When I’m a Mission President…

July 13, 2004 | 52 comments
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…pigs will fly. But until then, I can imagine.

The article which Kaimi referred us to in the previous post has sparked a very nice, rambling discussion about church growth rates in Latin America and elsewhere. More importantly, it has reminded of the excellent, wide-ranging work of Dave Stewart, a church member who has spent over a decade gathering and synthesizing information on how our mission program actually works (or doesn’t), and compares the rather undeveloped state of “Mormon missiology” to that of other congregations, who have thought long and hard about what constitutes real growth, what makes for real and lasting conversions, and how missionaries and the rank-and-file membership can work together. I first ran across Stewart’s stuff a couple of years ago, and was deeply impressed then; I’m still impressed now. His collected research is thorough, somewhat repetitive, and no doubt could be criticized by professional statisticians, sociologists, and numerous others. But that doesn’t stop it from being a tremendous and thoughtful accomplishment.

Stewart is neither a crank nor a critic. He plainly loves the gospel, and especially loves missionary work–far, far more than I ever did or probably ever will. He wants to understand why our missions and mission programs routinely suffer from some very basic problems in conversion, retention, and member involvement, and he proposes what seem to me to be extremely persuasive answers. I can only hope that Stewart’s work has been downloaded and studied by church employees, who are in a better position than he to test his suppositions.

As one with sufficiently conflicted feelings about my mission to make me sincerely (and publicly) hope that no one will ever expect or ask me to serve another one, the odds that I’ll ever appear to be mission president material to a visiting general authority is quite low. Still, if the church is ever so hard up as to call on me, I’ll go ahead and serve–but not without mandating a few changes, some inspired by Stewart’s suggestions, some drawn from my own experience.

1) I’d never transfer missionaries.
Why should you? Obviously, if you have companionships or districts that have turned into mini-war zones, or if an elder is flirting with the local compassionate service teacher, you’ve got to make some changes. But otherwise, I don’t understand the point of moving elders and sisters around. At the very least, you should serve for a year in one place. You should have to get to know a particular community and congregation, and they should have to get to know you. The randomness and transience of most missionary service simply encourages a further sense of detachment on the part of both missionaries and members; it makes it easier to think of church work as just a box to check off before one moves on.

2) I wouldn’t let anyone baptize anybody who hadn’t attended church for three months straight.
The reasons for this are obvious. A) It means that the prospective convert will have more time to learn about the gospel and the church, and ease into the great transition he or she will be making. B) It gives the members more time to get to know and thus be more supportive of and familiar with the future convert. C) It forces missionaries to slow down, take a breather, and focus more on the person than the person’s commitments (or lack thereof).

3) I’d institute some sort of missionary school, with the explicit aim of rooting out bizarre gospel rumors unintentionally perpetuated by missionaries (as well continuing with their language and/or cultural education if it was an foreign mission) throughout the duration of their mission.
It might be a good idea to get locally called missionaries and members involved in teaching these.

4) I’d encourage specialization and experimentation: radio broadcasts, hospital work, teaching classes at a local college, writing religious columns for the local newspaper, a missionary band playing upbeat hymns and Christian music in the park–whatever.

5) I’d allow elders to wear khaki pants.

I think that last one alone will guarantee my file permanent residence at the bottom of the potential mission president pile.

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52 Responses to When I’m a Mission President…

  1. Julie in Austin on July 13, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    I like all your ideas except for (1), and maybe (5), because then elders would have black accesories with khaki pants and we can’t have that, now can we?

    But as for (1), I think there are reasons for it, one of which might be your (3). For example, I went through 2 sets of sisters before I was baptized, making it that much less likely that if one of them had a strange doctrinal fixation (they didn’t) that I wouldn’t know any better. I also think missionaries benefit from being in different kinds of wards–different socioeconomic levels, different leadership styles, etc., etc.

    I think the detachment that you speak of is a real–but possibly good–thing. I am one who generally doesn’t bother to learn the missionaries’ names (even tho we feed them regularly). I think this may help the members focus on the fact that this person is primarily a Representative of Jesus Christ and not Elder Whos-His-Bananas, naive farmboy from Idaho, or whatever.

  2. Julie in Austin on July 13, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    I like all your ideas except for (1), and maybe (5), because then elders would have black accesories with khaki pants and we can’t have that, now can we?

    But as for (1), I think there are reasons for it, one of which might be your (3). For example, I went through 2 sets of sisters before I was baptized, making it that much less likely that if one of them had a strange doctrinal fixation (they didn’t) that I wouldn’t know any better. I also think missionaries benefit from being in different kinds of wards–different socioeconomic levels, different leadership styles, etc., etc.

    I think the detachment that you speak of is a real–but possibly good–thing. I am one who generally doesn’t bother to learn the missionaries’ names (even tho we feed them regularly). I think this may help the members focus on the fact that this person is primarily a Representative of Jesus Christ and not Elder Whos-His-Bananas, naive farmboy from Idaho, or whatever.

  3. Kaimi on July 13, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    I wore khaki pants on my mission. All of the elders in my mission did. I don’t think that it made us any less spiritual or had any harmful effects (but maybe that’s just some harmful-effect-that-I-can’t-detect talking).

  4. Gilgamesh on July 13, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    I think that having a period for debriefing after release would also be beneficial. In my own experience, I realize I did not come off my mission until I had been married five years and had two children. I went to a job interview out of state and realized that this was the first time I had spent a night alone, without companion, family, BYU roomate, or spouse since before my mission. I then reassessed my life and noted that I had worked for the church for four years (including the MTC) in a dead end job so I wouldn’t have to face the reality that I was home and had to make my own decisions. A month long debriefing and Return to Life Training Center would have been helpful, in my opinion.

  5. danithew on July 13, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    In addition to some serious church-attendance, as Russell suggested, I think there needs to be a really strong emphasis on reading the Book of Mormon with the missionaries. I didn’t meet to many investigators who would really read the chapters assigned and I often saw that elders would ask if the investigator read, hear a “no” answer and then would just go on to the next discussion.

    I think in that situation the missionary needs to stop worrying about getting that next discussion taught and instead focus on the chapter — reading it with the investigator. My experience was that those converts who had read at least 7 or 8 chapters of the Book of Mormon, in addition to getting the discussions, were much more likely to stay active after baptism.

    In Latin America (or at least in Guatemala) the focus seemed to often just be getting the discussions taught and getting that person or family into the baptismal font. Sometimes, with a particularly golden investigator, this approach was ok but in general it was a big mistake.

  6. clarkgoble on July 13, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    The problem with (1) beyond companions who don’t like each other is that it is easy to get burnt out. I can think of many times I eagerly awaiting transfers. I was in one area for 8 months and it definitely was time for a change. It becomes easy to get cynical and that affects the work. That’s especially true in areas that don’t baptize much.

  7. danithew on July 13, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    I was in an area for six months where my companion and I had to act as the branch president(s). It was a special and memorable area but I am ashamed to say in the sixth month I sent a letter to my mission president begging for a transfer. I often found the heavy responsibilities with the membership to be overwhelming and at times it caused me to break down into tears. I’ve never envied or coveted a major position of church responsibility since then.

    By the way, if you’re ever going to conduct a meeting and you find yourself losing it emotionally, that’s a great time to bear your testimony. That’s probably a horrible thing to say — but I did it once in that area.

    So for that reason, based on those experiences, I would suggest that transfers could be a good thing. Then again, maybe if that had been my permanent area and I knew it, I would have sucked it up better.

  8. Heidi on July 13, 2004 at 7:48 pm

    Amen to that! (danithew’s comment)

    Am I the only one who looked for excuses to do other things with potential converts (such as read the scriptures, discuss existing problems, just check in) before moving on to the next discussion?

