What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?
Greg Stier is founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries and author of Firing Jesus.
If we're honest, when most of us see those young, clean-cut Mormon missionaries knocking on doors, we quickly assume that the hip, relevant, "just show up" youth ministry strategies in our Protestant circles are vastly superior.
But are they? Mormons expect a lot from their teenagers: They ordain their young men into the ministry at age 12, expect their young people to attend seminary every day of high school, and ask them to serve in the field upwards of two years. Needless to say, we don't.
Mormonism pushes its kids harder and takes them farther than even the most ardent Protestant youth ministry. Can you imagine a youth group that challenged each of its teenagers to meet at 6 a.m. every day of the school year to learn about Christianity? That's exactly what Mormons do with their high-school students. We get excited if our teens gather around a pole at 7:15 a.m. to pray once a year.
When typical Christians graduate from high school, they grab their books and go off to a college dorm. When typical Mormons graduate from high school, they grab a bike pump and go on mission.
Those high expectations pay off. Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it. They've hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps. Their hearts and minds have been steeled and sealed into Mormon orthodoxy through their intense commitment.
Maybe that's why Mormons give more and work harder than their Christian peers. Maybe that's why the religion is expanding while a majority of former Christian youth-group attendees are fleeing the church.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want our teenagers to believe Mormon theology. Trying to earn God's favor through human effort is not going to help any teenager, whether Mormon or Protestant.
But what if we had higher spiritual expectations for our teenagers? What if we presented the Great Commission to them as the ultimate cause? What if we mobilized them through intentional, relational evangelism to spread the gospel at their schools every day? What if we inspired them to be fueled by grace and love, not religious duty or pressure?
I'm not saying we ought to copy Mormons' specific strategy. I can't foresee our teenagers racing Mormons to the door in a battle of the bicycles. We do, however, need to adopt their perspective. We need to challenge our young people. We need to cast a vision for Christ's message and mission and turn them into kingdom advancers. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach, and training.
Let's learn from Mormons and instill in our young people a passion for Christ and his cause—making disciples who make disciples.
Put Christ First
John Divito is a former Mormon, a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and administrator for the Midwest Center for Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The impressive Mormon missionary response is not what it first appears. The recent surge is the fruit of young men and women being raised in Mormon culture. To understand the rise in those applying to become Latter-day Saint (LDS) missionaries, we first need to identify the root that produced the fruit.
Mormon culture is founded on a worldview requiring works in order to gain eternal life. The Book of Mormon teaches, "It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis mine). Contrast this with Ephesians 2:8–10, which reminds us we are saved by grace through faith apart from our works. Imagine being raised in an atmosphere where you're told, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" in your daily living (Matt. 5:48, KJV). Achieving eternal life is the outcome of obeying your church and its living prophet, and your progress is tracked by church leaders.