SALT LAKE CITY — Opening "a new chapter in the history of the church," President Russell M. Nelson announced the retirement of the faith's home and visiting teaching programs. The new "ministering" concept will combine the former programs under a new name, with more flexibility. In addition, Young Women ages 14-18 will actively participate in "ministering."
"We have made the decision to retire 'home teaching' and 'visiting teaching' as we have known them," he said. "Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as ministering."
President Nelson said for months, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been seeking a better way to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of the church's worldwide membership of more than 16 million.
"Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters, and by the incomparable power of the priesthood," President Nelson said. "We all need such protection from the cunning wiles of the adversary."
Following President Nelson's announcement, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, offered further details about the new ministering concept.
During his remarks, Elder Holland said the conference announcements impacting the work of Latter-day Saint men and women are examples of "the revelation that has guided this church from its beginning" and "more evidence the Lord is hastening the work in its time."
He said for all who are eager to learn the details of these matters, the church would send, at the conclusion of the session, a letter from the First Presidency to "to every member of the church for whom we have an email address."
A seven-page document of questions and answers will be attached for all priesthood and auxiliary leaders, he said, noting the information will also be posted on ministering.lds.org.
As the work of the church matures institutionally, it follows that members should mature personally — "individually rising above any mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry," he said.
Addressing the topic "Be with and strengthen them," Elder Holland said the newly announced ministering concept will include the following elements:
• The church will no longer use home teaching and visiting teaching language. "That is partly because much of our ministering effort will be in settings other than the home and partly because our contact won't be defined by teaching a prepared lesson, though a lesson certainly may be shared if there is need for such," he said.
• Church members will continue to visit homes as possible, but local circumstances such as large numbers, long distances, personal safety and other challenging conditions may preclude a visit to every home every month. "In addition to whatever schedule you establish for actual visits, that calendar can be supplemented with telephone calls, written notes, texts, emails, video chats, conversations at church meetings, shared service projects, social activities, a host of possibilities in the world of social media. … With these adjustments we want more care and concern, not less."
"We have a heaven-sent opportunity as an entire church to demonstrate pure religion undefiled before God; to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, to minister to the widows and the fatherless, the married and the single, the strong and the distraught, the downtrodden and the robust, the happy and the sad," said Elder Holland.
However, he added, "I warn you, a new name, new flexibility, and fewer reports will not make one ounce of difference in our service unless we see this as an invitation to care for one another in a bold new holier way, as President Nelson has just said."
Elder Holland closed his remarks by saluting "every block teacher and ward teacher and home teacher and visiting teacher" who has loved and served in an exemplary way. "Our prayer today is that every man and woman — and our older young men and young women — will leave this general conference more deeply committed to heartfelt care for one another, motivated only by the pure love of Christ to do so."
One coordinated effort
During her remarks Sunday afternoon, Sister Bingham said combining Relief Society efforts with the now-restructured elders quorum "will bring a unity that can yield astonishing results."
"Ministering becomes one coordinated effort to fulfill the priesthood duty to 'visit the house of each member' and 'to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them,' as well as to achieve the Relief Society purpose to help one another prepare for the blessings of eternal life," she said, drawing upon wording in Doctrine and Covenants 20 and from Handbook 2: Administering the Church.
"Working together under the direction of the bishop, elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies can be inspired as they seek the best ways to watch over and care for each individual and family," she said.
Another blessing of the announcements is the opportunity for young women ages 14 to 18 to participate in ministering as companions to Relief Society sisters, just as young men their age minister as companions to Melchizedek Priesthood brethren, she said. That will increase the reach of Relief Society and elders quorums in caring for others by increasing the number of members who participate, she explained.
Young women are already ministering to others without assignment or fanfare, Sister Bingham said.
"After all is said and done, true ministering is accomplished one by one with love as the motivation," she said. In that way, "miracles will happen, and we will find ways to bring our 'missing' sisters and brothers into the all-inclusive embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Service to others is a demonstration of discipleship, gratitude and love for God and Jesus, she said.
"Sometimes we think we have to do something grand and heroic to 'count' as serving our neighbors," she observed. "Yet simple acts of service can have profound effects on others — as well as on ourselves."
Ministering can be done in a variety of individualized ways, Sister Bingham said, posing the question "What does it look like?"
She gave several illustrations, including leaders counseling about individuals and families as assignments are given to minister.
"It looks like going for a walk, getting together for a game night, offering service or even serving together," she said. "It looks like visiting in person or talking on the phone or chatting online or texting. It looks like sharing a scripture or quote from a conference talk that would be meaningful to the individual. It looks like discussing a gospel question and sharing testimony to bring clarity and peace. It looks like becoming part of someone’s life and caring about him or her. It also looks like a ministering interview in which needs and strengths are discussed sensitively and appropriately. It looks like the ward council organizing to respond to a larger need."