    In my mission, this certainly wasn’t the approved or encouraged approach, but it was the only approach I felt comfortable with. I always felt a little guilty noting on my timesheets that I had several visits with various contacts without having taught new discussions, since it seemed like the mission focus was solely on the number of discussions taught per week.

    My husband took the discussions with two sets of missionaries before being baptized, and the first pair regualarly stopped by to check on him, talk with him, etc. I (as the girlfriend) was really impressed with that because I thought it showed they cared about his concerns and feelings as a person and did not just view him as a “contact.” Of course, they didn’t baptize him, but I think they really paved the way so that he was fully ready and had worked through all of his issues by the time the second pair came around a year or so later.

  9. Nate Oman on July 13, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    I spent nine months of my mission in a single area. By the time I left, I think that the members were thoroughly sick of me. Indeed, I have often thought that regular transfers for members (at least some of them) might be a good idea. I suspect that there are numerous members of my current ward (especially the elders quorum that must labor through my lessons each week) who are counting the days until I get transfered again…

  10. William Morris on July 13, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    I also have doubts about no. 1. It sounds logical, but my mission experiences showed the wisdom of changing missionaries — although perhaps it doesn’t need to happen every two months. Four — six months is ideal, imo.

    1. In Romania, at least, we had enough problems with members growing attached to particular missionaries and tying their feelings about the gospel and the like to a particular testimony and way of doing things. Switching missionaries reinforced the idea that members needed to focus their friendships on other members and not the missionaries.

    2. Missionaries grow attached to certain investigators and are prone to keep visiting those who really have no interest in joining the church. I’m not saying that you give up on investigators who need time, but I recall moving into areas where the missionaries had spent a lot of time making visits to people who perhaps didn’t need a weekly visit (and I’m talking about visits that were more social than missionary-like). Or they’d spend a lot of time trying to hook up with “phantom” investigators, people that they had talked to once and had seemed great, but then went icognito [and not those who had valid reasons for their inability to set up or keep an appointment, but those who for whatever reason wouldn’t say that they just weren’t interested, but then spent time dodging the elders].

    3. Missionaries get set in certain routines and locations of finding people to teach in their area. They get stuck visiting the same streets and neighborhoods, doing the same finding activities. Or maybe that was just my particular problem. Once I forced myself out of the routine and looked for new areas to work in, I found that my enthusiasm for the work increased.

  11. Ben Huff on July 13, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    Heidi, I don’t know if it will cheer or depress you that in my mission in Japan (Tokyo South), it was normal to do other things when meeting with investigators than plow through another discussion. We regularly met with investigators just to read the Book of Mormon together. In most areas we had an investigator or two who had heard all six discussions and just kept meeting with us, reading the Book of Mormon, etc. If they seemed sincerely interested and would do things on their own like read BoM passages, attend Church activities, etc., we kept meeting with them, and then one day the right missionary would come along, or the right member fellowshipper, or the right moment when they would explain a lingering concern to us, and suddenly they were ready to be baptized.

    I’d say we usually took from two to four meetings to go through each discussion, talking through their questions and reading scriptures together. Plus interspersed we had maybe one BoM reading session per two discussion-based sessions. If the primary purpose was talking about the gospel, it counted on our stats as a “lesson”, even if it wasn’t based on the discussions.

    While I was there I always was a little mystified at how someone could meet with the missionaries six times and be ready to be baptized. I realize now that with the right kind of “extra-curricular” preparation in terms of contact with members, strong spiritual experience, etc., that would be fine, but only for people with such excellent preparation. If most of the preparation is through contact with the missionaries, it takes a lot more.

  12. Aaron Brown on July 13, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    I like many of Russell’s suggestions, but another problem with #1:

    Contra Julie, it isn’t always wise, I think, to regard all missionaries as fungible representatives of Jesus Christ. Some elders are competent, personable, spiritual; others are incompetent, socially challenged, immature, etc. If I’m going to introduce my friends to the Church, I’m likely to want a set of elders who I think are going to put the best face on the Gospel. I wish all elders were equally likely to do this, but they aren’t. So imagine I have a friend I want to take the discussions, but I don’t like the current elders. I can always wait a couple months until one or both are transferred. But imagine instead that my ward is stuck with the same set of elders for a year. If the elders assigned to the ward are stellar, that’s great. But if they aren’t, I’ve got to wait a whole year before I feel good about introducing my friends to them.

    In short, the frequent turnover of missionaries in an area allows members to “missionary-shop” before they give referrals. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

    Aaron B

  13. Ben Huff on July 13, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    Aaron, do you feel the current norm for missionary tenure in a ward gives enough time for members to get to know a missionary, in order to missionary-shop?

  14. danithew on July 13, 2004 at 8:40 pm

    Aaron B. is right on the money with his comment about missionary-shopping. If I introduce my friends to the gospel I want to feel confidence and trust with the missionaries who are going to be involved. There’s a sort of gut instinct that kicks in pretty quickly with the missionaries and I think in general the ward membership can tell if a missionary is serious or not about what they are doing.

  15. Heidi on July 13, 2004 at 9:28 pm

    Ben,
    I actually find that quite cheering. I think that type of committed relationship between missionaries and investigators is missionary work done right–no matter when the baptism comes. I always felt like the goodwill that resulted from those longer-term relationships would spill over.

    I wonder if your experience was related to the fact that you were in Japan (predominently non-Christian). I was in Italy, so I think familiarity with Christian concepts was presumed and thus the thinking was that certain discussions could be covered quickly.

  16. Mike on July 13, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    I have some of the same problems that have been discussed with number 1- but I think that it is good to have missionaries in an area longer than they often are. I think that it would make perfect sense for the standard length of time to be 4 months to a year in an area rather than six months being unusualy long.

    I also think Khaki pants are just fine.
    Julie- there is absolutely nothing wrong with khaki pants and black accesories.

  17. John on July 13, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    Obviously I haven’t had a chance to read the entire website, though I did get far enough to see my father-in-law mentioned.

    I think that suggestion #1 might actually enhance a problem that I frequently saw on my mission and I know is a common missionary experience. In fact, it happens in the ward I am in right now. New converts become socially attached to the missionary that taught them the discussions more than to the ward. When the missionary leaves the new converts stop coming to church. Would having the missionaries stay in an area for over a year exacerbate this problem through amplifying the relationship with a particular missionary? Would it make things better by allowing the missionary to accompany the convert through the transition process to being attached to the local members (and the gospel of course) rather than the missionary?

    I my first three areas I spent 6 months, 6 months, and 8 months. Then I was in a succession of areas for a short time. What I observed was that there are people who are going to stay active despite anything you might throw at them. There are others that are very attached to particular missionaries. There are some wards that do a great job of making new members feel welcome, to a degree that attachment to the missionaries never becomes an issue. There are other wards that isolate new members so much that the missionaries are the only resource for the new members.

    In any case, missionaries want new members to succeed to such a degree that they perhaps invest too much in them personally, when backing off could have long term benefits.

    I didn’t get far enough to see, but I think that the LDS model of sending out young people on relatively short missions might be a factor that limits growth and retention.

    The previous mission president had actually used a strategy of constant transfers in an attempt to increase baptisms. The idea was that you showed up in an area and didn’t know if you would be there still the next day, so you had better find someone to baptize while you were there. Ah the stories I could tell…

    As far as the fashion ideas go, anyone who has been on a mission to a sufficiently fashion deprived country knows that having matching shoes and socks and a tie that isn’t way too short is enough to look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine.

  18. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 13, 2004 at 11:18 pm

    Hmm, interesting thoughts here. I’m glad I took time to visit again.

