Episode 24: Elder Bednar shares his pattern for studying general conference messages

At the onset of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offers a pattern for individuals as they listen to and study messages from Apostles and Prophets.

The pattern is (1) identifying the doctrine or principle being taught, (2) finding the invitations to act related to the doctrine or principle, and (3) recognizing the promised blessings that will come as one acts in accordance with the invitation. Scott Taylor of the Church News is the guest host of this episode.

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Transcription:

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”

As Latter-day Saints approach the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held April 3 and 4 and transmitted globally, this episode of the Church News podcast offers a pattern for listening to and studying conference messages. Elder David A. Bednar of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who joins us for this podcast, has taught this pattern: to look for doctrine taught, invitations extended, and blessings promised as a sure way to elevate the general conference experience. An educator by profession. Elder Bednar was president of Brigham Young University–Idaho before his call to full-time Church service in 2004. Scott Taylor of the Church News has been a reporter and editor since 1984. He joins us as the guest host for this podcast.

1:38  

Scott Taylor: Elder Bednar, welcome to the Church News podcast. Thank you for joining us today. 

Elder David A. Bednar: Thank you very much, Scott.

Scott Taylor:  I’ll preface this podcast by recalling an experience I had several years ago, attending a Provo Missionary Training Center devotional that you were speaking at. It was soon after one of the general conferences, and you explained for the young missionaries there the pattern that you have seen, or that you try to follow in listening to the words, teachings, instructions of Prophets and Apostles. Three simple points. Would you mind sharing those and explaining a bit about each one of those three points? 

2:17

Elder David A. Bednar: Sure. The basic pattern is to identify the fundamental doctrine or principle that’s being taught, find any invitations associated with and related to that doctrine or principle, and then also recognizing the promised blessings, if we act in accordance with that invitation. This had its genesis — I’m old enough to remember Spencer W. Kimball, at the conclusion of general conference. And he would say something akin to, “We should all make the record of this conference our walk and our talk for the next six months.” Harold B. Lee used to say this, these things, and as a young man, that impressed me to think that the President of the Church is going to go home and studiously work on learning what’s in his talks. 

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

So as I began to do that, I just found that there was something fundamental that was emphasized. And almost always, not in every instance, but almost always ,there was an invitation to act, and do something with what was being taught. And then a promised blessing that would follow. So what I ended up doing is I would take a sheet of paper, and I would have three columns. And I would take the talks, and I just tried to summarize and identify those things. And that, in essence, became my walk and talk for the next six months. 

Read more: Learn Elder Bednar’s pattern for studying conference messages — doctrine, invitations, blessings

Scott Taylor: You shared that grid with the missionaries, showing them how to do that, to identify the doctrine being taught, the invitation to act, and the promised blessings. At the Church News, we have to summarize a lot of the talks that you and the other Brethren give, devotionals, conferences, and that can be anywhere from 1,200-1,300 words, to just several hundred. But I’ve learned, in summarizing those talks, to look for the doctrine, the invitations and promises. Do you make a conscious effort to kind of craft some of your talks that way?

4:19 

Elder David A. Bednar: The answer is no. It’s not a conscious, intentional act to say, “Well, I gotta get these three things in there.” But knowing it, I’m sure, influences how I go about the writing and the execution of the message. The reason the invitation becomes so important, in my mind, is because faith in the Savior is a principle of action and of power. So as a servant of the Lord, it’s not just disseminating information, but if people are to increase in faith, then they need to act in accordance with the teachings of the Savior. And as His representative, I want to extend those invitations so faith can grow stronger. 

Scott Taylor: And I often see those specific words, that language, invitation and promise in your messages. 

5:08

Elder David A. Bednar: Yeah, this is a part of my previous life, when I used to work at universities. But in the vocabulary of the Latter-day Saints, we often say things like, “Well, I challenge you to do this.” Now, I’m not trying to be critical, but I don’t find “I challenge you to do this anywhere” in the ministry of the Savior. I don’t find that in any of the teachings of the Brethren. They invite, they entice, they follow that Christlike pattern. Not of a business, “I’m going to challenge you to achieve this goal,” but it’s a much more Christlike invitation. That’s what I strive to do, I hope. 

Scott Taylor: Can you remember a memorable time when an “aha” moment, if you will, where this pattern of doctrine, invite and promise blessings had an impact in your life, either as the giver or the receiver? 

6:01

Elder David A. Bednar: Yeah, there’s a number of them. But I remember then-Elder Dallin H Oaks teaching Aaronic Priesthood holders about principles. And he used, as an example, the principle of distraction. And he said, “Now, brethren, you never want to do anything as you officiate in any priesthood ordinance that would be a distraction to the person who’s receiving the ordinance, and the associated covenant.”

