“What matters should I see my bishop about, and what should I go to my quorum leader and home teacher about?” Ensign, Feb. 1983, 19–20
B. Jackson Wixom, Jr., member of the Melchizedek Priesthood Committee of the Church. Home teachers, quorum presidents, and bishops together form an interlocking support system that provides help in virtually every area of need; yet, each serves families and individual Church members in quite different ways. To decide which of these brethren to approach for assistance, we must first understand each one’s role and what resources each can use to solve particular problems.
Obviously, the home teacher’s role is a key one. He does not preside over the family or its members, but he is the chief representative of the quorum president and, through him, the bishop. (See Melchizedek Priesthood Handbook, 1975, p. 11.) His contact with the family should be regular and frequent, serving a supportive role to the family leadership. In addition to preparing suitable messages or discussing assigned topics from priesthood leaders, home teachers should inquire about the circumstances of the family when they visit. They should be alert to attitudes, levels of spirituality, and any special needs that can be met by the ward or quorum.
Only when families welcome home teachers and rely upon their assistance in time of need can they really fulfill their priesthood role. Home teachers stand ready to assist in cases of accidents, fire, serious illness, death, or other emergencies. They help arrange transportation to Church meetings when necessary. They are a source of information about Church activities and programs. They assist families in fulfilling their missionary, genealogical, preparedness, and other responsibilities. And they respond in case of other special needs, such as employment problems, activation, baptisms, marriages, keeping in touch with members living away from home, etc. (See Guidelines for Priesthood Home Teaching, 1980, p. 1.)
Since home teachers do not preside over individuals or families, they must be sent by someone with presiding authority. The bishop and the quorum president are both called as presiding officers. As presiding high priest in the ward, the bishop presides over fathers and families as ward members. Melchizedek Priesthood leaders are responsible for fathers as members of the quorum or group. They teach and strengthen each father, helping him to strengthen his family.
Since the quorum leader’s role is the least understood of the two, we should review it first. The quorum president has a distinct scriptural charge to preside over his quorum and to “sit in council with them, and to teach them according to the covenants.” (D&C 107:89.) This same charge today has come to apply to group leaders in seventies quorums and high priest groups.
The phrase “sit in council” designates the way these priesthood leaders should function. They usually carry out their responsibilities with quorum members all together. As individuals attend the quorum meeting, they form the council the quorum leader is to sit with and train. The quorum leader has the responsibility to teach his quorum members how to preside over their own homes and families.
In his classic address “Strengthening the Individual Priesthood Holder,” at the October 1973 Regional Representative Seminar, Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “The quorum is organized to teach, inspire, and strengthen the father. … It must let him learn his duty … giving him opportunity for participation, for activity, for responsibility.” (Also published in the Personal Study Guide, 1976–77, page 250.)
The quorum leader isn’t expected to lead every discussion himself, but as he directly involves himself in selecting topics and instructors and occasionally leading the discussion or emphasizing the points that are made, he can turn a quorum into the vital, participating exchange that can focus on the problems of his quorum members. A well-organized quorum finds its members learning and training together under the quorum leader’s planned direction.
In consultation with individual quorum members, the quorum leader also can teach long-term stability and self-sufficiency, while finding other members of the quorum to help meet the individual needs. Certainly, regular personal priesthood interviews allow the priesthood leader to direct the home teachers and send them with specific messages and assistance for the family.
As President David O. McKay expressed it, “The quorum should be so united that we can help one another, not only spiritually but also financially and in every other way. If we can get that spirit of unity into our quorums, then we are beginning to understand the full meaning of our priesthood organization in the Church.” (Improvement Era, July 1963, p. 615.)
The bishop presides over each individual ward member. As chairman of the ward priesthood executive committee, welfare services committee, and correlation council, he is responsible for coordinating the resources of all programs in the ward. He is therefore in a good position to mobilize the resources of the entire ward to meet a wide range of temporal and spiritual needs. Along with the bishop’s priesthood leadership also comes a special responsibility to serve as a “judge in Israel.” (See D&C 107:72–74.) Thus, he has the duty of dealing with transgressors and of interviewing ward members to determine their worthiness for temple attendance and other blessings. In addition, he is a confidential counselor to whom members of all ages can turn in times of personal need.
The different roles of bishop and quorum president are well exemplified in the following:
“The bishop’s role in welfare services includes providing temporary assistance to members in need. The Melchizedek Priesthood leaders, on the other hand, are responsible for long-term assistance, especially in the areas of prevention and rehabilitation. … The efforts of the bishop and priesthood leaders should complement (not duplicate) each other. For example, the bishop may extend temporary help from the bishops storehouse or from fast-offering funds to an unemployed member in need, but the quorum should try to find employment or training so that he can become self-supporting.”
Bishops and those who administer other Church programs and resources can’t work in the dark, however. They have to have a way of learning about problems and needs when they arise.
Melchizedek Priesthood leaders are the bishop’s best source of information about ward members. Through home teachers and personal visits, quorum leaders can become aware of the needs of every family in the ward. The bishop can then make the resources of the ward available to the quorum leaders.
The bishop’s function is to coordinate these efforts. Working through the quorum president and home teacher, the bishop can send specific counsel, directions, and even challenges to the families of his ward.
Certainly the functions of the bishop, the quorum president, and the home teacher overlap in some areas. In some situations, one or the other has sole responsibility for the action needed; in others, all three individuals might assist. Too often, though, the bishop is the only person in the ward to whom many members turn when illness or emergency comes. Perhaps this is a natural tendency, because of the special relationship that develops between the bishop and those he counsels. But the pleasure of this kind of service can quickly over-occupy a bishop’s time and prevent the fulfilling of his other responsibilities. Other priesthood leaders could and should provide much of the loving and compassionate service bishops now so willingly give. In particular, home teachers could and should be the first person contacted in most situations. As the home teacher responds and assists, he then can report to the quorum leader and bishop, and complete the interlocking support system.