Everything that is wrong with LDS Gospel Teaching, Part One: Everybody hates Sunday School

This is the first in a series of three posts. It was going to be one long post, but then I hit 1,000 words and realized I was only about a third of the way through it. I’ll put the other two parts up tomorrow and Thursday. In this post, I mostly whine about Sunday School and Gospel Teaching. In the second post, I’ll get more specific about what I think the problem is. In the final post, I will actually propose a possible solution.

Two caveats: First, I realize that I’m just some schmoe and I’m really in no position to lecture anybody on teaching. Please recognize that is a rant, not a list of demands. Second, I also realize that this isn’t my church; it is God’s church and he is gonna do what he wants to do. But a guy can dream, right? (that God wants to do what I want to do; not that it could someday be my church)

In order to participate in Sunday School, do you need to read your scriptures in preparation?

I ask this question sincerely because I believe it is the reason so much of our Gospel Teaching is lackluster. I submit that after you have been a member of the church for a certain amount of time (I’ll say five years, but that’s based on nothing) you have heard almost everything that you will ever hear in a block meeting and in Sunday School in particular. By the time that you have memorized the “Sunday School” answers, you will have come to the conclusion that scripture study in preparation for Sabbath worship is optional. Whether or not you prepare yourself spiritually for 3 hours of worship, your experience in church is going to be fundamentally the same.

This sameness is deliberately sought by the church. The church’s brand is built on familiarity with its product. I’ve heard (and I bet you’ve heard) testimonies about how the experience of going to the church is the same the world over. Right now, every active member in the church who has been active for five years or more knows what is going to be discussed in the majority of wards worldwide this coming Sunday (those that aren’t having Stake or District Conference, that is (although many of those will be receiving their talks piped in via satellite)). Homogeneity is the name of our game and it is for a good reason: a lot of us like that sense of familiarity. It makes church seem churchy. The problem being that churchy, in our institutional sense, is dead boring.

When was the last time that a lesson you attended at church has actually been educational? Certainly, some teachers are more entertaining than others and some topics are (slightly) more controversial. But, after 5 years, I’m willing to bet that you are already familiar with all that (or as much of it as comes up in Sunday School). But have you had a teacher or a course in the Gospel that demanded or pushed you to new knowledge or insight? In your schooling, if you had a class for which you could show up without doing the homework and for which you felt you already knew all the appropriate answers, was that a good class? Sure, you may have gotten an A, but do you really retain much from that course? Can you think of another course of instruction on earth that seeks to provide education without demanding anything from its students? If you can, is it focused on something as important as the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

My mission president, Richard Chapple, was a great man and he was fond of saying that there is no reason why our meetings shouldn’t knock our socks off. Think about what we offer the world: the power to do the work of God on earth; the option of weekly experiencing the power of Godliness in the administration of the ordinances of the Priesthood; the opportunity to invite the Holy Ghost, a direct catalyst for revelation, into all of our meetings and lessons. Now think about what we provide most Sundays: three hours of time-kill. At present, my assumption is that the primary purpose of all our lessons (in Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, and in Priesthood/RS) is to fill out the block. I wonder if the purpose of our meetings is best described by Hugh Nibley, who suggested that they might demonstrate our desire to reward “sitting in endless meetings,…dedicated conformity, and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom.” Of course, that is hyperbole; but ask yourself this question, “Are my socks getting knocked off with regularity at church functions? If not, why not?”

Certainly, we all have much repenting to do individually (I, in particular, have loads). And, certainly, it is up to me to drag myself out of bed and get to reading the scriptures. Every conference (every week, every Sunday School), I’m told that I need to have a personal relationship with God and I need to commune daily with him in scripture study. But aside from those frequent, not-insubstantial exhortations, is that idea given support in the structure of the lessons that we teach? Do our lessons require that daily scripture study in order to participate? In this, I don’t mean that we need regular quizzes and grading in Sunday School, but is sincere, regular scripture study rewarded in our current format? Ritually, I think we are supported every Sunday in our personal and communal interaction with God, but in lessons? It seems to happen an awful lot less.

Comments

  1. I would disagree with you only to the extent that I have had wonderful SS teachers who made GD class a great experience. But generally speaking, you are pretty much on target. SS — and Priesthood, for that matter — seem designed at best to fill time and at worst to indoctrinate rather than inspire. At some point, members — particularly older members — decide they can probably use their time more productively doing other things.

  2. Aaron,
    I’m curious about what made those Sunday School teachers stand out. I have a sense of the potential commonalities of those teachers, but I would like a broader dataset than what I imagine to be the case.

    Also, I agree. A good teacher makes a world of difference.

  3. you could take over my current job of primary pianist. If you are looking for a different experience every week-primary helps in that regard.

  4. Sharon LDS in TN says:

    John C: In my opinion, having been a “searching” and “wanting to know MORE, MORE, MORE” over the 45 yrs after finding the church in Sydney, Australia…..is that:
    This church is more unique than most people realize.
    1) Because it is a ‘fullness” of THE way to find truth, light and intelligence….mainly because of the restoration of all things divine and authoritative, within it’s ordinanaces and bank of revelations…which includes enough complete scripture and keys…(gift of the Holy Ghost) when followed..and when worthy…to get you to the personal, intimate relationship with God himself.
    Very clearly put forth in 2 Nephi 32…..the WHOLE chapter.
    After entering in by “the way”….etc.
    “The way” meaning a diligent, dedicated, consistent, humble and VERY prayerful desire..with real intent…set upon a course of being..moment by moment a true disciple of CHRIST. All within the close guidence of Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost….
    and all being proved by that person’s FRUIT.
    It ALL in their life must lead them and their stewardship closer to Christ. Of course with the continual application and grace / mercy of the system of repentance daily…of the Atonement.
    2)The ‘gospel’ is the BEST kept secret in the Church today.
    All the above is to answer your question….why are the lessons for the General Membership so basic / sometimes boring / predictable and not…..POW…fabulously feeding.
    3) The journey I described above is a singularly journey
    after just that person himself loves God with all his heart and want to KNOW more, Be more, etc.
    This type of spiritual progression, although played out with other humans in all varied situations and levels of intelligence and understanding, always boils down to that special exchange from one person to another (divine) person. Mainly because within that true exchange is the basis of true revelation that touches spirit to spirit.
    True learning comes from light and truth.
    Advanced, stimulating, unveiled mysteries and concrete answers for us all, as individual children of God comes from Father to us. A class situation does not nurture or provide those unique individual differences of communicating / language usage, cognitive clarity, making room for ALL the thousands of personality and emotional / mental levels that are the way we all differ.
    There is left to us each to want more and go straight to THE source to get what we need, when we need, and God provides HOW we need the way we need in perfect timing.
    YES, we have to work at it. YES, we must sometimes sacrifice and dig out our personal ‘cancers’ and sins to approach Him and break throught he veil to the point of Hearing his voice and understanding His ways.
    But, IT IS SO WORTH IT. He NEVER fails us.
    Yours and others needs for further learning and information, mysteries revealed, questions answered…facinating data…ALL kinds of knowledge…ALL with the secure basis of being right and dependable..all that is waiting for us to ASK, being prepared and ready to receive.
    There is of course responsibility once we learn great things that are not offered in class.
    Where much is given, much is required in trying hard to “DO” it then, live up to it, LOVE MORE, FORGIVE MORE, repent more, SERVE more…..be more obedient.
    I bear testimony that there is NO question I have ever asked, NO knowledge I wanted or needed to know..that was withheld. He has ALWAYS answered.
    Class in church worldwide is a beginning point. A “birth” you might say. Into a world of UNLIMITED learning…but WE are the ones to go and do, go and read, go and ASK God..studying out in our minds and praying about it.
    I go to class to share love, support others, lend a few comments when moved upon by Holy Ghost, and listen to any thing I just might learn that time from the simple and basic things that still might cause me opposition or testing to live!!!! So, when I am bored, I am not doing all I can do.
    Love to All

