When President Monson announced the change for which age missionaries could leave to serve missions at the October 2012 General Conference, much of the focus was placed on how young women could now serve missions at age 19. But things changed for young men as well with the lowering of the minimum age requirement to 18. For many young men, this is proving to be just as important of a change as the announcement was for the young women.
For young men planning on serving missions, there are probably many questions that you are considering while trying to decide when you should serve. Do I feel ready to serve at 18? Do I know the scriptures well enough? Should I complete some schooling at college before leaving on my mission? But wait, I am just graduating high school! You may even have well-meaning family or friends trying to influence your decision. Ultimately however, the decision is not theirs to make. It is a decision that should be made between you and the Lord, with the guidance of the Bishop when appropriate.
The most important guideline for deciding when is the right time for you to serve comes from President Monson. When he announced the change in missionary age requirements, President Monson said, “I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.” (“Welcome to Conference”, Thomas S. Monson, Oct. 2012 – emphasis added)
If the prophet of the Lord says that this is the expectation, then that is the only standard that truly matters. It is not required that you serve a mission at age 18. If you have the desire to serve, are worthy, and feel ready to dedicate two years to the Lord, then by all means go after you turn 18! But if you feel that you need more time to learn the doctrine you will be teaching or to prepare yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally, there is nothing wrong with taking an extra year to prepare to serve. The Lord promises those who adequately prepare that “you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21) This promise is not dependent on when you serve, but rather, how prepared you are to serve.
If you are unsure about what to do, weigh out the different options and then ask the Lord in prayer which time is best for you to serve. The Lord will answer those who ask in faithful prayer with reassurance and guidance about what is the correct decision: “You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right…you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:8) Serving a mission is a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you feel you need additional guidance, continue to pray and study it out in your mind while trying one of more of the following options:
- Talk to you parents in a open and safe space
- Ask your Bishop for advice
- Ask a trusted Priesthood holder for a blessing of guidance
- Prayerfully read your patriarchal blessing
- Study Preach My Gospel
- Serve in the temple
Ultimately, whether you are 18 or 19 doesn’t matter nearly as much as giving your best effort when you serve a mission. No matter when you choose to serve, be sure that you are ready to serve “with all your heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2) to help bring forth the cause of the Lord!