Assigning GC Talks to Sacrament Speakers

We now go from the sublime (Russell’s “My Gifts” reflections upon Pentecost below) to the ridiculous. To wit: the growing practice of assigning ward members to speak on General Conference talks.

There are many innovative and wonderful practices in the Church that developed in non-hierarchical, grass roots fashion. This is not one of them. During sacrament meeting today I leaned over to my wife and swore in my wrath that I would blog on this mind-numbing practice that seems to be spreading through the Church like wildfire.

If it is not clear by now, I am not a fan. Some random thoughts on this, to which I hope you will add, would include the following:

1. Such talks are almost inevitably of poor quality and boring, boring, boring. This is because there is a strong tendency for people to read large swathes of their assigned talks. You don’t have to belong to Toastmasters to understand that the most deadly thing a speaker can do is read long passages of text at the pulpit. By definition that is going to make the talk difficult to pay attention to. Yet the people who do this no doubt think that they are doing what is expected of them–trying to convey the substance of some GC talk to the congregation.

2. Those poor people who actually watch General Conference are doubly penalized for doing so, as now their sacrament meeting talks are warmed over–and generally inferior–versions of talks they’ve already heard in their original forms from the GAs themselves.

3. These talks can be good. The extent to which they are is largely a function of how seasoned and experienced the church member giving the talk is, so that he understands that it is acceptable for him to go off the reservation and bring his own insights into the mix. But our young people and more recent converts don’t have that experience and understanding, and they are going to follow these talks slavishly.

4. As a consequence, people aren’t going to learn the skills of researching, preparing, practicing and giving their own talks. Our young people already know how to read; they don’t need more practice at that skill.

5. GA talks tend to be pretty good, I think. GAs tend to be pretty good speakers, especially when you get them out of the formal constraints of GC and in a more intimate setting. But that’s because they’ve had long experience in the church actually preparing talks and speaking. You become a better public speaker by practice and experience. Mormons used to have an advantage in this sphere, because your average Mormon has gotten up and spoken in public way more than most people. But if our young people don’t learn these skills now, what happens when they go on missions and we hope for them to be powerful public speakers? Their lack of true public speaking experience is going to become debilitating.

6. One of the skills involved in actually preparing a talk is exploring the scriptures and seeing how they relate to the topic and incorporating them into the talk. People aren’t turning directly to the font itself; they’re not cracking their scriptures at all to prepare these talks. That is a bad precedent we’re setting.

7. It is essential to illustrate the principles of a talk with personal stories. I want to hear the stories of the person actually giving the talk–a person I know and care about and love and who is physically there in our presence.

So what are your thoughts on this practice that seems to be infecting the Church, one ward at a time?

(Please read this post in the voice Dana Carvey uses when he imitates a crusty old man who is complaining about contemporary society and relishing the way things used to be…)

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Another problem is that it is difficult to actually complain about this practice, because we have such a cult of GA worship that it sounds like you don’t want all GA discourse all the time, and a lot of local leaders are going to be dismissive of such complaints.

  2. Well, isn’t this special. You are on the high road to Apostacy, Mr. Barney.
    (Puts hat down.)
    Honestly, I want Sunday school and sacrament meeting combined. Two people can talk about whatever is assigned for SS, and then we get out an hour early. Give me that, and I’ll listen to a pureed version of a GC talk with no complaints.

  3. Don Irvine says:

    Our Sacrament talks are largely based on topics addressed at GC but are worded in such a way that the members are not likely to use the talk as the sole basis for their talks. Most speakers weave personal stories, scriptures and some previous GA quotes in and it works to reinforce the messages we want to convey to the ward.

  4. Abominable. (And I’ve just deleted a long and horrible recent example from my ward. We can all supply our own horrible examples, no doubt.)

    I teach the RS lessons based on conference talks. Judging from the response, and the fact that they kept me as an RS teacher after calling me to teach Gospel Doctrine, suggests that my classes are probably okay. But you can’t can’t can’t can’t just read or even retell the talk. You have to choose one or more principles in the talk, and teach those principles, drawing on scriptural, historical, and personal material to illustrate the principles. That material may be quotations from the talk itself, maybe, in moderation, but generally has to be something else, because everybody already HEARD the talk, and most have reread it since. And you draw out the personal experiences and illustrative scriptures from class members. But you don’t read the talk, and you don’t recite the speaker’s testimony — that’s HIS testimony, not yours.

    Talks can be and need to be done the same way (only, obviously, you can’t use audience participation as you can in class). But you can teach the principle, quote supporting scripture, tell that story about how you learned the principle, bear your own testimony, recall something similar that Wilford Woodruff taught, whatever.

    But I vehemently disagree with Margaret about losing Sunday School. We need decent Sunday School teachers, not dreadful Sacrament Meetings in lieu of good Sunday School classes.

  5. The person who spoke on a GC talk in our SM today literally — I exaggerate not — closed with “my testimony is like Elder X’s, which I’ll read now.” Followed by a verbatim reading of said Apostle’s printed testimony, followed by ITNOJCA. Wow.

  6. We deal with this every week in our ward as well. I thought it came as an edict from SLC or something.

  7. When I first received such a request I was a bit incredulous. Was this some sort of invitation to plagiarism? I ended up mentioning that such-and-such GA had recently spoken on this topic and then proceeded to speak unencumbered by any further allusions. Why do I want to insult myself by rehashing someone else’s ideas expressed according to their personality? In subsequent cases, I always pick out no more than one phrase or idea from such a talk for elaboration.

    Margaret, one Sunday, that I remember with more than a little bitterness, the lesson from “teachings for our times” (the priesthood and relief society version of this same phenomenon) as well as both sacrament meeting talks were based on the same general conference address. I suppose there might be a combination of circumstances in which they could have all been interesting and non-redundant, but it didnt’ happen that day.

