencers rely on these kinds of endorsement relationships as well. In advertising and sales, it’s a tale as old as time.
How does this apply to missionary work? We are often told that the most important convert is the missionary him/herself, not the new church members. This often reminds me of the idea that “a testimony is found in the bearing thereof.” I guess the act of crafting a pitch is supposedly at least sufficient to sell the salesperson.
Of course, if your target market is also the salesforce, that’s an MLM. The reason MLMs are often decried is that they rely on the labor and financial investment of those who garner the least benefit: those at the entry level or lowest rung. Everyone who enters an MLM is pitched on the idea that they can earn more by rising in the ranks, gaining prestige and wealth in the process, but the financial system relies on the majority being at the bottom, financially supporting those above them.
This is one reason I’m not a big fan of BNI groups (Business Networking International), although I see it as a necessary evil for new businesses with a limited time frame for returns. If you aren’t familiar with BNI, it’s an international organization that small business owners can join and attend local chapter meetings with other business owners. As a group, these business owners agree to promote each others’ businesses to their customers. There are quotas for referring new business to other owners. What often happens, though, especially when a specific monthly goal might be missed, is that many business owners end up buying from each others’ businesses. Can’t find a customer who needs a handyman or mechanic? Well, you can refer yourself to get that cabinet built or that car tuneup instead.
But what that means is that you’ve paid a membership fee to also pay someone to build a cabinet or tune up your car. If you’re lucky, you also got a bagel out of it. But, face facts, you also paid for that. You might even be satisfied with the outcome. I got a couple of chairs expertly refurbished this way. I developed a mutual relationship with a really good carpet cleaner who still does my house for free sometimes when my business refers a big job his way. I gained a friendship with a high end contractor who still brings me business and whom I still refer, even though we haven’t been in the group together for years.
Unfortunately, I also got a really bad financial advisor this way, someone I had to fire after losing thousands of dollars. I also got a very expensive, definitely not worth it, business lawyer who cost probably six times the amount he benefited us. These are the downsides of buying what you were supposed to be selling when you weren’t really that convinced. I got a temp from an agency who literally could not remember our company name when she answered the phone. I finally let her go home after about the twentieth time of reminding her how to answer the phone. I also got a commercial real estate agent who was such a pain to work with that our relationship with our new landlord got off to a rocky start, with her nearly backing out because our agent was so antagonistic.
Ultimately, the point is that you can refer others to something you believe in, particularly if you’ve got firsthand experience, but if you don’t really have that or you aren’t sure about what you are selling, your pitch isn’t going to be effective to others. If you served a mission, you doubtless experienced the difficulty of a companion who didn’t really want to work or didn’t believe in what you were there to do. They might have been passive in talking to people, relying on you to do all the work, or they might have been actively sneaking out and breaking rules. You might have even been this person! In my mission, I couldn’t find an elder willing to perform our baptism once, resulting in the investigator panicking and leaving while I tried in vain to get someone to perform the ordinance.
Aside from these more egregious examples of missionaries who lack commitment but are sent out to solidify their commitment (or to further sink their cost?), there’s also the risk that a missionary may “de-convert” themselves. We tend to think of returned missionaries as stronger in the faith, more committed to a lifetime of gospel observance and church participation, but the opposite can be the result. After all, showing someone how the sausage is made is precisely the sort of thing that turns people off sausage. And missions can really expose the old sausage factory.
A mission can expose missionaries to the church at its worst: bullying and hazing by immature leaders, mission presidents who lack inspiration, sexist attitudes among entitled elders, being paired with people not of one’s choosing, pointless rules, social isolation, feeling like an embarrassment and a pariah, deep diving into very limited study materials, criticism from outsiders who often have more knowledge, experience and expertise, and worst of all, hours and hours of boredom. Sometimes these factors result in more commitment; after all, so does being in the trenches which is also unpleasant. But sometimes, a mission erodes whatever interest a young person may have had in the Church, and given the stigma associated with not serving or leaving early, it can be a big exit ramp.
