Update Nov. 17, 2019: On Nov 15, 2018, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new, updated handbook of instructions for full-time missionaries serving around the world. The new handbook is called, “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ,” and can be found on the Church’s website.
The Missionary Standards handbook documents the mission rules for full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obeying these rules will keep you safe as a missionary, and will help you be more productive and successful.
The Missionary Standards handbook is one of the primary resources youth, parents, and priesthood leaders should use in preparing youth for the mission field. The Church Handbook even instructs bishops to review the guidelines in the Missionary Standards handbook with each missionary candidate to make sure they understand and are committed to obey the mission rules. The handbook outlines the rules on expected missionary behavior, dress and grooming, media, finances, communicating with family and friends, and other expectations. Let’s briefly review the major sections of Missionary Standards handbook.
Section 1: Message from the Prophets and Introduction to the Mission Experience
The first section of the handbook reinforces the sacred nature of your calling and reminds you that you have been called of God by a prophet and set apart to assist the Church in this great work of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. It explains the meaning of the title of the handbook, Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ, is because to be an effective missionary, you must be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. And it explains how following these standards will help protect you physically, spiritually, and emotionally and help you be the disciple Jesus Christ needs you to become.
This section also encourages you to take joy in your missionary experience. It says “this is a time to rejoice and to experience lasting happiness and peace through Jesus Christ.” It says that you will get the most joy out of your mission when you are faithful to the commandments and obedient to the rules. And it also “means that you try to learn, grow, and improve; correct mistakes quickly; and take personal responsibility for your actions.” It reminds you that mission standards will bless you on your mission and help you for the rest of your life as you learn to use God’s commandments and His Spirit to guide you throughout your life.
Section 2: Missionary Organization and Activities
Mission Leadership: This section explains the role of the mission president and other young missionary leadership positions. “Your mission president and his wife, who serve together as your mission leaders, are called of God and set apart to lead the mission.” Young missionary leadership positions include the assistants to the mission president, zone leaders, and sister training leaders, and the handbook emphasizes that “leadership assignments do not indicate special recognition or advancement or reflect the worth of a missionary.”
Self-Reliance and Magnifying Your Calling: This section of the handbook also teaches that missionaries are to become spiritually self-reliant, and “act for [yourself]” (2 Nephi 2:16) by trusting the Lord and following the Spirit. It emphasizes the missionary’s personal responsibilities to learn to “magnify [your] office unto the Lord” (Jacob 1:19). Open communication with your companion, peer missionary leaders, and your mission president is also encouraged in this section.
Companions: Each missionary is assigned a companion who they are to stay with at all times. Regarding companions it says, “Never be alone. You should be able to see and hear your companion at all times unless you are in the bathroom, in an interview.” The handbook teaches that one of the blessings of being in missionary companionships is that “learning patience and love, practicing forgiveness, and accepting differences in personalities will bless you throughout your life.”
Stay in Your Assigned Area: Missionaries are assigned an area, typically a section of a city of set of neighborhoods, in which they are to stay and work. It says, “concentrate your efforts in your assigned teaching area….If you need to leave your area for another reason, request permission” from you mission leaders.
Missionary Work Activities: This section is about activities such as “participating in companion exchanges and transfers, working with members, responding to referrals, teaching, participating in councils and meetings, and serving” in the community. It says that, in working with members, invite them “to join you in normal and natural ways as you find, teach, baptize, and fellowship.”
Daily Schedule: Missionaries follow a strict daily schedule of activities as well as weekly district council meetings, regular zone conferences, and other mission leadership council meetings. The following is the standard daily schedule, though it “may be adjusted by the mission president” as needed. Missionaries get up by 6:30am. They eat, exercise, study, and plan in the morning, and then leave the apartment by 10am to find, teach, serve others, and do other proselytizing activities. They return to their housing by 9:30 p.m, write in their journal, pray, and are to be in bed by 10:30pm. “The schedule approved for your mission will allow time to work, rest, and refocus. It is important to get adequate rest and nutrition for your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.” See my full article on the missionary schedule for more details.
