We call lots of people to be teachers in church. But for adults, there is a trend to not teach anymore. Let me ask you this for those that attend church: When was the last time you learned something from a lesson in Sunday school, Relief Society, or Elders Quorum? The very definition of “teacher” is a person that imparts knowledge to others. It has gotten so bad in my Elders Quorum, that the person assigned to regurgitate a recent General Conference Talk is not even called a teacher anymore. The e-mail I got the other day said “Brother Smith will be facilitating a discussion of Elder Bednar’s recent conference talk…..”
I believe there is still teaching going on in Primary, and possibly the youth are learning something from class time, but I don’t know when the last time I was “taught” anything in Elders Quorum. Every time I’ve been asked to “teach” in EQ, I took it to heart and made sure everybody learned something new in class. The last time I taught, I reviewed the Essay on the Blacks and the Priesthood. I started by quoting Elder Ballard’s 2016 talk
It is important that you know the content in these essays like you know the back of your handlds.org
I then asked for a show of hands who even knew the Essays existed. That was my first “teaching moment”, where I imparted knowledge that was new to them as all but a few raised their hands. They learned something new!
Why don’t we teach the adults of the church anymore? Have we already learned everything there is to know about our salvation? I do learn things every time I attend Elder’s Quorum, like Brother Jones is even a bigger Sabbath Day Pharisee than I thought, or that Brother Hall is still a bigot. But why can’t we learn something important? What has happened to our lessons that we don’t even have teachers anymore?
I’m old enough to remember seeing on my fathers bookshelf lesson manuals for Priesthood that were real lesson manuals, written by real people and not a correlation committee. Richard Poll talked about these glory days of lesson manuals in this 1986 Sunstone Article.
In the days when authors were identified, the lesson manuals of the Church auxiliaries and the Melchizedek Priesthood were written by a who’s who of the best educated men and women in the Church, many of them academics. The manuals, like the early seminary and institute texts, were often intended to stimulate and motivate rather than indoctrinate and pacify. I can only imagine the lively discussions that B. H. Roberts’s course of study may have engendered in some seventies quorums. I can testify to how exciting it was a generation ago to help young people see the implications of gospel principles through [O.C.] Tanner’s manual or Lowell Bennion’s The Religion of the Latter-day Saints.“The Swearing Elders: Some Reflections,” Richard Poll, Sunstone (Jan 86)
Some of these old manuals that stand out to me include:
Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by John A. Widtsoe,
Teachings of the New Testament by Lowell Bennion,
Christ’s Ideals for Living by O.C. Tanner,
Jesus the Christ by James Talmage (yes, it was the Priesthood manual in 1916 and again in 1963)
Do you think the church will ever move back to manuals like these? Real lessons, lively conversations, teachers that were more than “facilitators” or “discussion leaders”? Are the days of lessons that “stimulate and motivate rather than indoctrinate and pacify” long gone? Lastly, why are those days gone? Why are we only indoctrinated and pacified?
We have a brilliant GD teacher, who is incorporating current scholarship, JS papers etc, in a faithful context. Really excellent. Sadly being in primary I don’t get to attend.
I tend to be a bit of a loose canon in the RS facilitated discussions …. so I doubt they miss me…
Funnily enough, given the topic of the post, in today’s primary lesson I concentrated on the importance of learning. JS school of the prophets, the injunction to learn from the best books etc.
The current manuals in primary don’t do much for learning factual or even myth based church history any more though. Gone are the days when I had a class actually build a model of Nauvoo because the lesson was about the saints moving to Nauvoo. Primary lessons like everything else have been watered down. Sure we aren’t teaching whitewashed history because there is no history…
Bill is correct. Teaching has largely gone by the wayside because the supposed students are not willing to put in the effort to learn.
In the past, members of the Elders Quorum and Relief Society were expected to read the lesson and come prepare to learn. Now, they do not come prepared. Instead, they spend their leisure time playing violent video games and watching cat videos on YouTube. They frequently do this during the lesson itself now that they watch from home.
As a result, the lessons have been lowered to the level of the lowest common denominator so no one has to feel bad. No one has admit they didn’t study, and no one learns anything.
