Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When You Hear the Word "Mormon," Do You Think "Home Teaching"?

If you know anything about the contemporary Mormon experience, you know that polygamy ended over a century ago and that ceaseless questions about our underwear reveal more than just bad taste in those who don't even reach the skin-deep level in their knowledge.

The Mormon experience is about being part of a community that seeks to follow Christ in a covenant relationship. The community aspect is more than just the theoretical understanding that we are all brothers and sisters of a Heavenly Father who, as Paul said, is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10). It means we are active participants in our congregation, the "ward," where we all have opportunities to serve one another in unpaid callings ranging from leaders like bishops and Stake Presidents to teachers, choristers, clerks, counselors, Scoutmasters, etc.

The most ubiquitous calling in the Church may also be the most important: that of the home teacher for men, and the visiting teacher for women. These callings are generally extended to every active and some inactive adult members of the Church. These callings assign pairs of men or pairs of women as companionships responsible for a number of other people. The home teachers, for example, typically are assigned to three or more families or individuals and are asked to visit them monthly and watch out for them. It is a program felt to be at the core of the LDS experience, and one of the most important ways that we fulfill our commitment to follow Christ. "Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep." Home teaching is all about feeding one another, sometimes literally, but usually spiritually and through fellowship.

In one common scenario, an adult Melchizedek Priesthood holder and a younger Aaronic Priesthood holder (a Teacher or a Priest, often age 14-18) may be assigned as companions to visit perhaps three or four families. They should go monthly and see how the family is doing, provide a spiritual thought or lesson, or provide service. Good home teachers really bless the lives of their people, but it's always a challenge getting members to really live up to the potential of the sacred calling of home teacher.

A basic discussion can be found in the article "Home Teaching" by R. Wayne Boss in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2:
Each ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigns priesthood holders as home teachers to visit the homes of members every month. They go in pairs. . . . The home teaching program is a response to modern revelation commissioning those ordained to the priesthood to:

"teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church . . . and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties, . . . to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; and see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking. . . ." [D&C 20:42-54]

In 1987 Church President Ezra Taft Benson identified three basic guidelines to be followed by home teachers:

First, Church leaders are to encourage home teachers to know as well as possible the people they are called to teach. Home teachers need to be aware of individual attitudes, interests, and general Welfare, working closely with the head of each family to meet the family's temporal and spiritual needs.

Second, the Church expects home teachers to deliver a short monthly message. When possible, messages are to come from the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Leaders are to instruct home teachers to prepare intellectually and spiritually, giving prayerful consideration to both the temporal and spiritual needs of each family as they prepare lessons. The companionship of the Holy Ghost is essential for successful home teaching, for "if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach" (D&C 42:14). The Church instructs home teachers, therefore, to pray together before each visit, invoking the blessings of the Lord upon the family, and, where possible, to pray with family members at the conclusion of the visit.

Third, home teachers are to magnify their callings (Jacob 1:19) by rendering devoted service. This includes visiting each family early in the month, by appointment, and making additional visits as needed.

Organizationally, home teaching provides a system for effective Churchwide communication. Through stakes, wards, and home teachers, Church leaders have a direct line to every member and have the potential, if necessary, to communicate quickly with the total Church membership, via the local priesthood leaders.

Effective home teaching makes significant contributions to members' lives. Alert, insightful home teachers find various ways of rendering service, such as providing recognition for achievements; informing families of Church activities; assisting during family emergencies, including illness or death; strengthening and encouraging less active members; and arranging transportation. They serve as resources and share the burden of support that would otherwise be carried by the bishop.

Home teaching is a crucible, of sorts. It is direct, fully engaged service and a genuine sacrifice in this busy world, even for those who (often mercifully) keep their visits short and efficient. It is a way to help those in need, to keep less active members tethered to their roots, to bring back lost sheep, to help families going through crisis, to provide the teachings of the Church to those who aren't coming, and to bless the lives of others in many ways.

For fathers who are raising young men, the experience of getting teenagers involved in serving others at personal level can help young people see the fruits of the Gospel more clearly and strengthen their understanding of their own faith.

Many of my most cherished spiritual experiences and even dramatic answers to prayers, some clearly in the category of miraculous, came not when I was praying for my own benefit or trying to, say, raise my 401k a few percentage points with my incredible but misguided faith in my lousy investment choices. The real miracles of the Gospel seem to come much more often when we are seeking the Lord's help to fulfill our duty in serving others. Home teaching for men, and visiting teaching for women (with women being assigned to minister to other women in the congregation), is much closer to heart of the Mormon experience that anything you'll read in the anti-Mormon blogs. Yes we have our weaknesses - and we even wear underwear, to the everlasting shock of some voyeuristic critics - but if you want to know what it means to be LDS, if you want to understand this religion, then you need to know how our faith in Christ translates into regular action in the lives of members. Home teaching and visiting teaching are a big part of the big picture of Mormonism.

