One of the more interesting assignments I had was to be prepared to teach Elders Quorum if the instructor did not make it.
Then I was asked to teach the lessons so that others could teach them the way I was teaching them.
That basically meant making the structure more and more obvious while keeping what we were doing a facilitated discussion.
The general outline was to first have people talk about their week and how last week’s lesson came to mind or other things that happened that were important.
We then (in randomized order) had people read sections of the text of the lesson and then comment on what they had read, generally using prepared questions pertinent to the section or their own thoughts.
We then had people talk about any issues they were anticipating for the next week that the lesson might apply to.
A real key was encouraging everyone to participate and not worrying about using all the material. We would get as far as we got.
I was then transferred to teaching high priests.
When we moved, I was asked to teach high priests again. We had an excellent group of guys. Intelligent. Well read. Many who had served in bishoprics or stake presidencies.
Because of the “up or out” and “leadership as training” nature of our area and the large number most had no callings.
My wife immediately told me I needed to feed them each week and for the next several years (until we transferred out of the ward) she made them food.
The combination of facilitated discussion and food began to create an environment that re-engaged everyone and created fellowship.
The picture is of the time my wife made them ribs.
The lesson manuals often include various advice and tools on how to facilitate a class. The actual tools have a broad reach
In addition the Church has manuals https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/ldsorg/topics/self-reliance/facilitating-groups-na-eng.pdf?download=true&lang=eng
Other groups also appreciate the approach https://faithandleadership.com/facilitation-101-tips-pastor-peer-groups
- How often have you had a lesson where the focus was on the members of the class teaching each other?
- How often have you had a teacher follow the advice to have engagement over completion of the material?
- Do you think that having regular refreshments for adults would build community?
- What else could we do to build engagement and learning into classes at church?
- What changes in focus would you suggest?
Teaching EQ was my favorite calling. I always used the lesson as source material, but my approach was to pick two or at most three sections to read closely and discuss deeply. I only got into trouble once as EQP when teaching ETBs list of 14 Fundamentals. (I’m sure you know the list.) I implied that sometimes prophets make mistakes. That got me a trip to the principal… er… the bishop’s office. But they didn’t release me
I love your idea (or rather your wife’s idea) of feeding the class each week. So much good comes from breaking bread together
It’s really surprising to me that LDS men go to church week after week, month after month, and year after year. Good teaching in EQ is rare. There is essentially zero learning just repetition of basic gospel ideas, particularly since we now just review conference talks. Occasionally there is an interesting discussion, but you have to suffer through weeks of boredom to experience it.
To make things worse it’s difficult to find deep, real-life applications of the principles discussed, since there is no emotional vulnerability among the men. I think there are three closely related causes–a focus on content over engagement, a general unwillingness to acknowledge the social role of church, and a belief that men don’t need friendship.
I like the idea of using food to build community. There’s something to it, and it’s a small modification that can be easily made. Without causing waves. It helps people to let down their guard and get to know each other. This paved the way to learning.
It’s interesting that in non church settings, a significant chunk of teaching is about getting to know each other. Next week I am teaching a two-day seminar, and 10-20 percent of day one is focused on getting to know the facilitators and participants.
Honestly, if there were a greater sense of community and less boredom, I’d be at church. There are things I don’t like but I’d continue to doubt my doubts and hope for long-term change to be among genuine friends.
Didn’t Jesus say somewhere in the scripture to feed the multitude? 🙂
ji: indeed He did! A good friend of mine is very insistent that all his activities and classes have refreshments, and whenever someone challenges the idea, he shoots right back with scriptural examples of Jesus eating with people.
EQ lessons on nearly any topic can be engaging when they focus on the actual class members. How do YOU focus on the sabbath? How are YOU strengthened by this principle? How can we help HIM with his challenges? What do *I* find frustrating about this commandment?
And by the same token, any topic can be boring and uninspiring if it focuses on GA talks. Whatever Elder or Sister So-and-so said should inform the lesson, not BE the lesson.
I think adding food is a wonderful idea, and it’s lovely that your wife was willing to make something every week for your class (for years!). But anyone who thinks this is a “small modification that can be easily made” should a) take a moment to consider and appreciate the “small modifications” women facilitate on a regular basis, and b) take that responsibility on themselves for awhile.
I think S has a very good point when he said that the church thinks that adult men do not need friends, only I want to modify it to leave off the “men “ part. The church thinks that *adults* do not need friends. The church has cut back on activities that involve adults to the point that the last ward I was in had one adult activity each year, and that was inviting the men to the Relief Society Birthday dinner. There is no time to visit on Sundays, especially for younger women and with kids in tow.
