Return to About Mormons home

Mission Presidents

by Gerald J. Day

In 1990, some 257 mission presidents, along with their wives, and sometimes families, served in geographical mission areas in more than a hundred nations. The period of service for a mission president is usually three years. In the Church being a mission president is regarded as a challenging and exhilarating spiritual assignment, a link of fellowship with the Master. Calls are issued by the First Presidency. Both husband and wife are set apart as missionaries by the laying on of hands by an assigned General Authority, often a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and receive blessings and counsel appropriate to their assignment.

The calling is not a regular remunerative position, but interrupts professional employment; whatever financial losses accrue are part of the expected sacrifice. The family involved gives of its time and energies without salary, though there is a modest allowance for living expenses. Men and women from all walks of life and all nationalities and backgrounds serve, called, as it were, "from everywhere to everywhere." Typically, the president is a high priest with extensive prior service in the Church. His wife is likewise experienced in Church leadership and teaching. Their competence in the language and culture of their designated country is enhanced by mission presidents' seminars and training sessions.

A strong legacy of mission presidents permeates Church autobiography and biography, oral tradition, fiction, and folklore. Narratives range from some of flagrant and even life-threatening opposition and martyrdom to sublime accounts of conversions to Christ. It is a common feeling that the Spirit attends missionary work as it does no other.

An important concern of the mission president and his wife is naturally the continued nurture and care of their own children who have come with them. A second concern is the nurture and care of the missionaries, the majority of whom are young, uprooted, often struggling with a new language, and facing new stresses. The mission president trains, counsels, assigns, and gives spiritual support to each missionary, and his wife plays a vital role in training programs and the health, Welfare, and safety of each missionary.

A mission is generally assigned from 120 to 250 full-time missionaries, with young men serving two years and young women serving eighteen months. In addition, there are some part-time missionaries and older couples. Older couples generally serve from one year to eighteen months. Single missionaries always labor in same-gender pairs; married couples labor together. Leadership roles are assigned to senior companions, district leaders, and zone leaders. Each mission has a rotating central missionary staff: typically a secretary, recorder-historian, supplies manager, and travel coordinator. Since new missionaries arrive and seasoned missionaries are released each month, training, retraining, and making new assignments and transfers are perpetual tasks.

The mission president, under supervision from Church headquarters, establishes mission rules, study patterns, goals, and discipline. His assignment requires constant travel to zone conferences, which are also testimony meetings, at least every six to eight weeks. The president and his wife have direct contact with the missionaries by phone, mail, and personal visits. They continually foster programs of goodwill, service, and understanding.

At the end of three years, the mission president and his family return home to resume their vocational and regular family lives.

(See A Holy Calling by Elder Monte J. Brough; Missionary Work home page; Daily Living home page)

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Mission Presidents

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

All About Mormons