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To extend your line of reasoning of having more professional missionaries, 19 year olds should be replaced by mature and more professional couple missionaries.

But conversions are not brought about by gospel arguments or by making convincing or persuading or professional presentations.

Sincere investigators who have tricky gospel questions can find their answers outside of the system of 19 and 20 year old missionaries. Every stake has gospel scholars among the members who can address such questions. At the MTC, one of the first things I was trained to say was "I don't know."

One of the main purposes of the system of 19 and 20 year old missionarires is to provide spiritual experiences for sincere investigators.

A principal goal is to help guide sincere investigators to pray about whether the Book of Mormon is true and whether Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet. Everything else is secondary. Because if those things are true, then everything else falls into place. If those two things are true, and a person has a spirit-borne testimony of it, then nothing else should really matter.

What's important is if Joseph Smith was a prophet, not how many wives he had. What's important is if Brigham Young was the Lord's chosen successor to Joseph Smith, not whether "Adam/God" was official doctrine, or just Brigham Young's personal opinion.

I'll agree with you on the cell phones. They cost only a little more than a land-line, but can result in more lessons given due to not playing so much phone tag.

But the chapel can serve as the office. Most missionaries have keys to the chapel, right? But do they even need an office? If, for whatever reason, they can't give lessons at an investigator's home then the next best place would be a member's home, and then at the chapel.

And a computer? Get real. The simple planners in use today are more than sufficient. And if missionaries aren't going to update their Area Book they aren't going to update a computer. With the way that computers crash, hard drives crash, backups get lost (or never done), paper records are much better for situations where average people don't have trained supervisors watching over them every day.

- - - - -

I think we need to double the number of missionaries, so that their areas can be cut in half, so that fewer cars will be needed.

The last figure I heard was that only 1/4th to 1/3rd of the children born in the church in the United States stay active by the time they turn 18. I think it's safe to say that any increase in the retention rate would have a proportional increase in the rate that young men go on missions.

I received a testimony of the Book of Mormon the first time I read it. I realized what that implied, and I requested baptism at the beginning of the first formal missionary lesson.

There's nothing wrong with "quick baptisms" as long as the person has faith in Christ, has a testimony of the basic necessary things (scriptures, prophets, etc), repents, and commits to the things covered in the baptism interview: keeping the commandments, Word of Wisdom, tithing, meeting attendance, callings, etc.

The "mess" you describe (and I saw it on my mission in the 80's too) was not due to "quick." It was due to "unqualified."

Too many candidates were rubber-stamped in baptismal interviews when they said only "yeah, whatever" when the minimum should have been a firm "Yes! I believe!"

If someone's decision to join the church is based on acceptable answers to "tricky gospel questions", then they really aren't ready to sincerely investigate. They aren't on the path to a testimony. If they want to know the answer to those questions, they should still attend church, read "Gospel Principles" and study FARMS/FAIR, etc. But if someone doesn't know what's in the 6 missionary lessons, or the 47 chapters of Gospel Principles, then they aren't ready for FARMS/FAIR either.

All I can say is that this is a very interesting post to think about. I didn't know that men's ages had ever been dropped from 21 to 19. Nor did I know that the system had been changed from a slower to a quicker baptism rate. Thanks for writing this post. I'll be mulling it over (not that what I think makes much of a difference on the matter).

Yes, danithew, I actually wasn't aware there had been a "21 to 19" shift that recently. Imagine what a difference it would make today if they bumped it back up to 21 for young men?

Slinger, it's clear you object to some of my points, but it seems like you are defending the "quick baptism" model that was rejected by LDS leaders in 1963 (based on negative experience in Europe) and rejected once again in 2004 (based on negative experience in South America and Asia). Not that I'm proposing my own simple answer: I did say, Maybe the true or ideal conversion process varies by geographical location, by culture, and even by individual.

The logic of your suggestion leads directly towards a professional ministry. Instead of a 'hot line to farms,' why not just have them do a two or three year divinity degree? (To be honest, I think that said hotline would almost never be used.)

Moreover, I think there's too much a risk in the nature of your proposals of getting missionaries who will convert 'people like us,' rather than perhaps the bulk of the population.

