Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Mouth of Two or Three Witnesses: President Thomas S. Monson and Elder Russell M. Nelson Reaffirmed Missionary Emphasis at General Conference

Kristin Murphy(©) Deseret News
At the opening conference session on Saturday, 2 October 2010 President Thomas S. Monson reaffirmed the church's missionary emphasis that has been supported by every prophet going back to President Joseph Smith Jr.

Scott Taylor of the Deseret News wrote:  "President Monson also called on the church's young men and male teens to prepare themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually and worthily to serve as missionaries.

"I repeat what prophets have long taught — that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission," he said. "Missionary service is a priesthood duty — an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much."

President Monson himself a former Mission President in the Canada Toronto Mission declared:

First, to young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and to you young men who are becoming elders: I repeat what prophets have long taught—that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary. Keep yourselves clean and pure and worthy to represent the Lord. Maintain your health and strength. Study the scriptures. Where such is available, participate in seminary or institute. Familiarize yourself with the missionary handbook Preach My Gospel.
A word to you young sisters: while you do not have the same priesthood responsibility as do the young men to serve as full-time missionaries, you also make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome your service.   

And now to you mature brothers and sisters: we need many, many more senior couples. To the faithful couples now serving or who have served in the past, we thank you for your faith and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. You serve willingly and well and accomplish great good.

To those of you who are not yet to the season of life when you might serve a couples mission, I urge you to prepare now for the day when you and your spouse might do so. As your circumstances allow, as you are eligible for retirement, and as your health permits, make yourselves available to leave home and give full-time missionary service. There are few times in your lives when you will enjoy the sweet spirit and satisfaction that come from giving full-time service together in the work of the Master.
In the Saturday evening Priesthood Session Elder Rusell M. Nelson gave a second witness when he said: "This commandment is one of many that have been renewed because the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness. Missionaries serve now just as they did in New Testament times."

 Elder Nelson concurred with President Monson and requested that families prepare even more missionaries:
We need more missionaries—more worthy missionaries. During His earthly ministry, the Lord told His disciples, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”

At this morning’s session of general conference, our beloved President Thomas S. Monson made an impassioned plea for each young man of this Church to prepare for missionary service. I hope his entire message will be heeded in every home of the Church.
To President Monson’s wise counsel, I add my witness. In my family, I have observed the blessings that come to each missionary. Thus far, the number of our children, grandchildren, and their spouses called to serve as full-time missionaries is 49, and that number will continue to increase. In each instance, I have seen the growth in wisdom, maturity in judgment, and flowering of faith that developed in each missionary. They, just as many generations before them, embarked in the service of God to “serve him with all [their] heart, might, mind and strength.” Missionary service has helped to shape their divine destiny.

Peggy Fletcher Stack suggests that their statements were influenced by the declining numbers of missionaries.  She says that LDS spokesperson Scott Trotter attributes the decline to the fact that the bar has been raised for LDS missionaries and that the number of missionary-aged young men is due to "the fluctuating population of missionary-age members."  Both factors contribute to the decline from a high of 62,000 to around 52,000.

Although these factors may influence the Church leaders I think it is a deeper motivation in that missionary work is an ongoing mandate and like Elder Nelson says a commandment from the Lord and as President Monson points out a priesthood obligation for young men.  I also think it is necessary from time to time for each Prophet to reemphasize the importance of missionary work since it is an important means of bringing in new members.  There are some argue that not a lot of them remain but they remain at about the same rate as members born in the church just there are a lot more of the latter.

The number of missionaries has remained around the same for the past decade.  The addition of recent converts has also been pretty consistent ranging from a low of 240,000 to about 273,000 over the past twenty years.  The missionary effort also results in the retention of less than 25% of the converts after one year according to David Stewart at Cumorah.com eit.  This number hasn't particularly changed since the 1960s when Marion G. Romney said that it didn't matter whether you were born in the church or converted that 18% would remain either way.  David Stewart has been on a mission to try to raise awareness of the retention rate but that is not something has been solved yet. He wants missionaries to concentrate on working to retain members.  I on the other hand think it is a member responsibility.  Either way it needs some improvement.

It is interesting to note that President Monson softened previous statements about sister missionaries saying even though it is not a priesthood obligation: " you also make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome your service".   President Hinckley said about the same thing but the statement we welcome your service can be taken as more sister can go if they want.  I have now sent four of my seven daughters on missions.  Sister missionaries are highly successful and can make a difference in maintaining convert baptisms since sisters teach a lot of people that join the church.  I have never seen a breakout of elder versus sister but it would be interesting to see. A couple of my daughters baptized on a monthly basis.  In addition there are thousands of young women who meet the higher standards and there is a large pool of young women who might serve mission.  Culturally many local church leaders have not encouraged them to serve.  With statements like President Monson's they need to begin to change their attitudes toward young woman serving.  
I encourage my daughters to serve a mission for two reasons: one my wife served a mission and two I know that the divorce rate drops for LDS females that marry after the age of 23 1/2. Since you can't go on a mission until you are 21 and return at 22 1/2 and it takes a few months to get married young LDS women are closer to the time when their chances of divorce decline by almost one half.  There are a few reasons for the decline one is that they can understand the mentality of a spouse who might have served a mission and they experienced similar types of experiences which makes them more compatible with them.  The other thing is that they have a chance to develop and grow and they have the chance to live away from the Wasatch front or other highly populated LDS areas which makes them better at adjusting when they leave their families and marry young men that might have to relocate elsewhere.

I also think the emphasis on couples is that they are a significant population that have the economic means to serve.  An increasing amount of couples have been going out lately.  With the rise in the mortality rate and the greying of America there are a lot of senior missionaries that are healthy and can serve well in to their seventies without fear of  dying on their missions.  Older men and women can lead active lives well beyond retirement and more an more are living in to their eighties which allows them to do more things.  People might argue that the economic times make it harder for them but the truth of the matter is that a couple can go on a mission to wherever they choose.  Some very affordable missions like Belize are in one of the highest baptizing missions The West Indies.  In fact I told my wife I was thinking of being called there so I could sit on the beach after proselyting every night and drinking fruit drinks with a straw.

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