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11 can't-miss tips for successful LDS missionaries

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 13 2013 11:08 a.m. MDT

Nearly a year has passed since President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the historic change to the church’s missionary program. It’s become known colloquially as the “age change” — meaning that worthy young men are eligible to serve at the age of 18 instead of 19 and after graduating from high school. Young women are now invited to serve at 19 instead of 21.

This change has produced a remarkable surge in missionaries entering the field. The LDS Church estimates there will be about 80,000 missionaries serving by October. Before the announcement, there were about 54,000 missionaries.

This wave of willingness to tune out the world and serve the Lord as his full-time representative is inspiring. Witnessing these young men and women flood the field reminds me of my own mission to Brazil many years ago. My time there remains among my most treasured experiences and chief accomplishments. If I could return today, I would.

While serving as a young man — and later teaching for a short time at the Mission Training Center in Provo, and even now having Mormon missionaries into my home as often as possible and working with them at every opportunity — I’ve learned a few things about the differences between happy, successful missionaries and the unpleasant alternatives.

I call them my 11 can’t-miss tips for successful missionaries.

Related: Number of Mormon missionaries reaches all-time high of 75,000

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patriot
Cedar Hills, UT

you missed a BIG ONE.... BE WILLING TO WORK HARD!!! Missionary work is hard physical and mental work no question. You are up early and to bed late and you read more than you ever have. Before you go on a mission learn to work hard in what ever way you can. Athletics teaches loads of great values you can use on a mission. Working outside the home and earning your mission money is another great teacher. Anyway you do it - learn to LOVE hard work.

youtes
taylorsville, utah

Are you kidding me?!?!?! "Exercise faith that obedience leads to greater success. If you have faith in this principle, you will see it unfold in miraculous ways." That is not what you are supposed to have faith in. "Obedience is the only frequency that the Spirit operates in." Seriously?! Why am I not surprised. We are a church, not a corporation.

bw00ds
Tucson, AZ

Good one, Patriot.

@youtes I see nothing wrong with exercising faith in that manner. I personally agree totally with his oft mentioned theme of obedience. And also his theme of love. I also know that mission presidents would echo these sentiments of obedience and love. The biggest problem that missionaries have is not being obedient.

What I don't understand is not that someone might disagree with his premise, but to the extent that you have shown. Nothing he stated in his 11 tips will steer a missionary wrong.

Shawnbo
POMONA, CA

EAT ICE CREAM!!!

We would set apart a specific night as "ice-cream" night, where we would finish our day by purchasing a kilo (about 2 pounds) of ice cream and enjoy it (usually on our apartment's roof). This is great "bonding" time to connect with your companion. The best part of ice-cream night was that if we had a really bad day, we would make that night ice-cream night instead. This turned bad days around very quickly! "Another person skipped their appointment? That's okay! You know why? ITS ICE CREAM NIGHT!"

dbirley
ROCK HILL, SC

Never forget that because you are known to be a member of the Church, people who don't know much about the Church will see the whole Church in you, and in everything you do. When President MacKay said "Every member a missionary", he extended this caution to all members, not just the full time missionaries. Have you ever seen a person or a family on TV and thought "I bet they're LDS"? Would others think that if they saw you?

Canyontreker
TAYLORSVILLE, UT

I like #11. "Be yourself! Smile! Laugh! Have fun!" & EAT ICE CREAM!!!

You can't attract people to a message of happiness if your ultra serious with no emotion of your own happiness.

Sometimes my companion was obedient without reason. If we didn't have appointments we would just walk the dark cold streets until it was the obedient time to go home. I've never been so miserable.

I finally broke out of being stuck. We went to the store (not P-day) and bought ingredients for baking cookies. We went to a member's house and baked. Gave some cookies away and kept some for the next day's contacts. People loved it...not the cookies, but the new happy missionaries. SUCCESS!

youtes
taylorsville, utah

@bw00ds Then we truly have gone astray. The #1 thing on the list should be "Follow the Spirit," yet that was never mentioned once! And maybe I did overreact a tiny bit.

raybies
Layton, UT

I think in terms of obedience, one should make it their default position, but Follow the Spirit is definitely #1.