Perhaps it would be better to form some sort of corps of interested people to perfect their methods and modes of discussion to better convert these 'high quality types.' Ironically, the most successful model of an organization with this kind of nature and focus is Opus Dei, the Roman Catholic lay organization which is subject to such conspiracy theorizing.

TMD, I suppose you could portray any suggestion of better training or support as a move toward a professional ministry. For example, in the old days (like 30 years ago) US-bound missionaries spent just 3 days in the Salt Lake Mission Home before being flown to their missions. Now they spend 4 weeks in the MTC. Was the change because of a desire by senior LDS leaders to move in the direction of a professional ministry? Not really, they just wanted better training and preparation for missionaries. Same idea.

For example, prior to 1960 the minimum age for young men to serve missions was 21 and for young women it was 23

This is untrue - My dad served in 1952-1954. He was 19 when he was called.

I think the main problem with missionary work (besides being companions with deadbeats) is over-simplification or should I say lack of organized structure. Even very well informed senior missionaries are often at a loss as to what to do.

Missionary work should be a much more organized and collective enterprise than endless door knocking or street contacting. Such a regime would inevitably require more resources, but would be a much more effective use of the ones we have. Missionary work as 95% contacting is like pouring the greatest consecrated resource we have down the drain. Is it too much to ask that we match the missionaries contribution and their parents contribution with additional resources so they can do their job well?

If we want missionaries to know the gospel, perhaps seminary should be changed from the puff and fluff package it is now to a serious study of gospel principles and comparative religion. And Institute doubly so. Somehow everyone has the idea that the marginal return on gospel scholarship is zero or negative.

The prevailing philosophy of CES is that all students need is a couple of aphorisms and to be immersed in a warm bath of spirituality every other day. Is it any wonder that the level of gospel knowledge of many of our missionaries is ridiculed on a regular basis?

The same goes for language ability in foreign missions - effective persuasion requires a serious command of the language and in my experience in some areas, that never happens for the majority of missionaries.

As to other ideas, I think missionaries in densely populated areas could use mini "visitors centers" on downtown streets with lots of foot traffic. Setting up discussions in a church (as is normally the case in Korea, for example) is highly problematic. Better to do it on the spot, then set up appointments that are rarely kept.

And missionaries should definitely have a manual of apolegetics for all the common criticisms and questions from Polygamy and Adam-God. It wouldn't hurt the Church to have a substantive answer on many of these issues either.

The minimum age of 21 prior to 1960 was either short-lived or a guideline with many exceptions. Just looking at current and previous members of the Quorum of the Twelve, we have: James Faust born in 1920 and called in 1939, Tom Perry born in 1922 and called in 1942, Neal Maxwell born in 1926 and called in 1945, Russell Ballard born in 1928 and called in 1948, and Jeff Holland born in 1940 and called in 1960. It must have just been a 50s thing.

Early 1950s are out, too. Browsing through Grampa Bill's GA pages:

Ray H. Hunter born in 1931 and called in 1950, Richard B. Wirthlin born in 1931 and called in 1951, John K. Carmack born in 1931 and called in 1951, C. Max Caldwell born in 1933 and called in 1953, William R. Bradford born in 1933 and called in 1953, Ned B. Rouche born in 1934 and called in 1954.

And from the 1955 to 1959:

Harold G. Hillam born in 1935 and called in 1955, Lynn A. Mickelsen born in 1935 and called in 1955, Val R. Christensen born in 1935 and called in 1955, H. Aldridge Gillespie born in 1935 and called in 1955, Dale E. Miller born in 1936 and called in 1956, V. Dallas Merrill born in 1936 and called in 1956, Stephen B. Oveson born in 1936 and called in 1956, E. Ray Bateman born in 1937 and called in 1957, Shirley D. Christensen born in 1939 and called in 1959, John M. Madsen born in 1939 and called in 1959.

It appears that a limit on minor missionaries would have only been in effect for the years 1957-1959.

I understand that the age requirement was twenty through most of this period. e.g. My father left in 1960 and he had to be twenty.

Dave, I guess I'm defending the concept of "quick baptism" but not the execution which led to huge inactivity rates.

