Home Teaching Wisdom

I recently decided to participate again in the home teaching program of the church. After about a decade of not wanting to be nominally involved in a program I had no time to participate in, I guess I felt that I would like to experience this aspect of Mormonism again. I have been asking people for advice as I approach a new list of five recipients, and I have noticed that when I ask “what do you think works for home teaching,” they almost invariably begin to tell me how “bad” they are at it (which means they do it infrequently), echoing innumerable Elders’ Quorum lessons. I’m not actually interested in browbeating or watching brows be beaten. I’m more interested in practical advice.

It occurs to me that others may be similarly interested. Some questions to guide your counsel:
1. What to do with small kids in the house?
2. Timing, frequency, days of week, duration?
3. What do people think of this Ensign message available each month?
4. Topics?
5. Etc.

I’m all ears.

Comments

  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Well, here’s my perspective:

    –the lesson should be entirely aimed at the children. (If you aim it at the parents, they won’t hear it anyway, because they’ll be too busy shushing their children and wishing you would shut up.) Think flannel board.

    –at your appointment, schedule the next month’s appointment. This is easier since everyone is in the same room and then it’s done.

  2. We haven’t had regular hometeachers for years, but if they did I would love a schedule–to just plan on them the third Sunday at 4 or whatever. (Sundays work best for us.) I would like for my kids to experience the concept and learn to sit for a few minutes during the quick Ensign message. I remember once when some came and they actually brought a notebook and took notes about kids’ names and ages and interests–it felt so real. Of course, they didn’t come back… Kudos to you!

  3. I’m not a home teacher (I’m married to one!), but I’ll tell you what I like about the good home teachers we’ve had (and have now!). We have four kids under 8 years old, btw:

    1. Bring something to include the kids. This could be printed off pictures they can color during the lesson or have an object lesson. Ask them questions, listen to their answers, have them hold up a picture, etc.

    2. Sunday afternoons are best for us because we don’t have pressing deadlines or plans; my husband also uses Sunday afternoons to home teach. Some people hate it, though, so ask first. They come once a month and stay for less than an hour. Keep it to 30 minutes if they have small kids.

    3. We LOVE the Ensign message each month, and we love it when our home teachers come prepared to teach from it. It shows respect (they thought about us beforehand) and reverence (they know that’s what they’ve been asked to share).

    4. Although the Ensign message is a part of it, the bulk of the home teaching time is spent getting to know each other better (i.e. work, school, children, callings, new neighbors, etc.) and we appreciate it when our home teachers sincerely want to help. While this is going on, the kids are usually running around the room, but when our home teachers ask them about school and stuff, they love it.

    5. Actually help. Knowing I can call my home teachers for anything is truly a comfort. Sounds cliche, but it’s true. One time my husband was with the youth up a canyon over an hour away when I was suddenly so ill I couldn’t function. I called my home teacher and he took me to the hospital (after finding someone to watch my kids). Of course, it did help that he was a doctor… :)

    Good luck!

  4. For the first time in my life I think I could actually call on my home teachers if I needed them, because my current pair have been so consistent about coming and about showing me they care. They come every third Sunday at about the same time; they stay a half hour or so; they give the lesson from the Ensign, and have clearly spent a moment thinking about my situation and how to adapt the lesson to fit me; and they show signs of having planned some topics they think I might like to discuss beyond the lesson (e.g., one of them will ask my opinion on something church history-ish that has come up in his reading or the news). When we have stake conference at the tabernacle or something else not in my normal walking range, they always remember to ask a week or two in advance if they can arrange a ride for me.

    In other words, they act like I matter as an individual with peculiar needs and interests. That’s my best recommendation for a new/returning home teacher: give the lesson, but consider how it relates to the life of your teaching family and adapt or edit accordingly.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    For me the hardest part has always been making connections with my companion, not going to visit the family.

    I agree that if there are kids, parents will appreciate it if you direct the lesson to them, learn their names, be a friend to them. That will mean the world to them.

