What Is a Missionary?

The blessings of the gospel are so precious that we try to share them with everyone we can.

Imagine you found a cure for cancer. How urgently would you spread the news of your discovery? Who would you tell? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for so many of life's ills that Mormons want to share the good news of eternal life with the same urgency.

Missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) - widely known as Mormon missionaries - are volunteer representatives of the LDS Church who engage variously in proselytizing, church service, and humanitarian aid. Mormon missionaries may serve on a full or part-time basis depending on the assignment, and are organized geographically into missions.

The LDS Church is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work, reporting that it fielded over 52,000 full-time missionaries worldwide in 2010. Most full-time Mormon missionaries constitute single young men in their late teens and early twenties, young women in their early twenties, and older couples with children no longer in the home. Many are assigned to serve far from the missionary's home, often in another country or overseas. Mormon missionaries serve voluntarily, not receiving any salary from the church for their work, typically supporting themselves financially or through assistance from family.

Throughout the history of the church, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions.

What Is a Missionary?

What Missionaries Do

You might wonder what, exactly, a Mormon missionary does, other than ride a bike and knock on doors, or how a young man or woman just out of high school might end up on a mission.

Most of the Church's missionaries are around twenty years old, though many members also volunteer to serve after they've retired. All prospective missionaries turn in applications to Church headquarters and they receive a call to a specific mission around the world. They spend a few weeks in a training center where some of them learn a new language and all of them rigorously study and practice teaching the gospel. Then they set off to their assigned locations and begin their service. Missionaries' lives are completely dedicated to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They pay their own way and put off school, dating and work for two years in order to focus entirely on doing the Lord's work.

What Missionaries Do

We Teach of Jesus Christ

Mormons are known for the things they don't drink, their emphasis on the family and the Book of Mormon they read, but in the end the central message of our religion is our Heavenly Father's plan of happiness for His children and the Atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Missionaries share one thing and one thing only - the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Like Nephi, "We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins" (2 Nephi 25:26). It may seem strange to focus so much of our lives on Jesus Christ, but the wisdom of the gospel applies to everything from the purpose of life to how we approach our work, how we relate to others, even how we take care of our bodies. The teachings of Jesus Christ have more power to bring lasting happiness than all the success and pleasure the world can offer. Every message Mormon missionaries share revolves around Him and how His Atonement and ordinances allow us to return to live with our Father in Heaven and our families in heaven.

We Teach of Jesus Christ

Every Member a Missionary

Almost 7 billion people live on the earth right now, but only 52,000 members are full-time missionaries. Mormons are invited to share the gospel with their friends so more people have the chance to learn about Jesus Christ in a personal, meaningful way.

It isn't only our full-time missionaries who share the gospel. Because we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the way to true happiness, we want to tell as many of our friends and family about it as we can. We believe, as Peter taught in the New Testament, that we should "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

Sharing the gospel isn't always easy, though. Many of us feel afraid of offending our friends, seeming pushy or saying something that might be misinterpreted. We gather our courage and try our best to find a way to talk about how much the gospel means to us while respecting other people's beliefs and choices. We are thrilled when friends share in the joys of living the gospel. This can happen by attending Church meetings and activities during the week and meeting with missionaries to talk about how the gospel can bless their lives. If you want to make a Mormon's day, ask if you can visit their Church. However, we love our friends whether they accept the teachings of our Church or not.

Every Member a Missionary

Around the World

"And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."

52,000 missionaries are currently serving in 350 missions around the world. They proselytize in every country where the government and political climate allow it. Many missionaries grow to love the areas in which they serve so much that they find it harder to come home after their missions are over than it was for them to leave in the first place. They return home as informed ambassadors of the nations and cultures where they served.

Around the World

Types of Missionaries

The most visible and common type of missionaries are typically those who proselytize door-to-door and ride bicycles for transportation.

According to the missionary guide "Preach My Gospel", God knows each of His children and can guide His servants to say and teach what is best for each individual.

Service Missionaries:
Missionaries with special needs or health considerations may be called as full-time or part-time service missionaries. Many fully able missionaries are called to do genealogical research or act as tour guides or hosts at Temple Square or Family History libraries and other church sites. In many areas, even proselytizing missionaries spend most of their day responding to incoming phone calls and queries, or delivering requested media from the church's television and radio commercials. Missionaries may use public transportation, walk, bicycle, or in some areas drive automobiles owned by the church, or occasionally ride within a private automobile with a church member who is accompanying them to a teaching appointment, proselyting, or fellowshipping activity.

