In today’s post, you are going to get mission advice from actual returned missionaries.
Are you preparing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? If so, this post is going to help you prepare in the best possible way by reading responses from individuals who have actually served missions.
I spent hours combing through groups on Facebook, Mormon Archipelago, Mormon Blogosphere, and others looking for returned missionary bloggers. I asked them the following question: “What is your best advice for future missionaries?”
If you’re ready to get some of the best missionary advice you’ve ever received, read on. I will warn you that because of its length it will take you a while to get through all of it. Bookmark this page so you can come back and finish it.
Here are the 19 responses that I gathered.
1. Christian Harrison
Christian served in the Canada Montréal Mission.
D Christian Harrison lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he serves in his local ward, volunteers in his community, and manages marketing for a large non-profit. He’s an contributor at ByCommonConsent.com, and you can check out his Mormon.org profile, here.
Let’s talk about your mission.
But first… well, let’s start with a little context.
I served in the Canada Montréal Mission, French-speaking. The summers were hot and sweaty—interrupted, most evenings, by thunderstorms marching down from the north. In the winter, temperatures dropped well—well!—below zero and snow piled up under our windows. If you had the right gear, it was magical.
I had eleven companions, all told. We were young. Some of us were idealists. Others were there to please their families or sweethearts. But, all-in-all, I remember my fellow missionaries as earnest and hardworking. And we still made mistakes. Lots of them.
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Looking back, I think a lot of those mistakes might have been prevented (or the sting of personal failure soothed), had I been given better advice…
1) Follow the Rules. When (and it’s always when) the rules don’t make sense, let folks up the chain of command know—don’t just sulk or murmur or (worse?) white-knuckle it. There are good rules and bad rules, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Part of being an adult is learning how to the tell the difference and then working constructively to change the bad ones. Which brings me to…
2) Learn how to break the rules with grace and humility. Sometimes you break a rule. Don’t beat yourself up. Take note of what you could have done better, then move on. If telling someone will help you avoid the problem in the future, tell someone. Otherwise, get back to work.
3) Understand that baptisms don’t flow to those who are “righteous”. Rule-keeping is not a way of “paying” for blessings. Period. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. “Bad” missionaries baptize. “Good” missionaries might never see the inside of a font. They are unrelated. Don’t cheapen the agency of others—or turn God into a petty tyrant—by believing that God blesses and curses his children (you, your companion, your investigator, that lady on the bus) based on whether or not you are perfect. When you obey the rules and work smart, your reward is a deeper connection with the work—if that leads to a baptism, awesome.
4) Baptisms are important… but your own soul and the soul of your companion are more important. Don’t lose your soul or put a stumbling block in front of your companion in a slavish pursuit of baptisms. Seek to find people you can serve. If you can, teach the people you serve and serve the people you teach. From that, a life time of faith-building experience will follow.
5) Love your companions. Seriously. And if you really want to love them, then know that love is a form of understanding. Get to know them. Ask them about their dreams and drives. Ask them about their history and future. Ask them about their favorite band. And then give them space to be just as human and flawed as you are.
6) Befriend the outcast.
7) Learn to listen. Really listen. If you’re listening to RESPOND, you’re doing it wrong. Listen to UNDERSTAND. Ask a question… listen… ask another question.
8) Learn to empathize. Listening and empathy are deeply related. Very few people are good at feeling and showing empathy. A good place to start, is with this video, from Brené Brown, on empathy:
9) People will ask you hard questions. Learn how to say “I don’t know”. You don’t know, and that’s fine. There are doctrinal questions you’ll encounter that you won’t understand or have the answers to. There are times when you’ll be asked to counsel someone on something you’re not qualified to counsel them on. Saying “I don’t know” is an act of spiritual humility.
10) The Church is actively working on answering hard questions about our history and doctrine. Familiarize yourself with the Gospel Topics Essays on LDS.org.
11) Don’t treat scripture as a weapon or as a book of quotes. They’re neither. Get to know the whole story. Dive deep. Slow, thoughtful reading—using good study materials and writing down your impressions—pays off.
12) Write home, write in your journal, and make sure you can keep in contact with all the people you’ve met along the way. Your mission will be over before you know it… and in the blink of an eye, you’ll be as old and forgetful as I am—and you’ll wish that you’d done all three of those things better.