  19. Kim Siever on July 13, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    “I’d allow elders to wear khaki pants.”

    You mean we weren’t allowed to?

    Good thing I was in Mesquite while the president was in Provo.

  20. Aaron Brown on July 14, 2004 at 12:11 am

    Ben asks:
    “Aaron, do you feel the current norm for missionary tenure in a ward gives enough time for members to get to know a missionary, in order to missionary-shop?”

    I guess I’m not sure what the “current norm” is. Recently, the mission president here in L.A. announced that he would try to keep elders in areas for 6 months at a time. Of course, this won’t always be feasible, given emergency transfers, varying mission populations in the mission with each transfer, etc. It’s too early to tell what effect this will have on missionary work.

    As to your question, I think that members who want to get to know the elders can do so fairly quickly by inviting them over a couple times and assessing them. My perception is that this shouldn’t take long, but then, I’m the Ward Mission Leader, so it’s my business to get to know them fairly quickly, and I have ample occasion to do so (splits, Correlation, etc.).

    Incidently, I’m really not sure how I come down on the question of what is the optimal length of time in an area. I think others have raised good points; I think there is something to be said for allowing missionaries to stay in an area long enough to really see their investigators grow and progress towards baptism. Shorter stints create incentives to rush the process, given that elders want to claim “their” baptisms for themselves. I wholeheartedly feel that stricter requirements for baptism (in terms of # of times attended, etc.) should be a requirement, and if mission presidents were to insist on this (which ours has started to do) in conjunction with keeping elders in their areas longer, this would improve the whole process for investigators/new converts, in terms of their retention, social integration into the ward, etc.

    John asks a good question: Given the ubiquitous problem of investigators becoming “converted to the elders” and finding the social transition to their ward (minus their favorite elders) so difficult, how would longer missionary stints in areas mitigate or exacerbate this problem? I like to think that longer stints wouldn’t make the problem worse. I like to think that with the elders spending more time in an area, they would be able to keep their new members active longer, thereby increasing the window of time between when they first join the Church and when the favorite elder gets transferred, which in turn increases the window of time in which members of the ward can try to help the new member become socialized to the ward and feel better integrated. But, the truth is, I really don’t know.

    Having said all this, my point about “missionary-shopping” still stands. Assuming longer stays in areas, if you’re in the ward with the “problem missionary(ies),” you may have to wait a really long time before you feel up to referring your non-member friends.

    Aaron B

  21. John on July 14, 2004 at 12:31 am

    Aaron,

    With longer stays, the rank and file members would have a better chance of getting to know the missionaries. If missionaries move in and out every month or so you don’t have time to find out if they are a good match for a prospective referral. With longer stays you would find out that you don’t like a particular missionary, but you would also find out that you do like some.

    I think that it often takes longer to determine that you particularly like a missionary than it does to determine that you don’t like one. Maybe this is a fault that is specific to me though and doesn’t apply to the general population.

    Also, while someone might be a problem missionary to you, they might be perfect in another’s eyes. I have certainly been amazed to find out that some people really liked an elder that I didn’t care for while others dislike someone that I thought was a great missionary.

    Finally, if you have some certainty that the missionary you like won’t be replaced next week by one you don’t you might be more likel to refer a friend.

    So in the area of “missionary-shopping” I think that longer stays are a net gain, though overall I am still not sure.

    J

  22. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 11:02 am

    In my opinion, it usually only takes a couple of minutes for members to size up a missionary companionship to get that impression of whether or not they are good missionaries.

    If a member is particularly serious about “missionary-shopping” for a particular potential convert, they should invite the missionaries over for dinner. Usually by the end of conversation over dinner the members should know how they feel about the missionaries. If not, the member should perhaps begin to question their own discernment capabilities.

  23. Kim Siever on July 14, 2004 at 11:36 am

    I’m curious.

    How would longer transfers help in places like Utah where missionaries can cover entire stakes? When I was serving in Pleasant Grove, there were five stakes and a total of 37 wards. My companion and I covered them all. Now there are an additional three stakes and over 50 wards. Even if we had stayed there the entire two years, I doubt it’d be long enough to build any sort of relationship with anyone but a handful of members.

  24. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 11:42 am

    The strength of Latin America is also its weakness, in regards to converts and baptisms.

    The people of Latin America are of a Christian background and are more inclined to let missionaries talk to them about God and Jesus Christ than people in a lot of other parts of the world. At least this is what I gather from my conversations with cousins who served in Europe, Japan and other parts of the world.

    The people of Latin America are not also willing to listen to missionaries (more often than others) but they are more disposed towards making a baptismal commitment. They’ll do so quickly and enthusiastically. The problem is when that enthusiasm dwindles, the missionaries have moved on and suddenly it’s awfully early to have to get up to go to church.

    I mentioned earlier that the ratio of adult male converts to women and children converts is also often way too low. Missionaries are often very eager to teach discussions to the women and children who are at home during the day. By the time the father gets home from work he’s second fiddle and the discussions already have begun. Since he didn’t take part in the original arrangement he usually has little interest in taking part. If missionaries don’t place an emphasis on including fathers and husbands in the original discussion arrangment, they usually get left out and often demur from any other participation. This doesn’t help church activity for the new converts as the father isn’t part of that equation either.

    As a result, baptismal numbers in Latin America are high but retention is very low. There are many missionaries who cheerfully baptize as many women and children as they can and are proud to say they had 14 baptisms (or whatever the number is) in a month. I even heard a horror story or two where certain elders rounded up kids and somehow enticed them to get baptized. Even worse, I heard the mission president encouraged this and proudly announced that the elders who had baptized so many were an example the whole mission should follow. Thank heaven I had a mission president come (after I had been there three months) who cared about numbers that actually mattered.

    Because of the way the church is organized, these patterns create incalculable burdens on the active church members that we don’t really think about. Try to imagine how hometeaching is going to function in a ward that has 170 members on the rolls and perhaps one or two active adult (male) priesthood holders. It doesn’t.

    As missionaries in Guatemala, we were required to pick up the slack. Every month we were required to hometeach every member that belonged to the ward/area we were assigned to. I remember one particularly exhausting week, as a special project (in an attempt to boost ward activity) we hometaught well over 100 families. I invited them all to church and the vast majority cheerfully said “Yes, we will come to church this Sunday.” We still had only 5-15 people show up to church.

  25. Kaimi on July 14, 2004 at 11:50 am

    Dani,

    Yep, Guatemala, land of chalking. There was a lot of chalking done in my mission. One elder was shocked when he got to an area and the branch president pulled out a stack of cedulas, two or three hundred, which were the baptisms for that area over the past year, and said that he didn’t know any of those people. Yep, the prior elders had been chalking. . .

  26. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 11:59 am

    You know, I’ve painted a Guatemala mission as if it is some sort of horror zone and I want to say that it is definitely otherwise. In many parts of Guatemala there are good wards to attend with some of the sweetest and most testimony-driven people you could ever want to meet.

    Much of the growth that is taking place in Guatemala is the real thing, with real converts who set goals to serve missions, attend the temple, etc. and etc. I’d guess that 50% or more of the missionaries in my mission were natives and the vast majority of them were great saints who were going to move on and be great leaders of the church.

    I recently got an email from a sister missionary who is about to have (if I remember right) her third child. Her husband is the bishop of the ward.

    I am guessing that in the ten years that have passed, the church has grown even stronger and in areas where the church was fairly new or perhaps weak, it might already be strong.

    Trust me… if you’re waiting for a mission call you can only hope you get assigned to Guatemala. It’s a great place to be a missionary, as long as you’re willing to put in the hours and work hard.

