Last week, I mentioned that I had recently “given a talk at church.” (See also “Sacrament Meeting” in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) In the LDS church, that’s pretty common lingo. For anyone of another faith, phrase can be quite confusing.
To understand how worship services work in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is best to begin with the understanding that no one is paid for what they do, and no one exactly volunteers. We believe that, through the power of the Holy Ghost, God still inspires everyday people. Our local leaders are “called” by regional leaders, and then the local leaders are “sustained” by the members. The sustaining process looks a lot like a vote when it happens, but it’s really more of a pledge to pray for an assist that person in that particular church job or function.
So, our local bishops don’t function as preachers — they hold regular jobs like everybody else, and they are not required to give a 30-45 minute speech every Sunday. They, along with two counselors who form what we call a “bishopric” (and sometimes input from other congregational leaders), ask members of the congregation to take turns preparing remarks on an assigned topic. This is generally done after a lot of thought and prayer.
The person being asked has the opportunity to say no, but Mormons generally step up to the plate and help out when asked.
Once the assignment has been accepted, the responsibility falls on the person who has accepted the charge to prepare. There are probably as many different methods of preparing a talk as there are people who give them, so I will simply describe mine.
- The first thing I like to do is to prepare myself spiritually. As I think about the topic I have been given, I pray and even fast to know exactly what message God would have me deliver. If I have the opportunity in my schedule, I will even spend time in our local temple to seek spiritual direction.
- At the same time, I gather sources. As I read and study scriptures everyday, I watch for things that strike me as being applicable to the topic. I also search our church website for scriptures and talks given by church leaders. I collect all of these in a central location.
- I begin taking the thoughts and ideas that I have collected and organize them under subtopics. (Suddenly, this is beginning to sound a lot like writing a paper, and it is — at least for me.)
- I write my talk out in paragraph form ,and read it to check that I’m within the allotted time frame. My husband and I actually had a long discussion on this. In the early days of the LDS church, leaders often spoke “off the cuff.” Then, modern forms of media were invented and time limits became the norm. Leaders had to write out their talks so that they could be translated into multiple languages and to make sure that the meetings scheduled would fit an allotted time. So, to my husband, following the example of the brethren might not involve writing out the thoughts he has received, but he may lean more toward speaking from the things he has studied as the Holy Spirit impresses him in the moment. To me, I figure that since I am under time constraints like they now are, then I will follow their example and write the words out.
- For my own personal learning, I compare the talk with the notes I gathered. Especially with this last talk, I was amazed at how much extra I was taught through my personal preparation — and counted as a blessing. I was also amazed at how inspired my talk turned out to be — I was able to pack a lot of spiritual insight into a small amount of time, and I know that it was the influence of the Holy Spirit working through me that made it possible.
So, in a nutshell, that’s the basic workings of how teaching happens in the worship services of the LDS church. Curious to know more? Check the LDS Meetinghouse Finder and join us tomorrow!