Mormon Talks, Christian Sermons

Krister Stendahl, the noted Swedish theologian who was unusually considerate of the LDS Church, listed “holy envy” as one of his three rules of religious understanding. Let’s see if comparing Mormon talks with Christian sermons doesn’t create for us a bit of holy envy. I think there might be something we can learn from how other Christian denominations preach from the pulpit on Sunday.

One hears from time to time the complaint that the three-hour block of LDS Sunday meetings is too long and that talks in LDS sacrament meetings are somehow deficient, although there are various views on how exactly the typical LDS talk is falling short. Until an LDS President gets a revelation ending Sunday School, we’re stuck with the three-hour block, but we don’t need a revelation to do a better job from the pulpit. It’s worth reflecting on the strange fact that the youth talks are often the most rewarding five minutes of the meeting: they generally quote three or four scriptures in a five minute talk (which is often more than adults include in a ten or fifteen minute talk) and usually stay close to their topic. Plainly, adults ought to be able to do at least as well as the teenagers, and probably better. We’re missing something. Are things any better across the street?

The standard Christian sermon typically focuses on a text, not a topic. Those with more direct experience in other denominations can add their observations, but my sense is that the traditional sermon is one part close reading of a biblical text, one part scriptural context, commentary, and exposition related to that text, and one part application and exhortation to the congregation. It’s the close reading and exposition that gives me a case of holy envy. We’ve got plenty of exhortation. We could use more close reading.

I know, easier said than done. It would be easy to argue that because we have opted out of a professional clergy we simply lack the skills and education to do scriptural analysis and exposition from the pulpit. But there are places, such as BYU, where those skills are available in abundance, yet analysis and exposition are not pursued. (I’m thinking of Religious Education, which, like sacrament meeting, devotes most of its work to exhortation rather than education, despite having PhD level faculty with all the tools to bring analysis and exposition into the undergraduate curriculum.) General Conference is another example, where speakers have months to prepare and can draw on the considerable scholarly resources of the Church (CES, BYU, or really anyone in the Church they want to consult with), yet there is little exposition but lots of exhortation and storytelling. And the Ensign — which once offered multi-part features by LDS scholars, content by LDS professionals in various fields, and interesting speeches by apostles at BYU forums or other public events — has been correlated to death. Just kill the thing and start sending out BYU Studies instead, bundled with the New Era.

So I have two questions. First, is anyone else surprised there is so little institutional interest in this issue? The few times it does come up, the message is always that the problem is with the listeners, not the speakers or the meeting or the format. It’s like the simple question “Can we do a better job preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ from the pulpit on Sundays?” is not on anyone’s agenda. Inactivity is certainly an item of interest, and it’s hard to deny that whatever is missing from LDS meetings is part of that problem, at least for some people. A lot of institutional energy goes into designing and regularly updating a curriculum for LDS missionaries to learn and to teach. Why no similar concern for preaching the gospel from the pulpit on Sunday?

Second, can holy envy help us out at all? Would assigning texts work better than assigning topics? Sometimes close reading of a text and careful contextual analysis will conflict with traditional LDS readings, but that’s what happens when you start paying close attention to the scriptures: you learn something. As Elder Christofferson recently stated in General Conference:

We have seen of late a growing public interest in the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is something we welcome because, after all, our fundamental commission is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, His doctrine, in all the world. But we must admit there has been and still persists some confusion about our doctrine and how it is established.

What better place than sacrament meeting to teach the doctrine and remove doctrinal confusion?

Any other suggestions for improvement? And I’m not foreclosing opposing viewpoints. Anyone who thinks there is no problem is welcome to weigh in as well.

39 comments for “Mormon Talks, Christian Sermons

  1. May 10, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Dave, I agree with the basic premise here. In fact, I have tried to practice it. I have been assigning texts rather than topics over the last few years every week for sacrament meeting and it has not had much impact in our UK ward. The meetings are sometimes very good but not much close reading is happening, although other week there was an exception. Perhaps it is just that breaking the habit takes time but I suspect that training is needed to teach people to read the scriptures in that way.