  8. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks for this post. The “regurgi-talk” phenomenon is loathsome and abhorrent. It finds traction within the leadership style you see sometimes in the Church that tries to suggest that banal = virtuous. (As though the Lord desires suicidally boring Elder’s Quorum lessons, because it is His way of testing the faithful.) Give me interesting false doctrine any day; at least there would be something to discuss after church.

  9. Chris H. says:

    I think that GC talks work well as topics. But they should not be talks about the talk. Our forth Sunday lessons in priesthood and RS are usually talks from the previous conference. They are often difficult lessons because they were not meant to be lessons.

    As my wife would say, the problem is not assigning GC talks but that some people are just horrible public speakers or do not know what they are doing giving a talk (#5 would be a good example).

  10. Our ward has been doing this for a few years. And every person assigned to speak on a particular Sunday is given the same GC talk to draw from. Our bishopric gives the speaking assignments with the instruction that we are not to just read or redeliver the GA’s talk, but few people understand or follow the instruction. Two or three people reading the same quotes and excerpts gets pretty tiresome. If they want a talk on adversity, why not just say, “Hey, we’d like you to speak on adversity”?

  11. Nick Literski says:

    When I watched this happening in my ward, it really struck me as an indication that individual members simply aren’t trusted to give satisfactory talks. Speakers weren’t being encouraged to bring their own insights to the assigned GC talk—they were really expected to present the original speaker’s message.

  12. Chris H. says:

    BTW, my ward does not actually do this. They usually do not really give topics (at least they have not given me one and they have me speak a good bit). Some people do great things. Others not.

  13. Sanford says:

    It is disheartening to experience GA talk talks because they tend to be very impersonal. I am deeply interested in hearing about what my fellow ward members think about the gospel and how it impacts their lives. But when a speaker repeats someone else’s ideas and words I gain little insight into what the speaker actually thinks and or what wisdom they have gained. It feels very remote. It also is distressing to see the proliferation of this practice when it evidences a fundamental institutional mistrust of members’ ability to decide for themselves through the spirit what is appropriate and warranted in a sacrament meeting talk.

  14. StillConfused says:

    I have been told to give talks based on certain addresses before. So I gave a very engrossing, interesting personal story (the parable of the motorcycle wreck is a favorite) and then at the very very very end, I tied it in to a few lines of the address. Nothing like talking about a morotcycle wreck or a fatal plane crash to shake things up a bit.

  15. (Munching on some Gruyère)

    (It goes great with very fine whine)

    I wholeheartedly agree with every last word of it, Kevin.

  16. aloysiusmiller says:

    7. Bill, It seems like what you did is what was intended.

    It would be sad to hear a talk that was more or less a verbatim repeat of a conference talk. Some members do it by choice and I prefer it to some lame travel log but there are some fine conference talks that can be the jumping off point for even more inspiration. I know that GC topics/talks are assigned in my ward and I rarely hear the talk repeated and I frequently hear good talks that are founded in the assigned talk.

  17. It is not about how they say but what they say! Yes, people get better at speaking if they do it often but who checks and corrects when what they’re saying is not Church doctrine in the middle of sacrament meeting? That’s a huge problem in my side of the world.

  18. livin in zion says:

    Our stake pres. told each bishop to use conference talks to address the problem of false doctrine, etc. The result is our ward suffers horribly from boring, regurgitated schlock. No personal stories are allowed, no humor, etc. Every speaker gets e-mailed 2 talks to draw their remarks from, with recommendations about what to “focus on”, along with a sheet of “pointers” reminding us to not be lighthearted, no visual props, all comments need to stay centered on the assigned talks, etc.

    Last year I was asked to speak. I did refer to the assigned material and then spent the rest of my talk telling a personal story that related. I got compliments at church, at the grocery store 2 days later, a note in the mail and a phone call all telling me how wonderful my talk was.

    I understood what they were responding to was not how fabulous I was, but the talk was a drink of water in a desert of mind-numbing rhetoric.

    Apparently, the bishopric member who assigned me to speak did not care for my address. The next week, another speaker was given the same topic I was, and he followed the counselors suggestions to the letter. It was awful.

    To survive in this spiritual climate my family has perfected the talent of sleeping while sitting perfectly upright. It makes the time pass faster. I am personally counting down the years until this stake pres. is released and hopefully we can get back to the “good old days” of real talks, from real people, warts and all. Meanwhile, I do count on my weekly nap to help make up for my usual sleep loss due to taking kids to early morning seminary.

  19. Latter-day Guy says:

    Re: 18,

    Bringing a good book also helps!

  20. yeah, i don’t like these, but you can be creative with them. I was once asked to talk about the HT message on the first principles and ordinances, so I gave a talk on LDS pneumatology with a heavy dollop of devotion, and it went just fine.

  21. merrybits says:

    But…but…what about the councel that says if we don’t get anything out of sacrament meeting or find it boring, it’s because we’re not being spiritually intune?? [/devil’s advocate]

    Today we had a talk on emergency preparedness. Okay, fine. Instead of any personal insights about living here in the land o’ regular earthquakes, the speaker read a bunch of old stories from the 70’s about some dam breaking in Idaho. Good times.

  22. Mark B. says:

    I remember a story Elder Nelson told, of a trip to a conference in southern Utah with President Kimball. (This must have been when he was a regional representative or in the general Sunday school presidency.) The evening before the conference he asked President Kimball what topic he should speak on. President Kimball replied that he believed that Elder Nelson should be able to find out for himself what the Lord wanted him to say. Elder Nelson said he didn’t get much sleep that night, but he learned a great deal.

    I think that by assigning topics (other than, say, “Preach the Gospel”), local leaders do a disservice not only to the hearers but also the speakers. How else can the membership of the church learn to seek the Spirit, and study things out for themselves? How can they bear witness from personal experience if the assigned topic is something they have no personal experience with?

