Do they know?

A Talk About a Talk About a Talk?

A Talk About a Talk About a Talk?

As recently as 2012 I was serving in a bishopric that still assigned talks the traditional way.

Take, for example, the following email I sent a ward member about the topic of an assigned talk:

Dear Brother [X]: Thank you for accepting the invitation earlier today to speak in Sacrament Meeting in two weeks. As I mentioned in our discussion, the topic of the talk is 2 Peter 3:13-15. Could you please read this scripture as part of your talk (and use it in your preparation) and share with the ward your thoughts on what Peter wrote in those verses, especially verse 15 when he said “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”?

Sister [Y] is speaking on patience through the Lord, and [recently baptized] Brother [Z] will be reading Colossians 3:8-15, which also relates to longsuffering and forgiveness.

Please plan to speak for 10 minutes.

We simply trusted that having been assigned such topics, these adults would work out what to say relying on the Spirit to guide them in their preparation and as to what sources to use in creating something meaningful specifically for our ward. I often really enjoyed hearing these Latter-day Saints’ own insights and understanding of the Atonement as they prepared and delivered these talks.

At the same time we were continuing to take this traditional approach, I had already been hearing for several years from friends in other wards, primarily on the Wasatch Front but also elsewhere in the United States, that a new approach to assigning adult Sacrament Meeting talks had been adopted in their wards. Instead of being invited to give a talk about a scripturally based Christ-centered Gospel topic, members were always asked to talk about a particular talk given in a recent General Conference. (At one point, two members of the Quorum of the Seventy both gave General Conference talks during the same conference about then-Apostle Eztra Taft Benson’s 1980 BYU Devotional Address “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” — shortly thereafter, I began hearing from friends that they or others in their wards had been assigned to give a talk about one of these talks, so a talk about a talk about a talk.)

This practice seems to be gaining cultural ascendancy — from my observation, more and more bishoprics are taking this approach to assigning Sacrament Meeting talks. Even bishoprics in the strongest wards with well-established members (members who have spent their lives thinking about the Gospel and immersed in scripture, faithfully attending General Conferences and Stake Conferences and who would have a lot to say about the Atonement and any Gospel topic) are assigning such members to talk about recent General Conference talks rather than prepare their own remarks about the Atonement or other closely related Gospel topic.

“I have been asked to speak today on Elder Scott’s talk in the last Conference. . . .”

Do General Authorities know that this practice is on the rise? That many (perhaps most?) bishoprics are now simply assigning members to talk about recent General Conference talks in their Sacrament Meeting talks?

It stands to reason that they possibly are not aware that this is happening. I would imagine that General Authorities both at the Apostle level and the Seventy level rarely attend a regular Sacrament Meeting where such talks are delivered. If such General Authorities do attend a regular Sacrament Meeting, they are often (always?) asked to speak, displacing the assigned speaker. If they attend and are not asked to speak and therefore hear such a talk, they might assume it is a one-off occurence, not realizing that this is how all talks (with the possible exception of youth speakers) are now being assigned in that ward, every single week, all year long.

If they are not aware of this relatively recent though seemingly ubiquitous practice (I estimate its life has been between the last 5 to 10 years), what would they think of it? Would it make them uncomfortable to know that this is now the standard fare for Sacrament Meetings? Would they be concerned that this approach shifts the preparation of talks from the member’s thoughts, experiences, and insights to a recapitulation of a General Authority’s thoughts, experiences, and insights about the particular Gospel topic?

Are General Conference talks meant to be used in this way, as the object of a derivative talk? Or would General Authorities think that their talks serve better as counsel in their own right, for consumption at the time of that conference and to be read by members in the following conference report for personal edification, then becoming one piece of potential support material for a member to choose to incorporate into his or her own future Sacrament Meeting talk (as the Spirit directs) when assigned to speak about a particular scripturally based Christ-centered Gospel topic?

Do we lose something significant about our low-church approach to our weekly Church meetings (Sacrament Meeting being our equivalent of a Mass where “Communion” is offered) if we members aren’t preparing our own remarks as talks analyzing an assigned Gospel topic according to our own minds, hearts, and experiences, and with reference to such materials as the Spirit directs us in our personal preparation (including recent conference talks if appropriate for the situation and audience)?

