Cain asked the Lord after his transgression, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord has answered that inquiry by supplying, in every age in which his will has been manifest to mankind, a system of being our brother’s keeper.
In the days of Adam and the early patriarchs, fathers were called upon to exercise their patriarchal responsibilities to watch over their families, both spiritually and temporally. The fathers continued in this capacity until the time of Moses. Moses was instructed to use the Levites as priests and religious teachers to supplement the efforts of the fathers to care for their families.
During the New Testament era, Christ brought back the higher gospel and the higher priesthood. He instructed his Apostles to ordain priests and teachers and to give them the charge to teach the people. As another witness of the Restoration, of course, the program to care for our brother would be one of the first revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. As the Church was organized in April of 1830, the Lord instructed the Prophet as contained in the 20th section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.
“The teacher’s duty is 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;
“And see that the Church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.
“They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” (D&C 20:51, 53–55, 59.)
Over the years the name and program have found different ways of presentation. It has been called block teaching, ward teaching, and, currently, home teaching. Volumes have been written giving instructions; thousands of hours have been spent delivering messages. Yet still we struggle to get up to an acceptable standard of performance.
I would like to focus your attention on three fundamental areas of home teaching:
1. The home teacher. I quote from a talk given by President Marion G. Romney in a Priesthood Home Teaching Seminar held 9 August 1963:
“Three things should be kept in mind in thorough preparation for home teaching. First, a knowledge of those whom you are to teach. … Each pair of home teachers should become intimately acquainted with every child, youth, and adult in the family to whom they are assigned, and have in them the same personal interest they have in members of their own families. When this is accomplished, it will be a long step towards the accomplishment of our objective. It will be a tremendous lift to the Church to just get the home teachers to become so acquainted.
“As each family is different from one another, so each individual in the family differs from others. Methods and messages should vary according to each individual and his problems and needs. How different will be the performance of the home teacher acting under this concept from that of the so-called teacher who once called at my home on a cold night just before Christmas. Hat in hand, which he refused to let me hang up, he shifted nervously when I asked him to sit down and give us his message. ‘Well, I’ll tell you, Brother Romney,’ he responded, ‘it’s cold outside and I left my car engine running so it wouldn’t stop. I just stopped in so I could tell the bishop I have made my calls.’
“To perform fully our duty as a home teacher, we should be continually aware of the attitudes, the activities and interests, the problems, the employment, the health, the happiness, the plans and purposes, the physical, temporal, and spiritual needs and circumstances of everyone—of every child, every youth, and every adult in the homes and families who have been placed in our trust and care as a bearer of the priesthood, and as a representative of the bishop.
“Second, a knowledge of what they are to teach. Home teachers should have a feeling of urgency about the importance of knowing and living the gospel. Our lives are fleeting, and we must live the gospel while we are here. There is no other way to check the downward trend of society. Even though there may not be enough people who accept and comply with the principles of the gospel to save the nations, still thousands and millions of individuals will be saved, if they live the gospel. Hence, the urgency. This we must get over to the people. It isn’t enough to merely engage in some activities in the Church. We must have a knowledge of the gospel and dedicate our lives to living it. This we must teach. It is therefore the home teacher’s duty to teach that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world. That’s the thing that counts, and that Joseph Smith and his successors are Prophets of God, and that the gospel has been restored, and to prepare our Father in heaven’s children to receive the sacred ordinances of the gospel.
“Third, a knowledge of how we’re going to teach. This brings us to a consideration of the method by which we can get the saints to accept and profit by what the Church offers for their benefit by way of knowledge and training in the gospel. If we may take some language from the Doctrine and Covenants and apply it to this purpose, the home teachers should ‘visit the house of each member’ and ‘teach, expound,’ and exhort each to pray vocally and in secret; to attend to all family duties and ‘watch over the Church always, and be with and strengthen them’—and this means always—however, and whenever, and with whatever may be necessary. (See D&C 20:51, 50, 53.)
“Home teaching is a divine service, a divine call. It is our duty as home teachers to carry the divine spirit into every home and heart. To love the work and do our best will bring unbounded peace, joy and satisfaction to a noble, dedicated teacher of God’s children.”
We must recognize individual differences. No two families assigned are just alike. There are, of course, two broad categories which need consideration to have effective home teachers. The first is the active family, the second is the inactive family. The approach to each of these categories must be planned, organized, and executed differently.
2. The home teacher as the bishop’s representative. In the home teaching program the line of communication to members goes from the bishop to the priesthood leader to the home teacher, and then to the family. Thus, the home teacher becomes the representative of the bishop to the member. This is the mainline channel of communication. We would encourage stake presidencies and bishops to use this channel to send messages from the leadership to the members. The more information and direction the home teacher receives, the more effective will be his visit. Do not be reluctant to encourage priesthood leaders to send messages and instructions to the members through the home teaching line. This will also help families to turn to their home teachers as a source of reliable information, which will help to strengthen their relationship. One way to do this is to encourage home teachers to consider using the “Ideas for Home Teachers” that accompany each First Presidency Message printed in the Ensign.