Preparation Day: One day a week, missionaries’ schedule varies a little to allow them to get prepared for the rest of the week. “Preparation day allows you time to refresh physically, spiritually, and emotionally” and provides “opportunities to be with other missionaries in your district and to enjoy wholesome recreational activities together.” On p-day, missionaries are to do communications with their family, do laundry, get hair cuts, clean the apartment, go shopping, and rest. “All preparation day activities should be completed by 6:00 p.m.” and afterwards you should do regular proselytizing activities. See my more detailed article on preparation day for more information.
Service in the Community: Missionaries work a few hours each week in service to others. “Find opportunities to serve your companion, the people you are teaching, members, and others in the community.” The handbook stresses that “you should serve with a sincere desire to help others without any expected outcomes” and that “if someone expresses interest in your message, reply very briefly and arrange to meet with them at a different time and location to share a message.”
3. Missionary Conduct
This section describes missionary standards of behavior and includes the characteristics of Christ you are expected to exemplify during your mission. As a missionary, you should conduct yourself at all times in such a way that everyone who sees you will recognize you as a representative of Jesus Christ.
Christlike Behavior: This section talks about how to put into practice more Christ-like behavior and includes a discussion on respecting “the customs, religious beliefs and practices, and sacred sites in your area at all times.” Says the handbook, “Pray and work to develop Christlike attributes as described in the scriptures and in Preach My Gospel, including gratitude, kindness, love, humility, patience, empathy, and obedience. With the Savior’s help and your own sincere and diligent efforts, you can develop Christlike attributes”
Temple Worthiness: Missionaries are expected to remain temple worthy at all times. “Keeping temple covenants of obedience, sacrifice, and consecration will empower you and help you become more like the Savior.”
The Law of Chastity: One important part of worthiness is keeping the Lord’s law of sexual purity, the law of chastity. “Do all you can to protect yourself, your companion, and others from sexual temptation that could lead to breaking this sacred covenant.” This includes but is not limited to sexual intercourse, same-sex activity, oral sex, sexting, masturbation, and pornography.
Honesty: Missionaries are, of course, expected to be honest in all their interactions. This includes “giving accurate reports of your work and how you have spent your time throughout the week in your weekly reports.”
Interactions with Others: Missionaries should keep their language dignified and avoid using slang. Missionaries should “not counsel adults about personal problems. [Instead], refer members to their bishop if they need counseling.” Missionaries should, “never be alone with anyone younger than age 18.” They should “be cautious about playing with groups of children” and “whenever possible, get a parent’s permission to interact with a child.”
Recreation: Missionaries are encouraged to participate in wholesome recreational activities on p-day such as visiting historical and cultural sites, museums and parks. “You can learn to more fully love the people you serve by taking sincere interest in their culture, history, land, and traditions through visits to local places of interest, generally on preparation day.” Missionaries are cautioned to not participate in high risk activities “because missionaries have been seriously injured while participating in risky activities.” Therefore, missionaries should not do: contact sports, gymnastic, winter sports, water sports, mountain climbing, rock climbing, motorcycle riding, horse riding, firearms or fireworks.
Videos, Music, Online and Offline Media: Missionaries have strict guideline regarding the type of media they can consume. There is no “television, movies, video games, and unauthorized videos”, no “audiobooks, music, and reading material”, and no “social media, mobile apps, and online media” except those specifically allowed for missionaries such as the scriptures, Church magazines, and Church social media.
Photos and Videos: “Photos can help you share your mission experience with people at home and can be meaningful reminders of your mission”, but be sure to “ask permission before taking and sharing photos or videos.” And also remember that “taking certain photos may be offensive or illegal in some cultures and places.”
Communication with Family and Friends: Communicating with family and friends should only take place on your preparation day. “You may communicate with your family on your weekly preparation day via letters, emails, text messages, online messaging, phone calls, and video chat.” But remember that you, the missionary, should be the one to initiate all the communications with your family. Also, “prioritize your time on preparation day by communicating with your parents first and your mission president second.” Also remember that “generally, family and friends should not visit you during your mission.”
Weekly Letter to Your Mission President: “Write a letter to your mission president weekly on preparation day. Generally, you will submit your letter to him using the [online] Missionary Portal.” In that letter, “be open and honest so that he can understand any concerns you have and provide relevant counsel and feedback.”