    I personally think the everyone teaching each other the Ensign message is ridiculous. You don’t have to do that; ask the family what they want from you, and take your cue from them. I always encourage our HTers not to rehash the Ensigh message, which in our case is a complete waste. We don’t need a lesson; we prefer an actual visit.

    HTing is an attempt to basically institutionalize friendship. That doesn’t always work. But try to establish a genuine friendship with your families. Instead of the usual visit, have them over for dinner or go out together.

    When I need help, I don’t call my HTers, I call my friends. If you want to succeed as a HTer, you need to earn the latter title.

  6. I had some suggestions, but Ardis and Kevin said it perfectly. Be consistent and truly care by really getting to know them – and do whatever the family wants.

  7. Great comments so far.

    Our current home teachers have really made an attempt to speak to our kids, which has been awesome.

  8. My parents had the same home teacher for about 20 years (his sons of various ages, and then other guys in the ward, variously served as his companions). He was very reliable and helpful, but the thing that stood out to me was how personally invested he was in our family. When I was in a terrible snow tubing and ended up in the hospital with a broken back, he made a plaque to commemorate my spectacular wipeout. When he showed up at our door once and found our doorbell broken, he went out to his truck, got his tools, fixed the doorbell (apparently working with live wires?), then rang it to announce his arrival.

    In other words, he just did small thoughtful things all the time.

    I haven’t the foggiest idea whether he ever delivered the Ensign message or not…

  9. Aaron Brown says:

    The Ensign 1st Presidency message is a great idea if you don’t know what else to do. Once you know your hometeachee family well enough to tailor a message to their specific needs, you should do so. I admit I usually just present the Ensign message, but that’s out of habit, not conviction.

    Rather than a means to “institutionalize friendship”, I tend to view Hometeaching as a tool for the Bishop to extend his eyes and ears further than he ever could as a mere one-man show. So it’s important for that reason. But I also agree that developing a friendship with one’s hometeachees is very important, and while it’s not always easy, I do think an honest effort needs to be made if one wants to be effective. Hometeachers who don’t care, who are just going through the motions, are easy to spot.

    AB

  10. Most people need more Home than Teaching.

    The lesson element should be crafted for the intended audience. I use the Ensign lesson with an institute attending YSA I teach who is interested in that, but with most of my less actives I come in with a short scripture, basically a feel-good.

    Our last HT was like a surrogate uncle, and he would come over and he’d sit on the floor playing with the boys while we chatted. More significantly, he maintains his relationship with the boys even though he was reassigned. I don’t remember him ever giving the FP message, but he’d share insights from SS lessons, etc. He was incredibly helpful.

    Our current HT brings his daughter with him, roughly the same age as our kids, and so the kids all run around while we chat, which makes everybody happy.

  11. Thomas Parkin says:

    Well, I haven’t had a home teacher in my home in the five years since I returned to the church. But, these are my thoughts:

    I don’t care if you don’t have a lesson prepared. We can discuss the gospel without a lesson. Really, come and be my friend, be my brothers in Christ. We can talk about hockey or hanging Christmas lights, for all I care. We will certainly have gospel discussions because that is something we both care about. If that is centered on the Ensign bit, that’s about as good as anything if it seems applicable. Leave a genuine prayer of faith in my home. I need my brothers and sisters praying for me and my family. You probably have no idea how much I need it, and even if you are a friend, I may not tell you. The answer to “Is there anything we can do for you?” is, yes, come again next month. ~

  12. I’ve never taught a family the message out of the Ensign. I always prefer to take pocket size new testament with me and pull it out sharing a verse about forigveness, loving one another, or some other “universal” message that can get us all thinking about how we apply the gospel in our everyday lives.

    I have never made the “message” the central purpose of my visit. The central purpose of your visit it to get together as friends and neighbors and check up on each other (that’s the way I’ve always felt, anyway).

    My wife can’t stand the fact that men are given companions with whom they are responsible to go home teaching with. She adamantly insists that we would all be better off if families were assigned to families. I would love that, . . . and it would take the pressure off getting a hold my my companion each month. I sure would go more often if I could go with my wife.

