The Utah Area Presidency is currently asking all adults ages 55-70 to serve at least two senior missions:  “once in a service mission where [they] can live at home, and once on a mission where the Lord needs [them].”  I was made aware of this in an email from my stake presidency a few weeks ago encouraging all stake members to view this devotional and share it with … well, EVERYONE.  The email also emphasized the Church is in “great need” of couples to serve missions both from home and away from home.  In this devotional, Kevin Schmutz (First Counselor in the Utah Area Presidency) asks every senior member in the area to serve a mission “at least” twice.  Later in the same meeting, Kevin Pearson (Utah Area President) noted that Utah needs 2000 service missionaries and the worldwide Church needs 6000, noting that “Covid decimated the senior missionary force” and that the construction or renovation of 14 temples in the state of Utah alone call for the need for more service missionaries.  

In another video clip, Kevin Pearson asks, “Will you prayerfully consider serving two missions?  Not one, but two.  A full-time proselyting mission if your health permits, and a service mission here in Utah as well.”

This really, really bothers me.  Probably irrationally so.  I’ve been thinking through why.  

It is not that I am against missions.  

I have extremely fond memories of the CES missionaries who served when I was an undergraduate at an east-coast university with very few fellow LDS students.  They were like grandparents-away-from-home.  I am grateful for their service.  

I also have fond memories of senior missionaries that served in my own mission.  They were a great strength to branches and also like second sets of parents for missionaries serving in a foreign place, especially when I served in areas that were far away from the center of the mission.  One kind couple let me use their computer and internet to apply to law school from the absolute middle of nowhere in my second mission area.

I know people who have served medical missions and done wonderful things.  I know people who served in refugee camps under extremely challenging circumstances.  I admire that.  

I also loved my own mission, even if I believe pretty differently than I did before.   

My grandparents served a mission.  They had a pretty terrible marriage, but they absolutely loved their mission and had the best years of their marriage during it.  I love that they had that experience together.  I love seeing the pictures.  I’m sure the people they served loved them, because they were adorable.  

So:  let me be clear that I would never begrudge a person’s decision to spend their time serving in any capacity, and I honor their sacrifice. 

Then what is it about this new initiative that irks me so? I think it represents some of the very worst parts of the LDS Church.  Not the missionary service–but the request that senior couples serve not one, but two missions.  

First, it represents the one-size-fits-all approach that the Church uses for just about everything. 

Somehow, Church leaders have become convinced that whatever worked for them–or maybe didn’t even work for them, but they’ve been told by other Church leaders that it does–should work for every single member of the Church.  A full-time mission for every male.  Temple attendance for every person.  Marriage (of the heterosexual variety) and children (as many as possible, and at the youngest possible age) for everyone.  I could go on; the point is, I’ve been around long enough to know that there are many, MANY people for whom these supposed universal solutions do not work.  The same applies for senior missionary service.  

I don’t doubt that for many of these proposed solutions, leaders sincerely believe that members will benefit.  (On this, however, given that the Church has not previously asked senior couples to serve two missions and the fact that it stands to benefit financially and otherwise from this ask, I am more skeptical.)  Even still, it is ignorant and hubris to assume that the same things work for everybody or that a leader of large region of the Church knows what happens to be best for every single person in that region (most of whom he has never met).

In fact, I know several people for whom missions–including senior missions–were not at all great for them or their families.  (You know, the families that Church leaders told them to have.)  Some examples from my own circle:      

