On one occasion during his mortal life, Jesus taught, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
“And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4–7.)
This picture illustrates the great worth of each individual in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
Today, as society escalates in complexity, many forces combine to cause an individual to feel unimportant and insignificant, sometimes reducing him to a number in government files, or on the university roster, or at the bank. As a result, he often senses that human life is trivial, little more than a bubble on the crest of a wave. Now, more than ever before, is the need for each individual to understand the love of a divine Father, in whose eyes he has an eternal place. More paramount than any discovery of science or glittering bit of worldly knowledge is the reinforcement of human worth given by the Lord through our Prophet Joseph Smith:
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16.)
A modern parable portrays a farmer who had a wheat crop that surpassed any he had known before. According to the account, he could think of nothing but the treasures he could buy with the money from his crop. Every day he would visit his fields, gloat over the wonderful sea of golden grain, and then come home and proudly tell his family how rich he would be.
This farmer had a little boy who was ill and who begged his father to take him to the fields so that he could see this vast expanse of ripening wheat. The father consented, bundled his son up, and took him out. Absorbed in the treasure that lay before him, the father did not immediately notice that his son was no longer by his side. Some time passed before he noticed the child missing and began searching about in the wheat, which was taller than his boy. Not finding him, the frantic father rushed to the village to summon the help of his neighbors. All rallied to his call, formed a huge circle by joining hands, and walked slowly forward, trampling the dense stalks until the body of the boy was found. Brokenhearted, the father mourned over the death of his son who was so dear to him. He realized the greater worth of one individual over the worth of monetary possessions. (Sidney H. Alexander, Jr., “Today’s Crises,” Vital Speeches, 1 Jan. 1963, pp. 185–86.)
As God’s children, we must also realize the great worth of each individual. In the Church we spend a great amount of money and much time in “saving our dead” and in sending thousands of our youth and other willing members to preach the gospel and gather those desiring to hearken to the voice of the good shepherd. We search for each individual who will accept our message.
But another important part of our efforts to find individual souls is the finding and regenerating of lost souls. This is not as simple as finding sheep. The tracks of sheep are more obvious and easier to trace than are the impulses and motives in the minds and hearts of lost members, too many of whom are indifferent to the spiritual values in the gospel plan of life. My concern is for those sons and daughters of God among us who are so often described as “inactive.” They constitute a valuable portion of our Church membership.
Often, the primary contact inactive members have with the Church is through the home teachers who work under the direction of the bishop and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorum leaders. My interest in this important home-teaching duty began early in my life.
When I was a young man preparing to go on a mission, I had an outstanding bishop. His name was Marion G. Romney, now a member of the First Presidency. In giving my companion and me a home-teaching assignment, Bishop Romney emphasized the importance of being humble and prayerful and of preparing a challenging, spiritual message. He promised us great joy in the opportunities to be found in this home-teaching assignment. We were asked to visit five families, three of whom were inactive. This home-teaching assignment was so important to Bishop Romney that his enthusiasm and concern for it soon became our own. His careful instructions on how to accomplish it were impressive, and we followed carefully his inspired counsel. After a number of visits, all our families, including those who were inactive, became very friendly; and ultimately, all became active members of the Church.
Bishop Romney had made this home-teaching assignment significant for us. He encouraged us to prepare carefully and to be serious about the results of our visits. He helped us to develop the desire and the faith that make the difference. He taught us that dull, mechanical compliance to any assignment dooms it to failure. He brought us to the realization that the first essential factor in successful home teaching to inactives is the home teacher himself. The home teacher’s own preparation, dedication, attitudes, and initiative are crucial.
Some years ago a friend of mine was called on a stake mission. His daily work was managing a sizable supermarket. One of his customers was an elderly woman of means and prestige in the community. My friend developed a genuine empathy for her, did everything he could to express his appreciation for her patronage, and tried to fill her every request; he made it a point to carry her groceries to her car, open the car door for her, and see her homeward bound. He always smiled, spoke kind and gracious words, and gave her a friendly wave of the hand. She loved him for his friendly, helpful expressions of good will.
To his surprise, he happened to knock on her door one night while tracting with his stake missionary companion. She opened the door cautiously at first, then, seeing who was there, opened the door wider and happily exclaimed, “What a pleasant surprise!”
He explained that he was not wearing his groceryman’s hat that night but was calling on her as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said in response that she had her own religion, that for years she had refused to listen to the representatives of the Mormon church and had no interest in its message. But she exclaimed, “With you, it is different. Please come in. I want to hear what you, a splendid Christian gentleman, have to say.”
That was only the beginning. We don’t need to tell the whole story. It is enough to say that she joined the Church and loves it—because her heart was softened by this outstanding Latter-day Saint.
His experience illustrates the second point to effectively reaching those who are supposedly unreceptive—build a bridge of friendship before the subject of religion and Church involvement is broached. A relationship first established on the basis of good feelings will help to dissolve fears, uncertainties, and antagonisms and will open doors to understanding and acceptance of the gospel.