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2. Molly Johnson
Molly served in the Colorado Fort Collins Mission.
Serving a mission will change every aspect of you, for good. You will be sent to a specific area and meet specific people inspired by God. The people you come into contact will need you, and you will need them. You will have the opportunity to change and become something better than you ever were before.
You will never be the same person when you left. If you allow God, your Savior, and the Atonement to work on your mission, you will be transformed. You will be one step closer in becoming like our Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ. You are helping to hasten the work. What a glorious feeling that is!
3. Kyle M.
Kyle served in Helsinki Finland.
This might seem like the obvious answer, but if I time-travelled back to the months before my mission, I would’ve spent more time studying. I was active in church and seminary, but I didn’t know the scriptures as well as I should have when I left for my mission, and it was arrogant to think I could teach other people about books and prophets without being familiar with them myself.
So if I’m talking to 18-year-old me, I’d tell him to skip all the church books except the actual scriptures. I’d read the four gospels first, and really think about Christ’s message and what it means for people. Then I’d move on to the Book of Mormon (and get ready to talk about it for two years), and then the Doctrine and Covenants, so I can get a sense of the history of the religion.
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” D&C 11:21
4. Willow Dawn Becker
Willow served in the Lousiana Baton Rouge Mission
There’s no such thing as a “perfect” missionary. If you want to present all your discussions in mathematical form, street contact at the local county fair, or participate in the talent show as a way to share the gospel, do it!
You must remember that the Lord sent *you* to do this work, not some ideal version of a cookie cutter member of the LDS faith. The people you are meant to help will not recognize you if you are too busy pretending to be something you are not. Willow also recommends that returned missionaries should read this post when they get home.
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5. Ray Degraw
The advice I gave my daughter before she left on her mission is in this blog post.
- Be yourself
- Love unconditionally
- Seek to understand before seeking to be understood
- Teach the gospel, not culture
- Define success, as it defined in Preach My Gospel
- Pray as if everything depends on the Lord, but work as if everything depends on you.
6. Rebekah Lund Hiatt
Rebekah served in the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo West Mission.
Read Elder Bednar’s 2017 talk, “Called to the Work.” He specifically goes through the mission letter you will receive (or received) and explains the difference between an assignment and a calling.
I wish that I had been able to access this talk during my mission when I had to come home for medical reasons. At the time, I did not know if I was going to be able to return to my original assignment. This talk has brought me so much comfort even years after my mission.
7. Steve Reed
Steve served in the Idaho Boise Mission.
Going out with the missionaries was very important, I loved it and was very helpful to get an idea of what missionaries actually do and to be in situations where people are investigating the gospel. I was able to attend Institute for a year and that helped me really begin to expand my understanding of doctrines and principles. Most importantly, I had spent about 2 years prior pouring myself into the scriptures and learning how the Spirit spoke to me.
I had made a list with two columns and I wrote “believe” on one side and “know” on the other and I listed everything I could think of regarding the gospel. I only had three things on the “know” side and virtually everything else was on the believe side. I then made it an act of faith to see if I could move things from the believe to the know side. I found a great deal of success in building my testimony in this manner.
Repent, confess if necessary, and perhaps most importantly, truly forgive any and all individuals that you may hold a grudge or offense against. Only then can the fullness of God’s love fill your heart and without that, your service will be hindered and your ability to know God’s love will be severely limited.
8. April Young Bennett
April served in the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo West mission.
Read the complete standard works, from front to back, at least once during your mission–even the Old Testament. You will likely never have as much dedicated time for scripture study again, so the mission is a unique opportunity to ensure that you have personally read every word in our canon.
If you are learning a language, keep a running list with you as you travel and work of unfamiliar words that you hear or read, so you can look them up later when you are home. You’ll build your vocabulary quickly this way.
Don’t comment on your companion’s portion sizes, calorie count, weight gain and eating choices (unless you become aware that your companion has a dangerous eating disorder. In such cases, talking to a health professional is in order, and more effective than criticism.)
As women, we are sometimes socialized to police each other about food choices and weight gain. This tendency may seem helpful, but it is intolerable under mission rules that require companions to eat every meal, every day together. Don’t be that companion!
9. Daniel Conway
Daniel served in the Scotland, Edinburgh mission.
