Today we heard the announcement that the age requirement for full-time missionary service has been reduced to 18 years for young men and 19 years for young women (they must still be high school graduates).
It’s been interesting to see the reaction so far, just in my little corner of the world. I already know of two young women who are excited about the option to serve sooner. I also know of some surprised parents who are a little less thrilled (oh it is hard to let go of our children sometimes, isn’t it?). Personally, I found the news exciting. I loved the delight in the faces of the young women in the audience when the announcement was made.
My two oldest boys, ages 13 and 11, had differing reactions. My 13-year-old immediately said, “That’s what I’m going to do.” President Monson wasn’t even finished with his announcement regarding missionary service and my son was already on board. My 11-year-old had a different reaction. He was, in his words, “freaked out.” He wasn’t sure if he’d be ready when he turns 18. I assured him he doesn’t have to serve when he’s 18. It’s still his choice when to serve.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
I watched the news conference that followed the Saturday morning session and there was some good information in there. Parents may want to check it out. If not, I think the things we need to remember are these:
1. Going on a mission at these younger ages is optional, not mandated. That was stressed again and again during the press conference. Even before the change, there are missionaries who serve later than the minimum age, for whatever reason. That option is still there. There has been no change made to the upper age limit for young missionaries.
2. Parents need to take a “strong” hand in helping their youth prepare to serve missions. These young men and women really need to be ready for the hard work of spreading the gospel.
I refer you back to two excellent talks on this matter. The first is the great “Raising the Bar” talk given by Elder M. Russell Ballard in 2002 (actually titled “The Greatest Generation of Missionaries”). It introduced the higher morality standards, and outlines exactly what that means. It’s a great talk.
The second talk worth revisiting actually is titled “Raising the Bar” by L. Tom Perry, given in 2007. In addition to spiritual readiness, this article discusses things like physical, mental, and emotional preparation. These young men and women need more than a testimony. They need to be prepared in lots of ways. I highly recommend reviewing this talk.
While the decision to serve a mission and the effort required to be ready for such service ultimately rests in the hands of the potential missionary, the Church has made it very clear that parents have responsibilities too. If you’re raising young priesthood holders, as I am, that responsibility is a given.
One last thing, as food for thought. I had the opportunity of chatting with a mission leader about missionary readiness. He thought it important, when possible, for young men to have the experience of living on their own before going on their mission. When these young men go from their mothers doing their laundry for them, to living completely on their own, that creates a problem during those early months of a mission. He said those young missionaries lose several months of usefulness, just because they’re trying to adjust to something as basic as self-care and independence. He said missionaries who have lived on their own first hit the ground running.
It made sense to me. I know sometimes people keep their kids home between high school graduation and a mission so they can keep a better eye on them. My feelings are that by the time a person is that age, they’re going to do what they want anyway. But my kids are young, and I’m sure every situation is different, so what do I know. It may be less of an issue now that the age requirement has dropped to 18. My boys will no longer have a full year between high school graduation and their mission, if they go when they’re 18. It may be a moot point, but I thought I’d share this man’s observations anyway.
As my children get older, I feel less worried about preparing them. I think it’s because we’re now in the early preparation stages, and I’m starting to feel the guidance of the Lord. I think He helps us in our responsibilities, and as long as we do our best and follow counsel and promptings, we’ll be fine. Our young missionaries will be fine too.