The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

I Hope They Call Me on a Mission

Why would somebody want to go on a mission?

Among the first songs Mormon children learn is, "I hope they call me on a mission."  But come on.  How many Mormon kids really want to go into the world and tell strangers that they need to change religions in order to find true happiness and "come unto Christ?" I would guess not many.  So why do they go on missions? What is the real answer? There are likely as many answers to that as there are missionaries. But here are some common themes:

  • To become a man. Going on a mission is a rite of passage to manhood the likes of which is generally lacking in Western society. You leave home a boy with the boyish attributes of flightiness, immaturity, and ignorance. Two years later, you return a man, with the attributes of deep understanding, maturity, wisdom, and often fluency in a second language.
     
  • To get a mate. The ultimate goal of the youth of the church is to marry one of the elite Mormon youths in the templeótemple marriage is the required ordinance to make it in the top level of heaven. Mormon girls spend a lot of time thinking about the desired attributes of whoever turns out to be their Prince Charmingóand being a returned missionary is one of the most important items on the list. In fact, many Mormon young women wonít date young men who havenít been on missions. The guys know this, and they go on a mission to increase the chance that they will find an attractive mate.
     
  • To gain a testimony. A common theme among missionary stories is that the young man doesnít really "know" that the church is true when they begin their missions. But on their missions, they have profound spiritual experiences where they learn that the church really is true. The conviction that the Church is true is valued and coveted in Mormonism, and many go on missions so that they will know for themselves that the Church is true.
     
  • Family Pressure. In many Mormon families, going on a mission is a givenósomething that the kids knew was an inevitable part of their future for as long as they can remember. Parents take a lot of pride in having children go on missions, and their kids find themselves under a mountain of pressure to fulfill their parents expectations in this regard.
     
  • Obedience to the Church. Most youth believe the Church is true because they trust everybody around them that speak with such conviction that they know it is true. Everyone reminds you that it is a commandment that every young man serve a mission. So out of obedience to this explicit cultural pressure, they do as they are told.
     
  • Obedience to God. Some people donít really feel effected by the pressure of the church and its culture to go on a mission, but they do have some spiritual experiences that make them believe that God wants them to go on a mission. They go for the simple reason that they believe that is what God wants them to do.
     
  • Love of God.  This is a variation of Obedience to God that some site visitors have suggested. The distinction is to emphasize that it is love of God that motivates the obedience to the perceived mandate. "If you love me, keep my commandments."
     
  • Fear of not fulfilling their lifeís purpose. As youíll learn in the discussions, Mormons believe that people existed before they came to earth and that they were assigned specific tasks that they are to accomplish in life. Almost always, one of those tasks is to go on a mission. A very touching story is circulated among the members of the church about two souls who were best friends in the spirit world before coming to earth. They anxiously waited for their assignments regarding their earthly life. The assignments came and one was assigned to the perfect Mormon family in Utah, and the other was assigned to a non-member family somewhere else. The soul destined to be a non-member was extremely frightened at the prospect of going through life without the benefit of the true church, and right before he was born he looked at his friend and pleaded, "find me!"  The missionary is afraid that that story might be about him.  After he is dead he doesn't want to face the possibility that not going resulted in terrible hardships, perhaps for generations.
     
  • Love of others.  Several site visitors have suggested that this be added to the list.  Some people claim that they find intense joy, truth, and meaning in the Mormon church.  Because of the benevolent feelings they have for humanity, they go on missions to share this light with mankind.
     
  • Worldly advantage. Some people go on a mission primarily for the benefits they will see in the world after their mission. They might believe that God will bless their future lives with some divine intervention to make it better because they went on a mission in their youth, or they might want to go in order to get language skills, sales skills and leadership experience on their resumes.
     
  • Going with the flow.  Some people don't have a strong motivation to go on a mission.  They don't have a strong motivation to do anything else, either.  In Mormon culture, the path of least resistance is to go on a mission, and that is where such people end up drifting along.

I think thatís a good list to start with for why guys go on missions. Girls donít have the same social pressure that guys do.  A few returned sister missionaries have emphatically told me that the reason they went was either the "love of God" or the "love of others" listed above. 

 


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If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to analytics@lds4u.com.