Get to know your bible immediately!!! Get to know the bible as much as you possibly can before you go. Start with learning all the bible scripture masteries in the New Testament and Old Testament first.
Second, find a few newly returned missionaries and ask them what bible scriptures they should learn in order to defend themselves when in a discussion with other faiths. You will have discussions with many Christians of other faiths and they will know their bibles very well… far better than you, and will wipe the floor with you and have a very convincing argument.
10. Amber Christensen
Amber served in the Italy Rome Mission.
If you’re being obedient and trying your hardest, don’t get into the downward spiral of thinking you’re the problem – the reason people aren’t home for appointments, the reason nobody wants to listen, and the reason baptisms fall through. It’s not you. It’s mission life!
Satan will come at you from every angle to convince you otherwise. Once you start believing you’re not a good missionary, it’s hard to get out of that funk. Ask Heavenly Father each night if the work you did that day was acceptable to Him and He will answer. His approval is all that matters!
11. Kevin Beckstrom
Kevin served in the Korea Busan Mission.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my advice for those getting ready to serve. Here are some things I wish I would have learned way earlier than I did.
There are three important things to remember as you prepare to serve:
- Love the people. Wherever you are called to serve, love the people. They’re just like you, only they live someplace else. Like you, they want to be happy. Love them — even the mean ones!
- Remember: you are called to serve. Serve with your whole heart. Don’t worry about your own success. Forget yourself in service and success will follow.
- Have fun. Sharing the gospel brings joy in a way that nothing else can. Missionary work can be challenging, but it is fun — make it so. Enjoy the experience.
12. Angela Clayton (Hawkgrrrl)
Angela served in the Spain Las Palmas mission.
Missions are a time in life when you are moving from a dependent young adult to an independent adult. You will learn things about yourself and about others at this time of life that you haven’t yet figured out. My best advice pertains to the three most important types of relationships you encounter on a mission: to your fellow missionaries, to the people you teach, and to yourself.
Your fellow missionaries are going to be your friends for life in many cases because of the time in the trenches together. You’ll share spiritual experiences, and even more than that, you’ll share very human experiences. Although you may feel that it’s your role to correct them or to give them guilt trips (particularly if you are prone to these yourself), the best thing you can do is to cut them slack and be a good friend, even if they are irritating at times. You will be irritating to some of them, too. Missionary work is hard, so be good to your colleagues. Have their back. Build them up. Laugh with them at the ridiculous things that happen.
A mission is a great time to learn that your pre-conceived notions about things are often wrong. This is true of your role as a missionary, the people you teach, the areas you should work, and how to teach. You need to develop an open-mind to be able to see the potential, even when the reality looks so difficult of unpromising. Listen to the people you teach. You aren’t really there to “teach,” but to listen to them, to listen to the spirit, and to help them better their lives.
There’s a reason someone talks to the missionaries. Listen to find out what their reasons are, and see how those reasons line up with the message you are bringing. Would the church be a positive influence in their lives? If so, they will probably progress. But if they don’t, you should still listen and serve them. Don’t internalize rejection. It’s not you they are rejecting. Maybe they just aren’t prepared to hear the gospel. Maybe it’s not a good fit for them today. If you want what’s best for them, you will see them as a whole person, not just a means to achieving your own results.
Lastly, missionaries need to learn self-care. This means eating healthy, fresh foods, drinking lots of water, staying in good physical shape, and keeping a positive outlook (and dealing with emotional issues that occur, even if that means medication or a therapist). You matter. Sometimes missionaries feel pressured to work extra by skipping a p-day. Don’t do it. God rested on the seventh day for a reason. Every once in a while, you need to feel like a normal human being.
Become comfortable being yourself, be genuine and authentic with others, and you’ll find that you are happier and healthier. For missionaries who tend toward scrupulosity, obedience to the rules is not a panacea. People will still reject the gospel if they aren’t prepared. They have their agency. Obedience is about you aligning your will with God’s and being humble. It can help you as a missionary, but it’s not going to directly lead to baptisms. And there are times that the rules don’t work, that you have to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
13. Ryan Murri
Ryan served in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission.
A full-time mission is one of the most incredible opportunities in your life. It’s also one of the only times in your life you will be able to be dedicated to something so completely. Don’t hold back. Give it everything you have. Pray life you’ve never prayed before.
