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Musing on missionaries (again)

March 27, 2009

I guess I’ve had a few articles here about what I like about missionary work, what I dislike, how I wish it would be, and how I don’t wish it would be. I guess it’s been something of an interest to me since missionary-work is a rather large example of advertising in the religious world…so I feel like it relates to my business-y interests just a touch.

Primarily, my problems with missionary work is that they are trying to sell a product that people may not necessarily want. Instead, I would think a more effective way would be to serve others regardless of the message, just because it’s a good thing to do, and through light of such a great example, that would end up making more people interested in the gospel in the first place. As that quotation says, someone won’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care…Perhaps this is idealistic, but that’s just my two cents.

So, I thought that missionary work should be more about networking and service. When I brought some of my ideas to a more faithful, believing crowd (because I do value the opinions of people even when I don’t understand where they are coming from, sometimes)…many of the comments surprised me totally. Many commenters pointed out that missionary work is utterly not about service or networking, so to change the emphasis to these things would be disastrous.

As I’ve thought about it, it makes more sense what they were meaning. Missionaries shouldn’t be networkers and fellowshippers because people in the ward already should be networking and fellowshipping. And that’s when you get to this stark realization: the missionary program is being dragged down tremendously by the inaction of every day members. Members have been counseled that “Every member a missionary,” and yet…this doesn’t happen.

So, what would an ideal situation be? Well, the missionaries would have little or no tracting, if I understand it correctly (which, then again, I may not). So, tracting, which seems inseparable from modern missionary work as we know, should actually be minimized! Instead, members should be finding friends and people they already know from the community who are receptive to the gospel message and then recommending them to the mission. That way, the amount of slammed doors in mishy faces is reduced several-hundredfold.

It seems like a good ideal, but the fact is that if the LDS church is an organization and this structure is its goal, the church is failing massively at reaching its goals in a way that should cause someone to be reevaluated. Consider: the missionary program itself is so successful that it has inspired a culture that has encouraged 1 million young men (and women, I suppose) over its history to spend two years of their lives to go on missions (AND pay for the privilege!) This culture has spilled over to the stigma that if a young man does not go on a mission, he faces in general cases strong negative feedback from members. So, what is it about the culture that has successfully impressed so many young men to go on members that cannot also inspire general members to simply talk to their friends and bring them to the missionaries? That is the question.

Now, I know I have reservations with sharing the gospel with others and others do too. I know that for me, I am uncertain and apprehensive about representing products to anyone…even products that I personally like. I feel terribly if a product or service or idea I’ve recommended to someone ends up causing them more grief than anything else. It becomes *my* personal fault.

But then again, I’m the kind of person who looks in the face of a negative stigma about not going on a mission and faces it head on fearlessly. So I can’t really be the benchmark here.

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