Maybe my mission was weird, but there were times when what I thought were the rules I needed to obey conflicted with what I thought the Spirit wanted me to do.

In such a case, which one is right? Missonary service belongs to God. Let him direct it, with a deep appreciation for the authorities called to preside, and you'll be fine.

The last step bothers me. It implies that if someone is serious and focused on obedience that they aren't being themselves. I have a daughter who I know will be serious on her mission and will be very focused on doing everything right on her mission, but she's exactly that way, very serious, in real life.

I think she will struggle to embrace advice point #2, because not everyone on their mission will be as focused at it as she is... and she's very driven.

texasangel
Ballinger, Tx

these are great but alot of repeats. I did adapt these principles to the Military which I served in for 17 yrs. I wish this article did not consistently repeat.

MIMom
Mt Pleasant, MI

How about adding show appreciation and respect. If you are invited to dinner, call ahead to confirm, show up on time or call if plans change, show appreciation and thanks for what has been specially prepared for you. This will help build trusting relationships and teach a concept that should carry out in all aspects of your life even beyond missionary work. Be respectful of everyone you come in contact with. Focus on refining your your own actions rather than what you want others actions to be will make a big difference. You will set the tone and others will follow naturally.

DP742
American Fork, UT

Number 11 is very important. And maybe we could have avoided the repeats and include something about working with members (a huge driver of success), working hard (and smart), and study to understand and then teach the doctrine.

GeoMan
SALEM, OR

Here are my thoughts, from a slightly different perspective. Since I seem to be inherently obedient, I think obedience is overrated. Let me explain. If one tends to be obedient by default, then having someone else (who isn't) harping on it all the time seems very strange. Then, sometimes, situations will arise where two rules conflict (in the letter of the rules. Yes, this happens all the time on a mission.). This is hard for the naturally obedient person to deal with and if they have been fed a constant diet of "be obedient or fail" they will be in a lose-lose situation. Meanwhile, the not so innately obedient person proceeds without so much as a second thought. They are obeying one rule so they are happy. They may or may not be making the right choice, but that doesn't cross their mind because they are "obeying."

Following the Spirit is the key. If one is truly doing that, then the obedience will follow naturally and in accordance with the Will of the Lord.

GeoMan
SALEM, OR

200 Words is so limiting. Hopefully this will finish my though.
Following the Spirit is the key. If one is truly doing that, then the obedience will follow naturally and in accordance with the Will of the Lord. Rules certainly have their purpose and role, but obedience without the Spirit is empty and meaningless. Perhaps another way to put it is that obedience is a tool, a means to an end. Following the Holy Spirit is an objective, a goal in and of itself (but not the ultimate goal). If one doesn't know where one is headed, neither a map nor a compass will serve any purpose, despite the fact that they are very useful and important tools.
To continue the analogy, I seldom need my map and compass when I go to the outdoors anymore. I have them, but I have an ability to navigate without them now. I did develop this skill by using map and compass. I first needed to know my objective. So too can a person use obedience to develop their ability to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Caravan Moves On
Enid, OK

I like the "obedience" idea repeated over and over because, quite simply, "obedience" means "act in faith" and "follow the Spirit" all rolled into one.

The recommendation to learn to work hard is also EXCELLENT advice.

Here's another piece of advice that is absolutely indispensable: gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the work BEFORE you go.

If one knows by the power of the Holy Ghost that God really DOES live, that His son, Jesus Christ, IS the Savior of all mankind, that the Book of Mormon really IS the word of God and that therefore the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really IS the Lord's one true church upon the earth.....if they know that, then "obedience" and "being in tune with the Spirit" and being happy and all the other pieces of good advice will come much, muuuuch more easily because one understands the big picture.

They KNOW what they are working for is right so their heart is in the work and not just their body.

My mission to the Lousiana Baton Rouge mission was one of THE best decisions I ever made, even 27 years later.

Tigger86
Salt Lake City, UT

One thing that I wish were discussed more is that regardless of how good/worthy/prepared you are, there will be problems hampering success that have nothing to do with you.

