This category of blog posts contains articles designed to help members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in preparing for a mission. The articles are on a variety of topics containing both practical tips for preparing physically as well as many posts on spiritual topics designed to help missionaries be prepared with knowledge and testimony of the restored gospel.

Internet and Video Game Addiction

video game addiction

By Flickr user Dixie Lawrence

One topic that has often come to mind regarding how to prepare young people for missionary service is to help them overcome cell phone, social media, internet, or video game addiction or obsessive behavior long before they enter the MTC. Once missionaries begin their service, cell phones are taken away, and there is no time for video games.

In the MTC and as you enter the mission field, the online world of Twitter, video games, texting, and just about everything else in our digital society is replaced with gospel study, acts of service, and gospel teaching. Of course, in the last year, the Church has been ramping up on the use of Facebook by missionaries, but this is strictly for proselytizing purposes, not for socializing with friends back home.

This switch from the digital world to the life of a missionary can be a difficult transition. It will be best for young people to overcome any internet or video game addictions long before they begin their mission. Elder D. Todd Christofferson has said, “young men, you have no time to waste. You can’t wait to get serious about preparing until you are 17 or 18.” In that same talk he added, “We cannot afford to have those who exercise the Holy Priesthood…spend their lives in cyberspace (ironically being of the world while not being in the world)” (Brethren, We Have Work to Do).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said: “Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best” (Good, Better, Best).

Elder David A. Bednar spoke of this topic extensively at a CES Devotional entitled Things as They Really Are.

“Sadly, some young men and young women in the Church today ignore “things as they really are” and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value. My heart aches when a young couple—sealed together in the house of the Lord for time and for all eternity by the power of the holy priesthood—experiences marital difficulties because of the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing. A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, “Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13).”

“I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. The concerns I raise are not new; they apply equally to other types of media, such as television, movies, and music. But in a cyber world, these challenges are more pervasive and intense. I plead with you to beware of the sense-dulling and spiritually destructive influence of cyberspace technologies that are used to produce high fidelity and that promote degrading and evil purposes.

If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state. And, if we let him, he can cunningly employ some aspects of modern technology to accomplish his purposes. Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.”

Overcoming Obsessive Online Behavior

BYU professor Charles Knutson and Kyle Oswald of LDS Family Services, in an August 2009 Ensign article called “Just a Game?”  said: “Spiritual help is available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Such a promise can be especially poignant for those caught in a trap of obsessive online gaming. Hope in the Atonement, coupled with the guidance of the Holy Ghost and counsel from inspired leaders, will help individuals as they seek to apply principles of balance and move toward a life—an actual one and not merely a virtual one—that is rich and full.”

Another way to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of online and digital media is to follow the counsel given by Elder M. Russell Ballard:

“Besides making our voices heard, let me conclude with seven things that every parent can do to minimize the negative effect media can have on our families:

1. We need to hold family councils and decide what our media standards are going to be.
2. We need to spend enough quality time with our children that we are consistently the main influence in their lives, not the media or any peer group.
3. We need to make good media choices ourselves and set good examples for our children.
4. We need to limit the amount of time our children watch TV or play video games or use the Internet each day. Virtual reality must not become their reality.
5. We need to use Internet filters and TV programming locks to prevent our children from “chancing upon” things they should not see.
6. We need to have TVs and computers in a much-used common room in the home, not in a bedroom or a private place.
7. We need to take time to watch appropriate media with our children and discuss with them how to make choices that will uplift and build rather than degrade and destroy” (Let Our Voices Be Heard).

web mouse trap mormonad

The web can be a useful network or a terrible trap. Some sites must be left unseen. (See Moroni 10:30.) New Era, September 1999.

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) taught, “While some addictions require professional clinical help, let us not overlook the spiritual help available to us through priesthood blessings and through prayer. The Lord has promised us, ‘My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them’ (Ether 12:27). Let us remember that the power to change is very real, and it is a great spiritual gift from God.” James E. Faust, “The Power to Change,” Ensign, Nov. 2007, 124.

Additional Articles and Resources

Preparing Emotionally for a Mission

missionaries in veracruz mexico forestWhile most missionaries leave the MTC confident about their ability to teach the gospel and bear testimony, many also deal with concerns like: finances, homesickness, living with a different person, living in a different culture, adjusting to missionary rules, and learning a new language. These concerns are normal, almost every elder or sister experiences one of them, and most successfully overcome them.

Some missionaries, though, have difficulty coping with these kinds of emotional challenges. Stress may contribute to many missionaries’ most common physical complaints, including headaches, back pain, insomnia, fatigue, and stomach problems. Because of these challenges, it is important that future missionaries do all they can to prepare emotionally for full-time missionary service.

Speaking to future missionaries, Elder L. Tom Perry explained: “Missionary service is emotionally demanding. Your support system is going to be withdrawn from you as you leave home and go out into the world. … There will be days of rejection and disappointment. Learn now about your emotional limits, and learn how to control your emotions under the circumstances you will face as a missionary.”

The following are some recommendations from Robert K. Wagstaff, a former mission president and president of the Philippines MTC, which he gave in a March 2011 Ensign article called Preparing Emotionally for Missionary Service.

