“A Report on the Seminar for Regional Representatives,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 102–7
“When I was a missionary of nineteen years of age in Missouri,” President Spencer W. Kimball recounted in the Regional Representatives Seminar, “we had reported 2,000-plus missionaries in all the world. We often got a little discouraged. We took the population of the earth, perhaps two or three or four billion, and then divided it by the 2,000 missionaries, and then divided that by the number of converts we were making in St. Louis, Missouri. It was quite discouraging.”
But President Kimball reminded 158 Regional Representatives in the opening address on Friday, September 30, that today, besides the 25,000 missionaries now in the field, we also have millions of members—all of whom are potential missionaries. “Won’t it be wonderful and pleasing to the Lord,” he said, “when we have three or four or more million missionaries devoting much time and prayer to this missionary work: perhaps as many as forty or fifty thousand young full-time missionaries, and perhaps three or four million or more adults, youth, and children spreading the word in and from every country in the world!”
And then he reminded the Regional Representatives, “We covenanted to do it!”
Every general conference in recent years has been preceded by a gathering of Regional Representatives. This most recent seminar, conducted by President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve, stressed to the Regional Representatives the importance of missionary work; the urgency of activating currently inactive members, including locating members who have moved away; the need for cultural arts and recreation in the Church; the great value of seminaries and institutes; and the need for Regional Representatives to carry forth the word to the stakes within their regions.
Emphasis on Activation
“The cycles of inactivity and indifference are recurring cycles from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. We must now break that cycle,” said President Kimball in his opening remarks, expanding on his “Lengthening Our Stride” speech given in October 1974. Several other speakers quoted that statement—and went on to stress particular areas where more work needs to be done.
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who spoke for the Priesthood Executive Committee of the Twelve, said, “There is a need for a united, sustained, greatly increased effort by priesthood and auxiliary leaders to bring into full fellowship and activity those whom we describe as ‘inactive.’”
One important task is to “track” members who have moved away from the last ward or branch without leaving word as to where their records should be sent.
Another responsibility rests on every member of the Church: helping members who want to become active feel like they belong back in the fold. As Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve pointed out, “For an individual to return from inactivity to full gospel fellowship, two objectives must be met:
“1. Doctrinal Conversion—A sound understanding and testimony of gospel doctrine which leads to obedience and service.
“2. Social Transition—Adjusting from the social environment of the world to feeling comfortable in the social environment of the Church.”
Though all members of the Church need to take part in helping inactive members make those transitions, particular responsibility rests on the home teacher. Fellowshipping means more than a greeting and a handshake. It means becoming a genuine friend to the member who is becoming active. Unless he and his family find new friends in the Church, loneliness may make it harder for them to break away from their old way of life outside the Church!
“Brethren,” said President Kimball, “we already have the tools. We must build bridges to those who for one reason or another have become indifferent and inactive, and we must see that those who are now participating do not become disillusioned or disaffected. They must not go unfulfilled in their desire to find fellowship, and to serve.”
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley suggested five basic principles of member activation:
Responsibility for activation rests with (1) the individual, (2) family members, and (3) the Church.
The focus is on families, with care to meet special needs of individuals, including single members, those living away from home or in military service, and those whose families include nonmembers of the Church.
Love is the basic ingredient and fundamental motive for successful activation. Spiritual guidance is likewise essential. When these are present, very few program instructions are needed.
Activation is accomplished within existing Church organizations, without new programs, utilizing Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood and auxiliary organizations. A thorough understanding and effective application of existing programs and principles is essential.
There must be a united, sustained, greatly increased member activation effort.
Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke about the need to keep the youth of the Church active. He told the story of a dedicated Laurel adviser from an eastern state of the U.S. who went to Salt Lake City on a visit. While there, she wrote a note to each of her girls and mailed it off. The note said, “Today I touched the wall of the temple for you.”
One of her students later told Elder Hanks that when she got that note, it filled her with a resolve. “Someday,” she said, “I’ll touch it myself, and remember that sister.”
Too often, said Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve, we tend to look at wayward or inactive youth and “label, classify, and ignore.” It’s not enough to write down the young person’s flaws and weaknesses, his reasons for being inactive. Instead, Elder Ashton said, “Identify—and understand.” Find out what the young person is interested in, and then try to satisfy that interest within the Church.
