Seminary Blessed My Life

Seminary Blessed My Life

2022 S&I Annual Training Broadcast with President Ballard

Friday, January 21, 2022

Good morning. You have certainly been well taught this morning, and I certainly endorse everything that you’ve heard so far and pray that the Lord might help me add to the wonderful meeting we’re having with you who have such great responsibility. It is a pleasure to be with you. I want to express my love for each one of you and hope that you would extend that love to your family members. I bring the love of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We are grateful for your extraordinary and faithful efforts to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will bless the lives and strengthen the testimonies of our young members of the Church.

I want to begin by telling you how seminary blessed my own life. It planted the seeds of testimony of the gospel and helped me to prepare for my mission and leadership opportunities.

As you may know, I am the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, the older brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. My mother is a Smith, and I am the great-grandson of President Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church. I am also a grandson of two Apostles—Elder Hyrum Mack Smith, my mother’s father, and Melvin J. Ballard, my father’s father.

With these men as my forefathers, you might think I would have had the gospel deep in my heart when I was a teenager. However, I did not. Let me share with you a little more about my parents and my life leading up to my missionary service.

My father owned his own automobile dealership. In 1929, when I was just 10 months old, the Great Depression hit. The economic challenges resulting from the depression led to an unfortunate turn for my parents and our family, and particularly for my father. Because he became so preoccupied with the struggle to support a family during that difficult period, it pulled him away from activity in the Church.

Later, when I was older and our financial situation was stabilized, my father bought some property in the mountains east of Salt Lake City. He spent time on Sundays building a cabin, and we all worked with him. We didn’t attend Church meetings as a family.

My parents’ withdrawal from Church activity did not prevent me from attending worship services with good friends, which I did when our family was home, or praying with my own sweet mother. However, I was not attending seminary.

When I was a junior in high school, my friend Nedra Mortensen asked me why I wasn’t attending early-morning seminary. So the next day I began attending every day from that time forward. Early-morning seminary began at 6:30 a.m. That was early for high school—at least it was for me. I remember attending in the winter on those cold, snowy winter mornings. And by the time my senior year started, I was elected president of the East High School seminary.

My attendance in seminary is one of the things that set me in the right direction for my life. In seminary my heart was touched and the seeds of testimony were planted within my soul. I don’t remember everything that was taught, but I do remember how I felt when I was there. I also remember feeling as though I belonged there.

I am grateful for my seminary teachers, who, like each of you, devoted so much time to prepare meaningful lessons that invited the Spirit.

I am also grateful for each of the teachers who taught my children. As they were growing up, we studied the gospel as a family, but the additional instruction they received in seminary blessed their lives then—and it continues to bless their lives now. As a grandfather and great-grandfather—we have just received our 100th great-grandchild—thank you to teachers who have taught and who are teaching my grandchildren. On behalf of all parents and grandparents throughout the whole Church, I thank you for the sacrifices you make to prepare, teach, and love and invite each of Heavenly Father’s children to come unto His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, you are important to the Lord and His plan. Each of you plays a part in touching the hearts of these precious young people. Your work and efforts are extremely important to strengthening the rising generation and to the building of the kingdom of God. Please know of our extreme appreciation for your willingness to serve and for your faithful efforts to teach and administer the affairs of the seminary and institute program around the world.

I express appreciation to Elder Holland and to the executive committee, to Elder Clark Gilbert as the commissioner, and to Brother Chad Webb as administrator. And to all department leaders, staff members, and to every teacher, we love you, we appreciate you, and we are grateful for everyone’s devoted efforts to religious education.

As I mentioned earlier, my seminary attendance helped me gain a testimony and move forward on the covenant path. Because of this, I was able to help my parents become active. I served a mission, which probably wouldn’t have happened if it were not for good friends that I happened to know and got acquainted with in seminary and who suggested that I should also serve a mission.

When I spoke in sacrament meeting prior to my mission, my father attended to hear me speak. That was the first time in my life that I remember my father attending church with me. When I returned home from my mission, I talked with my parents about the importance of attending our Church meetings. My parents chose to return to Church activity, and they accepted various callings and assignments throughout the rest of their lives.