A potential concern might be that this practice communicates either (a) that members are no longer trusted — possibly as an extension of Correlation? — to teach each other the Gospel from their own perspective and as the Spirit directs as has previously always been the case in the Church, or (b) that members’ thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel do not particularly matter and that all that matters is for General Authorities’ semi-annual thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel to be reiterated during the weekly Sacrament Meetings. As to (b), it should be noted that members’ thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel would likely always rely at least to some extent on the teachings of General Authorities on the given topic, and certainly would rarely be inconsistent with them given that both should be grounded in scripture, so it is not clear why this new approach is viewed as necessary.

Comments

  1. I am not sure why this trend happens. I’ve seen it in lots of wards, but my ward seems somewhat immune. My preference would be to not even give a theme, or scripture, but let the member stand on their own light and teach the congregation. Those are some of my favorite talks. I prefer to get that type of assignment in my talks, and I usually do. I love speaking extemporaneously.

    I don’t see correlation as sinister, like many people do, I think part of the reason for this trend is to cut down on the presentation of false doctrine.

  2. While sympathetic to your overall point, my charitable reading of the practice is that the speaker is asked to address the topic discussed in the assigned talk, but is under no compulsion to stick within the confines of the previous talk itself. So the speaker’s own experiences and scriptural insights are welcome, in my experience. In this reading, the purpose of the practice is to use General Conference as an easy way to determine what is topical.

    Is this is practice similar to the General Conference talks assigned to the 4th Sunday in priesthood quorums and relief society? I think that this is mandated centrally from Salt Lake, so I would be surprised if the general authorities are unaware of this aspect of it. Our Stake assigns these lessons for the year (although I think they ultimately come from Salt Lake?) and, for my part, I am pleased to find talks from Pres. Uchtdorf mixed in proportionately.

  3. The 4th Sunday talks are not mandated. I was assigned to figure out what would be the best for our stake, with almost no direction. I chose the most intellectual, doctrinal talks I could find. I liked challenging our members. My understanding is that all stakes and wards can chose how to do those lessons.

  4. I see that the specific talks aren’t mandated churchwide, but here are the official instructions for 4th Sundays:

    https://www.lds.org/liahona/2013/11/news-of-the-church/teachings-for-our-time?lang=eng

  5. Mike R.M. says:

    My current ward is also immune to this practice, and while my previous ward did it occasionally, it wasn’t frequent. Whenever I have been asked to speak in my current ward, there is no assigned topic. Based on the talks I hear from others, this seems to be the standard practice. The speakers are free to speak on whatever topic they like. This system has its own pros and cons, but I definitely enjoy it as the talk-giver.

  6. I finished served in a bishopric only a little over a year ago in the “Mormon Corridor.”

    While this practice did happen in our ward from time to time, we were neither instructed by the bishop nor the stake to assign talks in such a manner.

    Seems to me this is just another “traditions of their fathers” type of thing. Honestly, to me it smacks of laziness on the part of the bishopric member. Just as lazy as telling a member “Oh, just pray about it and pick a topic that sounds good to you.”

  7. European Saint says:

    “simply assigning members to talk about recent General Conference talks”–>I disagree that this task is simple, and I am confident that the rise in this practice coincides with the rise in members across the blogosphere openly criticizing General Conference talks. That said, I agree with DCL that an incredible degree of flexibility remains to follow the Spirit and add personal anecdotes and supporting scriptures as one sees fit. I, for one, do not find this GC talks trend the slightest bit disconcerting; on the contrary, I find the tendency to “pick apart” GC in order to dissect talks that do not fit within our views of political correctness/equality/tolerance/compassion as discomfiting. I am convinced that Elder Oaks (see “No Other Gods,” OCT 2013 GC) and most (if not all) other church leaders do as well.

  8. I was recently assigned a talk, for Sunday the 30th, on preparing for General Conference (it being the Sunday before General Conference, natch!) I was given Elder Hales’ talk “General Conference: Strengthening Faith and Testimony” and encouraged to make it ONE of my sources, but explicitly told it should not be my only source. (I’m in a So. California ward)

  9. My once and future ward in the states did this, but our current branch (we’re overseas for my wife’s PhD research) doesn’t do this. I’ve been assigned talks like this twice while we were there. I interpreted the assignment pretty broadly and spoke on something germane to the talk I was given, but my references to the talks were pretty limited. Much more common is some sort of redelivery of the talk’s main points, often with relevant stories from the speaker’s life or other sources.

