Friday, June 8, 2007

What Advice Would You Give This Missionary?

This is a leaf taken from my Missionary Journal from Thursday, 27 August 19xx in Beloeil, Quebec, Canada. It was one of my very first District Meetings.

Today we had a District Meeting to set goals for September. It was really hard because I couldn't understand why we were setting goals for baptisms, etc, if it didn't depend on us, it depended on the free agency of the person. We finally figured out that the only way it made any sense is if this was the number of baptisms the Lord would give us if we did all we were supposed to, taking into account the people that would fall through, etc.

Sister R. and I came up with the number of 4 Baptisms for our area. This is really scary because it means at the end of the month if we don't get 4 Baptisms it is because of something we did wrong, or OUR lack of faith. We are really stepping out in faith, something I haven't really tried before. If we don't make our goal, the District will say, "Why didn't it work, Sister L.?" I was so sure of it before, but fear has crept in a little bit.

I want to call down the powers of heaven by doing all the things I'm supposed to do, so that by obedience to the law, the Lord will be bound to give me the blessings. What I just don't know are all the things I must do to gain the blessing of baptizing. What is the law upon which it is predicated? I have tried to make an exhaustive list, and I am determined to follow them. If this works out, it will add a great deal to my faith. And I want so badly to be able to develop my faith!

Here are some of my questions:
Do missionaries still make monthly baptismal goals?
How do you think such goals fit with free agency?
When the goals are not met, is it the fault of the missionary?
How does D&C 130:21 apply to missionary goals?
Do you think attributing not meeting our goals to our own sin is doctrinal? Is it healthy?


Last Lemming said...

Our mission made a distinction between the goals and commitments (although not all missionaries comprehended it) that I think would be useful here. If we failed to meet our goals, shoulders were shrugged. (If we did meet them, in fact, it was suggested that they had not been high enough.) If we failed to meet our commitments, however, we needed to repent--whether because we hadn't done what was needed to meet the commitment or because we had made an unrighteous commitment in the first place. In light of that distinction, let me proceed with your questions.

Do missionaries still make monthly baptismal goals?

Almost certainly. I'll ask my son in Brazil whether they make any distinction between goals and commitments.

How do you think such goals fit with free agency?

Goals are just fine. Commitments are more problematic, but not necessarily incompatible given a time frame that is not arbitrary. I believe missionaries can receive revelations about the proper number of baptisms to commit to, but in practice, a minimum of one per month is imposed, which effectively negates any revelation. The system would make sense if a missionary received a revelation that he or she should commit to X number of baptisms, then was left in place until that commitment was met.

When the goals are not met, is it the fault of the missionary?

Usually not, because goals are frequently set too high on purpose. As for commitments, missionaries can certainly be to blame if they slack off or make frivolous commitments. But "the system" deserves some blame because it imposes quotas outside the realm of personal revelation.

How does D&C 130:21 apply to missionary goals?

I view the correlation between obedience and blessings to be probablistic rather than deterministic. In general, greater obedience yields more results, obedience does not guarantee success nor does disobedience guarantee failure.

Do you think attributing not meeting our goals to our own sin is doctrinal? Is it healthy?

Goals, neither doctrinal nor healthy. It could be both doctrinal and healthy with respect to commitments if they were not ruled by the calendar. I find working to the calendar, however, to be neither doctrinal nor healthy.

Beijing said...

I have come to the conclusion that missions are designed for one type of personality: the charismatic slacker, the intelligent but lazy teenager who skates by on charm. If he gets his butt out of bed in the morning and stays more or less on track throughout the day, he will have a lot of success (relative to the mission average) because investigators' free agency has a tendency to bend to his magnetic personality. All he has to do is get out of bed and stay more or less on track. And that's a huge challenge for him, so he needs the over-the-top rhetoric about hard work and the goal-setting and the follow-up "why didn't it pan out, elder?" to motivate him.

For people like me, who went into the mission rigidly obedient with an over-the-top work ethic, but who could have used some help in the charisma department, the mission's emphasis was nothing but depressing and damaging.

littlemissattitude said...

It isn't even a little bit healthy.