  5. I couldn’t agree more! Its all the same stuff, year in and year out, same questions, same answers and who knows what people mean by it or how they know that. What does “Charity is the pure love of Christ” even mean? When people say in a talk or teach a lesson on tithing its like a verbal sedative. Its ALL the same. Quotation from Malachi, DC 64:23 and then share the joke about how Tithing is fire insurance and everyone laughs, because we haven’t heard that dumb joke ten thousand times, then share how they were so broke and paid their tithing and then Great Uncle Gus died and left them all this money and now they can buy all this stuff and life is wonderful. What happens if you don’t see any blessings come from tithing?Would anyone know the answer? Its like we have a train of thought and heaven help if we get off that. I wonder too if people aren’t reading their scriptures so just rely on the manual or they are reading for personal enlightenment and not get the bigger picture, like we aren’t talking about this scripture means to me you what did it mean to Nephi or Paul. I can’t recall ever having a spiritual experience in Sunday School yet I go to Church because I have had them. I am definately not criticizing the teachers I have had its just SO BORING!

  6. I generally don’t learn much from the teachers. But when the teachers turn the lesson into a discussion, and class members respond to good questions the teacher asks, I sometimes learn from fellow class members.
    I’m not sure we need to learn new doctrine as much as we need to deepen our understanding of doctrine we already know. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s really happening in most wards, where good teachers teach the youth and the adult Sunday School, RS, and priesthood classes get taught by whoever’s left over…

  7. Mark Brown says:

    John,

    I think you have it more or less right. But I think there are reasons for the way things are structured, and I agree with those reasons.

    First, I think the three hour meeting exists mostly as a way to give people jobs. It is as important that you show up to do your calling as it is how well you do it. It is my belief that if people didn’t have to stick around for 2nd and 3rd hour, many of us would ditch.

    In the Ensign for January, Elder Nelson is quite direct about the current need to provide lesson material that is on an elementary level. He notes that millions have come into the church in the past few years who do not have much of a clue about what it means to be LDS. I think the church is hoping that people with years of seminary and BYU degrees will exercise patience and take some responsibility for their own spiritual nourishment.

    Finally, I think you are exactly right to note that our classes use scriptural texts only secondarily. The lesson is really about some principle or aspect of gospel living. We then troll through our scriptures looking for verses which reinforce the principle under discussion. I’ve thought about writing a lesson about covenant marriage using the text of Hosea, just for fun.

  8. I have lived in some BORING wards. The most boring wards are the suburban wards. Trust me. I’ve lived in 15 wards in 20 years. The best wards are the small wards. The inner-city wards, the small-town wards.

    I think the best GD teachers I’ve had have been the ones with a passion for communicating. I also have not attended GD for five years (been in Primary).

  9. No offense to current teachers (some are probably excellent teachers, and all are selflessly donating their time and effort to what can be a difficult job).

  10. If someone is teaching with the Spirit, the teacher could share her grocery list and it would be riveting. It’s not the material.

  11. Part of the problem is the ever shrinking, milk-variety of correlated materials that teachers have to work with. A good teacher can do a lot to stimulate conversation and engage in doctrinal dialogue, but the best case in point is this years Gospel Principles manual. Lesson one, taught last Sunday – all milk, no meat. The entire manual, intended to be used for the next two years, is 1/2 the size of the previous Gospel Principles manual.

    I personally feel that the Church is focusing on the very basics, and perhaps for good reason, but these basics are NOT knocking my socks off and, quite frankly, leave me uninspired to attend or participate, and never leaves me feeling edified at the end of the lesson. Good teachers can only take the material so far before they have to augment to make the lesson meaningful, in which case you start to enter the gray areas of doctrinal teaching that, without prepared correlated materials, get’s dicey.

    All in all, GD teaching is so borig.

  12. Peter LLC says:

    Do our lessons require that daily scripture study in order to participate?

    Nope. I suppose as with most things, minor league Sunday school lessons are not appealing to (those who consider themselves) major league professionals, but at least it’s not intimidating for the noobs.

  13. Jami (#10),

    I don’t actually think that’s true. I think the Spirit can magnify our efforts, but we’ve got to provide some raw material (most of the time).

  14. Steve Evans says:

    In my experience, some of the most interesting lessons don’t require delving much into the scriptures at all, but rather require (as someone famous once said) an engaged teacher asking good questions, and an engaged class willing to think a little.

  15. John, you’ve described what often bothers me about Sunday School, but I also read Elder Nelson’s remarks in the Ensign about the millions of new members in the church who need good instruction in the basics. It is a balancing act that is hard to do.

    When you consider the church as a whole, we have a huge variety of members, experience, and intellect that the church leadership is determined to keep headed in the same doctrinal direction. The lesson manuals are geared towards helping even a completely inexperienced teacher prepare an adequate lesson.

    The problems come because of two things, in my opinion. First, otherwise experienced members of the church called to teach don’t really make an effort to plan and execute a good lesson plan. The material in the manuals is an outline, and if you really read and understood the teacher development materials the church has produced, you’d likely see better teaching, and not as much of the canned recitation of the standard questions in the manuals.

    Second, we as class members often share in the blame, because we haven’t really thought about and prepared ourselves to participate in the lessons. Be it more personal scripture study, a few minutes on Saturday evening reading the lesson outline on lds.org, or contemplating what we know and don’t know about a topic, these actions could really make a difference.

    When both of these potentially negative situations converge, we do get boring classes being taught to bored members by a frustrated teacher who doesn’t want to stray from the material outlined in the manual.

    It can be better, but we do seem to have a talent for lowering ourselves the least that is required of us. The new Gospel Principles manual is remarkable in the brevity of the lesson outlines, compared to the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church series. I think it is implicit on both teachers and students to step up, and do better.

