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?
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
- 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
- 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