    That said, I really like the email text you included. It specifies topics and helps give all of the speakers a sense of what the others will talk about (plus it’s all in writing, so nobody has to rely on their faulty memory). Yet another thing I will implement if anyone is foolish enough to give me a bishopric!

  10. As a Bishopric member who both relishes and at times hates the responsibility of assigning Sacrament meeting talks this resonates with me. I would chalk up the leveraging of General Conference talks to three loosely correlated phenomena:

    1. Under consideration of the responsibility by the Bishopric (I’m tempted to call laziness here and it may fit for some) for what it means to assign topics and themes for the Sacrament service. It’s one more thing that has to be done among so many other responsibilities. (A good reason in my mind for calling a liturgy committee to handle this responsibility under the direction of the Bishopric).

    2. The rise of LDS.org as the go to source for Church content for the average member. The problem is, if you search on a topic, the first links provided are talks from the last several general conferences. And if you look at how the Come Follow Me lesson materials are structured they too heavily rely upon Conference talks for supplemental content.

    3. The dumbing down of our Gospel conversation as a result of Correlation. Many leaders and members look to General Conference talks as the highest form of Gospel discourse and prefer to lean upon that crutch. As a result they fall into a formulaic approach for Sacrament talks. (Even though I never assign a GC talk, it is not unusual for a speaker to decide to leverage a talk nonetheless).

    As I’ve served and considered the sacred nature of our Sacrament services I have gained a deeper appreciation of what it means to prayerfully: plan the themes annually, choose the specific topics, and then invite the speakers. But it takes careful and consistent effort and a willingness to trust that a speaker will approach the responsibility with equal consideration.

  11. Doesn’t happen in my ward. Sometimes, members are asked to use a GC talk as one of their references in preparing a talk, but nobody has been asked to summarize or talk about a talk.

  12. My ward often uses the Gospel Doctrine lesson title for the sacrament meeting theme. As the GD teacher, you can imagine how much I love that! Not.

  13. Jason K. says:

    I haven’t seen this much since my singles ward a decade ago, but I’m with you in finding the effect to be a kind of dumbing down. As other commenters have noted, the assignment doesn’t necessarily have to turn into a point-by-point rehash. When I was in the bishopric, I took great care to assign topics that challenged ward members (sometimes a little too much). When the members stretched, which they almost always did, the result was some phenomenal talks. We spent a year going through the Sermon on the Mount bit by bit and heard some powerfully uplifting sermons in the process–especially when the talks dealt with some of the more difficult verses.

    Having said all this, I think we should reflect for a moment on the impossible rhetorical situation in which Conference speakers find themselves. They have to say something that, even if it doesn’t apply directly to every member of the Church, nevertheless applies to a broad swath of people from multiple countries and cultures, all using the kind of basic vocabulary that makes the message easy to translate, while being doctrinally correct to boot. It’s worth noting that our wards allow for much greater specificity than GC does. So it’s worth asking people to adapt GC talks to local contexts–and in some sense that’s what TFOT is about–but we have to be clear that a certain level of adaptation is not only appropriate but necessary.

  14. This happens weekly here, and worse yet, most of the speakers simply read the assigned talk, word for word. I detest it. It makes my soul scream. I already heard the talk, I’ve read it in print, and if I’m just going to be read to, can you just hand me a print out and let me go home after the sacrament, please??

  15. Angela C says:

    This is also done in RS once a month I believe. I have mixed feelings about it. I suspect it’s to generate more interest in the GC talks and more familiarity with them since there are those who consider GC weekend a vacation.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Angela, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the Church has pretty solid data on General Conference viewership, and that you are correct that the 4th Sunday “Teachings for our Times” was an effort to expand the audience.

  17. Fortunately our ward in WA has not started doing this. I’ve received some wonderful insights from ward members. I would hate to lose that.

  18. Elder Nelson told a story once of going with Pres. Kimball to a conference in southern Utah. On Saturday evening, Elder Nelson asked Pres. Kimball what topic he wanted him to talk about. His response: “I trust that you, with your long experience in the church, can find out for yourself what the Lord wants you to say tomorrow.” He said that Pres. Kimball then went to his hotel room to bed, and that he went to his room and spent the night awake praying and reading, trying to determine what the Lord wanted him to say.

