Originally from West Valley City, UT, Mike Brady currently resides in Chubbuck, ID, adjacent to where his amazing wife Chelsie grew up. Together they have five children and have heard every “Brady Bunch” joke in the book. Among other callings, Mike served as a full-time missionary (Japan Tokyo South), early morning seminary teacher, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, and multiple bishoprics despite his large, young family. His BA in International Studies doesn’t do much in the IT industry where he works as a software product manager for Salt Lake City-based Samaritan Technologies. His passions include dating his wife, playing with those five aforementioned children, NBA basketball, and writing long emails to his bishop.
As a collective focused on true ministering, we can do a much better job when we make visits to those in our congregations and stewardships.
Question: Have you ever been visited by a ward leader who stopped by unannounced, visited with you for 20 minutes, offered a blessing on your home, asked if there is anything he could do for you, then left? I have. As an active member, my experience here has been pleasant, and those visits are welcome, if I am at leisure to give time. Yet I often think, even if just for a second, “I wonder what that was for?” Then I move on with life.
Next question: Have you as a leader ever made that kind of visit?
Again I say: I have. In our discipleship, we do a lot of visiting in homes, especially the leaders. From 1964-2018, we even had a program called home teaching, alongside visiting teaching, which traces its roots to 1944. Hopefully we have all participated there to some degree. Other types of visits which exist in our culture—many even sanctioned and directed by the handbook—are included in this incomplete list:
- Presidencies visiting members of their organizations
- Bishoprics visiting widows or other marginalized congregants
- Mutual activity visits designed to deliver treats and notes to less-involved youth
- Ward missionary visits to inactive members and new move-ins
- Ward blitzes
- Visits associated with ward conference
Some of these visits are meant to be purely social—this kind of visit has a permanent home in a culture of true ministering. But when that ward leader stopped by my house unannounced and left us with the refrain “is there anything I can do for you”, one has to wonder what the actual objective was behind the visit. Was he inspired to come by? If so, why? Purely social?
A man I know well received an awkward visit from church leaders while I also happened to be in his home. He had been divorced for less than a year, yet those visiting him never really asked how he was doing, offered any kind of help, or made any attempt to ease his pain. It was a “pop-in, ‘anything we can do for you?’, pop-out” kind of visit. The man was certainly grateful to be thought of, and the visit was certainly pleasant, but no real comfort or peace was gained as a result of it. A quote comes to mind given by President Gordon B. Hinckley:
You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others.
How can we as leaders and disciples better leverage these kinds of visits so that they become a blessing to the lives of those who make the time for us? How can we improve these “social calls” to become true acts of ministering, especially if we are prompted within the purview of our callings? How can we create a setting where the Holy Ghost can operate upon us all as we sit in a front room with our beloved sisters and brothers? We are all certainly on the Lord’s errand, and he will endow us with the Spirit to act in His name, even as He would, but we must decide to be bold in acting as His agent.
Here are some steps we can take to elevate these visits and create edifying experiences.
1. Recognize the Inspiration
As a leader, I hope you can relate with the following type of experience: the name of an individual or family continues to float across your consciousness, especially while in a presidency meeting or during your personal prayers. Perhaps you received a nudge from the Holy Ghost the last time you saw them sneak into the back of the chapel or classroom, then just as quickly disappeared before you could approach them afterward. A wise leader would recognize these thoughts and feelings as inspiration from Heavenly Father.
2. Take the Inspiration Seriously
In his April 2004 General Conference talk, Elder Henry B. Eyring retells that when he was a young man, a wise district president (to whom he served as a counselor) gave the following advice:
“When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” Elder Eyring goes on to say, “I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life.”
As keyholders, designated key bearers, ministers, friends, leaders, teachers, and disciples, we are covenant-bound to respond to spiritual promptings that direct us to give succor to our sisters and brothers, as well as teach others to do the same.
In a sense, regardless of our calling, the Aaronic Priesthood duty appropriated to teachers could be applied to us all, that as disciples of Christ, we are to “watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:53).
3. Visit with a Purpose
We are taught in Proverbs 29:18 that “where there is no vision, the people perish”. As mentioned, sometimes that purpose might simply be to get to know one another and build a relationship in a non-church setting. Yet somehow that seems to be a default setting, and while good, this type of visit can compromise the “greater” purpose that the Lord had in mind when he nudged you in their direction.