The concept of quick baptism (within a week) and the doctrine behind it is sound. It's right out of the scriptures, both the New Testament (Philip baptizing the eunuch) and the Book of Mormon, and also the modern church's early history.

The problem with quick baptism is that in the execution of it, over-zealous missionaries "elderized" people and baptized those who didn't qualify for quick baptism, often baptizing those who didn't qualify in any way whatsoever. From the stories I've read, even some mission presidents promoted that abuse. Mine did not promote it directly, but his words and programs were often interpreted that way, and traditions passed on by senior companions and DLs/ZLs also promoted it.

The problems you guys cite in wasting missionary resources by door-knocking is addressed in current church policy. Members are constantly reminded to introduce their friends and neighbors to the gospel and prepare them to meet with the missionaries.

I've been re-activated for almost 4 years now, and this is discussed at least on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis in the ward, and is talked about at almost every stake conference. Members are to do the "finding" and full time missionaries are to do the "teaching."

The only reason Missionaries should have to go knock doors is that they don't have anything else to do. It may be hard to have teaching appointments during the day when most people work.

Mark: "effective persuasion requires a serious command of the language and in my experience in some areas, that never happens for the majority of missionaries."

Missionares are not supposed to be "effective persuaders". No one should believe the message or join the church because missionaries persuaded them to do so. They should believe and join because they felt the Spirit confirm the truthfullness of the message. A missionary's personal powers and abilities of persuasion just get in the Spirit's way.

A missionary needs to know the message, and be passionate about it. It's good for a missionary to give the Holy Ghost as much as possible to work with. But the job of persuasion and conviction belongs to the Holy Ghost, not the missionary.

If it were really about polished presentations, they could video-tape some general authorities giving the missionary lessons, and missionaries could just go around showing that DVD/VHS in investigators' homes. And then find the best LDS preachers in every language, and make a tape/DVD of them, so missionaries can carry with them the presentation in their mission language.

Ever wonder why GA's don't "preach" to the public? Why isn't there a weekly LDS TV show that features the more dynamic apostles preaching the gospel?

Why not find the best LDS version of Billy Graham or Craig Ostling, and just play those tapes for investigators?

No, there's something about individual one-on-one preaching, and even in small groups.

But, yes, group preaching and teaching still occurs and could occur more often. Converting whole congregations at a time still went on through the 20th century. But there's something special that the Holy Ghost can do with a real live presenter that is not accomplished as much with electronic media.

Bookslinger, you miss my point. I maintain that the Spirit is felt the strongest in the context of valid reasons to believe, and furthermore that most of scripture is persuasive, not dogmatic in this very sense. If you have a problem with that idea, perhaps you should take it up with Peter and Paul, to say nothing of the Savior, or the many other persuasive prophets.

Augustine once said:

"No one believes anything unless he first thinks it believable. Everything is believed after being preceded by thought. Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, he thinks in believing and believes in thinking"

This is why Joseph Smith described the influence of the Holy Ghost as "strokes of intelligence" - the Spirit does not testify of confusion, nor effectively in the presence of it.

By the way, if the Spirit were so single handedly effective, we would have Christian conversion rates a hundred times what they are now, with little missionary work at all, just from sincere believers pondering the obvious. Why have them read the Book of Mormon at all? The message can be reduced to a half a dozen 3x5 cards.

One more hypothetical: Should we suppose that an apostle is a more effective missionary than the average nineteen year old, and if so, why?

Why is an apostle more effective than the average missionary? B/c the apostle is not tied down to the missionary's white handbook (the 'white bible'). BTW, I've heard a thicker version is en route. An apostle (theoretically) would be able to work at the point of need without all the stuffy formalities we insist upon for our 'naive' young 19yr olds. Here's the other secret. Apostles also know how to USE RESOURCES. They'll quote Thoreau, Tennyson, and *gasp* St. Augustine. They use their home libraries, public libraries, university libraries, and the internet. They have the ability to make phone calls and get things done. They use offices, phones, cell phones, secretaries, computers, presidents, counselors, wives, relatives, cars, airplanes, and of course acquaintances as well as political, social and business ties.