Historically, the Church has determined that missions are worth these risks, and that on the whole, they pay off in terms of longer-term commitment and conversion. But it also feels like some factors are making this risk bigger and the payoff less. With increased internet information, the rise of a generation who rely on social apps for personal connection, accompanying levels of anxiety and depression, the expectation that one must defend the Church’s stance even if disagreeing, and economic factors that make taking a two year break from earning and advancing one’s career less desirable, a mission is becoming a bigger, more difficult sacrifice than it was for me back in the late 80s. Maybe it’s time for a more flexible program or for other changes.
The addition of service missions as an alternative might have provided this type of flexibility, but instead, it is reserved as a second choice for those declined for regular service (e.g. due to local leader discretion about mental health or other concerns), not seen as on par with proselytizing. It is also not up to the individual to “choose” a service mission simply because they don’t want to knock on doors. Missions are as encouraged as ever, will the current leadership still instructing the youth that all men should serve, and women can serve if they want. For men, it’s a rite of passage, and if you don’t do it, there’s a stigma. You may not be seen as having the necessary maturity or commitment to fully participate or be eligible for all callings. You didn’t buy what you were supposed to sell. You used Windex when you were supposed to be using Melaleuca.
Maybe having less life experience is desirable in a sales force. As adults, most of us realize that things aren’t so black & white, that the church has positives and negatives, that there are tragedies in the human condition that require complex solutions, and that we aren’t really in an actual daily war with Satan so much as our own human impulses and errors.
- Would you recommend mission service to a young person today? Why or why not?
- How do you perceive the differences between serving a few decades ago vs. serving now?
- Have you ever tried to sell what you didn’t buy? How did that work out?
 That metaphor sounds dirtier than I intended, but I’ll allow it.
Old guys like me tend to make the case that things were harder in the past. You know, the old “walking up hill in a foot of snow both ways” argument. But I think that missionaries today have a much more difficult challenge than we (80s missionaries) had:
1. We had no Internet, so we had no idea how many holes there are in the truth claims.
2. We had no cheap easy communication, so we couldn’t stay in touch with home (family and girlfriend) even if that had been allowed.
3. We had no social media, so we didn’t know what we were missing. When I left for my mission, I really left (except for ocasional letters).
4. We went when we were 19 after a year of school. Now all the guys feel pressured to leave at 18 right after high school. 18-year-olds are immature and inexperienced and that makes it harder.
It was NOT a hard decision to leave for a mission in 1985 if you were a main stream
Mormon. In 2022, it’s downright terrifying.
I totally agree with josh h. I’d also add that in 1999 people were still looking for the one true church. Now people either don’t want a church or aren’t concerned with the one true church. They want a place that helps them. So our missionaries are literally out answering the wrong question.
I doubt my kids will serve. Maybe a service mission. But I’m ok if they choose to serve. Because they will choose it knowing I gave them a truthful assessment of the good and bad.
I think it is harder now to serve and not deconvert yourself. Although in my family with missionaries who left in the late 60s, we had a 50/50 deconversion rate. But I suspect that was more fluke than normal. But as mentioned, there are a lot of things that make a mission harder. I suspect there is correlation between the number of missionaries who come home early and those who eventually leave the church and more missionaries are coming home early than ten to twenty years ago. So, even coming home early for medical reasons can cause a sense of failure as it did in my husband who was actually only two weeks early. It took him years to over come that feeling of having failed at his mission, in spite of many assurances. He hasn’t left though, but I know of others who did.
I find myself asking the same questions about individual members sharing the Church (not the Gospel – they are different things at least in my mind) with friends and acquaintances that this article asks about fulltime missionaries. Our ward’s missionary work is practically nil despite being surrounded by people not of our faith, and the only investigators are those procured by the fulltime missionaries (they don’t stay long, whether or not they get baptized). All the cajoling, pleading, and scolding done over the ward, stake, and general conference pulpits have done practically nothing to motivate us to talk to our friends. Are we all simply bad at missionary work? I don’t think so. Rather, it is that we know the product we’re selling is an acquired taste to put it mildly. Some might know a lot more than others about the historical “ingredients” that make up the challenging flavor profile that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but we all seem to get make the same face of unease when asked to try sell it to others. Some, perhaps many, may well actually enjoy the taste since many of us grew up on it, and maybe we can convince ourselves that most others simply don’t appreciate the complex interplay of flavors, but good luck getting us to try to sign up our neighbors for a eternal lifetime supply.
