Origins of the Saying “Every Young Man Should Serve a Mission”

Most of you have probably heard many times that, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we expect every worthy young man to fulfill a mission. This is not new, every prophet since President Spencer W. Kimball has repeated that charge. Prior President Kimball, the Church had a large missionary program and many young men and young women served missions. But the expectation that everyone young male member should prepare and serve a mission wasn’t quite as strong then as it is today. The history and origins of the saying that “Every Young Man Should Serve a Mission” began with President Kimball.

President Kimball’s Landmark Address on Missionary Work

In 1974, President Kimball gave a landmark address that changed the way we Mormons view the missionary service of young men. Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quourm of the Twelve Apostles, said President Kimball’s talk “had profound and deep influence on all who heard it.” Elder Monson further said that “the impact of his dynamics as a missionary-oriented person…have set in motion factors which have resulted in one of the greatest upsurges in missionary work that we have ever seen” (Status Report on Missionary Work, Ensign, October 1977).

This is what President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“The question has been often asked, Is the mission program one of compulsion? And the answer, of course, is no. Everyone is given his free agency. The question is asked: Should every young man fill a mission? And the answer of the Church is yes, and the answer of the Lord is yes. Enlarging this answer we say: Certainly every male member of the Church should fill a mission, like he should pay his tithing, like he should attend his meetings, like he should keep his life clean and free from the ugliness of the world and plan a celestial marriage in the temple of the Lord” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Planning for a Full and Abundant Life”, Ensign, May 1974, 86).

Every Prophet Since Then Has Repeated the Call

Since President Kimball’s memorable address, every prophet of the Lord has repeated that message, that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. After President Kimball, came Ezra Taft Benson as the prophet and President of the Church. This is what he said:

“The Lord wants every young man to serve a full-time mission. Currently, only a fifth of the eligible young men in the Church are serving full-time missions. This is not pleasing to the Lord. We can do better. We must do better. Not only should a mission be regarded as a priesthood duty, but every young man should look forward to this experience with great joy and anticipation. What a privilege—what a sacred privilege—to serve the Lord full time for two years with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.

You can do nothing more important. School can wait. Scholarships can be deferred. Occupational goals can be postponed. Yes, even temple marriage should wait until after a young man has served an honorable full-time mission for the Lord.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 44–45).

Then Howard W. Hunter became Church President, and this is what he said:

“Earlier prophets have taught that every able, worthy young man should serve a full-time mission. I emphasize this need today” (Howard W. Hunter, “Follow the Son of God”, Ensign, Nov. 1994, 87).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“I throw out a challenge to every young man within this vast congregation tonight. Prepare yourself now to be worthy to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. He has said, ‘If ye are prepared ye shall not fear’ (D&C 38:30). Prepare to consecrate two years of your lives to this sacred service. That will in effect constitute a tithe on the first twenty years of your lives” (Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995, 70; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 51–52).

President Thomas S. Monson said:

“I repeat what prophets have long taught—that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary. Keep yourselves clean and pure and worthy to represent the Lord” (President Thomas S. Monson, As We Meet Together Again, October 2010).

And of course our living prophet today is President Russell M. Nelson, and he has repeated the call:

Today I reaffirm strongly that the Lord has asked every worthy, able young man to prepare for and serve a mission. For Latter-day Saint young men, missionary service is a priesthood responsibility. You young men have been reserved for this time when the promised gathering of Israel is taking place. As you serve missions, you play a pivotal role in this unprecedented event! (Preaching the Gospel of Peace By President Russell M. Nelson, April 2, 2022)

I hope all young men, if there ever was a doubt, now know with certainty that the prophet of God expects them to serve a mission. As President Kimball said, the Church will never force you to go because that would be contrary to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But full-time missionary service is the duty of every able young man (physically, mentally, and emotionally able), and we hope you will choose to accept the assignment.

Young men, we need you to be missionaries. Start preparing now. Keep yourself worthy, study the scriptures, learn how to become an effective missionary, and prepare yourself in all other ways to be a representative of the Lord for two years. Serve with honor and faithfulness and the Lord will bless you. May all the young men out there heed this call from the prophet is my prayerful desire.

7 replies
  1. charlotte
    charlotte says:

    i have a friend whose son has a health issue which delays him from going on a mission. Can a person still become a Bishop later on if he didn’t go on a mission?

    • Alan Robertson
      Alan Robertson says:

      Yes, a worthy priesthood holder can become a bishop without having served a mission. I was recently honorably released as bishop in our ward after five + years of service. I did not serve a mission as a young man, but I wish that I had done so.

  2. James
    James says:

    I don’t think there is a disqualifier in that regard. Particularly in this young man’s case, his issue is one of inability rather than lack of determination to do so. But even a young man who doesn’t make the choice that the Lord would have him make at this point would certainly be eligible later in life if he were in compliance with all the Lord’s commands. Rather than being concerned about becoming a bishop, however, should we not simply want him to be eligible to be married in the temple and hold whatever calling would assist in bringing about the Lord’s purposes?

  3. Joshua Palmer
    Joshua Palmer says:

    I returned home from my mission after only two months. I can honestly say that my mission was the worst two months of my life. I was honorably released, but I don’t look on my missionary service with fondness. I can’t argue that missionary work isn’t expected of every able, worthy young man, but I don’t agree with it. So many missionaries leave the church because of their missions. I personally feel that only those young men and women who have a desire to serve should serve. I still sustain President Monson as a prophet. I just wish the attitude of the church would be “It’s your choice”, not “It’s your choice – but you better go or else everyone will be disappointed and you will never get the blessings that you could have received.”

    • Brent
      Brent says:

      You wrote this like 1 year ago- so my response won’t mean much. There are 100’s like you and your experience. I feel for ya. I sustain all the brethren as well, the word I wished they used was “you are invited to serve a mission. God is all about inviting us to participate. The SHOULD- HAVE to has put on so much pressure on so many young men it’s sad. Missions are not for everyone. we have fallen so in love with them that we have forgotten that our entire life is a mission- not two years, not 10 years, but I am a missionary always and I have had 100’s of experiences with sharing the gospel that have been so much more than I ever experienced while I was a missionary. I hope you know this, that how long you served was irrelevant, and your courage to venture out is inspiring to me. Hang in there. email me sometime, I would love to share a few thoughts with you.


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