I had dinner last weekend with a man in my ward who admitted it had probably been more than two years since he last gave a talk in sacrament meeting. Given my past participation on the stake high council, I used to hold the opinion that going more than a couple months without giving a talk seemed outrageous. Having since returned to traditional ward callings, however, I’ve come to understand that a gap of 18-24 months or more is typical for most adults in the Church.
This needs to change.
There are 52 Sundays in a year. If we subtract five from that number for the purpose of general, stake and ward conferences, and take another one out for the annual primary program, that leaves 46 regular Sundays where members of the congregation can be called upon to deliver talks on various subjects. Assuming the average LDS ward has 125 active adults (as mine does), and assuming that two adults speak each Sunday, it should only take about 15 months to cycle through – 18 months, at most, if we add an extra 3 months to cover visiting high council speakers or Sundays when there is only one adult speaker with multiple youth speakers, etc.
Then how does a member, like my Friday night dinner companion, end up going over two years between speaking assignments?
My stake president brother recently held another conference in his stake. As part of the instructions he provided to each speaker, he directed that they eliminate any pre-talk introduction of how or when they were asked to speak, or announcing of what their talk was going to be about, or ice breaker humor. Instead, he asked that they proceed directly to the substance of their talk, as demonstrated by nearly every address given in general conference. He estimated that if his instructions were followed, all speakers combined would save at least 10 minutes of non-essential air time during a meeting where time constraints are universally more often exceeded than not.
His ingenuity got me thinking. What if we could devise a system that would allow all adults to speak in their ward at least once a year? We can. It’s called the 8 minute talk. If you can’t make your point in 8 minutes, another 10 is not going to help.
If you’ve never noticed the time limits given to various bodies of authorities and presiding officers during general conference, go back to a recorded session online and watch the clock. Members of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles generally speak for 15-20 minutes, each. Members of the Presidency of the 70 and Presiding Bishopric generally have between 10-15 minutes, and the rest of the 70s and auxiliary presidencies get 10 minutes.
If the highest authorities in our Church are limited to 15-20 minute talks, how in the world are we allowing the garden variety members the same podium time? The only people who should be delivering sermons (i.e.: long lectures of 10 or more minutes) are general or presiding authorities – and even then, the point of the message has been well made before most of the sermons are half delivered.
By the time the sacrament has been passed, most weekly sacrament meetings are left with between 35-40 minutes of speaker time to fill. Can you imagine a sacrament meeting with one youth speaker, three adult speakers and a musical interlude? It’s possible! And in a ward of 125 adults, everyone would get a chance to speak within the same calendar year.
Granted, if members already have a problem stopping their talk after 15 minutes, asking them to stop after 8 might be impossible.
We are a Church that celebrates diversity and recognizes the contribution all can make to the Kingdom. I would much rather listen to three different 8 minute talks than two 15-20 minute sermons. Mormons are a willing bunch, eager to participate on a regular basis. Knowing you’ll have at least an annual speaking assignment in Church might improve overall Sabbath day experiences/opinions.
Think about it.