In a letter sent to all bishops and stake presidents in the Church, the First Presidency stated that "full-time missionary service is a privilege, not a right" (letter dated June 18, 1998).
Youth, especially young men, need to prepare spiritually, physically, and mentally for a mission. It is a glorious work, but it is work. It will require digging deep down inside of oneself to stay clean and sweet, to be self-disciplined, and to meet the requirements. Let no one say that a mission is easy, but the young man who loves the Lord and has lived his life deserving a mission will find the joy the Lord promised: "If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father" (D&C 18:15).
Young men and young women who desire to serve need to understand the doctrine of missionary work. They need to be prepared to live a spartan life of dedication and service. As they labor diligently in the field, they will come to understand the supreme greatness and goodness of God. He rewards His laborers well. A mission is not a social experience. In their letter, the First Presidency also stated about a mission: "Its objective is not primarily the personal development of an individual missionary, although righteous service invariably produces that result."
The young man who understands the privilege extended to him when he receives a mission call will be a marvelous missionary. Attitude is so important as one prepares for a mission. For years I have heard that 85 percent of all success is due to attitude. Attitude is important and is surely reflected in the way one serves. I believe that our attitude toward missionary service is a direct reflection of how much we love God and His Only Begotten Son. When we reverence Their holy names we will want to please Them through our service.
Worthiness is essential if a missionary is to have the Spirit with him. Occasionally a young man will commit a transgression so serious that it might delay or eliminate his opportunity for missionary service. Some young men who are spiritually inexperienced may think they can lie to a bishop or stake president to get into the mission field and then confess and repent while serving. Teach our young men that possible embarrassment and humiliation of being sent home shortly after they arrive in the mission field can be expected if they try such a thing. The best place to discuss worthiness issues is in the bishop's office before an application to serve has even been submitted. The bishop will then consult with the stake president and outline a course of action to prepare a young man for a mission or, if necessary, to redirect his life into another dimension of spiritual activity in the Church. Hopefully we can help prospective missionaries avoid these consequences. To be sent home shortly after leaving to serve hurts parents deeply, gives great concern to the bishop and stake president, and sets a poor example for future missionaries in the ward. Teach the young men and young women to do the courageous thing by dealing with any worthiness problems early on in their interviews with their bishop.
In a recent leadership meeting for General Authorities, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught that a missionary should adopt the spirit that his mission belongs to the Lord. In our training of young men, we have all of the Aaronic Priesthood years to prepare for missions. As young men grow older and closer to missionary age, the training should intensify. It is thrilling to talk about missionary work. Young men love to hear others talk about their missions.
The following preparation can assist dramatically in intensifying the desire for young men to serve missions:
1. Help them to understand the doctrine of the Atonement as taught in the scriptures. As they understand this great principle, they will come to love and worship the Savior more. Understanding the doctrine of the Atonement will change their behavior. It will change their values and secure them to the gospel. Personalize the Atonement by showing what it has meant in your life. Faith in Christ and His Atonement is the supreme motivation.
2. Spiritual preparation is essential for every missionary: praying, studying the scriptures, attending church, fulfilling his or her duty, and maintaining moral purity and physical standards such as obeying the Word of Wisdom. To be spiritually prepared is to have a giant head start over those who do not when one enters the mission field.
3. Work is essential. Missionary service is hard work—mentally, spiritually, and physically. It is demanding. Every laborer knows that work requires discipline. Teach our youth to look for things that need to be done and then to do them. Even youth who have never worked outside the home can be taught the discipline of work by looking for things that need to be done. What if a young man or woman decided to see how much work there was around the house and systematically did it! Let's list a few chores that he or she might find: mow and edge the lawn, plant and care for vegetable and flower gardens, clean the garage, and organize tools; repair doors, screens, electrical plugs, sprinklers, and fences; paint sidings, fences, trim, the garage, and outdoor furniture; wash and iron the clothes; scrub and clean the floors, windows, basins, toilets, tub, and showers; wash the dishes, clear the table, prepare meals; drive the younger children to meetings, games, piano lessons; go grocery shopping; vacuum floors, sweep walks; care for pets; and so on.
Can you see the opportunities parents have available for training their children? If the older young men in the family knew that all of the work they were doing was in preparation for a mission, it would become a glory and not drudgery. Mental work requires even more discipline. Young people can study the scriptures, read great literature, and memorize poetry, scriptures, inspirational sayings, even the missionary discussions. Again, it will not be drudgery if they understand it is part of missionary preparation.
All work, mental and physical, builds character, stability, confidence, and self-esteem. Work is a marvelous part of life; it is fulfilling and rewarding. Wildred Petersen, in his Art of Living series makes no distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues with excellence what he is about and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. He, himself, always knows he is doing both."
Possibly the hardest work in the world is being lazy. Time moves so slowly—a second, a minute, an hour—that life simply drags by. Those who avoid work carry the heavy weight of nonperformance and dullness of character; they most often find themselves depressed. Laziness becomes a way of life and saps the manhood or womanhood out of the soul. To work is to save oneself, to bring credit for achievement, to ear one's way, and to fill a role in the community. Also, the person who knows hard work is usually blessed with hard sleep. Our youth need to know that you have to earn deep, sweet, peaceful, repairing sleep.
In addition to the previous three skills, teach our youth the importance of learning to work with people. Social skills can be developed, and they are vital. Teach them how to shake hands firmly and warmly while looking the other person in the eye. People respond when we are interested in them. King Lamoni responded to Ammon because Ammon wanted first to serve and please the king.
Francois Rene' de Chateaubriand gave the history of man in a sentence: "In the days of service all things are founded; in the days of special privilege they deteriorate; and in the days of vanity they are destroyed."
Service is one way we prove our worth in the human race. It requires desire, time, and effort, but it is one of the great things people with people skills do. They want to bless the lives of all they meet. People skills can be developed and are invaluable once mastered.
The more we try to bless the lives of others, the more our own lives are blessed. One word of caution: develop your people skills for the purpose of serving your fellowmen, not for manipulating people. The service you render should not be self-serving.
We need every young man to consider that being called on a mission is a great privilege. Help them to prepare well for that wonderful privilege we call full-time missionary service.
(excerpt from Vaughn J. Featherstone's book: The Millennial Generation—leading today's youth into the future, 1999, p. 113)