    We give the members of our branch that same assignment–why should we take from them the opportunity to find out what the Lord wants them to say, when they have the chance to seek and receive personal revelation on the matter?

    So the only topic we assign is “the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” What else is there to talk about in sacrament meeting?

  19. We spent a year on the request of the stake president focusing on Julie Beck’s ‘mothers who know’ talk -in all organizations and in all 3 hrs of church as a theme. Every week a sacrament speaker was asked to expound upon one more paragraph or quote from sister Beck’s classic. (Oh joy.) Since the talk was controversial, it brought continued dissonance for a loooonng period of time.

    Nearby stakes frequently stretch out two minute conference talks into 20 min sacrament meeting talks. The benches in the old tabernacle aren’t the only reason conference is sometimes a little difficult to endure, so please have mercy and spare us the blow-by-blow talks.

    Also, I suspect that there may be a little bit of sexism in this new practice in many wards. I’m going to start counting how many women vs men are assigned the task of GC talk regurgitation. As mentioned above, male leaders are probably given license to speak from inspiration, whereas women I suspect may be “led” more and assigned specific GC talks.

  20. I know this happens in our ward out here in Brooklyn. Sometimes you get the “I was asked to speak on this talk” and sometimes the talk isn’t even referenced, which I only know from talking to people and my own experience.

    I suspect this practice, if seen as necessary or profitable, could be retained and improved with different wording in the invitation. Since I hate characterizing these as talks (results too much in a ” this my book report on charity” kind of thing), I would say something like “We invite you to prayerfully prepare a sermon on (insert passage/topic) that will edify, inform, and inspire. You may find (insert General Conference reference here) useful in your preparation. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.”

  21. whizzbang says:

    Our ward does it. I have seen it happen to certain people like the High Councilor who spoke in my folks ward on sunday. I guess it depends who they trust to speak, but usually you get a topic and go with it.

  22. Talking about someone else’s talk is only tolerable if I’m allowed to make up stories about their childhood.

  23. Having lived in about 8 wards in the last 12 years, in five states, this pattern of assigning Conference talks to Sac Mtg speakers has been so seemingly ubiquitous that I assumed it was a mandate from Salt Lake from which no ward could deviate. I am thrilled to find here, in reading this post and the comments, that my assumption was probably incorrect. I can certainly appreciate that being assigned a General Conference talk might be helpful to someone who is newer to the Church or to speaking in Sacrament Meeting, or who is uncomfortable choosing a topic or finding sources on his own, but I would think it unfortunate to universally deprive members of the opportunity to exercise the Spirit fully in preparing their talks.

  24. When I served in a bishopric–about 2 years ago in the Southwest–we would often assign a conference talk as a starting point, especially for youth speakers. Typically the stake theme for the month gave us a place to start, but we would also ask speakers to integrate in scriptures and personal experiences to complement the conference talk. Good speakers shared wonderful insights that made modern revelation a reality, while poor speakers read all or most of the talk.

  25. Our ward does it for the 5th Sunday combined RS/PH meetings, but thankfully we’re still using scriptures for our Sacrament talks. I love what Mark B. said upthread:

    “. . . why should we take from them the opportunity to find out what the Lord wants them to say, when they have the chance to seek and receive personal revelation on the matter?”

    I’m a big fan of allowing people to seek personal revelation wherever possible.

  26. This happens so often in my ward I thought it was handed down from Salt Lake. I’m really surprised.

  27. Reminds me of when my Bishop assigned me to give a mothers day talk to be inclusive to non mothers and then suggested a general conference talk as source an material for me to quote from that had no relevance that I could tell for the subject matter. I think he honestly might have just told me the wrong one on accident because another nearby talk in the ensign was reasonably close in subject matter. But I don’t do talks that way. So I ignored his suggestion and gave a talk that was on subject from my own experiences and doctrinal opinions. I think it went well, but I actually kind of like writing and giving talks (that is when I have the time and am not asked on short notice) so maybe I’m just more willing to commit my effort into it as a result.