    And, re: 18, somebody needs to learn the difference between being lighthearted and light minded. If humor were banned from the church, I just may find a different way to spend my Sundays.

  23. gillsyk says:

    Even where we do not assign GC talks for Sac Mtg (as in my ward, where the speakers are simply given a topic or scripture), we have a tough time developing good speaking in the church. There are wonderful resources on lds.org. But does anyone else ever feel a touch of resentment for the ‘Prepare a Talk’ link, which points people to lists of conference talks they can quote from? My beef being that this just perpetuates the notion that a talk is a quote-book of other people’s remarks (say, that sounds a lot like our Priesthood/Relief Society manuals!). Where do we ever guide people to the notion that a talk should include *your* thinking and pondering and experience with a topic?

    And I’m vehemently with with Ardis on the need for good Sunday School, not capitulating to boring Sac Mtg.

  24. Anon, in case he's a blogger says:

    Sometimes speakers are going to be spectacularly bad regardless of whether a topic is assigned, or whether the topic is a GC talk. Our theme today was “sacrifice,” and our first speaker wandered through:

    1. A story from his mission to Mexico where he and his companion had jumped the fence around what they guessed was an ancient altar, and took pictures of each other pretending to do human sacrifice with a dagger. (They learned nothing from the idiot elders in Colorado??)

    2. A description of an ’80s heavy metal band named Sacrifice (or so he said — I find nothing at “sacrifice.com” which he claimed he stumbled across while googling for junk for his talk)

    3. A report on animal sacrifice as practiced anciently and today.

    4. A badly garbled account of the handcarts, concluding with the testimony of “Sister” Francis Webster.

    Even the bishop, who ordinarily stares into space as if he weren’t even there, had to hang his head and shake it during the part about the heavy metal band.

    At least if he’d regurgitated a conference talk, we’d have been spared part of that mess.

  25. merrybits says:

    #24, But I bet the congregation actually listened to the talk – I know I would have!

  26. livin in zion says:

    At least you heard something memorable! The last talk I remember was Mother’s Day 2008 when the speaker introduced the topic of “Divine Womanhood” (a man, no less!) by announcing that he had been asked to speak the previous Mother’s Day and he figured since no one remembered it from the year before, he was going to give the same talk over again. And he did.

  27. Kevin: You’re just not seeing the big picture. This must be a prelude to the practice of taking the sacrament and then dismissing everyone to go home and read the talks of the GAs for themselves. If such a practice leads to shorter and fewer meetings, I say bring it on and let’s get on with it!

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I go primarily to give loving support. I usually doubt that the 12 year old’s talk is going to teach me something new — except maybe how to love that 12 year more. That is entirely worthwhile to me. I almost always find surprises and bits of wonderful inspiration where I least expect it.

    But so help me, if I have to listen to one more regurgitated GA talk, I think I’ll puke.

  28. Oh, and let me add, that next time our ward gives a returned missionary only 5 minutes to talk about two years in order to make room for the Stake High council to talk, I think I’m going to riot right in the meeting. Our returned missionaries deserve more than a 10 minute talk on an assigned topic that makes sure they tell us nothing about what they actually experienced. It is time to revolt against such insensitive practices.

  29. Juliann says:

    We always have a GC week in Relief Society. I don’t find it much different than being called on one by one to read the next paragraph in the Presidents of the Church manual though.

  30. Excellent post, Kevin.

    Just this morning I suffered through four talks on enduring to the end, the last two of which were little more than a hash of recent conference talks on the subject.

    I endured them by mentally outlining a post entitled, “How lds.org has destroyed sacrament meeting.”

  31. Sometimes we are told to follow the Spirit in our meetings and trust in divine inspiration to fill our mouths and other times we are given GA talks to read verbatim. I am somewhat confused, but I know which meetings I prefer.

  32. Matt W. says:

    I think the general tenor of talks in some wards is bad. I guess we need to enable some better training than the example we give each other. I guess I challenge everyone to figure out ways to make it better.

  33. The Barney speaks the truth.

    What especially galls me is when ALL THREE speakers are assigned the same talk. We get it warmed over THREE times. The youth speaker generally just reads the talk- then the next speaker (often a woman) comments on how the Youth just covered all her talking-points, and goes on to give her same prepared talk. Then, the third, usually a man, thanks the sister for her beautiful remarks, jokes about having to mine for new material since THEY BOTH just covered the talk, and we get to sit through it AGAIN.

  34. Michael says:

    #28 – Hear, hear. The week before conference, the HC speaker said that since General Conference was to be the following week, he was going to recap the previous General Conference. And he did. He had the Ensign, and he’d highlighted key stories and quotes in EACH talk and covered all six hours. Hands down, worst talk I’ve ever heard. It even topped the ten minute testimony on a nosebleed we were once subjected to.

    I’ve decided that this current trend of GC based Sacrament meeting talks is the Lord’s method of reminding us that we are under condemnation, and that the end times were prophesied to be filled with pain, misery, and suffering. Then again, it could be teaching us to pray more, as in “Lord, when will this end?”

  35. Jennifer in GA says:

    Heh.

    Tonight was our stake’s seminary graduation, so in sacrament meeting today the talks were on the blessings of attending seminary (and in our case, early morning seminary- clearly a greater sacrifice! ;)) In addition to the seminary teacher, there were two youth speakers- a convert of six months and the bishop’s daughter.

    The contrast between the two talks was quite surprising.

    The young woman who was a convert gave lovely talk (and it was her first one ever) that was well prepared and thought out. You could tell she was a bit nervous, but she did a great job and you could truly feel the Spirit as she shared how her seminary experiences over the past two years (she started attending seminary before she was baptized- how’s that for commitment??) helped her as she learned the gospel and made the decision to be baptized.

