People of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and skill levels are serving as Mormon missionaries throughout the world today. The basic prerequisites for serving as a Mormon missionary are faith in Jesus Christ, personal worthiness, and belief founded in the doctrines of the Mormon Church. To be a Mormon missionary, one must be a baptized, confirmed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Most missionaries are young men who serve between the ages of 18 and 21. Male missionaries serve for approximately two years. Prophets and leaders of the Church have strongly encouraged young men to serve missions, unless they are enlisted in the military. Young men who are enrolled in college at age eighteen are encouraged to interrupt their schooling in order to serve missions. Young men have also chosen to interrupt sports careers and entertainment careers in order to serve missions.
Standards for worthiness are increasing, and include keeping the Word of Wisdom (health laws of the Church), being modest and chaste, and maintaining high standards of honesty and integrity. Bishops help prepare young men to serve missions. For those young men who have committed past transgressions, bishops can provide counsel and support to help with the repentance process. Although the Church encourages all young males to serve a mission, a mission is not to be seen as a rite of passage for Mormon young men. Only young men with a sincere desire to serve should consider a mission. Pressure from community or family is not a good reason to serve.
Single young Women can serve at the age of 19. Because the Church does not require women to serve, “sister missionaries” were considerably fewer in number than male missionaries when the service age for women was age 21. Since 2012, when the service age was lowered to 19, the percentage of female missionaries has risen from 14% to 51%. The “sister missionaries” serve for a year and a half.
The opportunity of serving a mission is also open to retired couples and singles, both men and women, who have a desire to serve. Most senior missionaries serve in a companionship with their spouses. Senior missionaries serve in a variety of capacities. They share the teachings of Mormonism, volunteer in church libraries or visitors’ centers, and participate in service projects. There are also humanitarian missions and education missions. They can also be called to train younger missionaries. Senior couples must be physically, emotionally, and financially capable of serving a mission. A senior couple must be prepared to make the commitment to be away from family for a long period of time. Something unique about senior couples is that they are often allowed to choose what type of mission they are interested in serving and where they are interested in serving. Senior missionaries generally serve from one to two years.
Married couples who are “seasoned” servants in the Church are sometimes called to be mission presidents, having the responsibility of supervising missionaries and running the missions on a local level. Mission presidents receive basic financial support from the Church and may take their children with them to the “mission field.” Many of the Church’s worldwide missions require foreign language abilities, so some mission presidents return to the country where they served in their youth. Mission presidents usually serve for three years.