    One difference, and the reason I keep doing it, is that people remark how much they enjoy preparing the talk when it is based on a text.

  2. May 10, 2012 at 7:12 am

    The “text” we get assigned in our ward is a General Conference talk. What this often results in is a complete rehash, with the speaker reading some parts of the talk and paraphrasing the rest of it. Typically the speaker will then apologize for not saying it all as well as the GA originally said it, and exhort everyone to go home and read the original talk.

    Judging from the eccentric and entertaining things that happen during Fast and Testimony meeting in our ward, I’m thinking the bishopric instituted the practice of assigning GA talks as topics as an attempt to make sacrament meeting more gospel-centered.

    But I love the idea of assigning a scriptural text. It would definitely improve our Sacrament Meetings.

  3. May 10, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Just to clarify: when I say ‘text’ I do not mean GC talk but scripture.

  4. May 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

    I can remember my dad pacing in the living room, memorizing passages of Isaiah and rehearsing his talks. He always preferred two weeks notice before speaking and put that time into preparation to make it worth listening to. He didn’t use notes, he quoted scripture extensively, and he would incorporate one personal story.

  5. May 10, 2012 at 8:31 am

    For some of us Aaron R. scripture and GC talks are not mutually exclusive, although there are degrees of separation. Just saying.

  6. May 10, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Dave, does a close reading actually lead to better talks? While I would find them intellectually stimulating and therefore better, I’m not sure that others in most LDS congregations would enjoy them more.

    It seems to me that you make the assumption in your argument that close reading does lead to better talks, but I don’t think that is obvious at all. In fact, given Mormonism’s historical antipathy to the customs of traditional Christianity and the long-standing anti-intellectual strain in Mormon culture, I’m not sure that most LDS congregations would appreciate it.

    Don’t get me wrong, personally, I would love it!

    On a deeper level, what is the purpose of a sacrament meeting talk? Isn’t it principally to exhort? Perhaps not (I have the phrase “teach, expound and exhort” running in my head about this). It would help your argument, I think, if you explained how close reading gets to the purpose of a sacrament meeting talk.

  7. Julie M. Smith
    May 10, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Can’t remember who said their ward did this, but I always thought this was a fabulous idea: give the speaker 5 months lead time and a choice of topics. Check in two weeks before to be sure the topic is appropriate.

    It really is stunning to me what a low bar we set for speakers and teachers. We could do so much better.

    While I actually think it would be feasibly and beneficial to teach the general membership “real” scripture study skills, we don’t need to go half that far to improve teaching/preaching. We just need to encourage people to read closely. I’ve noticed that Elder Bednar (1) shows no evidence of familiarity with biblical studies (calm down, people, that’s just an observation, not a criticism) but (2) reads closely and (3) has some really interesting insights as a result of that close reading.

  8. Bryan H.
    May 10, 2012 at 9:23 am

    A greater focus on teaching doctrine is an excellent suggestion to make Mormon talks more interesting. My suggestion would be that the storytelling is most effective when people are talking about their own stories and experiences to which there is a moral to the story. I like it when Elder Uchtdorf, for example, starts out with an aviation or tree ring or piano-moving vignette and then ties it into a gospel principle. I like how we rotate through the whole congregation rather than hearing from the same person every week. Doing so should give us a variety of insights into living the gospel.

    I’m also surprised there isn’t more institutional instruction on teaching and preaching overall, given that we do so much of it.

  9. Gordon Smith
    May 10, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Dave, The standard Christian sermon is delivered by a person who has made the study of scriptures a profession. The preacher has a comparative advantage over most members of the congregation in providing a close reading of a biblical text, as well as scriptural context, commentary, and exposition related to that text. The primary purposes of this sort of meeting seem to be instruction and exhortation.

    While the LDS sacrament meeting includes some instruction and exhortation, the design of that meeting — multiple members of the congregation giving short sermons or testimonies — encourages a different form of worship experience. Rather than focusing on canonical texts, we have the opportunity to hear stories about how those texts express themselves in the lives of other members. We teach each other from our own experiences, thus simultaneously strengthening our own faith and building the community of Saints.

  10. May 10, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Jettboy, fair enough. If I changed scripture to canon would that work?

