Recycled Conference Talks

C.L. Bruno concludes her guest stint here at BCC.

I’ve listened to all four sessions of Conference, and I feel refreshed. I even have some things I’m going to work on. Honesty, for example. (I’ve got a little pile of pens on the counter that need to go back to the workplace.) When the Ensign comes out next month, I’ll put it in the magazine rack in the bathroom and we’ll all page through it. I’ll read through the blogs and the comments about Conference, and I’m sure some bloggers will quote liberally from the talks for the next 6 months. But…must we listen to recycled conference talks again and again in Sacrament Meetings?

I’m not sure exactly when this practice began. It sort of snuck up on us. One day we were listening to members’ ruminations on any subject they chose. Some were great and some were pretty bad. Yes, there was false doctrine preached over the pulpit. So we went to Sacrament Meeting Themes. Speakers were assigned to give a talk with a theme that was carried over throughout the meeting in talks and music. This seemed to help the false doctrine a bit. And we still had the personalities of the speakers and their own personal stories to add interest to the meeting. This is where we became acquainted with the new couple in the ward. We were able to compare the amazing growth in our young men as they spoke to us in farewell and homecoming missionary talks. We heard how members applied doctrine to their own lives.

This new trend of being assigned a Conference Talk upon which to base our discourse in Sacrament Meeting is one I dislike intensely. Not because I didn’t enjoy the CT’s. But when the talk was given by the GA or Church leader, it was their personal take on a gospel subject. Perhaps it was the word of the Lord revealed to them. When reprocessed by another person, it loses its immediacy and power. We lose the opportunity to receive direction from the Spirit and teach others. The practice discourages thinking by the average member and encourages passive acceptance.

The best use of recycled Conference Talks I’ve seen happens when the speaker takes the talk as a text–similar to what Protestant ministers do when they preach using a quote or a scripture as a text. The talk focuses on the theme of the scripture, but the preacher will bring in other references, personal stories, and other thoughts to bolster his/her message. The worst scenario happens when an LDS speaker paraphrases the Conference talk and quotes it liberally. Even the most interesting of Conference talks can completely lose their potency. But no matter how well a speaker reuses a Conference talk, this technique is ineffective in Sacrament Meetings.

I wonder how deeply entrenched this convention has become. Are there some Bishops out there who still resist assigning Conference Talks as themes? How would a Bishop react if a member countered the assignment with a suggestion of their own for a talk? Will this deplorable custom continue, or are we doomed to endless years of fusty, faded, watered-down Conference crumbs?


  1. And it’s not just sacrament meeting; they also get recycled into RS lessons. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s just a rehash of the talk, it does seem a bit pointless. Like you, I enjoy it much more if someone pulls out the theme and gives a personal angle on it than if they simply paraphrase the talk.

  2. My wife reports that in SM last week one of the talks was somebody reading from an old Ensign for 19 minutes (yes, she clocked it). The only time he looked up from the written words were at the beginning of the talk (I wanted to share these words of Elder blah blah blah) and at the end where the guy read the last sentence, and said “inthenameofJesusChristamen”.

    I mean, come on. Put some effort into it or don’t bother.

  3. My ward did the recycled Conference talk thing for about 5, very long, years. But they stopped about two years ago. I don’t know why, but am grateful.

  4. Mark Butler says:

    I do not think any one is (and if they are they definitely should not be) asked to speak on a talk as if giving a book report, but rather to expound on the doctrinal themes addressed in the talk using the scriptures, personal experiences (why not?), and testimony.

  5. Mark, Then why not just assign a doctrinal theme, and not the specific talk?

  6. It’s become very easy for bishops to simply look at the conference Ensign, go to the topical index on about page 3 or 4, pick topics (usually lasting the whole month) and then go with 2-4 addresses that match the topic. I, like others, have not enjoyed this very much, especially when the end of the month comes and just about everything about a topic has already been said.

    It takes more work, but I would like to see topics assigned weekly, not monthly, based on the needs of the ward and under the inspiration of the bishop(ric). That is what I have missed.

  7. I was called just this afternoon and asked to give a talk next Sunday…on a conference talk from this weekend. They didn’t even let a week go by before they started the recycling. Does my ward get a prize for being the most “green”?

  8. Thankfully, I have never heard of this practice of assigning conference talks for SM talks. I dread the thought that it would be implemented in our ward.

  9. My last talk was assigned on a GC talk from April. I chose a scripture quoted in that talk, and a couple of short quotes and then ran with it. It turned out well.
    I think part of the problem is that these talks are also the basis for TFOT lessons every month, so we can hear the same things over and over.

  10. Mark Butler says:

    CLB (#5),

    I believe the idea is to have the speakers understand and focus on the aspects of the doctrine that the presiding authorities in the Church consider of contemporary and critical importance.

    It is comparable to home teaching messages – I rather dislike it when teachers give little more than a report on what is there, especially when they have a reasonable expectation that the audience (e.g. me) has already read it. But it does keep us generally focused on the basic doctrines of the Church.

    Even with that, somebody like me always faces the inclination to expand it into principles that others do not recognize as doctrines of the Church. That never works in an official capacity – Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, Home Teaching, etc. (That is what web logs are for – airing of quasi and semi doctrinal thoughts that won’t pass muster in Church meetings)

    I should say, that in my experience, there are few things less effective than giving a sacrament meeting talk without quoting or paraphrasing a single scripture. I suppose General Authorities can get away with that, but to me any talk that is not well founded in the scriptures or the words of the living prophets is little more than a demonstration of the speaker’s intelligence.