  28. I mostly agree with DCL and a few other commenters, but in my new branch, I confess to almost wishing for this approach instead of our current one – all speakers for the MONTH are assigned the same topic (ie. baptism, charity, covenants). So every talk in the same month has the exact same basis. This might work reasonably well somewhere, but in my ward it leads to a lot of dictionary definitions.

  29. Hedgehog says:

    The youth are assigned either personal progress or FSOY topics, but otherwise it happens most of the time in my current ward, and also in my previous ward, so getting on for 15 or so years. Generally I try to use the talk as a jumping off point, and incorporate my own experiences as well as additional scripture/other relevant sources, rather than rehash it.

    As the music chairman I’d also point out that meeting topics are meant to be given to the ward music leader in advance, so that hymns can compliment the talks (as per the current handbook). I don’t know if this is something newish, but it does seem to preclude allowing speakers to pick their own, as it were.

  30. larryco_ says:

    Basically, the plan works like this: First, you hear the GA present his talk in General Conference. Second, you read his talk in the Ensign. Third, you listen to his talk on your ipad, iphone, or a Church-created video. Fourth, you use his talk in the 1st, 4th, or 5th Sunday Priesthood, Relief Society, or Young Men/Young Women’s class. Fifth, you hear his talk given in one or more talks in Sacrament Meeting/or you use it yourself in a talk.

    Seriously, repeating a GA’s talk is the only way someone like you and I can truly teach by the Spirit.

  31. I wonder if part of the problem is that when many members are assigned to speak on a conference talk, they feel like they have to cover the whole conference talk, which leaves little room for personal insights. It would be like saying “you are assigned to give a talk on the epistle to the Hebrews.” There’s just too much. Why not pick a passage from a talk and assign the speaker to speak on that passage? Or better yet, give them the talk and ask them to just select one short passage from the talk to speak on. Tell the speaker to treat the conference talk like they would treat a passage of scripture, that is, analyze it and explain what it means to you, personally, share your experience with the principles that it teaches, etc., don’t just read it. Sure, scriptures have been canonized and general conference talks have not, but there really isn’t much substantive difference between a general conference talk, and say, an apostolic epistle. So there shouldn’t be much difference between assigning a short passage from Paul and assigning a short passage from a general conference talk.

  32. This often is the case in my ward, with mixed results.

    For my part, though, I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to just talk about whatever I want and still reference the talk.

  33. Our ward does this, and many, if not most, Sacrament Meeting talks end up going something like this:

    1. Speaker says how great the Talk by the General Authority is, and how much better the General Authority said it than the speaker could say it.

    2. Speaker reads lengthy passages from General Authority’s Talk, interspersed with comments about how much he or she liked this or that part.

    3. Speaker ends by saying that there is so much more in the General Authority’s Talk than he or she was able to cover, and he or she encourages everyone to go home and read it.

    I kind of miss hearing people’s individual experiences and insights.

  34. Our Bishopric assigns both adult Sacrament speakers the same talk each week. Sometimes, you’ll get two very different talks, but often, everyone picks the same quotes to focus on. It makes for a very boring, unfulfilling meeting.

    Last month, our Bishopric assigned the same talk to our Sacrament speakers as they did for the Teachings for our Times lesson in RS/EQ. Talk about overkill.

  35. Xenophon says:

    Perhaps leaders should counsel members of their congregations to study bloggernacle posts in preparation for their talks. That way we wouldn’t be led astray by what prophets and apostles teach. ;)

  36. Our High Council members are given conference talks to speak from. Some are heavily referenced, some are not. It is interesting to note which talks the Stake Presidency chooses. especially for the Teachings for our Times lessons. We have Oaks/Bednar/Andersen/Packer leanings with the obligatory Holland/Uchdorf.
    Our current sacrament meeting talks have been based on this topic: “discuss a parable or story from the life of Christ that has been personally meaningful to you”. This has generated many wonderful talks.

  37. Our current sacrament meeting talks have been based on this topic: “discuss a parable or story from the life of Christ that has been personally meaningful to you”. This has generated many wonderful talks.

    That sounds just about perfect! And a member preparing a talk based on that invitation has a wealth of teachings of current and past General Authorities to lean on and reference in the talk he or she prepares, as relevant and as the Spirit directs.

    Thank you for all the great comments! Very eye-opening.

    The comment from March 19 at 3:52 a.m. by larryco_ provides a good illustration of the potential problem.