I would advise against going, but as a post-mormon/exmormon I have to keep those opinions to myself amongst family because sharing them would quickly get me labeled as “anti-mormon”. I find it interesting that so many of my active Mormon peers will feel free to share all the bad things about their mission with other RMs, but then have an unwritten code that you can’t share those negative things with any prospective missionary.
I went 10 years ago, and from my experience a mission is mostly a lot of boredom, mixed with extreme guilt over said boredom.
Overall, even if you are a believing member, I think the potential harm of a mission outweighs the potential good of a mission.
If the Church is going to continue to do missions in the current format, they should at least make it optional for men (like the do for women), though I suspect the reason why they don’t make it optional is the Church believes if it did, they would see a massive drop in young men serving missions (I know for at least for my friend group, at least half of the guys would not have gone if it was a realistic option)
I served in Washington state from 83-85. The movie The Godmakers was making the rounds in my first area just a couple weeks before I arrived. Tracting was brutal, people making the temple penalty signs, inviting us back for discussions only to be set up with a bashing session from their pastor. Overall, my mission experience was difficult.
Would I recommend a mission today? If the person had a testimony and understood it would be hard, but it could really help them grow as a human being, then yes (even though I no longer believe the truth claims, the mission experience helped change me for the better). But if they admitted they were doing it because they were told to, felt a sense of duty, please their parents, or gain a testimony, I’d tell them to run away as fast as possible.
Are missions harder today than the past? I think it depends on where you serve and how well the individual is prepared for the challenges that come with it.
I served my mission in Indiana and Kentucky from 1973 – 1975. We had the major complication of the priesthood ban to deal with which missionaries today do not have to deal with, which affected my attitudes toward certain church policies and doctrines. For the most part for me the mission experience was a positive one. When I was serving I came to feel that we were ill prepared and I came to realize missionaries that really don’t know much about what we were called to sell. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would not. If I were in a position to do so, I would ask the question posed in OP of prospective missionaries.
I served in Brazil from 2001 to 2003. I think serving a mission today would definitely be harder.
1: I completed 2 years of college before my mission. All that growing up got me into the mission field as a stupid and naïve 19 year old. I shudder at the thought of kids 3 weeks removed from high school going on missions. I’ve known one or two that were probably reasonably prepared at 18. I can’t for the life of me understand why we send them all out right after HS. Just because you *can* go at 18 doesn’t mean you can’t go at 19. (Can you imagine how many more converts there might be if we told all the women that they had to serve, and told the men it was optional?)
2: I think defending some of the church’s policies would be significantly harder now than it was 20 years ago. By my judgement, Brazil was (and still is) more homophobic than the US, which means as a missionary I’m not sure any serious investigator ever asked us about the church’s stance on homosexuality. At the time, I felt same sex marriage should be legal, but members of the church should abstain from same sex relationships. I never had to defend that as a missionary, because the cultural assumption was that any religion would preach against homosexuality, and therefore our teaching pool naturally self-selected to allow us to avoid that conversation. In the last 20 years, the gap between public opinion and church policy has only widened, and I think that many prospective missionaries also see a large gap between their personal feelings and church policy. (To be clear, my views have shifted significantly in the past 20 years as well.) This same argument also applies to other issues (ordaining women, other LGBTQ+ issues, etc., etc., etc.)
3. I acknowledge that in some ways I “got off easy” with my mission. Not needing to learn a new language and culture would have made adjusting to mission life a lot easier, but still I was in a place where we had wards and members, people that were nearly always friendly to us even when they weren’t interested, a reasonable amount of “success”, a mission president that was both kind and sane, and no serious issues with any companions. None of those are a given, and my mission was still very difficult at times.
4. The only thing I see being easier for a missionary today is the frequent phone calls home. (I’ll admit I had (and still have) an instinctual dislike for that rule change. Somehow my brain thinks that just because I had to do something hard, we should make everyone else suffer, too. I have to consciously remind myself not to be a jerk sometimes.)
