Kent Brooksby has served as a bishop, a member of several high councils, a high priest group leader, a stake Sunday School president, and several times in the Young Men organization on a ward and stake level. One of his favorite callings of all time was scoutmaster. He and his wife of 50 years, Jan, are currently serving a service mission teaching English to immigrants and refugees. They are the parents of five children, 21 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
For the last 20 years or so, I have heard the following phrase used repeatedly from the pulpit:
“I was asked to give a talk about Elder ____’s talk in last general conference.”
When I hear that phrase, I have to exert all my willpower to keep from screaming, “NO-O-O-O!!!!” and running from the room, or immediately falling asleep. Either way, I think to myself how much more edifying it would be to call up the video of the original talk and let us watch or listen to it in its entirety, as originally given.
I know this sounds prideful. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to find fault. I am not judging the speakers. I am not trying to affix blame. I am not trying to steer or guide the Church. I know the speakers are not there to entertain or enlighten me. I just wonder how and why this started.
Book Report Talks
Ever since I was a young boy, I have disliked book reports. These assigned sacrament meeting talks are book reports, pure and simple. And heaven help us if more than one speaker has been asked to give a talk on the same talk!
I was in a meeting once where THREE speakers had all been assigned the same talk. Two of the talks started with, “Well, Sister ____ pretty much gave my talk,” and then the speakers proceeded to give their talks, just as they had prepared them. Same thoughts. Same lengthy quotes. Same stories. N-O-O-O!!! And then, can you guess what talk was discussed in elders quorum that day? You are correct.
Does anyone know where, when, or why this practice started? I have visited many wards in the past 20 years in various capacities, and “book report” sacrament meeting talks seem to be universal. I have asked several bishops and stake presidents about this, and no one seems to know how or when it started. If it has been directed by the leaders of the Church, can someone please show me where it is written? If it has not been directed by the brethren, why are we doing it this way? What ever happened to people praying for guidance and speaking by the Spirit?
Topics Resources NOT Reports
Reflecting on my time as a bishop 30 years ago, we were counseled to have speakers address the TOPICS of the last conference, but not the TALKS. Back then, the topics (faith, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end, etc.) were listed in a small section at the front of the Church magazines. General conference talks, regardless of the topic, all tie back to the Savior and His atonement; book reports about those talks do not always do the same. Speaking on a gospel TOPIC is not the same thing as talking about a TALK. I am relatively sure that the brethren do not prepare their talks, hoping they will be used for book reports.
I was informed recently by a friend that in his ward even newly returned missionaries are assigned conference talks, rather than letting the missionary talk about his/her own spiritual experiences, conversion experiences, and how the spirit helped the missionary grow!
I thought the purpose of having returned missionaries speak was to inspire young people to serve missions and to let them bear powerful testimonies of the Savior. How tragic to hear a missionary, recently returned and full of the Spirit, begin a talk with, “I was asked to talk about Elder __’s talk in conference.” I thank heaven that I am not in that ward.
Inspiring Personal Experiences
Our wards are filled with members with many thousands of years of combined personal experiences that could illustrate gospel principles just as effectively as a story told and retold from the Conference Center pulpit. I would much rather listen to a ward member talk about a personal experience that promoted his/her faith in the Savior than listen to a story read from the pages of the Liahona about an experience someone else had that benefited someone else somewhere else.
Now, I know that not all people are gifted speakers, and I know that there are many members of the Church who would rather have all their teeth pulled than to have to give a talk in church. (I recall a time when I served as a bishop when a sister nervously turned to me just before she spoke and asked me, “Has anyone ever died doing this?” I told her, “Only one person that I know of.”) It may be that assigning them a conference talk is the best way to help them overcome their fears and help them to grow. It wouldn’t be an issue in my mind if it happened now and then. But when it happens everywhere I go, in almost every meeting I attend, I wonder why.
A book that has been tremendously influential in my life is “Teaching by the Spirit.” by Elder Gene R. Cook, who was in the First Quorum of Seventy. Drawing from ideas that book has planted in my mind and heart, may I make a few suggestions?
For Bishopric Members Who Are Assigning Talks
Rather than saying, “We would like to have you speak about Elder ___’s talk in the last general conference,” try saying, “We would like you to speak next Sunday on the principle of forgiveness. We would love it if you would tell us of times the principle of forgiveness has blessed and strengthened you. Please use the scriptures, and you can refer to examples from conference talks if you wish. As I recall, Elder ___ gave a great talk on that last April, which might give you some ideas. Above all, focus on the Savior.”
For Members Being Asked to Speak
If you are assigned a conference talk to speak about, by all means prayerfully read the talk and figure out the key message of that talk that spoke to you. Then prayerfully prepare a talk about that message, focusing on the Savior. As the Spirit brings things to your mind, reflect on how those experiences relate to the topic assigned. Refer to thoughts from the talk if you wish, but don’t “talk about the talk.” Above all, listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost who will tell you what to say.
The Gospel of Christ
Thanks for listening to the rants of an old curmudgeon. I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue. And please, if you know where this “policy” is to be found, let me know.
The gospel of Christ is true, and the Church is true and led by prophets, “book reports” or not.