  11. Like Capt. Obsidian, I haven’t yet seen this practice — so it isn’t universal. However, I share the notion that it’s dreadful! We Mormons already spend more time in seats listening to religious discourse than we know what to do with; making our extra-long (by comparison with most other contemporary U.S. churches) worship services an exercise in rote memorization by repetition seems cruel and unusual.

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    I find the practice to be spiritually stifling. Indeed, I have attended some Sacrament Meetings where the speaker ~literally~ read, word-for-word, the general conference address assigned to him, which left me wondering why any of us bothered to come to Church that day. Where is the worship in such an approach? Where is the wonder?

    Under these circumstances, we should not be at all surprised by the decline in convert baptisms in North America . . .

  13. Maybe everyone should just read the conference talk they are assigned to talk about. I’ll bet that would be one effective way to bring this practice (of assigning talks on talks) to an end.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    In my ward it seems to be an occasional practice only. I’m not sure what the criteria are for when a GC talk is assigned and when a topic only is assigned. Maybe the bishop recently read the talk and was taken with it. Maybe the bishop doesn’t have any confidence that this particular member will be able to put a comprehensible talk together on his own, and so paternalistically assigns this help. I don’t know.

    I have never personally been assigned a GC talk to speak on. If I were, I would probably pick out some scriptures used in the talk and maybe a quote or two, and then go my own direction with it.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, I once studied rather extensively the history of home teaching for a special stake assignment. The idea of assigning a message for home teachers to give was resisted by the leadership in the beginning, the thought being that the HTers should rely on the Spirit and be responsive to the particular needs and circumstances of their families. But there was a lot of pressure brought to bear on the leadership by the membership, many of whom wanted to be told what to say and didn’t want to have to think too hard about it and didn’t feel comfortable coming up with things on their own. Using the First Presidency message was originally conceived of as a kind of crutch for those who weren’t comfortable coming up with their own message, which was still the preference.

    My impression is that over time, the perception of this has all changed, and now using the First Presidency message is seen as the gold standard for home teaching, not a thoughtless, lazy and second-best crutch, as was the original perspective.

  16. Kevin, perhaps I have the date wrong in my mental chronolgy, but I thought Home Teaching was preceded by “Ward Teaching.” And Ward Teaching involved delivering a couple paragraph note from the Presiding Bishopric (?) verbatim.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, they had little booklets with the messages in them. The leadership really tried to go away from that, and did for a time when they dropped the message books, but eventually felt forced to recommend the 1P messages in the Ensign as a substitute for the old message books. As I see it, the old ward teaching message books were the precursors of today’s 1P Ensign messages.

  18. In our stake, the only time the Ensign is used as a basis for a lesson or any sort is (a) for HT and VT, and (b) on the 4th Sunday of the month as the basis for a RS or EQ/HP lesson (the topic and the talk to use is assigned by the stake presidency). But even in the case of (b), the stated expectation is that it’s just background material.

  19. (That’s not to say that people can’t use the Ensign for the basis of a talk or a different lesson, but in those cases, the talk isn’t assigned as the basis. People are on their own at that point.)

  20. A big problem with this was that since all four speakers (including the youth speakers) were assigned the same talk, they’d often come up with the same ideas to expand on, since they’d all go to and do the same searches. Frequently the last speaker was reading the same stories or quotes for the second or third time that day.

  21. Gilgamesh says:

    The only time I have seen this is 1.) if the speaker is self righteous and feels that we need to rehear the words of the living general authorities that agree with the speaker’s opinions.or 2.) when it is somebody frightened to death of public speaking and reading a GC talk is the only way get through the time.

    The 1st reason drives me crazy – mostly because the member is unwilling to state their own opinion but pulls out the “big guns” so no discussion can ensue after the meeting. The 2nd is endearing and I aplaud the speaker for at least making it through the time.

  22. ah, the meta-talk. I’m glad my ward now doesn’t do that. The best meta-talks are the ones that analyze and probe the GA’s words rather than just regurgitating or proof-texting them. I wish more wards would assign passages of scripture rather than amorphous “themes.” I’ve never been in a ward that does that, has anyone else?

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    We used to have a counsellor in our bishopric who assigned very specific, intriguing topics to speakers. (Unfortunately he has since moved away.)

    For example, while a typical assignment might be something amorphous like “prayer,” he might assign a youth speaker to speak on different ways she can be an example and live her religion as one of only a few Latter-day Saints in her high school.

    The assignment almost demands thoughtfulness and personal stories, which leads to really good talks.

    But it also requires effort to tailor such specific topics to different speakers, and it’s a lot easier just to have everyone speak on “tithing,” and as a result have Malachi 3:18-20 read by every speaker.

  24. Texas_tyrant8 says:

    We’ve never done this in any of the wards I’ve attended nor do I wish this upon our congregation. That’s my report from San Antonio.

  25. I ended a 20-year period of inactivity last November. I was disappointed when Sacrament talk after Sacrament talk consisted of reading from a Church magazine, instead of a talk based on actual research and thought. Our ward tries to have all of the speakers each Sunday be from the same family, so sometimes we get to hear an entire family read articles from Church magazines.

  26. I get bored easily. Maybe adult ADD. What are we talking about? :)

    Seriously, I get bored easily and I reallly appreciate it when somebody takes a risk and talks about something creative.

    Maybe I’m just not a very humble soul or something. Maybe I’m missing the whole point, that the gospel and church is no place to go for entertainment.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I think it’s a valuable conversation.

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