I have two kids, 14 and 12. Honestly, I often struggle to see a path where the oldest is active in the church at all by age 18. Even if that weren’t a major issue, they also need to make significant progress in improving their mental health before I could consider recommending they serve a mission. The younger one has had fewer difficulties with the church, but I still don’t know if I could “recommend” serving a mission; I’d much rather they convince me that they want to serve, despite any protestations from me.
I chose not to serve a mission for similar reasons–I didn’t feel called to the work, and it seemed dishonest of me to waste my time and my parent’s money to promote a product that I wasn’t fully converted to myself, by sharing a testimony that I didn’t really have. Instead I continued my studies and later joined the military, and I regret neither. My parents, to their credit, were very supportive. I wasn’t attending a Church-owned university or living in Mormon-dense areas, so once I left home to go to school, peer pressure to serve a mission was non-existent. I was still active and fully participating in the Church during this time.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until many years later that I became aware of how common it is for young men (and possibly some young women) to be manipulated, coerced or bribed into going on missions, or otherwise going with lukewarm testimonies, blemished records or simply giving in to peer pressure. My dad was a convert and did not serve a mission, and I had no older brothers or other close male relatives to provide a basis for comparison, so I just assumed based on observation that all young mission-bound men were super righteous with rock-solid testimonies, encyclopedic knowledge of the scriptures and unshakeable commitment to the Church (all of which I lacked, and thus felt inadequate for missionary service). My wife has a cousin in rural Utah who was pretty much inactive his whole life (came from a classic Utah “Jack Mormon” family), probably knew nothing of the scriptures, but at 19 miraculously decided to reactivate and serve a mission because all his buddies from high school were getting ready to go. With almost no meaningful preparation, he went, served, came home and slid right back into his familial pattern of near-total inactivity. I’m not sure if his mission was beneficial to anyone, least of all himself.
I imagine full-time missionary service is like the military, in the sense that its a demanding lifestyle that’s not for everyone. The difference is, military recruiters will readily admit this fact, some (like the Marines) even trumpet it as part of their marketing strategy, while leaders of the Church insist every young man serve a mission without any clearly stated exception. Never mind that the entire First Presidency did not serve full-time missions.
I think missions are harder today than in previous eras, for several reasons. The Church today has much less to offer prospective members than it did in the past (e.g. rich community experiences), and its overall product is less appealing. The Church has lost a lot of goodwill it once had by wading into political and social issues, usually falling on the wrong side. The internet gives both investigators and missionaries instant access to things previously kept hidden, as well as access to communities who share such knowledge freely. Young people today have better critical thinking skills than their parents did, and more awareness of the importance of mental health/self care, so they are more likely to call BS on manipulative or abusive practices (such as when MPs are stingy with food allowances, withhold access to medical care, or tie mission success with adherence to the mission rules). Though I would like to say I discourage young people from full-time missionary service, my nephew recently departed on a mission and all I could do was be polite and encouraging, for fear of causing tension in our extended family.
Good post. I didn’t serve a mission, so I can’t comment on that side of things, but if my kids were still active, I definitely wouldn’t suggest they go. My main concern would be the truly harmful rhetoric that a lot of missionaries hear about perfect obedience bringing perfect blessings, etc. And the insane amount of rules. Your point about de-conversion is a significant one. I’ve kept in touch with a number of missionaries who served in our ward and I’d say about 50 percent of them have left the church. I imagine, especially if you grew up in the Mormon Corridor, that your mission might be the first time that you really hear a lot of truths about the church and its history that the church doesn’t want you to hear. That could be really jarring, I should think.
The other thing you mention that I think is really harmful and, ultimately, detrimental to building faith is the idea that just bearing your “testimony” will increase it and strengthen your faith and therefore the faith of those who hear you bearing your testimony. I think this is madness. It’s always seemed to me that this idea is essentially the church teaching us how to brainwash ourselves. If a missionary believes that just saying stuff over and over makes it true, that is, number one, wrong and, number two, not very likely to convince an investigator to listen to the missionary’s message. This is particularly the case if the missionaries teach the investigator the same principle. Society’s general awareness of psychology and psychological manipulation has increased over the years and so I can’t imagine an 18 year old tearfully sharing a belief and claiming that the belief is a fact would help convince anyone to join the church.