    Do General Authorities know that many rank-and-file Mormons think this way — that instead of teaching from the scriptures supported here and there where relevant and as directed by the Spirit by teachings from General Authorities in their conference talks, members are skipping that step of personal immersion in the scriptures and just reiterating the conference talk itself? Would they be concerned if they knew this approach was increasing in practice and would they consider it an ironic form of idolatry?

    I think Ben S. (March 18, 8:29 p.m.) has it just right if we are to continue the practice of inviting members to speak about a recent General Conference talk instead of prepare their own remarks based on the scriptures, supported as appropriate by this or that teaching of a General Authority. If that is to be the future of our Gospel teaching at the rank-and-file member level, then our invitations to give such talks should be phrased as follows:

    “We invite you to prayerfully prepare a sermon on (insert passage/topic) that will edify, inform, and inspire. You may find (insert General Conference reference here) useful in your preparation. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.”

    In any event, from my experience in that bishopric, I learned that assigning talks the traditional way is indeed very labor-intensive and time-consuming. The email I quoted in the original post was the culmination of quite a process of studying things out on my own part in fulfillment of the responsibility delegated to me by the Bishop to make speaking assignments that month. The speaking assignments needed to relate to a more general topic for the month that was itself part of a larger general framework of topics and direction we had worked out looking ahead for the next six months. Working out the topics for sacrament meeting talks to support the broader direction we felt we needed to steer the ward, and coordinating those with the music etc., consumed a significant portion of my time and energy as a bishopric member.

    It would have been much easier to simply say “Please speak on [General Authority X's] most recent conference talk” and rotate through all the talks from the most recent General Conference each time in making speaking assignments. For some Mormons, who apparently believe that a General Authority has already said anything that can possibly matter about any topic, this approach is not only fine it is apparently preferred.

    My worry, in that case, is that members are not flexing spiritual (or mental) muscles when they are asked to “talk about a talk.” Some will naturally still prepare their own talk, supported as relevant and necessary by teachings from General Authorities’ recent conference talks. But many, many others will do what several commenters on this thread have observed — summarize the assigned talk, deferring entirely to the Gospel insights of the General Authority who gave the talk, not exercising their own spiritual or intellectual muscles at all in the preparation or delivery. The result for such an approach could be spiritual atrophy and widespread member reliance on others’ testimonies rather than working out their own testimonies through study, effort, and reliance on the guidance of the Spirit in analyzing the Gospel based on direct immersion in the scriptures, supported as relevant by current teachings of General Authorities.

  38. Our ward does it. It is at or near the top of my “pet peeves.”

  39. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a ward that does this for Sacrament Meeting talks. The talks always seem to be based on either a particular scripture or a topic of choice, supported by whatever scriptures, talks, quotations or personal experiences/viewpoints the speaker feels are needed.

  40. MargaretOH says:

    I’ll one up you: our previous bishop decided that the 4th Sunday Sacrament talks should all be on the exact same talk that would be taught for “Teachings for Our Times” in third hour. So in one Sunday we would get 2-3 talks and a lesson on the same talk. It became a running joke that the teacher would get up third hour and say, “Well, much of what I was going to say was covered in Sacrament Meeting . . . .”

    I know Mormons have an extraordinary ability to listen to the same thing over and over again, but this was beyond what I could handle. My husband is now in the Bishopric and their very first meeting one of them said, “So we’re getting rid of that 4th Sunday thing, right?” and they all nodded emphatically.

  41. Kevin Barney says:
  42. oops! so sorry I didn’t link you! Looks like anything worth saying about this topic had already been said before and I could have summarized your points!

  43. Kevin, I hadn’t seen these posts somehow when you posted them. That 2009 post has points directly relevant enough that they bear quoting here. My post was more about wondering whether General Authorities actually realize that we are doing this to such an extent. Your post analyzes the problems inherent in this new approach (which I only barely touch on in my comment above at 8:17 a.m.):

    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. [People who] watch General Conference are . . . 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.

    Thanks for providing the links.

  44. So basically, John F. should have blogged about a blog when he wanted to discuss talks about a talk. :) Still worth rehashing, I think. It strengthened my resolve not to let the occasional tedium of talk assignments lead me down this path.