Recently, the Church did some analysis of the youth in Utah. One of the combinations of indicators that made it highly likely that the youth would participate in Church activity five years into the future was if they attended seminary and had a temple recommend. 1

The Church’s Correlation Research Division also studied the impact of seminary, institute, and Church colleges. Their study showed that seminary was the leading influence on lifelong Church activity, testimony, feelings of belonging, feeling the Spirit, and personal devotion and family devotion. 2

Brothers and sisters, you are making a difference. A powerful spirit of dedication radiates from you as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank you for carrying that spirit throughout your lives and for taking that spirit into your classroom settings. I thank you for touching the hearts of our youth and young adults.

When I think of our responsibility to teach and reach their hearts, I remember an experience I had in the Salt Lake Temple many years ago. In a testimony meeting on the fourth floor of the Salt Lake Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley testified of the importance of people internalizing the gospel and staying anchored to it. He said for people to internalize it, they needed more than a mental conversion—they needed a spiritual conversion. He said we need to be able to get the appreciation for the gospel from our minds down into our hearts. Thank you for helping that to happen with your students.

On June 25, 2015, just weeks before becoming President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and while serving then as chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, President Russell M. Nelson spoke at the 2015 mission leadership seminar. He taught about missionaries becoming epistles of the Lord. He said: “We, as agents of the Lord, are privileged to preach His gospel. The Apostle Paul taught an amazing concept. He declared that each agent, each disciple, yes, each missionary, can become a living ‘epistle of Christ … , written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God … [embedded] in fleshy tables of the heart’ [2 Corinthians 3:3].” 3 I testify that each student can be touched by the gospel as they attend seminary; they can have the gospel written on the fleshy tables of their hearts.

Thank you for your personal preparation to do what you do so well: teach the gospel of Jesus Christ so that the Spirit can touch the hearts of our Heavenly Father’s children.

In today’s conflicted world, these young people need the joy and the peace offered by the Savior Jesus Christ through His gospel. They need to feel in their hearts the love that our Savior has for each one of them.

Let me talk about building future leaders. You know that the youth and the young adults of today are our future leaders. They will lead—or already are leading—their families. They will influence their neighbors and communities. All will be leaders as they teach—in the Church, the home, the school, or the community. Some will serve in Primary, Young Women, or Relief Society—and even in the presidencies. Some will serve in bishoprics, as a stake president, or as mission leaders. Some will lead the worldwide Church 20 to 30 years from now. You are teaching young people with a future destiny that you do not know or comprehend at this time. There may well be, in one of your classes, a future member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. You do not know that, but may the Lord bless you to teach as though you do.

To be good Church leaders, our youth need to first lead well in their own homes. Teach them, especially the young men, that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” and “by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” 4

As teachers, please be focused on and helpful in the lives of those you teach. You are not just preparing them for missionary service or to go off to college. You are preparing them to become good parents. You are preparing them to become good Church members and leaders. You are preparing them to be successful in all future endeavors. As you look at each one of your students, envision what they will be doing in 5, 10, or 20 years, and then seek inspiration from heaven to know how you can help them prepare for that time.

Give them opportunities to lead. As I mentioned earlier, I was president of the East High School seminary my senior year. My teachers took a risk on me by allowing me to be the president. I didn’t start attending seminary until my junior year. I wasn’t the seminary student with a proven track record of years of attendance. I hope you will watch for the young woman or young man with potential and take a chance on her or him. Help each student to stretch a little. Don’t just turn them loose and expect them to lead. Rather, teach them how to lead, then let them lead, and then continue to teach them how to do it even better.

For example, when new General Authority Seventies are called, we provide teaching and instruction opportunities before we send them off to their individual assignments in the world. We take them on assignments with us. These are men with significant Church leadership experience; however, we continue to teach them before turning them loose. Several times throughout the year, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attend meetings of the Seventy to provide instruction to help them strengthen their testimonies and be more effective leaders. I would even add that we take occasion to teach each other in the Quorum of the Twelve, to travel with each other and learn from each other. You would think after we’ve been in our assignments for a long time, we would know it all. No, the world changes and the needs of the people are different—particularly in different places in the world. So we, as members of the Quorum of the Twelve, look forward and expect to teach each other how to be better to fulfill our responsibility as Apostles to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I ask you to help our future leaders; many are eager to learn from your leadership experiences. Your time with them as seminary and institute students is short, but watch for those moments when you can influence each one.

