During the Sunday afternoon session of April general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced a significant change to the way members serve and care for each other.
The separate programs of home teaching and visiting teaching will be “retired,” he said, becoming a coordinated effort called “ministering,” a “new and holier approach” to Christlike caring for others and helping meet their spiritual and temporal needs.
Ministering as the Savior did
Ministering will better focus the efforts of Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies on ministering as the Savior did, leaders explained in subsequent conference addresses.
“Combining Relief Society efforts with the now-restructured elders quorum (see related story) will bring a unity that can yield astonishing results,” said Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President. The coordinated ministering effort helps fulfill the priesthood duty to “visit the house of each member” and to “watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them” (see D&C 20:47, 53) and “the Relief Society purpose to help one another prepare for the blessings of eternal life,” she said. (See Handbook 2: Administering the Church , 9.1.1).
“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,” said Sister Bingham.
Elders quorum presidencies will assign ministering brothers to every household, and Relief Society presidencies will assign ministering sisters to each adult sister. Sister Bingham suggested elders quorum and Relief Society leaders counsel together prayerfully. Then, she said, “rather than leaders just handing out slips of paper,” they make assignments in person in a conversation about the strengths, needs, and challenges of those to whom brothers and sisters minister.
What does ministering look like?
Ministering brothers and sisters represent the Savior, Sister Bingham said. And when they consider how to minister, they should ask themselves, “What does he or she need?”
“Coupling that question with a sincere desire to serve, we are then led by the Spirit to do what would lift and strengthen the individual [or family],” she said.
Ministering does not include a set monthly message in the Church magazines nor a prescribed way to keep in contact, such as in-home, face-to-face visits each month—even though visits are important when they are possible, the leaders explained.
The purpose of ministering, as said of those in Alma’s day, is to “watch over their people, and … nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness” (Mosiah 23:18), explained Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“With these adjustments, we want more care and concern, not less,” Elder Holland cautioned.
“What does ministering look like?” Sister Bingham asked. Ministering looks like going for a walk, getting together for a game night, offering service, serving together, visiting (in person, by phone, online, or via text), delivering a birthday card, and cheering at a soccer game, she said. “It looks like sharing a scripture or quote from a conference talk that would be meaningful to that individual. It looks like discussing a gospel question and sharing a testimony to bring clarity and peace. It looks like becoming part of someone’s life and caring about him or her.” (See related story.)
Sister Bingham explained that ministering may include Laurels and Mia Maids as companions to Relief Society sisters, and priests and teachers continue to serve as ministering companions to Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
“Youth can share their unique gifts and grow spiritually as they serve alongside adults in the work of salvation,” she said. Involving youth also increases the number of members caring for others, and helps the youth “better prepare to fulfill their roles as leaders in the Church and community and as contributing partners in their families.”
Counsel together in ministering interviews
Elder Holland explained that ministering brothers and sisters will no longer report monthly visits, but will instead counsel with leaders in a quarterly “absolutely crucial” ministering interview about the needs and strengths of those they are assigned. The number of interviews leaders had with ministering companionships during a quarter is the only formal report that will be made. However, the purpose of the interview, Elder Holland explained, is for priesthood and Relief Society leaders to understand the “spiritual and temporal condition of the people.”
“We at Church headquarters don’t need to know how or where or when you make contact with your people. We just need to know—and care very much—that you do make it, and that you bless them in every way that you can,” said Elder Holland. “A new name, new flexibility, 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,” he said.
“As we accept the opportunity to wholeheartedly minister to our sisters and brothers,” Sister Bingham concluded, “we are blessed to become more spiritually refined, more in tune with the will of God, and more able to understand His plan to help each one return to Him.”
According to a letter from the First Presidency, the ministering adjustments may take some time but should be made as soon as possible. Ministering.lds.org provides additional details, including answers to frequently asked questions. Instructional videos and other resources will be added to the website over the coming days and weeks.