    The bishop’s daughter, on the other hand, started off her talk by saying how much she didn’t want to give it, struggled to prepare it, etc. She then proceeded to quote, at length, from talks previously given by GA’s. I could only shake my head in disappointment as she simply parrotted the things she had been told all her life, rather than digging deeper for herself.

  36. Mark Brown says:

    ZD Eve (#30):

    You know what they say about great minds? Look here.

    Enduring to the end seems like an appropriate theme for our meeting.

  37. Our ward hasn’t got “RehashGCtalkitis” yet. As a matter of fact, the only instruction I got was to give a talk on repentance. That was it.

    I must admit however, that I got most of my stuff from the prepare a talk links on lds.org. Mostly I read all the talks and resources and found the talking points and other info I thought would fit well with my take on the topic. It really turned out well, and it saved me tons of time.

    There wasn’t a joke on LDS.org and I had to drum up one myself. I must also admit that the joke is one that I have heard at least once or twice in Sacrament.

  38. Brilliant, Mark! (Now I don’t have to compose my own post; I’ll just bookmark yours!)

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for that link, Mark. I’m going to copy here the comment I made in that thread, as it seems at least mildly relevant, and gives me a chance to brag on my son:

    The best youth talk in the history of the Restored Gospel in this, the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, was, as it so happens, given by none other than my very own son. He was asked to speak one Sunday, and I told him two things: (a) you need to prepare this talk yourself [IE don’t read a story out of Especially for Mormons]; speak on something that is meaningful and important to you, and (b) I want you to try really hard not to read anything, but to maintain eye contact with the audience.

    So he stands up at the pulpit on the given Sunday and gives by far the best youth talk I’ve ever heard in this Church (way, way better than the ones I gave as a teenager, that’s for sure). He just blew everyone away. His talk was on religious themes in the Simpsons (hey, I asked him to talk on something he cared about!). He was eloquent, passionate, insightful, spoke without notes, didn’t mumble, didn’t look down, funny as hell, and he taught us quite a bit about the portrayal of religious and family values in what appears on the surface to be a pretty dysfunctional family. Even a few people who weren’t exactly fans of the Simpsons had to agree it was a great talk, and even as long as two years later one guy in the ward would still talk about that talk and the impact it had on him.

    (Needless to say, I popped a couple of buttons on my shirt that day.)

  40. I recommend Ivan Wolfe’s series How to Give a Great Sacrament Meeting Talk (that’s part 5 with links to all previous parts) at M*.

  41. #34 “I’ve decided that this current trend of GC based Sacrament meeting talks is the Lord’s method of reminding us that we are under condemnation, and that the end times were prophesied to be filled with pain, misery, and suffering. Then again, it could be teaching us to pray more, as in “Lord, when will this end?”

    Too true and way too funny. Thanks for a much needed laugh.

  42. Mark D. says:

    Perhaps the practice of asking members to regurgitate other talks is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. Stand in the holy place – whoso readeth let him understand…

  43. Aaron Brown says:

    I don’t know what the reasoning is behind this practice, but I suspect it’s in large part due to (1) a desire to put constraints on the range of topics broached at the pulpit (if a G.A. addressed it, it must be a timely topic!) combined with (2) a desire to minimize the local leadership’s need to put too much time and thought into assigning out topics. Just consult the last conference schedule, and you’ve got a host of topics to divvy out with minimal thought and effort put into the process.

    If this is correct, than I suspect most local leadership don’t really have an expectation that speakers will closely track the content of the GA address. As long as you somehow deal with your topic, the rest is details. If church members could be made to understand this, we’d avoid some of the mindless repetition and most of the other pitfalls laid out in this post and the comments.

    Personally, I like being assigned a topic. If I were told to talk on literally anything I want, I would spend hours stewing about what I wanted to talk on, and I’d end up starting over several times during the preparation process. Give me a topic, and at least I can operate within those constraints, even if I have to get creative to make it interesting, and even though I’m inevitably going to bitch about the topic regardless what it is.

    I just wish people would stop talking about the circumstances under which they were assigned their talks, how ironic that they of all people were assigned this topic that they’re so unworthy to speak on, blah blah blah. Seriously, it people would just strive mightily to eliminate the cliche openings we all know and hate, our Sacraments would be much improved, regardless of whatever else happens in the talks.

    AB

  44. Susan W H says:

    When I was in my last year as an undergrad at UCLA, one of my profs, Richard Ashcraft (RIP) said in class one day that the most important quality required in a Ph.D. candidate was “an infinite capacity for boredom.” (He wrote his dissertation on something having to do with 18th or maybe 17th century Church of England sermons, oh and there is a story about him meeting Jeremy Bentham in the British Museum, but I digress.)

    I think I have said enough.

  45. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m curious how many people actively peruse old Bloggernacle posts once they know their topics for their talks. Personally, I always do.

    AB

  46. Ugh. Yeah, the lack of prepared talks makes that first hour drag by. Which is why I now bring books to read. (Nobody can yell at me for pulling out Jesus the Christ, although one week an older lady shot me the eye and told her daughter, “We don’t read here.”)

    Kevin, any chance there are notes for that Simpson’s talk? I’d love to see it, and I know DH would, too.

  47. Aaron,

    AMEN!

    What better way to make people hate your talk than to tell them that you didn’t want to give it and that it’s going to suck!

    That’s worse than just about anything you can do. That and tell the circumstances. No one really cares, at all. Unless what you were doing at the time goes against what you are to talk about. That might be fun!

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 46, no, I’m afraid no notes exist. I wish they did.

    Re: Aaron’s point, I remember a woman telling me once about the days when the ERA was a big issue. So some bigwig in the Church was going to come and address a group of LDS women on the topic. The evening comes, and the guy gets up there and explains that he found a pamphlet on the ERA at a gas station while driving to the event, and he browsed it, and that was his source and his preparation. Here is this large group of women expecting a church authority to address them on a topic they cared about deeply and were very concerned about the position the church was taking, and he basically told them in so many words that he didn’t care enough about the assignment to actually prepare appropriate remarks to deliver.