And to second Not a Cougar’s point about not believing in our product, I definitely think that’s the case. I don’t have many close friends, but it would never occur to me to bring any of them to church. That’s literally the last place on earth I would take them.
I used to teach university history classes. And during each one of my classes I would have the students debate each other. I gave the students a topic to debate in advance and told them to go home and prepare arguments for either side of the debate and that during the debate in class they would be selected at random which side they would be on. What I found is that as students would debate they would often get a little bit emotionally attached to whatever side they were debating. I used the debate in part to illustrate tribalism in politics. That people will morph their opinions on an array of issues around whatever their tribe is supposedly fighting for. I’ve watched it happen with Trump. On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump’s opponents in the Republican Party dismissed him as a liar and a clown. Now he is a deity to be defended at all costs and we must defund the FBI for the heinous act of executing a search warrant in his house.
There’s definitely something to how different a mission is now vs. when I served in the late 80s. We like to think that everyone is exactly the same throughout time from people living in communal pit houses to today, but I just don’t think that’s entirely true. Teens growing up with social media live in a completely different world than we did. They also have higher rates of anxiety and depression.
DaveW: The problem with the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues is a huge issue for teens today. Are there some who will go along with the Church’s party line that being gay is OK but acting on it is not? I guess some will. My child certainly encountered some absolutely hateful anti-gay rhetoric at BYU-I from other students, which I still find shocking. My kids all have always had many friends who identify as LGBTQ, and they see it as normal variation in human life, not a crisis to be averted. Since this is the hill our leaders want to die on, it seems that they are right to predict that the Church growth is only going to be in countries that have retrograde views on these issues. Some of these countries still apply criminal penalties for homosexuality.
I would have a difficult time recommending missions for our young people because of the recent mission experiences of two of my children.
My children happened to serve in missions where the mission president had a focus on high pressure sales. Missionaries received intense pressure to produce a certain number of lessons taught and baptisms. The mission president would put out a weekly letter listing those who had achieved the highest numbers. Leadership callings were given as rewards to those who had the highest numbers. Missionaries who did not achieve those numbers were treated as if they were lacking in obedience and/or righteousness. The emphasis on numbers created an unchristlike atmosphere in the mission. We tried to counteract that message with our children by telling them to work hard and do their best, but not to worry about the numbers. We told them that what mattered was providing service and love to others. It was difficult for my children to not buy into their mission president’s message because they were living in that atmosphere 24/7. The sales atmosphere created anxiety and self worth issues for both children. (Neither had had those types of issues prior to the mission)
I know that not everyone has a mission experience like my children – but that was the experience for 2 of my 3 children. It became a “big exit ramp” for one of my children who had been dedicated to the church prior to their mission experience.
The other child would like to see the church completely revamp the mission experience. They would like to see missions combine humanitarian service with proselytizing – with more time being spent on service. They would like to see numbers deemphasized. They would like to see an 8 hour workday for missionaries and then relaxed rules in the evening so that missionaries could recharge and take better care of their mental health when not working.
I sincerely hope that the church is considering a significant change in their approach to missions. I would like to see our young people participate in missions that are inspiring and meaningful. Positive change could also help decrease the number of young people leaving the church post mission.
In 1976 in Chile, most people did not know who/what Mormons were. We could knock on a door, and out of respect/curiosity we would be let in, offered a drink served on a platter, and then get to talk with them. I don’t think there is no place in the industrialized world were they don’t know what a Mormon is, and have already made up their mind. That could explain why the church’s major growth is in Africa. They have no preconceived notion of who we are!
2 of my 3 siblings returned home from their missions and promptly left the church. This was in the mid 90s, and it was truly scary for the rest of the family. Although in talking about it years later, I can completely understand why they left. Their experiences with the church leaders and other missionaries were pretty dismal.
As for my kids, 3 of the 4 wanted nothing to do with the church long before H.S. graduation. The 1 that would like to be active, has been miserable in a teeny-tiny student ward and has stopped attending. Interestingly, the cousins scattered across the Jello-belt aren’t going on missions either (or staying active). I think if my 1 pro-church kid wanted to go on a mission, I’d be supportive but honest about the pros/cons.
