During the Saturday morning session of the October 2018 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced a change to the Church schedule with the aim of strengthening families through a home-centered and Church-supported plan. Although the announced schedule is new, the desire for home-centered and Church-supported gospel learning may not be as new as you think.
Handbooks and Training
The 2010 edition of Handbook 2: Administering the Church states,
“God has revealed a pattern of spiritual progress for individuals and families through ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported. Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and families and are not ends in themselves. Priesthood and auxiliary leaders and teachers seek to assist parents, not to supersede or replace them” (emphasis added).
Four years later, that quote was used as the basis for the message of the annual auxiliary training: “All of the Church’s ‘teaching, programs, and activities [are] home centered and Church supported.’ That means our Church meetings are really meant to support individual and family learning.”
But this focus isn’t just something we as a Church have been working towards for a few years; our prophets have been teaching about this balance for decades.
In 1971, President Harold B. Lee taught,
“It seems clear to me that the Church has no choice—and never has had—but to do more to assist the family in carrying out its divine mission . . . As important as our many programs and organizational efforts are, these should not supplant the home; they should support the home” (emphasis in original).
Even earlier, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “May I remind you of just how important the family unit is in the overall plan of our Father in heaven. In fact, the Church organization really exists to assist the family and its members in reaching exaltation” (emphasis added).
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Steps Toward Home-Centered Gospel Learning Over the Years
When looking back at the history of gospel learning in the home, there is little doubt that the Lord has been preparing us for this change since the beginning of the Church. One of the ways the Lord prepared us for this change was through the creation of family home evening, as it was first introduced by Joseph F. Smith,
“It is required of fathers and mothers in this Church that [the] commandments shall be taught and applied in their homes. To this end we advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. . . . We . . . request that all the officers of the auxiliary organizations throughout the Church support this movement and encourage the young people to remain at home that evening, and devote their energies to make it instructive, profitable and interesting” (emphasis added).
President Joseph F. Smith even suggested a less structured approach, similar to the new program, which leaves much of the decisions about how, when, and where gospel learning with the family occurs, up to the family,
“When we go home, get the family together. Let us sing a few songs. Let us read a chapter or two in the Bible, or in the Book of Mormon, or in the book of Doctrine and Covenants. Let us discuss the principles of the gospel which pertain to advancement in the school of divine knowledge, and in this way occupy one day in seven.”
Moving Forward with Purpose
Going to church was never meant to be “our weekly dose of spiritual learning”— it was always meant as a supplement. When we originally switched to the three-hour block in 1980, the objective was the exact same:
"The purpose of the consolidated meeting schedule is to reemphasize personal and family responsibility for learning, living, and teaching the gospel and to allow Church members more time for personal gospel study, for service to others, and for meaningful activities."
In fact, the prophets have constantly warned us of the dangers of having a Church-centered and family-supported home. President George Albert Smith warned,
“Do not leave [the training of your children] to the Primary, to the Sunday School, to the [Church’s youth organizations]. They will help you and make a fine contribution, but remember what God himself has said, that parents who do not teach their children faith in God, repentance and baptism and the laying on of hands when eight years of age, the sin be upon the heads of the parents [see D&C 68:25–28]. This is not a threat, my brethren and sisters, that is the kind and loving advice of our Heavenly Father who knows all things and understands and realizes what it means when children are allowed to grow up without this training.”
President Spencer W. Kimball added to that warning when he said,
“The Church auxiliaries are very important, and we should all partake of the blessings they offer. But we should never, never allow them to replace parents, to relieve parents of the responsibility to teach their children the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
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Clearly, supplementing home learning with Church learning is a core part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The recent change to our organized Sunday service is merely the next step on a staircase we have been climbing since the beginning, and I believe it will not be the last. Thus, in this step forward, it is important that we rise to the call of our leaders, to the call of our Savior (D&C 1:38), and diligently devote ourselves to magnifying this Church-wide calling to teach the gospel in our homes. If we can do that, we will no doubt see the blessings of heaven poured out upon the members of the Church and we will all be more prepared when the Lord requires us to take yet another step forward in our gospel education.