    Now that I think about it my parents just told me that the bishop of their ward in Salt Lake has made all of the home teachers “companions” with their wives. I have no idea if the source of this policy came from somewhere higher up, if it is a “test” ward, or if it is simply a very localized and isolated phenomenon. In any case, I like the sound of it.

  13. I’d be very happy with a home teacher who makes an effort to know my family, and who visits every two or three months. Someone who talks with us enough to know what’s going on in our lives, and who stops to talk to us at church to make sure everything is alright. Someone who helps out if we run into problems.

    I also try to be that home teacher. I guess I should visit everyone on my list every month, but I don’t always get around to it, and even when I do I visit alone or with my wife because it’s too difficult to convince my home teaching companion to come.

  14. 1. Aim the message at the children!!
    2. Timing is dependant on the families you visit, I would advise arranging something in advance. Duration is also discretionary. (I have sat in various lessons where leaders have stated it should be no more than…..) I feel this can be used as a guideline but not a regulation!
    3. The Ensign message each month is something I don’t tend to use and I have sometimes found it difficult to adapt the message to a childs level if they are present. I also think it is has to be delivered as some form of discussion point because members can turn off once you crack out the First presidency message as they may have already read and studied it and shared it on their own visits.
    4. Don’t quite know what you mean by topics?

  15. sam, you were doing a great job when you were our hometeachers. What we found the best was when you and Kate watched the girls so we could go out and when you helped me bring my door to the glass shop to fix the broken pane. (And, of course, that you gave us the choice as to whether we wanted a “lesson” taken from the Ensign or something else. Your visits were always enlightening.) Keep up the good work.

  16. I have the best hometeachers in the world. I may need to write a separate post to praise them. One has been the same for a long time, one is new, but they’re both fantastic. They know my kids’ names and birthdays and interests. One built an apple cider press out of an old car jack and plywood and invited my kids to make cider–Best.Hometeaching.Ever!

    They’re not perfect about making it every month, but that’s ok; they’re pretty close, and they check in every couple of weeks. As for lessons, I told them the rule of thumb is one minute for every year of the youngest child’s age, and they’ve stuck to that. They also ask me on the sly if there’s anything my kids need to hear from someone besides mom–hence frequent lessons on obedience :)

    Here’s a challenge: don’t ever say “is there anything we can do for you?” Think of something that might be helpful and offer, or else just do it.

  17. Practical help and friendship trump all else in home teaching. If a message is wanted, very brief and aimed at the youngest people in the room seems about right. People are not going to be made to feel part of the kingdom by a monthly sermon with just the right message, but they can be with given that gift by the practical evidence of, as the saying goes, love unfeigned… This is very hard because we’re imperfect people and in many units we’re given new home teaching lists very often (mine changes on average every month and a half), so sincere relationships can be a challenge to construct on the fly. But that’s where it’s at; the rest is just tinsel.

  18. OK, so, yeah: replace my comment with “I agree with John F. and Kristine.”

  19. It was hometeaching that got my family converted, so to say that I’m excited you’re going to get to it would be a little bit of an understatement. Kudos!

    That being said–often the mother or father may have ideas for lessons their family needs–think how to put together a 72 hour kit, how to help kids serve, needed gospel essentials refreshers, etc. Ask them if they have assignments for you as home teachers.

    Beyond that, make yourself as available as possible. 1 new magic trick a month to keep the kids entertained works well to holding their attention. Also object lessons can make a lesson go from drudgery to fun for the kids.

    Also don’t get offended if any of them ask if you’re going to leave soon so they can go swim, play soccer, whatever. And be sure to turn a deaf ear to any comments from the little ones concerning indiscretions of the parents (eating out on Sunday, spankings if not abuse, etc.).

    Basically, just befriend the family and “be there” and be available for them.

  20. My hometeacher is always teaching. He doesn’t know our names and doesn’t care except on that one sunday afternoon. I have come to avoid him every chance I get. I feel like I am applying for a job and every time I talk to him. He was just as bad when home taught him. I don’t know how but some of my hometeachers actually seemed to care about me and my family and it is not about duty or responsibility. Not going every month is not the worst thing a HT can do. Going every month just because it is your responsibility to is by far worse.