Cindy: My mission experience was much more like your 2 out of 3 kids’ experience. Definitely a “high pressure sales” environment with a lot of focus on numbers. I thrived well enough in that type of environment, but there were a lot of bad behaviors for sure, and I can’t say we were great examples of Christian behavior all the time thanks to the competition, but a friend of mine who served in a more obedient mission had what I would have to call (for me) a MUCH worse mission culture: one that equated obedience (rather than just numbers) with success. In our mission, you had used car salesman mentality. In his you had guilt-ridden depression.
@cindy – That’s my biggest fear, a mission that was focused on numbers. If my children choose to serve missions I will emphasize over and over again that the purpose of a mission is not to convince people to join the church, or even to help others join the church. It’s to love others and share God’s love with others. If serving a mission is done with that purpose, then I think missions are definitely worthwhile. I think the LDS mission can be a great platform for doing God’s work of sharing love (although I think you would have to ignore a lot of messages by your leaders to keep that focus).
@Angela – an obedience focused mission would be my second biggest fear. I served an obedience focused mission, and I was really good at it- but often my obedience got in the way of loving others. I’d do things differently if I went again, but I was doing the best I knew how as a 19 year old kid.
I definitely had times where my focus was on loving the people and sharing God’s love, and those were some of the most meaningful and transformative experiences that I’ve had. So I’m still “pro-mission”, but I can see the downsides that do occur for many people on missions.
Last Sunday, I attended a homecoming for two elders in one of the Provo Stepford (I mean Edgemont) stakes – Janet “widow of Rex” Lee gave the invocation. I did not know the 2nd elder but he hinted towards a lot of pressure for him to serve a mission.
Also attended the homecoming of my child’s mission president a month ago – he shared that the majority of their finding was through members; makes sense for this mission located in a tourist destination in a US state that joined the union in 1959.
Does anyone know the status of the translation of the CES letter into other languages?
I have always worked for big corporations, perhaps that is why I am tired of feeling like LDS Inc gives me no work/life balance. Totally ghosted a recent request from an EQ presidency member to discuss ministering. I need this RM child to do the temple marriage thing soon so I can thereafter navigate other decisions about temple attendance.
Would you recommend mission service to a young person today? Not proselyting. Service, yes, if the Church provided healthy structure and support. Get rid of the numbers and quotas, focus on doing actual work to improve people’s lives in their communities. Get rid of the business suit dress requirements, etc.
How do you perceive the differences between serving a few decades ago vs. serving now? I never served, so I can’t speak personally. From what I observe, it is much harder serving now, even with relaxation of dress code when deemed necessary, and more communication with home than was allowed years ago. These young adults come from a vastly different culture, yet our system is patterned after a by-gone time.
Have you ever tried to sell what you didn’t buy? How did that work out? Came close to a marketing job for a dietary drink years ago, which would have been an unmitigated disaster all around. I have trouble selling what I DO buy. There is so much pressure on missionary work. Why is it difficult to get people excited to do it? It’s clear they aren’t excited. Is it because they don’t believe it? Maybe. For some. Because they are ashamed of Christ? I don’t think so. Because they are afraid of the world? Some, maybe. If it is so great, it shouldn’t have to be such a hard sell. As Desmond Tutu taught, we need to go upstream to find the source of the problem. We need to address that instead of pressuring and guilting members about it incessantly.
My father-in-law had a wonderful mission in Brazil in the 1950s and ended up being lifelong friends with his mission president. Low pressure, few rules, very empowering. My mother had a longstanding relationship with her mission president until he died. I served 1989-90. My mission president did not maintain relationships or correspond with previous missionaries but delegated that to his wife, who is cordial. My younger brother (13 years later than my mission) got off the plane and said church leaders are just there to use you to further their ambitions. He met the quotas but arrived home totally checked out of the church. Where I live, far from Salt Lake, I have asked missionaries for the last 10 years that have come over to eat dinner if they have a good mentor relationship with their mission president. Not a single one has said they had a good relationship with their mission president. Letting missionaries contact their families is a good thing and there have been some improvements, but missionaries I see are consistently having bad experiences with their mission president.
