Every week, hundreds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begin full-time missions. Everyone who volunteers is blessed. Those who apply themselves to true discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ and serve faithfully have exceptional life-changing experiences.
There are many who serve “good” missions and then there are some who serve “great” missions. Here are 13 suggestions that can change a good Mormon mission into a great mission.
1. Start clean. You can’t fake worthiness. If you need to clear up something with your church leaders, do it before you begin your service. This will take courage (which is another attribute of a great missionary). Your bishop or branch president is a loving servant of God filled with kindness and compassion. As you repent, the Spirit can be with you as you begin your missionary service (see "We are All Enlisted," by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2011).
2. Get in shape and start healthy. The work can require walking or bicycling long distances. Having an exhausted body at the end of the day can magnify even the slightest setback or rejection. Walk, bike or run regularly during the months preceding your service. If you have physical, mental or emotional issues, it is best to resolve them before you start your service (see "How to Prepare to be a Good Missionary," Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, March 2007).
3. Begin with proper expectations. The Lord has called you on a mission, not a vacation. A mission is filled with long days of finding and teaching people. It is wonderfully rewarding but takes energy, time and work. It is called missionary "work" for a reason. It requires focusing on your mission and leaving the world of friends, education, sports and hobbies behind for a period of time. Missions require sacrifice, suffering and a Christlike attitude. The price can seem high at times but the rewards are worth it. A mission is one of those things that you will get far more out of than you put into it. Some of the rewards will be near-term, but the most important ones will be long-term.
4. Obedience is key. Your inspired mission president and other LDS Church leaders have established mission rules and guidelines. To be effective as a missionary and to have the Spirit of the Lord, you must follow them. If you happen to have a companion who is not as committed as you, seek ways to still remain personally obedient. Your mission leaders trust you to do the right things. It is far more important to be trusted than to be popular with others. One of my companions once told me to “be a blessing, not a blister” to the mission president and the mission leadership.
5. You must have the Spirit. Indeed, if you dont have the Spirit "ye shall not teach." (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:14) Your obedience, faithfulness and worthiness will entitle you to have the Spirit of the Lord with you to guide you and to testify to your investigators the truths you teach. Seek after the Spirit. Study and learn and invite the Holy Ghost to be with you. Remember the Spirit is easily offended and will not be with you if you disobey your mission’s rules. Elder L. Tom Perry, of the Quorum of the Twelve, teaches "Please recognize that while your teaching as a missionary may be persuasive, only the Spirit converts" (see "Raising the Bar," by Elder L. Tom Perry, October 2007).)
6. You must study. To effectively teach you must be prepared spiritually and intellectually. Make the most of your study time. Guard this precious part of your day. An effective teacher knows the material. Gaining a strong testimony requires study and prayer. Don’t ever sleep through your companionship or personal study time. You will receive the equivalent of a college-level education pertaining to the scriptures and the gospel if you use your study time properly.
7. Be bold. My favorite saying is “fortune favors the bold.” Successful missionaries talk to people. The scriptures say to “open your mouths.” Many are naturally shy. It takes courage, boldness and a bit of practice to be able to talk to and relate to people of all ages. With the Lord’s help it can become natural and easy. Being able to speak to strangers, small groups, and large groups is a valued skill in most of the world and will certainly be a blessing to you in most professions after your mission is completed. People love to talk about their family, work, and hobbies. Avoid discussing politics and talking negatively about the church or its' members.
8. Love the people. You will most likely be teaching people from all walks of life. This includes children, youths and the elderly. Learn what foods are popular and about local customs and pastimes. Know what is popular with children and youth so you have something interesting to them to talk about. This helps build rapport. As a child, I loved the missionaries who shared simple magic or card tricks with me and my friends.
9. Time management. Make the most of your time. To a young man, just starting their two years of service may appear like an eternity, but it will go by very quickly. Enjoy your service. Seize each day as a new opportunity to do the most you can do, be the best you can be and to live life to the fullest. Shed homesickness by immersing yourself in the now, in the today. Home and loved ones will be fine. In fact, they will feel the blessings of the Lord as you serve with all your heart, mind and strength. Keep focused on your primary duty of teaching and testifying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restored gospel. Don’t spend large amounts of time visiting with the members unless you are actively teaching their friends or relatives.
10. Be grateful. Find all the good in life and in your mission. Learn from your companion. Each one will be different. Glean the positives from each. Whenever someone feeds you or shows kindness, be sure to say "thank you." Be gracious and be an example of the Savior. An "attitude of gratitude" will help make missionary service a very happy time. Respect others and find the good in all you meet. Avoid criticizing your companion, the local culture, investigators or the people you are called to work among. Be complimentary. We once had a missionary over for dinner who, upon walking in our home, loudly proclaimed, “Wow, something smells good!” and complimented my wife even before we sat down to eat. He instantly became a favorite missionary.
11. Be patient. A mission is a great place to learn patience. Sometimes the Lord’s timetable is not yours. Sometimes your companion or others will stress or annoy you. Approach things with love. Let the little things go and remember most things are little. I recall two missionaries who were arguing about whose day it was to take the trash out. They both refused and a petty standoff ensued. No one removed the garbage from their apartment for over two months! Both were stubborn and tried to make a point. Without being a martyr, a more loving and mature missionary would happily take the trash out on his turn as well as on many days that weren't “his” day. Rise above the little things. If you have to do most of the chores, you will get most of the blessings. You can serve your companion, even the difficult ones, just like you serve your investigators.
12. Don’t do dumb. I recall some missionaries visiting a historical religious site on a preparation day. Without much thought they were goofing around as a group of typical young people might normally do. But they weren’t typical young people. As full-time missionaries, there is a higher expectation and scrutiny. At the time, what seemed innocent and fun to these young people could have been interpreted by others differently if it were known they were missionaries from our church. Regular youths might be labeled as goofing off, but because these were missionaries on a preparation day, some might have felt our church had disrespected “their” religious historical site. This simple thing could have had serious and damaging effects on the reputation of the church. A good rule of thumb is this: Do not do anything or go anywhere you would need to remove your missionary name tag.
13. Effectively find people to teach. Most LDS Church rosters have names of inactive families. On some occasions, in small or spread-out church units, there might be less active people on the rolls of the church the leadership has not met. These are prime opportunities for missionaries to meet and activate these good people. Visits here can often lead to also finding people to teach who are these members' relatives or friends. These relatives and friends are more likely to want to hear the gospel message than just an average person you find through door to door contacting. Inactive members have at one time felt the Spirit and were baptized. Perhaps their course of life has prepared them to be active again now. Perhaps they have a new spouse, had children or grandchildren or have a new circle of friend since they were baptized. Maybe their friends and relatives are prepared to hear the gospel message. Ask these less active members for a list of people they know that you can teach (see "Let Us Raise Our Voice of Warning," by President Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, January 2009). Friends and family members of inactive members can often be your primary investigator lead source. In some areas of the church, there are enough contacts you can meet through inactive members that door-knocking is rarely needed to find people to teach.
These ideas and other the “best practices” of other successful missionaries along with following the rules and guidelines set by the mission leadership, can help set the foundation for a mission being two of the best years. Remember this old saying, “you prepare 19 years to serve your mission, two years doing it and eternity reflecting upon it.”
Serve the type of mission that will give you an eternity of great memories to reflect upon. When you return home, do so knowing that you truly did your best for the Lord and his church.
Brian Stutzman served a mission in Virginia and is currently serving in his ward high priest group leadership.