    The best HT I have had walked in and saw I was working on my yard (new house) and said I care about you but I am not helping you with any of your yardwork. I found that refreshing he came because of an assignment but he did not pander. I felt I could trust him. Good luck.

  21. StillConfused says:

    Make it less drudgery for everyone involved — find something in common to talk about, whether it is a home improvement project or a common sport with children. We have enough teachers — do we have enough people who actually care about our lives?

  22. “I tend to view Hometeaching as a tool for the Bishop to extend his eyes and ears further than he ever could as a mere one-man show. ”

    This is OK when there is a family in need. This is not OK when the Home Teachers are basically spies looking for transgression – like in my case when the HTs made a couple of snide comments about some of my DVDs and the bishop had a chat with me about “appropriate choices” in media since some of those DVDs were rated R.

  23. I love the program regardless if it is institutionalized or not–it gives you a chance to think about other families and how to serve them on a regular basis. Our currents are amazing and my advice is to be like them and try to look for ways to do little things to build their trust. Example: HT #1 shows up to let us borrow wheat grinder (we mentioned we didn’t have one) and brings a bowl of fresh cut melon along with it. HT #2 hears I am having a problem with my vocal range for a song I am singing in church and calls me up to offer advice since he is studying vocal performance.

    I feel like I could totally call them for something I need since they seemed so eager to serve when I didn’t even request it.

    And Sundays are best day hands down.

  24. HI,

    You need to adapt to each situation.

    I have three assignees.

    1. 19 year old single convert. She comes over and plays with our kids and asks us questions about marriage and if she can wait till she is done with college. Uh yeah we always say. We also talk to her about polygamy tough issues etc

    2. Older inactive family with testimonies who do not attend church. I usually just walk across the street and chit chat.

    3. 25 year old guy with active parents/RM siblings. We usually just invite him to bball and his non-member wife asks us about the church.

  25. Don’t stay too long. Please. We are lucky to get our current HT out in an hour. Sometimes it takes 2 hours. Teenage son companion slouches by his side while uncomfortable chit chat is made, I finally suggest that they deliver the lesson, hoping this will wrap things up. My young children are wondering who this person is and why he won’t leave so we can pay attention to them again.
    Last HT came, called all the kids in, joked with them, sometimes gave a 60 second lesson directed at them, chatted with us for a couple of minutes, and then left. Also fixed my doorbell once when he noticed it wasn’t working. Lovely.

  26. I have alternately been a good and a bad home teacher, but when I served as a bishop, or in PH leadership positions, the home teaching connection, when it worked, was invaluable, and frustrating when it did not. When Kevin Barney said he calls his friends for help, that is what HT should aspire to.

    Adapt to the situation. The Ensign message is really not always the best material. Recently, I tried to cover both the adults and a couple of energetic boys by teaching the Rameumpton story from the BoM, and brought Legos for the boys to build their own Rameumpton.

    I have also been guilty of being the home teacher that, quoting a family in our stake, “we could always depend on for cookies at Christmas, but not much else”. Cookies are fine, but really developing friendships is vital.

  27. great advice given. with (almost) four kids five and under, i appreciate everyone passing on the advice about the kids. not that our ht’s ever really bother to visit us, but when they do, it’s hellacious for the kids. last time, we finally released them from ht hell (stuck on the couch while the dad made awkward and bizarre small talk) after almost a half hour. at the very end, the son (who is old enough to know better), threw his hands up in the air as our kids ran by and said, “great, there goes the object lesson we worked so hard on for the kids!” the dad sighed and said he was also disappointed, was there any way we could corral them for 15 more minutes. um, nope! you’ve maxed them out!

    don’t grab them in the hall after church and ask to come over that day. that drives me NUTS. it is so insincere and intrusive to me. i actually HATE having vt’s and ht’s come over on sundays because that’s a day we spend with our family (including extended) and doing sabbath-ish stuff. i know the ht/vt falls under that, but it’s the one day that’s just OURS and having someone tell me they want to stop by in a couple of hours throws my day off track. i’ve finally learned to say no, that they need to plan ahead for a different day.

    i wouldn’t feel comfortable calling our ht’s for anything. they don’t know us and aparently don’t care to know us. additionally, our ht’s wife participated quite vocally in my excoriation within the ward because of how i quietly voted on prop. 8. there was an organized rs boycott of my baby shower and the ht’s wife was right in the thick of things. that might be another tip… even if your spouse hates your teachee, help him or her to zip it.