Hugh Nibley’s book, “An Approach to the Book of Mormon” was also a lesson manual. Yes it would be nice to have manuals like that now. The recent Elder’s quorum lessons have many times just been a round robin of people reading from the assigned talk.
When one is proactive and dedicates time to read….learning ocuurs. However, when one relys on the correlated revovling lessons one becomes dammed, literally, in ones progression of knowlege.
So, other than taking the sacrament, why attend church? After a few cycles of lessons, it is definatly not to learn. They would say to be there to lift anothers burden, or to gather with the saints. Most church relationships are so superficial and the service projects so meaningless.
Many of the decision makers groups are too busy to even have time to read or to attend class to learn, they just go from endless meeting to meeting, accomplishing little. If you share this concern with them, it is rarely comprehended. They would spout typical mormon quotes, milk before meat, intellectuals are enemy of church, the learned do not follow God.
I read one article that still sticks with me from Scott Orson Card. He states there are only 4 callings in the church, and once we are slotted we remain stuck there. Muscians, clerks, decision makers (not leaders), and teachers.
Which is most important? Who do we remember years later? The decision makers want to think tbey are teachers, but they decieve themselves regurgitating the handbooks.
What was Christ? A Teacher.
It is sad that the churchs form of teaching is now innoculation with partial truths, or burying information on difficult to find web sites, or all out lies of deniability of past teachings.
The camelot years of real teaching were squashed with each proceeding dedcade of correlation, until the present. The church created correlation to avoid a schism, and it mostly worked for a few decades, but now the schism is before them. In place of using Christ’s teachings to unify followers of Christ they use covenant path, follow the prophet, and handbooks. No teachings of teach good principles and let them govern themselves, or teaching how to fish.
The church wants its people to be dependent on them, and leader worship…….real teaching will destroy their real mission. If the real mission is to draw men unto Christ and to be saved in the celestial kingdom, why do we talk about Christ so little and focus on extensive tangential teaching lessons that are now changing with every generation, despite previously being told the gospel is eternal and never changes?
I think the best teaching is what we learn in life and share it with others. Not as a lecture at the pulpit, not sugarcoated. Telling the good and bad, with out judgement by the talker or listener. We should all tell our stories on how to best get through life and various situations. Some times we learn this in books, or travel, or Bishop Bill’s blog posts, and just mostly day to day life. No cookie cutter teaching,just tell your story. We are all teachers.
FYI John Charity, there’s much to learn from video games & cat videos. And please stop blaming members for all the problems in our loony church. Also, a big cup of coffee each morning would prolly do you in particular a world of good. Think about it!
In my stake we are encouraged to read a conference talk daily, which means each talk is personally read about 5 times. then each sacrament talk is based on an assigned conference talk. And then top if off with RS/EQ lessons ALSO based on conference talks. And then people wonder why attendees are other phones? The repetition is mind numbing. Maybe if the talks themselves were new/revelatory it wouldn’t be so painful, but honestly, bless anyone who can TEACH this way.
I believe there is a great deal of value in facilitated discussions. That said, the current way the lessons are executed often results in a lessening of community and a loss of interest in attendance. I haven’t the slightest idea of a good solution, though I think that we miss out when we do not appreciate how powerful facilitated discussions can be.
I just read this now on by common consent blog and thought it applied:
The quadrilateral states that human beings learn about God through four paths:
Scripture—the Bible, God’s self-revelation to humanity
Tradition—human history and the Church community; the store of human knowledge and those we love around us
Reason—the human mind, individual discernment and the results of our own education
Experience—God’s interaction with individual believers; our spiritual and emotional lives
We must combine all of these to learn and to grow. We need to take control of our learning, and not let the church hijack the teachers and especially reason. ( I recognize am speaking to the choir)
Has it occurred to anyone here that contrary to the “lazy learner” narrative, the Brethren actually want the member to be lazy when it comes to the history and doctrine?
I would argue that they don’t want us to learn. If we are studying history, we will inevitably come across information that contradicts official narratives. If we study doctrine in depth, we’ll discover that virtually every major doctrine of the Church has changed, including something as fundamental as the nature of God.
