Comments about ‘To serve or not to serve: BYU star athletes discuss the role of missionary service’

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Published: Monday, April 21 2014 10:40 p.m. MDT

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North Salt Lake, UT

One lesson I see from this: if you are deciding whether to serve a mission at 18 or 19, you've already made your decision. Maybe the right course at that point is not to go because the time for preparation is gone. However the examples here to follow are Tyler and Taysom, sadly not Jimmer. Sure Jimmer can still be a great ambassador for the church. That doesn't make him the best example for a young man to follow. The Prophet has stated EVERY worthy young man should go. All leave opportunities behind. There isn't an exemption for the might become famous. The decision to follow the prophet and preparation to serve come early in life.

Saint Paul, MN

For every young man this is an incredibly important, and incredibly personal decision. As a new convert to the church, a week before I entered West Point in the 70s, when asked by a friend a year later when I was going to head out on a mission, I thought she was crazy. At that time, no one had ever resigned the academy to serve and then return to graduate. It occurred to me though that President Kimball's call for all young men to serve did not state, "Except West Point Cadets." I prayed dilig3ently, got my answer, served (aided by fantastic friends), returned to graduate and then had 30 great years as an Army officer. Hundreds of others have followed that path in the ensuing years.

That path, however, "may" not be for everyone. EVERYONE should pray about that decision for themselves (the earlier the better), and then be willing to follow the Lord's admonition for them. Everything else falls into place when you have that mindset (and willingness to subordinate "self-desire", either wat), you will have comfort in the decision, and a strong conviction to proceed ... athletics or otherwise included.

San Bernardino, CA

I completely disagree with the notion that serving a mission has more consequences for an athlete than for a typical young person. They all give up things they love, work, money, hobbies, friends, loved ones and even scholarships (which surprisingly are even offered for non-athletic reasons). These athletes' talents, dreams, abilities, etc are no more important than those of anyone else. If anything their scholarships are more protected than other scholarships. I lost my full tuition scholarship when I went and never got it back, but the value I gained in my life in return was well worth the sacrifice.

Allen C Christensen
American Fork, UT

I am not a former BYU athlete. But I was a college student with a scholarship to help pay my way. As a young man I foolishly determined not to serve. As years passed I came to understand I had made a dreadful mistake. Twenty years ago I was called to preside over a mission in the Philippines. It was a marvelous experience. However, I realized toward the end of the three years that I had passed the opportunity to serve as a young man. It was an irretrievable loss. My experiences were different than the young elders and sisters. Sobered, I recognized that world's without end I could never serve as a young man. By my own decision, I came to realize that I had foregone one of life's greatest opportunities. My suggestion is go and serve. Clearly, you will not know what you have missed if you do not go, but I can assure you that you will have missed something wonderful that other opportunities cannot completely replace.

Springville, UT

I have no knock on missionary service, but off the top of my head, I can't think of a single returned missionary who has gone on to the top tier of any professional sport. This brings up to the question, where can a young man do the most good? And then the question is, are the interests of the young man best served, or are the interests of the church as an institution best served? I completely disagree that someone like Jimmer is not a good example because he didn't serve a mission.

By the way, anyone who suggests that a mission doesn't lead to a deterioration of athletic skills (physical and mental) is dead wrong. If an athlete chooses a mission, he should be aware that his chosen path will preclude him from reaching the pinnacle of athletic success. That decision is fine to make. We all have to make choices in life and choose our own priorities. Just make the decision with knowledge of the consequences.

Durham, NC


"...had the opportunity to speak with several general authorities who have assured me that I have a different path on spreading the gospel without being a full-time missionary, which I try to do as much as I can.”

My son choose to leave on a mission much after his 19th birthday, and it was the best thing for him. We have seen far too many missionaries out here where they were obviously not ready to be out here, but came because of other reasons. I really wish people understood not everybody is the same, not everyone has the same calling in life, and we each have our own paths to follow.