  16. Natalie B. says:

    I think SS is dramatically better when a) the teacher or members have researched historical/textual sources to bring in and/or b) we actually READ the texts, focus on their language, and ask meaningful questions about them. When we actually read, class members always have good insights in my experience. But so much of the lesson manual consists in glossing over the text, recycling 40-year old quotations from GAs, and otherwise “applying” the lessons to our lives before we even make an effort to discern what the text might be saying. Boring and not very useful in my opinion.

  17. alextvalencic says:

    While I realise that part one here was the rant, and that the solution is meant to come later, I would like to share my insight into what would make for a more uplifting GD/RS/PH lesson:

    Actually participate! There is no place in the lesson manuals, the online training, or the GHI that says that the teacher is the only one who can lead the discussion. Ask questions. Challenge your fellow ward members. Play the Devil’s Advocate. Be thought-provoking and ask questions that relate to the discussion and share insights into how basic principles can be carried to a higher degree.

    Every boring class I have been in has been boring because I was bored. Every riveting discussion has been riveting because I actively sought to do so. It is amazing what happens when one person asks a question. All of sudden you’ll get someone else asking one. Then you start discussing and pleasantly debating. It is even better when someone disagrees and creates cognitive dissonance (a great term in the world of pedagogy and psychology).

    I honestly don’t think you need to read all of the suggested study scriptures, although they help you create your questions. But the heart and soul of gospel teaching is in the discussion, not the lecture.

    I should add that I have not been to a GD lesson since I got married and my wife and I started serving in the Primary (first in the Nursery, then as teachers of the 10-year-olds-turning-11). Also, we alternate weeks for RS/PH, so I am only there 50% of the time. But I use these principles when teaching our kids in Primary and we have awesome lessons!

  18. Natalie B. says:

    #17: I think this touches on a good point. Class discussions are much better when people participate. Since I know that most members who don’t speak in class have interesting things to say outside of it, the question I wonder is why people seem so uncomfortable talking in class. I always feel that in RS in particular, there is a real fear of disagreement and a desire to maintain politeness and respect for the opinions of quoted authorities that frequently gets in the way of thinking.

  19. Everytime my husband and I come home and complain about how boring church is, we acknowledge that it’s just as much our fault as anyone else’s.

  20. Although we may not look it, the students in Sunday School are heterogeneous, in contrast to the homogeneous lesson material. I feel for the GD teachers who have to find ways to engage so many different personalities and intellects. The curriculum appears to be designed for the–not sure how to put this tactfully–less intellectually curious. Kind of reminds me of the public school system I grew up in. Teaching intellectually stimulating material can alienate a lot of good members who are not so inclined. On the other hand, force-feeding the class a steady diet of emotional manipulation (not to be confused with the Spirit, although it often is) alienates the few of us that react paradoxically to community lovefests.

  21. Natalie B. says:

    One more thought: Is part of the problem with boredom the length of the 3-hour block? I have to confess that my attention span typically runs out after 2-hours.

  22. The problem with breaking this up into several posts is that I am anticipating some objections in future posts. Of course, the downside of not breaking it up is that no-one would want to read a 3,000-4,000 word epic online. So, you get this. Sorry for raising problems without positing solutions. I will get to that.

    britt,
    I am firm in the belief that the best calling (teaching or otherwise) is in Nursery. I’d be happy to spend more time in the Primary.

    Sharon,
    I agree that the church already provides sufficient information and opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Christ/God. And I agree that oftentimes the dull, lifeless nature of Gospel teaching stems from lack of personal preparation (by both teacher and student). Finally, I agree that how we behave/worship outside the classroom has as much (if not more) to do with our relationship with God than what happens in the classroom. However, the argument here is that the institutional church has next-to-nothing in its manner of teaching in church that encourages the development of a direct relationship with God.

    Cameron,
    I don’t have a problem asking what a given scripture meant to Paul or Nephi OR asking what it means to you or me. Actually, I think those two (or four) answers should interact. More of that on Thursday.

    That said, it is interesting to compare what happens on any given Sunday in an LDS ward with the recitation of the catechism.

    Tim,
    I didn’t know about this segregation issue. I do think better teacher training will help (more on that on Thursday).

    Mark,
    If the block exists to give people jobs, then I suggest that we ditch the last two hours of the block and go to work. Plenty of widows and orphans need help each Sunday.

    I agree with Elder Nelson that there is a time and a place. However, my question is, “Are we teaching new members to study the scriptures or are we teaching new members to listen passively while we tell them what the scriptures say?” Or, perhaps more to the point, there is no reason why elementary has to mean boring. I don’t need the mysteries of godliness revealed to me each week (I don’t trust most of those that I hear anyhoo (sorry, Sharon)); I need engaged teaching and engaged learning that might actually have some effect on my life.

    Missionary lessons are, I assume, rarely esoteric and, I also assume, rarely boring. Why is that?

    Susan,
    I agree that communication is important.

    Tim (again),
    I concur that most teachers are selflessly devoted servants of God who don’t get enough credit and whom I am kicking while they are down. Sorry teachers, I’m not picking on you individually, mostly as symptoms of a bigger problem.

    Jami,
    I doubt that someone teaching with the Spirit would share her grocery list, but I’ll go with it for now.

  23. I always find Sunday School boring, and it’s not the teachers. The teachers are fine. Some are better than others, but even the good ones fail to engage me most of the time. It’s just that I get more out of reading the scriptures with my own agenda than I do out of reading the scriptures with someone else’s agenda. Yes, it is all about me. I want to study what I’m interested in. Occasionally someone in class will have some insight that is valuable to me, and I appreciate that that’s why we go (to share our insights–not that I share much, but theoretically I could–and learn from each other), but in between those rare moments one does get bored.

    I’m actually looking forward to using the Gospel Principles manual again. I don’t think there’s anything boring about basic gospel principles. What’s boring is rehashing the same details over and over again, not really getting at the heart of something. Approaching the gospel as though you were new to it and didn’t understand a thing is a good way to make things fresh, I think.

  24. “use their time more productively doing other things” … This is called teaching in Primary. Never boring.

    But didn’t Elder Scott give us some insight this last conference into how even the same-old same-old can become vibrant and alive? Rather than focusing solely on the soundwaves bouncing around the class (reading from the manual, anyone?) he suggests focusing on what we might think of as the meta-classroom… that between the words, between the bodies, somewhere non-physical the immersion in the moment yields more substantive spiritual food than what we think is on the plate.

    or something like that. I cannot put it in words but I know what he’s saying.

  25. #14–Exactly. It really is that simple. Good questions, and class members that are willing to discuss those questions.
    I’ve found it’s also far easier to teach a lesson when all I do is lead a discussion with a few good questions. I spend maybe five or ten minutes talking, and the class does the rest.

  26. You know, I tried bringing in some meat into my Relief Society lessons and was roundly thrashed for not sticking to the manual verbatim. I quit.

    In the ward that happened, at least, meat was not encouraged.

  27. Missionary lessons are, I assume, rarely esoteric and, I also assume, rarely boring.

    This is what I was just thinking.

