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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Giving Effective Talks in Church: A Personal Story

Some years ago I was asked to give a talk in Stake Conference. I had two and a half months to prepare. This is an unusual amount of time, but Stake Conference occurs only twice a year. I had to fill ten minutes.

The topics were also unusual. I say topics because there were three of them.

1. Faithful church attendance,
2. Viewed as "service"
3. From a single person's point of view.

As soon as I received my assignment I was perplexed. There was nothing specific that addressed all three topics at once. I felt comfortable with all three topics separately, just not together. I had no idea how to combine them into one message.

I started looking up references to church attendance, service and single's separately in each year's index in the December Ensign. I simply read, took notes and pondered.

I kept track of the time I spent on direct preparation like reading, note-taking and exclusive thinking but I was pondering throughout and little ideas would occur to me as time passed while I was engaged in other things. Direct preparation was about 35 hours over the two and a half months time period.

Finally, things just started to click. The ideas came and I felt like I KNEW how Heavenly Father wanted me to prepare the material. I knew how to combine my three topics into a coherent whole. This was inspiration at work.

The talk I gave did have a profound effect on people and it had a profound effect on me. That talk wasn't mine. I was the vehicle that presented it but it came through inspiration from Heavenly Father. I will never forget that experience and it will always be the example of how things are supposed to work.

Here is the content of the talk I gave:

Stake Conference
Roanoke, Virginia Stake
February 24, 1991

If you have ever gone home on Sunday thinking, "I didn't get anything out of Church today." then you are the one I want to talk to.

Brothers and Sisters, may I suggest that this attitude is selfish.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else?

Instead of saying, "I hope I get something out of Church today," why not say, "I hope I can contribute something."

I think Heavenly Father wants us to be in church, not so much to help ourselves, but because we can help others.

Brothers and sisters, I was born into the Church. My family have been Mormons for six generations. I grew up in the Church. I completed Primary, Mutual, four years of Seminary and fourteen required credit hours of religion classes at BYU. I hear very little in Church that I haven't heard before. I can recite virtually everything in the volumes of "Especially for Mormons" by memory. 

I may not get a great deal out of Church but perhaps my capacity to contribute is larger than for new or struggling members.

*Many of you are in my position. Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else?

The new and struggling members may not be able to contribute a great deal in terms of doctrine, but their simple trusting faith and sincere testimonies often shake me out of some super intellectual thought and back into the child like mentality I know is necessary to retain my testimony and increase my faith.

Their personal stories and deep felt convictions. so sincerely expressed, are most helpful to me. Those are things I haven't heard before.

There are so may who come to Church to be spiritually fed. Let's make sure they don't go home hungry.

Brothers and sisters, there are many ways to serve. People may need a spiritual casserole rather than a tangible one.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.
. . . learning to give others what they can truly use makes giving not only a blessing for [you], but a precious gift of true value.
There are people traveling spiritual Jericho Roads. Are you walking to the other side or are you, like the good Samaritan, helping?

I seriously doubt that at the conclusion of that parable when Jesus told his disciples to "Go, and do thou likewise" he was only talking about physical wounds.

President Kimball once said:
     God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.
*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.

Your comments in a Sacrament talk may be exactly what someone needs to hear.

Your help and comfort to a child in Primary may make a great deal of difference later on in that child's life.

Your testimony in fast and testimony meeting may be the answer to someone's prayer.

An energetic singer can do a great deal for a frustrated and distraught chorister.

Your thoughtful response in a Sunday school class may be of value to someone.

The elderly are in an ideal position to serve. Their wisdom and experience is often under-valued in society. But, that injustice should not extend into Church.

Those of us who are single often have a greater capacity to serve. We are spared the difficulty of a screaming two year old flinging Cheerios around the room.

Even a speaker needs an attentive smiling face in the audience to respond to and buoy up their courage.


Elder Marlin K. Jensen once made this comment in Conference.
     The merit of rendering faithful service, regardless of one’s position in the Church, was tenderly brought to my attention several years ago during the funeral service of a man who had done much good in his life without ever being recognized with a high church office. I was touched as I heard the deceased’s brother-in-law describe him as a man who had never served as an elders quorum president, as a bishop, or as a stake president, but who “had made a lot of them look awfully good.”
*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.


Our Church service should extend to those outside of the Church as well.