Now, if you think about that, and all of the agony about, “Well, what do I wear? What do I do? How do I look?” If you or I really understand that principle, then what I want to wear has nothing to do with it. I’m not trying to make a statement as a priesthood holder, I’m trying to be invisible and get out of the way, so that nothing I would do would interfere with a person renewing a covenant in the ordinance of sacrament or in any other ordinance. And then he said, “I’m not going to give you a bunch of rules.” Well, to me, that was an invitation. Study how this principle takes the place of Mosaic rules about, “You should do this, you should not do that.” 

President Nelson has used that same pattern where he talks about the Sabbath as a sign, and all you need to do is ask yourself the question, “What sign do you want to send the Savior about how you regard the Sabbath?” And what we do on the Sabbath is that sign. So in their questions and in the statement of the principle, in my mind, that’s an invitation to act. And then there are magnificent blessings that always follow. 

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: You often talk about how the Holy Ghost is the master teacher and confirms the truth, the messages, the invitations. How can Latter-day Saints prepare for conference messages, and then use the Spirit for confirmation, the Spirit to direct them with those invitations?

8:10

Elder David A. Bednar: I think there are many things we could do to prepare, and I’ll highlight just two. One is that we need to act. If we are asking, seeking and knocking, we’re exercising faith in the Savior, and that is an invitation for the Holy Ghost to become a teacher. If our frame of mind is that, “Well, I’m passively going to sit here and let the messages wash over me and hopefully something will stick,” I find that to be not very effective. It can’t be passive. So there’s an element of preparing, and one very specific way to prepare is to have a question in mind as you’re listening to the messages. 

The second element of preparation is specifically inviting the Holy Ghost to be our companion. Part of the purpose of prayer is to invite him to be our constant companion. It doesn’t happen just because hands have been placed on our head and words have been spoken, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” we have to follow through and help that to occur. So if we invite him, he comes more readily. We do that when we pray. We do that when we study the scriptures. Those expressions of faith in the Savior invite him to be our companion. And I believe he comes more readily when we invite. 

Scott Taylor: I’ve heard you speak a couple of times on this pattern. I’ve read a couple of interviews as well. And generally, when you talk about this pattern and Prophets and Apostles and their messages, you also take an opportunity to talk about general conference messages. I think sometimes our Latter-day Saint members think, “Oh my goodness, that was such a cohesive conference session, that was all planned and orchestrated. And everybody knew what everybody else was speaking,” and whatnot — Can you talk about that, and help dispel it? 

Elder David A. Bednar: It was planned, it was orchestrated — but by heaven, not by those who are participating in the conference, per se. I’ve been doing this for more than 16 years now, and only on the rarest of occasions is there ever a specific assignment given to the speakers on a particular topic. And what I wish I could convey — I don’t know that I can describe this, Scott, adequately — but there have been instances where I have been seated on the stand, knowing I’m the next, or two or three speakers away, and I listen to a continuity building, thinking, “If we had planned and organized and orchestrated these messages, it could not have been done nearly as well as it was done by the power of the Holy Ghost.” In the scriptures, it talks about sometimes, those who had heard King Benjamin fell to the ground. And you begin to see how heaven doesn’t constrain, but influences if we’re willing. And people who’ve never talked to each other about the messages they’re giving in general conference, build to a crescendo across the messages. That is miraculous, absolutely miraculous. So they are orchestrated, but by heaven, not by the participants.

Scott Taylor: This pattern you’ve talked about of teach the doctrine and the principles, the invitations to act and the promised blessings, we’ve talked about that pattern. Quite often as you speak, you make reference to patterns in the gospel, patterns in the temple, patterns that we can apply. Help the listeners, the Latter-day Saints understand two or three of these other type patterns where they can be mindful of and watchful of. 

12:03 

Elder David A. Bednar: In the 52nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reveals that He will give unto us a pattern in all things. So, for example, the Savior, I think, is characterized by the pattern of “one by one.” He appears to the multitude of 2,500 people at the temple in the land of Bountiful. And He doesn’t invite one or two to come to feel the wounds in his hands, his feet and in his side. But he gives them that opportunity one by one. That’s Him. That’s how He does things. So he’s not speaking to congregations, he’s speaking to “a one.” I believe that’s a pattern of the Savior’s ministry that we benefit from. 

Another pattern: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” “Be not weary in well doing, for you’re laying the foundation of great work,” and “Out of small things proceed with that which is great.” So, line upon line, precept upon precept. A pattern is a guide or a model, and so when you may not know how to approach something, a pattern gives you a starting point. 

