SALT LAKE CITY — Comparing home teachers to shepherds, President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urged the men and young men of the church during Saturday night’s priesthood session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference to be true shepherds who lead their sheep rather than sheepherders who ride casually behind their sheep.

“The wisdom of the Lord has provided guidelines whereby we might be shepherds to the families of the church,” President Monson told a gathering of some 20,000 men and young men in the church’s Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, as well as hundreds of thousands of others watching through satellite and — for the first time — television and Internet broadcasts.

“There are lives to brighten,” he said. “There are hearts to touch. There are souls to save. Ours is the sacred privilege to brighten, to touch, and to save those precious souls entrusted to our care. We should do so faithfully and with hearts filled with gladness.”

Home teaching is an LDS Church program in which pairs of priesthood holders are assigned to visit several families and individuals from their congregation monthly. But, according to President Monson, it is much more than that.

“Home teaching is more than a mechanical visit once a month,” he said. “Ours is the responsibility to teach, to inspire, to motivate and, where we visit those who are not active, to bring activity and to eventual exaltation the sons and daughters of God.”

More than just assigned families, he said, home teachers and the families and individuals to whom they are assigned should be friends. “A friend makes more than a dutiful visit each month,” President Monson said. “A friend is more concerned about helping people than getting credit. A friend cares. A friend shows love. A friend listens. And a friend reaches out.”

As is his custom, the 86-year-old church president used several real-life stories to illustrate his point that home teachers can and should “reach out to those for whom we are responsible and bring them to the table of the Lord to feast on his word and to enjoy the companionship of his Spirit.”

“If any one of you has slipped into complacency concerning your home teaching visits, may I say that there is no time like the present to rededicate yourself to fulfilling your home teaching duties,” President Monson said. “Decide now to make whatever effort is necessary to reach those for whom you have been given responsibility.”

As the home teachers of the church make that effort, he promised, “lives will be blessed. Hearts will be comforted. Souls will be saved. We will become true shepherds.”

President Monson’s first counselor in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring, referenced the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, which he said “is really the story for a great priesthood bearer, in these busy last days.”

President Eyring said the parable points out three assurances the Lord gives to priesthood holders. “First,” he said, “the Lord will give you, if you ask, the feelings of the compassion he feels for those in need. Second, he will provide others, like the innkeeper, to join with you in your service. And third, the Lord, like the good Samaritan, will more than recompense all who join in giving help to those in need.”

Like his colleague in the First Presidency, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, did during the Saturday morning general conference session, President Eyring expressed special concern about ministering to the needs of quorum members who have, for whatever reason, suffered spiritual damage in their lives.

“For instance,” he said, “when I have gone to try to help someone wavering in his or her faith about the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling, feelings come back to me. It is not only the words from the Book of Mormon, it is a feeling of assurance of truth that comes whenever I read even a few lines from the Book of Mormon. I cannot promise that it will come to every person infected with doubt about the Prophet Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God because I have treasured it.

“I know from experience that you can get the assurance of truth from the Spirit because it has come to me,” he continued. “You and I must have that assurance before the Lord puts us in the way of a traveler who has been wounded by the enemies of truth.”

President Eyring also urged patience and compassion with those who are struggling with their faith. “Our human tendency is to be impatient with the person who cannot see the truth that is so plain to us,” he said. “We must be careful that our impatience is not interpreted as condemnation or rejection.”

Speaking just before President Eyring during the Saturday night priesthood session, President Uchtdorf spoke of falling while skiing with his 12-year-old grandson. When he struggled to get up off the snow, his grandson came to him, reached out and took his hand and said, “Opa, you can do it now!” And instantly, he stood.

“That day on a snow-covered slope I learned something,” President Uchtdorf said. “Even when we think we cannot rise up — there is still hope. And sometimes we just need someone to look us in the eyes, take our hand and say, ‘You can do it now!’”

He expressed sadness at having seen “men filled with potential and grace disengage from the challenging work of building the kingdom of God because they had failed a time or two.”

“These were men of promise who could have been exceptional priesthood holders and servants of God,” he said. “But because they stumbled and became discouraged, they withdrew from their priesthood commitments and pursued easier but less worthy endeavors.”

But he reminded his listeners “our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.”

“Even those who set their hearts upon divine goals may still occasionally stumble, but they will not be defeated,” President Uchtdorf said. “They trust and rely upon the promises of God. They will rise up again with a bright hope in a righteous God and the inspiring vision of a great future. They know they can do it now.”

Earlier in the session, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about how the doctrine of the church is summarized in the Articles of Faith, a 13-point document originally drafted by church founder Joseph Smith to concisely explain to a journalist what Mormons believe.

“The truths taught in the Articles of Faith build upon one another like the components of a cell phone, mutually supporting one another,” Elder Perry said. “Like the elaborate supply chain that adds components to a cell phone, the Articles of Faith supply us with the key doctrines of the Restoration. Each article of faith adds unique value to our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Perry then urged the young men in the congregation to “use your bright minds to study and learn the Articles of Faith and the doctrines they teach.”

“They are among the most important and certainly the most concise statement of doctrine in the church,” he said. “If you will use them as a guide to direct your studies of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will find yourself prepared to declare your witness of the restored truth to the world. You will be able to declare in a simple, straightforward and profound way the core beliefs you hold dear as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Also speaking during the session was Bishop Gérald Caussé of the church’s Presiding Bishopric, who spoke about the need for unity in the church.

“We all need to work together to build spiritual unity within out wards and branches,” Bishop Caussé said. “Unity is not achieved by ignoring and isolating members who seem to be different or weaker and only associating with people who are like us. On the contrary, unity is gained by welcoming and serving those who are new or who have particular needs. These members are a blessing for the church and provide us with opportunities to serve our neighbors and thus purify our own hearts.”

Remember, he told priesthood holders, “no one is a stranger to our Heavenly Father. There is no one whose soul is not precious to him.”

Elder Randy D. Funk of the Seventy spoke of missionary work, proclaiming: “What a wonderful season it is to be a missionary — a time when the Lord is hastening his work!”

In order to participate in this exciting time of missionary service, Elder Funk urged young men to prepare spiritually by living a virtuous life, and to sincerely repent when mistakes are made.

“As you live a virtuous life, you will feel a peaceful confidence in your standing before God and you will have the power of the Spirit to be with you,” he said.

The process of acquiring such spirituality, Elder Funk said, “begins with a broken heart.”

“Think of the good that comes from broken things,” he said. “Soil is broken to plant wheat. Wheat is broken to make bread. Bread is broken to become the emblems of the sacrament. When one who is repent partakes of the sacrament with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he or she becomes whole.

“As we repent and become whole through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have much more to offer the Savior as we serve him.”

Music for the priesthood session was provided by a special Young Men’s choir from the Murray Utah Area. Prayers were offered by Elder Paul E. Koelliker, who was granted emeritus general authority status earlier in the day, and Elder Walter F. González of the Seventy.