Saturday, February 16, 2008

Preparing to Be a Mission President

This will be the first of a week long series of blogs on the role of a mission president. There really isn't much literature out there that describes how to prepare to be a mission president.

President Hinckley told a story that I found interesting: "I spoke at the funeral of a dear friend the other day. Some years ago he served as a mission president. He felt totally inadequate when he arrived in the field. He was sent to succeed a very good man, a man of great ability, an excellent leader, and a very able president.

When this new man took over the mission and made his first tour of meetings with missionaries, he said to them: “I never served a mission as a young man, and so I don’t know what you are going through. But do your best, your very, very best. Say your prayers and work hard and leave the harvest to the Lord.”

With that kind of spirit and that outreach of love, a whole new attitude spread through the mission. Members got behind the missionaries. Within a year the number of converts had doubled. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, [May 1999]: 104).

There are a few blogs by mission presidents that are helpful which I will describe in my next post. I will do a post later this week on spiritual preparation with many quotes coming from previous Mission Presidents' Seminars. There hasn't been any books written on the subject. Very few mission presidents have spoken on their experiences. We are told that each mission is unique and that each mission president has their own unique set of skill sets. That may be true but I believe that there are some commonality of tasks that a mission president does. I also think there are certain common characteristics that many possess. I don't think all come from the same background or are cookie cutters although there quite a many with management experience which is helpful in time management that isn't the only thing that makes a good mission president. These are just some general ideas.

There are hundreds of thousands of returned missionaries so there are many that desire to be mission presidents. The total amount of missionaries who have served in this dispensation topped one million a few months ago. Even though most men don't aspire to priesthood callings it is human nature for many would like to think somewhere in the back of their minds that one day they might be called to be a mission president. There are approximately 350 mission presidents who serve for three year periods with a third of them rotating each year. From the age of 21 until 80 or a 59 year period a typical LDS male hasn't many opportunities to be called each mission will turnover only about 20 times in a man's lifetime. There are between about one hundred and twenty missions for which a new president is called each year. In addition you have to be placed on a list for consideration which can take a few years before you are called if you are even on the list. The point is that opportunities are limited. It is the same logic of being called to a bishop or stake president but it is even more selective and comes from recommendations at a high level.

Spencer W. Kimball said on this subject: "Also, another great reason for having all boys become missionaries is the fact that two years of training and preaching and indoctrination themselves is a great education for them as they return home and enter the ecclesiastical field. We will need large numbers of bishops and stake presidents and mission presidents and other ecclesiastical authorities for the fast, constantly growing Church, and especially abroad.

We can never be totally happy with a few missionaries from a country when they should send hundreds, eventually thousands, of young people into the mission field. Yes, of course, it is a sacrifice, but not too great a sacrifice when we consider the advantages and the blessing which come there from." (Spencer W. Kimball, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 25 June 1976).

He also said: "You parents can do nothing better than to send your boy on a mission. It may mean sacrifice for him and sacrifice for you, but this is a training and graduation and growth that can come in no other way. Do you want your boys to be mission presidents and stake presidents and bishops? This is the way we go toward getting those blessings. Let no boy fail to offer himself for his mission." (Spencer W. Kimball, La Paz Bolivia Area Conference, 3 March 1977, p. 23).

My mission president M. Russell Ballard who serves on the Missionary Executive Committee likes to joke about how many leaders from the Halladay Stake that have been called. He lives in that stake, so I guess if you want to be a bishop bad enough move there and be a bishop or stake president member and then who knows you might get called. You could broaden your chances by find out who is on the committee and move to that person's area. It is hard to be called if no one knows who you are. Other than that I guess you will just have to believe you are called by God and some how you will come to some general authorities attention to be placed on the list.

Harold B. Lee is quite clear on this point: "When I ponder the lists of names submitted to me, I realize that these are not just names; they are real people, individuals, and I want to know something about them. I want to fulfill my responsibility with that same spirit of prophecy. No callings in the Church are given more careful consideration than are those for the mission field.
A prospective mission president once asked me,” Do you have a department to help me get my affairs in order?” I replied, “Yes, we do. It is the Lord. If you will go to him prayerfully, and humbly, he will help you get your affairs in order.” That mission president returned to tell me that I was right." (Harold B. Lee, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 27 June 1973).