This idea that there is only one way, one path, one role we play....

Swim Fan
Honeyville, UT

The decision to serve is always a personal decision. As far as whether one's athletic skills deteriorating, I can only speak from my son's experience. He competes in swimming which requires a high degree of physical skill and stamina. As a Freshman he qualified for the NCAA Championships and competed there in 2011. I suggested he postpone his mission one year to compete in the Olympic trials. Instead, he left on his mission two months after NCAAs. Served in El Salvador in difficult conditions. Returned last year in May and got married in July. Didn't start training again until late August, early September. Tore his hamstring in October. Really struggled getting back into shape but by conference championships he beat all of his old times, broke conference and team records but missed the NCAA Championships by 1/100 of a second, this year being the fastest year ever in NCAA swimming. He has never expressed any regret for serving a mission and cried when he returned and had to take off his badge.

He is now back to his prior shape. I expect he will qualify for NCAAs next year and will compete in the Olympic Trials in 2016.

Phoenix, AZ


"I can't think of a single returned missionary who has gone on to the top tier of any professional sport...If an athlete chooses a mission, he should be aware that his chosen path will preclude him from reaching the pinnacle of athletic success."

So you don't think that athletes who serve missions are capable of reaching the pinnacle of athletic success? I think they COULD. I just think a mission puts life into perspective and suddenly, playing games doesn't seem as important, and they choose a different path. Not that they couldn't, they probably see the environment of professional sports and are repulsed by it, as are most people.

Salt Lake City, UT

Excellent comment, Swim Fan. Thank you.

Wayne Rout
El Paso, TX

In about 1985, Sports Illustrated did an article on three BYU football players who were on missions. These were young men destined to become stars. SI was given unprecedented access to the Elders while they were serving. None of the 3 ever "recovered" from the time lost on the mission. I do feel it is true that missionary service causes some loss of skills. We have see it take a season to recover and some are never the same. Life is more than sports and other skills developed on the mission along with the service to others no doubt make up for skills lost.

Mormon Ute
Kaysville, UT

My observations. First, the decision to serve a mission has to come long before you turn 18 or 19. Like Tyler Haws said, his decision was made in Primary to when it came time he didn't have to hem and haw about it. Former Ute and professional basketball player Alex Jensen said the same thing at a fireside I attended. The Church is putting a lot of emphasis on young men preparing from their youth and making the decision long before they are 18. Then no matter what is happening in their lives, it make it so much easier to just do it. Second, both of the athletes quoted who didn't go placed far to much emphasis on themselves and what was right for them personally. To me that indicates a lack of preparation from their youth and a selfishness that prevents them from being willing to make the sacrifices that a mission requires. The key to me is being willing to submit to the Lord's will and what He wants us to accomplish. Through His Prophets He has told us EVERY young man should prepare and go on a mission.

Ed Grady
Idaho Falls, ID

Serving a mission is an individual choice. A person should only go of their own free will and not from pressure or scorn from others. There are too many dead beat 'RMs' in the Church today who went on a mission to meet girlfriends' mandates or to get cars from mommy and daddy upon return or just to get people off their backs. If a person chooses not to serve, they shouldn't be subject to self-righteous scorn. Some of the most righteous and spiritual people I know didn't serve a mission.


Sanders said "I don’t want people to judge me because of something I did for myself.”

I don't think that people will judge in a biblical way as far as condemning you or saying you are a bad person. However, I believe that people will be believe that you lost an invaluable opportunity. O that you may lack insight, maturity or are unwilling to think about others.

Young Women may discriminate against you realizing that they want a companion that has the qualities of maturity, selflessness, and internal fortitude to do hard things. The exact things the missionary service develops.

When a qualified young man doesn't serve it doesn't mean that they are a bad person, it just that they don't understand what they are giving up.

