The LDS Church has just recently made some very significant improvements to its mission by refocusing on ministering. During the last General Conference, President Nelson did away with the old Home Teaching (HT) and Visiting Teaching (VT) programs to focus more on ministering. This transition had been in the works for several years beginning with training that instructed HT/VT to prioritize the people and families we were assigned to minister to. And then just before General Conference (GC), it was announced that the Ensign/Liahona would no longer feature the usual monthy “First Presidency Message”. The internet was abuzz with anticipation of changes just prior to GC.
As a newly called Ministering Coordinator, I am excited to be on the front lines during this transition and excited to be a part of the calculus involved in its implementation. Having been involved in numerous discussions with other ward and stake leaders on this new “non-program”, I do have some observations about the old HT/VT vs. the new simplified and inspired focus on ministering.
First, the LDS Church does not have a professional clergy. Our local bishops/pastors and other leaders are not paid, and must balance church responsibilities and callings with career and family. Our bishops simply cannot do all the required ministering themselves. The LDS Church has always delegated ministering responsibilities out to individual members and families. The LDS members have always had a wonderful Christian tradition and culture of ministering to each other.
The old HT/VT program assigned 2 male and 2 female members a list of between 5-10 other individuals or families to minister to. HT, for example, was counted when the assigned companionship sat down with their assigned families in their home and taught the “First Presidency Message”. As society has evolved, these proscribed visits have become increasingly difficult and compliance has been poor. I know my home ward/congregation sometimes reported monthly HT compliance in the 15-20% range.
15% compliance is just awful. I continually carried a nagging burden of guilt and frustration at not being able to consistently 100% comply with the proscribed monthly visit and message. But while HT/VT numbers were poor, the real work of ministering was happening all along. The HT/VT program just wasn’t measuring it. Blessings were being given, hospitals visited, meals were prepared and delivered, fallen trees were cleared, firewood was cut, and families were moved in and out. The HT/VT lesson was proscribed as a way for members to get into the homes and as a means to get to know one another so as to create opportunities to be involved in each others lives and to minister. The ministering was happening, even though the monthly sit-down lessons were not.
I think our social culture has changed considerably in the last 20 years. With the advent of the internet and social media, people are much more open with what’s going on in their lives, even if they may not always physically visit each other’s homes. LDS Church leadership recognized this culture shift and simplified and refocused the HT/VT programs onto pure ministering.
As part of this simplification and refocusing, LDS congregations have combined their men’s organizations. In the past, the men were divided up into generally younger Elders and older High Priests. HT responsibilities were divided between these quorums. However, this division sometimes made it difficult to efficiently carry out the HT program. High Priests are generally very enthusiastic, and experienced ministers. Instead of pairing 2 seasoned High Priests together, it’s much more efficient to pair someone strong with someone weaker. In this way, the most consistent ministers are maximally spread out among the membership. Also, strong High Priests are more likely to mentor weaker Elders into becoming excellent future ministers.
The new LDS focus on ministering (not a program) will greatly increase the efficiency and effectively of LDS ministering efforts. With the old HT/VT program consider that the most active LDS families were much more than just double-covered.
1. Assigned HT Companionship (2)
2. Assigned VT Companionship (2)
3. Husband’s HT Companion (1)
4. Wife’s VT Companion (1)
5. Husband’s HT Assigned Families (#)
6. Wife’s VT Assigned Families (#)
7. Bishop and Church Leadership (#)
8. Church Calling Associates (#)
9. Church Friends (#)
Strong active LDS Families have a huge extensive ministering network. For these active families, ministering support can come from any of these 9 sources. While less-active or new members often have a much smaller network and pool of potential assistance and ministering support. A new or returning member may not have many friends, they are less likely to have a calling or be assigned as a HT/VT. New members may join the Church only knowing the missionaries. However, these missionaries are routinely transferred out of the area after only a couple of months. New and returning member are lucky to be assigned good HT/VT’s who consistently visit. However, Ward Councils usually do a good job of making these assignments. With this new focus on ministering, I am hopeful the highest priority members will be set up with the larger and better ministering networks.
For maximal efficiency, in addition to being covered by priesthood ministering district leader (Captain of 10), the strongest members could simply be assigned to mutually minister to their ministering companions, friends or close associations via their callings. This strategy would better prevent the unnecessary duplication of effort for those who least need it.