As I have just become High Priests Group Leader I am quite involved in encouraging good and frequent Home Teaching. A good deal of that is happening in our Ward, but there are a number of families and individuals who are not being regularly contacted by Home Teachers. Over the next few days I'm going to be examining Home Teaching in an attempt to understand better what our charge is and to examine ways in which we can each serve better in our Home Teaching assignments.
I once attended what I teasingly called The Stepford Ward in Orem. They claimed that there was only one non-member family within their boundaries. I think every single member family was active. They had so many missionary farewells and baby blessings that they averaged 110% attendance at Sacrament Meeting. Every calling was filled and their Home Teaching numbers were through the roof! This is not because of some miraculous Enoch-like leader. It was just a matter of neighborhood choice of a number of affluent, previously active families, in an area already concentrated with Latter-day Saints. I'm sure the Ward has it's own unique set of problems, but activity isn't one of them.
I, on the other hand, live in an inner city Ward with a number of low rent apartments, and a district of older more run down "starter" homes. We have a large membership turn over, few youth and great difficulty maintaining the kind of consistency the other Ward might enjoy. Our dear Elder's Quorum has activated a number of Prospective Elders who subsequently moved to a more prosperous part of town, making room for more less active Prospective Elders to take their places. The number of potential Home Teachers far out weighs the number of active Home Teachers. This creates a big burden on those who are willing and able to Home Teach. The district with a bit nicer homes is mostly occupied by old folks. Our Primary has 16 kids in it. Currently there are three years between the newest Deacon and the next boy to enter that Quorum.
I am not complaining. Ours is a most wonderful Ward. I have loved living here more than any Ward I have enjoyed, with one distant, long ago exception. I will probably mention the Imperial Beach Ward later.
Suffice it to say. I am more than content with our Ward. It is far from perfect. But it is abundantly meeting my needs and is filled with wonderful people.
Still, we have some pretty pathetic Home Teaching numbers and will be working hard to overcome those deficiencies over the next months and perhaps years. I am not the only one who is earnest about such a difference taking place.
As I have sat in council regarding Home Teaching, I get a sense that most of my brethren have a pretty restricted view of what Home Teaching is and is not. Recently, the Stake Presidency, in an attempt to expand our view of Home Teaching, made some allowances as to what is reportable as completed Home Teaching. One brother in the Ward protested saying that the new definition did not correspond with Section 20 of The Doctrine and Covenants. He was concerned that if we lower our standards just so we can show better numbers we are cheating. I agree that numbers must never be the objective and that if we dumb down the quality of our Home Teaching just so the numbers look better, we are doing ourselves and those we serve a great disservice. As a matter of fact, such a move, under those conditions, I would consider sinful.
If, on the other hand, we are seriously attempting to broaden the definition of Home Teaching so that we can actually reach more people and more completely fulfill our stewardship, I am all for it. The brother who protested the change had two major concerns. One very valid one is that if we overload our Home Teachers, they are likely to shut down and wind up accomplishing less, instead of more. The other of course was stated thus: "If you lower the standard of Home Teaching to a chat over the back fence, Home Teaching in general will decline. A chat over the back fence is not Home Teaching!"
I understand where he was coming from and I admire his desire to hold to a lofty standard. Still I have to ask myself, "What is Home Teaching?" Is it confined to a living room visit complete with a prayer, lesson and conversation about the weather? Or, can it be more than that?
For me the answer lies in the Book of Alma. When Ammon began his missionary service to King Lamoni he did some quite unmissionary-like things. If he were to report to his Mission President that he'd spent the past week herding sheep, how would his leader have responded. What do you think? Was he doing missionary work, or wasn't he? I say he most certainly was. That honest, well intentioned, unconditional service was indeed missionary service and resulted in the conversion of thousands.