A list of missions can be found at LDS Missions.Net; LDS Missions Network; LDS Missions.Com; LDS Mission Network.

David O. McKay said about the background of mission presidents: "The men who preside over our missions are chosen generally from the rank and file of the Church. They are businessmen, contractors, ranchers, college professors, lawyers, physicians and surgeons, dentists, and members of other professions. When the call comes to any such, no matter what his responsibilities or circumstances, seldom if ever does he offer an excuse but, as Samuel of old, replies: "Speak, for thy servant heareth," [1 Samuel 3:10] even though such acceptance means a financial sacrifice and sometimes the loss of political preferment." (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 129).

It is interesting to see if one's job has anything to do with being a mission president. I did a quick survey of the Guatemala South Mission from 1952 until 2008. These were the occupations listed: Chief Financial Officer, medical doctor, agri-business management, ophthalmologist, office furniture manufacturer, company executive, professor of Information Technology, telecommunications technician, technical draftsman, physician, securities business, merchant, and automobile executive. The Boston Massachusetts Mission has a more interesting pattern that is very atypical from 1974 until 2009: vice president oil pipeline company, dean of BYU Marriott School of Management, strategic planner, major league baseball player, lawyer, family estate planner, BYU Vice President, Apostle and CES Administrator, and BYU religion professor. I can't see a correlation pattern in mission presidents' life professions although there were a few management executives with a small smattering of blue collar workers in other countries.

I don't know if there is any transferability of skills from jobs to the mission field but I think developing good communication skills and time management skills are very important in preparing to be a good mission president. I notice that there are several mission presidents in the vocational areas I consulted that are professionally trained whether on the job or in the classroom. Mission presidents need to be teachable since they will undergo constant training from Church leaders and they should be good teachers since they will conduct leadership training for missionaries and local leaders.

Many mission presidents return back to areas they served in as young proselyting elders or areas their families came from. So one thing you can do to prepare to be a mission president is to go on a full-time mission whether it is a a single proselyting missionary or a missionary couple. Mission presidents tend to come from these two groups.

In 2006 there were 108 new mission presidents called. John Douglas Whisenant is one of them: "For John Douglas Whisenant, serving in Brazil is going “home.” The president of the Brazil Porto Alegre North Mission served in this same mission as a young missionary.

“I was here when the first stake was organized in São Paulo in 1966,” he said. “When we talk about the growth of the Church in a short time, I think of those days and look at the Church in Brazil today. There are now 26 missions and about 200 stakes—incredible.”

David B. Iwaasa is also returning home—to his heritage. Both he and his wife, Jane Kadonaga, are third-generation Japanese Canadians and are heading the Japan Fukuoka Mission.

“Jane and I have a deep love for the Japanese people and want to share the joy of the gospel with them,” Brother Iwaasa said. He feels, just as in 1 Nephi 3:7, that the Lord has prepared a way for them to accomplish this calling, as he has been privileged to serve in Canada as a bishop of a Japanese-speaking ward and in a stake presidency of a Japanese stake. Sister Iwaasa has also served in a Japanese-speaking ward and stake.

“As a consequence, I feel that we can understand many of the challenges facing those who become members of the Church in Japan,” Brother Iwaasa said.

Since we are not supposed to aspire to a calling I like to relate a story Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi told me once. He didn't aspire to any calling he just prepares himself so that he will be worthy of the call when it comes. So if you want to be a mission president you need to prepare and develop the skill sets that good mission presidents have.

How does one prepare to be a mission president? One of the best ways is to read the blog of a new mission president. Mike Murray has a few pre-mission posts on his blog: Called to Serve: Official Blog for Mike and Joyce Murray Mission President of the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

One suggested thing is to read the Preach My Gospel manual before going out as a mission president. Potential mission presidents need to know the current missionary program since that will be their guide on their missions. Richard G. Scott says: "Each mission president has been carefully taught how to implement the new materials. The result is a core of highly capable, devoted, enthusiastic mission presidents with the capacity to inspire and powerfully motivate their missionaries." You need to know the material of your missionaries.

