Preparing temporally for a mission begins with commitment. The first and most obvious step is determining that the prospective missionary is truly committed to going into the mission field. Social, peer or parental coercion may launch the missionary into the field, but it's quite possible the target will be missed and the missionary will end up coming home early. So, starting with the correct principle — a missionary who really wants to serve the Lord — is the beginning of building an eventually successful mission.
Earning money is a part of proper temporal preparation. Making sure that the future missionary begins to earn and save early is a key form of temporal commitment. Parents who subsidize the cost of the mission, or do not expect the future missionary to make a significant contribution toward his own mission deny him the opportunity to make a true commitment to his mission.
Proper physical preparation is very important. Read the article by Dr. Donald Doty in the March 2007 issue of the Ensign about the importance of getting physically ready for a mission. Unprepared missionaries who go out are abruptly forced into much more physical exercise than they may be able to tolerate. A missionary who stays up half the night in recreational situations, who is overly infatuated with computer games, or who gets little or no exercise is truly in for a shock when he gets into the mission field. Walking, running, bicycling and swimming are all good ways to begin getting physically fit.
Learning social skills is often overlooked in temporally preparing for a mission. How much focus is given to learning to be a good communicator with adults and not just same-age friends? What is the value of learning about a firm handshake, good eye contact, and a genuine smile? What about table manners? How often do we see missionaries sit down at the table, not knowing what a napkin is for, or how to properly use their eating utensils, or who wrap their arms around their plates as if somebody was going to steal their food? Missionaries who exhibit gracious and pleasant social skills will build confidence with members in their assigned wards, and that will mean the work will be easier for them to accomplish.
Refining presentation and speaking skills is a helpful step toward building confidence for the new missionary. We seem inclined to begin sacrament meeting talks with apologies, or lamenting the fact that we were asked to speak, or joking that the bishop roped us into talking. Somebody once said that speaking in sacrament meeting is a privilege and a cherished opportunity to help ourselves and others build testimonies. So, if we expect our missionaries to be effective when called on to speak in sacrament meetings and present discussions to investigator groups, it would seem we should set the example and also encourage them to be good presenters. There are speech classes in school. Missionaries have the opportunity to cope with self-presentation situations if they are encouraged to learn the art of public speaking.
Who is chiefly responsible for outfitting a missionary? If it is the parents, there is less commitment by the missionary. Who selects the missionary outfitter? Who decides on the suits and clothing accessories? Who researches and orders the bike if one is required? If the future missionary is experienced in how to shop for values, quality, and selection, it will put him quantum steps ahead of many missionaries who go out having been totally ministered to by their parents.
Knowing how to be self-reliant is very important. Can the missionary make his bed without waiting for somebody else to do it? Is he ready to manage his own personal hygiene including keeping his clothes properly laundered or dry cleaned? Has he been taught to watch his own health while attempting to avoid situations that may bring unwanted colds or flu? Does he know that he is the one who is expected to keep his apartment and room clean? The Lord has taught us that we are to keep our houses in order — that includes our missionaries. Have you thought about having the future missionary prepare the family shopping list and then head to the store to buy the groceries? That would be a practical method to refine skills that will be needed in the mission field.
There have been effective ward and stake missionary preparation classes provided by local leaders with the intent to temporally prepare their missionaries for the mission field. An example is a stake in Arizona that conducted weekly classes for prospective missionaries that involved such events as a meal being prepared by the relief society and served with the intent to emphasize proper table manners and personal conduct at the table. You may be able to help organize such a class in your ward or branch.
Send future missionaries out with missionaries in your ward. One of the best ways to learn about being a missionary is to be with missionaries. Encourage your future missionary to spend every minute possible with the missionaries in your ward. Suggest he go with the missionaries to teach investigators, that he spend mornings in scripture study with them. Propose that he be involved in their planning, and go to correlation meetings with them. The more he works with the missionaries, the better prepared he will be for the routine of living a missionary lifestyle.
A final comment for parents — you love your new missionary and you are justifiably proud of him. The best way you can truly help him toward a successful mission is by making him self-reliant and less dependent on you. Parents who lead their sons and daughters through school and guide them to successful accomplishments may not really be helping them in the long run if they haven't taught them self-sufficiency at the same time. And, keep this in mind — you will worry much less about your new missionary if you have given him the tools to be successful without always needing your influencing hand in his daily activities. When he is gone, you will no longer be able to help him temporally, but you can certainly help prepare him ahead of time, and then it only remains for you to pray for him when he is on his own.