Bill Pringle - Bill@BillPringle
The title of my talk today is The Gospel in Action — Home and Visiting Teaching. I want to start by talking about the two greatest commandments.
In Matthew 22:36, a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. As were many of the questions posed by Jewish leaders, this question was an attempt to trap Jesus. Jewish leaders at that time had identified hundreds of commandments. A Jewish prayer shawl had fringes along the edges. Each fringe was supposed to represent a different commandment. Some fringes were larger than others, indicating that the corresponding commandment was somehow more important than others. Great debate went on over the relative importance of various commandments. Apparently, the hope of this lawyer was that by answering this question, Jesus would alienate those who felt that some different commandment was more important.
Matthew 22:37-40 records what Jesus said when asked about the greatest commandment:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
You might be interested in knowing that the phrase "all the law and the prophets" is actually referring to the Bible. The Jewish Bible was organized differently than Christian Bibles. It is divided into three main categories: The Law (which was the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible), The Prophets, which consisted of books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc,. And The Writings, which included books such as Psalms, Proverbs, and Songs of Solomon. All Israelites recognized The Law and The Prophets as scripture. However, certain groups, such as the Sadducees, did not recognize the Writings as scripture. So when Jesus used the phrase "all the law and the prophets", he was actually referring to those parts of the Bible that all Israelites considered scripture.
Jesus was saying that the entire Bible can be summed up in those two commandments. That makes lots of sense when we think about it. If someone we love asks us to do something, we will make every effort to do it for them. We do it not because we have to, but because we love them and want to make them happy. The more we love Jesus and our Heavenly Father, the more we want to make them happy. The more we want to do what they ask us.
Fortunately, it is very easy to understand what we have been asked to do. Difficult to do, but easy to understand. We are to love God with all our heart, and love others as we love ourself. Those are the two great commandments.
I maintain that they also describe Home and Visiting Teaching. In my opinion, the goal of Home and Visiting Teaching is for the people that you teach to know that you love them and care for them, and that they feel comfortable coming to you for help. If those two conditions are in place, then I believe that you are doing your home and visiting teaching.
I also want to emphasize that while I will be talking about home and visiting teaching, the same principles apply to interacting with others, whether they be neighbors, people you work with, callings in the church where you are serving others, etc.
Western culture tends to analyze too much and often gets caught in the details, while Eastern cultures tend to look at things in a more holistic approach. My favorite example of this is when an Eastern and a Western person stand side by side looking at a sunset. The Easterner says: "What a beautiful sunset", to which the Westerner replies, "Yes, see how to red blends into the yellow, and ..." The Eastern oriented person is content to enjoy the beauty of the scene, while the Western oriented person feels obliged to analyze it and define why it is beautiful.
There is really no difference between home and visiting teaching and loving others as you love yourself. In the same way that missionary work, reactivation of less actives, and temple work for the dead are all helping people enjoy the blessings of the gospel.
The recent changes in the church organization have recognized this fact. The members of the Branch Council are no longer merely representatives of their organization, but rather responsible for the welfare of the entire branch. All of us are responsible for helping each other grow in the Gospel.
In the latest World Wide Training session over this past weekend, it was mentioned that strengthening the church is done by strengthening the family. And strengthening the family can be done through effective home and visiting teaching.
President Koncurat brought out some interesting facts about our branch during Branch Conference. We have more inactive households than active and less active combined. If we want to strengthen our branch, it has to include finding the inactive members and getting them to attend regularly. We need to help them want to come to church and enjoy the blessings of the gospel. And one of the best ways to do this is through effective home and visiting teaching.
The standard description of home and visiting teaching is that you visit once a month, give a lesson, and ask if there is anything you can do for them. While that is certainly one way to do home and visiting teaching, I believe that there are many other ways that are just as effective, if not more so.
I would like to talk about some of those ways that we can make our home and visiting teaching more effective. I should emphasize that these are my thoughts, not any "official" description of home or visiting teaching. I believe that these principles and examples are true for me, but they may not really pertain to you. Each of us must find our own way to conform our lives to the Gospel. That is one of the things that makes the Mormon church so unique: although we usually agree on the principles, we may differ on how they apply to our lives, and how we can implement those principles. Each of us will have to stand before our Heavenly Father and account for our own actions. He will not be impressed by any "loop holes" that we found, or excuses that we might come up with to justify what we did in our lives. He will be able to see into our hearts and minds, and we will be judged accordingly. Did we really try our best to love God and others?
I should also emphasize the fact that I don't consider my self a particularly good home teacher. Almost all of my successes have come about because my wife had suggested something for me to do.
My first principle for good home or visiting teaching is that we should provide what the person wants. Suppose, for example, that the person is not comfortable having people into their home. Perhaps they are behind in their housework, or has a spouse who is "redecorating" the place, don't have enough seating areas, or any other reason. You are not helping them by continually trying to visit their home. If they aren't comfortable, then come up with another way to visit. Perhaps you could visit at church, or meet in a restaurant, or invite them over to your place.
I knew one person that had all of his home teaching families get together at a restaurant and talk over a meal. The conversations often included gospel discussions, and were a great fellowshipping tool. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and didn't feel any pressure about being singled out by their home teacher. As long as he also talked to each person individually during the month to make sure that there weren't any issues that they uncomfortable raising in the group, I felt he was doing a fine job at home teaching.
