The Mission of Mormonism
The word mission in Mormonism can have three distinct, but related meanings. The first and most general meaning is that of goal, as used in the phrase the Three-fold mission of the Church. This refers to the Mormon Church's mission to bring all unto Christ through perfecting the Saints (i.e. members of the Mormon Church), preaching the Gospel through missionary work, and redeeming the dead (see Baptism for the Dead).
The second and third meanings of mission, as used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are related. Both refer to full-time missionary work. Mission in this case can mean either the geographic area in which Mormon missionaries proselyte, or the service itself. Returned Mormon missionaries refer to their term of service as their mission.
Each mission is presided over by a mission president who is a Melchizedek Priesthood holder called to fulfill a three-year term of service. Unlike the missionaries themselves (who support themselves or whose families support them during their missionary service), the mission president is a volunteer with basic financial needs met by the Church. A mission president is almost always married and brings his family with him during his tenure as president.
The mission president is assisted by two counselors who are also Melchizedek Priesthood holders, but live in the local community. He also has two missionary assistants, called assistants to the President or APs, who help teach and oversee the missionaries. The mission is subdivided into zones and districts with zone and district leaders chosen from the missionaries serving there. This facilitates communication and teaching. Regular conferences are held at each level (hence district conferences, zone conferences, and mission conferences) to provide instruction for the missionaries and to conduct interviews and inspections of mission property, such as apartments and automobiles, if the mission uses them. Each mission typically has 70 to 80 companionships of missionaries.
Mormons typically refer to the time spent serving as a missionary as a mission. Returned missionaries (RMs) refer fondly to their mission. For a Mormon who serves a mission, it is a time of both extreme growth and extreme challenges. Most RMs say their mission was the most difficult thing they ever did, but also the most rewarding. A mission is a sacrifice and Mormons believe that great blessings only come through great sacrifice. Sadly, some see only the difficulties and challenges and dislike their missions, but the vast majority of Mormon missionaries love their time of service and see the great benefits such service brings to them.
See also Mormon missionaries.
Mission as a church unit
The term Mission can also be used to refer to a specific unit of the Church. Currently there are 339 missions in the church.
They vary greatly in size, number of missionaries serving, administrative responsibilities, and numbers of both members and those of other faiths within their boundaries.
Under the current system, missionaries are called to specific missions, where in theory they will labor their entire time as a missionary. However, due to issues of health, boundary changes, and difficulties in gaining visas to go to certain areas, some missionaries serve in more than one mission.
Originally, missionaries were sent out from where the Saints were and led by the spirit where to go. There are many accounts in the Doctrine and Covenants of missionaries who were called to go to areas such as "the east" or "by way of Detroit" on a journey to Missouri (Doctrine and Covenants 52:8). At other times the direction was even more general to go and preach the gospel, the direction not being important (Doctrine and Covenants 75:26).
It was not until the opening of the British mission in 1837 that an organized mission existed. This mission early on had a president with counselors, and was divided into Conferences, the predecessor of modern Districts.