Humanitarian Aid:
The LDS Church also has a strong welfare and humanitarian missionary program. These humanitarian missionaries typically serve in impoverished areas of the world and do not actively proselytize. Humanitarian missionaries comply with any local laws regarding teaching or displaying religious symbols, including the identifying name tags. This allows them to provide services and aid in countries where activities by religious organizations are typically restricted or forbidden, such as in predominantly Muslim countries or in Southeast Asia. Regular proselytizing missionaries are asked to engage in welfare activities and community service, limited to four hours a week on days other than weekends or preparation day.

Types of Missionaries

Missionary Conduct

Dress and Grooming:
A pair of name-tags, part of the requisite dress code for LDS missionaries.

Full-time LDS missionaries are required to adhere to a dress code: for men, conservative, dark trousers and suit coats, white dress shirts, and ties are generally required.

For women, modest and professional dresses or blouses and skirts must be worn. Dresses or skirts must reach the mid-calf. In some areas these standards are altered slightly. For example, in hot, humid climates, suit coats are not required and dress shirts may be short-sleeved. Casual clothes may be worn only in limited circumstances, such as when missionaries are providing manual labor or during preparation day, when the missionaries are involved in recreation, cleaning, shopping (at the discretion of the mission president), and laundry. This has changed and missionaries are now asked to wear their shirt and tie even on preparation days unless they are doing activities such as sports.

All full-time missionaries wear a name tag that gives their surname with the appropriate title ("Elder" or "Sister" in English-speaking areas, or their equivalent titles in other languages). The name tag also bears the church's name, unless the mission president considers this inadvisable due to circumstances in the area (e.g., adverse political conditions). Missionaries are required to wear the tag at all times.

A missionary companionship, consisting of two (or occasionally, three) missionaries, is the smallest organizational unit of a mission. Every missionary is assigned by the mission president to be another missionary's companion. Missionary companionships are generally maintained for months at a time and most missionaries will have served with multiple companions by the end of their mission. These companions rarely have prior acquaintance outside of the mission. Companionships are always of the same gender, with the exception of married couples, who serve as a companionship for the entirety of their mission.

Missionary companions are instructed to stay together at all times and not to go out of the hearing of their companion's voice. Privacy is allowed only for personal care such as showering. At the missionary training center, missionaries are instructed to wait directly outside of the restroom if their companion is inside. One of the intentions of this strict policy of staying together is to discourage missionaries from breaking any mission rules. The rule is also intended to defend missionaries against complaints of sexual abuse, because one companion could always serve as a witness for another companion if needed for legal purposes. Companions share the same living quarters and the same bedroom (but not the same bed, except in the case of married missionary couples). When companions have conflicting personalities or interests, they are encouraged to try to resolve them themselves. If they are unable to do so, mission leaders may mediate to help resolve the differences. High value is placed on the spiritual commitment to the virtues of humility and love. Missionaries are urged to treat the companionship as a relationship that must succeed in being cooperative and selfless, thus improving the spirituality, character and social skills of each individual missionary.

Personal Relationships:
Missionaries are encouraged to write a letter to their parents weekly. Since almost all of their time is otherwise occupied, other communication is limited. However, a missionary may use preparation day to correspond with any person that is resident outside of the boundaries of the mission. Missionaries do not go on vacation and are generally permitted to telephone their parents only on Christmas Day, and one other day of the year, usually Mother's Day or the birthday of the missionary participant. Missionaries are provided with a free, filtered church e-mail account to correspond with their parents on preparation day only by using a computer in a public location, such as at a public library or an internet cafe. In the event of an emergency, family members of a missionary may contact him or her via the mission president's office.

Single missionaries are prohibited from dating or courting while serving missions. The policy of companionships staying together at all times serves to discourage these activities. While missionaries may interact with members of the opposite sex, they may never be alone with them or engage in any kind of intimate physical or emotional activity (e.g., kissing, hugging, holding hands, flirting). They may not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept letters from members of the opposite sex that live in the area where they are assigned to proselyte. Missionary companionships are also asked not to visit with members of the opposite sex unless at least one person of the missionaries' same sex is present to chaperone. Alternatively, those contacts may be referred to a companionship of the same gender as the contact or to married couple missionaries, when available.