For those of you too young to remember church before the block schedule, just think of the chances to get to know your ward member when you can visit before and after four or five meetings a week, depending on the ages of your children and callings, when Relief society actually had a nursery with babysitting. Imagine a class without toddlers and crying babies at least once a week. And there were pot luck dinners at least once a month for the building fund or ward budget. It was a cheap way to feed your family for the donation ask and one food dish. And there was at least one other social a month, some of which were just for men or just for women or for couples, with baby sitting provided by someone for another ward or a non member who got paid. Imagine paying for babysitting, (each set of parents tossed in a dollar, and in some wards it was paid by the ward budget) and paying people to clean the building. What luxuries.
I can still remember 50 years later almost every family in my growing up ward, but the last ward I was in, I never did match up parents with children or some husbands and wives. And the inactive families even came to ward activities because they were FUN. Now that every activity has to has a “priesthood purpose” they are boring and watching grass grow and you would be embarrassed to bring nonmember friends, and the inactive never show up. Because trying to give a social activity a religious message kills the fun and the social. But the church tries so hard to make things spiritual that it just makes them worthless. Spiritual doesn’t happen among strangers. The social is necessary before people let down their guard enough to feel spiritual.
That is what bring food does is it gives a few minutes of social. And teaching would go so much better if people would relax among friends, and share their actual real life instead of just parroting back what they have been taught is proper to say.
@ Dot – I agree completely; women do far too much, especially when it comes to food, to support the men in the Church. I wasn’t meaning to imply that women should bear the burden. And adding food does not have to be elaborate or even homemade. The point you’re making is generally true. On more personal level, it’s not true at all.
Back when I was a youth, in the 60s, there were many activities to bring the ward (and stake) together. MIA was the big one with lots of fun activities. Each year had a different theme: music, speech, dance and public speaking. Also, associated with MIA was a special class for adults called “Special interest”. We regularly had adult dances highlighted by the “Gold and Green” ball. It seemed we were getting together for something special at least once a month. We had 4 wards meeting in the same meeting house and I felt I knew everyone in the Stake. We put on big dramatic productions – I remember being on the lighting crew for a 4 day run of “Promised Valley”. The place was packed every night. (this was not in the Jello Belt but way up north in Edmonton, Canada) What I loved about those years was the socialization of the members.
Today we rush to Sunday meetings, get a boring rehash of a Conference talk and hurry out again because the next Ward is coming in. No chance to meet or make friends. It is BORING.
I had opportunity to visit a friend in Scotland a while back and over a period of a few weeks went to Mass each week. The great thing about going to Mass was having tea and biscuits for about 1/2 hour after the service. I got to meet lots of people there and really made me feel welcome. I missed that when I came home and hurried into and out of our Sunday services. So sterile and empty. We just don’t have the companionship and feeling of community that I felt there.
My suggestions: eliminate the rehash of conference talks in sacrament talks, get proper lessons for Priesthood/RS that stir some interest and finally get lots more opportunities for getting to properly know each other.
The one time I, a rumored liberal heretic, was allowed to teach, was a class of older, unruly kids in Primary who’d run off their other teacher. I liked these kids, and managed to keep chaos at bay with various tools and anything I could think of. Together we made it through sharing time without a meltdown, and enjoyed the more private class time in our own relaxed way. I always had a small treat at class dismissal, every week, nothing big enough to spoil their appetites, and nothing requiring more work out of me than occasionally picking up a bag of miniature candy bars. But we were special and deserved it.
I was active back when the Church combined the HP Group with the EQ. I thought this was a very unfortunate change. One of the few joys of being older in life was that the HPs typically dared to get into issues that the EQ wouldn’t. We were more experienced in life and in the Church and it just seemed more appropriate for the older group. When the elders joined us, that all changed. It was kind of an unspoken rule to not get into deep issues with all the new 30-year-olds in our group.
How does this relate to teaching? Well, this combining of quorums/groups coupled with the Preach my Gospel curriculum made priesthood meeting totally boring. That’s not why I left the Church but I can certainly say that I miss those meetings a lot less than I miss the ones from earlier in my life. I feel like we were really trying to learn and understand and expand back in the good old days. But in more recent years it was all about staying on script.
Old man rant over.
Another comment: remember when we used to have the adult session of Stake Conference? Remember how cool that was? Some decent wisdom for adults. Then they changed it so that anyone over 12 could show up (if I remember right) and it lost all meaning. We were very active at the time of the change but we quit going to the adult session because it was no longer adult. Why why why?