  27. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    LOL… I meant to write I got an email from a former sister missionary who served in my mission, who is about to have her third child and has a bishop as a husband. Good grief.

  28. BooBoo on July 14, 2004 at 12:12 pm

    The mission president in our mission just went home at the end of his three years. The missionaries here wanted to send him off right, so they committed to getting 200 baptisms for the month. The elders in our ward asked permission to hold a mid-week baptism on the last day of the month to baptize anyone they could get to church on Sunday. They had maybe ten people “committed” for baptism.

    When June 30th rolled around, all they could baptize was one nine year old black kid who’s single mother wasn’t interested, but said the elders could baptize her kid. The primary president heard about the baptism by email–but didn’t get the email until after the baptism.

    In our stake, we’ve been clearly directed that we are not to interfere with the missionaries. Members are not to teach the missionaries how to be good missionaries. We baptized nearly 50 people in our ward last year, but only a small handful still attend–and only a couple have callings and actually contribute to the ward. One woman was confirmed on a Sunday and by Wednesday didn’t want anything to do with the Church ever again. I wonder how many of the 50 even consider themselves members?

    If I were a mission president, investigators would have to do more than just show up for two weeks (with the missionaries providing the rides to church). People should be committed enough to get their own rides to church for at least six weeks.

    Also, no baptisms of children under 14 without a parent, period–unless they are interviewed by the mission president.

    Also, missionaries would be required to tell investigators that once they join the church, the church will create a computerized membership record that will follow them for the rest of their lives and someone will be assigned to visit them every month for the rest of their lives. Most “converts” have no idea that the Church will follow them around for the rest of their lives.

  29. Kim Siever on July 14, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    “no baptisms of children under 14 without a parent”

    What does this mean? No child under 14 gets baptised unless his/her parent gets baptised as well? Unless the parent is at the baptism?

    If the former, I’m not sure I embrace this outright. In Utah, the vast majority of baptismal candidates under the age of 18 are from families where both parents are members but are no longer active participants at church. The parents are not antagonistic to the Church at all and are more than open to having their children receive gospel instruction. Should these children then never get baptised until 14?

    I have a 6-year-old niece whose family has recently started coming back to church. Her 10-year-old and 8-year-old sisters were baptised last week. The 6-year-old sat in on all the discussions and was able to not only answer every question correctly that the missionaries asked the three of them, but was able to summarise everything taught in the previous discussions. She also completed all the reading assignments. Fundamentally, she was more prepared for baptism than her older sisters. Yet under the “no one under 14 rule” she would not have been able to be baptised (if she was older).

    If you meant the latter, I mostly agree with this. However, there are some instances when a child wants to be baptised and has full support of extended family, Primary teachers, friends, etc, but the parents (despite being members) offer no support. While I understand this can be problematic in the long run, it makes it difficult to say, “Sorry, Bobby. We can’t baptise you because your parents won’t be attending the baptism”.

  30. Silus Grok on July 14, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    I grew up the only member at home (my sister, 8 years older, was baptized, but lived elsewhere)… and I received the discussions at 7 and was baptized at 8.

    I would certainly suggest that a hard-and-fast age rule is probably not the way to go… perhaps re-phrasing it to say that children under 14 may not be baptized without a proper support system in place.

    I had a mother that was genuinely interested in my happiness, and who thought the Church would be a great tool in getting that happiness; I had a home teacher _in place_ who was also my mail man… I saw him almost every day; I had a choir matron who brought me to choir each Sunday morning.

    I had a proper support system.

  31. BooBoo on July 14, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    By no one under 14, I meant children under that age shouldn’t be baptized if they don’t have a parent that is a member. For the exceptional case, the mission president should be involved in the decision.

    Reactivation attempts of less-active families is a legitimate baptism of under-14ers, if their parents (or at least one parent) is a member.

    The problem is when children are baptized without any family member support or church connection. Even if non-member parents are OK with it, the baptism will usually result in a less-active member who will then tax church resources for the rest of their life.

    Again, mission presidents should be able to authorize exceptions. But by and large, missionaries shouldn’t waste their time teaching kids that will be the only members of their families.

    In my mission in South America, a 70 told us that any mission baptizing more than 500 people in a month was mainly baptizing single women and kids, and that it was a huge burden on the Church. Too often missionaries see kids as “low lying fruit” to boost their numbers.

  32. BooBoo on July 14, 2004 at 2:49 pm

    Silus, thanks for sharing your story. In your exceptional case, I’m sure the mission president (especially if it were me) would authorize an exemption to the under 14 rule. As you note, exemptions may be warranted when a dedicated support system is in place.

  33. Silus Grok on July 14, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    I just wonder about what affect such a _high_ hurdle might have?

    I don’t know what kind of hurdles my elders had in teaching me… but I wonder if they would have bothered had they thought that it their effort might have been for-nought.

    Just a thought.

  34. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 3:20 pm

    Another problematic issue that arises in Latin America (or at least Guatemala where I served), besides missionaries focusing their missionary efforts on the women and children — is that missionaries often solely focus their efforts on the poor and uneducated because they find the wealthy educated professionals are more difficult to teach, convert and baptize.

    This had been a major in my mind because I saw it so often. I kept asking myself: “Aren’t the wealthy victims of the apostasy as well? Don’t we have a duty to offer them the gospel as well?”

    Then we had a 70 come talk to us. I can’t even remember his name. He brought up his complaint that in addition to not having enough adult males joining the church, we didn’t have enough “educated professionals” (his words) receiving the gospel message. He complained also that the church was suffering from a dearth of leadership as a result. He then said something quite odd. He said: “I have a way to approach educated and wealthy professionals, but I’m NOT going to provide it to you. I already gave this instruction to another mission and they failed to use it.”

    What he was saying had already gotten my attention but that was the clincher. After that meeting ended I ran up to him and asked him to tell me how to appeal to those who were wealthy, educated professionals.

    He then said to me that wealthy professionals are only interested in three things: (1) their jobs; (2) their time and (3) their families. He said that any approach to this portion of the population required that elders be interested and considerate regarding all three of these three factors.

    He then said that the way to approach educated professionals was to take an interest in their jobs. He said elders should go to the professional’s office and ask for only ten minutes of the professional’s time. He said we should tell the professional expressly that we were not there in our capacity as missionaries but because we were interested in learning about their career. And he said we should sincerely be interested in learning about that career, whatever it is. Most importantly, we should keep the promise not to take more than ten minutes.

    After asking sincere and intelligent questions about the career, whatever it is… the elder should then ask the professional if he has a family. Then the elder should tell the professional that the Church has a 30-minute lesson that is designed to help families to feel more love between themselves. In 30 minutes, the elders can teach the professional and his family how to have more love and togetherness in their family and home. It should be expressly stated that the purpose of the 30-minute visit is NOT to proselyte but only to bring the family closer together.

    According to the 70, most professionals will say yes to this as it will be something that they want.

    Then he taught me that we as elders should specifically design a 30-minute family home evening lesson that will bring the influence of the Holy Spirit into the professional’s home. It is important to teach the professional (assuming he’s a male father-figure) that he is the head of his household and that he can sponsor these meetings in his home all by himself once a week in the future. Use a scripture or two. Sing a hymn or song with the family. Keep the message family and love-centered. Strictly keep the visit within the allotted 30-minute time-span (I usually used the story where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and talked about how leaders should be humble and serve those who they love).

    THEN, at the very end of that 30 minute family home evening lesson, when you are positive that the family is feeling the Spirit, you let them know that you have six discussions that you would like to teach them, in your official capacity as missionaries. If they are feeling the Spirit, it is likely they will say yes.

