What is a Mormon mission? On the surface that may seem like a silly question because most of the audience knows exactly what it is already. But I believe, for the benefit of future missionaries as well as for non-Mormon friends that come to this site, it is worth discussing.
A mission, whether religious in nature or not, is defined as “a specific task with which a person or a group is charged.” A religious mission is “a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to propagate its faith.” Consistent with these definitions from Webster, a Mormon mission is when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon Church) are given the task to actively share their faith with others.
Varieties of a Mormon Mission
Proselytizing Missions: Nearly all Mormon missionaries serve proselytizing missions in which they devote the majority of their time to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those unfamiliar with our faith. All missionaries also spend time in community and personal service to others. The Church even recently announced missionaries will be using Facebook in their work to meet and teach people. Missionaries teach the fundamentals of the gospel of Jesus Christ:
- that God is our Heavenly Father, He loves us and has a plan for our eternal happiness.
- that Jesus Christ is our Savior and only by following his teachings can we receive salvation.
- that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Lord’s instrument in restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ after a long period of apostasy.
- that repentance and baptism are the gateway to eternal life.
- that through prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God guides each of us.
Young Men: At age 18, young Mormon men are asked to leave their homes for two years and dedicate their lives to missionary service. Former Church President Spencer W. Kimball was asked a few years ago, “Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?” He responded with this answer: “Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission. The Lord expects it of him. And if he is not now worthy to fill a mission, then he should start at once to qualify himself.” (From “President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary,” New Era, May 1981) Every Church president since then has reiterated that call for all young men to serve a full-time mission.
Young Women: Young Mormon women, called sister missionaries, can go on a one and a half year mission when they turn 19 years old. Former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, regarding young sister missionaries, “They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders [male missionaries] cannot. But it should be kept in mind that young sisters are not under obligation to go on missions. They should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men, but some will wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents.” (From “To the Bishops of the Church,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, June 2004)
Senior Couples: When married couples are no longer in the full-time work force, they are encouraged to go on a proselytizing missions, humanitarian missions, and other types of missions. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said this of senior missionaries: “I feel a deep responsibility to speak to you today about a pressing need in the Church. My greatest hope is that as I speak, the Holy Ghost will touch hearts, and somewhere a spouse or two will quietly nudge his or her companion, and a moment of truth will occur. I will speak on the urgent need for more mature couples to serve in the mission field.” (From Robert D. Hales, “Couple Missionaries: A Time to Serve,” Ensign, May 2001)
Church Service Missions, Temple Missions, and Others: The types of missions mentioned above are the most common, but there are a wide variety of other types of missions available for older single women, for young people who for health reasons can’t serve a full-time mission, and for others. “For those [youth honorably excused from full-time missionary labors] . . . , bishops may . . . identify appropriate local opportunities for Church or community service for a specified period of time (usually 6 to 24 months).” (From First Presidency letter, Jan. 30, 2004). See my article for more information on Church Service Missions.