    Julie M. Smith, I agree both with what you said about E. Bednar and the need to teach close reading. Part of the challenge is that there is a sense among Mormons that the interpretive work of close reading is the province of our prophets and apostles. If that is true, we need more sermons like E. Bednar’s address at BYU, in which he calls on us to engage in the type of close reading that he demonstrates.

  11. Craig M.
    May 10, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I concede I don’t have extensive experience visiting other churches, but my limited experience (and conversation with others) suggests that sermons in other churches might not be much better than in ours. The preachers we see on TV or in important churches in larger cities rose to those positions because they’re among the best at what they do. Do others have experience visiting other churches that suggest that the average sermons of paid clergy are significantly better than our average talks?

  12. Jettboy
    May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

    How about a standard works text? That would be much less unambiguous in meaning. That said, I think the problem is lack of public speaking skills in general. Those whose profession is teaching or politics seem much better at giving talks and lessons no matter other weaknesses in knowledge.

  13. Jason U
    May 10, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Preaching, like any other skill, can be taught. That that is the trick – it has to be taught and developed. Most Christian ministers who hold a Master of Divinity degree (the most common educational standard for professional Christian clergy – other religious groups have similar degree programs for their clergy) are broadly familiar not only with biblical exegesis and theology, but have also taken classes in preaching. In these classes they learn not only exegesis skills for preaching, but also rhetorical techniques and skills to help them develop the art of delivery.

    So, what does this mean for Latter-day Saints? Truth be told, we don’t have the time or resources to train members in the art of preaching. I do like the idea of assigning texts rather than topics. Perhaps a class could be offered on Scripture study for preparing an effective talk?

  14. Julie M. Smith
    May 10, 2012 at 11:51 am

    “Truth be told, we don’t have the time or resources to train members in the art of preaching.”

    Are you kidding?

    Three hours of church every week, 4 x 180 seminary classes, institute, training meetings for specific callings, online modules, the Ensign, handbooks, worldwide leadership training, General Conference, firesides . . . we have plenty of time and resources; we just don’t use them. (I think this is what your final sentence was suggesting.)

  15. May 10, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I agree that our preaching can be improved and needs to be improved. And that we can probably learn from Protestants when we do so.

    But in practice, the Catholic and Protestant preaching I’ve been exposed to has been pretty dismal.

  16. May 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I don’t know about others, but most of my talks end up being close readings. The other week, I got the assignment “talk about how Jesus Christ had something more to do after his Resurrection” and ended up reading the Parable of the Sower in light of Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances…

    I think I’m strange, though.

  17. May 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Sarah (#2), I’m not sure when assigning GA talks became standard practice for sacrament meeting, but it certainly is the norm now. I wonder whether it has improved sacrament meeting talks?

    Kent (#6), I’m sure there would still be variation, but at least an assigned text would invite speakers to delve more deeply into a text and topic. I’m sure in most cases it would generate new comments and insights to share.

    Craig (#11) and Adam (#15), I’m sure it is true that a lot of Christian preaching, sermons or otherwise, is below par. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two from those who do it well.

    Jason (#13), I think I agree with Julie that we have plenty of opportunities to teach alternative approaches to LDS Sunday preaching. First, or course, we have to institutionally recognize there is a need, then senior leaders have to give some guidance to local units.

  18. KLC
    May 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    If we are going to assign GC talks to people for Sacrament mtg talks could every ward in the church assign President Uchtdorf’s priesthood session talk in the last conference? And then could every ward council read it and discuss it? I think he points blame correctly that too much of our public discourse seems to be targeted at dissemination of information. That is what makes too many LDS meetings like business meetings, checklists, assignments and statistics abound but preaching is hard to find. Forget the close reading, just put some emotion into it. As Dieter said, there is too much informing and too little transforming.

  19. Jason U
    May 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Julie – “Three hours of church every week, 4 x 180 seminary classes, institute, training meetings for specific callings, online modules, the Ensign, handbooks, worldwide leadership training, General Conference, firesides . . . we have plenty of time and resources; we just don’t use them.”