  49. Aaron Brown says:

    I’d be remiss not to self-promote: http://bycommonconsent.com/2005/08/01/what-not-to-do-in-a-church-talk/

    This sums up my views pretty well.

    AB

  50. Naismith says:

    As implemented around here, I don’t see it as a bad thing. Each of us can take the given talk and use it however we want. At this point in my life, I would use the scriptures, and give my own take on whatever the assigned topic was, with a quote or two as illustration.

    But as a new convert, there is no way I would have understood what those scriptures meant or what the topic was. Having the general conference talk, in modern English, would be a huge help to me at that stage. I would read the scriptures faithfully as a new member, but it was just beyond me. I flunked quiz after quiz in Book of Mormon class at BYU, even though I read the assignment. It was really a problem in those first years, because my hardest classes were my religion classes and put me at risk of losing my financial aid. I felt like screaming every time a teacher said, “As you all know from seminary…” Fortunately, I humbled myself, met with each teacher and explained I was a recent convert, and they mercifully allowed extra credit or just gave me a bump in the grade so I got a B when I’d earned a D, despite all I could do. Organic chemistry was much easier.

  51. How else can the membership of the church learn to seek the Spirit, and study things out for themselves?

    They can do it with the assigned topics, very easily in fact. :)

    People aren’t turning directly to the font itself; they’re not cracking their scriptures at all to prepare these talks.

    Conference talks can be and are scripture. The hot-off-the-press kind. Current, inspired, critical for us to focus on. Our walk and talk and all of that.

    I agree that reading whole swaths of a talk isn’t all that effective, but what about what it does for the person studying and preparing? I wish we could be a little easier on those whose skill may not be public speaking, but who have the blessing of being able to spend a week studying doctrines of truth. Let them become seasoned in their own time through such experiences, and be patient in the process. That’s my take. People can be just as ‘boring’ with unassigned topics, too. The problem isn’t necessarily what they are (or aren’t) assigned to do.

    I actually like this practice, sorry. I like that I end up bringing my Conf Ensign to have open while people are talking. I made notes in mine today. It keeps me focused on the messages, keeps them present in my life.

    Sorry. Party pooper, I know.

    (And I agree with Ardis. I don’t want SS eliminated. I need all three meetings, each for different reasons.)

  52. m&m, I’d think that if you assign someone a talk on faith, they’ll learn more about the subject matter than if you assign them a talk about a talk on faith. Just my $0.02 to get you back for pooping on the party.

    You know what would be super meta? For your next Teachings for Our Time lesson, use the sacrament meeting talk as your source material. A lesson about a talk about a talk. Like a Charlie Kaufman movie in Elders’ Quorum!

  53. Mark D. says:

    51: GC talks certainly can be scripture. However, contemporary speaking style means that a GC talk typically covers the same content as about three or four written verses.

    Nobody is going to canonize a general conference talk. Even Joseph Smith’s best discourses were and are not fit for canonization as is.

  54. I am not a fan of this practice, and I agree with Kevin’s comments.

  55. Mike Parker says:

    I groused about this on Facebook just last Sunday—via my phone, during sacrament meeting, while the high council speaker was reading verbatim from his conference Ensign.

    The Sunday church experience has, for me, slid completely into a creative thought-free zone. If I didn’t have a strong testimony of the restored gospel, I’d be searching for a different church, because there is precious little intellectual or spiritual stimulation going on during the typical Sunday block in my ward.

    (That last comment is stimulated by extreme sadness, not hubris.)

  56. Sometimes I wonder if we forget what, or perhaps WHO, the Church is.

    Anyone who gripes about Sacrament meeting CERTAINLY doesn’t know.

    There’s a reason that Christ referred to His church as His bride. She is the most precious thing to Him, and it’s important that we don’t forget that she is our responsibility.

    Why? I dunno. Could it be because she is US?

    If we don’t like the way things are in Sacrament meetings, in Relief Society, in Priesthood, in our callings, in fast and testimony meetings (the list seemingly goes on FOREVER), then WE need to change them. WE are the Church, and WE are responsible for bringing the Spirit and the will of God into her as much as we possibly can. THAT’S what Sacrament meeting is about.

    If the bishop decides that the members of a ward need to hear the message of a talk over again, it’s rather stupid and of poor taste to mock the efforts of good people who were only trying to do as they were asked in being the one to deliver the message the bishop/ the Lord intended.

    My point is, if you think you can do better, then why don’t you volunteer? Seriously. Go up to a member of your bishopric and ask to give a talk. If he doesn’t fall over dead from surprise, he’ll thank you more times than you’ll even be able to process because someone is actually excited to do as he asks. I know because I’ve done it all throughout my church experience.

    And by the way, I’m a young convert. Watch what you say about the youth and converts next time. We’re the future of this church and underestimating us is the reason we don’t listen to you in Sunday school.

  57. m&m, I’d think that if you assign someone a talk on faith, they’ll learn more about the subject matter than if you assign them a talk about a talk on faith.

    In my mind, they can essentially be the same thing. To me, being assigned a talk does not limit me from studying the general principle to my heart’s content. Bringing in current counsel in that process to me seems potentially very powerful, actually.

    Again, you could run into the same problems (people reading whole talks, etc.) with just assigning a topic. The weakness of those who may not be the best speakers will still be there, regardless of whether you assign a GC talk or not. I am not convinced the real ‘problem’ being complained about it really about using talks as it is that not everyone is the best speaker in the world, and that is part of the opportunity that comes with being a lay church and being at different stages/experience levels/talent levels in this regard.

