General Conference will be held next week in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s held each April and October, on the first weekend of the month. Mormons around the world gather to hear the conference in their homes or at church buildings, often translated into their own languages. During this time the Mormon prophet, his apostles, and other leaders speak to the members and to non-LDS people alike, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
During this time, members can find out what is on God’s mind and receive counsel that will help them live the next six months successfully. Although the prophet speaks several times, it is unlikely listeners will hear new revelation or counsel. Generally, we are reminded of the things God has already advised us to do, but priorities might be set. For instance, it’s likely that the next conference will contain guidance on surviving financially challenging times-not stock purchasing advice or ideas for gaining wealth, but rather, a reminder of what Mormons have been told for generations. They are likely to be reminded to avoid debt, live frugally, plant a garden, and store up supplies in case they lose their jobs. The advice is seldom glamorous, but it’s practical and it works.
“The teachings of a living prophet are often contrary to the trends of the world. We, as Latter-day Saints and the holders of the priesthood of God, must understand that there is an expanding gulf between the standards of the world and those of the gospel and kingdom of God, and that living prophets will always teach the standards of God. As much as we may want the gospel to accommodate to the world, it can’t, it won’t, it never has, and it never will.
So much of our modern world is based on self-indulgence, immediate gain and satisfaction, and social acceptance at all cost. The gospel and kingdom of God are so much more than this. Among the characteristics God prizes are patience, long-suffering, endurance, kindness, and brotherly love, none of which is short term or developed in a moment.”
(Dennis B. Neuenschwander, “Living Prophets, Seers, and Revelators,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 40-42)
For Mormons, General Conference is a time to get to know the General Authorities. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy suggested it’s also a time to teach our children to know and respect them. He tells the following story: “I once found myself among a group of deacons in the southeastern United States. The subject turned to the Atlanta Braves. The boys knew each of the players on that baseball team. They knew the starting lineup, the home-run leader, the pitcher with the best record, and those on injured reserve. My questions then turned to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I asked if the boys knew the names of those Church leaders. Silence. Finally the name of the prophet was spoken. With some encouragement, the last name of one of the counselors in the First Presidency surfaced. No other names were known.
Some might say it is not the leaders who are important, but the message they bring. Yet, if our children do not know the names of the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they most likely will not know their messages either. Others might say there are so many General Authorities that our children cannot know them all. However, our focus must rest with those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. While the Church has grown, that number-fifteen-has remained the same.”
He then went on to suggest ways we could use General Conference to strengthen our testimonies and those of our children. He said, “Viewing the general conference sessions with our family is not sufficient to bring a love for the prophets. On one occasion some years before my call as a General Authority, I conducted a meeting presided over by one of the Apostles. After the meeting, I asked him about his stake conference talks. “Do you prepare something specific for each stake conference?” I asked. He replied that he generally did not, but relied upon promptings received just prior to and during the conference. But then he added, “But my general conference talk is very different. I will normally go through twelve to fifteen drafts to be certain that it is what the Lord would have me say.” Many times since then I have asked myself, If an Apostle will go through twelve to fifteen drafts, is it pleasing to the Lord if I listen to or read his message one or two times? I don’t think so.” (Neil L. Andersen, “Teaching Our Children to Love the Prophets,” Ensign, Apr 1996, 44)
Harold B. Lee asked members to treat the most recent conference as a guide on how to live for the next six months. The talks can be found in the church magazines. Within a few days, they will be on the Internet, which you can access at home or at the public library. Read a talk every week, or watch the video of it every Sunday. Then choose what you can do that week to live up to the teachings given in that talk. Give each family member a copy of the talk to place in a conference notebook and ask them to highlight the parts they feel are especially important to them.
You might be interested to know that the speakers at General Conference aren’t assigned topics. They pray and ask God what should be spoken of that day. When you hear several people speak on the same topic, therefore, you can know that must be a topic of special concern to the Lord. Pay attention to the specific topics the leaders speak on because this will tell you what’s on God’s mind just now. Think what a privilege it is, every six months, to find out what God’s been thinking about. That’s one gift General Conference gives us.
Start planning now to make General Conference personal for you. Is there a special topic you’re struggling with? Pray that you’ll find your answer in General Conference. Select one or two of the General Authorities and learn more about them. Research to find out what they like to talk about. If they’re asked to speak in that conference, you’ll know something about their lives and the topics that matter most to them. You may find more meaning in their talk when you know their backgrounds.
If you’re not LDS, consider using the upcoming conference to learn more about the Mormons. If someone wanted to learn more about you, you’d want them to come to you for information, not someone who doesn’t know you well. Mormons ask the same consideration. You can prepare for the conference by reading past conference talks and by reading the biographies of current leaders who might be asked to speak.