By John A. Tvedtnes
Each New Year, many people make resolutions – and some actually keep them. Most of these resolutions deal with very personal matters, such as losing weight, spending more time with the children, and the like. As laudable as these are, I propose that all priesthood bearers resolve to be better home teachers.
The first step to improving our home teaching is to learn what home teachers must do. It is worth rereading the Lord’s instructions on this matter, which apply to all high priests, elders, priests, and teachers, because each priesthood office incorporates all the authority and duties of those that precede it.
“The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties … In all these duties the priest is to assist the elder if occasion requires. 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.” (D&C 20:46-47, 52-55)
First Things First
The starting point is to “visit the house of each member” on a regular basis and “exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” and their duties as members of the Church. The reason some brethren find home teaching difficult is because they don’t make regular visits. That which we do on a regular basis is easier to accomplish and making appointments for home teaching visits facilitates the matter.
Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which instructs us in our home teaching duties, was one of the earliest documents to deal with Church procedures. It was adopted as the word of the Lord at the very first meeting of Church leaders on 6 April 1830, but the concept is older still. The Book of Mormon also discusses the duty of priesthood holders:
“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moroni 6:4-5).
Like D&C 20:37, the discussion of those who are baptized is immediately followed by the Church’s duty toward those new members. Note especially that they are to be “nourished by the good word of God,” and that this includes, like D&C 20, frequent prayer and attending Church meetings. The real duty of home teachers goes beyond a visit to talk about the weather or one’s health. The Lord expects that we will encourage the families we visit to pray, to rely on Christ, and to attend to their family and Church responsibilities. Yes, we must avoid being pushy and preachy, but I believe it is important to always keep our basic responsibilities in mind and build our home teaching activities around them.
The Basis of Home Teaching
As important as these things are, I believe that service is the basis of home teaching. This can range from providing blessings in a home with no priesthood holder to mowing the grass for a widow or a sick elder, or just making regular visits. I learned the lesson of service as a missionary in Geneva, Switzerland. My companion and I were tracting in a large housing complex specially built for the elderly. Most people gave the excuse that they were too old to change religion. A woman of 98 said she didn’t have time to listen to our message because she planned to wash her windows that day. I told her that we would wash them for her, so we rushed home to change into our “grubbies,” then returned and washed her windows. Grateful for our help, she listened to our brief message and invited us to return a few days later. When we did so, we were delighted that she had invited her next-door neighbor, a 95-year-old great-grandmother, to attend. After a few weeks of teaching, we baptized both women. A simple task brought great joy to both givers and recipient of service.
Generally speaking, home teachers are expected to “visit the house of each member,” but this is not always possible. During the time I served in the Jerusalem Branch presidency in Israel, we received the records of a young man from Germany who had been baptized there shortly before moving to Tel-Aviv. He had not attended Church meetings and we did not have an address; we knew only that he worked for Lufthansa airline. We assigned Richard Bernard, a percussionist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, to be his home teacher. Brother Bernard contacted him at work and made arrangements to meet him for lunch. Our young convert had recently married an Israeli woman and he believed that she would not want home teachers in their home. So the two brethren met at lunch for several months for a home teaching visit.
Thanks to a faithful home teacher, this young brother decided to return to Church activity and showed up for Sabbath services in Jerusalem. He handed us two checks, one for all the tithing he had neglected to pay over the past year, and the other for fast offerings from the same time period. We told him that the Lord didn’t expect back payment, only that we be faithful in our duties beginning with the time of our repentance. He insisted that he needed to show good faith by these rather large payments, and we determined that his own sense of duty was far more important than the money, so we deposited the checks in the Church account. We then learned that his wife had come to Jerusalem with him, but decided to remain seated in the car. Over the months that followed, our new German friend attended meetings regularly, while his wife sat in the car. Ultimately, she too began attending meetings. Later, when the Tel-Aviv Branch was organized, her husband became second counselor in the branch presidency.
100% for Seven Years
Initially, the Jerusalem Branch included members from all over Israeli, as well as a few in Damascus (Syria), Amman (Jordan), and Cairo (Egypt). Because those countries were technically at war with Israel, it was generally impossible to freely move between them. Fortunately, we had two elders who had diplomatic immunity and could go wherever their assignments led. One was an officer in the U.S. Army and the other in the Swedish Army, and both were part of the United Nations Observer force that tried to keep peace in the region. We assigned them to home teach the members of our branch who lived outside Israel. I have served in elders’ quorums and high priests’ groups that have occasionally been able to report 100% home teaching for a month or two each year. In the Jerusalem branch, we had 100% home teaching almost every month for seven years.
During the time that President Harold B. Lee and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley visited Israel in September 1972, we learned of another member of the Church living in the northern part of the country. She was married to an Israeli man. We invited her to come to Jerusalem to attend the service at which our two visitors organized the Jerusalem Branch. She missed those meetings, but came to the airport when President Lee and Elder Hinckley were departing. She surprised us by telling them of several points of Church doctrine and practice with which she disagreed. We thought that President Lee would tell us that we needed to hold a disciplinary council for this sister. Instead, he said, “Brethren, you have a lot of work to do to help her.”
Daniel Rona and I were assigned as home teachers for our errant sister and other members living in the north of Israel. One day each month, we would make the 300-mile round-trip to visit them. Late one night, branch president David Galbraith received a phone call from the wayward sister, asking that we come and bless her two little girls who were ill. So at about 1:00 a.m., the president and her home teachers were in a van heading to Galilee.
On a subsequent occasion, this sister was attending services in Jerusalem and came to me for counseling. She had been endowed but had not worn her temple garment for several years, but was now desirous to wear it again. She needed to know what procedure she had to follow to be considered worthy to do so. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do, but we had a couple of General Authorities visiting us that day, so I asked one of them about the matter. He told me to interview her and if she and I felt that she was worthy, I should tell her to just begin wearing the garment. Ultimately, when we organized a dependent branch in the Galilee, she became the first Relief Society president in that branch.
One Latter-day Saint family from the United States had moved to Israel but kept to themselves. The father had been offended by the actions of his previous bishop and decided that he wanted nothing further to do with the Church. One teenaged son disagreed and made contact with the Jerusalem Branch. When he attended Sabbath meetings, he told us how to get to the family home in the Hulah valley bordering Syria and Lebanon. Brother Rona and I were assigned as home teachers and Dan took a special interest in the family’s four sons and daughter, all in their teens. They all became active in the branch and the head of the family subsequently became the first president of the Galilee Branch, while two of the sons served missions and one of them later became branch president when his father was released.
Faithful home teachers can make a big difference in the lives of Church members, but they are not alone in their efforts. Priesthood quorum leaders and bishoprics, when informed of the needs of the members, can call on the various auxiliary and quorum leaders to provide additional service. Where necessary, the bishop can provide assistance to individuals and families in need. In my opinion, home teachers are among the most important officers in the Church, as important as the missionaries. For some members, they are the only example of love and goodness they can see on a regular basis. There is no end to the good they can accomplish if they seek to magnify their calling. Indeed, faithful home teachers glorify the Father as they assist in his work, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The Lord’s promise should guide us in this great work:
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)