Study the scriptures and the words of the prophets like never before. Serve, testify, work and obey like never before. When you get home you’re going to have to grow up and there will be a lot of distractions and it won’t be the same so seize the opportunity and you’ll remember the experience fondly forever.
14. Chris Patty
Chris served in the Virginia, Chesapeake Mission.
My best advice is to let yourself feel authentically. Sometimes missions can develop a culture of homogeneity where the feelings you have about your work and the people you teach are used as signals of your faithfulness. When I finally let myself just feel instead of trying to force myself to feel what I was “supposed” to feel.
I found that my ability to understand the Spirit and communicate with God increased dramatically. If you don’t feel devastated when an investigator doesn’t keep commitments, that’s ok. If you don’t feel sorrow when someone rejects the Gospel, that’s ok.
Learning to trust how you’re feeling as a message from God will do more to help you and those you teach come closer to Christ than trying to force yourself into a pre-defined missionary box.
15. David Snell
David served in the Chihuahua, Mexico mission.
Go with the flow and don’t take yourself too seriously. There’ll be a lot of circumstances, every day, that you can’t control. Don’t worry about it. Be adaptable. If a curve ball gets thrown your way, just take it in stride. Embrace it, because it’s going to happen a lot. The gospel is a serious matter, but it’s also a happy message.
If you take yourself too seriously you’re going to have a hard time. Relax. Show that the gospel makes you happy. That sends a bigger message to any investigator than anything you’ll convey with words.
16. Kenneth Green
Kenneth served in the Georgia Macon Mission.
Trust the Lord is the biggest advice I can give you. I also would say trust that the Holy Ghost leads those who are placed over you! When I went out on my mission my roommate in Denver (where I lived pre and after the mission) had a younger brother in the same mission. The first day I arrived I begged the AP’s (Assistants to the President) to see if they could get us assigned together. In that mission, the AP’s made all the decisions where missionaries were located. Oh, how I wish the Mission President made those calls. I got exactly what I wanted.
However, I and this Elder’s personalities were like oil and water. It got so bad that we came to blows over a few things. Now my mission companion in the MTC was assigned to the Zone Leader across town, and he and I switched a few weeks into my mission. When I got with the Zone Leader, we worked so beautifully I could not believe it.
We baptized a few people, and I learned a crucial lesson. You need to be guided by the Holy Ghost as a missionary for sure. But never arrived at the mission with preconceived notions and never not trust the process. Lastly, trust that the Holy Ghost and Jesus Christ know best in each decision and lean on them for help and guidance on your mission. If you do this, you are guaranteed success! Be blessed as you go forth!
17. Courtney Baugh Kistemann
Courtney served in the St Petersburg, Russia mission.
You are hereby called to serve in the St Petersburg, Russia Mission…..WHAT THE CRAP!
I never wanted to go on a mission. It was NEVER on my radar but the Lord had other plans for me. He told me quite loudly and repeatedly that I was supposed to go on a mission (probably cuz I asked him to do that).Once the decision was made, I had tons of people there to support me and give advice. Here is the best advice I can give you.
If you are called to serve in “difficult” mission where new convert and retention numbers are low. Pray like there’s no tomorrow, think outside of the box and then go and do. My husband served in Mexico where it seems all he had to say was join us and they were baptized. In my mission, at that time, our mission having 12 baptisms in a year was awesome. Don’t be discouraged. The Lord will lead you to those who are earnestly seeking if that is your deepest desire. Lastly, when I say “think outside of the box,” I mean it. I taught a dance class followed up with lessons, we had sports mornings, a skate boarding competition and more.
If you feel inadequate. Heavenly Father will edify and qualify you but you must also do your part. Diligently seek scriptural and prophetic knowledge from mission-approved materials. I can’t tell you how many times I felt inadequate. That feeling is from Satan. So when it hits you (because it will) immediately pray then go and do.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10
If you find liking another missionary or member a little too much. Ok, I’m going to get very personal here. I got a crush on an elder and he for me. No we DID NOT hug, kiss or hold hands.
Nevertheless, it was wrong and distracted me from the work. We are supposed to have an eye single to glory and that can’t happen if you set your sights elsewhere. Learning to control my thoughts was the most difficult thing I have ever done but it is possible. Whenever such thoughts enter into your mind you must immediately shift your thoughts. Engaging in a conversation with your companion about an investigator or member helps! And please, confide in your mission president. He is there to help and support you.