Bishop Glenn L. Pace commented:
     Our numbers are few. For every member of the Church in the world, there are approximately a thousand who are not. Our resources are limited, and the needs of the world are vast. We cannot do everything, but we must do everything we can. 
[Joy F. Evans:]




They will find friends somewhere; they will find comfort somewhere. [It] . . . is our failure if they find it elsewhere
 President Barbara Smith once said:

 . . .one of our most important personal needs is to serve. You know, when we serve, we begin to do away with greed, selfishness, hate, and envy—all those things that can destroy us. And we begin to feel the selflessness, love, and dedication that the Savior’s life exemplifies. A person cannot fulfill the truly important needs of life without those Christlike attributes.
Elder William R. Bradford once made a statement that you should always keep in mind. He said:
Many things are only interesting and enticing, while other things are important.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.

Elder Derek A. Cuthbert made this touching statement about service:

     Service changes people. It refines, purifies, gives a finer perspective, and brings out the best in each one of us. It gets us looking outward instead of inward. It prompts us to consider others’ needs ahead of our own.
All service takes on an added dimension when we consider the New Testament scripture:

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40.
I want to read a short story that conveys the ideas I've been talking about.

Mormon Journal,” Ensign, Jun 1987, 52–55
Rachel, My Sister
By Leah Chappell , as told to Marilynne Linford
Leah Chappell and Marilynne Linford, “Rachel, My Sister,” Ensign, June 1987, 52–53
“The bishop called to ask if he could come over tonight,” said my husband, Wayne, in his “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” voice.
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Yes, a new calling for you,” he said.
My mind raced from the nursery to the Relief Society, then bounced back to the Primary and through the library, wondering what the new calling would be. Then panic struck as I remembered. Sister Coke had been released as a counselor in our special Relief Society. “Oh, no,” I thought.
Within our ward boundaries is a large rest home. The wards in the stake take turns being responsible for the Church services there—including sacrament meeting and Relief Society. The rest home is a dependent branch, and it was our ward’s turn to provide the branch presidency and Relief Society presidency.
I had been in the rest home once before on a substitute visiting teaching assignment. That visit had depressed me so much that I had told the Relief Society president I could not go again.
That evening, as I met with the bishop, my fears were realized. “Sister Chappell,” he said, “Sister Marlene Recksiek, as president of the rest home Relief Society, has asked for you as her second counselor. Sister Clara Harrison will continue as the first counselor. We feel this is a special calling. Will you accept this call from the Lord?”
The bishop had the nicest way of saying the worst things.
“I’ll try,” I muttered.
As I met with the other two sisters in the presidency on Thursday for an orientation, I could scarcely believe what I heard.
“Oh, just wait, Leah,” said Marlene. “After you’ve been with us a week or two, you’ll love it.”
“The sisters are so special,” Clara said.
Marlene added, “I was called for one year. But when the year was up, I begged the bishop to let me keep this job longer. It’s been almost two years now.”
Sunday came. I arrived at the rest home an hour early, as we had planned in our presidency meeting. We had a prayer, and then each of us took a list of sisters we were to help get to the meeting. A few of the women, I learned, were able to come by themselves, but the majority needed help to get from their rooms to the recreation room where sacrament meeting was held. Since this was my first week, Marlene had given me a list of only five sisters to help.
I got the first four to the recreation room with remarkable ease. Each was eager to attend the meeting. Two of them were already in their wheelchairs waiting for me when I arrived. They directed me to the elevators and down the right halls to the recreation room. “I’m being blessed,” I thought. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”
The fifth name on my list was Rachel—room 207. I knocked softly on her door. She immediately opened it. “Oh, good,” I thought. “She can walk.”
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t go,” Rachel replied. “My sister is coming to visit me.”
“Oh, that will be nice,” I said. “Well, I’ll come for you again next week. I hope you can come then.”
During the next few weeks, I watched Rachel. I learned that in the ten years she had been in the rest home she had never had a visit from her family. She had never attended church while she had been in the rest home, though her records said that she was LDS. I learned that she often went outside on the sidewalk to watch for the sister who never came.
Each week I went to Rachel’s room to ask her to come. I prayed for her. I felt that we could take away at least a little of her loneliness if she would just come to the meetings.
On the sixth Sunday, I knocked on her door.
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t,” she replied as usual. “My sister is coming to see me.”
Then the inspiration I had been praying for came.
“Rachel,” I said, “My name is Leah. In the Bible, Leah and Rachel are sisters. I will be your sister.”
Confusion filled Rachel’s eyes. I repeated, “I am Leah. The Bible says Leah and Rachel are sisters.”
After a moment, Rachel looked up at me with a light I had never seen in her eyes before. She put her hand in my outstretched one. As we walked toward the recreation room, I gave her hand a little squeeze. “Sisters,” I said.
Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can live these principles and truly understand the Savior's counsel that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35


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