And so a member of the Church may think, “Well, how come I don’t receive dramatic answers to prayers?” Well, that’s a pattern. Sometimes there are dramatic answers to prayers. But it’s also a pattern that it comes line upon line, precept upon precept. There are more patterns than we can identify or count. But we may think that an answer would come in only one way, or revelation comes in only one way. But there are many patterns and I think it helps us to have spiritual vision, if we understand some of those patterns. I think there’s just a spiritual engagement and even excitement in trying to identify patterns in the scriptures. That’s a part of the active learning of the gospel as we ask, seek and knock. And as we identify them, this is not just academic knowledge, but it influences having spiritual eyes to see and discern, and spiritual ears to hear and to learn. 

So I think the patterns are very helpful. The Lord would not have said “I will give you a pattern in all things” unless they were important, and we’d be benefited by trying to learn. 

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles answers a question during a press conference in the Rome Temple Visitors' Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles answers a question during a press conference in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: Elder Bednar, let’s switch topics. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Presidency closed the Church’s 168 dedicated temples worldwide a year ago this month. Since then, they’ve slowly started reopening temples ina careful, cautious four-phase plan. And meanwhile, temple dedications and rededications are on hold while we wait for more appropriate public settings. Can you talk about that? 

15:08

Elder David A. Bednar: Well, we’re in a season when we’ve experienced something that has never occurred before in this dispensation. All the temples had to be closed, which was incredibly sad, but it was also an opportunity to learn remarkable lessons. Many people have gone to the parking lots of temples to sit and just be close to the temple. And I would pose this question, a little background, and then the question. When the Saints left Nauvoo in 1846 in February, they were eager to receive the blessings. Many of those people only went one time. I’m not sure we were thinking about that. 

So part of the question is, no, we can’t be in the temple, but is the temple in us? Are the ordinances and the covenants in us? And to reflect on, remember, and cherish those ordinances and those covenants, I think we’ve been compelled to appreciate them in a way we may not have otherwise appreciated them. And now, in a very cautious and safe way, we’re reopening the temples, and great progress is being made. So the day will come when we will look back on this time period, and maybe it will be a little bit like walking across the frozen Mississippi River when those Saints left in 1846. This is part of the challenge we face. And they were blessed. And we’re being blessed in the exact same way. 

Scott Taylor: And as far as the dedications and rededications, you will wait until the public and the masses can come.

16:51

Elder David A. Bednar: When it’s safe, then we’ll be able to move forward. It may also necessitate some adjustments in how we’ve done things. One of the great blessings of the pandemic is that we’re finding even better ways to do many things in the Church. So we’ll just have to see. No definite decisions have been made. But we’ll see how that develops as we go forward. 

Scott Taylor: While the pandemic has impacted temple operations, temple growth has continued. What can you tell me about new temple announcements and new temple construction? 

17:24

Elder David A. Bednar: Well, one of the other remarkable features of what’s taking place during this pandemic is that we did have to close the temples. Now we’re gradually reopening the temples, but temple construction has not stopped. In 2020, 21 temples, ground was broken all over the world. Now, I want to say this as precisely as I can. Obviously, there were construction disruptions because of the pandemic. But relatively few of those temples are behind schedule. And I find that to be just absolutely miraculous. That all over the world, with all of the varied construction circumstances that we’re in, that the construction of the temples has moved forward in such a remarkable way. So yeah, there have been some real challenges. But no unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing. 

In a Church News video released Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, Elder David A. Bednar talks about temples amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Church News video released Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, Elder David A. Bednar talks about temples amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Screenshot YouTube

Scott Taylor: Thank you. Sarah Weaver, Church News editor, in establishing these podcasts, has a pattern that she follows. She likes to conclude the podcast by asking the guest what they know now about the topic of the conversation. Elder Bednar, what would you tell our listeners that they can know now, and they can apply now in learning of this pattern of Prophets and Apostles’ messages and instructions, focusing on the doctrines and the principles, the invitations and the promised blessings?

19:00

Elder David A. Bednar:  if I could express just one hope, it is that this is simple. This is not an educational exercise. This is something where you can be tutored by the Holy Ghost. It’s just making a connection. And what you begin to see is that if I understand this truth, if I act in this way, then God has promised these blessings. That part of the pattern is they don’t come when we want, necessarily, they come when it’s in accordance with his will and his time. But I would just hope people wouldn’t think, “Well, only Apostles think like this, or worry about things like this.” Any member of this Church, regardless of position, status, as long as they’re worthy, as long as they’re seeking for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, with that help, can make these connections and be greatly blessed.

20:05  

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.