One way to prepare is to do what I did. I taught for a few years Religion 130 Missionary Preparation. There wasn't any angle of missionary work I didn't cover from selection of their clothes, to learning missionary scriptures, to how to get along with their companions. You need to know the mindset of your potential missionaries and how to motivate them. One trick I learned was they will do anything for a Tootsie Roll. I guess that is why you need to learn how to eat with them and socialize with them. I noticed this was an intricate part of the experience.

You also need for them to feel the Spirit with you. M. Russell Ballard said that "zone conferences were like winding up a clock. The missionaries leave the zone conference charged up like an energizer bunny but unwind after four or five weeks." His job as mission president was to wind us up to teach and baptize so he brought us in each zone conference to help us remember Christ through our testimonies. You need to have the Spirit with you so you can give blessings, and say something that will change the lives of your missionaries and touch the hearts of your investigators and motivate the leaders in the area to help your missionaries. If you don't have the Spirit you will never make a good mission president.

Mission presidents also must like working with young people and older people. The largest part of your missionary group will be young men between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one with ten or twenty sisters and ten or twenty missionary couples between fifty-five and seventy years old. Mission presidents must love and motivate young people and respect and value older couples. M. Russell Ballard said: "Qualified, mature, inspired mission presidents and their wives shepherd the young people in their missions “like they were their very own children.”

Gordon B. Hinckley explains: "[A] factor that substantially blesses missionaries so that they may be productive in their sacred service is the caliber of men we have presiding over the missions. Those who serve in these capacities are not novices; they and their wives are mature brothers and sisters of broad experience. They stand as leaders and advisers, teaching the young missionaries and counseling older couples who come to them, protecting them from pitfalls into which they might stumble. (Gordon B. Hinckley, "We Have A Work To Do," Ensign, (January 1988): 5).

Mission presidents must also be seasoned members of the Church since they will be dealing with things like mission dedications, building dedications and opening up work in new cities, provinces and countries. They need to know the order of things from ordinations to how to conduct civil marriages to how to dedicate graves. In many areas of the church which are beginning they are asked to preside over every aspect including administrating the affairs of the church. They are consulted about formation of wards and stakes; splitting of stakes. They have to do a lot of training in non-established areas of the church. Good preparation requires you to know how to do these kinds of things. There isn't any aspect of church administration that you might be called on to do including training and setting apart people.

You need to develop public speaking skills. They will speak at a variety of meetings including meetings involving civil actions to allow missionary work. You could prepare by volunteering on city councils, school boards, or state or national government positions. There is more to being a mission president than giving a general talk or bearing your testimony. You will be speaking to all types of groups from other ministers to government officials to LDS church groups.

A great thing to learn in preparation is good time management. You will conduct five or ten meetings a day for a variety of reasons. You need to be able to plan out your day in an effective and efficient way. You represent the church so you need to be prepared since it could affect the work. Another thing is that in representing the church you need to present a good appearance. Whether you are fat or thin or tall or short you need to dress and act with decorum. You are the representative and others will judge us by you.

Another important skill is communication. You need to speak in a way that people will respect you. In addition you should develop language skills. You may have to communicate with people from other cultures even if it is just a few phrases of greeting. People will do much to help you if you respect their language, culture, and customs. You need to be able to understand missionaries, church leaders, church members, civic leaders and communicate to them our message in a way that there is real dialogue.

These are just a few things to ponder. I can't discuss every aspect of preparing to be a mission president. You need to have the Spirit and be in touch with the Lord. Only the Spirit can prepare each person. There isn't really a mold or a program that you can follow. I will discuss the spiritual aspects of preparation in a couple of posts where our Prophets and Apostles tell you what is important.

I hope that former mission presidents will join in this discussion since a little knowledge is better than being thrown unprepared out there on a mission. Just because you served in one or two leadership positions doesn't mean you will have a clue what you are doing. Good thing the General Authorities give constant training. I think it is like being a missionary it takes a little while to get your bearings. I would hope that we could develop in our culture a few discussions on the position so that at least the rest of us would have an inkling of what goes on in mission president culture.

I haven't been a mission president so my comments are generalized. I just did a little field research to see what I could find on the subject. My blogs are written as an observer and researcher. This ought to be a fun week for commenters.

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