From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Boss, R. Wayne
Each ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigns priesthood holders as home teachers to visit the homes of members every month. They go in pairs; often a youth holding the Aaronic Priesthood accompanies an adult holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. Home teachers are called by their local priesthood quorum leaders and are typically assigned to visit between three and five families. They report on the needs and Welfare of their assigned families in regularly scheduled interviews with their priesthood leaders. The home teaching program is a response to modern revelation commissioning those ordained to the priesthood to: teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties, to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; and see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking [D&C 20:42-54].
At one time called "acting teachers" (1909), the name was formally changed to "ward teachers" in 1912. However, for years before that time the effort was informally called "block teaching" because of the geographic way in which families were assigned (Hartley, pp. 375-98). In April 1963, the ward teaching program was expanded and renamed "home teaching," with emphasis "on the responsibilities of the entire priesthood to "watch over the Church' as commanded in the early revelations-to be concerned with the whole family as a group and as individuals" (IE 66 [June 1963]:504).
In a Home Teachers Meeting during general conference in 1966, Marion G. Romney, then an apostle, instructed home teachers to live so that they could always enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost and act under his inspiration in their home teaching responsibilities and to encourage and inspire every family to make and keep the home a truly Latter-day Saint home.
In 1987 Church President Ezra Taft Benson identified three basic guidelines to be followed by home teachers:
First, Church leaders are to encourage home teachers to know as well as possible the people they are called to teach. Home teachers need to be aware of individual attitudes, interests, and general Welfare, working closely with the head of each family to meet the family's temporal and spiritual needs.
Second, the Church expects home teachers to deliver a short monthly message. When possible, messages are to come from the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Leaders are to instruct home teachers to prepare intellectually and spiritually, giving prayerful consideration to both the temporal and spiritual needs of each family as they prepare lessons. The companionship of the Holy Ghost is essential for successful home teaching, for "if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach" (D&C 42:14). The Church instructs home teachers, therefore, to pray together before each visit, invoking the blessings of the Lord upon the family, and, where possible, to pray with family members at the conclusion of the visit.
Third, home teachers are to magnify their callings (Jacob 1:19) by rendering devoted service. This includes visiting each family early in the month, by appointment, and making additional visits as needed.
Organizationally, home teaching provides a system for effective Churchwide communication. Through stakes, wards, and home teachers, Church leaders have a direct line to every member and have the potential, if necessary, to communicate quickly with the total Church membership, via the local priesthood leaders.
Effective home teaching makes significant contributions to members' lives. Alert, insightful home teachers find various ways of rendering service, such as providing recognition for achievements; informing families of Church activities; assisting during family emergencies, including illness or death; strengthening and encouraging less active members; and arranging transportation. They serve as resources and share the burden of support that would otherwise be carried by the bishop.
As home teachers are called to work directly with families, they are often in a better position to help these family members than are other Church officers or teachers. As a result, home teaching is one of the most effective ways the Latter-day Saints manifest their commitment to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God" (Mosiah 18:8-9).
Benson, Ezra Taft. "To the Home Teachers of the Church." Ensign 17 (May 1987):48-51.
Cullimore, James A. "Home Teachers-Watchmen over the Church." Ensign 3 (Jan. 1973):124-26.
Hartley, William. "Ordained and Acting Teachers in the Lesser Priesthood, 1851-1883." BYU Studies 16 (Spring 1976):375-98.
Packer, Boyd K. "The Saints Securely Dwell." Ensign 3 (Jan. 1973):88-90.
R. WAYNE BOSS