There are several things you can do to discern what other purpose(s) the Lord is giving you for this visit. You could ask Him, in prayer. Additionally, you could seek information from others who may know, like a quorum or Relief Society president, ministering sisters and brothers. A couple of warnings here:
- Keep in mind that there may be confidential information that cannot be disclosed
- Be careful not to participate in or promote gossip
And yet there are times when we must simply allow ourselves to be “led by the Spirit, now knowing beforehand the things which [we] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).
Don’t stop reading here.
Spirit Guided Visits
This brings us to an approach that I was first taught in 2015 by my stake president at the time, who received his training from Elder Daniel L. Johnson, now an emeritus General Authority Seventy. The approach is known as “Inspired Visits”. The context of this training focused on the visits that typically occur in conjunction with ward conferences, where stake leaders pair off with ward leaders to visit less-active members, extend love, and invite them to attend ward conference. However, these inspired steps could easily be adapted to all Spirit prompted visits. The training can be broken down into the following steps:
- Prayerfully approach the topic of whom to visit. Recognize that we may not know whom the Lord has prepared, or who is praying right now for divine help. Who we think should be visited may or may not be the individual or family that the Lord wants us to visit, so have an open mind.
- Set up an appointment; 48 hours in advance is recommended.
- Wear Sunday attire.
- Upon arrival, do not participate in small talk–you are on the Lord’s errand.
- Instead, identify yourselves as representatives of the Savior Jesus Christ.
- Ask the head of the household to offer a prayer, if comfortable, or select another to pray.
- Wait for them to ask why you are there. This is imperative, and here is where it gets interesting.
- When they eventually ask what brought you to their door, explain that as you are on the Lord’s errand, you were prayerfully guided to their home, but do not know why–only that it was made clear to you that they have something to discuss with you, His representatives.
- Wait for them to begin speaking. Listen in love. Do not judge.
- Spend some time discussing the reason that they gave you as to your purpose in the home. Teach and testify. Use the scriptures.
- Extend a challenge as directed by the Spirit. Depending on what the challenge is, you may or may not have a need to follow up. If so, establish the time and manner in which follow up will take place.
- Ask the head of household if you may offer a blessing on their home before you depart.
- Again–no small talk. Try to keep the entire visit within 20-30 minutes.
- Follow up as appropriate.
While these were the steps of the training received by our stake leaders and passed on to the wards, there is no need for leaders to over-engineer. The process should be Spirit-guided, especially when adapting to the various types of visits leaders make. In the case of ward conference visits, this approach worked extremely well, and it was executed in our stake as follows.
Our stake leaders rolled this out to us by first asking each bishopric to prayerfully select enough names for all PEC members and counselors to have the opportunity to visit 2 individuals/families in an evening, then send the list to stake executive secretary. Once all wards had submitted names, they asked us to set appointments with each name for June 16 at 7 pm. We were then all invited to attend a training meeting that same evening at 6:30. We didn’t know what the training was going to be until we arrived. We were then trained on what we were to do and proceeded to execute the remaining steps and visit the members. We were asked to return to the meetinghouse and report our experiences once our scheduled visits were completed.
Any leader can say that one of the greatest privileges of serving in the Church is to have a front-row seat to witness the spiritual growth of God’s children and to see their relationship with Jesus Christ blossom. It is tender, inspiring, and makes worthwhile all of the other struggles of leadership. The night of June 16, 2015, is significant to me for this very reason.
Some years earlier a young couple began renting a home in our ward. We became friends and had a pleasant time. They eventually moved into the next ward over and we would still see them in the hallways at church. As time went by, we saw them less and less. Eventually, they moved farther away and we fell out of touch.
One day I ran into the wife at the mall. She was excited to tell me that they would be signing closing documents on a home back in our ward boundaries!
But things were different. Those few years in between had been hard on them. In addition to their poor church attendance, leaders perceived a noticeable drop in engagement and interest in general. When discussing families of concern in bishopric meeting and ward council, I would frequently bring this couple up, now parents of two small daughters. Callings were extended, but there still seemed to be a struggle with commitment. Eventually, the sister missionaries were invited to visit and see what could be done. The wife made an immediate connection with them, and they soon became her confidantes. At correlation meetings, the missionaries would report her struggles with various aspects of life. As one who has experienced depression and self-worth issues, a pattern began to emerge that looked a lot like struggles with which I was very familiar.
Like a broken record I persisted in bringing this family up in our councils. Fellow council members would respond through heavy sighs: “What more can we do? We’ve extended callings. We’ve sent in the missionaries. We’ve made visits. We’ve dropped off invitations to ward events. Is there anything left to do on our part?”
All fair points!
