Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mission Presidents as Leaders

In the 24 May 2008 Church News President Thomas S. Monson relates how he teaches new mission presidents that they need to be leaders and not buddies with their missionaries and missionaries about leadership.

Jason Swenson reported on President Monson's story:

"Later, while serving as a mission president, President Monson used a preparation day game of softball with his missionaries to teach an important lesson of leadership. A young elder who was pitching invited his mission president to take a few swings.

Oh, I don't know," President Monson told the elder, "I haven't played for a long time." But he handed his suit coat to his wife, Sister Frances Monson, selected a bat, stepped inside the batter's box, and told the elder "give me the best pitch you've got." The mission president smacked the ball out of the park.

The pitcher sent him another ball. Again, President Monson made solid contact. Then he handed the bat to the elder who was playing catcher. The catcher asked him if he was going to run the bases.

"No," he said, "I'm not competing with you missionaries, I'm your mission president. I just wanted you to know I could hit the ball."

President Monson sometimes shares that softball moment with new mission presidents. It's important that Aaronic Priesthood leaders establish "a little line" between themselves and the young men they lead. What if, say, that missionary-pitcher had lost his father a week after that softball game. "That's when that missionary needed a mission president — not another ball player."

Young men don't need another buddy or playmate, said President Monson. They need leaders to direct them." (Young men counseled to be their 'very best': Church president believes future is bright for Aaronic Priesthood holders, Church News [24 May 2008]: 3).

I think back on my own mission in Canada Toronto and I can see that my mission president M. Russell Ballard used to tell us the very same thing. He told us that he wasn't there to be our buddy he was there to direct us in what we should do. He said that his job as our mission president was to give us guidance. He said he could play basketball with us and hang out in the park and although he enjoyed it and would do it on occasion that wasn't what he or we were there for. We were there to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The best way that we would like him he told us was to motivate us to do our jobs. I always respected him for his tough nose attitude. I never felt slighted in the least that he didn't want to barbecue with me. Although I have wondered over the years why I haven't made his Christmas card list.

I think of my wife's mission president who was more easy going and would say what do you want to do elder or sister and tell them he wanted them to feel like he was their dad so he would just trust their judgment. Unfortunately their judgment has a few problems. She told me of how the elders and sisters held dances and would get together and had a fun mission. She felt a lot of guilt over having parties as a missionary. I wonder if her mission president had been a little more like Elders Ballard or Monson if she would have felt better about her mission. I don't know if one style fits all for a mission president. I bet a few missionaries had mission presidents that played handball, raquetball and basketball and took them out for Baskin Robbins and was their buddy and pal and they still had good missions. For me I couldn't wouldn't have excelled in that kind of an environment I was a serious minded missionary like Hyrum Smith who cut off the head of a doll so his kid didn't have any false idols. Russell Ballard was the perfect mission president for my style of missionary but is there only one style out there.


S.Faux said...

My recent RM son had a tow-the-line Mission President, who interviewed or contacted each missionary every week or two. Each missionary knew that they were responsible to the Mission President, that the President knew them personally, and that he knew their problems and issues. After a year out, our family visited the area for other purposes, but even so, the President would NOT allow a visit. (I called him on the phone). We did not mind, and we respected his decision. Although his management was strict, he was loving, and the morale in the mission was extremely high. They had high rates of baptisms.

My son was so consistently successful that he thought he would have consistent success when he returned home. He learned differently rather quickly.

Dr. B said...

You make a good point. Leadership in a ward and stake is much different than in the mission field. It is more relational in a stake and ward with relationships spanning years. A young man has to catch the eye of his leaders and get along with a variety of people. People who produce in callings are not always respected for their accomplishments it is more of a subjective or matter of popularity contest. You never know who you are going to offend or who will like you. It is more like corporate politics being a Mormon you rise to the level of your incompetency. In the eleven different places I have lived I have been treated like to prodigal son to being treated like a piece of slime or just outright ignored. When I was a missionary and shortly after my mission M. Russell Ballard tried to tell us we were the leaders of the future. It is interesting that for some he liked that occurred with a little help from their friend. I cannot figure it out since it doesn't matter if you are a return missionary or not in receiving callings. Sometimes it has to be the hand of God and sometimes it is who is your buddy and pal. I have seen it both ways more the latter than the former. Ballard had an answer to that one also we don't call the best man to the job we call the right man to the job. Sure they call whom they like. You have to have a sense of humor to be a male member since none of us aspire to callings because it is not were you serve but how you serve we are told.

Th. said...


Great points. As a teacher, I have to maintain those same kind of boundaries. I haven't had occasion to think about these issues as a part of church service, but I agree with President Monson's argument.

* said...

I noticed your mission president links. Here is another one.