John Divito was one of three people asked by Christianity Today to answer the question, “What Can Christian Leaders Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?”. He answered:
Put Christ First
John Divito is a former Mormon, a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and administrator for the Midwest Center for Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The impressive Mormon missionary response is not what it first appears. The recent surge is the fruit of young men and women being raised in Mormon culture. To understand the rise in those applying to become Latter-day Saint (LDS) missionaries, we first need to identify the root that produced the fruit.
Mormon culture is founded on a worldview requiring works in order to gain eternal life. The Book of Mormon teaches, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis mine). Contrast this with Ephesians 2:8–10, which reminds us we are saved by grace through faith apart from our works. Imagine being raised in an atmosphere where you’re told, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in your daily living (Matt. 5:48, KJV). Achieving eternal life is the outcome of obeying your church and its living prophet, and your progress is tracked by church leaders.
We must understand the call for Mormon missionaries in this context. Since missions is considered a priesthood duty for lds men, church leaders and family encourage all young men to respond to the call of service. While young women are not under the same mandate, they are also encouraged to serve. In either situation, Mormon missionary work is critical to one’s eternal future.
In light of this, we should not be surprised at the flood of applications that followed the lds First Presidency’s announcement that it was lowering the minimum age requirement for missionaries. These young people are eager to serve so they can earn God’s favor through their faithfulness.
The Mormon missionary surge should remind us of the empty promise of legalistic religious service. In fact, we can take a cautionary lesson from it, since a performance-based approach to Christianity easily finds its way into our evangelical churches.
We call our children to be obedient, but don’t point them to Christ, who was obedient for us. We call them to godly living, but don’t direct them to Christ as the substitute for our ungodliness. So when we urge our young men and women to serve sacrificially at home and abroad, the call is too often separated from the gospel. We’ve functionally taught them that the Christian life depends on what they do rather than who they are in Christ. This leads either to pride (“I can do it!”) or to despair (“I can’t do it!”).
Instead of encouraging missions by appealing to our young people’s need to serve or to the benefits they’ll gain, youth leaders should motivate them to gospel-centered service by guiding them to Christ. He has taken our unrighteousness and exchanged it for his righteousness through the Cross.
In Christ, we have the security and the strength to faithfully serve him in love. May our youth go into the world and make disciples of all nations, having been reconciled to God and entrusted with the message of reconciliation.
[source: Christianity Today]
Here is his testimony (or listen to a read out [6 minutes])