A divine mandate

Home teaching - the divine mandate to watch over and strengthen individuals and families in the Church - is 30 years old this month. In January 1964, home teaching - basically as we know it today - was inaugurated, replacing what was then known as ward teaching.

At that time, the General Priesthood Home Teaching Committee of the Church said that home teaching "emphasizes that every family head is responsible for the spiritual welfare of his family and that it is the responsibility of the priesthood, through the home teachers, to make available all of the resources of the Church to help each member in achieving his spiritual goals."The priesthood home teachers are to go into the homes and build a truly personal relationship with each family member - characterized by mutual trust, love, equality and concern. The final success of [home teachingT depends on the degree to which every home teacher can put into practice the basic ideals that we are truly our brother's keeper and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves." (Church News, Nov. 30, 1963, p. 3.)

Through the years there have been refinements and adaptations to home teaching, and likely there will be more in the future. But the principles upon which home teaching is founded remain unchanged 30 years later.

Indeed, we are our brother's keeper and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The principles of caring, reaching out, teaching by the Spirit and having a concern and love for each member of our assigned families have never changed. Neither has the Lord's injunction to the priesthood, as recorded in the 20th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

". . . Visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.

". . . Watch over the church always, and be with them and strengthen them;

"And see that there is no iniquity in the church. . . .

"And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all members do their duty." (D&C 20:51, 53-55.)

"That," said President Ezra Taft Benson in a landmark address to home teachers in the priesthood session of the April 1987 general conference, "is priesthood home teaching."

The success of home teaching today depends - just as did when it was inaugurated 30 years ago - on how well the home teachers carry out their duties.

Some are very diligent in their callings, like the home teacher who has visited the head of one of his families in the hospital every week for the past four months. Each visit, the seriously ill man requests that his home teacher prepare a brief message of inspiration on a certain topic, which the home teacher gives on the next visit.

And through this caring and teaching, the lives of both the giver and the receiver are blessed.

Stories abound in the Church of devoted home teachers lifting the burdens and touching the lives of those whom they serve.

But sadly, stories of less-diligent home teachers also abound, and if we fall into this category we need to realize just how important home teachers are and make some resolves that we will faithfully carry out our divine responsibilities.

"There is no greater Church calling than that of a home teacher," President Benson declared in his April 1987 priesthood address. "There is no greater Church service rendered to our Father in Heaven's children than the service rendered by a humble, dedicated, committed home teacher."

Is there any room for misunderstanding in President Benson's statement? Can anyone doubt how important a faithful home teacher is?

"Home teachers," states the Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook, "are the Church's first source of help to Church members."

Home teachers need to realize that their importance lies not just in routinely making a visit to a home, but in what they can do to strengthen the family who lives in that home. There are innumerable people in the Church who genuinely need the help that a loving and caring home teacher can give.

In his April 1987 priesthood address, President Benson spoke of three fundamentals that are essential to effective home teaching:

"Know well those you are to home teach, know well your message and deliver it with the Spirit, and truly magnify your calling as a home teacher.

"And if you do this," President Benson told the home teachers of the Church, "I promise you the blessings of heaven and the indescribable joy that comes from helping to touch hearts, change life and save souls."

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