“President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said, ‘The youth of the Church are hungry for things of the Spirit,’” President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized. “‘They’re eager to learn the gospel and they want to go straight and have an undiluted, orderly life in the gospel and the Church. Our youth are not children, spiritually—they are well on toward the normal spiritual maturity of the world.’” And, as speaker after speaker emphasized, a young Saint who learns to love the gospel in childhood and teens will generally be an active member of the Church in adulthood.
The recent organization of the Churchwide Activities Committee (see Ensign, August 1977, p. 73) signals an increased emphasis on both cultural arts and physical fitness in the Church. Each stake and ward activities committee will include a chairman (a high councilor, on the stake level), a cultural arts specialist, and a physical activities specialist. Smaller units, or units with challenges of adequate leadership or travel, may choose to have only one or two members serve on these committees.
The local activities committees have several responsibilities, among them the task of encouraging opportunities for cultivating skills and talents of the Saints and, when requested, to coordinate, develop, and implement cultural arts and physical activities that cross organizational lines.
In addition, the cultural arts specialist oversees the work of specialists in music, art, speech, drama, dance, and literature, while the physical activities specialist encourages physical fitness and family recreation, while supervising the work of the athletic director, who is solely concerned with competitive sports.
Why the new emphasis on cultural arts? Besides the obvious need of all Saints to continue to use and improve their talents, cultural arts can help the whole Church program. The chairman of the activities committee in every ward sits on the ward correlation council, where he or she can receive appropriate assignments. Inactive ward members with special abilities or interests can be drawn into activities where their talents can benefit others—and keep them involved in Church activity. And priesthood quorum leaders and auxiliary heads can call on the activities committee as a resource for their own activities, as well as for cross-organizational events. (See the accompanying chart of sample ward activities.)
Sample Ward Activities
The following calendar is only a sample of the type of activities that may be assigned to the activities committee. The only activities listed are those that cross organizational lines. Each ward must assess its own needs and then create a calendar in harmony with those needs. This calendar would then be incorporated into a general ward activity calendar according to the preceding checklist before being presented to the ward correlation council.
Ward family dance
Ward or family kite fly
Crafts fair and instruction
New Year’s Eve activity
Athletic competition on the multiregional level is being reorganized. A map accompanying this article shows how multiregional competition in the United States and Canada is being brought into line with the new Churchwide system of zones and areas.
“Why do we have prophets?” asked Deputy Commissioner of Education Henry B. Eyring. “Why do we need to be baptized?”
A dozen or so seminary students from Salt Lake Valley scrambled through their scriptures. Only seconds passed after each question before they were giving references and summaries of key scriptures.
And then Deputy Commissioner Eyring tossed the ball to the watching Regional Representatives. Just prior to the meeting several of them had been asked to spring questions on the seminary students. “Why is there only one true church—don’t all churches teach you to live the way God wants?” asked one.
“Why is it necessary to pay tithing?” asked another. And a third challenged them to prove that one needs to go on a mission.
In every case, the young people showed not only a familiarity with the scriptures, but also the ability to use the standard works to answer serious questions.
Just a demonstration of exceptional students? Not at all. What the representatives saw was the result of five-day-a-week instruction in released time seminary, the most effective seminary system. However, released time is only available where the Saints are a large proportion of the population. Other types of seminary are early morning seminary, available where there are enough Saints living close together that students can be gathered for an hour a day of religious instruction before school starts; and home study seminary, where students are too widely scattered for daily classroom seminaries.
With these three programs, seminary is available right now for all youth in all areas where the Church is established.
But as Associate Commissioner of Education Joe J. Christensen pointed out, all three programs have a nearly equal number of potential students. However, actual enrollment varies widely. While 82 percent of the potential students for released-time seminary are enrolled, only 56 percent of the potential students for early morning seminary attend the classes—and home study only enrolls 41 percent of its potential.
Does it make a difference?
It’s hard to argue with the fact that 88 percent of today’s full-time missionaries are former seminary students. And a much higher proportion of temple marriages occurs among seminary graduates.
As President Spencer W. Kimball pointed out in a filmstrip shown to the Regional Representatives, we want Latter-day Saint young people to achieve the eventual goal of eternal life. And what leads to eternal life? Nothing seems quite so important as eternal marriage—temple marriage. And what seems to lead to temple marriage? More than any other factor, it seems to be a full-time mission.
