Church revises missionary handbook for the first time in 10 years. Here’s what has changed

For the first time in nearly a decade, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is releasing a new handbook of instructions to help guide and direct its scores of thousands of full-time missionaries serving worldwide.

“Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ” is now available in print and digital formats — not only accessible to missionaries but to the public, the latter via the Church’s Gospel Library app. The new publication, which features full-color illustrations of the Savior on the cover and inside, replaces the familiar black-and-white, pocket-sized Missionary Handbook that has been carried by hundreds of thousands of missionaries for decades.

The title itself underscores the handbook’s move from a rules-based manual to a principles-based one, and the tone is set from the introductory message from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, found at the front of the booklet.

“To be an effective missionary, you must be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ,” it reads, adding “Heavenly Father loves you, and He will help you to love and bless His children wherever you serve.”

Missionaries watch President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to a missionary meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.
Missionaries watch President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to a missionary meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

“This will help the missionaries to really focus on the two great commandments — to love God and to love your fellow man — and then take on the great commission, which is to spread the gospel,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council.

“If the missionaries see the big picture — to love God and fellow man and accept the great commission to proclaim the gospel — then they will know how to proceed and be guided by the Spirit to address the people in a way that hearts are touched,” he said. “And bridges are built from heart to heart — that is the key.”

Church leaders love the missionaries and are concerned for their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being and safety, Elder Uchtdorf said, adding “these standards will help protect and guide them as they seek to serve our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy who is executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, acknowledges that “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ” moves away from being a rule book, per se, and focuses on helping strengthen character and developing good habits and behaviors.

“This will be a big change for missionary work because it is a focus on discipleship,” he said.

Invited by Elder Neil L. Andersen to come closer to the ceremonial groundbreaking, missionaries gather at the future site of the the Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire Temple on Nov. 8, 2018.
Invited by Elder Neil L. Andersen to come closer to the ceremonial groundbreaking, missionaries gather at the future site of the the Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire Temple on Nov. 8, 2018. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“The goal is to create a disciple of Christ, and so the purpose of this new handbook is for them to develop lifelong habits as consecrated members of the Church — not just for their missions, but for a lifetime.”

“Your mission didn’t really begin the day you were set apart and won’t end the day you are released,” begins the “Missionary Standards” on Page 5, following the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve’s message. “A mission isn’t like putting on an employee or school uniform in the morning only to take it off again when the day is done. … Your full-time mission experience can be a transforming event but should also be an integral part of your life mission experience.”

The new handbooks have been in the works for several years, making for the first such update since 2010.

“Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ” begins with the aforementioned message from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a section on “Your Full-time Missionary Experience” which emphasizes obedience to commandments and standards for life.

That is followed by sections on missionary organization (including companions) and activities, missionary conduct and physical well-being and two brief sections on priesthood authority and ordinances and completion of one’s mission.

Actually, the new handbook is really two booklets. The companion “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ: Supplemental Information” manual includes sections on young missionary leadership responsibilities, guidelines for service, respect for others, temple attendance, technology, difficult or negative situations, physical and mental health concerns, dangerous situations, housing safety, transportation safety, and priesthood ordinances and blessings.

In print, the primary “Missionary Standards” provides page references in the supplemental booklet for additional information and details on a specific item or subject. In their electronic forms, online links are provided — not only back and forth between the two handbooks but to the series of online safety videos recently released by the Missionary Departments.

The new handbooks were distributed initially to mission leadership worldwide — mission presidents and their companions — in June, with the time since used to translate the publications in additional languages.

Elders Jason Andersen and Chet Norman do their missionary work In Tonga, on May 22, 2019.
Elders Jason Andersen and Chet Norman do their missionary work In Tonga, on May 22, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Some mission presidents responded back with concerns that the new handbook and supplement lacked some of the specific rules of the previous handbook.

“We say, ‘That’s what a disciple has to figure out,’” Elder Nielson said. “That will be a big change for us. But I think everyone loves the overall principle-based concept.”

He likens the change in the handbook as a pattern similar to changes to ministering and a home-centered, Church-supported emphasis.

“This is a move from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to do this in a higher and holier way, that our missionaries are now being asked to do the same thing. Instead of living a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s actually an invitation for them to become disciples.”

Like other mission presidents worldwide, President Kyle B. Hettinger of the Hungary/Romania Mission has spent the past four-plus months familiarizing himself with the new handbooks. “The ‘Missionary Standards’ are less rule-based and are more geared to help missionaries internalize doctrines, principles and expectations that will help them spiritually navigate through their missions and their lives. Like Alma, they may know these things of themselves,” he said, noting Alma 5:46, 48.

The new handbook “is all together a higher, holier and happier way to assist missionaries in becoming devoted disciples of their Savior Jesus Christ,” he added

As an example, President Hettinger pointed to the allowance for missionaries to now call home or video chat with family members, saying some missionaries have grappled with how to use such communication to better bless themselves and their families.

Missionaries wait for President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a Brazil Brasilia Mission meeting in Brasilia, Brazil on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.
Missionaries wait for President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a Brazil Brasilia Mission meeting in Brasilia, Brazil on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

He then cited several of the new manual’s principle-based offerings to allow missionaries to govern themselves: “It is not expected that you will call or video chat with your parents every week. … When communicating with your family by phone or video chat, be wise in determining the duration of your calls. … In making these decisions, be considerate of your companion and keep in mind the purpose of your missionary service.”

Read more: 17 of the best reactions from families about staying in touch with their missionaries

“The ‘Missionary Standards’ now provide guidance and counsel that will optimize these interactions and more fully bless everyone involved,” President Hettinger said.