We ask our 19-26 year olds to work independently and 'forsake' everything from their past and present and only focus on the work. We've asked them to throw the baby out with the bathwater- so to speak. While we over-supervise them, we also expect that they will act independently when it comes to the actual work and only call the mission office in case of a major problem. We isolate them. There is even a taboo about not being able to pray your way out of situations by yourself. (Typical corporate- management style.)

Although we give them a living stipend, we still have a stigma in our heads about it. We think they should go w/o purse or script. We compensate for this guilt by making sure that they then DEFINATELY do NOT get ANY other resources. Frequent transfers and strict inter-personal rules further hinder them from being able to make networking connections. I don't see our Apostles giving a second thought about these things. When I read about the early apostles who on their missions baptized thousands, I found that just about everyone in the community knew them. They were not just interchangeable robots. They were individuals who actually lived in the community-- and announced upon arrival that they had come make a big changes. We hide in an extended MTC of the field.

On my mission if I could have, I would have used:

*A cell phone- to make and rearrange appointments with the ward and the investigators and be in contact with the mission office and other missionaries.

*A computer to
1) reflect on my work
2) send, create, receive reports
3) produce work products using software,
4) write letters
5) communicate with the world—which has switched to e-mail.
6) communicate with the mission office and former missionaries who had worked with my investigators
7) use google earth map and mapquest to track city and record proselyting activities in various areas.
8) assist investigators with learning and finding more about their genealogy.
9) study the language with software. These programs have already shown phenomenal results and improvements at the MTC. Such programs could be extended and assist missionaries in their personal language studies in the field.
10) A mission/district/zone listserv
11) get Internet access to the GOSPEL LIBRRARY, NOT JUST THE missionary gospel library (aka the standard works and 5 books.) Apostles don't confine themselves to one stack of books!

There are too many ‘killer apps’ to list here in justifying why computers and missionaries are literally a match made in heaven.

* Freedom to walk into public libraries, gov't offices, shops, civic centers, etc. at any time and find information or people that would help me with my work. Teaching an ESL class? Use the curriculums at the library instead of dorking around. Got an ADHD investigator? Read a book about it and get to work. Better yet, attend a group meeting in a community center to learn more about it. What apostle doesn't do research (or have reports made) to address problems?

*I needed the support and collaborative ideas of counselors, mission presidents, mission moms, family, friends, community members, etc. Again, there is a stigma reinforced by corporate models which insists on self-containment instead of collaboration. Conversely, Apostles use their resources.

Rules such as those limiting everything from curfew to hours allotted for cultural or community events prohibit missionaries from utilizing resources.

Furthermore, Apostles are at the top of the hierarchical structure and don't have to receive permission to proceed with their plans. Missionaries in the ranks have to seek permission from DLs, ZLs, or the office. Missionaries over 75 years ago were much more autonomous, as the Apostles are today.

Simply put, Apostles of the past and present are more successful b/c they are allowed to use myriads of resources and approach various situations creatively. Missionaries are denied resources and are confined by traditional roles and regulations. I never thought the purpose behind the ‘purse and script’ scripture was to deny us of what we need, but to teach that needs will be met along the way. A missionary calling is not supposed to be a self-inflicted period of Mormon 'lent'denying us of what we need to do our job!

I don't know when the correlation between the time spent proselyting and numbers of converts was made, but the pressure to spend 10 hours a day proselyting has cut missionaries off entirely. Early missionaries weren't encumbered as such. Why are we putting such a tight leash on our missionaries? Let 'em go! Let 'em be free and pave new paths! If we don't trust 'em to manage their time OR to not meddle in inappropriate resources, then we shouldn't call them. Apostles aren't hampered down with dead-beat companions. One honest missionary can do the work off all the deadbeats put together.


JAT, I generally agree with what you are saying, although I would emphasize more of the collaborative aspect of missionary work, so that missionaries do not have to re-invent the program from scratch every time. Some can do that, but I think it best to work together.

I agree on the resource aspects as a general rule, especially the cell phone. It would be nice if missionaries could either have basic office equipment or have facilities in chapels that did.