- Language: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). As a missionary, you should avoid slang and inappropriately casual language, even in your apartment with your companion. Refined, dignified language will identify you as a servant of the Lord. You should refer to other missionaries as “Elder” or “Sister” and their surnames, not by their first names, nicknames, or surnames alone.
- Dress and Grooming: A missionary’s appearance is often the first message others receive, and it should support what you say. Therefore, you will be expected to wear conservative, professional clothing that is consistent with your sacred calling. Be neat and clean. Never allow your appearance or your behavior to draw attention away from your message or your calling.
- Study: “Treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85). Follow the guidelines for personal and companion study each morning. Focus your study on the scriptures and the approved missionary reading list. If you are learning a new language, study it throughout your mission to improve your communication skills.
- Community Service: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). You should look for opportunities to serve those around you—investigators, Church members, your companion, and the people you meet. You should seek opportunities for service projects in the community each week. Although you should serve out of a sincere desire to help others, look for teaching opportunities that arise from your service.
Physical and Temporal Well-Being:
- Finances: The money you receive on your mission is sacred because it represents sacrifices by you, your family, and others. Budget your money and spend it wisely. Use your monthly mission allowance for rent, groceries, personal grooming items, laundry, cleaning supplies, haircuts, postage, and transportation. Keep a reserve fund with enough cash that you could travel to mission home if you were not able to obtain money through the normal way. Read this article for more info on the LDS Mission Cost.
- Housing: Your housing should be safe, clean, and economical and allow you to maintain privacy and the dignity of your calling. Clean your apartment each p-day or as needed. Follow maintenance guidelines established by your mission president and your landlord. Your mission president or others he assigns will inspect your living quarters regularly.
- Bicycles: If you ride a bicycle, learn bicycle safety rules, use caution, obey all traffic rules, and use proper hand signals. Avoid riding after dark, in heavy traffic, or in bad weather. Always wear a helmet. Make sure your bicycle has a working headlight and taillight and clearly visible reflectors.
- Automobiles: Use of a mission-owned vehicle is a privilege afforded some missionaries. If you do not obey the rules, though, you may lose this privilege. Drive only mission-owned vehicles. Do not give rides to anyone other than full-time missionaries. Stay within established mileage limitations and obey all other car-related rules such as one missionary being outside the vehicle to direct while the other is backing up.
- Health: Try to keep in good health so that you can serve with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. Exercise daily and if you need medical care, call your mission president immediately. He will know where the best medical care can be obtained. Visits to a physician or other healthcare professional should be authorized in advance by your mission president, though in an emergency, get help immediately and then inform your mission president as soon as possible.
- Security: Listen to and follow the promptings of the Spirit, which can warn you of danger. Travel after dark only in lighted areas, and stay away from unsafe areas. Avoid situations that could lead to confrontations such as public demonstrations. Never become involved in political or commercial activities or in discussions or arguments on political or economic topics.
Mission Leadership and Organization
- Ministering and Administering: Leaders should study the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets to learn the principles of Christlike leadership. They should be sensitive to the needs of others and prayerfully seek ways to strengthen them (see Luke 22:32). Their goal is not merely to supervise or motivate, but to lift, encourage, inspire, and bless.
- Example: A good leader sets an example of gospel living and selfless service to God and His children. Missionary leaders should set an example in the way they carry out their missionary work. They work hard, obey the rules, and their proselyting area should be a model for other missionaries. Leaders must teach through example how to plan, how to find and teach investigators, and how to work with local Church leaders and members.
Guidelines for Couples and Senior Sisters
Couples and sisters age 40 and older are not expected to follow the same proselyting schedule of younger missionaries, though most of the other rules still apply. As older missionaries, the younger missionary will look to you as an example. Be aware that to meet the needs in your area, your mission president may assign you responsibilities other than those you received with your call. Even if you have an office role or a non-proselyting assignment, all missionaries should seek to share the gospel.
Living the missionary rules found in the Missionary Handbook will help you feel the spirit of missionary work. When you accepted your call, you promised to live by these standards. Always keep in mind the importance of your call and strive to magnify your calling. As you obey the rules you will show the Lord your love for Him, earn the trust and confidence of members and nonmembers, and qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days” (D&C 64: 34).