Many will blame where we are on the forces of correlation. But let’s acknowledge the real culprit: the Internet and search engines. For while the Church invests in SEO, it just takes a couple of clicks to discover a new world…a world in which reality obliterates custom and tradition.
Note: if I could illustrate this with two pictures, I’d show official Church art depicting BOM translation along side a certain brown stone.
The Brethren seem so freaked out by the modern world that they have decided to hew strictly to the iron rod path – thus they eventually lose many of those who … love the modern world. Frankly I believe the world is becoming better, not worse – thus, their approach falls flat w/ me and many optimists like me. Love life and love the world. Strive to make it better!
I suppose it depends on what you think the purpose of gathering is. Is it academic? I think it’s moreso to feel the spirit and get revelation…which is quite up to the individual. Unfortunately, my experience has been that few people read, let alone study. I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of participation in SS classes. Many people don’t want to be called on. They’re scared to say the wrong thing. They don’t participate in discussions. It’s always the same few people who do participate. I’ve long since given up on hoping for robust and discussions with people at church. They’re just too lazy.
Faith: you are reading other blogs (BCC)???? Are you stepping out on us here at W&T?
I recently inherited 10 “Know Your Religion” books that were compiled from the 1970’s in the SF bay Area. I really wish we still had church sponsored series where leading LDS scholars taught local members about the uniqueness of LDS theology. With Zoom, Youtube, etc… it would be very easy to engage local members in a series of virtual “Know Your Religion” firesides.
I think discussions with a skilled and prepared facilitator asking real & interesting questions are great and much better than a teacher talking at a class. IMO a lesson outline should be a few really great questions, and some quotes and material and experiences to share along with those questions to give context. But it actually takes a lot of work to prepare that kind of outline and make it effective.
Bishop bill, thank you for your time to facilitate group discussions. This is now my sunday church. If the church finds out they may shut you down for being a competitor
I like to gather information from a variety of sources and then form my own opinions. .
For world events I occasionally look at CNN, BBC, Sltrib, various national and international newspaper sites left/right/moderate and a variety of sources (even rarely fox news when they are not arguing, but NOT deseret news, i already know what it says, nothing to learn, like church.)
Would it not be fascinating if in church there would be other non correlated discussions from various points of view. Even my TBM father was frustrated at not being able to teach non correlated lessons in HP.
The teachers are present, but the chirch shut them down. What lost opportunies for growth for generations Hence, many of us are leaving the church to find this growth and teaching moments elsewhere.
The best and brightest are leaving as they learn more. Until the church starts teaching instead of dictating the hemmoraging will increase.
I agree with Elisa and Stephen that facilitated discussions can be really great. What makes them great, though, is a classroom culture of curiosity—tough questions with open-ended answers explored in a way that invites us to re-examine ourselves and the world around us.
And there’s the rub. Curiosity may be the driving engine of human progress, but it’s extremely threatening to fundamentalism. Curiosity is not a value extolled over the GC pulpit. “Questioning” is always described as a stepping stone leading to previously established answers, rather than the gateway to new discoveries. We are a church that runs on Answers, not Questions.
The best GD teachers I’ve had are the ones who foster curiosity. They use the GC talks as a starting prompt then quickly depart from them into more interesting territory. And occasionally a GC talk from one of our better orators (like Holland or Uchtdorf or that brilliant talk on refugees from Elder Keaton) do inspire some really great discussion. But, as in most things in the church, it all depends on your ward.
The snippets from this Daniel Peterson interview are classic: https://wheatandtares.org/2011/11/28/daniel-peterson-some-of-our-manuals-i-think-are-not-very-good/
It has been several years, I have been in the leadership meetings. Any time I thought there was a really good teacher there were members complaining about them going off the rails, saying they should stick to the manual. And now the manuals are mostly just regurgitated conference talks.
The institution that administers the Gospel to the Church has a department of Pharisees, who have chosen to “teach” belief systems and behavior management–dogma–instead of doctrine.