The home teacher is to stay in contact with the membership of the Church. The lost membership problem continues to multiply; and our only hope of remaining in contact with members of the Church is to hold the home teacher accountable for the members to which he is assigned.
A priesthood bearer is not a ready-made home teacher simply as a result of priesthood ordination. He must be taught how to be an effective home teacher. In the priesthood executive committee meeting, the bishop has opportunity to train quorum leadership. In quorum meetings, the quorum leadership has opportunity to train home teachers. And in a personal priesthood interview, the home teaching supervisor has opportunity to individually train the home teacher. We have built into our system opportunities to train this vital link between the bishop and the members of his ward.
An effective ward home teaching structure will utilize the following organizational principles:
Workload. Back in the early 1900s when the ward teaching program was first introduced, the workload assignment was eight families. It was found to be too heavy and was soon reduced to six. This was still too much. Three to five was found to be all that could be expected of an effective home teacher. Yet some sixty years later we find wards where the ratio of active priesthood to families is far from satisfactory. The problem of having units with a shortage of active Melchizedek Priesthood members to teach families probably will only increase in the years ahead. Single-parent families resulting from death or divorce and the imbalance of males and females in the Church continue to increase. We must learn how to deal with this problem. There is no pat answer; every ward is constituted differently. But assigning unreasonable workloads of six, seven, eight or more families has proven not to be a satisfactory answer.
Span of control. Just as it is wrong for a home teacher to be assigned a workload beyond his ability to perform, so it is wrong to assign to a quorum or a group more than the leadership is capable of controlling. The bishop has a right to deploy his manpower to gain the most efficient usage. It is not efficient to assign 70 or 80 percent of the families of the ward to the elders quorum unless they have the strength and the ability to effectively accomplish that workload. It is not efficient for a high priest to drive twenty miles to visit another high priest and then for an elder to drive twenty miles to visit a prospective elder living next door to that high priest.
Of course we want to maintain the integrity of quorum visits to quorum members as much as possible. However, there is in every ward of the Church a large number of prospective elders and single sisters who can be assigned to high priests and seventies, as well as to elders, to equalize the workload. The correlation of their assignments can be accomplished in the priesthood executive committee meeting.
3. The role of the home teacher with the father and family.
In a manual of instruction for the priesthood home teachers published in 1967, the role of the family was emphasized. It stated, “A family is usually headed by a father who is often a member of some priesthood group. He, with his wife, has the responsibility to teach the Gospel to the children of the family and, through the quorum, to function as a priesthood holder.” 1 The correlation of family activities may be implemented by the father and mother, supported and sustained by the priesthood group.
Home teachers have an obligation and responsibility to assist parents in the teaching of their families. It was never intended to replace that responsibility. Elder Harold B. Lee, in addressing this subject, said: “The priesthood is to teach the family, or the parents, what their responsibility is with respect to their children. ‘… and be with and strengthen them.’ (D&C 20:53.)
“Priesthood bearers are to preach, teach, and expound the gospel and to see that there is no iniquity, hardness with each other, lying, backbiting. In short, priesthood bearers are to see that all members do their duty. That is the priesthood assignment.
“A letter from the First Presidency gave us the key to the whole correlation program in this one paragraph: ‘The home is the basis of the righteous life. No other instrumentality can take its place nor fulfill its essential functions.’” 2
It should be obvious that a very close relationship must exist between the home teacher and the head of the household. In addition to carrying messages from the stake and ward leadership, the home teacher is to consult with the father to determine how he can support the parents in the training of their children.
I came across a stake home teaching program not so long ago wherein it seemed they had analyzed their home teaching ineffectiveness very well. Their problems were found to be social, unplanned, often purposeless visits; not helping, not using the ward’s resources to help; routine visits rather than rational; and being percent-oriented rather than results-oriented.
It was determined that specific objectives should be established for the home teaching program centered on assisting the father to improve his capability as the priesthood leader in his home. In looking for a beginning point they determined to use the Welfare Services six areas of personal and family preparedness.
Each home teacher was given one of the welfare services wheels calling attention to six areas in which a family should be concerned in order to become self-sufficient: career development, literacy and education, financial and resource management, home production and storage, physical health, social-emotional and spiritual strength. In a discussion between the home teacher and the father, a selection would be made of one of the six areas in which the family was in most urgent need of assistance. The home teacher and the father would decide on an approach in which the home teacher could assist the family in becoming more proficient in this particular area.
For example, the father might select the area of social, emotional and spiritual strength. Obviously, the home teacher by himself could not be an expert in all areas. His quorum had developed a support system to back him up. Thus, if he found an area in which he needed additional support, the quorum had a model or a system and some expertise to give him that assistance. In using this approach, the stake made it possible for people to ask for help in a “face-saving” way, and the home teachers delivered help by utilizing ward resources. Thus, a well-organized home teaching approach made a tremendous contribution in assisting families in that particular stake on the road to self-sufficiency.
May God bless our efforts in this inspired priesthood activity. I know from personal experience the joys and blessings home teachers can bring to the lives of the Saints under their care.