How Can Future Missionaries Prepare Themselves Emotionally?

young men working1. Work part time or full time before the mission call. This experience helps potential missionaries learn how to manage money so they will be prepared to live within their budget in the mission field. Also, in my experience, missionaries who pay at least part of the cost of their mission are often more dedicated and have fewer concerns about money while in the mission field.

2. Live away from home for a period of time before leaving for the mission field. Whether future missionaries go away to college or for work, living away from home helps them adjust to the necessary independence of being a missionary. This also provides opportunities for them to wash their own clothing, clean their own living areas, prepare food, and be responsible for their own safety and well-being. Even if future missionaries cannot live away from home, they can be more independent by taking on these responsibilities.

3. Practice meeting and talking to others. Missionary work involves meeting and interacting with new people daily. This can be a significant source of anxiety to missionaries who are naturally shy. Many young people today are used to interacting via text messaging or social networking sites on the Internet rather than through face-to-face interaction. Future missionaries can prepare themselves for tracting and other missionary activities by challenging themselves, in an appropriate and safe manner, to talk with people they do not know well and by striving to be friendly, courteous, and respectful to others.

4. Resolve emotional concerns before submitting mission papers. Some young people suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, or eating disorders before they enter the mission field. Dr. Judi Moore (former medical adviser in the South America South Area) recommends that parents take notice of symptoms of emotional distress and take actions to help. Most young people will not overcome such problems in the mission field. In fact, these problems often become exacerbated under the stresses of a mission. Counseling and medical treatment may be beneficial to stabilize these conditions before applying to serve a mission. LDS Family Services and family doctors are excellent sources of help, as are local priesthood leaders—particularly your bishop.

5. Practice living a balanced life. Missionary life is structured and intense. Learning how to live by a schedule and keep appointments is critical to success. For a period of time before entering the MTC, a prospective missionary may want to follow the missionary schedule of going to bed at 10:30 p.m. and arising at 6:30 the next morning. Using a day-planning system and taking part in extracurricular activities can help young people learn to manage time and meet deadlines. Examples include holding a job or participating in activities such as sports, drama, clubs, student government, or community service.

6. Find appropriate outlets for stress. Before their missions, many young people relax by playing video games, watching TV, hanging out with friends, surfing the Internet, or participating in other recreational activities. In the mission field, such activities are not an option, so missionaries need to find new ways to cope with stress. Taking advantage of 30 minutes each morning to exercise, as outlined in Preach My Gospel, can be a tremendous stress reliever. Adequate rest, exercise, and turning to the Lord for guidance rather than comparing oneself to others also help. Sometimes it just helps to talk about things.

7. Learn to view personal weaknesses with proper perspective. Some conscientious missionaries have great difficulty when they feel their efforts are imperfect or less than “the best.” They may worry excessively if they feel inadequate in mastering a language or in achieving some missionary goals. They may feel distressed when the demands of being a missionary show them weaknesses they had never encountered before. But, as the prophet Ether taught, recognizing our weaknesses can teach us humility and reliance on the Lord and success in overcoming our weaknesses (see Ether 12:27).

sons of mosiah praying8. Learn to put trials in the proper perspective. Occasionally, accidents, serious illnesses, and other traumas happen in the mission field—just as they do in regular life. They are not a sign that a missionary is unworthy or that the Lord is not watching over him or her. Ammon, one of the great missionaries of the Book of Mormon, faced serious trials on his mission. Recording the Lord’s words to him and his missionary companions at a time of deep discouragement, Ammon wrote: “Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success” (Alma 26:27). Success came for them—and will come for faithful missionaries after they patiently persist in doing the work they have been called to do.

10 Tips for Preparing Missionaries

young men preparing missionariesWhile the Lord expects each young person to do his or her own part to prepare spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially for missionary service, preparing missionaries should also be a high priority for parents and Church leaders. Parents should give special attention to helping their boys prepare to serve a full-time mission. Bishops, youth leaders, and other Church members also have an important role in helping young men and women qualify for missionary service.

The following 10 tips will help give guidance to parents and Church leaders in preparing missionaries:

