Home and visiting teaching

The assigned High Council topic for this particular month was Rescue the Lost. This is the talk I gave on that subject. Though I wrote this about home and visiting teaching, this is really about ministering. Firstly there are five ways you and your family can help your ministering brothers and sisters be of greater help to you. Secondly I present a list of five things the ministers can do to be better at their responsibilities to love and include those whom they have been called to serve.

To the rescue

In every rescue there are at least 2 parties, the one who needs help, and those doing the rescuing. Normally we think of those being rescued as being in grave distress or imminent danger. The fact that we use the word rescue implies that we believe someone is in danger.

There are those among us whose souls are in danger, but they are so caught up in their current lifestyle they have become somewhat blind to their own peril. They are like the lifeguard on the beach tower yelling to the swimmer to get out of the water because of sharks. The swimmer, who doesn’t have the same perspective may not believe they need to be saved. From their position they cannot see the approaching fins.

The Lord appoints his servants to be watchmen on the towers, so they can see the dangers approaching his people and sound the warning voice. Under the direction of the priesthood, that warning voice is taken to every home through the home and visiting teaching programs.

As each ward seeks to help those who have lost their way on their spiritual path, the efforts to rescue them will most often happen through the home and visiting teachers. Being a good home or visiting teacher is not easy.

Home and visiting teaching (ministering)

The home and visiting teaching programs of the Church are still a mystery to most of us. And like most of us, you may still be stuck on autopilot. It is like driving to work. You get in the car, back out of the driveway, and once you hit the main road your brain kicks in and you end up at work, having gone the entire distance without ever really thinking about how you got there.

When we go home and visiting teaching we tend to make our once a month visit. We get told that everything is “fine,” then we dutifully report our visits to our leaders. That process is but a skeleton with no flesh. It is not a living thing. Before you think that I am saying there are no REAL home or visiting teachers, please let me clarify that I am talking to the majority of home and visiting teachers, not the exceptional ones. I am talking about myself, Joe Average.

When we are assigned to a family we become the Bishop’s eyes and ears. We represent the Lord’s Church and organization. It is the responsibility of those who home and visit teach to report any problems with a family back to the Auxiliary President or quorum leader so it can be dealt with. This is the system of love and concern the Lord has put into place to watch over us and help us. This should NOT be seen as Big Brother intruding into our lives to spy on us and bring us shame or punishment. Again I state that home and visiting teaching is a labor or love, a program of love. At least it is meant to be.

It is true that we are a Church of assignments. When we are assigned to a family, we often don’t know our newly assigned family at all. This may be the literal truth, that we have never met this family before. It may also be the figurative truth, that we may have “known” this family for years, but we have never really been part of their lives before. If you stop and think about it, most people don’t really know what goes on in our home, except those who are truly part of our home. We tend to be private people, and we don’t broadcast our shames and our sorrows to those outside our little circle.

When we receive new home or visiting teachers into our house, it is unfortunate that it is into our house alone that they come. They are rarely invited into the family. If we want to become a people, a culture of rescuers, we need to develop a greater culture of inclusion. That means that we as people being visited by others need to learn to let outsiders into our family. Only then will the Lord’s servants really find out what is going on in our home.

I haven’t had home teachers in my home since Matt was assigned to us some twelve or more years ago. At the time I thought he was a little pushy. He actually insisted that we all write a resolution for the new year then he followed up with us each month to see how we were doing on our resolution. I almost dreaded his coming each month, which he did faithfully, because I knew I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to on my resolution. To be honest with you, I must admit that, at the time, I did not trust him or his motives. I had never had a home teacher who truly cared about my family.

Matt was all too soon assigned elsewhere, and we have not seen a home teacher since then. I miss Matt. I don’t question Matt’s loyalties any more. I know he cared about my family. I knew I could call on him at any time, for any reason, and he would be all too happy to help me. We don’t have any family in this area, and I valued that connection with someone outside my home. Even though he is no longer my home teacher, I think of him as my “private” home teacher, because I know I can call on him for help at any time, night or day, and he will respond with love.

Yet even with all that Matt tried to do for my family, I held back and kept things from him because I was embarrassed about some of the troubles we were having with our teenagers at the time. Because I was not willing to let him into the family, just the house, he was not able to let our Bishop know about the problems we were having. No wonder we felt alone in our trials.

So let me ask you a couple of questions. When our home or visiting teachers ask us if they can help us, what do we usually tell them? Do we just tell them we’re fine, and that is the end of the discussion? Do we let them know that we have plenty of family about to help out, so they aren’t needed? (I’ve been told that multiple times.)