  45. While I agree with some of the problems associated with the approach, here are a few points in favor of the practice:

    1) It cuts down on false doctrine, personal politics, and speculation. These things can really hurt feelings when stated from the pulpit. Also, it cuts down on the bishop’s need to correct things from the pulpit (which is a terrible position for a bishop to be put in).

    2) The talk may fulfill a need in the ward that the member of the bishopric is aware of and the speaker is not. Sometimes particular speakers are better able to deliver some messages than others (as an example, a speaker may want to speak on the atonement, but because of the speaker’s demeanor, credibility, and personal history, the speaker may be the perfect person to speak on a particular talk’s message on forgiveness and the bishopric member assigning the talk knows that there are families in the ward that really need to hear that particular message). Alternatively, sometimes particular speakers may need to study the messages in the particular talk that is assiged. Give your bishopric credit. Using this type of system is not necessarily indicative of laziness or a lack of trust.

    3) I agree with the prior comment that a lot of the problem is in how the talk assignment is presented. If the speaker is simply to use the talk as a source, and invited to seek his/her own inspiration as to how the talk is to be presented, then there would be less boring talks. Also, as has been stated previously in this thread, a lot of people ignore the talk that is assigned anyway. Which is fine, unless the talk that is given includes false doctrine, and then the speaker may not be asked to speak again.

    4) Many speakers like assignments. I have tried more open-ended invitations to speak on general topics and, sometimes, it just adds to the stress level of the speaker. There are some people in the ward who need to read their talks because they are so scared of public speaking.

    All of that said, certainly the goal is to not have people read the general conference talks or feel shackled when they are assigned general conference talks. I love the idea of being assigned a scriptural passage.

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    John F. that old blog post was from five years ago, which is ancient history in blog time. This subject is definitely worth addressing again; I’m glad you postes on ir.

  47. My ward assigns FtSoY topics for youth speakers and lately has been assigning Conference Talks for Sacrament Talks. I had a hard time focusing last week on the re-stating of Uchtdorf’s last talk, and it was my favorite one in GC.

    So yeah.

    But there are pluses and minuses to not giving people freedom: in my Virginia ward two years ago the Scout master spoke on scouting and had all the Eagle Scouts stand in sacrament meeting and then declared “Brothers and Sisters, these are the elite among us.”

    So yeah.

  48. I don’t object to assigning topics to a speakers, but when doing so it should be stressed that the speaker should allow the Spirit to direct him or her in whatever direction it fancies. If that means completely ignoring the assigned material, so be it.

    Like some others, I think these talks suffer when the speakers don’t realize or don’t feel comfortable leaving the assigned materials. Those speakers who do usually write the most intriguing talks.

    I was asked to speak on Easter Sunday last year, and was assigned a General Conference talk as my topic. I’m sure I actually read the talk, but when I wrote my sermon, I only used the title, “What Christ Thinks of Me.” And then I took off running with the idea, and probably went a little off the reservation (complete with hypotheticals about Christ playing Candy Land). I got a lot of positive feedback, but more importantly, that sermon is still etched in my mind and continues to shape the way I am trying to change the way I live. It wouldn’t have had that strong of an effect if I had stayed with my talk.

  49. oops…..to be clear, that last phrase should be “stayed with my assigned talk.”

  50. Some have suggested that new members or others without much experience in public speaking would be well served by this practice. It’s pretty clear that the opposite is true. It’s precisely the unpracticed who need to learn to speak in their own voice, but who might, in their inexperience, simply read large excerpts of the proffered General Conference talk.

    As Pres. Uchtdorf said, we should “stop it.”

    And thanks to Kevin’s links to his old posts, I see that I made precisely the same comment five years ago that I made earlier on this thread. I guess I still feel the same way.

  51. In our ward, the Bishop picks overall themes for the month and references 6 – 8 past conference talks that can be used along with the scriptures. The speaker is then asked to either focus on a particular aspect of the overall theme, or choose what part to concentrate on. I know that this is far from a “lazy” way for him to assign topics as he spends many hours reading, researching, and praying to determine the themes.

    There will always be some members who are not as good at researching, writing, and presenting their own material. These people will lean more on the GC talks and usually be the worst offenders at reading them word for word. As long as we ask lay people to help teach from the pulpit, we will have this issue since our members come from a variety of educational backgrounds. I am in no way suggesting that we change our practice (our ward would HATE to hear from the Bishop every Sunday) but rather have more Christ-like love and patience with those who read large portions of the talks verbatim and assign them the shorter time slots in which to speak. I would hate to have to endure just a rehash of a GC talk each week and can totally understand the frustration experienced by many.