I was released as a Primary teacher last Sunday, and we were prohibited from providing treats to children. Maybe it is different for adults.
Teaching adults in our church setting is hard — expectations, curriculum, tattletales, diehards… But if I ever teach adults again, I will have to remember to feed the multitude.
You can get people to listen to literally anything if you bring ribs. Three quarters of the Republican platform was decided over rib lunches: Just sayin’
Josh H, I was in a EQ teaching calling at the time when they consolidated the two quorums into one, and I also thought it was unfortunate, but from the other side. I liked being in an EQ where I could connect with other men who were in a similar stage of life as me (early-to-mid-career, raising young families, etc.) while the old men went off somewhere else to talk about their various health problems and whatnot. It was so much easier for quorum members to relate to each other and to the material I was teaching. Then we combined, and though I initially looked forward to having the added perspectives, in practice it became a jumbled mess just to get through the material, and despite my careful lesson preparation, discussions often went too far off the rails. I don’t need a lecture on “righteous fatherhood” from someone who unironically longs for the days when corporal punishment was more socially acceptable; someone who has probably never touched a dirty diaper in his life.
The best EQ lessons I did were ones in which I quietly discarded the assigned material and instead taught whatever I felt was timely and relevant for the audience. Lessons like that have the added benefit of inherently encouraging more (and better) class participation. Years ago, we did a really powerful EQ lesson once about suicide awareness and prevention, just before the holiday season. I can’t imagine pulling that off today, especially when half of the quorum now is over 60 and has old-fashioned views on mental health.
Josh H and Jack H (must be related!) have already hit on this, but chime in as one more man who misses the split priesthood classes. Certainly, the demographics is a part of it; it can be easier to form bonds with people when you have more in common. But for me, I think the bigger issue is that the class is too dang big. For many years I was in wards that might have 30 active Elders, but 10 of them were in YM, and another half dozen in primary, so we’d have lessons with 10 or 15 people. When that happens, you get a room small room, sit in a circle, and I knew that I needed to be doing 10% of the participating. These days, my second hour of church each week is in a room with 50+ people sitting on a basketball court. Part of this is that my ward is bigger others I’ve lived in, but the physical set up is about the worst possible for teaching. Rows and rows of folding chairs, loud floors, a cavernous room, a chalk board on wheels 40 feet away from me, it’s all terrible.
As an introvert, I am unlikely to speak up in a class with 50 people in it. There clearly isn’t enough time for everyone to participate, so unless I think I’ve got something remarkably insightful, I’m going to keep my mouth shut. And with 50 people, the odds are much higher that there is someone in there that thinks that every thought they’ve ever had is remarkably insightful, so our EQ lessons are always ending 5 minutes late as it is. So I sit there are stare at my phone while sitting 8 feet away from anyone else in the room.
My ward recently had the idea to make a second gospel doctrine class. I was enthusiastically in favor. The SS Pres wanted to call another teacher so the 3 teachers could teach the 4 lessons each month. (Currently 2 teachers teach once a month.) Now it sounds like the bishopric has decided they don’t need another teacher, which I fear means we will never get a second class. I consider this an unfortunate decision made by a trio of people who never actually attend gospel doctrine.
For the men complaint about how the quality went down went the two priesthood quorums were combined, Relief Society has been like that since the block started and it went from working women meet on Sunday, same time as Priesthood, and Stay at home mothers went on a weekday. The working women felt the stay at homes looked down on them for being bad mothers, and then in turn looked down on the SAHM for not having a career and being lazy or envied them for having all that “luxury” time. And the SAHM did look down on the working mothers for not being to make the sacrifice of giving up their career in favor of raising children, and at the same time, envied them for having real adults to talk to during the week. So, best keep the working mothers separate. THEN there was the age difference. The grandmas wanted to talk about different things than the young mothers, let alone the single women.
And the group was always huge. If there was any discussion we didn’t get half the lesson covered and the teachers wanted to present all that they had worked so hard to present.
It was funny because a lot of the brothers envied the cute handouts and table decorations and the well prepared lesson. But it was a boring lecture in an environment that you couldn’t get to know the other women at all.
I was Relief Society president when the change happened. And both the sisters who had been going to the Sunday meeting and the sisters who were going to the weekday meeting hated combining both onto Sunday. They went from lively fun discussions to everyone sitting there silent while the teacher lectured. It was horrible.
