- Brethren, in the best of all worlds and in those circumstances where it can be done, a monthly visit in each home is still the ideal the Church would strive for. But realizing that in many locations around the world achieving such an ideal is not possible and that we cause those brethren to feel like failures when we ask them to do what cannot realistically be done, the First Presidency wrote to the priesthood leaders of the Church in December 2001, giving this inspired, very helpful counsel: “There are some locations in the Church,” they wrote, “where … home teaching to every home each month may not be possible because of insufficient numbers of active priesthood brethren and various other local challenges.” We’ve mentioned some of them. “When such circumstances prevail,” they go on, “leaders should do their best to use the resources they have available to watch over and strengthen each member.”
He acknowledges that there are challenges in many parts of the world. He then offers some practical advice on how to reach the people we are responsible for.
- While working through our schedule to visit all homes, which may take some months to accomplish, we would make other kinds of contact with the individuals and families on our list via any of the means the Lord has provided. Certainly we would watch for our families at church and, as the scripture says, would “speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” In addition, we would make phone calls, send emails and text messages, even tap out a greeting through one of the many forms of social media available to us. To help address special needs, we might send a scriptural quote or a line from a general conference talk or a Mormon Message drawn from the wealth of material on LDS.org. In the language of the First Presidency, we would do the best we could in the circumstances we faced with the resources available to us.
He encourages us to think outside the box. For years we have thought that the only way to do home teaching is to rush at the end of the month to give our lesson to a family who has already heard it. He encourages us instead to take our caring to another level and show support and love for our families by addressing their individual concerns and needs.
- Brethren, the appeal I am making tonight is for you to lift your vision of home teaching. Please, in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children. That means leaving behind the tradition of a frantic, law of Moses–like, end-of-the-month calendar in which you rush to give a scripted message from the Church magazines that the family has already read. We would hope, rather, that you will establish an era of genuine, gospel-oriented concern for the members, watching over and caring for each other, addressing spiritual and temporal needs in any way that helps.
I love the clarity that Elder Holland uses when he talks about numbers. We need to look at home teaching as a way to reach souls instead of a required monthly visit. So if you have reached someone's soul through whatever means, he says it "counts."
- Now, as for what “counts” as home teaching, every good thing you do “counts,” so report it all! Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location. What matters is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment “to watch over the church always.”
Finally, he asks us one last time to take our responsibility to a new level. He encourages us to see ourselves on the Lord's errand and to love His children instead of seeing them as an assignment.
- My brethren of the holy priesthood, when we speak of home teaching or watchcare or personal priesthood ministry—call it what you will—this is what we are talking about. We are asking you as home teachers to be God’s emissaries to His children, to love and care and pray for the people you are assigned, as we love and care and pray for you. May you be vigilant in tending the flock of God in ways consistent with your circumstances.
This talk is so inspiring. It really is a game changer in what is asked for and required for home teaching. I have thought lately that I need to set aside an hour a week to reach out to my families but to be creative in how I do it. So this week, I am going to email, next week I am going to text, and after that I am going to try to find all of them on Facebook. Instead of putting down that I was not able to reach several families because they wouldn't set an appointment to have me in their home, I am going to be in the phone, their email, and on their social media sharing a message of love and hope in the world we live. I see my focus changing from this talk and recognize I can do better at reaching out to those that our Heavenly Father expects me to support.