  1. Desire: Work with young men beginning at an early age to help them develop the desire to serve a mission. One of the best ways to do this is to help them gain a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Hearing mission stories, from your own life or the experiences of others, is another powerful way to bring the spirit of missionary work. See one of my many article on motivating missionaries or check out my presentation on Gaining a Desire to Serve a Mission.
  2. Worthiness: Help young men and women to always remain worthy to serve a mission. Help them to know the commandments and be committed to obeying them, and pay particular attention to the law of chastity. Also help them know that the Lord is very willing to forgive when we make mistakes, and help them to understand the repentance process.
  3. Expectations: Teach young people what will be expected of them when they serve missions. Teach them about the mission rules and the schedule missionaries keep. Teach them about mission life and help them understand the missionary guidelines regarding personal conduct, language, dress and grooming, media, and communications to family and friends.
  4. Purpose: Help future missionaries to understand the doctrinal basis of missionary work and what their purpose will be as missionaries. That purpose is to: “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
  5. Seminary: Encourage youth to attend seminary. Seminary is available in just about every corner of the globe and will teach our youth important basic doctrines of the restored gospel and help them develop their testimony of the Savior.
  6. Leaders: If you are a bishop or stake president, the handbook encourages your to call youth leaders who love missionary work and will help the youth learn to love it as well. It also says to invite returned missionaries to speak about missionary work often in sacrament meetings and on other occasions.
  7. Service and Teaching: Provide opportunities for prospective missionaries to serve others, including serving in Church callings. Young men should serve as home teachers. The new youth curriculum also gives young men and women many opportunities to teach which will help them become better missionaries.
  8. Mission Prep Class: If possible, have the youth take a missionary preparation class. Most wards and stakes offer this class, and it is also taught in Institute. The main source material for the mission prep class is the scriptures, the Missionary Handbook, and Preach My Gospel. Young men and women should study these materials thoroughly as they prepare for their missions.
  9. Scriptures: A large part of mission preparation includes studying the gospel and gaining a personal testimony. Young people should read the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great price, and especially the Book of Mormon and have a testimony that these books contain the revealed word of God.
  10. Share: Encourage young people to share the gospel with their friends and family. As they open their mouth, share the gospel, and become missionaries in their everyday life, they will be blessed and see how the gospel blesses others. As you brainstorm about ways of sharing the gospel, ask them to consider their missionary DNA, and the things that they have a natural inclination to do. You may be surprised at the creative ways you can share the gospel in your unique, authentic style. As they do this, they will catch the spirit of missionary work and become great representatives of the Lord.

Missionary Clothing List

Summary: This article discusses the clothing and other items most missionaries will need to bring on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. See your mission call letter for more details on what you’ll need for your specific mission.
Mormon Missionary Suitcase

The General Instructions Checklist that you get in your mission call letter will tell you in more detail the clothing, luggage, and other items you will need to bring with you on your mission. There are slight variations between missions, and the letter from your mission president will advise you if that is that case. For the most part, though, the clothing, toiletries, and other items each missionary will need to bring on your mission is relatively standard. Also be advised to follow the missionary dress and grooming standards (which were updated in July 2013 to allow greater flexibility and more modern styles) when buying clothes for your mission.

Mission Clothing List: Elders Mission Clothing List: Sisters
  • 10 – 12 White shirts (some short sleeve and some long sleeve)
  • 2 Dark colored, Conservative Suits
  • 5 – 6 Pair of dress slacks
  • 5 – 6 Conservative ties
  • 8 – 10 Solid, dark colored socks
  • 2 Pairs of thick-soled, comfortable, conservative shoes.
  • 8 – 10 Pairs of temple garments
  • Waterproof, winter boots, as needed
  • Dark overcoat with liner, as needed
  • Pajamas, robe, and slippers, as needed
  • Dark raincoat, lightweight plastic or nylon
  • Cold-weather gear (gloves, scarf, ear-muffs, winter hat, thermals) as needed
  • Sweater(s), solid dark color, as needed
  • Umbrella
  • Pair of flip-flops/shower shoes
  • Shaving equipment
  • Deodorant and other toiletries
  • Set of work clothes and gym clothes (jeans, t-shirt, shorts, athletic shoes, etc.)
  • Small first-aid kit, and sewing kit
  • Alarm clock (wind-up or battery)
  • 2 Towels, washcloths
  • Twin-size bed sheets with pillowcase
  • Shoulder bag (no backpacks)
  • Sunscreen and lip balm, as needed
  • 4 – 5 Outfits of modest design: blouses, skirts, dresses, jackets, vests, jumpers, suits. Mid-calf length. Nothing tight-fitting, or baggy; no wrap-around skirts, t-shirts, polo-shirts, denims, or leathers.
  • 12 Pairs of nylons or knee-highs
  • 2 – 3 Pairs of shoes that are conservative and comfortable
  • 1 Pair of dress shoes
  • 1 Pair of winter boots
  • 8 – 10 Pairs of temple garments
  • Personal toiletries
  • Underclothing, modest and durable.
  • Dark winter coat
  • Pajamas, robe, and slippers, as needed
  • Dark raincoat, lightweight plastic or nylon
  • Cold-weather gear (gloves, scarf, ear-muffs, winter hat, thermals) as needed
  • Sweater(s), as needed
  • Umbrella
  • Pair of flip-flops/shower shoes
  • Set of work clothes and gym clothes (jeans, t-shirt, shorts, athletic shoes, etc.)
  • Small first-aid kit, and sewing kit
  • Alarm clock (wind-up or battery)
  • 2 Towels, washcloths
  • Twin-size bed sheets with pillowcase
  • Shoulder bag or purse (no backpacks)
  • Sunscreen and lip balm, as needed

Missionary Luggage

Of course you will need luggage to carry your clothes and personal belongings.  It is suggested that missionaries bring 3 pieces of luggage that follow these guidelines: Two large suitcases (that you could check at the airport) and one smaller bag (a carry-on). The two larger suitcases should be no larger than 62 dimensional inches (height plus width plus depth), and no heavier than 50 pounds. The smaller, carry-on bag should be no larger than 45 dimensional inches, and no heavier than 35 pounds.

For more information on what to bring to the MTC, including more details on luggage, clothing, and technology, as well as information on travel to the MTC and advice for family and friends, see the Missionaries page on the Provo MTC website.

