In light of the recent ‘Work of Salvation’ broadcast it appears that the missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is about to undergo a dramatic shift. The idea of door knocking Mormon missionaries on bikes, accosting dog walkers on the street, is about to be replaced with another kind of proselyting – the high tech missionary who spreads the gospel using electronic devices and WIFI.
All of this is a very interesting development. With the exponential growth of missionaries poised to descend upon the globe a rethink about how best to occupy their time and make good use of their youth seemed necessary. It has been clear for many years that gate banging isn’t really a quality use of time, and is , in some cultural contexts, an irritation for unsuspecting working families who treat home as a haven from the physical intrusions of strangers.
So what can we expect from this refashioned, re-thought missionary programme? It would appear that electronic devices, the use of social media, cell phones, and computers would eventually come to facilitate the missionary work of the LDS church. Furthermore, not only will missionaries be more electronically accessible, they will also be electronically and socially integrated into their host ward communities.
This seems to be a very astute move. LDS Missionary work has largely been the terrain of the ‘Mission’ and has been governed, organized, and supervised by the Mission President who stands outside of the congregational/community organization of the church. I’ve always felt that this was a bit daft. These are young people who have boundless energy who are typically not well integrated into the social life of their host congregations. Making better use of their services, having better access to these young and willing things, and putting them to work in the wards seems like an infinitely better idea than having them uselessly pounding the doors of empty houses in the suburbs. I’m particularly in favour of the emphasis on missionaries being more fully a part of our congregations rather than the incidental but passing additions to our Sunday Meetings and our dinner tables.
So all of this looks positive and makes quite a bit of sense. Here’s a summary of the changes.
- Bishops and Stake Presidents are to preside over missionary work.
- Mission Presidents preside over missionaries.
- Area Authorities train Stake Presidents to preside over missionary work.
- Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents will meet regularly to coordinate their efforts.
- Ward Councils come up with things for missionaries to do.
- Ward mission leaders coordinate with the Ward Council to fill the missionary’s diaries with stuff the Ward Councils decide is useful for them to do.
- Members of the wards participate alongside the missionaries and make themselves available at the request of the Ward Council to reach out to potential, new, returning, and less active members.
- Meetinghouses are open during the day where missionaries will be on hand to conduct guided tours and meet and greet the curious passer by.
Clearly this is a major reconceptualization of missionary work. Where once missionaries were primarily the ‘property’ of the missions, and could be found harassing strangers on the streets, this plan has them integrated into the life of the congregation, accountable to the Bishops, responsive to the Ward Council, busy on the work of the wards and most interestingly, not insulated from the rest of the world.
Some questions remain however:
- Who will determine missionary shifts and transfers. With missionaries building significant relationships with ward members and the friends of ward members, will the practice of transfers continue which results in missionaries extracted from their ward/investigator relationships at the whim of the mission office?
- With missionaries in possession of the latest gadgetry as a strategy for them being more accessible to the Bishop/Ward Council, will the Ward Council have access to the same devices courtesy of the church or will Ipads and smartphones be at their own expense?
- Will Sister missionaries ever get out of those pantyhose and skirts? (And into something more comfortable).
- There is a bit of a Anglo-centric assumption that relationships are best managed electronically in this post-modern age. But what about those cultures and communities who do their best work face to face?
- If missionary work is presided over by the bishops, what are the parameters on what is understood as missionary work? For instance, is community outreach, humanitarian work etc. a legitimate missionary activity? I wish it were so!
Thumbs up to this new plan – it has my vote. BUT, if I could change anything about the broadcast I would cut down on the schmaltz. I don’t need tears, primary songs, and Afterglow to see the merits of a good idea. And by the way, ‘wide consultation’ is not consultation with the presiding councils of the church! I’m just saying.
I’m happy about one more thing however. Perhaps they will ditch this mad plan in the New Zealand Area for the facilitation of church growth which would see my husband almost continually out of the house ‘visiting’. With this new plan I’ll make him get a Facebook account and an Ipad and have him door knocking via social media while he gets the kids bathed and ready for bed!