“Come Follow Me” manuals are painfully dogmatic. When LDS intellect is not able to discern between faith and belief, we are bound to follow any number of false beliefs. If Saints are unwilling to discern faith from belief, we are bound to become a passive, negligent audience of spectators. When worship evangelizes into entertainment, nobody notices because it “feels good.”
I’m grateful that we have the resources to publish curriculum, but realize (because LDS dogma subdues LDS doctrine), that it’s time to burn the printing press. The ashes of the CES will serve as carbon to clear the field for better cultivation.
It could not be more clear that the church’s pandemic shutdown has caused members to lose interest in study. JCS is right that most people will not put forth the effort it takes to study on their own and then actively participate in zoom church.
And yet the church continues to entrench itself in this fiasco. Forcing vaccinated people to wear masks in church dramatically reduced the numbers that were in attendance today.
How about teaching people to think for themselves, for starters? Far more people would be willing to take the vaccine on their own if they had been taught in church how to reason and make decisions on their own.
The irony is that for decades, the church taught members to distrust the government and just do what the church says without thought. It should not be a surprise that these people distrust a vaccine that was pushed by the government so strongly.
Faith, this also brought up the issue of the sacrament. If it’s a symbol, why attend a meeting to partake? What does praying over bread and water do? It’s customary to partake at a meeting but it would seem unnecessary when one might recall the covenants anywhere.
We perform the sacrament because Christ instituted it and gave instructions for its observance. Remembering your covenant is only part of the process of renewing it. The authority that established that covenant must also be present in its renewal. That’s why we go to a meeting and specific exact language is repeated. That divinely authored language then sets apart symbolic elements of the atonement to be actual physical tokens of agreement: a divine handshake on the deal if you will. Hope that’s helpful.
@Kirkstall, totally. I read this year that the opposite of fear isn’t bravery (because to be brave actually means to overcome fear) but curiosity. I love that and studying gospel stuff (or really anything) without the fear of encountering something faith-damaging but instead with curiosity is much more rewarding. But we don’t get rewarded for curiosity in class, and I think this is as much (or more) the audience’s fault than the teacher’s.
I do think that some teachers manage to create a safe space for curiosity but it’s rare. And they often get criticized for creating doubt.
I actually do my own sacrament at home .
I do not need their permision and play “mother may I”.
Once had a bishop call me into his office for a harsh hand-slapping after I, as a substitute GD teacher, had used non-preapproved scriptural cross-references in my lesson. He chastised me for being “unfaithful to the Brethren.”
“I …made sure everybody learned something new in class.”
And you determined this how? Taking an after class survey of each person in the class?
I’m sure I’ve posted this story in the past, but I once had a Sunday school president call me out into the hallway to yell at me for using “unapproved materials.” I showed him that I was using a printout of the manual from the church website. He still felt it sent the wrong message if I didn’t use the actual bound manual while teaching.
And that was in 2003. I can’t even imagine the talking-to I’d get now if I strayed from tbe CFM manual.
“Do you think the church will ever move back to manuals like these?”
After being active in EQ all of my life, in my 50s I finally quit attending because it was too painful to sit through the lessons. I hadn’t learned anything for many years and hated wasting my time. So I’d go home and study on my own.. Then I was called as Elders Quorum President in my ward. The only duty outlined in scripture for an EQ president is to teach and “counsel” with the quorum (D&C 107:89). I took that charge seriously and had our presidency teach most of the lessons rather than calling a teacher. We really tried hard to improve the quality of the lessons and to create an environment where open discussion and learning could occur. We used a lot of outside material including the lectures on faith, Bridges: Ministering to those who Question by David Ostler, etc. and we focused heavily on scripture. We all learned a lot and had some great discussions. Fortunately we had a supportive bishop who knew and trusted me. When I was released it was interesting to me that about half of the quorum really appreciated the lessons and many brothers started attending quorum again because it was worth their time to come. However, I also had a lot of pushback from about 20% of the quorum who just wanted to stick to the conference talks and nothing else. The brother who replaced me went right back to the conference talk lessons.
Shane , I know what is said and by whom. It still doesn’t have any virtue other than a symbolic feast…if standard prison fare, at least in the recent past, could be called a feast. The bread and water are symbols so any value they might have is a mental exercise. Neither they nor the prayer do anything to the bread and wine nor does the actual consumption of the bread and wine. And reading Moroni isn’t very helpful.
