I have a number of LDS friends and, living in Phoenix’s Southeast Valley, meet LDS folks on a regular basis. I often ask them about their experiences serving on a mission, as it always leads to interesting stories and conversation.
While I disagree with the core of LDS theology, I admire a number of things about the two-year missions that many Mormons serve.
There are surely things I could critique and, as an outsider, there are probably things I don’t understand and might not like if I knew more. However, for this post, I want to share a number of things I appreciate.
1. They are explicitly missionaries.
No identity confusion here. When you see the young men with white shirts and ties, you know what they’re there for. They want to serve people and talk to them about faith.
They don’t call themselves “english teachers,” “tour guides,” “businessmen,” or some other identity that doesn’t actually represent who they are, what they come to do, and where their money comes from. They claim to be what they are.
2. They work hard to fund their mission experience.
The vast majority of missions are funded by the individual or his/her family. In many cases, young people work and save for many years in preparation for their mission. This gives them a sense of ownership to the experience that likely makes it a more valuable experience. When I see young men pedaling their bikes in the brutal heat of an Arizona summer and realize that, in many cases, they paid their own way there–I’m impressed.
3. They spend two of their most formative years committing to serving others.
We all know that the two years after high school are crucial for determining your personal values and identity. This is valuable, prime-of-your-life years. I admire that these missionaries are using those best years to serve others and share their beliefs. I have to think that this creates a pattern and perspective of serving others and owning your faith.
4. They learn lessons (and sometimes languages) that help them for a lifetime.
Because these two years are so crucial for life development, missionaries learn incredible life lessons through their service. They learn how to talk with people. They learn how to knock on doors and work hard. They learn how to face rejection and failure. They learn teamwork. In many cases, they learn a new language.
All these lessons serve them for the rest of their lives. It’s no wonder that so many LDS folks are excellent in business, good with people, and hard working.
5. They involve the local, permanent church members in the mission.
Because missionaries are away from home and rarely see their families (another admirable thing), the local congregations rally around them. I often see people in restaurants treating missionaries to a meal and loving on them. When I’ve had conversations with LDS missionaries, they often invite me to connect with a local church leader. This rallies the local ward to own the mission with the missionaries and it also ensures that anybody who converts has a natural relational connection to the church.
6. They solidify their theological beliefs.
The best way to learn something is to teach it. I think many Christians never develop their theological and spiritual muscles because they often aren’t in a position to have to teach and defend their faith. Not so for Mormon missionaries. They spend every day talking with skeptics about their beliefs. That is an effective way to develop strong convictions.