And what leads to a full-time mission? Again, many factors—but one of the most significant is seminary and institute.
President Kimball also pointed out in his opening address to the Regional Representatives that young Latter-day Saint women had a serious obligation to prepare themselves by learning from the scriptures and acquiring their own understanding of the gospel.
Seminary can provide young Latter-day Saints with a firm foundation in the gospel, like the young people who demonstrated their knowledge of the scriptures so splendidly that afterward President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve commented, “I’m glad I’m in the same Church as these young people. Otherwise, I might be afraid to meet them!”
“Total convert baptisms since January 1973: 388,514.
“Increase in world nonmember population since January 1973: almost 240 million people.
“To help you visualize the significance of these numbers,” continued Elder Carlos E. Asay of the First Quorum of the Seventy and executive director of the Church Missionary Department, “let’s compare the nonmember population of the world to a reservoir one hundred feet deep. Our goal is to convert the world—and thus to drain empty this reservoir of nonmembers.
“Using this comparison, the number of converts in the past four years represents a drop in the level of the reservoir of one-eighth of an inch, an almost imperceptible change; while at the same time, the rivers and the streams of humanity have increased the level of the reservoir by over six feet!”
No wonder President Kimball reemphasized the need for every young man to be worthy to serve a mission—and then to serve it.
The work is immense, and every Latter-day Saint must take part in it, President Kimball urged in his opening remarks at the seminar. Another important part of the missionary work is preparing young men to serve full-time missions for the Church. These young men and a few young women, said the prophet, should have “the understanding that it is not a two-year mission, but an eternal mission, and that all their mortal lives, including their spiritual lives after their demise, they will continue to preach the gospel.”
Whose responsibility is the preparation of missionaries? “Parents have the primary responsibility for preparing their sons to serve full-time missions,” the Regional Representatives were told, and President Kimball said, “Let me … say to every mother that her ambition should be that her newborn son will develop in cleanliness and worthiness to become part of the ranks to teach the gospel to the physical world and later to the spirit world, and then let every mother and father spend much of their time and efforts in training that lad to fill his mission.”
What kind of preparation is needed? The Regional Representatives were reminded of seven areas:
Spiritual. Every young man should have a testimony; should know how to pray; should know what it means to teach by the Spirit; and should desire to serve the Lord on a mission—for the right reasons.
Moral. The ideally prepared missionary obeys all the commandments, and has already confessed and repented of his sins. In President Kimball’s words, he “must experience the peace of repentance and forgiveness and then proclaim that peace to the world.” (Ensign, June 1975, p. 6.)
Intellectual. Young men should read all the standard works, with particular attention to the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story; and, prepared with basic study and memorization skills, the missionary will be able to quickly learn even more in the mission field.
Social. Not only does the ideally prepared young man know how to interact well with other people, express his emotions properly, and maintain a correct appearance, but also he understands that other people’s beliefs, customs, and culture are different from his—and he is sensitive to and tolerant of those differences.
Emotional. Young men should feel loved and should have the ability to love others. The ideally prepared missionary is self-confident and self-aware, knowing his own strengths and weaknesses; self-reliant, so he can function independently; self-disciplined, so he can work to accomplish his goals.
Physical. The ideally prepared missionary is physically fit—and has taken care of any health problems before he reports for his mission.
Financial. Before going on his mission, a young man ought to know how to manage his own money, and should have acquired habits of frugality. He should also earn at least a portion of his mission fund through his own employment.
“There are now more than 213,000” Aaronic Priesthood holders, President Kimball pointed out in his opening remarks. “This group is the reservoir for the future missionaries of the Church. The degree to which they are kept active and growing and developing” will have a profound effect on the missionary work of the Church.
Many other ideas and instructions were given to the 158 Regional Representatives of the Twelve in the four-hour morning meeting. During the afternoon, individual meetings were held, each Area Supervisor meeting with the Regional Representatives who serve in his area, following which all the Regional Representatives met again in the auditorium of the Church Office Building for a session on leadership development.
The effects of the Regional Representatives Seminar are not confined, however, to those attending the meetings. Through the Regional Representatives, the ideas and instructions given by the Brethren are passed on to the stake presidents and bishops in every part of the worldwide Church—and from them to every Latter-day Saint.
“The Church of God,” President Kimball said in his opening address, “will go forth boldly, nobly, and independently until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; until the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say, ‘The work is done.’”