What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?
We must understand the call for Mormon missionaries in this context. Since missions is considered a priesthood duty for lds men, church leaders and family encourage all young men to respond to the call of service. While young women are not under the same mandate, they are also encouraged to serve. In either situation, Mormon missionary work is critical to one's eternal future.
In light of this, we should not be surprised at the flood of applications that followed the lds First Presidency's announcement that it was lowering the minimum age requirement for missionaries. These young people are eager to serve so they can earn God's favor through their faithfulness.
The Mormon missionary surge should remind us of the empty promise of legalistic religious service. In fact, we can take a cautionary lesson from it, since a performance-based approach to Christianity easily finds its way into our evangelical churches.
We call our children to be obedient, but don't point them to Christ, who was obedient for us. We call them to godly living, but don't direct them to Christ as the substitute for our ungodliness. So when we urge our young men and women to serve sacrificially at home and abroad, the call is too often separated from the gospel. We've functionally taught them that the Christian life depends on what they do rather than who they are in Christ. This leads either to pride ("I can do it!") or to despair ("I can't do it!").
Instead of encouraging missions by appealing to our young people's need to serve or to the benefits they'll gain, youth leaders should motivate them to gospel-centered service by guiding them to Christ. He has taken our unrighteousness and exchanged it for his righteousness through the Cross.
In Christ, we have the security and the strength to faithfully serve him in love. May our youth go into the world and make disciples of all nations, having been reconciled to God and entrusted with the message of reconciliation.
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Kara Powell is executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and teaches youth and family ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Adolescence opens the curtain on a new season of questions for teenagers and emerging adults. Often standing at center stage among the questions that captivate young people is, "What can I do to make a difference?"
The Mormon Church's missions program gives young people a vibrant stage on which to wrestle with that question and pin down answers. There is a God-given spark embedded in humankind that burns especially bright in adolescents' developmental hunger to impact others. By lowering the age of eligibility for service, Mormon leaders have fanned the flame for teenagers eager to change the world around them.
Sharing the stage with this question of significance is the question of community: "To whom do I belong?" In an era when parents are more given to chauffeuring than discipling their children, and screen time is more common than face-to-face conversations, young people are looking for rites of passage that help them feel like part of a tribe. The 18 to 24 months spent in pairs, small groups, and local communities give Mormon teenagers and emerging adults a tangible milestone of belonging to a larger movement.