Six months ago, at the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson announced the missionary age change. Here is his report on how things are going, delivered earlier this month:
The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4 — two days ago — we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries.
This is a big change, one that changes the teen life profile of thousands of young Latter-day Saints and that directly affects thousands of LDS families. The iconic image I associate with the policy change was a young man attending Conference to whom the live Conference feed cut just seconds after President Monson made the announcement. A bit dazed, he was obviously doing some quick real-time recalibration: I will be 18 in … four months?
Apart from President Monson’s explanation provided at the time of the announcement in October 2012, not much official commentary on the policy change has been provided. Here is that original explanation, which actually says quite a lot.
For some time the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at the age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school, and have expressed a sincere desire to serve. This has been a country-specific policy and has allowed thousands of young men to serve honorable missions and also fulfill required military obligations and educational opportunities.
Our experience with these 18-year-old missionaries has been positive. Their mission presidents report that they are obedient, faithful, mature, and serve just as competently as do the older missionaries who serve in the same missions. Their faithfulness, obedience, and maturity have caused us to desire the same option of earlier missionary service for all young men, regardless of the country from which they come.
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.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.
Often a significant policy change works out rather differently than expected. I suspect that will be the case here, although we don’t really know what the expectations of LDS leaders were and I don’t think we will see the full impact of the change for several years. But here are a few changes I see already.
1. 18 is the new 19. When announced, it was clearly stated that service for young men at 18 is an option, not an expectation. It was also suggested that bishops and stake presidents should consider “individual circumstances” before recommending a young man for missionary service at 18. I think this cautionary counsel lasted about 24 hours. I don’t think local leaders are saying no to any qualified young man who wants to serve at 18. Yes, 18 is the new 19.
2. 19 is not the new 21. It’s a different story for sisters. The age change doesn’t simply move the date forward a year or two, it opens up missionary service to thousands of young LDS women who are eager to serve as missionaries at age 19 but who often have other life plans in place at age 21. The immediate response by thousands of young LDS women to serve is really quite inspiring. Again, President Monson’s note of caution (“We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty …. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men.“) doesn’t seem to have any particular relevance at this point. Young LDS women are simply taking this opportunity and running with it.
3. And the long-term impact is …? More young LDS men will serve missions, if only because we don’t lose them to various distractions or doubts before they turn 19. But *many* more young LDS women will serve missions, which will upgrade the talent pool in LDS wards in coming years. The Church will have to provide additional avenues of service for these faithful returned sister missionaries. We can call them all as ward missionaries, or maybe turn the clerk duties over to women (the monthly reports would finally get done on time), or go all in and just give them the priesthood. The Church generally finds a way to use talented people, so change of some sort will happen.
So how is the new policy playing out in your ward and in your family?