  • While I know some senior missionaries had great experiences, I also saw many struggle.  It seemed that a lot of senior couples are (or at least were) assigned to places where the husband spoke the language, but not the wife.  And it turns out that learning a language at age 55+ is just really not easy.  So as I have spent time abroad (in my own mission and while living in other countries for stints), I’ve seen female senior missionaries who seemed pretty miserable:  they felt useless and isolated, only there to tag along with their husband.  I have a friend now who is serving in a country where she doesn’t speak the language but her husband does–and while she puts on a brave face, she doesn’t seem to be doing well at all. 
  • I also have seen a lot of resentment in kids whose parents abandoned them for senior missions during critical times–marriages, new babies, health problems, divorces.  If their parents honestly just didn’t want to deal with their kids problems and so were running away from them, then I guess that’s their prerogative.  But if the parents were serving a mission hoping that this would magically heal suffering family members, that bothers me.  I am just not sure that someone going across the world to volunteer somewhere is actually better for their young adult or adult children or grandchildren than, you know, actually being there to support.  Their children and grandchildren sure didn’t think so.
  • I also know several people whose parents or grandparents served a mission or two, and then, very shortly after returning home, suffered serious health problems or died:  one had an aneurysm and died literally the night she came home.  One, after serving several missions (at her husband’s behest, she wasn’t as interested) and missing multiple grandbaby births and milestones, finally returned home only to develop rapid, early-onset dementia.  These people spend their last healthy years away from their children and grandchildren, and I know many children who are angry about that. 
  • I know some who are angry about the “magical thinking” that sent their parents on missions during times they needed them.  I know of one person who has suffered many health problems while her parents have served.  She has turned a corner and is doing better.  Her parents have credited this with their missionary service.  She credits it to the many, many doctors’ appointments and treatments she has received while they were gone–for many of which her mother-in-law accompanied and supported her, because her mom wasn’t there to do so.  

But again, I’m not going to begrudge any individual person or couple’s decision to serve a mission.  That’s their choice.  But I am going to view with extreme skepticism blanket requests from Church leaders that every senior member should serve at least two (let alone one) missions. 

In fact, I’ll take that a step further.  I think it is ecclesiastical abuse to pressure seniors to serve at least two missions, and premising that on a promise that doing so will bless their children and grandchildren more than their actually being present for those children and grandchildren is just plain dishonest.  You certainly don’t hear examples like I shared above over the pulpit–Church leaders do not advise realistically about the risks and benefits of serving a senior mission.  

Now, I know some will say that no one is being forced to serve two missions.  That’s true, in the sense that no one is being physically forced. But I know enough people (including a former version of me) who would *not* have opted out. They simply don’t feel free to do so.  I believe there are people who will, as a direct result of this request, will serve two missions despite that they don’t actually want to do it and that it might not actually be in the best interests of themselves and their families. But they’ll do it anyway. 

I also know enough people with scrupulosity-type OCD to see how harmful these mandates can be. I remember watching a loved one spend sleepless night after sleepless night reading and re-reading the Book of Mormon to make sure they hadn’t accidentally skipped a word after being challenged by a prophet to read the entire book before the end of the year. 

What Church leaders ask members to do can have an extremely outsized impact on their choices and even infringe their agency. As such, leaders should be extremely careful and thoughtful about what they ask members to do. They should be especially careful if what they are asking members to do takes them from their families during what may be the last healthy years of their lives, or puts them under financial stress by encouraging them to retire early to serve even if they may not be ready.  I am certain that there will be senior couples for whom this is the case. 

If people want to serve one or more senior missions, that’s terrific!  If it’s their choice.  But I think it is irresponsible, selfish, and abusive for senior Church leaders to create that expectation.  

Second, this request is yet another example of a gazillionaire Church trying to get free labor from people for tasks the Church used to, and could still, employ and pay people to do. 

These are tasks like: secretaries and administrative assistants, librarians, Deseret Industries & Bishop’s Storehouse workers, etc.  Really, for any job imaginable, if you have professional skills the Church has no problem asking you to do it for them, for free–even if it pays other people to do the same thing.  For example, I have a family member who worked for the Church as a technology professional.  As he was approaching retirement, he offered to stay on part-time (they needed him, and he thought he’d enjoy still working a bit) but they told him they couldn’t–the Church would prefer he simply retire and then they’d call him on a mission to do his exact same job.  Except for free.  He declined.  