If you're not LDS, the next time you hear the word "Mormon," I hope you will recall home teaching and our participation in the fellowship of Saints (Ephesians 2: 18-20). And if you are curious about our religion and know someone who's LDS, you'll sound a lot more knowledgeable by asking about their views and experiences in home teaching or visiting teaching that asking a question like, "How many wives do you have?"

13 comments:

CubistSquared said...

Great thought. When people say they are LDS, now I can mosey up and say, "So, how many home teaching families do you have?"

Not quite as sensational as asking about wives, but maybe a bit more informed. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

If we aren't getting any visits from our home teachers, should we do anything? Is it appropriate to ask for a change? Don't want to cause trouble, but I would like my kids to know what home teaching is all about!

Nathan said...

I love to home teach. I've never had a problem with it. It's a divine program. If everyone were faithful in their home (and visiting) teaching the Church would be much stronger & more active.

And to your inquiry anonymous...I for one just tracked down the Elders Quorum President and told him my home teachers were AWOL since the first day I moved in to the ward 6 months ago. He either reassigned me new people or found out who they were. Now I know and I asked them when they were going to be by. Not that I need their service per se but we've all been commanded to do our Home (and visiting) teaching.

bunker said...

"Don't want to cause trouble, but I would like my kids to know what home teaching is all about!"

I agree. If you are a Priesthood holder I will say the best way to show your kids what HT is all about is to do it yourself. If you are a sister than visit teach. Maybe even give the message that should have been given to your family on FHE night. I haven't seen mine for years but what can I say? I am not offended. I just do mine and show my kids how it is done. Example, the best teacher.

Jack Meyers said...

Is every active priesthood holder in the church supposed to have a home teaching calling/assignment?

Also, is there any reason why it's called home teaching for men and visiting teaching for women? That's something I've simply never understood if it's the same function.

Mormanity said...

Jack Myers, I think the visiting teaching program for sisters came after home teaching as a priesthood function was established. Would make more sense if both had the same name, but the expectation/requirement for men is more formal - perhaps because they'd never do it otherwise, while women tend to get out and engage in service a little more spontaneously, IMO - as an priesthood responsibility and duty. Since the two programs are different in several ways and run through different organizations, I guess they need different names to avoid confusion.

If we were to rename these programs in 2009, what would we call them? That could be an interesting exercise.

Jack, kudos on your blog, BTW! The Clobber Blog displays some of the tantalizing tension between LDS and Evangelical views - very up close. Nice work!

Jack Meyers said...

I suggest last-day-of-the-month teaching.

I ask about whether every priesthood holder is supposed to have a home teaching assignment because my own husband does not have one. I asked him why this was, and he said he did not know, but he wasn't going to say anything about it because he didn't want one.

Mere oversight on the part of the elder's quorum president?

Thanks for the kind words on my blog. BTW, when I think of Mormons I think of the scene from the Simpsons where Homer sees Kodos & Kang coming up to his house and remarks, "Aw, great! Mormons!"

J said...

I was just reading about how the concept of home teachers was formed in the wonderful biography of David O. Mckay titled "David O. McKay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism."

In page 148 of the book, "David O. McKay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism", it describes that Harold B. Lee wrote in his journal saying that "I conducted a meeting of the Priesthood Committee where the principal item of business was to consider the final draft of a proposed overhauling ward teaching program of the past, under the new title of 'Priesthood Correlation Program' with those participating as 'Priesthood Watchmen.' Twelve or 14 stakes will be selected for the experiment before launching a Church-wide Program."

Harold B. Lee later explained at a Church Conference that David O. McKay vetoed the idea of calling home teachers "Priesthood Watchmen" because "we had better not let the membership of the Church think of the Priesthood as detectives, that it would be better to call them priesthood home teachers." (p.149)

Just to clarify for the record and for those who are not LDS, the home teaching program is not where members tattletale on other members to their leaders. Its an opportunity for people in the Church to serve and help people in their own congregation.

Joseph Antley said...

That reminds me...I still need to do my home teaching for this month. :/

Bookslinger said...

J: that was just a slight modification of home teaching done under Pres McKay. The concept goes back a lot farther, and used to be called "ward teachers".

Bookslinger said...

Anonymous in comment #2,

My suggestion, if you're a female, I would suggest to go to the bishop and tell him you don't have home teachers. If you're male, go to your EQ president.

J said...

Bookslinger, when did the concept of home teacher first begin? Reading from the McKay biography, I'm under the impression that "home teaching" originated under his Presidency.

Tony said...

I absolutely love my home teaching assignments. Thanks for sharing!