About that Ensign Message You Give When HTing

The gold standard of home teaching of course includes giving the most recent 1P message from the Ensign to each family. If you don’t do that as a HTer, then, as the kids like to text, “ur doing it wrong.” But has it always been that way?

Back in the day, it wasn’t home teaching, but rather “ward teaching.” The ward teachers brought standardized messages to the families they visited–statements of policy or exhortations published in church magazines–and they carried standard report books.

In the wake of the Correlation program, President McKay and his counselors revamped the old ward teaching program, which starting in 1964 was now called “priesthood home teaching” (or just “home teaching” for short). Among other changes, no longer were the visits to center on the delivering of standard messages; rather, they would return to the original scriptural precepts of “watching over the church and being with them always.” President McKay was overjoyed at the prospects of the new work, calling it “not only a wonderful step forward but a bound forward” for the church.

A typical exhortation from this period for how to teach one’s families focused on following the Spirit: “And they should be impressed with the importance of seeking for the Spirit of God to rest upon them in power, to dictate to them the very things that should be said to the family which they visit. The teachings, which might be appropriate to one family, and the very instruction which they might need, would not perhaps be so suitable for another family. Therefore, the necessity of having the guidance of the Spirit of God is apparent.” (Messages of the First Presidency 3:112)

That was the ideal, anyway. But the home teachers were used to not having to think too much about what to present to the family. They missed having those uniform messages in their hip pockets to use as ready-made lessons. So in 1980, President Benson circulated a letter suggesting that the First Presidency message from the Ensign “be considered” for use as a monthly home teaching message. In theory you were still supposed to prayerfully craft a message tailored to each family, but that message might be any First Presidency message (the letter explicitly indicated that they weren’t out of date if presented later). Over time, of course, this has gone from a suggestion to a sort of de facto semi-requirement.

So we went from ward teaching with its uniform monthly messages, to the institution of priesthood home teaching, which did away with such uniform messages–and that cessation was seen as a great leap forward. But the ideal of HTers following the Spirit and tailoring their visits to each family was harder to implement in practice than expected. Originally the use of First Presidency messages for lesson fodder was suggested as a sort of crutch for those who kind of lazily wanted to be told what to teach and not have to take responsibility for crafting their own messages for the specific needs of their families. But that which originated as merely a crutch for the lazy eventually became the preferred model.


  1. .

    And thus ends any lingering guilt I may have felt in hardly ever teaching the message.

  2. Sad but true. ideally H/T do not depend on one visit per month but enquire frequently with those that appreciate the contacts. Many years ago, (sad i have to go back so far) one of the best things I did for my home teaching family was find their spetic tank outlet and dig the dirt away in preparation for the honey wagon”.

  3. David Redden says:

    I don’t doubt that others may have experienced things differently, but I personally cannot recall hearing or reading anything that has led me to believe that teaching from the First Presidency message is a sine qua non of a Home Teaching visit, or even that it’s expected of me by my families. Conversely, I can easily recall several occasions where it’s been strongly suggested that we rely on the Spirit in connection with Home Teaching.

    I feel no pressure to use the message. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t, and when I use it, I never feel “lazy” or that I use it as a “crutch.” It’s a tool–it helps people in different ways for different reasons–and perhaps the First Presidency knows that. It seems to me this would be an equally if not more plausible way to view the First Presidency’s motivations and the motivations of those who use it. In my opinion, we should never fault or criticize anybody for using the First Presidency message. Frankly, I would be happy to just have them over and grateful if they took the time to prepare any message for me and my family.

    I apologize in advance if I am reading too much into your choice of words in your last two paragraphs or if I sound like I’m scolding. Now I’m headed outside to chase those dad-gum kids OFF MY LAWN!

  4. LOL! Good post, Kevin. All my HTs have been pretty good men, perhaps because I’m a single woman and the HP group leader takes some special care. And in fact. quite often I do get the HP group leader as a home teacher!

    Anyway, one of my favorites was a gentleman who came over and discussed computer games, movies, history and whatever else with me. He explained to his younger companion, who had taken the bishop’s exhortation to bring the Spirit into a household quite literally, that since I talked about God all the time as part of my professional life, I was best served by a bit of a break from contemplating divine things! Because you see, the fundamental role of a home teacher is to simply meet the needs of his families…


  5. This must be kind of localized. I sometimes use the FP message, and sometimes not. My own home teachers use it about half the time, but as often as not, they ask us for ideas of what we’d like to talk about. My kids kinda think it’s neat that someone asks them. I don’t recall ever being instructed to always use the FP message.