  58. Amen! AMEN! A-FREAKING-MEN!!!!

  59. Norbert says:

    Assigned talks are a bad practice, especially when all of the speakers are given the same assignment. If we can’t trust members to choose a topic for a talk, we’ve lost the battle and need to pay a clergy.

    #45: more self-promotion.

    And more.

  60. Latter-day Guy says:

    Again, you could run into the same problems (people reading whole talks, etc.) with just assigning a topic.

    You could, but do you generally? I doubt it. Sure, there can be bad talks of almost any variety, but I think that the general observation here has been that a greater percentage of regurgi-talks are unsatisfactory than talks of other varieties. Certainly a skilled speaker can do more with such an assignment than an average speaker, but it seems likely that is due (at least in part) to the willingness of skilled speakers to depart from/adapt the source material. So it would seem to be a positive thing to assign topics or scriptures, as opposed to already-prepared talks, as speaking prompts––this will tend to require the speaker to put more of their own insights into the message, making it more personal and more palatable.

    Simply put, if a particular kind of assignment tends to result in more talks of lower quality than some other kind of assignment, surely we should try to give more assignments of the kind that tend toward helping a speaker to be a success. It is possible to summit Everest either with or without oxygen, but it is more often achieved with it––so it would be stupid to suggest as a general rule that climbers go without.

  61. Mark Brown says:

    m&m,

    While your claim that the complaint is really about unpolished speakers seems plausible, I think we need to take into account that our best meetings are usually testimony meetings, and that is when we hear the most unprepared remarks and the most novice speakers. And yet, we like the meeting because we are getting something that is authentic. So I think the objection isn’t so much about unprofessional sermons as it is about the false veneer of spirituality that can come from just summarizing a GA talk.

    You are absolutely correct, it doesn’t necessarily need to be this way. People could take a conference talk and use it as a springboard to bring in their own experiences and testimony. But we usually don’t, so that is something bishoprics need to take into account when asking members to speak. There’s nothing wrong, in itself, from asking somebody to use a GA talk as a topic. But it would sure be nice if we got something real and authentic from the person speaking, otherwise we might just as well play a recording of the talk itself.

  62. Natalie B. says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. The reliance on GC talks produces mass boredom, stifles members from thinking, and prevents the us from speaking more personally about our own experiences of Christ. The whole phenomenon is not helped by the fact that, more often than not, GC talks are also just full of quotations from other GA’s.

  63. One day I will begin a talk like this.

    “No one in the Bishopric asked me to speak, I’ve simply stormed the pulpit today. Consequently, I was not assigned a topic, and I have studiously avoided looking up anything in the dictionary. But since I’m here, let me tell you a fascinating story about about something I learned while studying Hebrew in Jerusalem…”

  64. Our bishop is planning to have every single conference talk reviewed in sacrament meeting in-between each conference. Every single talk. I haven’t run the numbers yet.

    But, if I am assigned one of these talks, I will retain the freedom to simply make the talk one of the resources I use, and an outline of the topic. Other than that it will be like any other talk I give.

  65. Kristine says:

    Nitsav,

    I SOOOOO want to be in the congregation when you storm the pulpit. Can you post a notice at FPR before you do it? :)

  66. I think that giving talks based on General Conference talks is a great idea, provided it can be done correctly. From what I understand, the point is to illustrate the talks and bring them into real life, show how the speaker has utilized the counsel given in the talks to become a better disciple of Christ. This can be very tough to do. Therefore, most people do the easy thing in reading large excerpts and/or paraphrasing and “tying in” other things sometimes. But I think those who do the easy thing are likely to do the easy thing no matter how a talk is assigned.

    One ward I know gives a letter with thoughtful explanation of what is expected in such talks included with the assignment (2-3 quotes from the General Conference talk, personal experiences, scripture and strict time limits). Perhaps this would help those who are not comfortable deviating from the easy.

  67. Sarah in Georgia says:

    Count me as one who hates the regurgitated-Conference-Talk phenomenon. Although, it is better than the phase one of my BYU wards went through, where Sacrament speakers were assigned to speak from the lessons that were to be given in Priesthood and Relief Society later that day. I think I would have disagreed with the practice, even if I wasn’t a Relief Society teacher at the time.

  68. Remember that episode from the original Star Trek, where Kirk had to fight the alien who only spoke in quotes. Their whole communication structure was based on reciting bits of past stories. Anyways, it seems our Sacrament Meetings are going down the same path.
    When ever I hear a GC talk I notice they all follow the same basic structure; poignant and/or funny stories from their life, a few scriptures, and a quote of two from past church authority. Hence we get stories about being a pilot or the pickle parable, all in all, good unique stuff and entertaining. So when my ward gives me a GC talk I go with the assumption they want the same structure on the same topic, but not the same talk. Unfortunately most people miss that small difference. I do agree it is especially deplorable when they assign the same topic/talk to all three speakers. When I complained I was told that “we need to hear the truth repeated so it sinks in” and then some reference to the temple.
    I always check out the naccle when given a topic. It really helps show me the hot points on a given topic, and why they are important to both sides of the issue. The other place I like to go is BYU’s database of speeches (devotionals). They are very searchable by speaker and topic, you get a wide range of speakers from multiple disciplines, and given its structure it is a lot more casual than GC so you get great stories. And the biggest plus is hardly anyone else goes there so you will not be repeating the same old stuff as everyone else. BYU-I, CES, and YSA also keep online storage for their talks.
    My favourite practice locally though is to have individuals who have converted in the last 6 months give a talk in Stake Conference (Saturday session). You can get a great conversion story and testimony which is inspiring. Sometimes though you get the best memories ever, like when a young man talked in graphic detail about all the temptations the bar-girls presented on his recent vacation to Thailand. Very uncomfortable and awkward, which made it fabulous and unique.

  69. I have nothing to add, except that I am grateful I have never been in a ward that does this. (And I have my fingers crossed that my luck continues to hold out.)