    I tried this approach out and as a result a dental technician and a medical doctor were converted and baptized (though I didn’t participate in the doctor’s baptism). In the case of the dental technician, it was a major event because his wife had been converted to the gospel for many years but had never been baptized — despite numerous attempts. Everyone said the man was a monster and that he’d never accept missionaries — but when I took interest in his dental practice he suddenly was very mild. Due to what I had heard about him, every time he said yes to a commitment I was in shock as I was continually expecting him to suddenly say “this game is over” and throw us out of the house.

    I don’t share this to brag at all. I’m just saying that as a missionary in Guatemala, this approach worked and was helpful with a portion of the population that normally was considered impossible to teach by most of the missionaries I served with. If this 70 hadn’t told me how to do it, I’m convinced I never would have seen these results.

    One of the most important things to emphasize in all of this, was the importance of time. The 70 taught me that if you said you’d only take 10 minutes, you kept it to 10 minutes, even if it meant interrupting the discussion and saying: “I’m sorry, I told you I’d only take ten minutes of your time.” Obviously, usually at that point, the professional would say it was ok. After all, you’re interested in their career and want to learn from them!

  35. Heidi on July 14, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    I am a little offended by the lumping of “women and children” into a homogenous group in some of the previous posts. I realize that offense is not intended, but really, women occupy a distinctly different role than children in any organization. They are capable (although perhaps not permitted) of keeping an organization afloat both administratively and spiritually. They are only a drain on the church because the church does not utilize them effectively (I realize that this has been discussed extensively before).
    Anyway, I have a hard time feeling particularly bad about the the church’s lack of administrative support due to the low numbers of adult males who join. I can’t help but feel like this lack of support is risk the church has assumed by maintaining the church structure the way it is.

  36. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    Heidi,

    I never meant to infer that women are useless or that they don’t have incredible leadership skills to offer. Will it help to simply to say that the way the church is organized and ruled at this time (with a male-only priesthood) that wards without males are going to be in trouble for priesthood leadership? I don’t mean in any way to say that women are incapable of leading. I’m just talking about a de facto situation that existed in my mission.

    Somehow I’m not sure this will be very useful as an appeasement… but hey, I’m trying! :)

  37. Heidi on July 14, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    danithew,

    No need to appease. I recognize the problem that a lack of adult males causes in the church as currently organized.

    My point is only that I find it somewhat ineffective to look for a solution to a problem that seems to be caused in large part by the church’s own behavior. I guess I also don’t think that there is any missionary approach that will result in large scale changes in the number of men v. women joining the church. Thus, in my mind, this problem will likely exist indefinitely. But I could certainly be wrong.

  38. JWL on July 14, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    May I add a #6? I would require that all baptismal interviews be conducted by the local bishop or branch president, rather than the missionaries, unless it was a new area without regularly constituted church units.

    (1) Bishops or branch presidents are better positioned to identify unprepared baptismal candidates. Missionaries have an inherent conflict of interest, since they get glory for the baptism but don’t have to deal with the inactivity after they leave.

    (2) This would help the baptismal candidates to understand that the bishop/branch president is replacing the missionairies as the convert’s spiritual leader and help wean the converts from excessive personal reliance on the missionaries.

    (3) It will give the bishop/branch president a better chance of getting to know the new convert well, which can only help with member retention.

    JWL

  39. Angela Wentz Faulconer on July 14, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    I see why it is helpful for the Church to baptize educated professional males. However, putting too much emphasis on this could be dangerous.

    We need to reflect carefully on why we are interested in targeting educated professionals. I’m sure that many have motives all for the best. But others of us are prejudiced (without realizing it I think) by matters of race and social and economic status. We want to baptize people who look like us, who are like us. We adore the converts who seem like–what’s the term? Dry Mormons? They just haven’t been baptized yet? We are looking for people who are already living the Gospel. It’s easy to get excited about the clean-shaven and sober professional, but not the tattooed recovering drug addict. I think sometimes it is upsetting to see that the missionaries are bringing in only the poor and uneducated and yes sometimes the mentally unbalanced, because we want to believe that the Church is attractive to those other than the poor, the desperate, and the crazy.

    We need good leaders. But Jesus didn’t spend all his time in the Temple or at the synagogue talking with the leaders. He spent an awful lot of time with the poor and less fortunate, and the undesirables of society. I think his actions during his ministry are properly suggestive to us.

    Also, consider the early Saints. Were most of the people who joined the Church educated professionals? I think many (most?) of the European immigrant Saints were poor and uneducated. [For that matter, Joseph Smith himself is a good example of someone who was poor and uneducated]. Many of us can look back to pioneer ancestors who were poor and uneducated, look at what the Church taught them, and credit the fact that we ourselves are educated and contributing members of society to the Church.

    (Of course, I am skipping over the women issue–Church membership will not make men into women. Is this a reason for eschatological polygamy? But seriously, the question of what to do about gender imbalance in the Church, is a big problem. There are so many more faithful women in their forties and fifties than men. What do we do about that? I don’t know.)

    When I lived in South Bend, IN many members criticized the missionaries for the types of investigators they brought to Church. I can’t speak as to whether the missionaries were targeting “low-lying fruit” or just doing their best to share the gospel, but their investigators were often single black women with children. They were poor. They were uneducated. Often they didn’t seem very responsible. You didn’t see a likely crop of bishops and stake presidents in this crowd (and not just because they were women). But they were like some of the poor people referred to in the Book of Mormon. They were humble enough to listen to the message. It would be too bad if we ignored them in search of “better” others in a different racial/economic/social/age/gender or marital status group.

  40. Ben Huff on July 14, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    Heidi, church organization aside, don’t you think it’s a symptom of something lacking in our missionary work if we are reaching far fewer men than women and children? Sure, a lot of times people talk about this problem as a lack of priesthood holders. But do you really think that is all that is at stake? If women were allowed to bless the sacrament, serve as bishop, etc., thus relieving the organizational problem, would we then be content to just baptize whoever we’re having the easiest time reaching, even if that means men, including the husbands and fathers of converts, were markedly underrepresented?

  41. Ben Huff on July 14, 2004 at 7:25 pm

    Angela, I absolutely agree that we need to beware of worldly prejudice in assessing what the demographics of conversion have to say about success. But I think we also need to beware of blaming our lack of success among the wealthy and educated on them, as though it is always their fault if they don’t want to talk to us. Could it be that part of why they don’t want to meet with the missionaries is that they doubt whether the missionaries are very well prepared to teach them? Is the fact that the missionaries are members of the true church, with the Book of Mormon in their backpacks, all that anyone should expect of a teacher of the gospel? I worry that we may use scriptural stories about the poor as an excuse for our shortcomings.

    I see this as a major reason why we need more couple missionaries, people with more experience and education, and a few more years behind them, who have a better shot at reaching potential investigators who have more education, experience, and years than our twenty-year-old missionaries.

  42. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Angela Wentz Faulconer,

    I think you’re right in everything you said. I’m just not worried that the missionaries will focus solely on the wealthy professionals and exclude the poor. What I witnessed in my mission was the exact opposite. The missionaries routinely were avoiding the “wealthy” Guatemalan neighborhoods and were exclusively tracting and visiting the poorer areas.

    I think preaching to the wealthy is a lot harder. It’s harder to encounter them because they hide behind their gates or gated communities. It’s harder because they talk to you through some kind of contraption that is on the wall. It’s harder because they are educated and have doubts ready built-in. It’s harder because they keep busy and don’t have time to listen to the missionaries. The path of least resistance is to teach to the poor. Or as you put it, to harvest the low-lying fruit.

    That was one of the reasons why I would sort of joke to myself about the wealthy suffering from the apostasy as well. They needed the gospel too and they were being largely neglected and ignored.