Generally, missionaries wake up at 6:30 a.m. After eating breakfast, exercising (30 minutes), and spending two hours studying the scriptures and other materials, missionaries leave their place of residence at 10 a.m. to proselytize (if they are teaching in language that they do not speak, they spend an additional half hour studying that language and leave at 10:30 a.m.). They have an hour for lunch and dinner, and return to their apartment by 9 p.m., or 9:30 if they are in the process of teaching a lesson at the end of the day. They plan for the next day's activities, pray, and retire to bed at 10:30 p.m.

Media Rules:
Missionaries are admonished to "avoid all forms of worldly entertainment." They are not permitted to watch television, watch or go to movies, or use the Internet (except to use email, see "Personal Relationships" above). They are not permitted to listen to music that has romantic lyrics or overtones, or merely entertains. The general interpretation of this guideline is to listen to only religious music. They are only permitted to read books, magazines, or other materials authorized by the church.

Missionary Conduct

Preparation to Serve

Significance and Basic Qualifications:
LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball said, "Every young man should fill a mission". Completing a mission is often described as a rite of passage for a young Latter-day Saint. The phrase "the best two years of my life" is a common cliche among returned missionaries when describing their experience. Although Gordon B. Hinckley had suggested that a mission is not to be a rite of passage, this cultural aspect remains. With the usual starting age of 19-21, a mission provides a clear event or marker for the traditional age of adulthood, but is not necessary for continuance in church membership.

Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 who meet standards of worthiness are strongly encouraged to consider a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. This expectation is based in part on the New Testament passage "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." (Matt. 28: 19-20). In 2007, approximately 30% of all 19-year-old LDS men became Mormon missionaries; from LDS families that are active in the church, approximately 80-90% of 19-year-old men serve a mission. In some countries, male missionaries may be 18 years old because of educational or military requirements.

In cases where an immediate family member dies, the missionary is strongly encouraged to stay on the mission. Missionaries can be sent home for violating mission rules, and occasionally missionaries choose to go home because of unhappiness or because they "lost their testimony" (meaning they no longer believe in the church or have serious doubts about it). However, the vast majority of missionaries serve the whole two-year (men) or eighteen-month (women) terms.

As of 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young, unmarried men, 13% were young single women and 7% retired couples. Women who would like to serve a mission must meet the same standards of worthiness and be at least 21 years old; women generally serve shorter 18-month missions and are not actively encouraged to serve. Married retired couples, on the other hand, are encouraged to serve missions, but their length of service may vary from 6 to 36 months depending on their circumstances and means. Any single retired person may also be called to serve in what is known as senior missionary service.

Standards of Worthiness:
All missionaries must meet certain minimum standards of worthiness. Among the standards that a prospective missionary must demonstrate adherence to are: regular attendance at church meetings, regular personal prayer, regular study of the scriptures, adherence to the law of chastity (sexual purity), adherence to the Word of Wisdom (code of health and nutrition), payment of tithing, spiritual diligence and testimony of God.

Until 1978 the LDS Church did not call men of black African descent to go on missions, due to the ban on them holding the priesthood. The priesthood ban was lifted during Kimball's presidency and since 1978 there has been no restrictions to missionary service that are based on race or ethnicity.

Mission Call:
After application to the church and the requisite approval, prospective missionaries receive a "call to serve" - an official notification of their location assignment - through the mail from the President of the Church. The mission call also informs the prospective missionary what language he/she will be expected to use during their mission. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are responsible for assigning missionaries to a particular mission.

Temple Attendance:
Before beginning their mission, prospective male missionaries are usually ordained to the office of an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood (if they do not hold this office already). All missionaries are "set apart" by the laying on of hands to preach the gospel; this is usually performed by the missionary's stake president. Prospective missionaries also usually attend the temple for the first time to receive their Endowment if they have not already done so.

The Provo MTC is the LDS Church's largest Missionary Training Center.

Newly called missionaries attend a short training period at one of 17 church Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) worldwide. The largest MTC is located in Provo, Utah adjacent to Brigham Young University. Missionaries who will not be learning a language in order to serve their missions spend three weeks at an MTC where they practice using proselytizing materials, learn expected conduct, and study the scriptures. Missionaries bound for foreign-language missions spend eight to thirteen weeks at an MTC, depending on the language to be learned. During this period, they are encouraged not to speak in their native tongue but rather to immerse themselves in the new language.

Preparation to Serve

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