What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Missions

LDS name tagsIf there is one thing that is well known about the Mormon Church the world over, it is their missionary enterprise.  Currently the LDS church boasts 58,000 missionaries[1] in 350 countries around the world.[2]  Recently, in an even greater effort to boost their missionary work around the world the LDS church lowered the age requirement for missionary men from 19 to 18 and for missionary women from 21 to 19.[3] The response by young LDS members to the age change has been overwhelming resulting in a 500 percent increase in missionary applications, as well as the creation of 58 new missions around the world.[4]  It has been estimated that since the church’s founding in 1830 over 1.1 million full-time missionaries have served the LDS church.[5]  There is a drive and energy in the missionary endeavor of the LDS church that is second to none.

Not only is the missionary enterprise of the LDS church growing vibrantly, it defies many of the things Evangelical missiologists would have us believe.  Other than language training and language appropriate materials and scriptures, the LDS missionary is stamped right out of a boilerplate; suit, nametag, backpack, bike, and scriptures.  LDS missionaries hardly engage in any of the coveted “contextualization” practices that Evangelical missiologists spend sleepless nights mulling over.  The same gospel is presented in the same way from missionaries that look the same the world over.  This is usually done in very traditional ways, person to person evangelism with strangers, which leads to meetings, which leads to some form of discipleship.  There is not much research into new missionary methods by the LDS Church, just good old evangelism; and they are having great success.  Currently the Mormon Church is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, boasting over 14 million members.[6]

The LDS missionary volunteers for two years of service, pays his own way, and tries to live a life fully devoted to their gospel; devoid of many things of the world.  Many interrupt college, jobs, dating, military service, to complete these important two years.  LDS missionaries view themselves as bringing the message of salvation to all of heavenly father’s children so that these children of god can go back to heaven and live with him one day.  They want each and every one in the world to progress in their salvation and achieve as much spiritual blessing as possible.  They are motivated by their culture that expects them to put in this time serving the church, and a strong heritage of brothers, fathers, and grandfathers having done the same.

Compare this to Christianity worldwide.  It is hard to get a true statistic on strictly Christian missionary workers worldwide since there is not one entity in charge of them all (accept Christ), but Christianity Today published an article that put the number roughly around 5-6 million Christian workers world wide, which includes missionaries.[7]  Taking a look at the largest American protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, they currently have 5,000 full-time North American missionaries and 5,000 full-time foreign missionaries for a total of 10,000[8]; and this for a denomination that boasts 16 million members in the United States. 

So what can we learn from Mormons about missions?  There is much to be admired in the missionary system Mormons have set up.  But as Christians, should we desire the same system? Many friends of mine have longed for the same type of culturally endemic missionary system in Evangelical Churches as is found in the Mormon Church.  In fact this passing on of the mission from father to son is very in line with the picture of the faith being passed down from generation to generation in Deut 6:4-9 and Christians would do well to emulate this building of a faith heritage through common commitment to mission, but has this precious mandate of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) been turned into one more spiritual badge of honor?  We would love to see culturally mandatory times of service for our young men and women, but is this the missionary enterprise Christ set out to found?

As Evangelicals we need to reclaim personal evangelism as part of the normal Christian life.  Being a Christian means being an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).  In fact being a part of the missionary enterprise of the Church has long been seen as a gift from God (2 Corinthians 5:18).  Christian missions became skewed in the 19th and 20th centuries through the setting apart of a special class of missionaries for the sole purpose of missions leaving the Church at home thinking it has fulfilled its call to missionary endeavors through the few lives of others.  Do not hear me wrong, I believe Biblical there is a special calling for persons to be missionaries their whole lives (Think Paul, Titus, Timothy all missionary pastors and church planters and passages like Ephesians 4:11-12 where evangelists are set apart) and the Spirit blesses with the coinciding gifts, but there is also a general call that should be part of every Christian’s life; that is to evangelize everyone within our sphere of influence.  Neighbors, co-workers, chance encounters with strangers, children, and extended family.  Part of being a Christian means exemplifying and living out a Christ like life and speaking the Gospel into the lives of those around us.  It is both an action and a word, a lifestyle and proclamation.  This is not a two-year commitment Christ is calling us to; it is a lifetime commitment.  The number of professional missionaries we put on the field should not be the marker of success as Christians, but rather the number of Christians living out a lifestyle of evangelism everyday wherever they are.

As Evangelicals we should also realize the urgency of our Gospel over that of the Mormon gospel.  Mormons are excited and fervent in preaching a gospel of eternal progression, a universalism.  If you miss out on the Mormon gospel in this life, well you miss out on the best scenario in the next, but you have eternity to improve.  The Christian Gospel understands anyone to miss out on salvation in this life to be condemned because of their sins to a life in Hell for eternity.  It is this reality alone that has motivated many Christians throughout the centuries to make sure they have done their due diligence and have given everyone they know the “good faith” offer of the Gospel before it is too late.  As Christians we should stand convicted concerning our lack of urgency for the true Gospel as compared to the Mormon excitment for a false gospel.

Finally, we should note the stark difference in motivation that exists between Mormon missions and Evangelical Missions.  Mormons are piecing together a list of spiritual achievements that will increase their standing culturally in this life and eternally with God.  Return missionaries reap many more benefits in the LDS church than their non-missionary serving counter parts.  Christian missions done right, leave a missionary usually fading off into obscurity, many times loosing their health, culture, potential income, family, and even their life.  The Mormon missionary endeavor is one of personal spiritual achievement, the Christian mission endeavor should be one of a thankful Gospel response in love; an overflow of a life dedicated to Christ.  We know what Christ has done for us, and so we tell others.  Woe to us if we make our mission endeavors a way to see the world or stamp our spiritual achievement card to be honored before men.  We must preach Christ because His love controls us and because we are convinced that He died for all so that all might live (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The next time you are considering your responsibility to share the Gospel as a Christian, whether that is in your day-to-day context, in a short-term mission trip, or lifetime endeavor as missionary; check your heart and motivation.  Are you depending on other Christians to fulfill your missionary duty?  Do you consider our Gospel message to be urgent important news with the power to save people from Hell?  Are you seeking spiritual achievement, checking the next box? Or are you responding to what Christ has done for you in Love?

Do you care about spreading the Gospel at all?  You should….

And if you know Christ, you will. 

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