  28. I like to think that Pres Hinckley’s message on what converts need holds to what families need, as well: 1. a friend 2. a calling/responsibility, and 3. to be nourished by the good word of God.

    I’ve had a lot of home teachers over the years who visited for a few minutes a month, but I never heard or saw from them otherwise. No one invited me over to dinner or an activity.

    Hometeachers should know what the needs are, and then give the family challenges. Encourage them to pray as a family twice a day. Family scripture study. temple attendance. regular husband/wife dates. Family Home Evening. Family Search Indexing. Share the gospel with a friend, etc. These “callings” will help the family grow in strength. I remember challenging an older sister for two years to prepare for the temple. It annoyed her at times, but when she did finally go, she thanked me profusely. She then went frequently, and you couldn’t keep her away.

    finally, the message should nourish the family. If the Ensign message is what they need, fine. If the family needs something different, then give them what they need.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    I recall a long time ago in a different area, I had just recently moved in. I was given a list of assignees, and my new companion and I went to try to visit them. I think this was on the last Sunday of the month, so if it wasn’t the last day, it was close.

    We knock on this one door, and an inactive guy comes to the door and starts yelling at us for coming so late in the month, and how disrepectful that is, showing we didn’t really want to do it and it was just an assignment to us.

    So we just left.

    Part of me felt bad for going so late in the month that he had that impression of our motives and that reaction. But most of me was pretty unsympathetic (I was going to write an expletive, but thought better of it ). It was the end of the calendar month, sure, but I was brand new in the ward and hadn’t even been there the whole month. It was maybe two weeks after I had received the assignment. And at least I was out there busting my hump trying. Did he think it’s easy for me to get off my easy chair and go knock on some guy’s door I’ve never even met before and try to help him? And what had he done lately to try to be of service to another human being? It’s not like he did any home teaching for others himself.

  30. I don’t understand the injunction that forbids home teaching on the last day of the month. It seems to me the ultimate elevation of form over substance. It says that it is better to not go at all than go on the last day of the month because if you go on the last day of the month you are insincere or something. BS!!! It’s hard enough to coordinate schedules between companions and families without superimposing that kind of crap on the schedule as well. You go when you can go. If that’s at the end of the month, great, just get the HT visit done regardless of timing and I think the Lord will bless you.

  31. …like in my case when the HTs made a couple of snide comments about some of my DVDs and the bishop had a chat with me about “appropriate choices” in media since some of those DVDs were rated R.

    Oh [&$!#] that (in my best Rod Blagojevich voice)! I’d have immediate words with those HTers and tell them that they were NEVER welcome in my home again. It’s not their job to be snoops and narcs and it’s none of their business (or the bishop’s) what you watch!

  32. MCQ I might be reading more into your comment than you meant but I absolutely couldn’t disagree more. What is total BS is that it is easier to coordinate schedules the last day as the first day of the month. And anyone who thinks they can procrastinate every month and actually recieve a blessing is totally full of SH–. The blessing of HT is having friends at church and I can see through the facade of the last minute HT they could care less and everybody can see it. I also hate people doing things for me so they can get blessings.

  33. Thomas Parkin says:

    “I also hate people doing things for me so they can get blessings.”

    Yeah. When my hometeachers come on the last day of the month, I always pray that they won’t get any blessings for it. If they seem particularly phony, I might also pray for their children to get sick, or maybe for them to lose their means of making a living. Maybe then they will get some perspective and come be my friend no later than the 15th of every month. ~

  34. I’m with Ardis. I think home teaching should be about taking an interest in people, letting them know you care…that they are important. Lessons are good, but nothing better than demonstrating the gospel and its teachings through your actions.