The best way to find out what people want is to ask them. But remember that how you ask them makes all the difference in the world. I have seen home teachers, as they are on their way out, standing on the front step, and then asking "Is there anything we can do for you?" The message is quite clear. That question was either an afterthought or they are hoping you will reply "No, nothing." Ask, and then ask again. Many people won't feel comfortable asking you for something if they think you don't really want to help. Or they won't want to ask because they don't want to inconvenience you. I home taught a sister when I was serving in South Philly, and she kept saying that she felt bad asking for things when I lived "so far away". I pointed out that not only was she closer than some of the people I home taught in my home ward, but that if she didn't ask me, she was preventing me from getting the blessings for helping her. Eventually she got the message, and to this day, she feels comfortable asking us for help, even though I am no longer her home teacher.
My second principle for effective home and visiting teaching is that we should provide what the person needs. I knew another man who was assigned to home teach a woman who had not been to church in a long time. When he first contacted her, she said that she didn't want home teachers visiting her. He asked her if he could write her a letter each month, and she agreed. The next month, he knocked on her door, handed her a letter, thanked her, and then left. Each month, the discussions through the screen door kept getting longer, and pretty soon he was inside the house home teaching her. What people want and what they need aren't always the same, so it is important to give them what they need in such a way that is compatible with what they want.
My third principle for effective home and visiting teaching is that everything you do should be adapted to them — their needs, wants, likes, dislikes, etc. There is no single way to do home or visiting teaching. In fact, there is no single way to do home or visiting teaching for an individual person. Don't be afraid to do things differently. Personally, I never give the same lesson to each family; I tend to tailor my lessons to the needs of each person or family I teach, even they are on the same topic.
We are trying to help them, and their wants and needs will change over time, so our teaching methods should change as well. I would like to give some more examples of different ways I have seen home and visiting teaching done.
I once was teaching a young woman who hadn't been active for a long time. She had joined the church with a good friend, but that friend no longer lived nearby, and so she sort of fell away into inactivity. She was quite receptive, and listened with interest to the lessons I presented, but I wanted to get her to study the scriptures more often. So I announced that I was trying something different. Each month, I would give her a topic for her to study, and the following month she would give me a report on what she had researched. We would discuss it, and then I would give her another topic for the following month. Whenever possible, I asked her to pick a topic that she wanted to research. Instead of me giving the lesson, she was giving it. She was getting a better lesson than I could have ever given, because she had studied the topic in depth, and of course when she gave her report, it helped her solidify the topic in her mind. The result was that she was reading the scriptures more, and felt the spirit more than she had previously.
I know of another family that would accept a home teacher as long as he didn't mention the church. The husband was a member, but had been inactive for some time. The wife was not a member and, in fact, was not a fan of the church. For many years, the home teacher visited and while he didn't talk about the church directly, the discussion often included gospel principles. After quite some time, the husband started attending church, and I believe that even the wife showed up every once in a while.
I had a person I home taught that did a lot of reading and studying, and always had lots of questions. I almost never prepared a lesson for him. I asked what he had been studying, and if he had any questions that I could answer. When he talked about what he had been reading, I would often ask him how the topic applied to his life — how could he adapt what he learned to making his life better. I firmly believe that while I was not technically teaching him a lesson, my approach was much more effective for him than any lesson I could have put together.
My fourth principle for doing effective home and visiting teaching is that you should get to know the entire family. Home teachers should already be doing this, since their responsibility is for the entire family. While a visiting teacher is mostly responsible for the welfare of a particular sister rather than a family, I have trouble believing that anyone in a family is unaffected by other family members. While there may be times when it is proper to concentrate on an individual separate from their family, I suspect those times are few and far between.
One example of how to use this principle is to get to know the kids in the family. Pay attention to them; don't just put up with them, ask them questions — find out what they like and what they do. Find something in common that you like, and use that to build a relationship. It is very difficult for a person to not like somebody who loves the people they love. If you love the kids — and especially if they love you back — the parents will pretty much have to like you. And if somebody likes you, it is much easier to be an effective home or visiting teacher.
The Twilight book series is a good (and somewhat embarrassing) example of sharing interests in the people you serve. When Linda was the Young Women President in South Philly, the Twilight series of books came out. For those who don't know, this is a series of four books that were written by an LDS author, although they are not church books. They are fantasy romance novels, and one of the main reason that vampires and werewolves are such hot topics amount teenage girls. Many of the girls were reading and talking about the books, so Linda started reading them so that she could understand what they were talking about and join in the discussions. Now, the embarrassing part is that I also read the books, and in fact enjoy the series better than Linda. It has helped both of us to relate to young women.
Facebook, texting, email, and voice mail are great ways to keep in touch with your families without having them feel pressure that you are making demands on their time. You are demonstrating love for them, and keeping the lines of communication open. Of course, this assumes they are comfortable with these technologies. If they aren't, then you can use the old fashioned phone calls, letters, or stopping by. Sharing an article or a comment about something you talked about is a great way to show them that you think about them at times other than the last week of the month. Which, of course, brings up an obvious rule about home and visiting teaching — don't wait until the end of the month to make an appointment. Actually, the end of the month is a great time to make an appointment, as long as it is for the following month.
Again, these are my ideas about home and visiting teaching. I hope it has helped you to come up with ideas of your own about how you can be a more effective home or visiting teacher. And remember that these ideas are not limited to home and visiting teaching.
I would like to ask each of you to look around the congregation. Are any of the people you teach not here? Are any of the people you serve in church not here? Are there any not here that you would like to get to know better? If so, then I would encourage you to try these principles to help them grow in the Gospel.
To summarize, my principles for effective home and visiting teaching are:
As we strive to improve our home and visiting teaching, we will notice that our spirituality will be strengthened. Your testimony will be strengthened, and you will find great joy in all that we do.