When I was on my mission in late-1992 the U.S. wards were extremely reluctant to let missionaries have access to the building or anything in it. By contrast the chapels in Korea were open to all comers almost from dawn until dusk - we held almost all discussions there - no computers of course.

As to the last issue, I would suggest that Apostles would be more effective than your average LDS missionary because they have more experience in how to teach and persuade people - not by reason alone, but by faith and reason working together confirmed by the Spirit.

How many missionaries have the capacity to give a sermon that people (even members) would be naturally attracted to come hear? The early LDS missionaries had that ability.

I think missionaries whould be prepared from the time they are children to preach the gospel with power. And how can one preach something one does not know? Or know how to present according to the background of one's audience? If you take a close look at the New Testament, the Apostles, especially Paul were masters of this.

Is there any reason why we cannot expect missionaries to preach the gospel as well as Peter or Paul? Rhetoric and intellect will not convert anyone, but they pave the way for further interest and the working of the Spirit in confirmation of the word.

Mark, You're right, the doctrine of Christ given in 3rd Nephi can be reduced to a half dozen 3x5 cards.

But you're going in circles. You're still going back to having missionaries "be persuasive", which they are not supposed to be. All missionaries need to know are the basics of the gospel. All they need to do is give the basics, 6 lessons worth, and testify in a manner that invites the Spirit.

Well, I will grant that missionaries should persuade people to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it.

Fancy, eloquent and persuasive arguments get in the way of the Spirit. You're right that they are attention grabbers, but they mainly attract those who are looking for showy displays.

And about the New Testament, those letters were written to members, not investigators.

Also, modern apostles are not more effective than missionaries, because apostles don't talk to investigators. I don't know that current apostles have brought anybody into the church at all after their calling to the 12.

"missionaries should definitely have a manual of apolegetics for all the common criticisms and questions from Polygamy and Adam-God."

If I were a mission president, I would ask all missionaries to send such books home. Let the Ward Mission Leader or someone he knows deal with non-members who want to discuss criticisms and controversial topics. Such a person is not ready for the missionaries. Missionaries should not waste time on such a person.

Yes, I do think I get your point, and it appears that you want to turn missionaries into used car salesmen, relying on techniques and technology.

"Is there any reason why we cannot expect missionaries to preach the gospel as well as Peter or Paul? "

Very few of the apostles, ancient or modern, preached like Peter or Paul. Most were a lot more simple and quiet.

One reason is that most wards don't have Peters and Pauls. Most stakes only have a couple really "on fire" speakers that could be examples to future missionaries. Most 19 year old are trained, by hundreds of examples over their church career, to give monotonous boring talks.

Another reason is that most missionaries barely have a testimony themselves, and the vast majority, even if they have a testimony, are not truely "converted."

In my mission the highest baptizers were the persuasive used-car salesmen types. The ones who would "sell" and at times bully, browbeat or domineer someone into the church. They used the power of their OWN spirit (lowercase s). They projected their OWN spirit (lowercase s), and were not conduits for the Holy Spirit.

The missionaries who had the highest number of retained converts were those who loved people into the church to the degree that the intestigator felt the Holy Ghost working through the missionary.

Once a missionary gets to apologetics, the investigator is already off the path that will bring him into the church.

Bookslinger, I know what the current approach is, I explicitly disagree with it.

I do not look on missionary work as "sales", far from it. I look on the relationship between faith and reason in a way most eloquently expressed in the Catholic tradition, but also echoed rather strongly in classical Mormonism - I commented on the issue in the post on Mormon Mysticism over at the Sunstone Blog. I do not see any *fundamental* tension between faith and rationality in the LDS tradition - indeed I believe Joseph Smith saw the Holy Ghost as a *revealer* of comphrensible truths - an intelligence accelerator as it were.

So faced with investigators who are not tabula rasas like little children, one has to lead them to understand the truth, to be willing to exercise some faith or desire to believe before the Spirit can confirm that faith in power.

No sophistry involved - I mean pure doctrines of the gospel, the way the Apostles would teach them in all their glory - not mysteries, not trivia, and certainly not confusion nor cheap tricks, just the principles of the gospel explained properly and coherently, such that the answers to truly fundamental questions are at the tip of the tongue.