  28. Sidebottom says:

    A few years ago my wife and I made a concerted effort to read and ponder the SS assignment in advance. Unfortunately our gospel doctrine teacher – in the interest of pushing us to new knowledge or insight – strayed so far from the lesson outline that our pre-work was useless. I haven’t read the lesson since.

  29. Aaron n Idaho says:

    According to the curriculum guide for 2010:

    1st Sunday Elders

    Should regularly include:
    instructing home teachers
    demonstrating how to perform ordinances
    planning how to help others
    giving assignments / reporting past assignments.

    May include:
    strengthening marriages and families
    service, missionary work, activation
    spiritual and temporal welfare
    temple and family history work

    1st Sunday Sisters

    The president or a counselor instructs the sisters
    The Relief Society president counsels with the bishop to determine which principles should be taught.
    These could include women’s roles and how sisters can actively fulfill their responsibilities in the gospel.

    Other subjects may include:
    Strengthening marriages and families, visiting teaching, service, missionary work, activation, spiritual and temporal welfare, and temple and family history work. Time may be allowed for sisters to share their testimonies.

    2nd and 3rd Sundays

    Gospel Principles manual
    Lessons are generally taught in the order they are presented in the manual, and the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society classes study the same lesson.
    4th Sunday Teachings for Our Time.
    Lessons are taught from talks in the most recent general conference issue of the Ensign or Liahona.

  30. John, it helps a lot of the teacher actually prepares him or herself by reading the scriptural selections assigned for that week as well as whatever other sources are necessary to prepare a lesson that actually teaches something. What we are missing in the Church these days is teachers who are happy to actually teach us something. Instead, the goal is to foster group discussion through pre-assigned questions in the manual. Such a course does not readily lend itself to teachers actually taking initiative and teaching the class members something of value. In fact, there is almost an anti-teaching sentiment that I have sometimes sensed as an undercurrent in our wards — that if and when a teacher actually tries to teach something, ward members take umbrage and (perhaps out of pride?) get defensive with an attitude of “so and so thinks they know everything or are so smart” etc.

    I experienced this in a BYU ward. It was an Old Testament lesson and the teacher was just following down the manual. We were in Isaiah and I raised my hand with a comment about international relations of the day and particularly relationships with Egypt. The teacher sneered in response something about “oh we have an expert on ancient foreign relations in the class”.

    Or we are familiar with the strange anti-intellectual undercurrent that exists in many wards. According to this undercurrent, intellectual information (i.e. historical context, relevant data or other information) is somehow not pertinent despite the undeniable fact that such information can often greatly enrich people’s understanding of the spiritual and doctrinal points that are to be found in a given selection of text.

    I think a lot of this is borne of pride. People are too proud to learn something from a teacher who has prepared him or herself with additional information and so they close themselves off to the Spirit that is often present in such lessons because they are too busy thinking that the teacher must think so highly of him or herself.

    The post in the link below is an example of the effect that a Sunday School lesson can have when delivered by a teacher who is not afraid to actually teach something to the class:

    http://abev.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/bomb-a-homily-on-deliverance-for-rosh-hashanah/

  31. Kristine (13), I agree with you. I think of teacher preparation as raw material though, much more important than written curriculum. Good curriculum is a nice help though.

    John (22), I deleted a big long boring portion of my comment that covered the “should for some reason God want the teacher to reveal her shopping list” aspect.

    The Spirit isn’t boring. If teachers prepare so that they can teach with the Spirit, lessons will not be boring. And by golly, if class members prepare so they can learn with the Spirit, you’ve got yourself a winner.

  32. I had two wonderful teachers that knocked my socks off. The first one used the lesson manual as a starting point, and prayed until he felt he knew what God wanted him to teach about. If he didn’t get a specific answer, he would wing it and let the class take the discussion where it would go. It was always an amazing lesson, but that was probably just as much due to a huge amount of class participation. But I also think the class participation was in large part due to his style and being willing to leave the manual.

    The second guy was in my branch presidency and whenever he would give a talk (which was pretty often, it was a really small branch), he would ask each of us in the congregation to think of a specific thing we needed help with, or a specific question we wanted answered, and to pray about it. He would actually wait like a minute for us to do that. He would then ask us to try and exercise our faith and believe that God was going to actually answer this question for us right now, this Sunday. Then he’d give his talk. There were 2 or 3 times where I really had life-changing answers given to me in the course of his talks. I think it was two parts – his willingness to speak from the Spirit, believing God would give him words, and my willingness to recieve the Spirit, believing God actually wants to help me. Very knock-my-socks-off.

    But to be honest, I’m not sure I could take that week after week for 3 hours. It’s kind of spiritually draining as well as edifying!

    But I’m in primary now, so my shoes, socks, and often other articles of clothing are regularly knocked off by the 10 Sunbeams I wrangle.

  33. More than the materials or subject matter, I think the problem is the teaching technique, or lack thereof. Teaching adults is hard! Doing it well requires careful thought, preparation, and some degree of training. Handing people a rather slender manual and saying, “Go get ‘em!” is a recipe for failure, a recipe cooked to perfection most Sundays in most wards.

    Successful teaching for adults requires the recognition that attention and effort are scarce commodities, and that most people will only offer them up when given something novel in return. If your teaching technique consists of doing things you’ve seen other church teachers do in the past, you’ve pretty much already failed. The problem is, when everyone in the room has seen everything being done at least once or twice, very little attention or cognitive effort will be paid. I’m a big believer in the Spirit, but I don’t at all believe the proposition that the Spirit can work without us first paying attention.

    So the very first step, which consists of doing something new to get people interested, excited, and engaged, is where most of our lessons fall off. Mainly this is because we don’t teach our instructors how to do this — it can’t be about giving them a grab-bag of very specific teaching ideas, because those will quickly be used up and we’ll be back at square one. Instead, we have to train our instructors in how to make their own personal interests and ideas into teaching opportunities. When the instructor is being most individual, most herself, she is most likely to get real attention from the audience, and therefore most likely to create the circumstances for a spiritual moment.

    I always tell teachers, when I’m in a Sunday School leadership position, that God calls specific people to callings. If he wanted uniformity, he would call computer programs or DVDs. Instead, he calls a specific person with a particular package of life experiences, interests, and idiosyncrasies. Any teacher who isn’t using those to make her lessons engaging and distinctive is holding something essential back from the calling.

  34. The single worst thing a teacher can do is ask a stupid, boring or uninteresting question, and do it with a pensative tone meant to suggest that the question is actually deep and profound. This happens all the time (thanks, at times, to the manuals), it immediately puts everyone to sleep, and it guarantees a lesson with minimal participation and insight.

    It’s been said 1,000 times before (including already in this thread), but it bears repeating: Teachers need to formulate GOOD QUESTIONS — including ones for which they don’t necessarily have the answers — they need to pose them to the class, and they need to try mightily to coax their classmembers into participating in a thoughtful discussion about them.