Indianapolis, IN

It comes down to priorities. The athletes who don't serve consider their potential careers as a higher priority than serving a mission.
All who actively serve in the church (or any church or community for that matter) make sacrifices all the time that may slow or even stop the progression of their career, but we serve anyway because we believe it is more important than our careers.
They can say that they have had "missionary opportunities" because of their sport. I have those same missionary opportunities where I work and in my neighborhood. Those of who have served know that this is no substitute for the experiences of a real 24/7, full immersion, "eye single to the glory of God" mission. Those who didn't serve just may not fully understand that.
But in the end, it is a personal decision. We continue to love them and support them, but that doesn't mean we have to give every athlete a pass.

Spanish Fork, UT

I don't put down anyone who doesn't serve a mission. Not my business. But... I would ask each faithful LDS young man and young woman athlete contemplating a mission to remember, a mission is NOT about you, but about them. At 18 or 19 that is a very difficult thing to remember. And when you have great, marketable skills, that complicates the matter. Be prayerful and seek qualified council. Make the decision and live with it. You won't hear me complaining -- not that that matters one bit. Nor should it.

Serving a full-time mission at 18 or 19 is definitely not for everyone. A number of Elders and Sisters return early because they were not prepared to work, not prepared to be rejected, and not prepared in other ways. Some return home because of health issues. All are still good people and the Church is going to great lengths to help them.

In the end, all of this is about the spiritual better of people trying to build a better life -- both those wishing to serve a mission, those who chose not to and for those people who will be touched by both in the future. God bless.

Mormon Ute
Kaysville, UT


You make some good points. Young men who are not prepared should not go on missions. Too many end up coming home. That is why the Church has been for years instructing parents and Church leaders that young men should be prepared from the time they are young. We started with our kids before they were 12 and continued until the day they left. They knew the expectation from that young age. Too often the decision is left until they reach the age of 18. Sure, things change from age 12 to 18, but what shouldn't change is the expectation to go on a mission. No matter the sacrifice. Through our Prophets the Lord has promised they will be blessed for making that sacrifice.

Regarding the athletes who served missions and then didn't reach the highest levels in their sports, maybe they never would have even without serving. Or maybe they aligned their thinking more with God while serving him and realized they needed to follow a different path. Aligning oneself with God's will is the key.

Plano, TX

Way too much attention is given to the decisions of others to serve or not serve missions. People need to choose for themselves without the spectre of public opinion being reflected at them in an unseemly, pejorative way simply because they are some temporary, minor public figure. It's between the individual and their own family, church leadership to determine. The constant rehashing of this topic does no eventual good and exposes individuals to a judgmental atmosphere that's basically otherwise unbecoming a member of the church to engage in anyway. Better to just encourage all to do their best in whatever their choices are and call the day good. If you're living to the best of your ability and keeping the commandments, you'll influence others for good anyway and that is the purest form of sharing the gospel there is, in my opinion.

Fruit Heights, UT

As a RM all I can say to young athletes who choose not to serve a mission is that its your loss.

Omaha, NE

Just an opinion.

I think the decision is personal as to whether one serves or not. I cannot say definitively that Jimmer's influence will be signficant due to his employment with the NBA as I think it will be shortlived. However, I did see Steve Young influence several 49ers and if I'm not mistaken at least one decided that the LDS faith was the perfect fit for him. I think that the saying that every member is a missionary is all that we should focus on. Our relationship with God is personal and doesn't warrant any judgment by those who will post or otherwise.


Plymouth, MI

Sorry for being blunt. But, it seems to me that many of these comments are simply rationalizing. Allen C Christensen nailed it. No, young men that don't serve aren't destined to become horrible people. If they consistently make good choices, they can ably serve in many capacities (even as mission presidents and general authorities). But, missions, for many young men change the trajectory of their lives for the better. And thank goodness for that. Oh, and missions do not perfectly preclude professional sports opportunities. Chad Lewis and Vai Sikahema are 2 examples. And there are probably others I cannot think of over the past 40 years since Spencer Kimball first said every young man should serve a mission.

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