Most missionaries do not have that level of understanding of the basics - faith, repentance, baptism, grace, works, the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, agency, free will, and so on. They should.

Good points! I disagree with the comment that said that we're trying to use technique and tools to convert (like a used car salesman) instead of using the Spirit and reason. (Yikes, that's a horrid thought that has always repulsed me.) I'm trying to say that 'The Lord helps those who help themselves' and that for us to truly be working in tandum with Him, we've got to unleash ourselves and pull together what is infront of us WHILE WORKING WITH the Lord- realizing that of course- that He is the ultimate source of light and truth, resources and growth. Does that clarify it more? I hope so, but good points to raise. I hate it when things are undone. Thanks for tying it up.

I don't think that we can all be great orators like the early apostles. They were prodigies- rare men not only for their time, but also for ours. I totally agree with (Mark?) who said that we rarely see examples of good rhetoric- the fact of the matter is that the shining verses of Eliza R. Snow, or the charisma, kindness and aura of David O McKay were truly unique. Everyone whose butt has ever fallen asleep in church deeply laments the rarity of impassioned speakers.

However, we don't all have to have the same talent to be conduits of the Spirit and neither do I believe that the Spirit is confined to work with individuals in exactly the same manner. Moses and Elijah weren't orators. We can't lay a huge guilt trip on 40,000 thousand kids and tell them they aren't 'feeling the Spirit enough' 'cause they don't have a P.P. Pratt-like talent for oration. Similarly, it would be unfair of me to ask you to sit down and be an instant concert pianist if that just weren't you. I believe that we have to shine as we are able and as prompted.

In this case, I think it is a question of ideals, what we should be striving for - how can we extend our reach if we do not reach for what is (possibly) beyond our grasp?

I despise soteriological minimalism of the sort that says we just slouch along doing the basics and everything will work out fine - where gospel scholarship is almost looked on with contempt - as an immaterial diversion and distraction from doing the next canning assignment with a cheerful heart and a smiley countenance.

We have a striking anti-elitist tendency in this church with regard to learned talent and ability. It is alot like a labor union - one gets status through seniority and credentialism - the people who actually go out of their way to learn the gospel outside of Sunday School or do anything not in the program for that matter tend to be distrusted and despised. An intense worship of conformity and institutional privelege, and strong hostility to a true meritocracy of any kind, save time served, regardless of mediocrity.

Very interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way before. Thanks for pointing out this idea for reflection.

And in that case- good luck to you (and I) in our aspirations to become the world class orators, concert pianists, groundbreaking gospel researchs and scholars, and missionaries!

I think Hugh Nibley made the point earlier and better than I did, although I wouldn't recommend giving up one's day job. William A. Henry wrote a very nice little book called *In Defense of Elitism* that covers these basic themes in a more secular context.

Quite a bit to agree, and disagree, with.

Quick baptisms are fine, if they are right, and if the units can keep up with them. I am constantly reminded of balancing roots and branches to get good fruit.

But, for example, when you get mission presidents who allow baptisms after a woman attends most of RS two times, it doesn't matter how long it takes, that person shouldn't usually be baptized.

Members know they should do the work. In one stake leadership meeting, every unit had a goal to DO missionary work. Unfortunately, no one explained HOW. There was one program in the Missionary book on it, and it was pretty good. They could have kept it, made it better, and updated it with more from Elder Ballard and others. Did they? What member missionary program is being used now?

I don't recall the Lord ever telling us to be dumb. It is possible, and better, to use secular and spiritual side-by-side for most. They can get in the way of each other, not just one-sidedly. Secular things don't necessarily "get in the way" of spiritual things, unless we allow them. But when they are yoked to the the spiritual, one can often do quite a bit more than just "with the Spirit".

Much more, I'm sure...


Ouch! I didn't think that sesquipedalian condesention was part of open inquiry. No worries though, it's all part of the blog conversation : )

BTW, I hadn't proposed a 'labor union' society, as I had made no reference to leadership. If I had alluded to anything, it would have been more along the lines of Platonism.