    Sometimes lecture-format works too, but if you’re not a teacher who knows he or she can pull that off well, best to stick to discussion format, punctuated by shorter injections of substantive info, as appropriate.

    John, I agree with your post, and look forward to the other installments.

  35. Aaron n Idaho says:

    I had a teacher once that would just stop in the middle of a lesson, sometimes mid-sentence and say “I’m trying to figure out what the spirit is trying to tell me.”

    Dead silence in the classroom…

    So be careful with that teaching with the spirit stuff

  36. Having experienced this precise boredom for about the past five years (funny, right around the time I had been a member for five years), I resolved that I would try to improve the situation if ever given the chance. Soon thereafter, I was called to be a Gospel Doctrine teacher. From my brief experience, I can say that one problem is that there are very strong norms in the Church to sticking to the manual, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the manuals are deadly boring and hardly ever change. I determined that it would be impossible (for me) to stick to the manual and give interesting and engaging lessons, so I decided that I would stray from the manual when called for and that I wouldn’t teach anything I don’t believe or that I can’t be passionate about. In short, I decided to teach a lesson the way that I would want to be taught. While I am certain that not everyone will like it, I only teach once a month, so those other folks will get lessons geared towards their style at least a couple of times each month.

    This last week, instead of doing the standard spiel on Moses 1, we talked about where the OT came from, why we use the KJV, what’s wrong with the KJV, what the JST is and isn’t, and I handed out a long list of recommendations for further reading on the OT as well as some alternate translations of the Bible for people in the class to use. We even talked about the vastness and age of the universe, and the number of stars and galaxies in it. I finally tried to bring it home with a spiritual point about how, in the vastness of all this creation, God cares about us individually (visiting Moses and calling him “my son”).

    I wasn’t sure how it was going, since this was very different from any class that I have ever sat in myself. But when I finished, a member of the stake high council (and former BYU professor) approached me and told me that the lesson had been “very educational” for him. That he says this indicates to me that it isn’t just the marginal, Bloggernacle types, the people with too much education and not enough spirituality, who are bored with the status quo. There is a broader hunger out there for something more. By giving this extended example, I don’t mean to hold myself up as some kind of example of great teaching. I have had bad lessons before, and will likely have bad ones in the future. But I seem to have stumbled upon something that works for me (and for at least a couple of other people too).

  37. Aaron n Idaho says:

    I agree with Aaron B – hey that rhymes.

    And would also add the teacher would be better if he / she understands the members and ward needs. The lesson curriculum is meant to be a framework but the focus should be determined by the needs of the ward.

  38. My favorite GD teachers have been two retired older gentleman who poured hours of time, thought, and research into each lesson. For my own lessons, I don’t have that kind of time, so I have to focus on the discussion. I try to get really personal early in the lesson to get the class members to let their own guards down and share their own personal stuff.

    My dream is to one day substitute a prayer group for a lesson and go through the entire class, with each member praying aloud in turn until we’ve used up 30 minutes, and then spending 10 minutes testifying as a class. I wonder what would come out of such a meeting? Someday I’ll be brave enough to try it in class.

  39. john f:
    “What we are missing in the Church these days is teachers who are happy to actually teach us something. Instead, the goal is to foster group discussion through pre-assigned questions in the manual.”

    I think the root problem is “through pre-assigned questions in the manual.” Group discussion itself is often more educational than a lecture. I’ll grant you that a stellar lecture by a knowledgeable lecturer might be the best of all possible options, but in practice, if we tried to get everyone to deliver these, a large number of our lessons would constitute repackaged McConkie rants delivered by teachers high on dogma and low on thoughtfulness. So I aim lower, and just hope for interesting discussions where insights prevail.

    Still, I think you’re right about the anti-intellectual, anti-teaching undercurrent in our classrooms, and I confess that maybe I am inappropriately catering to it by suggesting the approach that I am.

  40. Rhetorical questions. I hate them in Sunday School.

    For several years I was lucky enough to be in a ward with SS lessons that I learned from, and thought about. It couldn’t last forever. I think it always helps to have 2-4 GD teachers so you get a variety of lesson styles, questions, etc.

  41. I would suggest to anyone wanting to teach or hear better lessons to read “Teaching by the Spirit” by Gene R. Cook. It has changed the course of my discipleship. Following its way of thought is scary, but it definitely leads to knock-your-socks-off testimonies, lessons, talks and life.

    When I find myself in boring lessons, I try to focus on how I can support the teacher better by inviting the Spirit by volunteering to help or making Spirit-inspired comments. Sometimes, that means nothing more than sitting attentively and smiling at the teacher. It’s not a panacea for boredom, and some teachers actually have disliked that participation, but it has helped immensely.

  42. Aaron n Idaho says:

    Sometimes I find it frustrating that we don’t spend more time talking about real life stuff. What is the point of spending so much time discussing gospel principles if they don’t translate into some kind of real life application?

  43. Aaron B., I don’t actually mean a lecture. I know it’s a long post but check out that ABEV post to see what I mean. The teacher was actually teaching something by tying the scriptures to stuff he had learned and to insights he had gained while studying the assigned reading for that particular lesson — particularly the connection to 1 Nephi 1:20 (this was a lesson focusing on Alma 56) — but in doing so, he was fostering the right kind of discussion. You will see from that post that many of the key insights came from class members who were riffing off the tune that was established by the teacher’s initiative in teaching us something real about the stripling warriors.

  44. I respond well to candy bars. Not the fun size or bite size variety, mind you–only a full size bar will motivate my participation.

    I do miss those days, just after my mission, when I was motivated week after week to simply make all meetings a living source of gospel inspiration for myself through sheer desire and effort. Whenever I read posts like this, I feel the need to give better effort on my own, independent of what the boring schlub up front is babbling about.

    Thanks for a good one, Crawdaddy.

  45. I would bag Sunday School all together.

    The “Old Testament” isn’t really a study of the “Old Testament”, but teaching LDS gospel principles using selective quotes from the Old Testament. Similarly, the “D&C” didn’t really delve too much into the D&C, but taught LDS gospel principles using selective scriptures from the D&C. With Priesthood / RS / etc. now also teaching Gospel Principles, what is the point of even having Sunday School?

    Also, while comments are mentioned about “augmenting” the lesson, we are also frequently told that we should stick to the basics, avoid straying too far from the manual, etc.

  46. Class discussions are much better when people participate.

    All the people saying this must have different people in their wards than I do. For me, SS is boring when the teacher is talking, but it becomes infuriating or exasperating when people start commenting.

    JNS nails it in #33, the problem is primarily pedagogical.

  47. james,
    I think there is actually plenty of meat being taught (Moses 1, for instance, is powerful stuff). It’s just regurgitated meat (more on that tomorrow). I also think the basics are fascinating, hence my excitement whenever General Conference rolls around.

    PeterLLC,
    I agree that it is important to non-intimidating. I think that if we emphasized non-intimidation in another arena, then we wouldn’t have to be worry about non-intimidation in Sunday School.