I personally as an introvert could no longer make friends. My husband would come home excited about their discussion in priesthood. Then he would ask what we talked about. “Bla bla bla.” Was all we ever did. I think the inability to make friends was part of why I eventually decided that Mormonism is not good for me emotionally.
In my many decades of church attendance there is only one teacher that stands out. He was in the teaching profession—a professional teacher.
We would discuss the section of assigned scriptures—and then he would open it up to the class to discuss their personal thoughts or experiences with the topics the scriptures were highlighting.
It was a big loss when he moved out of the ward.
My husband has always described priesthood meetings/classes as very low effort—like opening the manual and reading the lesson.
Seriously, why is it always assumed that the women will cook? lol
For many years, any time my wife was asked to provide a meal, the compassionate service leader didn’t realize that it really meant that *I* would be cooking it. They were kind of surprised when they found out. I’m not throwing shade on them or my wife (who shoulders a 💩 ton of the family workload in spite of cooking literally never), it was just the running joke in our family that the Relief Society kept inadvertently giving the assignment to me.
When I liked going to classes, the facilitated discussions were the best.
About the single elders quorum vs split between elders and high priests I have been surprised to learn that the high priests in my ward are much more open and honest about their experiences. The younger half seem almost ritually performative, always sticking to the expected script. The older gents from the high priests have been willing to talk about their doubts, weird experiences going through the temple for the first time, or their children that no longer believe. They are much more vulnerable than the younger to middle aged crowd. I have been quite surprised by that.
Elder’s Quorum is the absolute worst; mindless, repetitive pablum. I will do ANYTHING to avoid it. Now Relief Society is (more often than not) quite awesome. They at least speak like real people; and are willing to open up about “real people problems”. I’ll avoid the “Bloviating Old Bastards” in Elders Quorum Every. Single. Time.
All you gentlemen complaining about the combined priesthood meeting. . . imagine how the sisters feel when the GA’s announce a “women’s meeting” for 8 years old (or 12 years old) and up.
Ribs? Really? You could have gotten away with anything, literally anything.
@Lily: or “an unfortunate decision made by a trio of people who never actually attend gospel doctrine.” So many unfortunate decisions are made for people by a trio of leaders who never actually share those people’s experience.
A comment from me — Steve’s wife.
I worked in a professional capacity and had a very successful career. As a busy and very handy person, I was also renovating something or starting some sort of new project on the side. There were people in that ward who would make little nasty comments about my priorities and they assumed that I never cooked my family a meal.
My taking on the burden of cooking for that HP group did two things:
1. It made it obvious that I cooked and cooked well.
2 There were people who chose not to purchase homes in that ward’s boundaries simply because of who the bishop was. The bishop was someone who many found overbearing and obnoxious. I shared those thoughts. That bishop wanted no food in the building. My sending food to the High Priests annoyed him. That was my goal. He also recognized that food unified the men, increased attendance and added an element of interest that had be lacking. The week that I sent ribs, I thought he would lose his cool — and he did. The entire situation was made more complicated by the fact that a member of the Stake Presidency attended that group and he really liked the food.
Win, I’m a woman but will you marry me?
Wait! Are you saying that the way to man’s _____ is through his stomach?
@Win: I love that you did that, and anytime someone can annoy an overbearing bishop, I’m all for it! I’ve just been on the receiving end of too many great ideas for EQ (and pretty much every other ward organization) that involved my just doing some easy, quick thing like baking 25 potatoes or running by the grocery store for all the paper goods or throwing a turkey in the oven, and that was just discussed, decided, and assigned without any input from the women who did the work. And that’s not cool. (And I finally learned to say no)
What else could we do to build engagement and learning into classes at church?
Invest in actual educational training for saints in teaching positions beyond “pray for the members of your class” and “listen to the spirit” (both of which are good ideas but don’t necessarily provide teachers with functional tools). At the very least, tap into the experience of ward members beyond the Sunday school presidency. As a professional elementary educator who has spent a large portion of her career teaching teachers, I just love when the Sunday school presidency holds trainings for primary and says things like “I’m not sure how this would work for little kids.”
And no one has thought to ask for the recipe? Please share!
Just a couple of random thoughts. The EQ should try to prepare their own damn food and not always rely on the sisters. White shirt, tie, and suit are not the appropriate attire for ribs. Food and drink are important for socializing. And in the NT Apocrypha, I think Christ and the apostle danced.
And Dot, amen to saying ‘no’. We are so bad at respecting one another’s boundaries in our church.