    My mission president actually became concerned at one point that I was focusing solely on educated professionals, which was never the case. I was happy to alleviate his concerns but it was interesting to me that not once did I hear any concerns or complaints about missionaries focusing exclusively on poor areas… well, except from this one Seventy. But that was pretty much it. An exclusive missionary focus on the poor was, in my experience, a chronic mission disease — at least in those neighborhoods where missionaries could choose between the two (believe it or not, there are extremely wealthy neighborhoods and places in Guatemala where the homes of poor people cannot be found).

  43. Heidi on July 14, 2004 at 7:56 pm

    Ben,

    First, I don’t think “women and children” is a useful category. The things that attract women to the church and the contributions they are able to make are quite different from children. So, I think I can speak only as to women, from an admittedly subjective perspective.

    As to your first question, no, I don’t necessarily think that is the case. My feeling is that women (for whatever reason–whether cultural or due to innate gender differences) will probably always be more likely to join and participate in religious organizations.

    I am not certain what your second question is asking, but I’ll comment anyway. : )

    I am somewhat of an idealist in thinking that missionaries and members should be overjoyed to bring anyone and everyone into the church, with absolutely no regard for their sex or other characteristics. It seems to me that the only (or at least the main) reason there is an emphasis on bringing men into the church is due to the need to fill administrative positions. I don’t think I have seen any mention of concentrating on men because we are particularly concerned about men’s spirituality (or lack thereof) as a group. So I guess my point is, if the lack of people to fill administrative positions is the main concern behind this emphasis, I think that is a risk the church has assumed by maintaining a male-dominated administrative structure.

    By the way, I also recognize a potential problem in just handing over the administrative reigns to women: would they just take over everything and make the men superfluous? : )

  44. Angela W. F. on July 14, 2004 at 7:56 pm

    Ben,

    I think the point you made about men being underrepresented and that therefore maybe we need to think about how missionary efforts can target them is a great one. I had never thought about it that way before.

    Danithew, thank you for your perspective. Because I didn’t serve a mission, it didn’t occur to me that focusing on the poor and uneducated would be the easy route, since I myself would be more comfortable talking to people like me. I guess maybe this goes to Ben’s point that couple missionaries with more life experience and career development might be helpful. Presumably most people are more comfortable talking with people who are like them and missionaries at 19 can’t yet have been doctors, lawyers, university professors, business leaders, or bishops? Of course, that doesn’t really get to the problem of men being underrepresented. We have plenty of male missionaries.

  45. Angela W. F. on July 14, 2004 at 8:17 pm

    Heidi’s comment on Ben’s question made me want to amplify mine. Heidi’s observation seems right. For an example divorced from missionary methods, you seldom see a man taking his children to Church every Sunday while his wife drops out of activity, but you do see the reverse often enough. It’s hard to believe that the differences in activity and membership in the Church between men and women are due solely to how the missionary program is set up.

    However, it is easy to just take the status quo and accept our stereotypes about women being more spiritual or more religious and not think more about it. However, given the emphasis we place on families and celestial marriage, we can’t allow ourselves to be too comfortable with the membership and activity divide between the sexes. I think Ben is right, we need to think about how to reach more men, to baptize them and to keep them active.

  46. Silus Grok on July 15, 2004 at 1:38 am

    How to start? Hm.

    Well, I guess I should first state the obvious: missions aren’t just about baptizing — they’re not even just about teaching or proselytizing… a large measure of the value that our missionary program offers the Church is that it prepares young men and women for a life of service in the Church.

    I should note, of course, that opinions on the primacy of any one component changes with time. When I was a missionary, the prevailing view seemed to be that missions were mostly for the missionary… but the recent raising of the bar and the changes in missionary training would seem to intimate a sea change.

    That said, it’s interesting to note that the lion’s share of the comments here reflect the current atmosphere of “missions are for enlarging the stakes of Zion”… when I would have expected — given our having come of age, for the most part, during the “missions are for missionaries” era — a different tack altogether.

    1) I’d never transfer missionaries.

    I pretty much like the status quo of missionaries being transferred as-needed… as I believe most mission presidents are blessed with a certain gift for making inspired transfers.

    I think that a variety of durations really does allow for the best of all worlds, by allowing the mission president to intervene as necessary in areas where perhaps members or investigators become too attached, or where the missionary isn’t pulling their weight, or when a companionship has irreconcilable differences — or to leave missionaries in areas where continuity may be important, or where leadership needs support. Another benefit of a less regimented transfer policy is that there is less stigma attached to shorter stays.

    What intrigues me most, though, is the discussion of “missionary shopping”… which seems to be pretty widely accepted, but seems really foreign to me — I’ve always had the distinct impression that the brethren want missionaries to be seen not as individuals, but as something more approaching machines. I can’t couch the idea in language that doesn’t sound negative, but I’m really not trying to frame it in a negative light. I just get the sense that the brethren would like us to have faith in the program and in the Lord who can really do wonderful things even with the most imperfect vessel.

    I dunno… it just seems so strange to talk about “missionary shopping” in anything but hushed tones. Myself, I think I’d prefer not to know the missionaries too well… I don’t want to get close enough to see the chinks in their armor.

    I guess that a lot of this sentiment, though, relies on mission presidents being in tune with the Spirit… and un-willing to use the mission field as some sort of reform school.

    2) Church for three months straight prior to baptism.

    I like the idea of sustained church attendance being a qualifier for baptism… it would put a kibosh on the whole 3 week baptism rush, and given the length of many stays (man! they need a term for that… the time a missionary stays in a given area… “tenure”? *ack*) these days, three months would certainly ensure that at least one of the missionaries would leave before the person was baptised. Which may help in combatting missionary worship.

    Anyway, the idea has its allure.

    3) In-field training by non-missionaries.

    I _really_ like this… perhaps this could be part of correlation meetings?

    4) Specialization and experimentation.

    This was my dream while I served… I had always wanted more leeway to be innovative. Of course, the difficulty of innovation is that beyond door knocking and street contact, most other ways of interacting with the people you serve require planning and a commitment to the plan which will last beyond one’s own stay… which tends to mean that any innovation is necessarily centralized. Which really is antithetical.

    5) I’d allow elders to wear khaki pants.

    Although I’m all for a relaxation of the dress code (it used to be said that missionary attire reflected area norms for business attire — which could hardly be the case any more in the US, where work attire is decidedly more casual), I believe in the branding power of the dress code itself. The white shirt, the black tag… they’re powerful signals of who we are, and they’re wonderful short-hand when the world discusses our vast missionary force.

    BooBoo added:

    6) No baptisms of children under 14 without a parent, period — unless they are interviewed by the mission president.

    I’ve already commented on this one.

    JWL added:

    7) Baptismal interviews handled by local leaders (except in rare circumstances).

    I think this is wonderful, as well… I wonder why this isn’t the case now? Is it part of the “training future leaders” idea?

  47. danithew on July 15, 2004 at 10:52 am

    2) I wouldn’t let anyone baptize anybody who hadn’t attended church for three months straight.

    I’d agree that there needs to be some kind of basic fundamental standards that would signal a person has truly converted to the gospel. As I said earlier, I’ver rarely seen that any convert who read and discussed 6-8 chapters of the Book of Mormon with the missionaries ever fell away after baptism. That would be a standard I would want to add to the six discussions — a sort of one-day-discussion-one-day-Book of Mormon chapter policy. For some investigators this process wouldn’t take very long. I’d rather see conversion requirements be attached to specific (yet time-consuming) conversion activities than a specific time period. It’s got to be about what they’re doing as the clock is ticking.