When I took a missions class at a Christian university, one of the things we specifically studied in the class, in fact read a whole book about, was the emphasis on numbers in missionary work. The conclusion of the book and of the rest of the literature we read on the topic, is that focusing on numbers in that manner is the least effective way of growing a church or gaining converts. To use such an ineffective approach and then blame the missionaries for being "sinful" or "not righteousness enough" if the goals are not met seems to me to be unnecessarily cruel.

Téa said...

I have no mission experience so I have no personalized answers for the questions. I might not even have coherent answers =)

Do you think attributing not meeting our goals to our own sin is doctrinal?

I think there can be a case made for some specific instances, but it's far from universal. There's also the difference between weakness/being human and sin, which is not always discerned correctly.

Is it healthy?

It's healthy to recognize true sin but the shame, guilt and self-beration that generally accompany it are not (as opposed to Godly sorrow). Misattribution, like I referenced above, can have no healthy effects.

Johnny said...

I think beijing makes an excellent point. I too was an "over-the-top" obedient missionary and the constant pressure was very stressful.

I think one reason the focus is on number goals comes from the people that are usually chosen to fill mission president and area authority positions.

My first mission president was a regional broker from Merril Lynch, very successful in business and very numbers driven. My second was BYU vice president, and non-numbers driven, he is the exception I think.

As far as the real answers to the questions you asked. How could it be a lack of faith on the part of the missionary, when some of the greatest slaker missionaries are always among the most successful?

Steve M. said...

Do missionaries still make monthly baptismal goals?

I'm rather certain that in most missions, missionaries set baptismal and other numbers-oriented goals. My younger brother returned from a mission in Central America last year, which sounded quite numbers-driven.

How do you think such goals fit with free agency?

I don't think they do. Occasionally, this question would be raised in my mission. Once my mission president made the point that it didn't make sense to set goals pertaining to things that were beyond our control, like others' agency. But this questioning seldom led to any change in our missionary work; we still set baptismal goals.

When the goals are not met, is it the fault of the missionary?

Generally, no. But in LDS missionary culture, the fault is often placed on the missionary. Which I feel is unfortunate.

How does D&C 130:21 apply to missionary goals?

I'm not sure that it does.

Do you think attributing not meeting our goals to our own sin is doctrinal? Is it healthy?

I don't see any doctrinal justification per se, but I believe the more important point is that it's not particularly healthy for 19- or 21-year-old kids to be blaming themselves for someone else's perceived choice against salvation.

Late in my mission, I became a little bit jaded when it came to numbers goals. They really, really bothered me. I had tried my whole mission to meet certain numbers goals, and constantly got down on myself for not achieving them. Finally, I realized that they were misguided, and I thereafter tried to do what was best for my investigators, regardless of mission goals.

onelowerlight said...

Preach My Gospel has a chapter on goals that addresses this very question. It's a very good chapter, but I don't have a link to the online version at all.

I don't know exactly how I'd answer those questions, or whether or not they're the right answers, but I know that a big thing on my mission was realizing that a goal has no intrinsic value. That is, you don't work towards a goal for the goal's sake, and you don't measure success by whether or not you met your goals alone. There was a sheet of paper I found posted on the wall in one of my missionary apartments, and it had a list of teachings by Spencer W. Kimball on the subject of goals. I don't have the paper with me (I have it at home), but one of the things is said was that success is not meeting the goal itself but what you accomplish on the way to meeting the goal. So, what he said was that goals alone shouldn't have the power to make you feel fulfilled or depressed, but what you accomplish because you're working towards the goal. Something like that.

It's a crude paraphrasing, and I probably didn't get it completely right. But that's the attitude that I took for the rest of my mission--that goals were a means to an end, not the end itself. If we didn't meet our goals, we prayerfully adjusted them to what we felt would be more helpful, rather than bash ourselves over it. I still don't completely understand goal setting, and wasn't the best at it, but I don't think that failing in a baptismal goal necessarily means that you had a lack of faith.

Téa said...

"What advice would I give this missionary?"

I would tell her to go check out the recent posts at Nine Moons and Zelophehad's Daughters!

Seriously, I feel like I should clarify what I wrote above, because based on those discussions it looks like it's more likely to have people sinning in pursuit of numbers rather than bringing people to Christ.

I was thinking of very obvious examples, like I didn't meet this goal because I spent most of my time in gentlemen's clubs. Yeah, you can chalk that failure up to sin.