Missionary Books

Missionaries should bring their scriptures and they are also allowed to bring the following books, if they desire:

  • True to the Faith
  • Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage
  • Our Heritage: A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Our Search for Happiness, By M. Russell Ballard
  • See the approved Missionary Reading List for more detail

What NOT to Bring on Your Mission

Do not bring the following items to the MTC or to the mission field:

  • Briefcases
  • Any books not listed above
  • Daily planners, including electronic planners
  • Laptop or desktop computers
  • Any video recording devices, or any video or DVD players
  • Cell phones, pagers, e-mail devices, or unauthorized electronic equipment (if your mission uses cell phones or iPads, you will be given instructions either to purchase specific items in advance or other directions on how to get the technology that you will need.)
  • Radios or clock radios
  • Musical instruments
  • Playing cards, games, footballs, soccer balls, or any other kind of sports or hobby equipment
  • Packages for other missionaries in the MTC or in the mission field
  • Weapons of any kind

For information on how much you can expect to spend on clothing and other items, see my related article: Cost To Get Ready To Go On A Mission.

The “Why” of Keeping the Law of Chastity

Summary: Understanding why keeping the law of chastity is important will help young people see the divine purpose behind this commandment and inspire them to live it.

In the April 2012 General Conference, in a talk called The Why of Priesthood Service, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said “Understanding the why of the gospel and the why of the priesthood will help us to see the divine purpose of all of this. It will give us motivation and strength to do the right things, even when they are hard… [The what] teaches us what to do. The why inspires our souls. The what informs, but the why transforms.”

Keeping the Law of Chastity

Why is the law of chastity so important?

In his April 2013 General Conference talk titled, We Believe in Being Chaste, Elder David A. Bednar posed the question: “Why is the law of chastity so important?” His answer had several components:

  • It is part of Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness. “The eternal importance of chastity can only be understood within the overarching context of our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for His children…The Father’s plan enables His spirit sons and daughters to obtain physical bodies, to gain mortal experience, and to progress toward exaltation.”
  • Physical limitations prepare us for eternity. “Our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and act in accordance with truth, and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies…Simply stated, there are lessons we must learn and experiences we must have, as the scriptures describe, “according to the flesh” (1 Nephi 19:6Alma 7:12–13).
  • The power of procreation is divine. “Marriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality. Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage protect the sanctity of this sacred channel…Specific guidelines for the proper use of the ability to create life are vital elements in the Father’s plan. How we feel about and use that supernal power will determine in large measure our happiness in mortality and our destiny in eternity.”
  • We are on earth to be tested. “The precise nature of the test of mortality, then, can be summarized in the following question: Will I respond to the inclinations of the natural man, or will I yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and put off the natural man and become a saint through the Atonement of Christ the Lord (see Mosiah 3:19)? That is the test. Every appetite, desire, propensity, and impulse of the natural man may be overcome by and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
  • Being chaste brings blessings. “Alma counseled his son Shiblon to “bridle all [of his] passions, that [he] may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12). Significantly, disciplining the natural man in each of us makes possible a richer, a deeper, and a more enduring love of God and of His children. Love increases through righteous restraint and decreases through impulsive indulgence…Obedience to the law of chastity will increase our happiness in mortality and make possible our progress in eternity…Chastity and virtue are now, always have been, and always will be “most dear and precious above all things” (Moroni 9:9).

Discussing “the why” of keeping the law of chastity is a topic Elder Bednar has also spoke about in years past. In his June 1998 Education Week talk titled Teach Them to UnderstandElder Bednar spoke about the importance of understanding “the why” of gospel commandments.

“In the times in which we live, only the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to the why questions that matter the most…It concerns me as I see young people in our Church who know all the correct things they should do and do not have a clue as to why. They have a check-list mentality. “Say my prayers morning and night. Read the scriptures.” Why do they do these things? “Because I am supposed to. Because the prophet said. Because my mom and dad will jump my case if I don’t.” …[But] do we understand why? If we do not understand the why, then the power available to us through the doctrine of Christ will not be evident in our lives.”

“This is particularly true with young people pertaining to the law of chastity. They know they shouldn’t, but do they know why they shouldn’t?…I do not know a young person who truly understands the doctrine related to “the seed of Abraham” who would violate the law of chastity. We were foreordained in the premortal existence to the blessings associated with birth through a particular lineage, even the chosen lineage of Abraham–not because we are better, not because we are more special, but because we have particular responsibilities that we covenanted we would fulfill. Therefore we came to the earth through a lineage with the birthright blessing of the priesthood. Every man who holds the priesthood was foreordained to that very responsibility in the premortal existence. Does a young man who understands that doctrine have a choice to go on a mission? He made that choice before he was ever born.”

“…As I have opportunities to visit with young people, I like to talk about what it means to be the “seed of Abraham.” Hoping that the Spirit of the Lord will touch their hearts, I highlight the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau gave up his birthright blessing for a bowl of red bean soup. Now a question directed to the young people: Would you really want to forfeit your birthright as the seed of Abraham–foreordained in the premortal existence, living on the earth at this particular time to bless the families of the earth, the most glorious spiritually destiny you could ever hope for? Do you really want to give up those blessings and opportunities for a few minutes of messing around? If we understand the doctrine of who we are and why we are here, then that understanding changes the way we do things.”

