This past weekend was General Conference. Among other things, there were two topics that stood out for me. One was President Ucthdorf’s talk in the priesthood session on serving others. The transcript should be available soon on lds.org, but it was about the importance of true service. Paraphrasing, he said it didn’t matter how well we knew the scriptures or policies in the Church if we didn’t serve others. The two great commandments are to Love God and to Love Your Neighbor. He said it much more eloquently than this (and looked better saying it), but it really resonated with me as it is what I believe.
The other topic that stuck out was the call for more missionaries, particularly senior couples. It sounds like there must be concern for missionary work. The numbers won’t be out until next conference, but this is probably based on real numbers if the analysis of the numbers from last conference here on Wheat & Tares holds true. In my mind, these two topics came together. As a Church, we need to do more service for the world around us, and we have the perfect vehicle for this already in place: The missionary program.
But wait, you may say, we already have a great humanitarian effort, and older couples are already called on service missions. Not really. Regarding humanitarian aid, we don’t really do that much as a Church, as covered in a previous post on humanitarian aid and business profits. And regarding older couples and service missions, I would argue that the vast majority of “service” they do is for the Church itself, not for people who really need it. Examples:
- In the past year, we had a missionary report from a couple in our stake who volunteered to go on a mission. They were sent to the Midwest where they were essentially in charge of around 10-15 buildings. They helped coordinate maintenance. The Church had lost records of the floor plans, so they went through and measured the dimensions of all the rooms. Etc. This was all something that was previously done by people hired to do the work, but it was instead made into an unpaid “missionary calling”. The “service” was done for the Church organization.
- A couple in my stake also came back this year. Their mission was to go to a mission and travel to all the branches and wards. They audited membership records to get them cleaned up and up to date (include correcting baptism dates, ordination dates, etc.) They helped audit finances, etc. So again, the “service” was done for the Church organization.
- The Church owns a for-profit hunting preserve (as described in more detail here on The Faithful Dissident). Hunters pay thousands of dollars to hunt. There is a waiting list as the reserve is private, and conveniently near an airstrip. And the people who run it – yep, missionaries called to a mission as explained here in the Deseret News.
- People are called to missions to work for free in the Church office building on various tasks. They work on for-profit farms. Etc.
If you asked them, all of these people would very likely state they are “serving a mission”. But who, exactly, is being “served”? So, If I Were In Charge, I would Create Service Missions.
And by service missions, I mean TRUE service missions. We should truly serve the needy and disadvantaged among us, both in our own countries and throughout the world, and not just the organization. We could work in inner cities, volunteer in free clinics, teach agricultural principles, build wells and schools, etc. The list is truly endless and limited only by our imagination. A few comments about this:
- We have the resources: In 2010, the US Peace Corps was funded with $400 million. For comparison, suppose each missionary spends $5000/year @ 50,000 missionaries. This is $250 million. Add to this the millions the Church spends on mission homes, MTCs, travel, missionary supplies, etc. We are in the same ball park.
- We have the manpower: The current number of people serving in the Peace Corps is 8655. We could triple that number, even if only 1/2 the current proselytizing missionaries become service missionaries.
- We could provide more opportunities: There are many young people who may not “qualify” for a proselytizing mission with “raising the bar”. And there are others who aren’t really interested in a traditional mission. But they might do amazingly well on a service mission. And for older couples, I know I would be MUCH more likely to volunteer if I knew I was going to be actually helping people and not counting bricks or collecting fees from hunters.
- We would be training our youth: What could be better for a young adult than to get them out of their familiar world and let them truly serve other people selflessly for 2 years. And by “serve”, I don’t mean “try to convert them to the LDS Church”, but truly SERVE. Help them with their needs. Make a true difference in their lives. They would come back changed people and set for a lifetime of service.
- We would be more successful: OK. I don’t really know this, but I doubt we would be less successful. The current missionary program isn’t working. The number of converts per member has dropped 50% in the past few years. There are as many members in the country where I served my mission now as there were 25 years ago when I served. But, I do know that on my mission every person immediately pegged me as American and asked why I was there. They would do the same thing here. Someone is going to be much more likely to listen to someone who spent the day with them getting dirty to improve their life than some “rich foreigner” walking by in his white shirt and tie.
- It is the purpose of life: We are here to serve each other. Whether you are LDS, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, Hindu, humanist, Jewish, etc., that is the fundamental purpose of life. We are here to serve each other. And as President Ucthdorf repeated, it is the second great commandment, just after loving God.
I would make service missions. I would let people choose if they wanted to go on a service mission or a traditional proselytizing mission. I would let them truly serve people all day long. In the evening, they could teach people who are interested. I would help our Church be known as a church that serves for and cares for the world – not through an ad campaign, but through our actions.
So, if I Were In Charge, I would Create Service Missions.
- Do you think “service missions” would work? Why? Why not?
- Would you be MORE or LESS inclined to go on a mission (either as a young adult or couple) if a service mission was an opportunity?
- Do you think this would HELP or HINDER Church growth?
- Is Church growth really more important than serving our fellowman?
NOTE: This is one post in a series of non-doctrinal things I would change if I were in charge. If you are interested in seeing some of the others, please see If I Were In Charge: Overview & Topical Guide.