    I will concede that there are plenty of opportunities to address improving talks given by members. What I was saying was that the amount of training and opportunity for practice, feedback, mentored development, ect afforded by the M.Div process is not easily replicated in an LDS setting. Doing so would require, as Dave notes, a monumental institutional shift in priorities.

  20. May 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Well, I didn’t really say a monumental shift. An incremental shift could get us started. One good Conference talk could get us started. Fifteen minutes at the next Worldwide Training broadcast could get us started. They just have to figure out what to say in that talk or broadcast, which requires some broad agreement at the top, I think.

  21. lucy
    May 10, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    “We’ve got plenty of exhortation. We could use more close reading.”

    I’ve had a similar thought about most blogs.

    What if we applied a higher standard to blog writing… raising the bar of spiritual substance as well as intellectual rigor?

  22. Julie M. Smith
    May 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    “What I was saying was that the amount of training and opportunity for practice, feedback, mentored development, ect afforded by the M.Div process is not easily replicated in an LDS setting. Doing so would require, as Dave notes, a monumental institutional shift in priorities.”

    Well, I don’t have an MDiv but an MA, but almost all of the people I took classes with were MDiv students, and so I know a little about what they did. Short answer: nothing we couldn’t replicate over a dozen years of already-scheduled church meetings if we wanted to. (They do it in 3 years, but also take things like counseling, finance, and management classes that we wouldn’t need to replicate.)

    What I’d really like to see is us using the examples of teaching and preaching in the scriptures as examples of teaching and preaching. In other words, we are decent at looking at the *content* of what Jesus taught. But we rarely look at the *form* that Jesus taught it in and think about how we might want to replicate that in our next talk. Hint: he never starts off by apologizing for not having had enough time to prepare his talk.

  23. May 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I have to confess to feeling nostalgic about the practice of Brigham Young and his contemporaries, who would call speakers out of the audience without any prior warning. It probably wouldn’t improve the quality of the talks, but you could hope that once in a while someone would just turn everything over to the Spirit and say something really inspiring. (Not to mention that it would give me a good excuse for not having prepared my talk.)

  24. Meldrum the Less
    May 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Monkey see. Monkey do.

    Sit around listening to GA talks long enough and you will sound just like them.

    I suggest a short spying trip to a local church with a proven good preacher. Copy his style, Mormonize his content.

    Also it doesn’t require a revelation to get rid of sunday school and the three hour block. Just go out the door and get in your car when you have had enough church for one week. Half the ward is already doing it.

  25. Meldrum the Less
    May 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    One more lick. Whenever someone starts off a talk by saying they didn’t have time to prepare it, I say to myself, I guess I don’t have time to listen to it either and I leave.

    I have been preparing to speak continuously for most of half a century. I find that any preparation in the days right before the talk is mostly a matter of editing out and perhaps organizing. Bring it on Brother Brigham and your extemp demands. I’m up for it. If you are up for the complaints it might generate.

  26. Rob Perkins
    May 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I used the ill-prepared statement in my last talk as a rhetorical tool about thinking oneself ill-prepared to accept a testimony of the Gospel, because it didn’t resemble Saul’s experience on the Road to Damascus. I was asked to speak on the Uchdorf GC talk, of course.

    The best advice for talks I’ve seen is “use the scriptures, then tell personal stories.”

    With respect to the meetings themselves. I’ve long held that the sacrament meeting could be profitably cut to 50 minutes, with the Primary and third-hour meetings lasting 10 fewer minutes. It seems to me that we’re using 10 minutes of the third hour to let the AP boys stand up and say “Mutual is on Wednesday” and other such redundancies. And the littlekids (not to mention their teachers) could then have 10 fewer minutes in Sharing Time, which is a prep burden relief all by itself for the Primary Presidency. I can name other reasons why I think it’s all a good idea, but the best reason of all would be “you can use the 30 minutes you used to cool heels in meetings to hold a Presidency meeting.”

    When I suggest things like this at family events an older family member will often breathe in and start telling war stories about “before the block”.