I pray that all future missionaries will study, ponder, and prayer about why this commandment is so important and the ways in which keeping the law of chastity will bless their lives. Understanding these things will give them added strength in fighting the many temptations that bombard our youth today.

Teaching by the Spirit

Teaching by the Spirit is one of the most important skills you can learn as a missionary. If you have the Spirit of the Lord with you in all your mission activities, teaching, tracting, reactivating, etc., you will be a more effective instrument for God. 

Teaching Spirit to Spirit - Sister MissionariesPresident Ezra Taft Benson once said: “The Spirit is the most important single element in this work. With the Spirit magnifying your call, you can do miracles for the Lord in the mission field. Without the Spirit, you will never succeed regardless of your talent and ability” (see Preach My Gospel, 176).

The missionary lessons that you will teach from contain the gospel doctrines and ideas for teaching, however, the lessons will not tell you exactly what to say. Instead, as a missionary, you are responsible to study and understand the principles of the lessons and then teach by the Spirit in your own words. By teaching through the Spirit, you will help others strengthen their faith in Christ, have a desire to repent, and then enter into covenants with God through baptism (see Preach My Gospel, 19).

Blessings of Teaching by the Spirit

The Preach My Gospel manual points out at least five reasons why missionaries must teach by the power of the Holy Ghost in order to be effective. The Spirit will…

  • Teach you new truths and bring the doctrines you have studied to your remembrance (see John 14:26).
  • Give you words to speak in the very moment you need them (see D&C 84:85).
  • Carry your message to the hearts of the people you teach (see 2 Nephi 33:1).
  • Testify of the truthfulness of your message and confirm your words (see D&C 100:5–8).
  • Help you discern the needs of the people you are teaching (see Alma 12:7).

In teaching the gospel, as a missionary or in other callings in the LDS Church, you should not rely primarily on your intelligence, teaching expertise, or personality but rather you should to have the influence of the Holy Ghost present (see 2 Nephi 4:34). As you make yourself a conduit of the Spirit, the Lord will use you to move His work forward.

Spirit to Spirit

When we teach by the Spirit, our message is carried directly into the hearts of the audience, which is a far superior form of communication that oral or written language. Elder D. Todd Chistofferson said, in his April 2012 General Conference talk, “The Spirit does not need to be limited to words; He can communicate Spirit to spirit with a language that is unmistakable because it has no words. It is a communication of pure knowledge and intelligence from the Spirit, and I have come to know that it truly is the best way to acquire knowledge. It is stronger and longer lasting than touching or seeing; we can come to doubt the physical senses, but we cannot doubt when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. It is the surest witness.”

Similarly, Elder M. Russell Ballard said in his October 2004 General Conference talk, “The missionaries are now preparing to teach the lessons, not as memorized dialogue or a rote presentation; but rather, they will outline gospel principles in an organized way, calling upon the Spirit to direct how they communicate gospel truth to investigators, spirit to spirit and heart to heart.” Read 3rd Nephi 19: 31-34 for more information on the spirit to spirit and heart to heart communication.

An example from my mission of teaching by the Spirit

german arrieta familyIn the latter half of my mission, when I was in the Godoy ward in West Rosario, Argentina, I remember during this time that I felt particularly guided by the Spirit in all aspects of our missionary work. I felt the subtle promptings of the Spirit helping my companion and I know where to go, what streets to tract, what to do, and what to say to help the members and investigators in this area.

I specifically remember one lesson that we taught to German Arrieta and his family. It was not one of the official six missionary discussions of the time, but as we sat with him one night, I felt prompted to talk in detail about our pre-earth life. I taught about the council in Heaven, the plan of salvation, the role of the Savior, and how we all sustained the plan that would allow us to come to earth, gain a physical body, and be given the opportunity to prove our worthiness and progress back to our Heavenly Father’s presence. The Spirit was present during the lesson, and perhaps it was exactly what the family needed. The lesson was well received and German was baptized soon thereafter.

Teaching by the Spirit doesn’t negate preparation

To teach by the Spirit does not mean that preparation is not needed, on the contrary in fact, teaching by the Spirit often means you will need to prepare more and then be flexible in your lesson delivery. I love this quote from the Seminary and Institute manual called Gospel Teaching and Learning: “Teachers should keep in mind that teaching by the Spirit does not remove their responsibility for diligent, thoughtful lesson preparation, including using the curriculum that has been provided. On the other hand, teaching by the Spirit requires more than merely following every curriculum suggestion without prayer, thought, or possible adaptation. In addition, teachers should not be so focused on rigidly following their lesson outline that they are not open to receive and follow impressions from the Spirit during class.” (GTL, p. 13)

Tips for being prepared to teach by the Spirit

The Preach My Gospel manual gives the following tips to help missionaries (and future missionaries can start these steps now) to be prepared to teach by the spirit:

  • Daily personal and companion study strengthens your faith and your ability to teach by the Spirit.
  • Pray for the Spirit (see D&C 42:14).
  • Purify your heart (see D&C 112:28).
  • Keep the commandments (see D&C 20:77, 79)
  • Diligently treasure up God’s word (see D&C 11:21; 84:85).
  • Teach so that others understand your message and are edified (see D&C 50:13–22).
  • Exercise faith (see Moroni 10:7).