What if we, like Ammon did a few unusual things in our service as Home Teachers. Couldn't we call that Home Teaching as well? My next door neighbor is a member of the church. His wife is a former member. They attend another denomination. When they first moved in they approached us with a very cold and prickly warning that they wanted nothing to do with the Church, Missionaries or Home Teachers. I respect that. I am somewhat aware of their history. They have been, in my opinion, mistreated by members of the church. They have had manipulative Home Teachers who tried to put them on a guilt trip for they way they were living their lives. Their experience was repulsive to them and disappointing to me. I have no choice but to respect their rejection of what I have to offer them. But - they don't reject my warning that the sewer main is backing up. They don't complain when I sneak over of an early morning and shovel their walks. They don't mind if my grandkids invite their grand daughter over to play in my back yard and they frequently ask about the neighbor who has Alzheimer's that I help with, who lives across the street.
We don't get to know how long Ammon herded sheep before he was given the opportunity to defend the flocks and impress the King. It might have been just a few days, but what if it was months or years. Could it be that it was not a matter of time? Could it be that Ammon had no ulterior motive? That he would, as he said, be willing to serve the King the remainder of his days. Could it be that he was serving Lamoni just as an expression of love, with no strings attached. Could it be that he would have continued to serve regardless of the out come? Could it be that he had no further agenda than to be of service? I think it could.
I am aware that most of us tackle such a project and have been trained to begin with the end in mind. We suppose that if we are nice and give service for a while that we will eventually bear the fruit in some preconceived way. And, if we don't, we tend to become discouraged and soon move on to greener or more golden pastures. I believe that Ammon had no such agenda. He let God be in charge of the agenda. His call was to be of service forever if need be. I believe that if we go into a situation with an agenda like the eventual activation of a less active family then all of our actions seem manipulative and are much more likely to be rejected. If on the other hand our service is rendered with no agenda other than kindness and love and a sincere interest in the happiness and well being of the individuals we serve, that too is easy for them to perceive.
Let God have the agenda. He is interested in preparing ALL of his children to return home to dwell with him. He will add the turning factor, just as He did for Ammon. He will cause something tailor made to happen in their lives, perhaps a crisis of some sort or other. If they have a genuine friend in their Home Teacher, I promise it is he to whom they will turn for relief, comfort and solace. It is then that he will be able to share the gospel and it's blessings with them. My experience has been that it may take a number of such instances before significant change begins to take place. Two of the keys to exercising the Priesthood as outlined in Section 121 of The Doctrine and Covenants is patience and long suffering. Are we in it for the long haul?
I have a very dear friend who once was excommunicated from the Church. Sitting in the court that withdrew his membership was a young, newly called High Councilman. The situation touched the young man's heart and he resolved that day to make weekly contact with my friend for the balance of his life. I imagine deep in his heart he hoped my friend would one day return to the fold, but his commitment went way beyond that. That young High Council member kept his commitment. My friend had a saddle shop across town. Every week the young man stepped into that shop. Week after week he was spurned and berated by my friend. Every overture was rejected. Eventually, my friend moved out of state. The young man persisted. Each week he called my friend and greeted him with a smile and proffered friendship. There was never any needling or pressure to return to the fold, only friendship and love. Once a month he actually drove out of state for a face to face visit. Still my friend pushed him away. He often swore at him, berated him, called him names and still the young man carried on. Years went by under these circumstances. Love always offered, always rejected. At fourteen years my friend began to soften. He finally realized this fellow was never going to give up. He finally accepted that there were no conditions places upon his persistence, reliability and love. My friend finally accepted that there was something, someone in his life he could count on. He began to look forward to those visits, to respond to them. When a crisis came, as they always do, my friend knew who he could count on and turned to the not quite so young man and sought his help, his advice, and his assurance. At fifteen years the long since former High Councilman baptized my friend. And they remain close to this day.
Could we Home Teach like that? Should we? I think we can and we must.
When the Church sends humanitarian supplies to Pakistan are there strings attached? Do we say, "If you are to receive this food, medicine and supplies, you must let our missionaries preach in your land?" No we do not. We, when we serve, will do well to follow that example. Let us be going about doing good, because we love, because we should. Not because we hope we can make some changes which seem to them to be only to our own advantage. Let us accept the fact that we can change no one but ourselves. That all we can really do is prepare the soil so that when they come to the moment of change, they will find a place where they can grow and be nurtured, because that place has already been prepared for them.
For me, the days of quotas and numerical objectives are gone. If we labor in the vineyard with love with the interest of our charges our only desire. If we love unconditionally, persistently. I promise God will give the increase. He is the only one who can.