Cover image via Gospel Media Library.

Talk about awkward. I sat stiffly on the sofa by my visiting teaching companion, as the sister we had come to visit glared at us across her living room. Why she had agreed to this appointment, I could not imagine, since her body language clearly growled, “I don’t want you here.” In my new family ward, as a freshly married 24-year-old, this was my introduction to visiting teaching.

Thirty-five years later, visiting teaching has changed to ministering, yet my early experience still affects me as I struggle to make contact with the sisters I’m asked to minister to. Part of me believes that nobody wants me in their home, and I’m hesitant to text or visit. While I’m not exactly shy, I am definitely reserved in social situations, especially with strangers or people I barely know. It takes months–sometimes even years–for me to grow comfortable in ministering situations.

During the past two years as I’ve done ministering interviews as part of my Relief Society calling, I’m hearing more and more:

“Ministering isn’t a priority for me right now.”
“Ministering isn’t really on my radar.”
“The people I’m assigned to visit are much older/younger than I am–we have nothing in common.”
“I don’t really know how to minister.”
“I’m too busy.”
“I’d prefer to have a different calling.”

“I don’t like being assigned to serve or have someone assigned to serve me.”

I get it. I can’t fault those who respond this way because I’ve felt some of these concerns myself. In fact, the only thing that qualifies me to write on this topic is that I still struggle to minister.

So, what do we do if we don’t love ministering? How do we catch the vision of the ministering program? Alex, a young adult I know, taught me something about this. He got married in 2020, during the second big wave of Covid-19 shutdowns. After a few months of imposed isolation, Alex wanted to find a way to serve in his new ward, so he made an appointment with the bishop to ask how he could help. His bishop responded, “Have you considered ministering?”

Alex wasn’t even aware he had a ministering assignment. Fortunately, the bishop not only looked up the ministering information Alex needed, but took a few minutes to tell him about the people on his list and some specific needs they had. This was a helpful starting point for Alex. I’m grateful he shared this story with me. His bishop’s question, “Have you considered ministering?” is a reminder that ministering assignments are as important as any other church calling we receive.

Two decades ago, my husband served as bishop of our ward during a time of explosive growth in our neighborhood. The ward divided four times under his supervision. At one point the number of ward members crept toward eight hundred. The chapel was packed during Sacrament meeting, as were the overflow area and cultural hall. Even the foyers were so crowded with people that many of them chose to go home rather than stand for the entire meeting. My husband worried day and night that we were going to lose members permanently, and that the new people moving in weren’t being welcomed because they were lost in the crowd.

For the first time in my life, I began to catch the vision of the existing home teaching/visiting teaching programs. I had a front row seat to the overwhelming responsibilities of a bishop. No matter how many hours Brad put into his calling, there was no way he could personally visit each ward member on top of his fulltime employment and family commitments–there just wasn’t enough time in the day. But home/visiting teachers could watch over a few families or a few sisters at a time, welcoming them to the neighborhood and reporting back to ward leaders if there were any pressing concerns. Faithful ministering sisters and brothers are a tremendous support to the bishop.

Even imperfect ministering can be a blessing to others. Here are a few ideas to help us minister effectively:

  1. Pray to be willing to minister. This is the best place to start if you’re feeling unenthusiastic or resentful about ministering, or your current life situation makes it inconvenient for you to minister.
  2. Ask your Relief Society or Elders Quorum presidency members for pertinent information about the people you are assigned to minister to, so you know how best to approach them.
  3. Introduce yourself, let people know you’re their ministering sister or brother. Share your contact information. Yes, it’s possible to look on LDS Tools and find out who our ministering sisters and brothers are, but not everyone knows where or how to look. And really, they shouldn’t have to. We should be the one to tell them.
  4. Be open with those we minister to. If ministering is uncomfortable for you, it’s okay to let them know you struggle, but that you’d like to get acquainted and you’re willing to lend help when needed. Most people appreciate honesty.
  5. Some folks are lonely and love regular, in-home visits. Some are so busy that they prefer to keep in touch through texts or chats at church. Ask those you’re assigned to minister to up front: How would you like to be ministered to? What do you want ministering to look like? Monthly visits, phone calls, texts, treats, rides to appointments–what would be most helpful?
  6. Pray for those you’re called to minister to by name every day. Put their name on the temple prayer roll during difficult times.
  7. Ask Heavenly Father for specific ways you can bless those within your ministering stewardship. He knows them well even if you don’t. When I have made the time and effort to be prayerful about my sisters, asking for specific inspiration to help them, I have been surprised at the ideas that have come to my mind–things I never would have thought of on my own.
  8. Ask questions. Learn where they came from, show genuine interest in their family, educational background, health issues, spiritual struggles, etc. Be sure to keep any information they share confidential, unless they give permission for you to alert a Priesthood or Relief Society leader.
  9. Acknowledge important events, including birthdays, graduations, or baptisms.
  10. Become familiar enough with the routines of their lives that when hard times come to them, you notice. You can sense that something has changed, and act to help.
  11. Recognize that ministering may look different depending on where you live, how far you live from those you minister to, how many people you’re assigned to watch over, and their unique challenges.
  12. Some people will reject efforts to be officially ministered to and we must respect their wishes. We can prayerfully find natural ways to be their friend.

Earlier, I shared the story of Alex. As he discussed ministering with me, he also made this important point: “As a young adult I’ve never had good examples of being ministered to, so it’s hard to know how to minister to other people.” Perhaps Relief Society and Elders Quorum presidencies can make a serious effort to better inform new members, young adults, or anyone who is assigned to minister for the first time. When assignments are given, basic training can be included so ministering doesn’t feel like a big mystery.

I recommend studying the talks given by Sister Jean B. Bingham and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland which introduced the ministering program:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/ministering-as-the-savior-does?lang=eng

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/be-with-and-strengthen-them?lang=eng

I reluctantly share a personal experience wherein I did things the wrong way (back in the days of visiting teaching). Hopefully, the lesson I learned will inspire others to minister in a higher, holier way:

Many years ago, I had three sisters on my visiting teaching list and was rather hit and miss in my efforts to visit them monthly. But one month my companion and I actually got out early and completed our visits by the third week. I confess that I felt a bit self-righteous about that. A week later I noticed that the name of one of the sisters we visited kept coming to my mind. I was puzzled by this but didn’t think much of it. As the day progressed and Mandy’s name continued to pop up in my thoughts, I was a little frustrated. I recall thinking, “We already visited her this month, and everything was fine.” So, I did nothing.

Later in the week I discovered that I had missed a prompting from the Spirit. The day Mandy’s name kept coming to me was the anniversary of a very painful event for her and she stayed home from work and cried all day. I felt sick when I found out what had happened. Though I could not have made everything all better for Mandy, I could at least have called to let her know that the Spirit had impressed her name on my mind. Then she might have felt that Heavenly Father was watching over her–aware of her grief–and had sent someone to comfort her. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I ignored this spiritual prompting. This experience showed me clearly that God is aware of His children and wants to use us as instruments to bless each other.

I also learned that by doing away with the required monthly visit of visiting teaching, the ministering program teaches us that ministering is never done. It is ongoing, with no place to check off a visit or contact. We learn to serve, not because it’s required, but because we care.

Obviously, I’m not the poster child for celestial ministering, so why do I keep trying to minister in my imperfect way? Because through my inept but hopeful attempts to watch over my sisters, love for them has sprouted in my heart. And–selfishly–because after a visit with these good women, I always feel uplifted. As I have witnessed their courage during severe trials, and heard their testimonies, my own faith has been strengthened.

Just two weeks ago, I sat down to write five sympathy cards for family and friends who had recently lost loves ones. At one point I had to stop writing and get up and pace around the house while my tears flowed for these dear people who were hurting so much. In every neighborhood people are bearing significant burdens, sometimes openly, and sometimes very privately. God has called us to minister to His children. Let us persist in our stumbling efforts to minister, let us pray to catch the vision of ministering so we can do as Jesus did, growing in awareness of our neighbors, comforting those that stand in need of comfort. This is how we become like our Savior.

INVITATION:

I invite you to share in the comments section below what is working for you in your efforts to minister. 

Helpful resources:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/handbooks-and-callings/ward-or-branch-callings/ministering?lang=eng