    Steve,
    They don’t require delving into scripture, but it is always useful to have the scriptures as a ground.

    kevinf,
    I agree that the bulk of the problem in any given bad Sunday School class is the combo of student and teacher. However, I wanted to talk about the thing I can’t change which is the manual. Like Ahab and Moby Dick.

    Also, I am glad to hear that the new P/RS manual is more outlinely, which I think will help. I just don’t have mine yet.

    Natalie,
    I’m getting there on all your points. I think that the reason you don’t see more argument in Sunday School is because of a legitimate fear of the Spirit of the Devil being contention. Luckily, that’s never stopped us on blogs. ;)

    alex,
    Certainly active participation is helpful and necessary. This series is me trying to suggest ways to encourage it.

    Roger,
    Part of your comment seems to imply that many people would prefer to be bored. Either I’m misreading you or humanity.

    mhw,
    yes, that.

    Coffinberry,
    His point was that we should be open to the spirit. Even in boring lessons we don’t care about (or are openly irritated by). I agree.

    Moriah,
    There is meat and there is meat. I agree that there is little encouragement to innovate in how lessons are often taught.

    Sidebottom,
    That is too bad.

    John F.,
    I agree that we need to pour more into teaching our lessons. Context, historical or otherwise, is critical. More on Thursday and thanks for the link.

  48. I remember one SS teacher I had as a young married who at the end of every lesson turned it to an inspiring invitation to read the Book of Mormon every day. That leads to what helps SS for me-when there is a specific invitation-spirit filled to change my life. Sometimes SS turns into what those people over there should be doing. Or what I call the “those people and their awful tattoo” lessons…as if the bunch of grey hairs discussing it really need to learn not to get a tattoo.

  49. Cynthia L. says:

    Some good insights in the comments. I tend to agree with madhousewife that the basics aren’t necessarily boring. After a few years of snooze in GD, one of the best things I did was go hang out in Gospel Principles class for a summer home from college. Going over the fundamental truths of the gospel was so much more spiritually filling than what I was used to.

    I wonder, though, if much of what made it really exhilarating is that the class member demographic includes people who are just discovering these precious truths for the first time. The enthusiasm and sense of wonder are contagious. I suppose it remains to be seen if the environment will be recreated just transplanting the curriculum into the GD crowd.

  50. Cynthia L. says:

    Aaron B #34: so, so true.

  51. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Teachers:

    Do you know the name of every student in your class?

    Do you keep track of who doesn’t attend your class and honestly ask yourself what role your teaching plays in their absence?

    Can you respond to questions with respect and validation, or do they distract from your presentation?

    Can you lovingly challenge or critique your class members when folk doctrines or politics creep into their comments?

    Do you have a testimony of how Sunday School can both increase knowledge and forge social unity?

    Do you ever measure the effectiveness of your teaching by asking how many of your students have brought their manuals and read the lesson in advance?

    Do you hold yourself accountable when certain students in your class look bored or never offer comments?

    General Church Leadership:

    Who did you think was going to continue coordinating teacher training in the wards and branches once you discontinued the calling of Teacher Improvement Coordinator?

    Without your continuing encouragement, how many wards and branches still offer the Teaching the Gospel course on an annual basis?

    Why have you allowed the Teaching, No Greater Call manual to languish in relative obscurity when it could prove so useful in improving teaching and learning throughout the church?

    Why have you done so little to counter the reputation that Sunday School Presidencies have acquired in recent decades of calling teachers and then going on autopilot?

    Will the forthcoming revised edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions finally clarify the authority, mission, and responsibilities of Sunday School, and eliminate the confusion that has resulted from piecemeal changes and often inconsistent instructions issued through First Presidency letters, guidelines on church web sites, and outdated handbooks?

  52. This is interesting. I teach GD in a YSA ward – we CAN’T get rid of SS! I think it’s really important to have a venue for mixed-gender gospel discussion, particularly in a ward with many younger women who haven’t served missions and may be initimated by such discourse – it’s a good opportunity.

    As noted above, well worded questions are the key to a good discussion, as least in my experience. And discussion is important – lectures should not be attempted by the unqualified (by which I mean me). I work my backside off trying to present thoughtful, interesting lessons without being pedantic or boring. Have you ever tried teaching 50 YSA, many of whom have the attitude that your gender affects your ability to present gospel knowledge?

  53. Enna,
    good comment. I like your descriptions and thank you for them.

    JNS,
    stop stealing my Thursday material. ;)

    Aaron B,
    I would say that you can asks questions for which you don’t have the answer, but you shouldn’t ask questions for which you don’t have an answer. Other than that, great minds…

    AHLDuke,
    That sounds like a wonderful lesson and you sound like a wonderful teacher. I’ll just assume that everything that you said about the OT was wrongheaded, though. ;)

    Aaron n Idaho,
    Agreed that there is nothing wrong with praying about your class’s needs.

    Also, I like real world application, but I think, in Sunday School, it should be relatable to scripture.

    Kyle M,
    Let us know if you ever do it. I’d be curious.

    SilverRain,
    Thanks for the recommendation. Knock your socks offism is always welcome and things that contribute to it are too.

    Scott,
    I think that food bribery should be encouraged in adult Sunday School. People would be more relaxed and open after a communal meal. Also, adults are less likely to spill goldfish everywhere.

    Mike,
    That’s tomorrow and Thursday’s post. Glad we’re in agreement.

    Jacob J.,
    I’ve been there. I’ll try and deal with it on Thu.

  54. mormon metamucil says:

    I am perpetually bored at church as well, but it helped me to realize that perhaps education and learning are not the goal of Sunday School or other classes. Instead, it seems the classes are to encourage obedience, set forth the orthodox view, and persuade those that can be persuaded to believe in the church. I am not trying to cast those goals in a negative light; i am just casting doubt on the whole underlying assumption of this post and some comments that the block classes are an intended to educate about doctrine, the text, or truth. You can’t fault them for doing a poor job of accomplishing something they are not meant to accomplish. If I think of the lessons more as advertisements, it reduces my need to rant.

  55. britt,
    I hate those lessons, too.

    Cynthia,
    I think that personal enthusiasm (and group enthusiasm) is critical to making the lessons useful. So, I think you are right to see your neighbors as having an effect on your experience.

    Sterling,
    I don’t think accusatory questions to the brethren are the way to go here, but as I doubt they read this blog, I don’t think that the questions will achieve your goal.

    Martine,
    I’ve taught Sunday School to 12-13 year olds which I submit as my personal Waterloo (I’ve been told that some of those kids loved my teaching, but I never saw it when I taught).

    Nearly caught up. After I catch up, I’m gonna stop paying attention for a while so I can finish the posts.

  56. As JNS (#33) and Jacob J (#46) both note, the central problem for why “everybody hates Sunday School” (which is a false statement, but true enough to work with) is, in the end, pedagogical:

    Teaching adults is hard! Doing it well requires careful thought, preparation, and some degree of training.

