President Thomas S. Monson, in his priesthood session address, recalled summers as a boy when, riding in a car on the way to the family cabin in Utah’s Provo Canyon, he would observe sheep being herded.
“Way back in the rear we could see the sheepherder on his horse – not a bridle on it, but a halter,” said President Monson. “He was occasionally slouched down in the saddle dozing, since the horse knew which way to go and the yapping dogs did the work.”
He contrasted that with a scene he viewed in Munich, Germany, many years ago en route to a missionary conference on a Sunday morning.
“As I looked out the window of the mission president’s automobile, I saw a shepherd with a staff in his hand, leading the sheep,” President Monson said. “They followed him wherever he went. If he moved to the left, they followed him to the left. If he moved to the right, they followed him in that direction. I made the comparison between the true shepherd who led his sheep and the sheepherder who rode casually behind the sheep.”
Quoting the scriptural passage “I am the good shepherd and know my sheep” (John 10:4), President Monson remarked, “He provides for us the perfect example of what a true shepherd should be.”
Priesthood holders have a shepherding responsibility, President Monson said. “The wisdom of the Lord has provided guidelines whereby we might be shepherds to the families of the Church, where we can serve, we can teach and we can testify to them. Such is called home teaching.”
Where possible a young man who is a priest or teacher accompanies an adult holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, President Monson said. “As they go into the homes of those for whom they are responsible, the Aaronic Priesthood holder should take part in the teaching which takes place. Such an assignment will help to prepare these young men for missions as well as for a lifetime of priesthood service.”
Home teachers are wise, he said, if they learn and understand the challenges of the members of each family in order to teach and provide needed assistance.
He said a home teaching visit is more likely to be successful if an advance appointment is made. He told of an occasion when he was at the home of President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, for dinner with other members of the Missionary Executive Committee. While they were there, the family’s home teacher showed up at the front door without having made an appointment and without his companion.
President Hinckley graciously invited him in, and, with a bit of trepidation, the home teacher did his best.
President Monson told of another occasion when President Marion G. Romney’s home teacher came to his home on a cold winter night, did not stay to give a message and said he left his car running so it wouldn’t stop, that he had just come so he could tell the bishop he had made his visits.
“President Ezra Taft Benson, related President Romney’s experience in a meeting of priesthood holders, then said, ‘We can do better than that brethren – much better!’ I agree,” President Monson said.
Home teaching is much more than a monthly mechanical visit, he said. “Ours is the responsibility to teach, to inspire, to motivate, and, where we visit those who are not active, to bring to activity and to eventual exaltation the sons and daughters of God.”
President Monson said home teaching answers many prayers and permits one to see the transformations that can take place in people’s lives.
He then told of Dick Hammer, who came to Utah with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. He met and married a Latter-day Saint young woman and opened Dick’s Café in St. George, a popular meeting spot.
One of President Monson's friends, Willard Milne, was assigned as home teacher to the Hammer family.
“When Willard Milne and his companion visited the Hammer home each month, they always managed to present a gospel message and to share their testimonies with Dick and the family,” President Monson related.
Years later, Willard phoned President Monson with the good news that Dick Hammer, then in his 90th year, was converted and was going to be baptized.
“Brother Hammer was indeed baptized, and a year later entered that beautiful St. George Temple and there received his endowment and sealing blessings,” President Monson said.
“I asked Willard, 'Did you ever become discouraged as his home teacher for such a long time?’
“He replied, ‘No, it was worth every effort. As I witness the joy which has come to the members of the Hammer family, my heart fills with gratitude for the blessings the gospel has brought into their lives and for the privilege I have had to help in some way. I am a happy man.”
It will be the privilege of priesthood holders to visit and teach many individuals, active as well as those who are not fully committed, President Monson said.
“With this thought in mind, let us reach out to those for whom we are responsible and bring them to the table of the Lord to feast on His word and to enjoy the companionship of His Spirit and be ‘no more strangers and foreigners but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God'” (Ephesians 2:19).
He urged, “If any of you has slipped into complacency concerning your home teaching visits, may I say there is no time like the present to rededicate yourself to fulfilling our home teaching duties. Decide now to make whatever effort is necessary to reach those for whom you have been given responsibility. There are times when a little extra prodding may be needed, as well, to help your home teaching companion find the time to go with you, but if you are persistent, you will succeed.”
To describe the type of home teacher one should be, President Monson spoke of “the Master Teacher, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.”
“With Him as our unfailing Guide and Exemplar, we shall qualify for His divine help in our home teaching. Lives will be blessed. Hearts will be comforted. Souls will be saved. We will become true shepherds.”