    I am the EQ sec. in my ward and I never give people a hard time about home teaching. I make my calls, ask about the families, needs, and then I ask if they got out to visit them.

  35. Thomas you are being kind of a jerk here. I said nothing about wishing any ill will on anyone. That is clearly how your mind works though. If someone cares enough about me to give service because they can and I need it then great. But it is not my responsibility to create opportunites for people so they can get blessing. Most last day hometeachers are the ones that refuse to learn my name or my kids names refuse to talk to me at church and generally don’t care. You sound like this may be your motivation. HT is not about the home teacher it is about creating a ward community not about accumulating blessing for your selfish self. I have had too many HT that after a year of visits did not know my kids names.

  36. The thing that worked best for me with visit-teaching is when the teachee sister would let us do some work with her. Shared work really fostered a feeling of true friendship far better than just chatting, in my experience. Some sisters want to have the house all nice before we visited, and that just makes our visit more work for them. When we made it clear that we wanted to come and help with their work, and when the sister would let us do that, things turned out really well. We’d also would bring a snack, so our visit was work, quick lesson, shared snack. That format seemed to be a happy formula, and real friendships would happen in that way. I hope it can catch on. It’s really fun.

  37. “personally think the everyone teaching each other the Ensign message is ridiculous. You don’t have to do that; ask the family what they want from you, and take your cue from them. I always encourage our HTers not to rehash the Ensigh message, which in our case is a complete waste. We don’t need a lesson; we prefer an actual visit.”

    I share these sentiments exactly, what is the point behind everybody teaching everybody the same lesson. If that was the point then a monthly broadcast for The First Presidency would be more effecient. I have always tried to give a lesson from the Scriptures based on what I had been studying, and felt this personalized the message better. Recently however, one of the families I home teach expressed frustration over the fact that I never use the Enzign. It’s impossible to please everybody.

  38. So basically, the meme is that we should listen to our assigned families to get a perspective on what their needs are and how we can help?

    Shocking. Wait, I’ve been hearing that since I was 14.

    Are we HTers really *that* pathetic, as a body?

  39. Queuno, the trick is that the people we HT will never tell us what the problem is.

  40. Queuno:

    Nice response. I think what I have been hearing most of my life is “do you your hometeaching”, with much less emphasis on what that should entail other than going. I am happy to be of help to my neighbor, in fact it was this aspect that guilted me into improving on this task. I am not convinced that rehashing the same enzign message every month usually accomplishes this. What turned me off by the request, and your comments as well, is that I am happy to hometeach to meet, fellowship, and help my neighbor. What I am not interested in is providing “on demand” entertainment. This month just to please everybody I went to the families home and read a portion of the Christmas enzign message, then I reminded everybody to share and bask in the joy of giving. I pretty much left it at that, because as true as the message is, we have heard and continue to hear all Christmas long every Christmas season. It becomes thought terminating for me.

  41. Hate to comment so late on this but my mind keeps coming back to this. I think home teaching is a huge issue, both for the families and the hometeacher.

    When I was a kid in the late 50’s in Seattle, my single mother relied heavily on her home teachers. I remember what a big deal it was when they visited. My mother lives thousands of miles away now, but still stays in touch with her hometeachers.

    I remember the days our car wouldn’t start and the hometeacher coming over and trying to get it started. He beat the crap out of his bumper pushing our car, in a futile attempt to start a car that should have been taken to the dump.

    I could go on forever about the impact these home teachers had on us as new converts.

    Just as going the extra mile has become the symbol of Christianity in the meridian of time, so it is that home teaching will be the symbol of Christianity for our time. Obeying the commandments helps us grow, and home teaching fosters tremendous spiritual growth that I believe can come in no other way.

  42. Kevin, #5:

    I always encourage our HTers not to rehash the Ensigh message

    What an inspired typo! (Or was it intentional?) What a great description of a half-heartedly delivered message that the hearers have already read–En-sigh!

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