  27. Paolo
    May 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Love the post and comments. I suppose that we should ask the question of what is the purpose of Sacrament Meeting? (oops, just gave it away). One of the problems that I see is that (at least in our ward) after the sacrament (which takes us generally down to about 25 mins after the hour), we have a youth speaker, who speaks for at least a whole 5 minutes. We then have an adult speaker, a rest hymn (a time filler), and a second speaker. The problem is that there is about 35 – 40 minutes to fill, and 2 speakers to go 15 – 20 minutes each? That is crazy! General Conference talks aren’t even generally that long. If the brethren can get their message out in that time, it seems nuts to ask any general member to take more time than that. No wonder it is such a stress to have to speak in church.

    I suggest that Sacrament meeting be modified to number 1) be shorter OR how about a speaker whose topic is purely about the Savior and the atonement or what the sacrament means to them, then have the sacrament. Afterward, have a youth speaker, who could give a thought about maybe where they are in life and how the gospel has been a part of their life. Sing a song. Then have another speaker. No more talks on talks. More personal experience and thoughts from the heart. Make it a worship service, for goodness sakes! That’s why I love F&T meeting, because it comes from the heart unscripted.

    Just my $.02

  28. Ben S.
    May 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I think your general comments right on, Dave.

    “Sit around listening to GA talks long enough and you will sound just like them.” Maybe. But the General Conference model, even perfectly applied, isn’t right for a ward where you know most of the people in the pews. You should be able to personalize your message much more than someone talking to a faceless crowd and a blinking red light.

    I would love to see more texts assigned, and fewer conference talks. Or at least, I’d like the base of the talk, if a General Conference address, to be much more opaque. Less “I was assigned this talk from General Conference. He says… I think that’s important because…” The End.

  29. Mark B.
    May 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    We won’t start to have better preaching in the church until we stop assigning specific topics. Take from the speaker the responsibility of counseling with the Lord about what he or she should say and you’ve removed the first and perhaps most important step toward a good sermon. In our branch, the process of asking people to speak begins with one instruction: preach the gospel of Jesus Christ–followed by a second: study, pray, consult with the branch presidency. The result has been sacrament meetings that you’d actually choose to go to, and not just something to fill that hour and ten minutes every Sunday.

  30. meg
    May 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    #27–I’m with Paolo! I would forward that onto the GA’s. I’ve always thought the Sacrament should be the focus and basically when it was finished being passed, that should be it–possibly one talk afterward about the meaning of the Sacrament. The remaining time could be spent
    in Sunday School where we actually learn something.

  31. May 11, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Interesting discussion. My impression is that most of these suggestions for improvement may not make that much of a difference. It will just shuffle things around a bit.

    A great sermon is not defined by what it says, but how it is said, and the spirit in which it is given. It’s about attitude and vision. If you approach a sermon with a deep love for the congregation, and a deep desire to change lives and bring people to Christ, and if you believe that God can speak through you, and you have prayed deeply about it, with faith, you will give a great sermon.

    That’s why everyone loves Elder Eyring so much, even though the content of his sermons is often sloppy and unclear. But he is absolutely radiating with love, desire and faith, and that enlivens everything he says.

    Some of the best sermons I’ve heard were given by new members with zero experience. But they had faith and were filled with the Spirit. If we teach people to love the congregation, to believe that they can effect change, and to pray diligently for the inspiration of the Spirit, I think that will go farther than anything else.

    What happens now is that sermons are a mere exercise in obedience and conformity, with no vision, no desire to change lives, and no faith.

  32. martin
    May 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    However the topic for a sacrament meeting talk is presented really doesn’t matter. What matters is the person that is giving the talk and his or her ability to speak in public, and their ability to draw the Spirit to the meeting. I know members that prepare their talks the night before and don’t even crack the scriptures. Others just go from one scripture to another reading in a monotone voice. Because of the importance of the meeting a sacrament talk should be thought out, prayed over, written and presented by the spirit. You can not teach by the spirit if you are not prepared and don’t know what you are talking about.

    I like the idea about having some training for our lay speakers. We have teacher development classes for auxillary teachers; why not have speaker development classes.

