Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants contains many of the same ideas we find in the General Handbook today. It teaches important doctrinal foundations, including truths about Jesus Christ. It has instructions for church conferences. It details the responsibilities of members and gives instructions for performing ordinances.
Some of the most read portions of this section are the enumeration of duties for various priesthood offices… particularly Aaronic priesthood offices. While there are some differences in duties among these offices, there are some similarities as well.
Elders are to “teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church…” (D&C 20:42)
Priests are to “preach, teach, expound, exhort…” (D&C 20:46)
Teachers and deacons are to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” (D&C 20:59)
Even the youngest deacons should observe a pattern in these duties.
To preach implies delivering earnest messages to a group of individuals, such as giving talks in sacrament meeting. A deacon does not fulfill this duty by reading an article from a church magazine or a presentation written by his parents… this is not earnest. Preaching suggests having the confidence to speak truths rather than reciting platitudes to occupy an assigned amount of time. If public speaking is intimidating, a good strategy is to testify of universal general principles: everyone needs to have faith in Jesus Christ, and to repent of their sins.
Teaching can be done by preaching, but it can also be done in smaller groups where greater interaction is possible. Jesus Christ was a master teacher, and a technique He used was to ask thought provoking questions. This rarely involves questions that can be answered by “read your scriptures, go to church, and pray.” He asked people what they honestly thought, and prompted them to share their testimonies. He asked people how they understood the scriptures, and challenged their assumptions. He used his teaching to inspire people to increase their faith, and offer sincere penitence.
Expounding is vital to teaching. To unfold, present, and explain concepts from the scriptures in any detail, a teacher must be prepared enough to have read and thought on them. Jesus proved this was possible to do even at a young age, when as a twelve-year-old He confounded the wise at temple in Jerusalem. A priesthood holder is not fulfilling their duty to expound if their effort is limited to having people read quotes and reply, “I liked that quote.”
Exhortation is the invitation to apply the doctrines. The point of all the preaching, teaching, and expounding is not to raise awareness, it is to inspire change. The Holy Ghost is eager to help convince people that they need to do things in their lives.
The pattern of these duties appearing in every office should suggest that a person does not outgrow these responsibilities. The fact they are present in the section preceding the organization of the church should suggest they are fundamental to our faith. Without whole-hearted efforts to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and inviting all to come unto Christ, how can the church fulfill its role of helping bad men become good men, and good men become better men? Priests of God, particularly, must fulfil their duty.
President Thomas S. Monson observed: “Time marches on. Duty keeps cadence with that march. Duty does not dim nor diminish. Catastrophic conflicts come and go, but the war waged for the souls of men continues without abatement. Like a clarion call comes the word of the Lord to you, to me, and to priesthood holders everywhere: ‘Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.‘”
- Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021, March 1-7.
- “The Aaronic Priesthood” -Elder Boyd K. Packer, October 1981
- “A Royal Priesthood” -President James E. Faust, April 2006
- “Responsibilities of Shepherds” -President James E. Faust, April 1995