Great sacrament meetings services start with great planning. The ward council (which includes the bishopric) suggests themes and speakers. The bishopric confirms the topics and invites the members to speak. How that invitation to speak is extended and how bishoprics follow up are critical. How we prepare someone to speak in sacrament meeting should be commensurate with the sacredness of the meeting.
May I share some practical tips I’ve learned about inviting sacrament speakers through my own good and bad experiences?
1. Make the initial invitation to speak in person
If you can’t make the invitation in person, at least, make it over the phone so they can hear your real voice. Texting and email are just too casual and do not convey the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish. Don’t hesitate to share your testimony of the speaker’s topic to help set the spiritual tone for their preparation. Express sincere confidence in the brother or sister and in their ability to prepare and deliver their message.
2. Send them written guidelines
Provide an email follow-up to the speaker very quickly after the invitation is accepted. This email reiterates the topic, links to suggested reference material, and provides an opportunity for a little training. Here are examples of written invitations that 3 different bishoprics have used (feel free to copy/paste and adjust for your own use):
Dear Brother/Sister ___________,
This email is just to follow-up on the sacrament meeting speaking assignment you so kindly accepted for [insert date].
Please plan for a _____ minute talk on the topic of _____________.
We suggest the following conference talk or scriptures as primary reference material:
[links here] Remember, your talk is not about the conference talk(s) referenced, but about the theme of the conference talk.
Given the sacred nature of our Sacrament Meeting worship, we suggest the following:
- Prepare spiritually. Prayerfully study the referenced talk(s) and scriptures. Seek inspiration to be guided in what you teach.
- Teach and testify of the truths you are sharing. Stick to the assigned topic as guided by the Spirit. Tie the topic back to Christ, his love and his atonement. Invite us to act!
- Please avoid using visual aides, sharing how or when the bishopric invited you to speak or how you prepared your talk. Don’t apologize for any nervousness or inadequacies you feel. In a sacrament meeting setting, we do not invite the congregation to open their scriptures as we might in a classroom.
- Please respect the time for the other speakers and conclude on time. You may need to practice delivering your talk at home to get the timing right.
Thanks again for your willingness to speak in Sacrament Meeting. We know you will be blessed as you prepare and deliver your message.
(From Justin Sorensen)
Thank you for accepting the assignment to speak in the ________ Ward Sacrament meeting on [insert date]. The program will be as follows (assigned topics are included):
– Administration of the Sacrament
– (Youth Speaker Name) – Topic (____ minutes)
– (Speaker Name) – Topic (____ minutes)
– Intermediate Hymn
– (Speaker Name) – Topic (____ minutes)
– (Speaker Name) – Topic (balance of the meeting until ________)
As we discussed, with the number of speakers we have it will be important to pay attention to the amount of time you are allotted to speak. Please plan accordingly.
Just a few reminders from the Church Handbook about speaking in Sacrament meeting, please remember to:
1) Teach the doctrines of the gospel
2) Relate faith-promoting experiences
3) Bear witness of divinely revealed truths
4) Use the scriptures
5) Teach in a spirit of love after prayerful preparation
6) Not speak on subjects that are speculative, controversial or out of harmony with Church doctrine
7) To maintain reverence please do not ask the congregation to open their own books to scriptural references
Please let me know if you have any questions at all. Thanks again for your service.
(From Kurt Francom, Editor of Leading Saints)
Kurt would generally sent this out before talking to the member in person.
Brother and Sister __________,
The bishopric would like to invite you to speak in sacrament meeting on [date].
You may have a few questions…
ARE YOU SERIOUS!?
Yes. We realize this request may come as a surprise to you. Let me answer a few more questions for you.
WHAT IF I’M NOT AVAILABLE THAT DATE?
If you are not available on the date above please contact the bishopric and we can look to move the assignment to another Sunday.
HOW LONG WILL I SPEAK?
WHAT’S MY SPEAKING TOPIC?
I would like you to spend the next few days assessing what doctrines of the gospel have most impacted you as an individual. Consider past life experiences that had a deep effect on your life. Then send me a list of 3 topics you would feel confident speaking about. From there we will discuss which topic will be assigned to you from the bishopric.
Of course, we would love for you to spend 2 minutes about your background so we can get to know you better.
If you have further concerns about speaking in sacrament meeting please reply to this message or call a member of the bishopric to discuss this further.
FURTHER INFORMATION TO CONSIDER
We are instructed that the purpose of Sacrament Meeting is to partake of the sacrament, to worship, to provide gospel instruction, to strengthen and to build faith and testimony. There are many ways your talk can achieve the purpose of this sacred meeting. As you prepare your talk it is our hope that your preparation and presentation will:
Teach the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Teach by using the scriptures and modern revelation
Relate faith-promoting experiences from your personal life
Teach with love & with the Spirit
Bear witness of divinely revealed truths, especially of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
As you present your talk please consider the following:
Avoid mentioning how the bishopric asked you to speak
Avoid asking the congregation to turn to the chapter and verse of the scriptures you will be sharing.
Avoid addressing issues that are political, speculative or not in harmony with Church doctrine.
Avoid the use of visual aids and audiovisual materials is not encouraged and please avoid the use of casual or inappropriate language that may detract from the Spirit.
Following these principles will invite the presence of the Spirit and contribute to an atmosphere of reverent worship throughout the meeting.
Please be sensitive to the time frame of your talk (noted above). Many speakers don’t realize how much time their prepared remarks will fill and often go over time or end too early. We encourage you to practice your remarks beforehand and adjust accordingly. During your remarks if you find that your talk will end early, that is OK. The bishopric will fill the remainder of the meeting. If you happen to go over your time we will kindly place a note on the lectern to remind you to wrap up your comments. We don’t do this to be rude, but realize many people lose track of time as they share from their heart.
It is a special opportunity to speak before the congregation. We know that as you pray about your topic and prepare in advance the Spirit will guide you. You will be blessed for accepting the invitation to speak.
Please reply to this message to confirm receipt.
Every time I’ve experienced a speaker gone wrong while I was in the bishopric, it was because we had not sent that follow-up email.
3. Offer a Training Class
Another opportunity the bishopric and Sunday School Presidency might consider is a training session on “How to Speak in Sacrament Meeting.” This could be done during the Sunday School hour, on a 5th Sunday, or it could be a special fireside. Repeat the training frequently, at least annually, but maybe even quarterly. Train as frequently as needed to establish a pattern and culture of Sacrament meeting speaking excellence.
Use Handbook 2, Section 18.2.2 as your guide in preparing your training session. The handbook is two centuries of distilled wisdom from the leaders, most of whom were excellent speakers themselves.
Consider providing this training to the youth as well. Oh, and make sure to invite members of the High Council to your training. They probably need it!
As we endeavor to make our Sabbath observance a delight, one major step would be improving the quality of sacrament meeting worship. May we and bishoprics everywhere take the necessary time to invite speakers in a more meaningful way and provide them excellent training. Bishoprics that apply these tips will see a reduction in cringe-worthy moments and a marked improvement in the quality of sacrament meetings speakers.