What have we done by giving those pat answers? Haven’t we just told the Bishop’s representatives that they are not needed? Many of us are like I was with Matt. At first, I didn’t trust his motives for being there. And even when I finally did trust him, I didn’t know how to let him serve me. I was uncomfortable with the idea of asking him to help me with anything, unless it was an emergency. Herein lies the problem for many of us. We are so self sufficient, or would like to be, that we are hesitant to let anyone else into the family. Perhaps we are afraid someone else might see that we are not perfect, or perhaps they might judge us as being not as good as what we hope people think of us. There could be a million reasons.

As a Church, I think we need to learn how to better use our home and visiting teachers. Until we learn to be as accepting of them as we wish they could be of us, we will continue to have robotic visits each month, devoid of any flesh and substance. To help me, personally, I have come up with a list of five things I can do to help me create opportunities for my home and visiting teachers to become better at what they do.

5 suggestions for how me and my family can help create better ministers

1. Learn how to treat them more like a relative and less like an outsider. Get past our barriers of formality that requires us to clean the house before they come, or feeling the need to provide them with refreshments when they visit. You get the idea.

2. Find some way to include them in what we do as a family. Help them see what our family is really like by including them in a project around the house or a family home evening lesson.

3. Ask for their help. Give them something to do. Find some way for them to serve us, even if it is helping with the weeding or cleaning out the garage. The idea is to include them. This is a “getting to know you” kind of activity. Remember that we often have a Teacher or Priest as one of our home teachers. These young men need these experiences if they are to learn how to be good home teachers when they become Elders.

4. Call on them to assist with blessings in the home, even if we technically do have enough priesthood available to take care of the problem. Again, it is inclusion. These are the eyes and ears of the Bishop. We need to use them to our advantage. This harkens back to the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. By including our home teachers in blessings or distress, especially if they are younger home teachers, we are helping to provide them with valuable experiences of service that will bless their lives. The same idea goes for what we do with our daughters. Let the sisters come and help, so your daughters see how women help and serve each other.

5. Remember that this is a balancing act. Both we and our home and visiting teachers have families of their own to take care of, so don’t monopolize their time, but do give them opportunities, periodically, to get to know our family better by serving us and serving with us. This can be a sensitive and tender point for many people, since it may go against their sense of privacy or feel like an invasion of personal space. Remember that becoming a Zion people means to become of one heart and one mind. That cannot happen if we continually shut each other out. We need to learn to not only let others into our lives, but to invite them into our lives.

Objectifying people is now normal

I’ve talked about how we as a family can help create opportunities for having better home and visiting teachers. The principles are no different for the home and visiting teachers themselves.

I would like to first make an observation about objectification. To objectify someone is to emotionally and mentally turn them into an object. If I go to the store and buy a chair, I select my chair, which is an object, based on how appealing it is to me, the price of the chair, and the value I think I can get out of that chair. I take the chair home and use it based on those perspectives I have of my chair. When I tire of my chair or it becomes broken, I toss it or give it away then get another one.

In today’s society objectifying people has become so ingrained in our way of thinking that we often no longer even see that we do it. People have become resources to be used and exploited for the money or return on our investment. When they have outlived their usefulness, we toss them aside and get another one. We see this happening in the workplace, in television shows, movies, the Internet, etc. How many times have you heard people talking about “branding” themselves. The objectifying of people as commodities is what makes industries like pornography possible.

When we objectify someone we cheapen their worth to what we can personally get out of our association with them. We may use their name, their face, or their worldly position as a reference for advancing ourselves socially, etc. We see evidences of objectifying people in social media, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. We keep people as “friends” only as long as they are pleasing in their posts and comments. As soon as someone objects to something we say or do, or if they post something objectionable, we “unfriend” them, and it is as though they never existed. Social media inherently treats people like objects to be used for personal enjoyment.

Now, before you stone me and drive me out of town for speaking out against our society’s sacred cows, please be assured that I use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, just like many of you do. I have unfriended people for rude comments or posts in poor taste. I am as guilty of objectifying people as anyone else.

So how does objectifying someone relate to home and visiting teaching? For many home and visiting teachers, our monthly visits to our families are treated like inspections of products or property. We dutifully call and make our appointment, go and formally engage in small talk, offer a brief thought, have a prayer, then report our visit and don’t seriously think of that family again for another month. For many of us, the families we have been assigned to visit have become objects. It is difficult to emotionally bond with an object. But we are not visiting objects, we are visiting people. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to connect with our families.