"Most missionaries do not have that level of understanding of the basics - faith, repentance, baptism, grace, works, the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, agency, free will, and so on. They should."--Mark Butler

This calls to mind a missionary companion lo those many years ago. He had been in the field a month when we were first assigned together, and he was working his way through the Talmage books Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith. As we walked along, he would ask me my understanding of whatever topic he was currently on in his reading. He was glad to find my understanding was consistent with Talmage's.

This sort of study is, or at least was, a pretty standard part of a missionary's day. Does it seem neglected to you or insufficient?

From comment #7: "And missionaries should definitely have a manual of apolegetics for all the common criticisms and questions from Polygamy and Adam-God. It wouldn't hurt the Church to have a substantive answer on many of these issues either."

One or more commentators above have resisted this suggestion as distracting from the path to conversion. However, with the advent of the internet unfortunately these are becoming threshold questions for investigators who google Joseph Smith, Mormons, etc. after their first visit with the missionairies. This is becoming a very serious impediment to missionary work in developed countries. Unlike in the past, our missionairies need to be equipped with succinct repsonses to these questions in order to be able to move ahead with teaching the basics. It is not the investigators' fault that they stumble so readily onto anti-Mormon material that was previously obscure. We fail them if our missionairies can not give basic responses to these questions and condemn them unjustly if we consider that they are "already off the path that will bring him into the church" for bringing these questions up to their missionairies.

JWL, I'd agree. Every missionary already goes through MTC training. It seems like a no-brainer that they ought to get a ten-hour course designed around "ten tough questions you'll hear from investigators," giving them substantive and accurate information about LDS history and doctrine that they need to be on at least equal ground with what any individual can get in 30 minutes by Googling "Joseph Smith" or "Mormonism."

I can't believe I'm going to de-lurk.

First, although it sounds like a good idea on the surface, I think having a bare-bones apologetics handbook/reference might get more missionaries into trouble. I'm pretty familiar with anti-Mormon rhetoric simply because of geography -- I live in Texas. I haven't seen anyone leave the church because they carefully thought it through and decided it was all a lie. At the same time, I've never seen anyone reject anti-Mormon literature due to careful analysis of church history. No quick reference answer is going to satisfy someone who wants to seriously look at an issue: in fact, I knew a couple of investigators who got even more offended by the "pat answer".

The ones who stayed with the Church cared enough to search for the answers on their own, either by asking trusted members of the ward or searching the Net for the other side of things. In fact, a few of these people I've known avoided the missionaries because they were representatives of the LDS church and couldn't be objective no matter how nice or sincere they were.

Just my non-statistical observations.

I haven't seen anyone leave the church because they carefully thought it through and decided it was all a lie.

We're everywhere, man.

It's likely a safe bet that those 50-60% (taking a random shot at activity rates) on the roles in your ward that never darken the chapel's door that some of them did carefully consider the meat and history of the church and found it lacking. Like me. And my wife. And my brother. And two of the three boys that I grew up with in Primary.

Not everyone leaves the church for beer and boobs.

John M. (#27), The problem is yes too many missionaries never read the books, the Talmage books have the wrong coverage for missionary use, and they are out of date as well.

Jesus the Christ goes into far too much detail about events that rarely if ever have fundamental applicability to the critical issues that distinguish us from other denominations. It is more like a guided tour to the gospels, not a book about the gospel.

Articles of Faith is better, but also goes into a wide variety of historical errata, e.g. about the Lost Ten tribes and the book of Esdras. Much of that is out of date, and what missionary ever talks about the LTT any way? As far as general issues go, one of the best short introductions to LDS theology I have ever read is Eternal Man, by Truman Madsen - not scripturally focused enough, however.

The new Preach My Gospel is really pretty good, for a book written by a committee. I would rather see a book dealing with LDS systematic theology, to the degree we have a system, and focusing (of course) on the fundamentals, not KFD type mysteries.

A Doctrines of Salvation type book would be great, with a change in focus from some of the issues we obsess about (post mortal life, the temple, etc) to the more introductory fundamentals of the gospel as contained in the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

A book with a short history of comparative religion similar to the work Spencer Palmer has done would be good too.