By getting rid of Elder’s Quorum and reducing church to two hours, the leadership ha effectively reduced the number of teachers in an attempt to centralize its message. Leaders want to allow little space for the emergence of experimentation in interpretation. This trend can be seen at BYU too where PhD-holding faculty are being phased out of teaching religion classes and being replaced by CES instructors.
The church wants to stem the rise of a new generation of popular gurus and philosophies who carry the culture in directions they don’t like and feel forced to compromise their message over.
I used to say, “They can correlate the manuals, but they can’t correlate our thoughts!” Unfortunately, it looks like I was wrong. We are cranking out incurious automatons, ready to fight the wrong side in culture wars, armed with misinterpretations of scripture and leader quotes instead of a moral compass. I’ve had some great teachers over time, and some good ones, but there is only so much you can do with the terrible manuals that so often say the opposite of what the source material says and are instead twisted to focus on conservative political ideas rather than the gospel.
JCS: I disagree with the causality you describe. I don’t agree that the watered-down manuals (and it’s more insidious than merely being watered down, as I point out) came as a result of inattentive students. Inattentive students are the byproduct of bad manuals and teachers. Our screens are more interesting than anything we’re being taught right now, and it’s not just cat videos grabbing attention. I get a lot more from looking up the topic and finding out what actual scholars and other religions have to say about a topic than I do from anything in the manuals.
What’s wrong with cat videos?
“When was the last time you learned something from a lesson in Sunday school, Relief Society, or Elders Quorum? ”
Yesterday. It was an exceptional lesson from D&C 88. What made it refreshing was to explore the concept of “comprehend all things” which is much deeper than merely seeing things or knowing things.
“Do you think the church will ever move back to manuals like these?”
Seems unlikely. Progress is forward, seldom backward.
For now, real lessons we give each other. What is happening right here on W&T. Share stories. It isn’t supposed to be one person doing all the talking and getting the benefit of having studied the lesson when no one else even takes a look at it.
Takes some skill, maybe rare skill, and shut it down pretty quick when playing “21 questions” trying to guess what the teacher wants to hear.
“teachers that were more than facilitators or discussion leaders?”
They still exist, have always existed; I am one of them. But that kind is rare, not enough to go around.
“Are the days of lessons that stimulate and motivate rather than indoctrinate and pacify long gone?”
“Lastly, why are those days gone? Why are we only indoctrinated and pacified?”
Not even that. it is interesting that church started to move into the home and away from chapels only a year or so before Covid-19 mandated exactly that for many people. Since it takes only 30 to 60 days or so to force evolution of a virus I suspect that after Covid-19 will be Covid-20 (The Delta Variant) and Covid-21 and Covid-22 and so on. Eventually people of the Left might even start realizing it is just the new normal; 30,000 people or more have died every year of influenza and this nation didn’t mask up or lock down over it.
Once the gospel is preached to every nation the mode changes from mostly proselyting to mostly keeping the gains. Changing from wide and thin to deep and narrow; deep dives into gospel principles, at home, to strengthen those who wish to be strengthened.
In practice it does not seem to have changed much but since the manuals are gone it creates opportunity for the good teachers to be creative.
That we as a nation mostly ignore the 30,000 dead each year (and sometimes it’s much much more than that) from influenza isn’t something to champion and apply to Covid, it’s a national shame upon a people supposedly still mostly Christian. That we have flu vaccines that do a decent job of preventing serious illness and death and most don’t take them, that we force people to work when sick because to do otherwise means no paycheck or no employment for many people, that the church is absolutely silent on this yearly influenza plague just breaks my heart.
Covid is more contagious and more deadly, and yet it is better controlled than flu with masks and with vaccines.
Let’s do better.
Very engaging discussion. Why couldn’t we have a discussion somewhat like this in church? Yes, I know nobody wants to be seen as a “problem” or a complainer or a heretic. I have led 12-step groups for years, and occasionally the sharing sessions are great. I hope my EQ’s lessons will become less mind-numbing than they have been.