I’ll conclude with a wonderful scripture from the Book of Mormon about teaching by the Spirit.  The prophet Moroni is speaking here and discussing the importance of being led by the Holy Ghost in conducting meetings in the Church. “And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moroni 6:9) I know that if you, as a missionary and throughout your life, teach by the Spirit, then you will always be led to do and say the right things, and you will have great success in building up the kingdom of God.

Enter the Mission Field on the Run

missionaries on bikes bronze statueWhen I arrived in my first area in Argentina (the city of Parana), I was shocked at how fast my companion walked. He didn’t quite run, but he sure did speed walk, and it took a file for me to get used to it. When Ezra Taft Benson was President of the Church in May 1986, he encouraged new missionaries to “enter the mission field on the run.” While missionaries should be physically prepared for the hard work of missionary service, President Benson was talking more about hitting the ground running spiritually.

“We love all of our missionaries who are serving the Lord full time in the mission field. But there is a difference in missionaries. Some are better prepared to serve the Lord the first month in the mission field than some who are returning home after twenty-four months. We want young men entering the mission field who can enter the mission field ‘on the run.’” (To the “Youth of the Noble Birthright” by President Ezra Taft Benson, May 1986)

Here are specific things that President Benson said future LDS missionaries can do to  “enter the mission field on the run.”

  • Prepare Your Whole Life: “Prepare well for a mission all your life, not just six months or a year before you go.”
  • Stay Morally Clean: A “vital ingredient in preparation for your mission is to always live a clean life. We want morally clean young men in the mission field. We want you to live the clean life all of your life. We want the morally clean life to be your way of life.”
  • Have Faith: “We want young men entering the mission field… who have the faith born of personal righteousness and clean living that they can have a great and productive mission. We want missionaries who have the kind of faith that Wilford Woodruff and Heber C. Kimball had, each bringing hundreds and thousands of souls into the waters of baptism.”
  • Stay Active in the Church: “Give me a young man who has kept himself morally clean and has faithfully attended his Church meetings. Give me a young man who has magnified his priesthood and has earned the Duty to God Award and is an Eagle Scout. Give me a young man who is a seminary graduate and has a burning testimony of the Book of Mormon. Give me such a young man, and I will give you a young man who can perform miracles for the Lord in the mission field and throughout his life.”
  • Realize the Privilege of Missionary Service: “Not only should a mission be regarded as a priesthood duty, but every young man should look forward to this experience with great joy and anticipation. What a privilege—what a sacred privilege—to serve the Lord full time for two years with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.”
  • Date People Who Give Encouragement: “You can do nothing more important…even temple marriage should wait until after a young man has served an honorable full-time mission for the Lord. And I would admonish you to date only faithful young women who also believe this and give you that encouragement.”
  • Understand the Purpose of Missionary Work: “Know that the real purpose in going into the mission field is to bring souls unto Christ, to teach and baptize our Heavenly Father’s children so that you may rejoice with them in the kingdom of our Father. (See D&C 18:15.)”
  • True Repentance: “The miracle of forgiveness is real, and true repentance is accepted of the Lord. But it is not pleasing to the Lord prior to a mission, or at any time, to sow one’s wild oats, to engage in sexual transgression of any nature, and then to expect that planned confession and quick repentance will satisfy the Lord.”
  • Look Forward to Missionary Service: “Young men, look forward to full-time missionary service….Prepare now for your mission by doing these things we have discussed this evening.”

History of the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet

1965 For the Strength of Youth coverIn December 2011, the pamphlet called For the Strength of Youth was updated and refreshed. Young Women general president Elaine S. Dalton explained, “the standards have not changed, but times have changed… For the Strength of Youth has been revised to address the issues youth face today—to teach them the doctrine behind the standards and the promised blessings of obedience.” Copies of this new 2012 edition of For the Strength of Youth are being sent to wards all over the world beginning this month.

This new edition replaces the 2001 version of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet that many of you are very familiar with. Some of you old timers, like myself, may even remember the one before that, the 1990 version. But did you know that the first version of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet was published by the Church in 1965, and that the 2012 version is the 9th update to it? Jared A. Jepson, an LDS Seminary and Institute Director in Arlington, Texas, conducted a comprehensive study of the history of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Here are some of his finding, which I think you will find interesting.

Funny Quotes from the 1966 Version

One of the things that caught my attention in Brother Jepson’s report was some funny quotes from the 1966 version of For the Strength of Youth:

  • “Pants for young women are not desirable attire for shopping, at school, in the library, in cafeterias or restaurants. Any apparel that suggests a house robe should not be worn in public but only in one’s home or apartment. Tight-fitting sweaters and figure-hugging clothes of any kind are not appropriate LDS dress.”
  • Under the “Acceptable Dancing” section: “Members of the Church should be good dancers and not contortionists. Extreme body movements should be avoided, and emphasis should be placed more on styling and clever footwork.”

As you can see, some cultural practices change over time (like encouraging women to wear a dress instead of pants in public), while timeless principles stay the same (like encouraging the wearing of modest clothing). This is actually quite indicative of the broader changes that have taken place to the For the Strength of Youth over the years.