Let me mention the need to accurately respond to questions. We all know that asking questions is a wonderful way for students to learn. Most questions show a desire to learn. Please encourage students to ask questions, and then help them learn how to find answers through study and prayer. The gospel provides answers to most of life’s questions. However, there will be some that won’t be able to be answered because we lack the information needed for a proper answer. In those situations, don’t speculate. It is OK to say “I don’t know” or “we don’t know.” We are always going to be safe and protected when we teach the truth, when we teach the things we do know. Don’t wander away from the truth and speculate about things we don’t yet understand. In most cases, you can provide faithful, thoughtful, and accurate interpretation of scripture and gospel doctrine, Church history, or other topics that we do understand. I encourage you to stay close to the curriculum provided to you and to use the authoritative resources.

Keep it simple. I have used that phrase so much throughout my life that my children put that statement on the headstone where my dear wife lies, and someday I will lie there next to her. And on that headstone is “Keep it simple.” When I pass away, I hope everybody will understand that that was something I thought was important. Keep the gospel simple. It’s simply beautiful and clear and wonderful. As you teach the gospel, keep it simple and testify often of the ministry and the divine mission of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember that Nephi gloried in plainness. 5 He taught that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 6 I testify that as you teach, preach, and testify of Christ, your students will feel your testimony and will rejoice in the goodness of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

I’m the grandson of Elder Melvin J. Ballard. He served as an Apostle for 20 years. I was 11 years old when he passed away. But there were many—when I became mature enough to realize—that my grandfather had served as an Apostle, that had heard him preach, had heard him teach. I found myself asking over and over again—different people in different places throughout the world who had heard him teach and preach the gospel. And almost always I got the answer: “I don’t remember exactly what he said,” people would say to me, “but I shall never, ever forget how I felt.” May those we teach—they may not remember our words, but may they never, ever forget how they felt as we were teaching the simple, beautiful doctrines of Jesus Christ.

I have been talking about how important our responsibilities are as teachers and administrators. Those responsibilities are important and needed. However, your responsibilities in your own family are even greater. We are here on this earth to become part of extended families with the ability to create and form our own part of those families. Each one of our family circumstances is different. Whatever your circumstance, please nurture and build those family relationships. For those who are married, spend time with your spouse. Seek your spouse’s counsel and follow it. I was a better father, husband, and Church leader because of the kind, loving counsel of my beloved and dear wife, Barbara. For those who are not married, seek counsel from your parents, your family members, or someone you trust. We should all build our family relationships, because they will last beyond this life. Your responsibilities or calling as a teacher in this program will end, but your family relationships are eternal.

As I conclude my loving remarks to you, I think of the joy it is to be part of this important and glorious work with you. I feel the same joy that Ammon felt when he said to his brethren and associates:

“How great reason have we to rejoice … ?

“… We have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work. …

“Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever. …

“… My joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.” 7

My beloved brothers and sisters and fellow teachers—and I say fellow teachers because the primary responsibility of members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is to teach. I testify that as Heavenly Father’s children, we can experience the joy and the peace of the gospel as we live it and as we teach it, as we obey the Lord’s commandments and as we walk in truth.

Jesus Christ’s life, ministry, and gospel provide that joy. In the New Testament, Jesus said to His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” 8

The prophet Lehi experienced the joy of the fruit of the gospel and desired that his family partake too. He said, “And as I partook of the fruit … it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.” 9

I am sure each of us feels the same as the Apostle John when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” 10

Today’s world is unsettled by disappointments, disagreements, dissatisfaction, discrimination, disrespect, discouragement, and distress. The gospel of Jesus Christ can carry us through these difficult times. The prophet Lehi taught a simple principle revealed by the Lord. He said, “Men [and women] are, that they might have joy.” 11

In the name of the Lord and by and through the holy apostleship, I ask the Lord bless each of you to find joy in your family, joy in the gospel, and joy in your responsibilities as a teacher or administrator in the great seminary and institute program of the Church. I again express my love for and to each and every one of you and to your students.

I bear and leave my testimony that Jesus Christ lives—and this is His Church, and this is His gospel. May the Lord bless you, my beloved fellow teachers, that we may reach out with all the energy of our hearts to touch not just the mind but the hearts of more of our Father’s children, who need to know that Jesus is the Christ, that He has raised up a prophet, even Joseph, and restored the fulness of the everlasting gospel, and that all that is necessary to find peace and joy in this life has been revealed again and is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I invoke a blessing on behalf of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve upon you and your families. And I do so humbly in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.