I loved my mission, but many times my missionary work ended up being the daunting task of "cleaning up" after previous missionaries. This included re-gaining the members' trust and even re-teaching them what a missionary's job is: basically, not being lazy. Sadly, at one point I was the second companion of a missionary who had been trained to be lazy. Re-training her was difficult. Many members didn't like me; they thought that I was being rude because we didn't stop by to chit-chat at least three times a week.

Also, as a sister missionary, I encountered some bishops who were unwilling to help us. They felt that since sisters weren't priesthood holders, they weren't real missionaries and therefore didn't merit any assistance. It would have been nice to have been aware of things like that before I left for the field so that I didn't wonder about my worthiness when it actually happened.

Shimlau
SAINT GEORGE, UT

Tigger 86: I want to thank you for your service. I served in Argentina many years ago. I loved the sister missionaries. they had a special and beautiful spirit. they always involved us (the elders) in their efforts, and I found that they could get into homes where we as elders had absolutley no chance of getting in. once again, thanks for your service.

Dennis
Harwich, MA

Wear clean cloths (know how to do your wash correctly)
Brush you teeth
Learn how to cook, don't depend on others and don't eat out so often.
Wear good shoes.
And most important: Be Nice. Always.

DUPDaze
Bakersfield, CA

And from the ofher side of the porch door:

Know your history and doctrines well, and those of the area in which you serve.

Nothing is more frustrating than looking into the eyes of sincere missionaries, smart and dedicated, who slept through seminary and do not accurately know the basics of world religions.

Rule #2: Know the outside world. (That would serve members well, also.)

Idaho_Boy
Aberdeen, ID

Another tip worth mentioning is utilize the members with your teaching. Missionaries come and go, but the members are going to be there much longer. President Hickley's counsel was 100% accurate that among other things, every new member needs a friend.

I saw that on my mission personally kind of after the fact. We had an older investigator that wasn't doing anything that we asked her to do, but she would let us share our lessons with her and invite us in. I'm not going to claim to have been inspired in this case, but we had one of the widows in the ward that would feed us every couple of weeks. We invited her to go with us to our next appointment. It wasn't against the rules then for two elders to take this older ward member with us to our appointment. We taught the investigator that day and then I was transferred out of that area shortly after that. Over a year later and after I was already home from my mission, I learned that the investigator was baptized. That only happened because a friendship was started that day.

Dennis
Harwich, MA

"know your doctrine" is not possible for 18 year old boys.
I taught Elders for 7 years (most of them RM's) and very few knew their doctrine.
Honest sincerity and love of the work is all an Elder needs.

Wilf 55
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

And a few more relevant rules:
- Tremble in view of your responsibility: you are trying to literally change lives, often including breaking up families and alienating converts from much of their culture for the rest of their lives.
- Understand that local members will help you find investigators if they can trust you as a reasonable, mature, and patient missionary, able to listen to people. So, converse a lot with members from a deep sense of interest before asking them for referrals.
- Be sure your investigators understand very well what it means to become Mormon. If not, they will be inactive within months or even weeks. Give them time, do not rush them for the sake of your personal success or numerical goals.
- Obedience? Yes. But dare to politely question rules invented by the overzealous--in particular rules that undermine the three previous rules.

suzyk#1
Mount Pleasant, UT

So much is involved in being a productive, effective and spiritual person while serving the Lord. There have been good comments...I BELIEVE...as we are willing to be humble, teachable and willing to serve the Lord with all of our heart and soul the spiritual help we are in need of will be ours. There are so many different circumstances when serving missions for the Lord. We must have Faith and PRAY for the strength of mind and body and character to listen to the Spirit. Always remember who you are and what you have covenanted to do.

#1 Champ
Salt Lake City, UT

Remember obedience, and be sure to tell your new companion 'who has a reputation' that you've ONLY heard good things. O and remember Obedience. One last thing, don't forget to be Obedient.

