Visiting teaching: Opportunity to 'minister as the Savior did'
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Visiting teaching is more than a visit once a month — it is an opportunity to "minister as the Savior did," said Sister Julie B. Beck.
"There are a lot of things we can do that are important, but this is an opportunity to serve one-on-one," said Sister Beck, Relief Society general president.
She and her counselors, Sister Silvia H. Allred and Sister Barbara Thompson, spoke with the Church News recently about the important responsibilities of a visiting teacher — which include helping Latter-day Saint women know they are loved, helping them grow and serving them in times of need.
Sister Beck said visiting teaching is critical to the success of Relief Society — a global, growing organization that "takes care of so many people, in so many nations, with so many needs." It provides one way for Latter-day Saint women to "engage in the work of salvation," she said.
In order to help women in the Church become better visiting teachers, the Church's visiting teaching messages will, for a season, highlight visiting teaching responsibilities.
Starting this month, visiting teaching messages will focus on helping women in the Church follow a higher path of discipleship, explained Sister Beck. Messages will teach about ministering as the Savior did.
Sister Beck said a visiting teacher "is the Lord's hands; she is His heart."
Serving as a visiting teacher is one way she fulfills her covenant to always remember the Savior, she added.
Visiting teachers can use the monthly message and discuss the responsibilities with the women they watch over or they can teach a principle that will help the sisters increase faith, strengthen families and give service, Sister Beck said.
"The purposes of Relief Society are to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes and seek out and help those in need," Sister Beck said. "Visiting teaching is a way to do that."
Sister Thompson said, "One of the most valuable things about visiting teaching is making that personal connection, having that personal relationship so that a woman you are visiting really knows you that care about her. If she doesn't know you care about her … some of the other things really doesn't matter because she will feel like it is mechanical. She will feel like it is an assignment or a job."
But, she added, as a visiting teacher makes a real connection with the woman she is assigned to visit — if that woman feels the love of her visiting teacher — "then it becomes a situation where you can help teach the gospel and strengthen her testimony. Then it becomes a situation where you can know about what is happening in her family or in her marriage or of something where she might need some extra help. It becomes a situation where she would call you and where you would feel good about being involved if there was a tragedy in the family or an illness or an emergency."
Visiting teaching all boils down to a personal relationship, said Sister Thompson.
Sister Allred agreed. "Visiting teaching shouldn't feel like a burden or an obligation. It should feel like something you want to do because it helps you become more like the Savior and you see your sisters as He sees them and love them as He loves them."
Sister Allred said last year during a leadership training meeting, members of the Relief Society general presidency asked women what they would consider to be effective visiting teaching.
Sister Beck summarized three important outcomes from that research during the 2011 General Relief Society Meeting and again at a BYU devotional in January 2012.
She said visiting teachers will know they are successful in their ministry if the women they visit can say:
1. "My visiting teacher helps me grow spiritually."
2. "I know my visiting teacher cares deeply about me and my family."
3. "If I have problems, I know my visiting teacher will take action without waiting to be invited."
Sister Allred said those outcomes will not happen "in one visit or in one short message left on the phone. It takes time to nurture those feelings in someone and gain someone's trust," she explained.
Sister Thompson said the key is to remember the word 'nourish.' "I love the world 'nourish.' Any description of a wonderful visiting teacher would include the word 'nourish,' " she said, noting that women need to be nourished both physically and spiritually.
Sister Beck said the Relief Society presidency in each ward is authorized to assign any sister to serve in the capacity of a visiting teacher. She said women don't need to be assigned to someone they like or someone who is popular. Visiting teaching is one way women fulfill their "promise to remember the Savior at all times."
"It is one of the ways we can manage the storehouse and take care of everyone," she explained.
She said the thing that is great about visiting teaching is that it is not a program. "There is not a programmatic aspect about it. There is no book, there's no handbook, there is no manual, there is no check off. … It is just principles, applying gospel principles in a personal setting."
And the blessings that come from faithful service are great.
"You make friends," she said. "You find out how the Lord knows you personally. You start focusing on someone else and then you find out how the Lord knows you. So all of your own personal longing, all of your personal loneliness, all of your personal doubting gets washed away because you are learning how the Lord loves you, how He knows you. He is paying attention to you. He is sending you. He is teaching you. He is guiding you and then you say, 'He knows this other sister, but He knows me because He sends me and He gives me ideas.' "
Sister Beck said if any sister is feeling lost or lonely or neglected or as if she doesn't know her Heavenly Father then this is her chance to change that.
"Visiting teaching is just a way to fulfill what we were charged to do in the beginning by Joseph Smith and it has carried on," she said. "Relief Society is better than ever."