    On the other hand, I have several years before I’ll really be able to pay attention (to speakers rather than my small children) in Sacrament meeting, and by that time, the general trend may have died out even if it were to touch me where I am.

  70. You had me at boring.

  71. MinJae Lee says:

    @TStevens – #68, I believe that was Picard in ST:TNG, not Kirk in the original series who had that interesting experience. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708696/

  72. This post is making me really grateful for my potty training 3 year olds and active 17 month old. I’m blissfully unaware of most sacrament meetings.

    I’m also feeling grateful for our podunkteensybitofaward. Sometimes it’s great to be behind the fads. Many fads pass and we don’t even know they started.

  73. Mark A. Clifford says:

    I am a hierarch in my ward, and so to blame to some degree for the appearence of this evil in my congregation. However, I am pleased to report that few of the members of my ward follow any counsel that I give them, and so we get a lot of fresh and fantastic sacrament meeting talks. May it ever be so.

  74. #71 I wasn’t sure when I wrote it, and my limited googling didn’t give an answer, so I guessed.

    So close yet so wrong – story of my life. Thank you for the clarification.

    When appropriate I also use alot of poetry in my talks – I favor the famous Minnesota poet Robert Zimmerman (since he is local) or sometimes the Irish poet Paul Hewson. No one has ever noticed. It is the perfect way to add a little arty-intellectual substance to a talk without actually being so.

  75. I generally dislike this practice. I can see assigning a topic for a talk and then suggesting a GA talk or two as a reference point. However ofen the GA talks get simply restated or read.

    The flip side is that lots of people need help drafting talks. GA talks can be a decent place to get some material.

    In my view really good talks are those in which the delivery is good and personal examples to flesh out the points is used.

  76. Kristine says:

    “t is the perfect way to add a little arty-intellectual substance to a talk without actually being so.”

    Yeah, because it would be awful to actually be arty or intellectual…

  77. Not awful, just awfully hard for the layman like me. I try where I can but make no pretense of being more than I am – though I often wish I was.

  78. Mark B. says:

    I just hope you can sing better than Robert Zimmerman, TStevens.

  79. We all tend to extrapolate what we experience in our own wards and branches and accept or condemn something as a result of that perspective.

    For example, our Bishopric is very clear and open about their expectations and the weight of responsibility each speaker carries when they speak. It has been that way in our ward for at least six years – and I can count on both hands the number of truly awful talks I have heard in my ward in that time.

    It’s not the practice itself that is abominable; it’s the execution that can be horrifying. When done well, using GC talks as a resource can be incredibly edifying, uplifting and spiritually nourishing.

    Also, to third Ardis’ comment, I don’t want to eliminate an hour, since we generally have three really good hours in my ward – and still don’t have nearly enough time to cover everything that we might cover. I want all wards and branches to have three good hours. Heaven knows the Bloggernacle is full of complaints that, “The Church doesn’t teach every possible thing to its members.” Eliminating 1/3 of our general learning time each Sunday will solve that issue how?

    If we were edified regularly for all three hours, I doubt we’d be complaining about three hours. It can be done, so I prefer to work to see that it gets done.

  80. If you asked me, before this thread were posted, who would be the people to argue in favor of talks based on G.C. speakers, I could have just given you all a list rather than have to suffer through the thread.

    But no. You didn’t ask me.

    Continue, m&m, silverrain, paradox. You were saying?

  81. [SilverRain moves away from the mic to breathe in.]

  82. SilverRain
    Some stay dry and others feel the pain
    SilverRain
    A baby born will die before the sin

    SilverRain
    The school books say it can’t be here again
    SilverRain
    The prisons make you wonder where it went

    SilverRain
    Build a tent and say the world is dry
    SilverRain
    Zoom the camera out and see the lie

    SilverRain
    Forecast to be falling yesterday
    SilverRain
    Only in the past is what they say

    SilverRain
    Raised your neighborhood insurance rates
    SilverRain
    Makes us happy ‘livin in a gate

    SilverRain
    Made me cross the street the other day
    SilverRain
    Made you turn your head the other way

    (Chorus)
    SilverRain
    History quickly crashing through your veins
    SilverRain
    Using you to fall back down again

  83. We had a bishopric member (who oversaw the youth talks) that used to ban Ensign/New Era/Friend material from talks. Maybe we should adopt that for adult speakers…

  84. #18 Livin in Zion,

    Perhaps we need to sit your Stake Prez down and have him watch Disney’s ‘Pollyanna’ where Aunt Polly gives the Reverand outlines and edits his sermons every week until he and the townsfolk finally rebel from her tyranny.

    Hang in there.

  85. Latter-day Guy says:

    81, 82 – ROFL

  86. Mike Parker says:

    Ray #79:

    Can your bishop come and cough on my bishop?

  87. Steve, write a song about me. I dare you.

  88. What the hell rhymes with Ardis? I don’t want to have a whole Dr. Who theme, neither.

  89. I want a song about me! Do me! Do me!

  90. I’m not doing you, Silus.

  91. Oh man…

  92. Nameless says:

    ARRRGGGHH….SilverRain AKA Chocolate Rain. I listened to my kids sing that song for 14 hours 2 summers ago as we road tripped to NC.

    Next you’ll be pulling out Rick Astley…

  93. * snorffle *

    Always the bridesmaid, never the bride … 

  94. I understand the frustration about regurgitating talks, but I don’t find it to be a new phenomenon. There are some people who just aren’t comfortable giving their own talks and regardless of topics assigned (or not assigned) they prefer to rely on reading long excerpts from General Authorities, the Scriptures, or other sources. The most helpful bishoprics that I have known give a topic and then offer to help with study resources if the speaker feels lost or overwhelmed.