    As the ward music chair responsible for choosing all the music for Sacrament meeting, I appreciate having these themes to use and try to make my music choices complement the talks. It takes me hours each month to read all of the referenced talks and choose the songs for the next month. I hope this provides a more enjoyable, cohesive experience for the members and adds to the uplifting spirit that should be felt in a Sacrament meeting.

  52. Oregon Mum says:

    Haven’t seen this trend in my Oregon ward yet. When I spoke last year I was given the topic of “repentance” given a scripture reference and left to my own devices. My husband had similar instructions when he spoke at a different time. We just got a new bishopric so it will be interesting to see if anything changes.

  53. but rather have more Christ-like love and patience with those who read large portions of the talks verbatim

    I’m not sure why we should have more “Christ-like love” for those who speak than for those who are expected to listen to them. And I also don’t think that that love requires us to expect (and accept) mediocrity. If an unpolished public speaker is assigned to speak in church, it’s the bishopric’s responsibility to help him or her learn to do it well. Handing the speaker a transcript of a sermon given by someone else is no way to discharge that responsibility. It’s a disservice both to the speaker and the listeners.

  54. It would seem the basic idea is to make sure we are giving proper focus to the thoughts of an Apostle. When you consider they get 2 times a year to speak to us collectively, even though they have a lifetime of service and insight, it’s not unreasonable to desire to give their message more reach through sacrament talks.

    That being said, if we took 24 annual apostolic talks, and another dozen or so other GA talks (RS, etc.) we’d have around 30-40 talks to review every year. It would make pretty good sense at that point to assign one “conference” talk every week, and then have another member do the traditional, scriptural insight based talks you have in mind. For a coherent theme, the scripture could even be related in someway to the GA’s talk.

    But realistically, anyone who gets an assigned talk should be able to tie that talk back into charity or the atonement or the plan of salvation in one way or another. Whatever the subject assigned to me, I almost always come back to that emphasis and it’s never an awkward shift and pretty easy to transition to.

  55. reaneypark says:

    I very much dislike this trend. I appreciate sacrament meeting talks that give me insight into a gospel subject and also the person given the talk and how they relate to the subject. If I want to hear a regurgitation of some conference talk, I can just stay home and look it up on the computer.

  56. The last time I was asked to speak in a ward I’ve since moved out of, I was given a bulleted list of guidelines – it was a full sheet of paper I wish I still had because it verged on the ridiculous. One of the instructions was memorize your talk (do not read) and I about died. I am an excellent reader but I am no extemporaneous speaker. I halfway wondered if I would get reprimanded for the sheet of paper in front of me when I stood up. There was also a stern warning to stay inside the box as it were – stick to the source material.

    Oh and the topic? An Ensign article on music, which when I pulled it up was three anecdotal stories sharing how hymns improved peoples’ lives.

    ARGH! So I threw it out, went to the scriptures and looked up everything relating to music and song and went from there. Seriously? Did they just want me to read the three divergent anecdotes???

    My favorite talks to prepare have always started from an assigned scripture. This particular experience was the most difficult and the least rewarding. Just saying, there’s something worse as source material than a GC talk!

  57. I liked Denise’s ward’s approach best (Maybe I should move to So. Cal and avoid another winter wonderland) The GC talk should definitely be viewed as a primary source and a general direction but not without building more onto it. I can see how assigning a GC talk is really helpful for new members who don’t know where to start. I think we can all agree that it is irritating when some veteran member says something like ‘Well Elder SoAndSo did such a great job at conference, I’ll just read the whole thing”

  58. I don’t see a problem here. I think whether it is a conference talk or a set of scriptures, the idea is the same: use the ideas contained within this text from which to form your structured thoughts.

  59. Craig Morris says:

    E. M. Forster posited the internet in his 1909 story “The Machine Stops”. People spend their lives searching for new ideas but everyone wants re-treads. The story says

    “Beware of first-hand ideas!” exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element — direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine — the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing
    thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.
    Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the
    windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ
    most profitably in your daily lives.

    How true.

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