This discourse reminded me very much of Jacob 5:47, 49, where the Lord of a vineyard, after working tirelessly to bring forth a fruitful harvest, is gathering only bitter olives. In frustration, he says:
47 But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. 49 …Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?
In response, in the next verse the servant of the Lord of the vineyard utters five words that have special meaning to me: “Spare it a little longer,” to which the Lord expresses His great love for the vineyard, “Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.”
Now we come to June 2015. This family was still mostly not participating with us, spiritually or socially. The missionary reports were less and less optimistic. The stake asked us to prayerfully submit to them a list of families whom we felt inspired to visit. I remember the bishopric meeting when Bishop asked us to kneel again (we had already opened the meeting with prayer and addressed other agenda items) and petition the Lord to give us the names of His sheep who would most benefit from this visiting effort. We prayed, and in turn began saying names, which Bishop wrote on a yellow legal pad. I hesitated. How many times have I brought up this family? How many times have the sister missionaries and others sighed at me?
I noticed Bishop staring at me as if to say “who’s on your mind, Mike?” I looked directly back at him, gave the name, and waited to hear another sigh. He simply nodded and wrote the name down. We finished the list and the bishop emailed it off to the stake.
June 16 was a Tuesday, and the night of game 6 of the NBA Finals, a very high stakes game. I love NBA basketball, and it could have been a major distraction. I didn’t think it would be too difficult for me to focus on the visits, though, until Bishop handed my assignment to me. Of course, I was to visit my friends–the husband of the family is also passionate about the NBA. Could I stay focused?
We arrived in our suits and ties and were invited in. As trained, we didn’t engage in small talk, even with game 6 was going to begin soon! No, instead after a prayer we identified ourselves as agents of the Savior Jesus Christ, and that we were sent to their home for a purpose.
“So….what’s the purpose?” the wife inquired.
“We don’t know. We were hoping you could tell us. All we know is that we were guided here tonight through fasting and prayer. We have been sent to administer to you, but it’s up to you to tell us: why are we here?”
If it wasn’t a serious mood up to that point, it certainly was now. Husband and wife looked at one another for a moment and she led off: “Well, we know that we can’t go to the temple because we really, really struggle with tithing.” The husband agreed. We probed a little bit further: “Is participation in temple worship something you’re trying to work toward?”
They had talked about it for a long time, but simply couldn’t get past–something! There was something more at play here than simply tithing, at least for the wife. We spent some time teaching from the scriptures about tithing before the spirit prompted us to say that we had a separate challenge for each of them.
First, we challenged the husband to prioritize the payment of his tithes right away, and he readily accepted.
All eyes fell to the wife. “What’s my challenge?” she sheepishly asked, almost wincing with nervousness.
“We would like to simply lay our hands on you and give you a blessing.”
“That’s it?! Easy! HA!” she playfully teased her husband.
She retrieved her phone and asked if she could record the blessing so that she could type it up, a practice she had done for some time. A moment later, the “record” light was blinking and all of us melted into tears as a sweet and powerful blessing was given.
We returned to the meetinghouse after some soggy-eyed hugs were exchanged.
The next Sunday found this couple in the pews. And the next. And the next. A few months later in October, this pattern still held. We had a brand new bishop, and the wife asked me if they were expected to catch up on their tithes since January of that year, because if so, they would never make it to the temple again. I referred her to the bishop, but assured her that the Lord didn’t want their money–he wanted their adoration, affection, and trust.
Two weeks later, October 30, was date night. The old bishop and his wife, the new bishop and his wife, my wife and I, this couple, and one other couple met up in the Portland Temple and enjoyed a wonderful endowment session, followed with dinner. My favorite part of the evening was when the wife asked me when the bishopric planned on sustaining a new Young Women president, as our previous president had recently moved out. Yes, you know what’s coming.
Fast forward 18 more months. This sister had been serving as our ward Young Women president for, well, 18 months, and had grown immensely. She was asked to speak in the general session of stake conference and to relate her story of returning to full engagement, including her temple worship and service in the Young Women organization. Her remarks were touching and thought-provoking, full of spirit and strength. She has helped many youth move forward down the covenant path and formed relationships with them that will bear fruit for decades.
Heavenly Father had a purpose for this family’s visit, as He does for the inspired visits all leaders make. Although this family had other poignant experiences which helped them progress, I can’t stress enough how powerful it is to follow the above-mentioned steps. Then the burden is off of you to figure out the purpose of the prompting to visit them and, instead, hand it back to them to discern and grow with you. It invites them to fully participate in the process of (1) identifying their stumbling blocks and (2) coming up with solutions–aided and supported by inspired leaders like you, and ultimately the Lord.