Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thomas S. Monson Sets the Gold Standard for Mission Presidents: Should Missionaries Be Sent Home

I read an interesting indicator of success that Thomas S. Monson achieved while serving as a mission president. In President Thomas S. Monson,” Ensign, Jul 1995, 6" Francis M. Gibbons, shares a principle that all mission presidents should achieve:

President Spencer W. Kimball regarded Thomas S. Monson as “truly a ‘do it’ man,” meaning one who acts promptly and resolutely. He also acted buoyantly and with unbounded optimism, qualities that typified his work as mission president. His main focus was the missionaries. He quickly learned their names, taught and counseled them regularly, and encouraged each one to become his best self. Such caring avoided early departures from the field or disciplinary councils. No missionary who served under President Monson received a dishonorable release or returned home before completing his service. Such leadership was reflected in the achievements of the missionaries during his tenure when converts per missionary and convert baptisms climbed sharply, fueling an aggressive program of erecting Church buildings.

My own mission president M. Russell Ballard who served in the very same mission was aware of this achievement and emulated Tom Monson, as he called him. Elder Monson called him as a mission president on at least a monthly basis and visited our mission at least twice that I can remember. I was one of the missionaries that Ballard had fits with and on at least four occasions he came close to sending me home. I wasn't as bad as another elder who bought himself radios and televisions and was overtly disobedient nor of a companion I had who told girls there was always room for jello. I think the Monson standard kept him from sending us all home.

I recently had a couple of missionaries in my home who told of serving under a mission president who told them that if they weren't obedient he would send them home within forty-eight hours. They assured me that you were totally obedient to the mission rules but it put the fear in them that they might be sent home if they didn't measure up. I am sure the mission president was probably just trying to get them to keep the mission rules and he did get some results as the highest producer in baptisms in years. I just know from speaking to those elders he put some real angst in to the lives of his missionaries who were fearful of the consequences of disobedience.

I don't know about you but if I had had a mission president like this I would probably have never made it through my mission. I never did much wrong other than feel guilt that I didn't measure up. If my mission president had butted heads with me I would have push back hard. I am sure there are days in which even an otherwise calm elder has problems.

I think of my own three daughters, two who have served and one currently serving, I have made ultimatums to them on different gospel principles and they told me to stick it. I don't disagree that missionaries should be obedient but the way to get someone to follow is not to rule your mission with the concept that I will send any elder or sister home in a heartbeat who takes me on.

When I was a missionary President Ballard had me do some focus exercise using D&C 121: 34-46. I was to ask myself what does it say and what will I do. One group of verses is the key to how mission presidents should act and follow President Monson's approach:

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the anature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little bauthority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise cunrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but afew are chosen.
41 No apower or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the bpriesthood, only by cpersuasion, by dlong-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

I don't know if all missionaries would perform well under President Monson's standard but it seem to work for him and Elder Ballard. Personally I think it is the best philosophy. It seems to me a missionary would have to do something bad before a mission president would send him or her home.

Maybe the mission president had a group of disobedient missionaries and he was talking about extreme cases of immorality. My impression though was he demanded obedience since he was a corporate type. In business if a person doesn't work out or disagrees they just can the person. I have met about a dozen of missionaries so far who served under this man and they are some of the sweetest boys I have ever met. I have heard from three of them about the going home quotes in great details. They actually enjoyed telling me. They considered themselves obedient and got a kick out of it.

I marvel when I have these boys over for dinner that they are so nice and so obedient. It is amazing to me that it didn't screw them up psychologically. They always leave us with a gospel message that is well-thought out. They just consider it a standard expression since we are constantly told in every meeting to be obedient. I went to a leadership training meeting this week where all the leader were told how we needed to do better. Instead of using guilt as a motivation maybe we should use gratitude.

I for one think if I were a mission president I would preside by respecting my missionaries and being grateful that they are out there serving the Lord. I would be honored to have boys like the ones I met in my home serve under me if I were a mission president. They are good elders. Don't get me wrong they loved their mission presidents and respected them but they had some compelling reason to tell my wife and me this story about being sent home despite being worthy elders. They told me this mission president could see in their souls by looking them in the eye. I am sure all of us have sin and feel unworthy and need Christ in our lives. My feeling is that even an imperfect man or woman can bring others to Christ. I don't discount a mission president gets revelation about good and bad things missionaries do. I'm sure a campaign of negativity impels them to produce any greater results. I think they would have produce the same without being told they would go home.

You can challenge them in positive ways that don't use intimidation as a factor. If an elder or sister is struggling a mission president needs to have patience to lift them to higher ground. I think you can still produce numbers with only a portion of the missionaries firing on all cylinders. Ballard used to say we were up and down like toilet seats. Mission presidents need to time their missionaries' results so that they are effectively going forward so even if a few are down. He will still be doing what the Lord wants which is to bring new members in without losing the ones you have. We certainly don't want to lose our boys and girls at the expense of bringing a few more in to the church. I don't see it as an either or proposition. The loss of a missionary is an exponential loss since you lose their prospective converts and their future children and wives. That is a sobering thought to me.

If I had been lost by sending me home I think the trajectory of my life would have been different. Certainly my three daughters and the dozens of people they taught and people they baptized wouldn't have happened. I know for a fact if I had been sent home dishonorably I certainly wouldn't have spent thirty thousand dollars sending three children on missions and another sixty thousand in the future on five more children to go. Tom Monson maybe a caring man but he is no cream puff and he knows the cost of the loss of one missionary can run in to the loss of thousands of future members.

I hope there are mission presidents out there who disagree with what I say. I would like to know their perspective. I also don't want to slander Brailsford and maybe his missionaries misunderstood him to say he would send them home if they did did not follow the mission rules exactly. Maybe he was talking in context if a young man or young woman committed some grievous transgression he would send them home. I define grievous transgression as a sexual sin. Then no mission president would be able to save them.

If they had gospel doubts that is a different matter for a different post. But I will say I prefer to know that about an elder or sister. If I were a mission president I would take the time to work with that elder or sister in my mission home to see if we could explore the gospel in meaningful ways. I am not advocating a lack of firm discipline but rather one in which the mission president stays engaged. It costs time and effort and emotion for children. I know it is not easy when instead of ten kids you have 200 but as President Monson says the Lord qualifies who he calls.

You can use guys like Reid Robison who spend dozens of hours teaching and discussing the gospel with them in training sessions to see it can be done. He has a superior group of missionaries who are enthused about their missions. It takes effort to build relationships with every single missionary but maybe it is time for mission presidents to put in the time and emulate Thomas S. Monson who truly loved his missionaries. I think most mission presidents are doing the best they can but as I learned at Harvard your mission and vision and philosophy drive your organization. I would rather think mission presidents would want to see their glass half full rather than half empty. I don't feel a my way or the highway approach is as good as I will not lose even one missionary philosophy. I think you will get better results and lose less missionaries with the latter.

I am sure there are some mission presidents who have had extreme missionaries who had to take measures. As a parent I would hate to see my children traumatized more than they already are if they have to carry guilt like I have the rest of their lives. I feel the Monson standard is a more positive approach.

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