Mormon Culture: Mission Presidents, Room for Interpretation?

Sometimes people got along with their mission president and sometimes people didn’t. But a mission president still makes an impact on the missionaries he presides over.

Wendy Ulrich, a psychologist who advises the missionary mental health committee, said sometimes clashes between missionaries and mission presidents come about because of personalities.

She said that when her husband was mission president, she even made mistakes sometimes.

“People are people,” Ulrich said.

Currently, there are no resources provided to missionaries on how to talk with their mission presidents. However, the “Adjusting to Missionary Life” booklet includes general information on communication.

“I think the church is reluctant to imply to a missionary, you know, ‘Well maybe it’s just your mission president is nuts.’ And sometimes that is the reality, but it would be probably a little too glib and too easy for a missionary to just assume ‘I don’t have to listen to my mission president because after all some mission presidents are nuts,'” Ulrich said.

She said missionaries try to work figure out with other missionaries where the mission president has a blind spot rather than talking with the mission president about it.

The 2006 version of the Mission President’s Handbook is online and outlines things for the mission president to enforce. Not all of the guidelines in this handbook are stated in the Missionary Handbook that’s provided to missionaries.

While I was skimming through the Mission President’s Handbook, I found myself wishing I had known before my mission about some of the expectations I would be required to live, since they weren’t in any mission preparation materials. I remember also reading the Missionary Handbook while on my mission and wondering why the mission president had so many more guidelines than were outlined in the Missionary Handbook. I saw that some of the things my mission president asked us to do were in the Mission President’s Handbook, but not in the Missionary Handbook — and had I known that on my mission, I think I would have reacted differently to some of the “extra” guidelines he gave us.

Questions to consider

  • Even after your mission, do you consider what your mission told you to do equivalent to a commandment? Should you?
  • Is what you were told to do helpful to your salvation? Or is it just a nice suggestion, an opinion?
  • Is what you were told to do negatively affecting your testimony?
  • Are you basing your testimony on what you were told to do on your mission or on your relationship with God?

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