    I love speaking in Church and it is a process that I take very serious and it usually takes me two or three weeks to prepare a talk and being up at the pulpit sharing the gospel has given me some of my greatest spiritual experiences in my life. To me it all comes down to preparation and the Spirit.

  33. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    If I were in charge of assigning the talks, I would specify 10 minutes per adult speaker, and have three of them increasing the participation rate by 50%, decrease the pressure on the speakers to prepare an impressive and grandiose subject, and if one talk is a bomb, at least it will be over soon. Bishoprics do not enforce time duscipline in speakers, and when I have been the second speaker I have been left with five minutes to give a 15 minute talk. If you have a good 15 minute talk, turning into a ten minute talk will improve the average quality of its content.

    I would assign a much more general topic, and offer scriptures and conference talks as resources, not assign a specific talk. The original talk is a much narrower univetse of meaning than the resoucrs the original speaker used. Limiting a srcondary talk tothe GC talk makes it even narrower in focus, but without the personal connection to the stories told. In particular, it is too channeled to allow for inspiration from the Holy Ghost.

    Finally, I would assign the talks three weeks ahead, and schedule a preview with the speaker, asking them to tell me an outline of what they plan to talk about, and let me offer additional resources if they need some to flesh out their talk. We could also discuss any concerns they have about delivery of the talk. We could schedule ten minutes to do that, and review again any general guidelinrs and the need to stay within the allotted time to not infringe on the other speakers and the Sunday School teachers who are entitled to the full set time to present their lessons. I will tell tgem that I will give them a one minute warning to wrap up. So an invrstment of an extra 30 minutes by a member of the bishopric could directly improve the quality of the talks. If a member needed special help, we could work on it at another time within the week, ir even assign someone in the ward to help them.

    I think structuring speaking assignments in this way would require only a marginal added investment from the bishopruc, but could draw out more personal thought, prayer, and inspiration. In an extreme case, a member who feels unprepared coyld be deferred to another Sunday and someone more experienced coyld be given a week’s notice to prepare.

  34. Brad
    May 12, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Dave, I think that focusing on the texts and context in giving talks and lessons is great for the New Testament and perhaps the D&C. For those texts we have on hand a great degree of outside historical evidence with which to corroborate the texts to be able to give them context that is not extremely speculative. In the case of the Old Testament, historical context is highly speculative for the Pentateuch and many other writings. We have outside historical context for some of the prophets to give us context, so it may be useful there. However, it is best to keep the OT lessons more topical rather than text based.

    With the Book of Mormon, it is best to keep discussion around it topical. Its historical context is very speculative and within the LDS church there are far too many conflicting theories as to its geography and what constitutes evidence of its historicity. I think it is best to focus on the doctrinal topics in the Book of Mormon rather than try to explain it within some historical context.

  35. Jax
    May 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

    The standard Christian sermon is delivered by a person who has made the study of scriptures a profession.

    Mormons don’t generally make it a profession, but we should all make it something close to an obsession. Or at least much closer to an obsession that we currently do. I think the biggest reason we don’t have close readings of the scriptures in our meetings is that our people don’t read the scriptures at alland don’t know the stories/principles taught therein. What do I base that on? The countless times I’ve heard “I don’t know where it says it but the scriptures say…..” only to have them say something that the scriptures DON’T say. They are just extrapolating some doctrine of men and claiming it is scripture.

    In our branch I brought up the subject of poor talks and he mentioned it to the branch council. The outcome was a sheet with talk preparation/delivery ‘tips’ that was handed out with each speaking assignment. It had do’s (prepare early, focus on Christ, use scripture…) as well as don’ts (don’t give travel logs, don’t take longer than appointed time, etc). I don’t think it helped our talks at all unfortunately… maybe with time ???

  36. Jennie
    May 13, 2012 at 12:58 am

    Great discussion! I would love for sacrament meeting talks to be scripture based. I was surprised by the HQ letter a couple years back that when speaking in sacrament meeting we should not use visual aids and not ask the congregation to follow along in the scriptures.
    See this in Handbook 2:
    “To maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in sacrament meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks, they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural references.”
    I am still wondering why. Perhaps leaders don’t want talks to have long scripture readings? Any ideas?

