It’s nearly 10 years since I served my mission to Scotland. Things have changed significantly since then. The recent changes to the age of missionary service along with the shift in focus and technology seem to make modern missionary work almost unrecognisable from what it was in previous decades. The days of memorising discussions by rote are long gone (thank goodness!).
Maybe it’s because I’m stuck in the past, but I really can’t get my head around the two latest developments for missionary work: Facebook and iPads.
First, why on earth missionaries need to spend any time on Facebook is beyond me. The challenge of David O. McKay was that every member should be a missionary and my Facebook timeline testifies that enough normal members take their proselyting through social media seriously enough that the keyboard army of missionaries simply isn’t needed.
Secondly, what is the actual purpose of the iPad which missionaries are now being routinely equipped with. I’ve heard two reasons given: an organisational tool and a teaching aid. As a professional educator who runs a department with 7 staff and a £10,000+ resource budget, the iPad is incredibly bad value for money. Technology in education needs to be used to supplement secure teaching practice, not replace it. From my experience in the field and since then during splits it’s clear that most missionaries lack simple teaching skills such as writing a lesson plan, organising resources, creating engagement and differentiating materials. Zone conferences and District meetings tend to focus on organisational and doctrinal matters. I can count on one hand the number of times teaching skills were taught during my two years in the field. Educationally, the iPad is a potential disaster as young missionaries lean on the visual aids, videos and technology even more, further neglecting deficiencies in teaching skills.
Organisationally, technology has great benefits, and I love having a smartphone with synced calendar, contacts and email. An iPad to solve this problem is a nut and sledgehammer situation. A simple $50 smartphone solves that problem. Even then it could be argued that it’s a problem that doesn’t exist since paper planners aren’t causing widespread organisational issues.
The real cost of these programmes is not what they do, but the alternatives. I would much rather see missionaries spend time helping and serving than using social media. Limits to the amount of time that missionaries can provide service need to end. If a mission really is about serving then this should be the #1 priority for their time rather than being heavily pressured to baptise as fast as procedurally possible. Even more concerning is the cost of the iPad rollout. A little internet research (from LDS published sources) shows that on average between 1985 and 2009 the church donated around $13m cash per year to humanitarian aid causes. That same amount of money will buy just over 25,000 iPads. Since there are close to 40,000 missionary companionships in the world it is conceivable that this year the church will give more money to Apple Inc than it does in Humanitarian Aid.
The biggest winner from these new policies is certainly based in Cupertino, California.