A third fundamental in this exciting challenge of reclaiming the inactive is that of timing. The scripture rightly says:
“To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven:
“A time to be born, … a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” (Eccl. 3:1–2.)
My stake missionary friend had another convincing experience that taught him never to regard people as unchanging or unchangeable. They are neither stones nor stars. They are in constant motion.
A doctor rebuffed my friend in his attempts to serve as a home teacher. This doctor was a Church member in name only. His door seemed to be permanently and tightly closed to representatives of the Church. Then one evening my friend was visiting the hospital and was surprised and saddened to find in one bed the intractable doctor. He humbly and courageously asked, “Wouldn’t you like us to give you a blessing?”
“That, above all things right now, would help me most,” affirmed the doctor, weak and dispirited. And that, said my friend, was what it took to reactivate this heretofore inactive brother. It seems that for everyone there is a time—if only the Spirit of God sensitizes our hearts to the action we should take!
All of us have events in our lives that make us more receptive to change or help us to reevaluate our spiritual priorities. So it is with inactive members. The inactive families to whom you are assigned as home teachers may be more receptive when they have faced a specific hardship or when there is a significant event that takes place in their lives or in the lives of their children. Stay close to them and be prepared to be a spiritual influence in their lives when the time is right.
Spiritual conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important influence in motivating a person to become active. Focus your primary efforts in this area. Make arrangements with the quorum leader and the bishop to invite your inactive couples to a temple preparation seminar that is held at the ward or stake level. Attend the seminar with your assigned families and follow up during your visits by answering questions and encouraging their progress.
If your families are hesitant to attend a seminar, ask them for the opportunity to teach them about the principles of the gospel in weekly sessions where you and your companion would carefully present systematic instruction on gospel principles. Keep these sessions brief (thirty to forty-five minutes) and use as your curriculum the Temple Preparation Seminar Discussions (PBMP0101), the standard missionary discussions, or Gospel Principles (PBIC0245). Most families will respond positively to the opportunity to be taught the gospel in their homes.
Teach in the home without pressuring the family for commitments, contributions, or immediate changes in behavior. Allow them to grow in the truth that you present and to feel their own souls expanding and spiritual strength growing. They will often suggest their own goals and commitments as they learn more about the gospel.
Continue teaching weekly sessions in the home until the family becomes spiritually self-sustaining. This may take place in a matter of a few weeks, or it may require many months.
Focus on fathers, because when they become active they will generally influence the rest of their family members to do the same. Counsel with the father regarding your visits and activities with the family. Ask for his guidance, and honor his requests of you. When you are in his home, be directed by him regarding who should offer prayer, what subjects you teach, and what suggestions you make.
When appropriate, try to provide your assigned families with an opportunity to serve and be involved in one of the organizations of the Church. While they desperately need your love and service, they also need a chance to grow through their own service and involvement. Quorums should organize appropriate committees chaired by active Melchizedek Priesthood bearers who report regularly to the quorum presidency. In addition to two or three active brethren on each committee, an inactive brother could also be asked to serve. Frequently, inactive brethren who do not respond to a general invitation to attend Church will be receptive to a specific request to serve on a committee which takes into account their interests. In such a setting, they can build friendships, acquire gospel maturity, and gain increased self-confidence in spiritual, Church situations.
Your efforts to activate some families may require a long period of patient service, for “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” (Prov. 18:19.) People progress at their own rate, and some will require a longer period of time to become active. Be patient with them; this work takes time.
No single activation approach can reach everyone. The reasons some members are not active are as varied as the individuals themselves. Your plans to activate them must be made carefully and prayerfully, according to their need. The Lord alone knows the secrets to unlocking their hearts.
There are many members of the Church who need the strengthening influence of concerned brothers and sisters. While home teachers play a vital role in working with inactive members, all Church members and organizations have a portion of the responsibility. President Spencer W. Kimball has said:
“The cycles of inactivity and indifference are recurring cycles from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. We must break that cycle at two points simultaneously. We must reach out and hold many more of our young men and women to keep them faithful, to help them to be worthy to go on missions, and to be married in the holy temples. At the same time, we must reach and hold many more of the fathers and mothers.” (Regional Representatives Seminar, 30 September 1977.)
As we individually and organizationally reach out to our brothers and sisters, we should remember “‘Tis the human touch in this world that counts, … far more to the fainting heart than shelter and bread.” (Spencer Michael Frees, “The Human Touch,” A Treasury of Inspiration, ed. Ralph L. Woods, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1951, p. 327.) The human touch, to be sure, is the point of beginning for all effective home teachers, but also necessary is a “divine touch,” both for the teacher and for the taught.
In pursuing this duty with diligence, effectiveness, and cheerfulness, may we experience that joy which Jesus described:
“Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine … which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:6–7.)