  37. Velikiye Kniaz
    May 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Having come from a Protestant background myself, (Congregationalism), I am not quite so enamored with the preaching/sermonizing of other denominations. When I joined the Church I found Mormon preaching, good, bad or indifferent, to be, overall, a breath of fresh air. Granted one does run the risk of being occasionally bored stiff, but maybe that segues right in to the Saviour’s counsel that we must “endure to the end”, whether that be a Sacrament meeting talk, a travelogue testimony or life in general.
    Occasionally, Ardis Parshall of “Keepa” fame will publish a transcribed talk from our missionaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and I am almost always amazed at their grasp of the Scriptures and the lucidity with which they explained Gospel principles. I believe that is why the General Authorities emphasize daily Scripture study today. They want us to carefully read and ponder the Scriptures so that we can maintain, and perhaps even exceed, our mastery of the Scriptures as recently reported in the Pew Poll on American Religions.
    Having “holy envy” of our Catholic or Protestant brethren and sisters with their 55 or 60 minute, (and we’re good to go for another week), worship services will most likely not advance the cause of Scriptural or spiritual mastery. Three hours a week is not too much time to devote to the God who gave you life, breath and salvation. As Latter-day Saints we need to draw the line on the ego-centrism that has become the hallmark of American contemporary secular culture as epitomized by the SUV that passed me this afternoon with the bumper sticker that proudly proclaimed, “Ruled by None”. Let us give our Creator and Saviour Their due, three hours a week isn’t an enormous sacrifice. That’s just one half hour more than your total daily 15 minute breaks at your corporate job or business. The time is coming with the rising tide of anti-religion in this country where you will need that spiritual refreshment if you want to just hang on to your testimony. If the one hour a week plan is implemented, I sincerely doubt that you have the proverbial prayer in resisting the onslaught of the secular values so celebrated today. As it is with the three hour block plan we are losing our youth by the thousands. Yes, we need to make the talks/sermons/preaching better but we don’t need to become just another denomination.

  38. May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Jennie, I think the passage you quoted offers one explanation: the entire congregation, in unison, opening scriptures might compromise “reverent worship.” Sacrament meeting is not a Sunday School class. One might also speculate that having a speaker at the pulpit issuing orders to members of the congregation to do things (open your scriptures, stand up or sit down, raise your hands if …) could also compromise “reverent worship.” And not all speakers have a proper sense of decorum. Some might even offend members of the congregation by issuing inappropriate requests from the pulpit.

  39. May 17, 2012 at 5:23 am

    I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Anglican sermons and I feel that my talks have improved dramatically by following a similar approach but from a Mormon perspective.

    I am completely blown away by the intense quality and substance of the Anglican sermons I have experienced over the last five years. We can learn a lot from that approach.

    We need to make every effort to make every Sacrament Meeting Christ-centered. How can we invite less actives back and then not stand up to the responsibility of providing an uplifting, Christ-centered meeting for them? It is incongruous to do so and so those who are responsible for preparing the meetings should make sure that every effort is made to provide this experience for all ward members.

    I agree with Aaron that texts assigned for Sacrament Meeting talks should be from the scriptures and follow this approach myself as well when making assignments. Ward members speaking about such an assigned text then have a huge volume of conference talks they can turn to if they want to make those part of their exposition on the assigned text. The choice is up to them! Alternatively, they could share their own thoughts on, knowledge about or experience with the assigned text. Or they can do a mixture by presenting their own analysis enriched by the insights of Church leaders through General Conference talks. For example, I recall assigning one ward member to speak about 2 Peter 1:2-8 (assigning a talk on this fit in with another speaker’s assigned text and with a scripture that I assigned a new convert to read in lieu of giving an entire talk) and requested him to focuse particularly on verse 4 and what it meant to him to be a “partaker of the divine nature”. I believe I also recommended a particular conference talk that had come to my mind as possibly insightful for him in his preparation but left it to him to prepare as he saw fit. He did not refer to that conference talk in his talk on this text but gave an excellent talk built on his own interpretation and experiences and told me afterward that he had appreciated the focus that he gained by being assigned a text in that manner.

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