Textual Changes Over the Years

In order to analyze how For the Strength of Youth has changed over the years, Brother Jepson categorized each sentence in the pamphlets into one of five different statement types:

  • Declarative statements: These are informational in nature, declaring the Church’s position, defining principles or policies, or clarifying gospel doctrine. An example would be, “Variety in dating is desirable.”
  • Instructional “do’s”: These are statements that contain behavioral instruction or counsel to youth about positive behavior. An example of this would be, “Begin to prepare now for a temple marriage.”
  • Instructional “don’ts”: These are behavioral instruction or counsel to Church youth about negative behavior. An example would be, “Don’t listen to music that contains ideas that contradict principles of the gospel.”
  • Prophetic promises: These are statements that identify the promised rewards or positive consequences of youth’s actions. An example of this would be, “As you devote yourself to serving others, you will draw closer to Heavenly Father.”
  • Prophetic warnings: These are statements that identify punishments or negative consequences to youth’s actions. An example of this is, “Wrong choices delay your progression and lead to heartache and misery.”

Based on these categorizations for the statements in For the Strength of Youth, the follow chart summarizes how the pamphlet’s text has changed over the years.

For the Strength of Youth Changes in Number and Type of Statements
Statement Type   1965   1966-1969   1972   1990   2001 
Declarative 105 118 141 181 199
Do’s 164 204 211 150 257
Don’ts 82 93 93 68 86
Promises 27 36 39 114 192
Warnings 1 1 1 84 75
Total 379 452 485 597 809
Table 1: Adapted from Jared A. Jepson, “A Study of the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet, 1965–2004” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2005).

As you can see, the size of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, based on the total number of statements it contains, has more than doubled since the first edition in 1965, from 379 to 809. The number of declarative statements and instructional do’s has grown slightly over the years. The number of instructional don’ts has remained almost unchanged. The biggest difference is in the number of prophetic promises and warnings. The number of prophetic promises has grown seven fold, from 27 to 192, from 1965 to 2001. The number of prophetic warnings has grown from 1 in 1965 to 75 in 2001.

Topic Changes Over the Years

The textual analysis above reinforces the fact that the For the Strength of Youth standards today are far more than a list of things not to do. When it was first published, it was primarily a list of do’s and don’ts, but it is now much more spiritually focused. In fact, the following chart illustrates Brother Jepson’s analysis of the how topics covered in the pamphlet have changed from primarily physical and social topics, to mental and even more spiritual topics.

Figure 1: Adopted from Jared A. Jepson, “A Study of the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet, 1965–2004” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2005).

As you can see, when the For the Strength of Youth manual first came out, it was all about dress and grooming, dancing, dating, and social interactions. By 2001, the pamphlet still talked about those things, but added were mental and spiritual topics such as education, language, Sabbath day observance, honesty, and repentance. The 2012 edition has continued to move in that direction with greater emphasis on gospel principles and prophetic promises. I invite you to take a look at the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, and apply those principles to your life so you can receive the physical and spiritual strength referred to in the title.

I want to thank Brother Jepson for his data, charts, and analysis regarding the evolution of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. It is interesting to see how, though some things have remained the same, many other things have changed and improved over the years. May each of us, young and old, apply the For the Strength of Youth standards to our lives, and reap the promised prophetic blessings for doing so.

The History of LDS Seminary as It Celebrates 100 Years

First LDS Seminary near Granite High SchoolThe LDS Seminary and Institute programs are wonderful tools in helping young men and young women prepare for full-time missionary service. The year 2012 marks 100 years since the first Seminary class was establish. To commemorate this anniversary, the Church held a worldwide Seminary Centennial Broadcast on Sunday, January 22, 2012 with President Boyd K. Packer as the featured speaker.

A Brief History of the LDS Seminary Program

  • 1912: The first Seminary class is held at a home near Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Thomas J. Yates was hired as the first teacher and taught afternoon classes to 70 students.
  • 1920: Seminary enrollment was 2,982.
  • 1925: Seminary enrollment was 8,527.
  • 1926: President Heber J. Grant initiated “collegiate seminaries” which would later be called LDS Institutes of Religion.
  • 1938: There were ninety-eight functioning seminary programs in the following US states:  Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • 1950: The early-morning seminary program began in California. The first early-morning seminary classes were taught before school in Church meetinghouses near public schools. Seminary enrollment was 28,677.first LDS seminary class in Brisbane Australian 1969
  • 1962: Early-morning seminary was introduced to Finland and Germany (a total of 34 students) in response to requests for programs outside of the U.S. and Canada.
  • 1967: The first home-study seminary classes begun in scattered rural areas for students are held in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois.
  • 1975: Seminary enrollment was 183,670.
  • 1980: Sequential Scripture Teaching, the program to use the four books of scripture (Old Testament, New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants) for the four years of seminary, was introduced emphasizing the importance of using the scriptures in the lives of students.
  • 2010: Seminary enrollment was 369, 373.
  • 2012: 100 year anniversary of LDS Seminary.

Patriarchal Blessings

As I mention in my post on the mission application timeline, if you have not received your patriarch blessing by the time you begin to fill out your missionary paper work, you should make arrangements at that time to get it. Missionaries are required, per the instructions in the mission call letter, to receive a patriarchal blessing before they serve a full time mission.

What is a Patriarchal Blessing?

