Brother Callister: Are We Reaching, Not Just Teaching?
Contributed By Brother Tad R. Callister, Sunday School General President
- Brother Callister said that teachers have a responsibility to fellowship those who are lost.
- The Savior taught the principle of never giving up in our reactivation efforts.
- Teachers should also seek to know why the lost won’t come to church.
“I believe that when you care, when you love, when you pray—yes, when you have a supreme interest in others—we don’t need to teach you the mechanics of activation—they will come by the Spirit.” —Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone
Go get the lost
As a young man, President David O. McKay enjoyed a story that appeared in one of his schoolbooks. The author described some youth sailing down a river toward Niagara Falls. The man on the shore cried: “Young men, Ahoy, the rapids are below you! The rapids are below you!” Nonetheless “they heeded not his warning call until they realized too late that they were in the midst of the rapids. With all the power at their command, they failed to turn their boat upstream. ‘So,’ said the man, ‘shrieking and yelling, over they went!’”
President McKay said that this story left an indelible impression upon him, but somehow it seemed incomplete. He noted that it is one thing for a leader or teacher to stand on the shore and cry, “Young men, Ahoy, there is danger ahead.” It is quite another to get into a boat, row out to them, and with all the kindly force and persuasion one can muster cause them to turn upstream. One of our duties and privileges as teachers is not just to teach the active, but to go get the lost and turn their boats upstream.
In association with priesthood and auxiliary leaders, there is much a teacher can do to help reactivate the lost. Like the Savior, teachers can pray by name for the one. The Savior felt this was important enough that the scriptures record His prayer for the one: “But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). The inspired teacher can invite the less-active to participate in part of the lesson and, in addition, make phone calls, send emails and texts, and make home visits to those who do not attend to let them know they are loved and missed and needed.
I recall a couple in our stake who visited the home of every family who had a child in their Primary class. They met with the parents and explained what they would be studying the coming year and asked for the parents’ input and support. One of the parents, thrilled with the visit, came to me and said, “Have you ever had a teacher of one of your children visit your home?” The truth was I could not recall such a case. Suffice it to say, those parents were anxious to be supportive of that teacher, and that teacher was anxious to be supportive of those parents.
One Gospel Doctrine teacher, Mary Menlove, told of the spiritual impression she had to reach out to those in her class:
“I was at stake conference and listened to a talk regarding a Primary teacher’s influence on her class members. The Spirit testified to me that day that just as a Primary teacher needs to watch over their flock, … the Gospel Doctrine teacher needs to do so as well. I thought of several friends in the neighborhood who are nonmembers or less active. I’ve tried to invite them to the lessons that I teach and remember that Heavenly Father has given me this sacred responsibility.”
What an army for good all teachers could be if they reached out in love to those who do not attend.
Never give up
The Savior taught the principle of never giving up in our reactivation efforts. He spoke of the good shepherd who had a hundred sheep but lost one of them in the wilderness. Then the Savior asked the pointed question: “What [teacher] of you … doth not leave the ninety and nine … and go into the wilderness after that which is lost, until he find it” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 15:4 [in Luke 15:4, footnote a]; italics added).
I have been intrigued by the phrase “until he find it.” This search was not a casual scanning of the area, not a one-shot attempt that ended at nightfall or when the first cold came; rather, this was an intense, all-out rescue that continued despite the inclement weather or wild beasts until the sheep was found and brought safely home. No doubt we will face one or more obstacles in our reactivation efforts, but the Lord has counseled us to never give up: “For unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, … and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them” (3 Nephi 18:32).
Of course, some teachers, such as Gospel Doctrine teachers, may have more lost sheep than is reasonably possible for one man or woman to rescue. In these circumstances, the Lord expects us to use good judgment and focus on those who may be the most receptive and to invite other class members to assist. Even when the number of less-active members seems overwhelming, our efforts can make a significant difference, one by one, for in the end that is how we are all saved—one by one.
Search out the cause
Often the challenge is not in finding the lost one, but in determining the cause for one’s inactivity. The scriptures record of Job’s goodness: “I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him,” and then this key line: “And the cause which I knew not I searched out” (Job 29:12, 16; italics added).
Perhaps one interpretation of this is that Job would not be content with the fact someone said, “No, I don’t want to go to church.” He would not be content until he knew the root cause—the why—so he could address the real problem and not some superficial one. Was the lack of attendance due to an absence of friends, a feeling of unworthiness, inadequate clothes, a lack of the Spirit, or a previous bad experience? It is difficult, if not impossible, to discover the right solution if we do not first know the root cause of the problem. As we, like Job, search out the cause, it will open the doors to enhanced revelation about what we can do to help.
Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone once said, “I believe that when you care, when you love, when you pray—yes, when you have a supreme interest in others—we don’t need to teach you the mechanics of activation—they will come by the Spirit.” That is good counsel for all of us who are teachers. Let us leave the comfort of our “shores” and by the Spirit go get the lost until we bring them safely home. May reaching, as well as teaching, be a significant part of our call as teachers.