Dr. Gary G. Taylor
When Mission Goals are Unreasonable
I once attended a missionary zone conference, during which several speakers participated, including, of course, the Mission President and his wife. All of those presenting were insightful and inspiring. Each one focused on a different aspect of missionary work; and each one ended with several good suggestions regarding how to improve as missionaries. These suggestions were phrased as goals recommended for each missionary; and each missionary was requested to commit to accomplishing these goals prior to the next zone conference. Unfortunately, in spite of the good intentions of mission leaders, the conference did more harm than good for many of the missionaries involved. What went wrong?
First, the missionaries were all publicly required to commit to each of the goals advanced, resulting in a total of over ten goals to be accomplished over the next six weeks--far too many for any given missionary to focus on and have any hope of accomplishing. Plus, there was a “one size fits all mentality” in the process. This was a smorgasbord of good ideas; but trying to commit each missionary to complete each goal was like asking them to eat everything available at a banquet. There was no accounting for actual need, where missionaries were coming from, their natural abilities, or their individual limitations. Lastly, several of the goals were clearly unrealistic when measured against recent history. For example, one of the main goals was that each set of missionaries would baptize at least one investigator each week for the next six weeks. This was a mission in which each set of missionaries would historically baptize one investigator in a year. And of course, baptismal goals are not within a missionary’s control in any event. Missionaries control the invitation; but not the investigator’s response to the invitation.
There were two decidedly negative outcomes for a number of the missionaries. Some saw the goals as unrealistic and paid no attention to them. Unfortunately, these were typically the very missionaries that needed to accept improvement goals and accomplish them. Other more committed missionaries accepted the goals and put great effort in trying to accomplish them. This group ended up overworked and stressed out. Not to mention the unnecessary guilt and sense of failure they felt when unable to accomplish the goals they tried so hard to reach. These missionaries were operating on the assumption that they could reach the extreme goals if they had enough faith in the Lord. Thinking this way led some of the hardest working missionaries to lose faith in themselves and/or question their faith in the Lord.
Missionary zone conferences are generally a smorgasbord of good ideas; and mission leaders sometimes do go overboard as described above. If a missionary has this kind of experience, it might help to follow the example of Elder A. Elder A was at the zone conference referred to above. Elder A is a dedicated missionary who wants very much to serve the Lord and he works hard at it. He took the goals presented at the conference seriously; but didn’t feel obligated to complete each one. His plan was to prayerfully consider each goal and then choose one or two that he would commit to personally; and to work with his companion in selecting one or two that they would accomplish as a companionship. For example, one of the goals mentioned in the conference was for each companionship to distribute four copies of the Book of Mormon to someone new each day for the six week period. Elder A and his companion felt that goal to be unrealistic based on their past experience and the conditions in their current assignment. They might, of course, find four strangers each day who they could leave a book with; but they wanted their gifts to be prayerfully considered and delivered in situations where they would have a reasonable chance of follow-up. They therefore settled on the goal of distributing two copies of the Book of Mormon to someone new each day in situations where they would be able to check back with the recipient in a few days.
In summary, to follow Elder A’s example when faced with unrealistic goals from mission leaders, a missionary would:
1. Take the goals seriously; but not feel obligated to try to accomplish each one.
2. Prayerfully consider which of the goals to accept, both personally and as a companionship.
3. Modify the goals in order to make them
- Goals that require significant effort; but can be realistically accomplished.
- Meaningful. Relevant.
- Time sensitive
Effective goals also require a reporting element. "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates" (Thomas S. Monson, Preach my Gospel). Often there is a built-in reporting requirement with mission goals; which may become an issue when goals have been ignored and/or modified as suggested above. If that happens, a missionary might once again follow Elder A’s example. At a subsequent zone conference, Elder A and his companion were asked to report on their success with respect to the mission goals advanced at the previous conference. Without guilt, Elder A and his companion briefly explained the process they went through to select among the various goals. They then went on to describe the success they had in accomplishing the goal of distributing two copies of the Book of Mormon each day; along with the one or two other goals they had been working on. There was no need to apologize or feel bad about not working toward each of the goals set. It was obvious to everyone that they were committed, sincere missionaries who were working hard to serve the Lord. And Elder A and his companion were also able to feel good about themselves and their effort.