Indeed, in some cases, I think it’s worse than distasteful–it’s destructive.  I am aware of another couple who, in their sixties, are basically broke.  They have no money saved for retirement.  He is a talented handyman but he’s struggled to have steady work–especially as he’s aged, and during the economic downturn in 2008 when they basically lost everything.  The Church asked him to be a service missionary providing–you guessed it–free handyman and repair and construction services.  What’s sad about this is that he would love to do this, but he literally cannot afford it because they are barely getting by with both of them working.  So he feels ashamed and guilty for having to say no.  In this case, not only is the Church missing an opportunity to provide a good and loyal man dignified, paid work for which he is well-qualified and desperately needs, but they are making him feel inadequate and guilty in the process by asking him to do that work for free when he is in no position to do so.  This is tremendously unchristlike    

I also have a friend whose parents served in a Church campsite.  It was backbreaking labor for an older couple, and they suffered health problems as a result.  Remember: people pay to use Church campsites.  So the Church took advantage of a senior couple to perform difficult labor all day every day for 18 months while they collected dues from the people who used the property.  This is simply not the kind of work I think it’s appropriate for the Church to ask people to do for free.      

Third, this request bothers me because it is yet another example of the Church’s consistent refusal to look inward and address its own role in a problem it’s facing and instead to play the blame and shame game with members. 

The Church is clearly facing a crisis when it comes to missionaries.  They don’t have enough senior missionaries, and they don’t have enough young missionaries.  Not only that, but they are on a temple building spree that seems totally disconnected with reality and they are building temples they seem unable to staff.  They have also turned many positions that they used to employ paid workers for into “missionary” roles.  

Rather than looking inward and asking themselves, “What may we need to change about missionary service to make it more appealing to people in the third decade of the 21st century, with the family structures and economic outlooks people face right now?” they are instead looking outward and guilting people into serving missions.  This makes me angry.  It is manipulative.  It is taking advantage of people who want to do the right thing, and will feel obligated to serve even if they do not want to and even to the detriment of their own health and families.  

I am not a perfect person but if there’s one thing I feel really strongly about, and am pretty good at myself, it’s taking responsibility for mistakes I make and things I need to improve on.  If I see that something is not working, I try very hard not to blame others.  I look at what I’ve contributed to a problem and what I can change. 

I see no evidence of the Church doing this.  Their missionary program is shrinking. Their people are becoming disengaged.  Instead of looking at amazing suggestions for how to revitalize missionary work and make it more appealing to people, they are blaming their membership.  We don’t have enough faith.  We need to do more, more, more.  We don’t need to just serve one mission but AT LEAST two.  

Fourth, and for me, most importantly:  I am so, so, so fed up with being told by Church leaders that I’m not doing enough.

None of us will ever be enough for the Church.  One senior mission (which the Church has been encouraging people to do for as long as I can remember) isn’t good enough anymore–two is.  Just a few weeks before I received the mission email from my stake presidency, I received another email asking us to attend the temple MORE:  more attendance, more indexing, more family history, more temple-related activities.  More.  

And yes, for people who worked their whole lives, who raised families and who did their church callings and who saved for retirement, that is simply not enough.  You are not allowed to rest.  You need to serve two missions. 

I may be more sensitive about this than others, but I have spent several years trying to unlearn the message that I can never be enough, that there is always more I need to do to be acceptable to other people and to God, that rest is shameful and bad.  I simply cannot feel that I’m enough (which I think God wants us to feel) when some priesthood leader who doesn’t know me is constantly in my ear telling me to do MORE.  

I’m fed up with it.  To the Utah Area Presidency I say, NO. MORE.  


  • Have you heard the two-mission guidelines? Is this unique to Utah? What are you seeing about senior missions in your part of the world?
  • What are some of the pros and cons that you’ve seen of senior missions? What do you think people should consider in making this decision? Do you think the Church provides people with ample space to make these decisions? Do you think bishops would counsel people for whom service may NOT be in their best interest not to serve? Or do you think bishops are being asked and will pressure people to serve regardless of circumstances?
  • I identified four characteristics this ask highlights for me–do you agree? Do you see other areas where the Church exemplifies these characteristics?
  • What impact do you think this will have on senior couples?