If you are intimidated or having a hard time learning the language. I am smart but not THAT SMART. Russian is the 4th hardest language in the world. Speaking Russian did not come easy to me. And yet, there were other elders who were just killing it in the language department. If you find yourself struggling with the language, I have two pieces of advice for you. First, work your butt off. Always keep study cards on you. Refuse to be lost.
Write down the words you don’t’ understand during sacrament meeting then pull out that dictionary and figure it out. Confide in your companion and ask for help. Second, have faith. The day will come when you will no longer have to write out, translate then memorize your thoughts. I remember the feeling I had when we sat in a meeting and I realized I was just teaching and conversing freely. It was amazing. It will come. For some sooner than others.
18. LDS Anarchist
In addition to repenting of all your sins and obeying all the commandments of God, which is required of every saint, my recommendations for missionary work are:
- Read and study the whole canon. (See D&C 11:21; 42:56-57.)
- Preach and teach only by the Spirit. (See D&C 50:13-22; 42:14.)
- Pray for the Spirit. (See D&C 42:14.)
- Look to the cross of Christ in every thought. (See D&C 6:36-37.)
- Teach out of the canonized scriptures. (See D&C 42:12-13.)
- Humble yourself before God. (See Alma 38:13-14; Mosiah 4:5,11.)
- Wrestle with God in prayer for those you teach. (See Alma 8:10.)
- Be patient in affliction and with the people you teach and with those around you. (See Alma 17:11)
- Open your mouth to everyone. (See D&C 33:8-9; 28:16.)
- Be cheerful. (See D&C 123:17.)
- Love the people around you. (See D&C 42:45; 59:6; 88:123; 112:11.)
When I was in the MTC, we had a teacher who said to our class that there was a missionary currently serving who was down in the dumps and so he thought it would be a good thing if we all wrote letters to that missionary, giving encouragement and comfort and faith to get through whatever trial the missionary was going through.
So, we all dutifully broke out the paper and pens and began giving our best “uplifting” sermon of encouragement for down times. About a half hour or so passed and we had all written our letters. Then the pain-in-the-neck teacher said, “Okay, so those letters are all for you when times get you down. You can read them and receive encouragement to continue on the path.”
The sneak had figured out that when we wrote our letters, we would put the very things that we, ourselves, would want someone to say to us, when we were down, so our letters were absolutely perfect sermons, tailored specifically to each one of us. I’m not sure if you can use that, but I thought this sneaky teacher was pretty clever.
19. Adam Morgan
Adam served in the Missouri Independence Mission.
Last but not least will be my husband’s personal advice for prospective missionaries. Have you ever tried explaining what salt tastes like to someone who hasn’t ever tasted it?
I haven’t, but I can imagine that preparing someone for an LDS mission would be quite similar. I “prepared” myself by following the three recommendations of my ward leaders prior to my mission – read the Book of Mormon entirely, attend a mission prep class in the ward, and go on splits with the missionaries.
While I did all of those things, I don’t feel like they adequately prepared me for what was to come. If I was able to go back and help my younger self, I’d give the following advice:
- Start adjusting to the sleep routine earlier. Until the first day waking up in the MTC, I don’t think there were too many times in my life where I got up at 6:30 am. It was then that I questioned for the first time if serving a mission was something I wanted to do. How silly is that?
- Resist the urge to “Bible bash”. Is it realistic that you won’t do it? No, I’m almost certain every missionary has done it. I regret doing it. It is just not worth it. The people you meet that want to argue with you are not open to the teachings of the gospel and it’s best to leave them with a good impression of the missionaries and the church.
- Learn to cook. Depending on where you serve, your allotted budget may not be enough. In my mission, I believe we received $70 every two weeks. Lots of missionaries in my mission (myself included) had to dip into their non missionary credit and debit cards to buy groceries and such. What was the cause of this? We were eating out more than we should have. Knowing how to cook roughly 10 meals or so would definitely help you stay on budget.
Phew! If you made it this far and read every single one of these responses, I salute you! I feel like every RM would have loved to have had their hands on mission advice like this when they were preparing to serve a mission. All you need to do now is internalize this and go apply it.
What do you think about the advice that was given?
In the comments below let me know which tip resonated with you the most.