During the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson made the unexpected announcement that eligibility for missionary service would be open to younger ages. This is the relevant wording:
“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.”
There have been further explanations of the policy and plenty of explorations on Mormon blogs about the ripple effects of the change. I don’t have much more to add, but I do have one thing to say.
One part of missionary preparation is the blessing of attending the temple. In some ways, the excitement and adventure of a mission can mean we gloss over the important temple covenants which take place around the same time. The policy change means many more members will experience the temple at a younger age. It also means the temple will be coupled with missionary service for more members than ever before.
In light of those facts, I’d like to add my voice as a reminder that temple commitments should be made by individual choice and determination. It’s one thing to encourage sharing the gospel. It’s quite another to push a young person toward making eternal temple covenants before they are fully ready to live up to their requirements. I think that experiencing the temple spiritually or emotionally unprepared can result in a lifetime of disappointment. Attending the temple and making solemn covenants therein due to pressure from the ward, parents, or peers would be an unnecessary tragedy.
And that’s the reminder I’d like to add to thoughts about the age of missionary service. The available age options are a blessing. Temple covenants are a blessing. Missionary service is a blessing. As a community of saints, we can express our trust in the Lord’s timing for our young brothers and sisters by giving them plenty of space to exercise their option freely. Attending the temple prepared is a better goal than getting on a mission as quickly as possible.
PS: If you’re interested, I wrote a post about Temple Prep last year. Find it here.