    Just to add fuel to the fires of consideration, it might be interesting to have a post that compares the different conversion requirements for various religions or groups. Here’s some basics:

    Orthodox Judaism has the hardest conversion standards I’ve seen. The rabbis are taught to refuse to even teach or see someone who wants to convert — I think they are supposed to refuse at least three times or until they convince that the potential convert won’t be deterred by the answer “no”. The basis of this is the story of Ruth and Noami where Naomi tells Ruth three times to go away and Ruth consistently persists in her desire to remain with her mother-in-law. The rabbis conclude from this that the desire of a person to convert needs to be tested by refusal (Ruth, after all, was a convert). Then again, I don’t think the Jewish population has grown all that much, even in thousands of years. I can’t tell if that’s due to killing persecution, lack of conversion or a combination of the two. One other rather tough requirement for male converts to Judaism — whatever their age, they have to undergo circumcision or at least (in the case of those who have already been circumcised) the drawing of one drop of blood from that particular part of the body. I gotta say that’s about the toughest conversion requirement I’ve seen and I don’t doubt the sincerity of these converts!

    Islam has the easiest conversion method. You just have to say the shahadah with niyya (intent). Only problem is that once you’re in, there’s no legal or easy way out. The penalty for apostasy from Islam is death.

    Then we have LDS missionaries in Guatemala … where you have a single half-hour discussion, ask the family if they want to get baptized and find the nearest font either the same or next day. No penalties afterwards for inactivity or apostasy. I’m half-kidding here about the half-hour discussion and subsequent baptism, but for the first three months of my mission, that was pretty common practice. I hope that wasn’t a norm anywhere else.

  48. Mike on July 15, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Silus- even if we look at missionaries as machines rather than as people- wouldn’t it still make sense to missionary shop? I certainly did some comparison shopping while looking for an mp3 player- missionaries to teach your friends are at least as important- you want to make sure you get some that aren’t horrible

  49. Silus Grok on July 15, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Mike: perhaps I should have phrased it as “interchangeable parts” rather than “machines”…

  50. brolap on July 16, 2004 at 2:26 am

    Since Guatemalan missions were discussed above, I thought I’d share w/ you part of my mission experience. Below is the text of a letter I wrote Elder Oaks after my mission (mission names removed out of respect). Elder Oaks personally called me upon receiving the letter, and we discussed it at length (including his apologizing for what happened). I hope you find this of use. Please forgive the length.

    ___________________

    February 11, 1992

    To whom it may concern,

    Since I have returned home from my service as a missionary in the Guatemala City North Mission, I have been unable to put to rest some concerns I have felt relative to certain challenges that I experienced while serving there. Though my mind is filled with some extremely positive memories regarding my mission experience, it is also weighed down with a burden that has been hard to bear. At the risk of being thought of as an “ark steadier,” I would like to report to you some of the problems that I experienced personally during my eighteen months of missionary work in Guatemala.

    In January of 1989 the La Laguna Zone, consisting of about eighteen missionaries, baptized 128 people. The zone leaders alone baptized over forty people that month. Unfortunately, there was not one complete family among those 128 people brought into the church. Instead, almost all of them were very young individuals, most
    between the ages of seven and twelve (I say seven because Arturo Mijangos, a church administrator in the Area Office, told me that some seven year olds were accidentally being baptized by over-zealous missionaries). A few months later, while I was in the
    mission office, I looked over these baptismal records and confirmed that only a handful of those 128 were adults.

    As my time in the mission progressed, I was able to become companions with some of the elders who had served in that zone. They were usually more than willing to describe to me the methods they used to achieve such a high baptismal rate. It was rather
    disheartening to hear these accounts.

    One of the methods employed was initiated by the zone leaders around October or November of 1988. They would go out to a soccer field and begin to play “futbol” with the youngsters who were hanging around there. After an hour or so, these zone leaders would say to the young people, “Hey guys…want to go over to the church and cool off?” Then they would ask these children their names and birthdays, put them in white clothes, line them up, and proceed to baptize them. They would usually do so without missionary
    discussions, interviews, church attendance, parental permission, an opening or closing hymn or prayer, or fellowshipping by a church member. It appeared that these young people had not even expressed a true desire to be baptized.

    I was called to serve in this same area about a year after these elders had left. I noticed that out of the hundreds of children who were baptized during those few months, only a handful were attending church. Some of the parents in the neighborhood,
    once they had found out that their children had been baptized into a foreign religion without their permission, became very upset. After this, these adults would often scream angrily at the LDS missionaries as they walked down the street and knocked on doors.

    Feeling assured that those zone leaders had acted inappropriately and would eventually be punished for their methods, it was interesting for me to discover that less than two months after their transfer from that zone, they were both called to be
    assistants to the president. And with that, what was once a rare phenomenon confined to a particular zone, soon became the mission norm as similar practices were followed during the remainder of my months in the mission. Baptism became a method by which one progressed up the leadership ladder. Quality (the legitimacy of baptism) was seldom, if ever an issue. We were taught by the president himself to find your “golden family” in the morning, and to baptize them that afternoon.

    A series of incentives were set up to encourage the missionaries to baptize. Here were a few of them:

    1. Missionaries with seven baptisms or more in a month were given a certificate signed by the president at the beginning of each zone conference.
    2. Missionaries with ten baptisms or more in a month were given a cassette tape of Janice Kapp Perry’s songs sung in Spanish.
    3. A monthly newsletter was sent out, listing the names of all companionships that had baptized ten or more the previous month.
    4. A party was held once a month on P-Day, and only the companionships who had baptized seven or more the previous month could attend.
    5. Every month the president himself would take the highest baptizing zone out, at the expense of the mission, to eat at a fancy restaurant.
    6. Even permission to attend the temple as a zone was used as an incentive to encourage baptisms.

    We (as a mission) didn’t care much about families, activity rate, or even conversion. What we were most concerned with was “selling the product”–meeting our goals, and climbing up the leadership ladder. I even talked to missionaries who admitted baptizing drunkards and retarded people to help reach their monthly goals.

    When I voiced my concerns to the president, he told me not to worry about it. He assured me that we were planting important seeds, and that even if these people remained inactive and never really had testimonies, we were initiating a process that someday
    would sprout and blossom. Even the missionaries themselves developed various rationales which, in my opinion, helped them to calm their troubled consciences and to justify their actions. I was often told by fellow missionaries, “Who am I to deny them a baptism? If they want it, even if they haven’t met all the requirements, it is my
    responsibility to give it to them.” The interesting thing is that many of the investigators, in my opinion, really didn’t desire to be baptized, but instead were pressured into baptism throught the use of modern-day, high pressure sales techniques. On rare instances,
    some elders would even lead the investigators to believe that they would receive material benefits upon baptism (such as church welfare and other forms of economic assistance). One elder that I talked to told me of a missionary he replaced in Peten who even went as far as to offer U.S. citizenship to a gentleman in exchange for baptism. This promise was never kept, of course.

    Another interesting rationalization employed by fellow missionaries to justify baptising ill-prepared individuals was: “Well, if they don’t get baptized in this life, then we’ll have to do their temple work for them anyway, so we might as well do it for them now and get it over with.”

    Elder Ballard came down in March of 1989, apparently to stop what was going on. He basically called the missionaries to repentance and established a firm rule that no one was to be baptized until all six discussions had been received. He also established the policy that investigators had to attend church at least twice before they could be baptized. A lot of missionaries felt bad because they had been baptizing people inappropriately, and some of them even repented for what they had done. Unfortunately, the effects soon wore off.

    Initially our president supported Elder Ballard, and encouraged the missionaries to obey the rules he established, but as time went on and the number of baptisms began to decrease, slowly the standards were let down. First our president would say, “No one
    can be baptized without meeting the requirements set by Elder Ballard, unless I personally authorize it.” After awhile permission could be granted by the Assistants to the President (AP’s), then the Zone Leaders (ZL’s), then the District Leaders (DL’s), then we were back to normal.