From object to person

The same thing happens when we need to spiritually rescue someone. (See, I didn’t forget my topic!) It is often difficult to connect with them because our society has taught us to objectify everyone for what we can get from them. This makes it so much more difficult to learn to make meaningful connections with others that result in lasting friendships. In general terms, when we are thinking about being better home and visiting teachers, or in helping someone back into activity in the Church, here are five guidelines that will help us know what is expected of us if we want to find success in ministering to others.

5 character traits of the successful rescuer

1. They know how to be a friend. President Monson said, “A friend makes more than a dutiful visit each month. A friend is more concerned about helping people than getting credit. A friend cares. A friend loves. A friend listens. And a friend reaches out.” (All quotes from President Monson come from his April, 2001 Conference talk, To the Rescue.)

President Monson tells of a story of a home teaching brother named Shelley. Try as he might, President Monson could not make any headway in getting Shelley interested in the Church. Shelley’s family had joined the Church, but Shelley wasn’t interested. Eventually, Shelley moved away, and President Monson was called to be a Mission President in Canada, and was called after that to be an Apostle. A few years later he got a call from Shelley asking him to perform the sealing for he and his wife. When Shelley had moved from the ward, his new home teacher was a crossing guard. Every day when he walked his children to the school, he and the crossing guard would talk about the gospel. He got baptized.

Both home teachers were his friends. Both tried repeatedly to reach him. Sometimes it doesn’t take a mission president or apostle to reach someone. Sometimes a crossing guard is enough. Sometimes it is the combination of people, one who makes an impression then another who is able to open the door to meaningful conversation. Sometimes the timing in one’s life is an important factor. We don’t know what factors are playing into the rescue effort, so we just need to forge ahead and let the Lord do his work with the person or family we are trying to help.

2. A rescuer, as a true friend, operates on the principle of love. When we treat our neighbors like we treat our family members, we don’t give up on them when they don’t show interest in changing. We continue to love them and care about them. We keep working within the confines of what the friendship will allow. When they are ready, they will tell you.

3. A good rescuer is happy to serve in whatever their current capacity is. President Monson tells the story of Ed, who helped find work for the unemployed in his ward. He found joy in his love for those whom he served. He was happy to help them restore their dignity, by becoming self reliant again through work.

4. A good rescuer becomes familiar with the language of the Spirit. Again, President Monson has said, “Proficiency in this “language” permits one to breach barriers, overcome obstacles, and touch the human heart.” Remember, however, that we are not to sit around and wait for the Spirit to tell us what to do. We are responsible, by virtue of the covenants we have made, to find ways to help and serve. When we do this the Spirit will refine and magnify our efforts.

5. Rescuers are not judgmental. They accept each person where they are, and love them for who they are at the time. These rescuers are willing to embrace someone who’s personal habits may be repulsive to them, and genuinely be grateful for the opportunity to serve them. This attitude is felt and appreciated by most people, even if they don’t want to be rescued. This is the attitude that keeps the door open for future efforts. Again, this is a balancing act. We don’t want to put ourselves into spiritually compromising or dangerous situations, but at the same time, we need to be willing to embrace the sinner in love. If you need an example of this, open any of the four Gospels in the New Testament and see how Jesus lovingly accepted the company of sinners. Many of those whose lifestyles were vilified by the Jews who considered themselves righteous, became followers of Jesus and repented of their sins.


The rescue efforts of the Church are not just confined to those who are drug addicts and alcoholics. We all need to be rescued at one point or another. When we learn how to use the home and visiting teaching programs of the Church (now called ministering) to full advantage, much of our rescue efforts will be natural and become part of our monthly/regular service to each other. Many challenges will be solved before they get out of hand if we let our home and visiting teachers into our homes AND into our families.

It is true that not all of our home and visiting teachers are performing their callings as they ought to. This is why we, as the visited families need to help them see the potential of their calling. We are trying to be a Zion people, and that means that we take everyone where they are at and work with them to elevate them to someplace higher. I used to have a home teacher who found it difficult to leave his home and come to my home, though he lived only four houses away. It was much easier for me to take my family to his house to get visited, and we did just that for several years. It was just one way we were able to help him fulfill his responsibilities in the priesthood.

It is a privilege to serve one another, and by being a more inclusive people, our rescue efforts will become more effective, and our joy will increase along with it.

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10 Steps to Better Ministering