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Friday, January 13, 2012

Preaching About Home Teaching

by Seattle Jon (bio)

I was walking down the hall a few Sundays ago when I heard someone call my name. I didn’t recognize the voice, or the person. He introduced himself as Patrick, our family’s new home teacher. He was new in the ward and seemed eager to get to know us better, so I proceeded to tell him how he could.

The scriptural foundation of home teaching is the commandment for priesthood holders to "watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them" (D&C 20:53; see also D&C 20:54–55; Moroni 6:4). The church has given the responsibility to home teach (women “visit teach,” a separate but similar program) to all Melchizedek Priesthood holders and to those who are teachers (14 & 15 year-olds) and priests (16 & 17 year-olds) in the Aaronic Priesthood. Per, the definition of home teaching is as follows:

"As part of their responsibility to watch over the members of the Church, home teachers visit their assigned families at least once each month to teach and strengthen them. Home teachers establish a relationship of trust with these families so that the families can call upon them in times of need.”

Reading the definition in reverse, home teachers are to establish a relationship of trust with their families so that the families can call upon them in times of need. Part of how they do this is to visit their assigned families at least once a month to teach and strengthen them. Reversing the wording helps me remember where the focus should be – establishing a relationship of trust so that when there is need, they’ll call.

Trust is an important part of any relationship, and this is why I believe a discussion regarding expectations should take place at the beginning of any new home teaching relationship. Do the individuals or families you visit want monthly in-home visits or would they prefer a more traditional friendship? When you do visit the home, do they want to hear the first presidency message or would they like to pick topics relevant to what is challenging their lives at the moment? Do they want monthly contact or would they prefer something a little less frequent? Once you have an idea of what will work for THEM, a relationship of trust should be relatively easy to build over time.

As already stated by the church, monthly in-home visits are only part of how home teachers establish a relationship of trust. I believe the visiting teaching program provides us a good model for the other part by defining the word "visit" more broadly.

“A personal visit is always preferable, but when that is not possible, use phone calls, letters, or e-mail or offer service she needs. Contact each sister at least monthly."

I would argue that what is missing from some in-home home teaching is the personal touch that seems to exist within the visiting teaching program. A short phone call to check in, a hand-written letter of thanks or a random email with an inspirational quote are all great ways to build relationships of trust. So is not pushing a monthly in-home visit when it isn’t needed or wanted.

Back to Patrick. I thanked him for letting us know he was our home teacher, and told him we’d give him a call if we were in need. I then told him (with a smile) we’d prefer he not give us uncomfortable glances in the hall before asking, “Hey, when is a good time for us to come over?” Instead, I suggested, he could make a genuine effort to become friends with us. In other words, for us, monthly in-home visits have historically been more of a nuisance than a help.

And guess what … there was relief on his face. Why? Because no matter how often you hear it in elders quorum, home teaching is not about monthly in-home visits but about trust and relationship building. Because when your time of need comes, you need people in whom you can trust.

Disclaimer: I’ve only recently developed these thoughts on home teaching. If I was your home teacher in the past and never made an effort, please forgive me and know I’ll try harder in the future!

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