Ministering (formerly called “visiting teaching”) is the Lord’s program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ensure that every woman in the Church is cared for, contacted as needed, and has at least two other sisters praying for her, to whom she can turn in a time of need. Yet we sometimes struggle with this essential calling. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said of the similar ministering (formerly called “home teaching”) program, in which the men of the Church are called to contact and watch over each family:
[M]ay we briefly examine the . . . duty that has been described as “the Church’s first source of help” to its individuals and families. Entire forests have been sacrificed providing the paper to organize it and then reorganize it. A thousand pep talks have been given trying to encourage it. Certainly no Freudian travel agency anywhere could possibly arrange the number of guilt trips this subject has provoked. Yet still we struggle to achieve anywhere near an acceptable standard of performance regarding the Lord’s commandment “to watch over the church always” . . . . (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Emissaries to the Church,” Ensign, October 2016, references omitted, available on lds.org).
As a longtime visiting teacher and ministering sister (going on 46 years now) who has not always had a perfect record or a perfect attitude about it, I have discovered some things that sisters say to themselves that can get in the way of completing this essential assignment. Here’s the first one:
Myth 1: “Ministering is just ‘assigned friends’; I don’t want to push into someone’s life and pretend to be her friend.”
Ministering is, in a way, an assignment to be a friend, if possible—but it is so much more than that. This is not just a social relationship, nor are we expected to “pretend” anything. The Church Handbook on Administering the Church, at section 9, available at lds.org, describes the responsibility of visiting teachers (now ministering sisters) as follows:
Visiting teachers [ministering sisters] 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 [to whom they minister].
Taking into account each sister’s individual needs and circumstances, [ministering sisters] have regular contact . . . with those they are assigned. When a personal visit is not possible, [ministering sisters] may use phone calls, letters, e-mail, or other means to watch over and strengthen sisters. . . .
[Ministering sisters] 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.
That sounds like a responsibility that is not exactly the same as friendship, or an assignment to be someone’s friend. The definition of friendship can vary depending on the people involved. The definition of ministering has been set, as above and on lds.org under “Ministering,” by prophets of the Lord. It is to be hoped that the sisters we teach will come to see us as friends. Meanwhile, we are the Lord’s representatives to them. The Lord, the bishop, and the Relief Society president need our hearts and hands to serve, teach, and minister to our sisters, and to recognize their special circumstances. Ministering is the organization the Lord has created to watch over each sister in the Relief Society. And we may find ourselves becoming a friend to our companion and the sisters we teach—if so, that’s a special bonus!
Edited 4 August 2018.