The Conversion of the Children of God
Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Training Broadcast • June 13, 2017
I am thrilled to participate in this devotional broadcast today with you who lead and teach in our Seminaries and Institutes of Religion and your beloved companions. We have met many of you throughout the world, and you are remarkable. I believe there are a few reasons for that. First, the Church only hires qualified individuals who are worthy of a temple recommend, have a proven ability to teach, and have been recommended and approved at various levels, including by the Board of Education. You called teachers may not have had quite the same scrutiny as the employed faculty, but in my experience, local leaders call the very best to teach in seminary and institute. Second, you are immersed in the doctrine of Christ, which Nephi proclaims as “the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”1 Teaching this doctrine provides continual encouragement to live this doctrine, and that is why you are so good. Stay that way!
We are a seminary family! I was called as president of the Honolulu Hawaii Stake 32 years ago. Our youngest child was 18 months old and the oldest of our four children was 11. I was engaged in a demanding profession, and it seemed we were at our limits. Then I was approached by those coordinating seminary for our stake and was asked, with some lack of confidence because of the circumstances of our young family, “Do you think it might, uh, be possible, uh, if Sister Hallstrom could, uh, teach seminary?” Well, we were not accustomed to turning down callings, so we took a deep breath and said, “Of course.”
That began a demanding but highly rewarding period for our family. My wife, Diane, arose at 4:30 each weekday morning to be prepared for seminary at 6:00 a.m. It also required me to wake the children, help them bathe and dress, prepare breakfast, and have everything in order so when Diane pulled into the driveway at 7:00 a.m. I could take off for work and she could transport those old enough to school.
This was our routine for eight years, until Diane was called as Young Women president. After five years the seminary coordinator again came knocking on our door with the plea, “We have a very difficult senior class; could Sister Hallstrom again teach seminary?” So, another three years were added onto the eight, and it took a call from President Hinckley to get her released. I was called as a General Authority, and we were sent to Japan for our first assignment. So, you called teachers, be careful about hoping for a release—you never know where you might end up!
Well, we look back at that tough, hectic, crazy time with fondness and gratitude. Diane absolutely loved her seminary students (and they loved her). She also taught each of our children in seminary, and our nephews and nieces, one of whom is now an institute director and, I hope, is attending this broadcast. Additionally, this intense teaching deepened Diane’s gospel scholarship and testimony—something that has benefitted me and our family immensely. It also “allowed” me to be with our children at the only time of the day I was consistently available—those weekday early-morning hours. That was a significant blessing to me and, I believe, to them. So, you see, some of our greatest burdens truly do become our greatest blessings.
I am pleased today to be in the company of associates whom I hold in high esteem. As a member of the Board of Education and the Executive Committee of the Board, I meet twice each month with Elder Kim B. Clark, our wonderful Commissioner, and Chad H Webb, the outstanding administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. You who are employed by or serve in seminaries and institutes are well led. As most of you know, the Church Board of Education is chaired by President Thomas S. Monson and includes President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Elder Dallin H. Oaks is also a member of the Board and chairs the Executive Committee. Additional members of the Board and the Executive Committee are Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Sister Jean B. Bingham, and Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson. I am continually in awe of the priority and the resources given to education in the Church.
Now, let me share some thoughts with you who have such a vital role in the spiritual education of the Church’s youth. I have already referenced the profound doctrine of Christ. How does this Church assist its members in understanding and living this doctrine? Another way to ask this question is, “What are the apostolic priorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
One way to learn these priorities is to understand the “work of salvation.” The most succinct definition of the work of salvation is in Handbook 2. Remember that the Church handbook is approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It states: “Members of the Church of Jesus Christ are sent forth ‘to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men’ (D&C 138:56). This work of salvation includes member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel.”2
Another insight into these priorities is the statement in the Church handbook under the title “The Purpose of the Church.” It reads: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by God to assist in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children. The Church invites all to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him’ (Moroni 10:32; see also D&C 20:59). The invitation to come unto Christ pertains to all who have lived, or will ever live, on the earth.”3
This handbook citation further states, “In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”4
Thus the “work of salvation” and these “divinely appointed responsibilities” are essentially the same and should guide everything we do in the Church, including (maybe especially) teaching our youth.
Ultimately, everything we do—for ourselves, our families, and in your current positions—is to teach the “work of salvation” and the “divinely appointed responsibilities” to assist in the conversion of the sons and daughters of God. It is to teach like Aaron and his brothers Ammon, Omner, and Himni—to teach “according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God,” so that as many who believe “in [your] preaching, and [become] converted unto the Lord, [will] never … fall away.”5
As the First Presidency stated to parents and leaders of youth, “You are called by the Lord to help youth become converted to the gospel.”6 By emulating how the Savior taught, we have confidence our youth will learn in a much deeper way that will lead to conversion.
Thus, educating our youth is not simply teaching them history, it is teaching them doctrine that inspires them to act. Our role is to “be an instrument in the hands of God”7 so they might not only hear, but so they might feel, and then so they might do. Our role is to “instruct and edify each other”8 so that we will “bind [ourselves] to act in all holiness.”9 Our role is to teach “faith unto repentance.”10
How is this type of teaching best accomplished? The pattern established in the Lord’s Church is that we fully engage in public worship, family worship, and personal worship. Let me expand on each component.