Jacob or Israel blessing his sonsA patriarchal blessing is a special blessing given to worthy members of the LDS Church by ordained patriarchs. Patriarchal blessings contain personal counsel from the Lord which a person can use throughout his or her life as well as a declaration of a person’s lineage in the house of Israel. As a person studies his or her patriarchal blessing and follows the counsel it contains, it will provide guidance, comfort, and protection.

Every Mormon can receive a patriarchal blessing once in their lifetime. There is no set age, but it is frequently done when the person is a teenager or soon after being baptized if they are an adult convert to the Church. The requirements for receiving a patriarchal blessing are that the person should be worthy and that they should be old enough to understand the significance of it.  The blessing is considered highly personal, and recipients are counseled not share their blessings with people outside of family members.

Importance of Patriarchal Blessings

A patriarchal blessing can reveal talents and strengths which the person should develop during life. Often, individuals receive guidance about weaknesses or temptations they may face. Sometimes prophecies may be made regarding the person’s life, and generally other blessings are promised which are contingent upon the faith and obedience of the individual.

The ancient apostle Paul wrote about patriarchs (he referred to them as “evangelists”) and the purpose and importance of patriarchal blessings in Ephesians 4:11-15

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

James E. Faust Talk on Patriarchal Blessings

“As moved upon by the Holy Spirit, the patriarch declares by inspiration the lineage in the house of Israel of the recipient, together with such blessings, spiritual gifts, promises, advice, admonition, and warnings the patriarch feels inspired to give. The patriarchal blessing is, in essence, a prophetic blessing and utterance.

“A patriarchal blessing from an ordained patriarch can give us a star to follow, which is a personal revelation from God to each individual. If we follow this star, we are less likely to stumble and be misled. Our patriarchal blessing will be an anchor to our souls, and if we are worthy, neither death nor the devil can deprive us of the blessings pronounced. They are blessings we can enjoy now and forever.

As with many other blessings, patriarchal blessings should ordinarily be requested by the one desiring the blessing. Responsibility for receiving a patriarchal blessing rests primarily on the individual when he or she has sufficient understanding of the significance of a patriarchal blessing. I encourage all members of the Church having this maturity to become worthy and obtain their blessings. By their very nature, all blessings are conditional on worthiness, regardless of whether the blessing specifically spells out the qualifications. The patriarchal blessing is primarily a guide to the future, not an index to the past. Therefore, it is important that the recipient be young enough that many of the significant events of life are in the future.

…Patriarchal blessings should be read humbly, prayerfully, and frequently. A patriarchal blessing is very sacred and personal, but it may be shared with close family members. It is a sacred guideline of counsel, promises, and information from the Lord; however, a person should not expect the blessing to detail all that will happen to him or her or to answer all questions. The fact that one’s patriarchal blessing may not mention an important event in life, such as a mission or marriage, does not mean that it will not happen. In order to receive the fulfillment of our patriarchal blessings, we should treasure in our hearts the precious words they contain, ponder them, and so live that we will obtain the blessings in mortality and a crown of righteousness in the hereafter.” From Priesthood Blessings by James E. Faust

Patriarchal Blessings: Video from October 2011 General Conference

The following is a video montage and transcript of words and testimonies from the living apostles during the October 2011 General Conference regarding patriarchal blessings:

President Boyd K. Packer, Counsel to Youth

“Against the certainty that I would be drafted, I joined the air force. Soon I was in Santa Ana, California, for preflight training. I did not then have a firm testimony that the gospel was true, but I knew that my seminary teachers, Abel S. Rich and John P. Lillywhite, knew it was true. I had heard them testify, and I believed them. I thought to myself, “I will lean on their testimonies until I gain one of my own.” And so it was.

“I had heard about patriarchal blessings but had not received one. In each stake there is an ordained patriarch who has the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation. He is authorized to give personal and private blessings to those who come recommended by their bishops. I wrote to my bishop for a recommend. J. Roland Sandstrom was the ordained patriarch living in the Santa Ana stake. He knew nothing about me and had never seen me before, but he gave me my blessing. In it I found answers and instruction.

“While patriarchal blessings are very private, I will share a short quote from mine: “You shall be guided through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and you shall be warned of dangers. If you heed those warnings, our Heavenly Father will bless you so that you might again be united with your loved ones. That word if, though small in print, loomed as big as the page. I would be blessed to return from the war if I kept the commandments and if I heeded the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”

Elder Russell M. Nelson, Covenants

“Some of us are the literal seed of Abraham; others are gathered into his family by adoption. The Lord makes no distinction. Together we receive these promised blessings—if we seek the Lord and obey His commandments. But if we don’t, we lose the blessings of the covenant. To assist us, His Church provides patriarchal blessings to give each recipient a vision for his or her future as well as a connection with the past, even a declaration of lineage back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Elder Robert D. Hales, Waiting upon the Lord

“We may not know when or how the Lord’s answers will be given, but in His time and His way, I testify, His answers will come. For some answers we may have to wait until the hereafter. This may be true for some promises in our patriarchal blessings and for some blessings for family members. Let us not give up on the Lord. His blessings are eternal, not temporary.”

Elder David A. Bednar, The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn

“I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead (see D&C 124:28–36). And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories.

“As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.”