    That goes the same for whatever role one imagines testimony or the Holy Spirit to play in Sunday School teaching. If one does one’s homework and preparation beforehand, spiritual support is more readily available. If one has been trained in and/or has had more experience in teaching, then identifying and building upon those spiritual moments comes easier.

    Of course, we know all this when it comes to music: despite much talk about music being primarily a spiritual complement to our worship meetings, no one would dream of calling someone without real, worldly-gained skill or talent in music to sing in sacrament meeting, or play the piano for Relief Society. But when it comes to teaching, it appears that actual knowledge of pedagogy is irrelevant.

  57. StillConfused says:

    I have only had one Sunday School teacher who did not BORE the socks off of me. He was a heretic and would go off on these crazy tangents. He never asked the boring canned questions.

    My experience with GD class has otherwise been very boring; same script; same answers; with the exception of that blow hard who makes random statements to try to prove how smart he thinks he is (“When you compare Moses to Michael you find that blah blah blah whatever whatever”)

    It is true that the brand of the church is to be very simple, very repetitive and very uniform. I have to admit that I simply cannot take it anymore. And since the scriptures don’t change that often, there doesn’t seem to be any change in the lessons on the horizon.

    My favorite Sunday School to watch is this random preacher lady on TV. Don’t know who she is but she is on the channel that my son falls asleep to. She gives interesting stories, anecdotes, empowering messages, etc. She isn’t overly cheesy or asking for money like those other tv evangelists. Too bad we can’t have some of those.

  58. mm,
    I don’t deny that those are among the primary purposes of Sunday School. I think that they could be better accomplished if we treat our Sunday School lessons as, primarily, lessons.

  59. RAF,
    Whom the Lord calls, he qualifies. That’s why I sing in the choir ;)

    SC,
    While crazy is always interesting, I don’t think it is a good pedagogical model.

  60. If a teacher is lackluster or if a class is listless – it doesn’t have to mean that the class is boring – IF you are willing to become engaged and offer thought-provoking comments.

    Frankly, I don’t see how the class would be bearable otherwise.

    When I say thought-provoking comments, I don’t mean making comments that are deliberately controversial or divisive. I just mean that there’s usually a way to offer up some personal insight or experience or something that sparks discussion and that makes the teacher and class attendees lift up their heads.

    If even one person in a class has something interesting to say, it will usually spark (interesting) responses from others in the room. My experience with the members of the church is that they want to be interested and they want to be engaged. I really don’t think anyone wants to just sit there killing time. Yes, they might appear bored or listless or tired – but that can be changed pretty quickly with a little bit of caring effort.

    There are many things about the Church that are always the same but individual members of the church are unique and have unique ways of understanding and implementing those teachings in their own lives. If you want to hear something new or at least something that is interesting, the key is find ways to get the members to share themselves and the ways they relate to the Gospel.

  61. Steve Evans says:

    Sterling, your questions are making me laugh out loud.

  62. StillConfused: “I have to admit that I simply cannot take it anymore. And since the scriptures don’t change that often, there doesn’t seem to be any change in the lessons on the horizon.” And yet, you state “with the exception of that blow hard who makes random statements to try to prove how smart he thinks he is”. Based on that latter, I am guessing there really is no way to make Sunday School interesting for you if your view is that someone who is trying to make interesting comparisons and draw some meaningful insights out of the text is just a blowhard for you who is trying to show how smart he thinks he is! No one likes a teacher that knows more than the students, right?

  63. I’ve had times in my life where that “sameness” mentioned in the OP bores me to tears. I’ve had a SS teacher who was so uncomfortable being in front of a group that he downloaded “inspiring” stories from those e-mails that people send around and cut them up in strips and passed them out as we each took our turn reading them. For the whole hour.

    And I’ve had great SS teachers who came prepared and included interesting historical stuff in their lessons that made me want to come prepared and to participate. There have been times when that is just what I wanted from SS.

    Right now all I want is a few minutes of peace and to feel the spirit enough to get through the coming week. Right now, for me, that mostly happens through the music in sacrament meeting, and through people teaching the simple basics.

    So I guess it’s all about me :-)

  64. Kyle (38) re: Prayer meeting. Wow…I wish. It’s really strange to me, having spent the last year visiting other churches (after being raised LDS and never setting foot inside any other church), how much we do not pray together, other than our standard, “Open meeting prayer A”, “End meeting Prayer B”, “Visiting teacher prayer 2b”. It is so disheartening to me that we do not tap into this most basic, foundational, and powerful of practices.

    I think that one of the big problems with how our lessons are approached is that it is always with pre-decided conclusions, rather than actually looking to see what the scriptural text might say. The end is already in mind, and the manuals are there to just point out scriptures that will support the approved conclusion. So, that’s the part where the lesson manual really fails us. The other part, in having such usually unmotivated, rarely well-studied teachers, no unique or personal connections are made with the material. I would love to see it go so far even as to forget the cross-references in our LDS standard scriptures, and instead, discuss what cross references have others found in their own scripture reading. This is where teacher prep, and student prep really come in. Whatever it is that is the text for next week’s lesson….what themes are in the story? What phrases? What people, what objects, what actions? Where have those showed up in other places in the scriptures? Our own lives? To heck with standard cross references, old GA quotes, and themed gospel principles.
    Britt (48), re: discussing issues that aren’t really an issue for most members as a cover for “isn’t the world so evil” and “aren’t we so much better than them?” Yeah….big problem in our ward, and I just roll my eyes. We know that swearing/drinking/tatooes is such a problem for this population, yeah. But gossip? Judgement? Unwillingness to serve? Those aren’t discussed.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    One problem with trying to ask interesting questions from the peanut gallery is that that is often discouraged. Our new GD teacher this past Sunday announced that we weren’t going to talk about the “mysteries” of the Bible, but rather about basic principles. So if someone has an actual substantive question about the reading assignment, that posture discourages her from actually raising it in that class.

    I’ve taught GD in three different wards, and whether deserved or not I had a rep as an excellent teacher. (One time I was subbing for awhile, and I noticed that people were actually peeking through the door to see whether I was teaching before they would commit to coming in the room.) I used a variety of methods, including a fair amount of lecture. But I’ve long been a passionate student of the scriptures, and I would always way overprepare the lessons, so that I would be ready to discuss any question or issue anyone wanted to raise. I think most people really enjoyed that environment, where anything related to rhe reading was fair game. But it was kind of tough on me; I’d pour blood, sweat and tears into a lesson, finish teaching it, and realize I had to start all over again for next week. I found that I could only last as a GD teacher for about 2-1/2 years before reaching serious burn-out. But it was always fun while it lasted.

  66. Sterling Fluharty says:

    John C.: This post might attract their attention if we have BYU readers. Most of the General Sunday School Presidency members are professors there. I honestly want the church to do a better job at promoting teaching and learning. Isn’t it appropriate sometimes to chastise those we love?

    Steve Evans: I’m glad to provide your humor for the day. :-) Just let me know if you need any more good laughs. I have plenty more questions.

