Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't we (already) have an app for that?

We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth. (Articles of Faith 1:6)
Most people who have been around the church for a while get a pretty clear view of how things work. The global organization is pretty centrally run – First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Seventies. Locally we have stake presidents and high councils, and bishops in our wards.

At the retail level, in the wards and branches, the heavy lifting is done in the day-to-day work of priesthood quorums and Relief Society. Quorums help folks move, cut lawns and trim trees for widows, visit and bless the sick. The Relief Society sends in meals, helps families in crisis manage home duties, and does its own work of visiting the sick and needy.

Some of this work comes by assignment in a ward council or priesthood executive committee meeting. Some is arranged by presidencies who see needs and fill them. Some is simply performed quietly by visiting teachers and home teachers who see needs and meet them. And some is done by caring neighbors who don’t wait for an assignment to be actively engaged in a good cause.

Still, in nearly every council of the church I’ve participated in at the ward and stake level, we’ve taken up the question of how to reach The One, how to rescue One Who Has Gone Astray, how to reach out to Youth In Need, how to build testimony where it is weak and how to lift up those hands that hang down. Sometimes I’ve led those discussions.

From time to time there will be a new program of choosing some number of families for a quorum or group to consider prayerfully for reactivation, priesthood advancement or temple preparation. Once in a while auxiliary and quorum leaders will be asked to identify in presidency meetings those who need extra attention and concern. And all of that is good. One doesn’t have to spend much time in President Monson’s recent biography to remember the value of reaching for The One.

What’s interesting to me, however, is that President Monson’s example is not in the creation of a new program. It’s in his personal efforts to reach out to The One. His visits to hospitals. His calling on his widows. His personal interviews. His hallway and sidewalk conversations.

Many times as I’ve sat in those ward and stake meetings, I’ve thought, “Isn’t this what home teachers are for?” (In fairness, I should as often have thought, “Isn’t this what visiting teachers are for?” but I didn’t for two reasons: first, I’m not a woman, so my thoughts don’t automatically go to visiting teaching, and second, in every unit of the church I’ve lived in, the visiting teachers ran circles around the home teachers, so -- right or wrong -- I automatically assigned deficiencies to home teaching.)

How much work of rescuing could be done by home teachers if they would just do it? And how much is being done? Probably a lot, over a long period of time.

Two examples:

1. A brother I know came back to church a few years ago after having been away nearly 30 years. His home teacher had visited him faithfully for years (like 5-10 years), and when he finally decided it was time to come back, he knew where to come because he knew his home teacher.

2. Another brother was my 20-something son’s home teacher. This particular son hasn’t been to church in nearly 10 years. This brother home taught him for a couple of years after my son moved out of our house on his own. My son moved from our town three or four years ago, but every time my son is in town, this brother arranges to have lunch with him. He’s still shepherding him, even years after his home teaching assignment ended.
I served a few years ago in a bishopric with a counselor who would regularly bring us back to what the Lord has given us instead of trying to reinvent the wheel: “Couldn’t the home teachers do that?” “Couldn’t we do that in ward council instead of having a special meeting?” “Does Brother Smith already have a connection to someone in the ward with whom he’s comfortable? Wouldn’t that be a good place to start?”

It wasn’t that this counselor was trying to squash innovation. He was happy to be guided by the spirit to do new things. But as often as not, the spirit guided him to use the tools the Lord had already given us.


  1. Thank you for this, Paul. I realize what inspired it, and your essay comes much closer to the reason I was asking my questions than the motives assumed by some others. We may need programs or policies to remind us regularly of what our duties are, but we need the heartfelt approach, not the filling of mechanically assigned quotas, to do what really needs doing.

  2. It's a thought that has been rolling around for a while, and I was glad to have the push to put pixel to screen, so to speak.

    An anecdote I did not include (but will now...):

    When I was a smart aleck college freshman, I visited my girlfriend's (she is now my wife and has helped me mature considerably in the intervening years) ward. In elder's quorum that week, they were talking about how to increase home teaching, and were recommending things like going out for ice cream after visits to make them more attractive. With all my youthful vigor, wisdom and indignation, I suggested we ought to make those visits out of love, not for ice cream.

    I was right, of course (I always was back then), but I was also pretty naive about the hard work that is home teaching for decades on end. Looking for ways to make it more effective isn't a bad thing.

  3. This really is a great post - there is much wisdom in focusing on basic principles, isn't there?