With the buzz of the new missionary-age announcement still ringing throughout the blogs, I couldn’t help but muse over the different consequences and implications many are anticipating through this change.
I had a discussion with some friends today over the possibility of further changes we might see in the missionary program’s future.
Female AP’s? Not likely. Equalizing two-year lengths for all? Perhaps. Pantsuits? Why not. De-quantification?
As I’m sure every RM can confirm, the “numbers” issue is a recurring theme in the mission discussions (one such thread is linked here). Why would I correlate this with the mission age lowering? Forgive me for generalizing (I do, at least, have personal anecdotal experience to justify it–ok, and this random self-quantification blog thread), but I’ve wondered whether the record-keeping and quantification may be correlated with masculine tendencies towards competition and control, and a surplus of female missionaries might have some effect on that element of missionary work. That is, I suppose, assuming that the input or leadership of female missionaries would increase. Ok, humor me in these assumptions; I’m really just interested in the possibility of the role of number-keeping changing.
I recognize that on the surface, it won’t; Mormons are a fastidiously record-keeping people, by divine mandate and necessity. Record-keeping has been a part of Mormonism and missionary work from the get-go (Thanks Edje) and has been compounded by numerous cultural forces– industrialization and quantification of the late 19th century, the American obsession with productivity and consumption throughout the 20th, the increasingly corporate backgrounds of most mission presidents and upper church leaders, and so on.
But as the effects of an increase in sister missionaries play out, and as leaders reevaluate the effectiveness of tracting and proselyting, and consider other forms of sharing the gospel (community service, working more closely with members and wards, more media focus, etc.) and even other ways of determining “success” (lessons with investigators? baptisms? temple attendance? callings? unquantifiable spiritual growth?), perhaps the age-old focus on productivity and efficiency might also be reevaluted. Some things give me hope:
President Eyring said the following to new mission presidents a couple months ago, in a June 29 2012 meeting: “Only God is a sure source of accolade,” he said. “And the accolade we need is to know that by serving Him faithfully we have become more like Him. That could shape the praise you give your missionaries. You will tend to praise them more for what they are becoming than for what they have done.”… “It is not what we have done that matters,” he said. “It is how our hearts have been changed through our faithful obedience. And only God knows that.” [ii]
If mission presidents and their wives (who, in my experience, are often pretty effective co-presidents) truly took on this approach of deemphasizing the quantitative approach, and instead, focusing more on a qualitative development for missionary and member alike, I think interesting and good things could happen. Here’s just one possible example (again, please humor my personal-experience-based-generalizations): male missionaries would be less preoccupied with ladder-climbing and competition, and female missionaries would be less driven by guilt and anxiety. This might have an effect on mission presidents as well, for while I have no personal knowledge of how they are evaluated and ranked, I know that stats play a huge role, possibly recreating the ladder-climbing focus that sometimes pervades among the priesthood-office holding/seeking male missionaries. A shift in focus towards spiritual growth rather than quantifiable variables might help reorient, where necessary, priesthood around its original intentions rather than the aspirational elements that creep in, divine prohibitions notwithstanding. It might further equalize the efforts and focus of male and female missionaries.
In a primarily environmental article from the recent Hedgehog Review about the damage wreaked by 19th and 20th century obsessions with control, production and consumption as ends in and of themselves—and quantifying everything in the process—I found some parallels that translate into the quantification of missions quite neatly (substituting a couple words in the process).
“Control, efficiency, productivity, and order—these are always in the process of reconstruction, becoming goals in and of themselves, and as such, they critically jeopardize our chances of building a society based upon a different value system. The values themselves—efficiency, productivity, etc.—are not necessarily good or bad on their own. Rather, it is the singular devotion to them as ends unto themselves that presents difficulty for the goals of sustainable [missionary work]. If our goal is one that has no end, then we can never stop aiming for it. As it were, aiming only for that kind of goal will keep us from ever achieving the nontechnical and nonquantitative goals we might otherwise define as sustainable metrics.”[i]
The author continues: “A related consequence is the continued reduction of the breadth of human values to narrow, disembodied terms…Nourishing, communal, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual values fall to the side in the pursuit of control and order for the sake of production and consumption.”
(As a side note [but not really], the author mentioned Ezra T. Benson as a prime example of the production-driven mentality of the 1950s)
Is the emphasis on quantifying results really so helpful or healthy—for missionary or investigator? Is there any other way to run a mission or motivate a missionary without those daily, weekly, goals and reports? Is it the fault of the missionary or the program when statistics and numbers replace relationships, personal and congregational spiritual growth, and a more personal knowledge of Christ? Just some age-old questions, in a possibly different light with the potential changes ahead.
[i] Benjamin Cohen, “The Historical Production (and Consumption) of Unsustainability: Technology, Policy, and Culture. The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, Summer 2012.
[ii] Gerry Avant et al, “Prophet, Apostles Speak at MTC Mission Presidents’ Seminar.”Church News and Events 29 June 2012. http://www.lds.org/church/news/prophet-apostles-speak-at-mtc-mission-presidents-seminar