  6. Kevin, do you have a link for the Benson letter as well?

  7. Kevin, the new handbook echoes your thoughts here.

    Each visit should focus on a planned purpose. Before visiting a home, companions pray together. They discuss ways they can strengthen those they will visit. Based on this discussion and the guidance of the Holy Ghost, they share a message, usually taken from the scriptures and the First Presidency’s message in the Ensign or Liahona magazine. Other messages may come from the bishop or other leaders. The head of the household may also request a special message.

    I try to keep the “message” part of the visit to about 5 minutes, especially if it’s on a Sunday where we’ve just had 3 hours of meetings. It’s far more important to find out what’s going on in their lives and how you can help.

  8. Can the same be true for VT or am I forever doomed to using the same redundant lesson/message/speech?

  9. Last Lemming says:

    My inclination to use the FP message has largely been a function of the prosperity and orthodoxy of the ward I live in. In my current ward, there is relatively little drama and my families seem to expect the FP message as a lesson (not mention being visited every month). In my previous ward, I took care of the drama cases first and rarely taught a lesson to them at all. The rest, I visited maybe once every two months and taught whatever the spirit moved me to teach. Before moving to that ward, my families seemed to prefer having no lesson at all, and I was happy to oblige.

  10. Left Field says:

    Now can we please do away with the unofficial non-requirement that we also teach the same First Presidency message in Priesthood on the first Sunday of the month?

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Mogs, that’s awesome!

    Sorry, Aaron, I don’t have a link to the President Benson letter from December 1980.

    I realize that even today there remains latitude, which is why I only called it a de facto semi-requirement. But the lived experience in my ward anyway is that people expect it, and HTers give it essentially without any thought otherwise. If they didn’t give it, they would feel bad, as though they weren’t fulfilling their duty properly or something. Your comments on how ubiquitous or not this kind of attitude is in the wards of the Church is certainly on topic for this post.

  12. First, one nit pick: Home teaching had to be implemented in ’61 or early ’62 because the switch was made when i was a Deacon.

    Secondly, I have long felt (but made little dent in the attitudes of my tradition-bound, thought-less quorum, ward, or stake leaders), as nearly all the posts so far, that HT isn’t primarily meant to be about “teaching” or even “leaving a message.” Regardless of all the supposed inspired words we have been given about it, its greatest value comes in just being a friend, and in providing support and succor when it is needed.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Home teaching was inaugurated full scale on January 1, 1964, but it wasn’t created ex nihilo, so perhaps you lived in an area where they were experimenting with the new program in advance of the church-wide rollout.

  14. OK, I believe you, though little ‘ol Springfield, Oregon seems an unlikely pilot site–especially in 1962. On the other hand, it is at least remotely possible that I am remembering wrong and I was nearly a Priest at the time we made the change. Thanks for an interesting post.

  15. With one of the families I home teach I suggested we all read the scriptures daily and take notes and meditate on the passages we are reading and then in the following month we share and discuss our insights together. It went well and then I was out of town for weeks at a time. When I made another appointment after missing a couple months they said they were happy I was still their teacher and were really pleased to have me come over. You can tell the everyday commonplace compliments from their genuine gratitude to meet together. I think the difference in this case was that as a result of our visits they were not only digging into the scriptures but thinking and planning with them for our next visit. I think this kind of pattern whatever the details of the visit are is a pretty good way to make home teaching an ongoing activity where they get to be agents to act instead of just passively sitting their every visit…. strangely I still felt compelled to give the FP message so we would do that first and then get onto what we were reading

  16. StillConfused says:

    My husband never teaches the HT message. But I did use it for my VTing this month. Guess we are both doing it wrong.

  17. This is interesting. What do you know about the origins of the VT message?

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the VT side of this.

  19. I almost feel disobedient when I feel prompted to share something that wasn’t the FP message

  20. NewlyHousewife, according to Handbook 2, you would be fine sharing any appropriate message you felt inspired to share:

    Responsibilities of Visiting Teachers

    Visiting teachers sincerely come to know and love each sister, help her strengthen her faith, and give service. They seek personal inspiration to know how to respond to the spiritual and temporal needs of each sister they are assigned to visit.

    Taking into account each sister’s individual needs and circumstances, visiting teachers have regular contact (monthly if possible) with those they are assigned. When a personal visit is not possible, visiting teachers may use phone calls, letters, e-mail, or other means to watch over and strengthen sisters.