    To explain the need for relaxing some of Elder Ballard’s newly-established rules, our president told us a story in Zone Conference of a somewhat elderly man who was willing to get baptized, but wasn’t able to do so because he had not yet received all of the discussions. When this man unexpectedly passed away, the president remarked, “What a tragedy! Now we are going to have to go and do his temple work, when we could have baptized him while he was alive!” He used this story repeatedly to justify our baptizing
    people before they had received all six of the standard missionary discussions, and had attended church at least twice.

    The primary goal that our president established in our mission was for every companionship to baptize at least once a month. There were always four AP’s called to assist in achieving this goal. During a given month, two assistants would stay in the
    capital close to the mission home to assist the president, and two would travel around to the remote regions of the mission and visit the various areas in which baptisms had not yet been performed during a given month. Upon arriving in such an area, these “traveling AP’s” would ask to visit the investigators of the companionships, and literally attempt to compel these investigators to be baptized on that day, at that moment. They would use any form of pressure or persuasion available (such as presents of chocolate, gum, or ice cream) to convince these people to be baptized. I know this because I was a first-hand witness on several occasions.

    During the month of March, 1990, towards the end of my mission, there were a few companionships in my zone who had not yet had a baptism. After giving me a harsh reprimand during a zone conference interview, the president told me to plan on going with the AP’s the following day to see how a good mission leader should encourage an elder to achieve success with his stewardship. The president even told me to call ahead to the missionaries in the two areas that hadn’t baptized yet, and have them fill up the font in preparation for the AP’s visit.

    The following day, I was picked up by the AP’s. On the way towards our destination, I was informed that they had been instructed by the president to take me to the two “unproductive” areas in my zone (Fraijanes and Barberanas), and to find someone to
    baptize in each area that day. In Fraijanes, the AP’s tried to persuade and to pressure the investigators to be baptized, but their usually convincing rhetoric wasn’t successful. In what I perceived at the time to be a state of panic, they drove up to a remote,
    isolated shack on a hill, found an eighty year old partially blind lady without shoes, and literally brought her in a somewhat forceful manner to the van, and placed her in it. Then, they drove to a trail, walked her down the twenty minute path towards the river (she
    was praying to Mary on the way down), had her strip down and change into her baptismal clothes in front of all the townspeople who were washing their clothes in the river, and baptized her. There were no discussions, no interview, no song, no talk, no members, and no church attendance.

    After the baptism these same AP’s located the nearest telephone, called the mission president, and said, “President, we have witnessed a miracle today.”
    I was so troubled by this that a week later, I set up an interview with the president to confess what I had seen on that day. Instead of showing alarm or concern for what was going on, he began to literally yell at me for not supporting my leaders, for kicking against the pricks, and for having a bad attitude. Accusing me of trying to destroy the mission, he reprimanded me in a way never before done by anyone in my life, and sent me on my way.

    A few days later I was informed that though my companion had two more months in the area than I did, I would be transferred. At the transfer conference, President XXXXX interviewed me, and told me that after interviewing the two AP’s involved, he decided that they were in the right, that I had a problem in not supporting my leaders, and that if I ever “rebelled” like this again he would relieve me of my position as zone leader.
    I had been struggling for over a year with a severe asthma condition. The area in which I was then serving was one of the few areas in the mission in which I could work and breathe at the same time. That very day, however, I was transferred (in exile it
    seemed) to one of the most impoverished, dusty, polluted areas in the mission. Uspantan, Quiche was an eleven hour bus ride through the mountains of Guatemala, and six hours from the nearest phone. It seemed to me as though I had been sent there to be kept quiet,
    and to be punished for my “disobedience and rebellion.”

    Regardless of the motivation for transferring me to that area, within a week I was very ill and utterly unable to breathe. I was taking over three or four anti-asthma pills and using an inhaler about three or four times a day just to keep breathing. The first
    day, my companion informed me that the traveling AP’s had also visited his area the previous month. They had played basketball with two teenage boys, and on the same day had baptized them without any missionary discussions. The next week they were hanging out in the bars as usual, letting the townspeople know that the first Mormons in Uspantan didn’t hold their covenants seriously.

    After one month of trying to work under these adverse and potentially damaging health conditions, I called President XXXXX to let him know that my lungs wouldn’t permit me to remain in that area anymore, due to my illness. The next day I was on a plane home. I couldn’t help but think that in some way he was trying to get rid of
    me, so as to insure that I not “mess up” his “good thing.” Though I was quite sad to leave under those circumstances, I felt a great sense of relief on that plane ride home. It was as if a monumental burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

    The Guatemala City North mission had an average of over 650 baptisms a month during my eighteen months as a missionary there. That’s 11,700 people brought into the church in an area one third the size of Tennessee. Unfortunately, it was my experience that less than 15% of those people baptized during my service there remained active after the first few months. I know of missionaries who baptized over 200 people during their two years but who now perceive that very few (if any) of the new members were active by the time the missionaries were ready to go home.

    After returning home, I was transferred to the Tempe, Arizona mission under President Durrel Woolsey, who at that time had just been called to be a General Authority. One day I asked for a special interview, and told him the story of my Guatemala mission.
    Immediately he called the missionary office in Salt Lake, and related to them what I had reported. When he returned, his only response was, “They said that they wish they could have known sooner, but since your former president is going home in a few months, there’s really nothing that they can do.”

    After being released from my mission in Arizona, I returned to Provo to finish up my studies at BYU. A few months into the semester I went to visit my first mission president in Salt Lake City. I was truly interested to hear how his last few months in Guatemala turned out, and what his thoughts were regarding the unfortunate circumstances that resulted in my being transferred to Arizona. Though he did express to me that he felt it “unfortunate” that I had to be sent home early, it surprised me to hear that due to his overwhelming success as a mission president, he is now sitting as an advisor to the missionary board for the church. As you can imagine, this came as quite a shock to me.

    But though it may appear that my criticisms are aimed at President XXXXX, my intentions are not to harm either him or his family. Just as he was not a perfect mission president, I too was far from a perfect missionary. What I take issue with are the methods [used by missionaries to produce baptism statistics] by which people were baptized in my mission, and the inability of anyone presiding over the mission president to insure compliance with the established baptismal guidelines. Since returning from my
    mission, I have spoken with several returned missionaries who have had similar experiences in Chile, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as in England, Japan, and the United States. As I hear them relate to me how much of a struggle it has been for them to deal with the same problems that I have tried to deal with, my desire to somehow instigate a change, or at least more awareness, in this aspect of the missionary program only increases.

    If there is one favor that I could ask, it would be for someone to please let me know what is being done, or what I CAN DO, to help prevent this from happening again in this church that I love so dearly. Please let me know what to do.

    Sincerely,

    XXXXXXXXXXX

    P.S. Several missionaries who served with me in Guatemala
    (including Elders XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXX) have read this essay, and have expressed a willingness to sign it in support of the notion that the experiences and feelings I have expressed herein are both accurate and legitimate.

  51. Jack on July 16, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Imperfection in the Church can be a great burden at times. I think most of us have had to deal with less than ideal leadership at one time or another. (all are fallen including the saints!)But lets remember that the scriptures, by and large, are a product of the Lord dealing with His wayward Church/people, and therefore, We shouldn’t assume that there will be no similar problems today. That said – I am completely confident that the Kingdom will prevail and that over all the Church is on the right track.

  52. […] he other. For my part, in the church at least, I prefer “tending.” I’ve written before about some reforms I’d like to see instituted in the missionary program, […]