A look at Mormon missionary training process

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 11:00 a.m. MDT

During that time, we teach them the principles of the gospel, we have a syllabus, a manual, that we call "Preach My Gospel" that when joined with the scriptures provides the teaching tools for our missionaries. We teach them how to use them [the scriptures and "Preach My Gospel"] how to approach people in a dignified and appropriate way and how to teach them.

Question: There are all sorts of misconceptions or overgeneralizations among members of the LDS Church of what the MTCs are. How would you respond to some of those overgeneralizations, whether it be "boot camp" on one extreme to "the Lord's university" on the other?

Elder Hinckley: Well, it isn't a boot camp, although I suspect some young people feel that it is because it is relatively restrictive, that is they don't leave the MTC once they're there.

They don't accept visitors. We simply can't do that — we just have too many in residence, we have over 2,000 there at any given time, so we have to have some routine and some regimentation to the process. They get up at 6:30 in the morning, they have an exercise program, they eat at certain hours, they go to class during certain hours.

This is a disciplined approach to teaching them that missionary life is work and that it's disciplined work — and for some of them who perhaps come from a rather undisciplined background, it may be a bit of a shock at first. But generally speaking, they come to love and appreciate the experience there.

Question: The concept of a missionary training center and the need for it – it took some time to get there. What back then still holds true today in terms of what exists on that MTC campus?

Elder Hinckley: Let me back up a little further than when the first MTC began. I did not have an MTC experience. I served in Europe, and I learned a language. So in order to accommodate that learning process, my mission was 2 ½ years — no training. I just went to the airport on my own, got on a plane and arrived in Europe and spent 2 ½ years there — that extra six months designed to help me learn the language.

So initially, the LTM — the Language Training Mission — was established thinking that we could help young missionaries learn a language. And that was quite successful. This extended their service by two or three months. So, instead of 2½ years, they served for about 27 months, three months of which were language training.

And then that evolved into the thinking that we probably ought to train these young people into how to teach the gospel and how to do missionary work.

In my day, if I may be so bold to say, most missionaries came from what we would consider today to be nuclear LDS families, where there was a tradition of missionary work, and where mom and dad were members of the church, second- or third-generation.

Today, that's not true. Many, many of our young people who serve are the only members of the church from their family, and they themselves may have been a member of the church for only a year or more. So we need to get all of these missionaries on the same page, if you will, and at the same level before we send them out to the field.

So those are two purposes – language and bringing a very disparate group of young men and young women up to the same level before they travel to their fields of labor.

Question: Share what you can with us of the missionary calls that go out –what goes into deciding where an applicant should go?

Elder Hinckley. A very good question. Elder Rasband [Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the church's Presidency of the Seventy] addressed that very nicely in a recent conference and I'll repeat some of the things he said.

First of all, the applications now almost all come in electronically via the internet to us in the Missionary Department, and we send just the medical piece to the doctors. They don't see anything else other than the medical information. They let us know whether they have any medical concerns that could restrict where the missionary might serve in the world. So that's the first thing.

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