One more thing - there is not time for all this type of study to happen on a mission - it is almost too late by then. Why can't we have this level of discourse in seminary? AofF and Jesus the Christ are about ten grade levels above the typical approach in seminary (~6th), and about five above institute (~11th, optimistically).

Thanks for decloaking, rark. This is one of those strange issues where two inconsistent views both seem correct to me. On the one hand, 19-year-old missionaries really aren't prepared to handle apologetic-type exchanges, and I'm sorry, you just aren't going to get many of them to read up on that sort of stuff pre-mission. So, while I do think they could do something in terms of better training in the MTC or in the field, I'm just not sure you can expect much from missionaries in the 19-23 range.

On the other hand, given that so much information is available online and people missionaries contact likely do look for it and read it, it seems like missionaries really should be prepared to respond to questions people are now asking with something better than, "Well, just pray about it." But I don't see the training missionaries are given, or the rules they are saddled with, gives them much to work with.

Maybe there should be a pair of Stake Apologists called as a resource for full-time missionaries in every stake? They could do an annual tryout, kind of like adult scripture chase. Bring in a pair of JWs to do the judging. :-)

Oh, and I was going to sort of agree with Mark B. -- given where most missionaries are in terms of gospel scholarship, having them study Talmage's Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ really isn't that bad an idea. It's too bad there's not a similarly approved book that does justice to LDS history in one volume.

I had the experience of meeting a Quick-Baptism victim the other day, totally outside of any Mormon meeting. I found out after a couple hours talking that she had been baptized by the Elders. Apparently, no one ever took the time to help her understand why the LDS Church is actually different, and what makes it important for her to stay in the fold. She considered it part of her church sampling, as she tried to find a spiritual home where she felt comfortable. She said the missionaries were nice, and they surprised her by setting a baptism goal. She said she wasn't ready, and that she told them that, but they encouraged her to go ahead with it, and she finally agreed because "they were such nice young men, and I didn't want to disappoint them." She only attended Church a couple times, then left to go somewhere else.

Real good program, folks. I felt so ashamed. I would give that particular set of missionaries a swift kick in the pants if I knew who they were. This is not the way to win converts, but only condemnation. How hard it will be now to ever get her involved again. They struck the iron before it was hot.

Without doubt, the missionary program is long overdue for reform. Nothing has really changed in generations. There are many good ideas here. I've posted mine elsewhere and won't bore anyone by repeating them. But nothing will change until there's a retirement tradition for apostles. Until then, our church and it's programs will always be about fifty years out of date.

PS -- I do question the idea we have a surplus of missionaries when we virtually ignore and/or are prevented from entering some of the most populous parts of the world.

Dave, The difference between what someone will do if you casually ask them to, and what they will do in an organized program of study is dramatic.

Seminary is soft because we make it soft, sort of a No Child Left Behind policy. Dumb it down to the least of those who can be called Saints, as it were.

The we switch gears 180 degrees and expect missionaries to go out there without a particularly organized program beyond the discussions and expect them to convert the world.

Something is wrong here. If we want world beating missionaries, we need a world beating missionary prep program. Young people are not stupid - what they learn is more a matter of culture than intelligence.

If we are not going to run schools like the Catholics, the least we could do is encourage academic excellence in Seminary, not the fluff and puff program we appear to have now.

In short, why we don't we lift the missionaries to the challenge, instead of dumbing the program down to the missionaries?

Of course, Released Time seminary is probably fluffier and puffier than early morning seminary.

I think the best preparation varies with assignment. Great knowledge of the gospel and scriptures isn’t necessarily the best preparation to serve in countries with little or no Christian tradition. Such was my observation serving in post-Christian era Western Europe a generation ago. The discussions were perfectly adequate for introduction to the gospel and conversion, even among very well educated people. The effective missionaries were the ones who threw away the rule book and used their street smarts to make things happen. If that meant putting on a polo shirt and name tag and playing golf to have people come to us asking questions about the church, that’s what we did. If it meant teaching to 1 a.m. because people ate dinner at 10 p.m. in the summer, that’s what we did.

Of course, Released Time seminary is probably fluffier and puffier than early morning seminary.

But then the early morning kids are 90% asleep, so any academic rigor is lost on them.

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