Public worship is when we assemble as children of God, as brothers and sisters, as a community of Saints. These meetings are sometimes large, like stake or even general conference, or sometimes are small, like a quorum or Young Women or Relief Society meeting or a seminary or institute class. Our devotional assembly today is a form of public worship. In each of these meetings, we pray, we teach, we testify, and we edify—all with the purpose of increasing our understanding of our Father in Heaven, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We then have the responsibility to translate that ever-increasing knowledge into wisdom—to continually lessen the gap between what we know and how we live.
Temple worship is a sacred form of public worship because it directly involves ordinances and covenants which connect us with Deity. How connected are you to the temple and your covenants? Are you regularly using this holy form of public worship to strengthen your knowledge and your wisdom? Are you helping those you teach to be connected to the temple? Are you encouraging our youth to be worthy of and hold a limited-use temple recommend and to use it where geographically possible? Participating in the work of salvation by researching family names and going to the temple to be baptized and confirmed for their ancestors provides opportunities to receive spiritual guidance.
The most important of our public worship meetings, at least outside the temple, is sacrament meeting. In addition to the worshipful activities that are part of most Church meetings, this service centers on the living ordinance of the sacrament. As we begin and end the meeting, and specifically in preparation to partake of the holy sacrament, we sing and we pray. Are we full participants? Are our minds and our hearts there, or are they somewhere else? Are our smartphones off, or do we text and tweet (or for us older people, email) during the ordinance or during any part of the meeting? When the speakers speak, especially if they are less-polished orators, do we arrogantly disconnect, thinking, “I’ve heard it all before”?
If we are guilty of any of these mistakes, what we are doing is reducing—perhaps eliminating—the ability of the Spirit to communicate with us. And then we wonder why we are not edified by sacrament services and other Church meetings?
Public worship is a magnificent opportunity to assist all of us, including the youth, along the conversion path.
Public worship should promote family worship. In 1999, the First Presidency counseled parents and children to “give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.”11 Of course, these same principles have been repeatedly taught by numerous Church leaders in countless ways over many years.
We live in a world of busyness. Traveling throughout the Church, I sometimes privately inquire of local leaders—and these are good Latter-day Saints—are you holding family prayer and family home evening? Are you studying the gospel as a family? Often, I receive an embarrassed look and the explanation, “We are so busy. Our children’s school and extracurricular activities, music and other lessons, social schedule, and Church functions keep them almost fully occupied. My spouse and I are tied up with work, Church, and other commitments. We are seldom together as a family.” The spirit of the First Presidency’s counsel is that if we are so busy doing even good things that we do not have time for the essential things, then we must find solutions.
When children are raised by converted parents who have established a pattern of family worship, they are more likely to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit while they are young and then follow this righteous example forever. Then our teaching in Church settings takes its proper place as a support system to the teaching that occurs in the family.
Besides worshipping consistently and effectively in our own families, teachers of youth need to appropriately and sensitively encourage worship in the families of our students. Some come from families where such practices are already in place, and you can simply stand on the sidelines and silently cheer. For others it is not happening for a variety of reasons—from the student being the only member of the Church in his or her family (or the only active member) to them being a part of a family who regularly attends Church meetings but has not yet caught the vision of the importance of family worship. Without usurping the authority and responsibility of ecclesiastical leaders and parents, just model and teach righteous patterns and help our youth discover ways they can be a source of inspiration to their families in developing habits of consistent family worship.
Ultimately, conversion is a personal matter. Public worship leads us to family worship, which leads us to personal worship. This includes personal prayer, personal gospel study, and personal pondering of one’s relationship with Deity. “For how knoweth a man the master … who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?”12
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said: “The importance of having a sense of the sacred is simply this—if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings that his covenants with God could provide. His feeling of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, he will care only about his own comfort and satisfying his uncontrolled appetites. Finally, he will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then he will despise himself.”13
We have come to understand that the greatest predictor of spiritual success (measured by ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, receiving the endowment, serving a mission, marriage in the temple, and raising a righteous family) is for a young man or a young woman to have personal spiritual experiences in their youth—for them to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is more than being active in the Church; it is being active in the gospel!
Your goal for each class you teach, each discussion you lead, each hallway interaction you have is for the Holy Spirit to be the real teacher. As the Savior taught, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance.”14 The Holy Ghost has the capacity to personalize the message to each individual to be “enlightened by the Spirit of truth.”15 So, as we teach the work of salvation and the divinely appointed responsibilities, we do so in a way that edifies, that lifts, that inspires, that leads those whom we teach to strengthened faith in Heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
To you great religious educators, we say: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! On behalf of the leadership of the Church, thank you! Live lives of personal worthiness, take care of your families, and serve the Lord—especially caring for the precious rising generation. Being engaged in the work of salvation and the divinely appointed responsibilities, under apostolic direction and keys, will elevate us and motivate us.
I declare the majesty of our heavenly heritage and of our capacity to receive “eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”16 I witness of the great Jehovah, born Jesus, titled Jesus the Christ, the “anointed.”17 I testify of His incomparable Atonement that makes it possible for each of us and each of those we teach to overcome the world—to make it through the most difficult of earthly circumstances with “a perfect brightness of hope.”18 With the blessings of a restored gospel and a restored church, we have all we need to help us hear, feel, and do. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/17. Translation approval: 5/17. Translation of “The Conversion of the Children of God.” Language. PD60004121 xxx