    When appropriate, visiting teachers share a gospel message. These messages may be from the monthly visiting teaching message printed in the Ensign or Liahona magazine and the scriptures.

    Visiting teachers give compassionate service during times of illness, death, and other special circumstances. They assist the Relief Society president in coordinating short-term and long-term assistance when invited.

    And Kevin, I still have the extensive memo you crafted as a Ward Clerk discussing how Home Teaching ought to be measured and how we ought to avoid driving away the less active members who request no visits. I’ve come to consider it one of the most honest treatises I’ve ever encountered on what it means to fulfill the duties of home teaching.

  21. ManBearPig Skeptic says:

    I always wondered why the Spanish term for home teaching is, loosely translated, “Orienting Teachers.” No one I’ve come across in Latin America knew why it was called that, but given how the program was initially conceived, that kind of makes sense.

    @Alain and Kevin, you’ll be posting this extensive memo on BCC on what date exactly? Thanks.

  22. I’ll leave that to Kevin. He probably didn’t keep it as I inherited the memo from him as part of the Ward Clerk’s manual when I was called as a clerk some time after he served in that role when we lived in the same Ward. I made and kept a copy and would be happy to provide it to him for editing / publishing according to his desires.

    In other note, here are a couple of historical treatments of the origins of Visiting Teaching:

    This post summarizes and provides highlights to the evolution, especially in the 20th century, of the role of Visiting Teachers and how it was managed. All of the details appear to be pulled from historical Relief Society handbooks.

    This article provides a brief timeline that is apparently pulled primarily from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

    And then here is the relevant article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/EoM/id/4391/show/4309 (you’ll need to scroll down and select Visiting Teaching)

    What’s fascinating is the public nature of the declarations of need early in the history and the call for sisters to directly meet the needs of those families for whom they were responsible. It strikes me that there was significant organization, especially with the dues collection and the Visiting Teacher Report Book.

  23. I’ve been in a strange spot where one of the families I visit is inactive and my companion is also inactive.

    I feel like it’s a mini miracle when I can actually get the three of us to sit in one room together in the name of the church. So far, I’ve been uber-wimpy and have not offered a lesson or prayer in any visits, opting instead for giant, healthy doses of “building relationships of trust” with both my assignment and my companion. We’ve all been pretty candid about how I’m outnumbered in regard to spiritual interest.

    At some point, I’m going to have to offer something of substance, or I fear both parties will not see the point of our sitting together at all. And yet, I also fear that crowbarring the spirit into our visits will similarly turn them off. I need to get over any fear at all, but I’m not some spiritual giant by nature as it is. I’m half proud of myself for getting this far — under the circumstances. I hope I do right by this weird opportunity.

  24. Alan, from what you describe, it sounds like you’re doing great.

    One of my inactive sons was home taught by a family friend for several years (before the son moved to Washington state). Our friend visited with him about monthly (maybe slightly less), often by inviting him to dinner at their house or taking him to lunch. Not many prayers or gospel messages, but plenty of friendship and love. Our son still connects with this home teacher when he’s back in town, even though son has no interest in returning to church. I’d say the home teacher hit a home run, all things considered.

  25. Chris Gordon says:

    Alan, I say good on you. Consistency of effort like that will put you in a good spot to provide the spiritual support that’s needed when the Spirit indicates it’s time. The only advice I’d give you is to jump hard on any prompting you get to provide that spiritual support. You’ve certainly put yourself in a good spot to receive that prompting–at least according to my interpretation of, you know, the paragraph or two I’ve read about your situation. :)

  26. Ah, when I started as a Ward Teaching Companion in 1952 every ward teacher had a book and in it were tear-out messages, one for every family in the beat. That was the lesson, between one and two inches of type on a little perforated tear-out. I cannot remember the subject matter, but it must have been a message from the first presidency, to reach all members of the Church each month. So Ward Teaching and Home Teaching are really just mirror images of each other. However, we would have a special meeting on the 1st Sunday in Priesthood meeting where every Ward Teacher stood and gave an accounting of his visits and his success. At least we do not have to do this and be publicly humiliated, Cultural Revolution style, each month.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, RW, I knew in general about the books but I appreciate this more specific description of the tear-out messages.

  28. I visited one of my families last Sunday (I know…) and gave the FP message – after which I gave the *real* message I felt they should hear. But did y’all notice, in the Jan FP message, not a single scripture was quoted? William James, Shakespeare, Emerson yes; scripture & verse no. I thought that was kinda cool.

  29. Hmm. I see no condemnation or forbidding of non-manual materials here. Excellent. . .