The church has mastered the art of blaming the missionaries for low numbers, and for leaving the church, but the missionary program is clearly responsible for how it is affecting these young people.
I think about my nonmember friends and as things stand there is no way I’d consider inflicting the church on them.
Like Hedgehog, I don’t want to sell my church to my friends. Honestly they’re doing a far better job selling their churches to me. First Baptist has a climbing wall! The Lutherans host the state symphony for free concerts! The non-denominational near my house has a food pantry every Friday! So many of them serve the community through various outreaches while our congregation does nothing.
I have two nieces on missions that seem happy. My nephew recently came home early in rough shape mentally. I’m worried about him. My kids are a few years out, but if they were interested I’d point them towards AmeriCorps or even sponsoring them myself to volunteer a gap year with local non-profits instead.
I served in the Illinois, Chicago mission for 18 months in 1985-86. It was that interim period between changes where we had the option to extend, which I did not do.
I was, essentially, that missionary. I worked hard if my companion wanted to, but broke rules I considered silly related to movies, music, etc. Chicago at that time was not a rule-following mission. I knew elders who went hot tub and beach tracting regularly. I naively went on a drug buy with another elder who was not my companion. We had good friendships with people we met who were not members and who we did not lift a finger to teach. I didn’t buy the product we were selling when I left and still didn’t buy it when I came back. Did I not buy the product because I was not diligent in how I conducted my mission? That’s certainly a legitimate criticism worth considering, but I have considered it and I don’t accept it. What we were supposed to teach was alienating and questionable then, and it remains so now. Truth be told, I remained pretty much angry about the temple experience–feeling like I’d been coerced into something no one would actually tell me about in advance–for the duration.
That said, as an adventurous experience, the mission was great. I had been an undisciplined student and returned home with more focus and discipline. I learned that I could take care of myself just fine, thanks. I met so many interesting and diverse people that expanded my view of the world. I spent many months in one of the world’s great cities!
The price for that experience was cognitive dissonance and depression, for which I entered therapy while on the mission. The first therapist, a church employee, was a nightmare. The second, a member with a psychology PhD, was fantastic. I was only able to do that and to complete my mission because I had a president who was supportive, loving, empathetic, and warm. I knew that he loved me. That president was replaced in my final two months by a climber who had previously worked and excelled in corporate environments. He used the Jack Welch approach and tried to get rid of as much dead weight like me as he could as soon as he arrived. If I’d had more than 60 days left when he got there, he would have sent me home.
My nephew surprised his parents and decided to go on a mission, which he leaves for this fall. He is going to Kingston, Jamaica, which will be very difficult despite the balmy weather. I don’t know why he decided to go, but I hope his experience allows him to learn about himself and the world, and gain self reliance. It would also be helpful if he has a president who sees the missionaries as something other than sales people for a tarnished product.
I have three [young] sons. Post-high school education is highly encouraged. Missions aren’t. Too much fear based religious garbage that they don’t need at such a pivotal time in their life. If it was service, I think I’d feel differently.
That being said, I dated my husband before his mission, wrote each week, and then dated after. He came home from a Spanish speaking mission in California, disavowing all of the conservative politics he’d been taught growing up in Utah and loving spicy foods. Both of which were deeply disturbing to his family.
HokieKate: They have a climbing wall??? I want to go there.
Such a timely post and interesting comments. It seems there’s a big push from GAs on missionary service lately. I really feel for the missionaries these days because I can’t see people buying what they’re selling. The elders called recently to see if they could share a message so I invited them to dinner – something we haven’t done in ages. For one of them this is his first area and it would seem they’ve been instructed to give missionary discussions at these appointments – probably to help improve their teaching skills. We talked way too much telling our own funny stories during dinner, barely leaving any time for their message but they pushed ahead and it was absolutely abysmal and embarrassing – I’m not sure how they can interest anyone with what they presented. I felt so sorry for them and it’s a tall order these days because very few people in our culture are looking for religion – especially one that isn’t fully inclusive.