Got it.

rgdouglass
St. George, UT

Get to know the culture of the people you're among. You will be bored and hate being in the mission field if you don't learn about the people you're serving, even if it's in the same country where you were born. Next of all, if your don't feel like being out there, then just come home. I'm serious, you're not doing yourself any good and you're not doing the church a service if you don't feel like being out there.

rgdouglass
St. George, UT

One other thing I'd recommend is know your Bible backward and forward if you're going anywhere there happen to be evangelical Christians or they will eat you alive.

common sense in Idaho
Pocatello, id

I am in the follow the spirit camp. While in New Zealand we tracted out an Air New Zealand pilot who worked all sorts of weird hours. Our first contact was in the evening around 9:00 PM. He invited us in and introduced his wife to us. He said said he was interested in learning about our church so away we went. 9:30 came and went. 10:30 came and went. I was senior companion and I remember my companion looking at me expecting me to cut this off. But the spirit directed otherwise. We taught and answered many questions till nearly 12:00 AM. Got back to our flat at 12:30 AM.

Against the rules. Absolutely. Were we being disobedient? I don't think so even today. Sometimes it is better to follow the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law. If you are on a high enough spiritual plane you will know the difference.

This experience was a highlight of my mission. Riding our bikes home afterward my companion and I knew that we did the right thing.

RockOn
Spanish Fork, UT

What a ridiculously written list. A hobby horse to ride over and over and over. Give it a rest -- and you should be obedient to that command.

Try writing the list again using some actual thought rather than your hobby horse. Once said is enough. Now, wasn't that annoying having me write the same thing in my second paragraph as I did in the first? Yep.

For actual missionaries, Brigham Young said, "If a missionary goes out with his mind on this or that and the things of this world and not having his mind riveted to the cross of Christ, he will go and return in vain." In today's vernacular, that means "Live By the Spirit."

Study by the Spirit. Read and study the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, PofGP, AofFaith, Jesus the Christ. KNow the doctrine.
Decide to have faith.
Working your butt off about 70 hours a week.
Serving everyone else but yourself.
Smile and mean it.
Be positive. You've got the greatest message in the world to share.
Enjoy the moment. It's a rare time where you'll get to worry about nothing else.
Love your work, companion and especially the people of your area.

Eliyahu
Pleasant Grove, UT

As a non-Mormon who has worked in sales, I would also offer this advice: be friendly to everyone you meet, including the folks who tell you to go away. The impression you make with that first contact will affect how they perceive those who come after you, and those who aren't buying today may decide down the road that what you were offering is worth another look. Someone who never gains a single convert himself can still set things in motion for many conversions later on without being aware of it.

gmlewis
Houston, TX

Every few years, we hear of a missionary losing his life while on the mission, and I reflect on an experience I had as a missionary in Brazil in 1972. My companion and I were kidnapped and led into the jungle to be executed. Through the Lord's intervention, we were rescued just in time. Years later, I related this experience to an older missionary couple, and the sister asked "Weren't you obeying the mission rules?" I had to laugh, and said, "Yes, I think so." The fact is, we were being obedient, but we were still prepared to leave mortality in defense of the Restored Gospel. Being obedient provides spiritual and physical protection. Sometimes we are called on to lay down our lives, and sometimes we are called on to get close to it, but like Abraham and Isaac be rescued after the trail of faith.

Carolina Gamecock
Prosperity, SC

I served my mission in Salt Lake City, UT from 1990-1992. I am from SC, and found it to be quite a culture shock, as prior to this, I, as many others past and present, believed the valley to be ALL LDS. During the years I served, our mission out baptized every other mission in the World. That's correct! the World. I don't mention to boast. I bring this up, because thing's aren't always as they seem. We all fail; we all will make mistakes; some small, and some really humdingers. What I discovered was never giving up to be the best, and greatest personal rule to abide by. Any missionary who states they were never tempted, over veered slightly from the obedient path is fabricating a mis-truth. If we were completely obedient, this implies perfection. As we are all aware, only one truly perfect MAN has been upon this earth. I believe what others may be trying to say is to be obedient to the best of your ability, and never give up trying to attain greater spirituality. Some need a gut check.

Filo Doughboy
Bakersfield, CA

@Dennis in MA- A missionary should know his doctrines, not just be enthisiastic. Otherwise, one can be espousing false doctrines.

Muslims, Taliban and Hamas are loyal and dedicated. If the Holy Spirit does the convicting and spiritual birthing, then I agree on the qualities of eager desire to serve. But there are many other scriptures on studying "to be approved as a workman". Probably best to have all the qualities and training God offers.

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