    Regarding #61

    Testimony meeting is great for authenticity and the source of many spiritual experiences, but I honestly have far more cringe worthy moments during the average testimony meeting than anywhere else. Maybe we should all have sacrament meeting talks assigned about Elder Oaks’ talk on testimony from a couple conferences back.:)

  95. Latter-day Guy says:

    90 – I was wondering if someone would go there with SG’s comment. Thanks for not disappointing, Steve.

  96. Naismith says:

    “If you asked me, before this thread were posted, who would be the people to argue in favor of talks based on G.C. speakers, I could have just given you all a list rather than have to suffer through the thread.”

    I’m really sorry to be an ignorant convert who clogs up your church with infantile talks and stupidity in not understanding the gospel without a modern english explanation.

    Maybe the issue is how you wise, experienced members who grew up knowing all the mysterious lingo (like who “the Brethren” are, something that took me more than a year to figure out), can find something to do during sacrament meeting while us stupid converts earnestly try to give a talk that makes sense to them.

  97. What exactly from SliverRain’s comment (#66) brought on the ridicule? It admitted the problem, talked of the ideal, suggested real help to be given, etc. It didn’t deny the problem, include any ridicule of any kind, chastise or blame anyone, etc.

    Seriously, I’m stumped. A well-balanced and thoughtful comment getting trashed surprised me.

  98. C. S. Lewis says:

    Quit quoting me, hang it all!

  99. Latter-day Guy says:

    96, Whence the defensiveness, Naismith? You weren’t even mentioned in the comment you cited. And, Ray, I think it was less SilverRain’s comment, and more just the golden coincidence of the name coinciding with a popular Youtube meme that brought on the lyrics. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seemed kind of lighthearted to me.

  100. Latter-day Guy says:

    PS, Naismith, I generally find that the “stupid converts” give swell talks––perhaps directly due to the fact that they don’t know the “LDS TALK TEMPLATE” by memory, so their comments are fresh, heartfelt and very much in their own voice.

  101. Steve Evans says:

    Lighthearted was indeed the essence of it. Naismith, were you upset somehow that I left you off the list?!? Stupid, ignorant converts give the best talks, by far!

    Ray, google Tay Zonday and come back in a while. Also, LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE.

  102. Naismith (96),

    Some of the comments notwithstanding, let’s not confuse the issue here. Kevin’s chief criticism of using these talks is that they are repetitive and boring, not that they are insufficiently erudite for veteran members of the Church. Don’t be a martyr and turn this into an Us vs. Them, Vet vs. Convert argument–it’s a simple question of boring delivery vs. engaging delivery. At the end of the day, there is often a strong relationship between the engaging, powerful spirit of a talk and the amount of personal preparation that goes into giving it. Asking members to read, quote, or discuss something that, by 5 months after the last conference, everyone has heard over and over and over and over–no matter the high or low or middling spiritual content of the GC talk–is simply a lame-o idea. Step out of your Church shoes, put yourself in any other environment under the sun, and this is so obviously a bad teaching technique that it’s not worth discussing. The fact that the act takes place within the walls of a stake center does not magically change it into a wonderful teaching methodology.

  103. Steve (101),

    Too late, punk. I had already started typing.

  104. CS Eric says:

    Scott B (102),
    To add to your list of why regurgitating GC talks is a bad idea, let me add this: those talks reek of laziness. Why bother thiking, when you can simply read a talk? If you area speaker in my ward, you don’t even have to practice it. High Council weeks are even worse–the SP assigns them talks, too.

    Of course, the pattern in our ward is designed for (mostly) poor Sacrament Meetings: One week for testimony meeting (the best), one week for High Council, one week for the bishopric, and one week for everyone else, usually a new move-in. The High Council reads their GC talks, and the bishopric all ran out of things to say a couple of years ago, so we have to hope for an interesting family to move in to give us relief more than once a month.
    Unfortunately, I am the organist, so I can’t sleep during the meetings that really deserve it. But at least I get to stand up a couple of times during the meeting to walk to and from the organ. I pity those who have to sit through the whole meeting.

  105. #104 – The Bishopric speaks every month in your ward? High Councilors read GC talks?

    My prayer tonight will be a prayer of thanks.

  106. While I agree that Sacrament Meeting talks are usually awful, I think it is important to remember that for some church members, giving a talk is an absolutely terrifying experience and it is all they can do to get up there and repeat some information without fainting. A lot of the readers on this site are of a more intellectual ilk, and so I would imagine they have more experience researching, presenting, asking tough questions, and taking intellectual risks. These things make for great talks and lessons. Those members who don’t yet possess these skills are simply trying to get through their talk and survive 15 minutes of sheer hell. We’re all works in progress though, eh? Godhood doesn’t happen overnight.

  107. I think we need to take into account that our best meetings are usually testimony meetings, and that is when we hear the most unprepared remarks and the most novice speakers.

    I guess I live in a great area, because great meetings here are not limited to only testimony meetings.

    But I agree with the notion that power comes from the heart. But that can and does happen often in prepared talks. (And sure, there are those that are more dry, too.) :)

    But, if I am assigned one of these talks, I will retain the freedom to simply make the talk one of the resources I use, and an outline of the topic. Other than that it will be like any other talk I give.

    Yup. Exactly. I don’t think they were ever meant to be talks that do nothing but regurgitate GC talks.

  108. The worst of it is that by doing this, we continue to make sacrament an instructional meeting instead of worship.

  109. I am so sorry to be late to the party. My children are insisting that I explain why I’m laughing so hard. I knew as soon as m&m posted that SilverRain would be here in a moment defending our current state of mediocrity, but 81 and 82 slapped me upside the head in such a way that I couldn’t stop laughing for a full minute.

    As for the post itself, a hearty AMEN. I have complained about this for the past three years in bishopric meeting, often to be met with blank stares. I think that for some, the idea that there could be anything wrong with a sacrament meeting talk or the way in which a subject is assigned is impossible to contemplate.

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