  67. Natalie B. says:

    Another issue: There needs to be multiple Sunday School teachers so that everyone has a chance at being exposed to a style that suits them and so that we don’t hear the same voice for years. Having multiple teachers would also reduce the work load so that people could spend more time on lessons and give more people callings.

  68. 66: The new second counselor in the General Sunday School Presidency is an excellent teacher (one of the best I had at BYU, and certainly the best religion teacher). Hopefully some of his wisdom gets passed on to the rest of the church.
    My personal notes from his class also mention that he’s a Styx fan…
    :)

  69. Haven’t read the comments. Our socks don’t need to be knocked off. Our hearts need to be touched by the Spirit on a weekly basis. This is the point of Sunday School, Sacrament, and Priesthood. This attempt to knock the socks off the people in attendance is one of the problems Evangelical churches face when they bring in rock bands to keep the energy alive in their meetings. That’s what I think.

  70. Bro. Jones says:

    At the risk of pride, I hold myself forward as a really good GD teacher.* I don’t have my outline handy to copy/paste, but basically I told the class how I wanted to approach each lesson: 1) Read and understand the scriptures at the most basic linguistic level (i.e. make sure everyone follows the KJV language and knows what is being said), 2) Understand the historical or cultural context where appropriate, and most importantly 3) be guided by the Spirit as to how to apply the scriptures in our daily lives.

    I prepared extensively for each lesson to provide material for 1 and 2 (which was never in the manual), and I would prayerfully develop good questions to lead the class in discussion towards goal #3. Almost always went well, people were appreciative, and good discussion (including friendly disagreements) resulted. I miss that calling, not least because I’ve been a student in pretty terrible “straight out of the manual” GD classes since then.

    * Totally awful prideful moment: I taught every other week, switching off with a co-teacher who basically read each word out of the manual. One particular Sunday, a group of class members saw me sitting towards the back and asked, “Aren’t you teaching today?” When I said no, one of them loudly said, “He’s not teaching today, it’s Sister D. Let’s go to Gospel Essentials.” I felt really bad for Sister D, but totally caught up in the pride of my heart. ;)

  71. Crownbrown says:

    Church is meant to be a devotional, revelatory experience, not a ground-breaking exercise in theological speculation. If we (and I am very guilty) were bringing our friends, both inactive and investigating, to church as we know we should we would all be pleading for milk every week. I know I did as a missionary bringing my investigators to church.

    That being said, milk is not the same things as preconceived answers and conclusions. For example, this last Sunday we were discussing Moses 1 and the only sincere, searching question came from *shocker* the one investigator in the room. She asked very humbly why God allows babies to be suffer. All around she received pat answers about trials are for our benefit and growth, answers which completely ignore the fact that little babies who suffer, are tortured or worse, are not spiritually maturing from such terrible realities. It wasn’t until someone talked about the ambiguity, a willingness to admit there isn’t a clear answer but that we know that God suffers along with them and for some reason permits it that she seemed satisfied. The pat answer was too flat and inappropriate to so sincere a question.

    This what #5 above mentioned: What if you aren’t financially/physically blessed for paying tithing? It is in juxtaposing the basic doctrines of the gospel with real-world, real-life emotions and problems and questions that the devotional experience of Sunday school comes alive without feeling the need to dabble in anything fringe or speculative.

  72. Terrakota says:

    I’d rather hear basics than how our SS teacher fasted like Jesus Christ for 40 days, or how numerous people receive revelations “bigger” than Joseph Smith, or how the world consists of “vibrations”, what new information we have on aura, or how branch and district prieshood leaders completely suck.

    Luckily, I’m in Primary.

  73. Bro. Jones says:

    Oh, and I would always introduce the throwaway questions in a cheesy way. As in, “Everybody in class, what’s the lesson here? Repeat after me: TITHING GOOD, NOT TITHING BAD. Great, we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how we’ve actually been strengthened or challenged by the commandment of tithing.”

  74. Terrakota says:

    Lessons on tithing are always among the best, loved, and most spiritual. Where I live Church members are usually not very well off fiancially, and so a lot of testimonies are being born how tithing brought about miracles.

  75. I’m like Tim (#6 and #25): I learn most, after many cycles of the same 4 GD manuals, from insightful comments by class members (especially those who prepared!) rather than teachers. And I like Sterling’s (#51) questions for teachers. GD teachers seldom do the kind of things that make youth SunSch, Primary, YM and YW teachers most effective, such as:
    – take steps to reach out, outside of class, to students, including making specific assignments to individuals to prepare to discuss particular parts of the lesson;
    – call on students by name, including those who don’t raise their hands, and especially ones whose life experience is likely to produce responses that are out of the LDS-ordinary;
    – reinforce good comments, and covert not-so-good ones into valuable points.
    Of course, it’s hard to do these things in a class that includes pretty much all the adults in the ward. How was it that we got into the rut of having a single GD class, anyway?
    These days I spend more time in Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine. And I learn there about as often as I do in GD. Why? Because loving teachers who care for individual students help those student share insights that I haven’t received.

  76. Glenn Smith says:

    I was called in Oct. ’09 as Gospel Doctrine teacher for the youth in our ward, then all four of them, now all six. The councilor who called me knows me well and was understanding when I told him I would liven up the classes. I recommend this article:

    Creativity in the Classroom, LeRoy Barney, Liahona & probably Ensign April 1978
    “The fears of the superintendency seemed to be well-founded when Brother Arvin appeared for his first lesson with two large suitcases in tow. From past experience, they knew these leather-covered boxes could have contained anything from crumpled newspapers to a live snake.”

    Unfortunately, outside of a pet store, I don’t know where to get a live snake in January in Southern Alberta. It would add “color” to the creation lesson.

    John, it seems to boil down to students being personally prepared for class, with scriptures, study material and serious questions in hand. Perhaps we need a third Sunday School class, or a monthly “fireside” for the experienced members to have serious, extraordinary discussions about gospel topics {Note – I did not say church topics.} Can we do such a thing without being elitist?
    Anyways, I’m all for questions from persons seeking real answers, and not just trying to be disruptive.

  77. “Perhaps we need a third Sunday School class, or a monthly “fireside” for the experienced members to have serious, extraordinary discussions about gospel topics”

    That would be great, even if I only understood half of it. I may be too busy for homemaking (or whatever they call it now), but I would look forward to that every month.

  78. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Tim: I admired his teaching too. He was a great example of infectious enthusiasm. His high rate of spoken words per minute always made me smile too.

  79. Terrakota says:

    “there is no reason why our meetings shouldn’t knock our socks off”

    Sometimes you hear something simple that you’ve heard before 100 times, and this 101st time it strikes you. For a completely incomprehensible reason.

  80. Bro. Jones says:

    #79 True, but I dare you to find someone who had that epiphany at lesson 101 when it was read, verbatim, out of the manual–in the most boring, tired voice possible.

  81. Another difficulty I have is the infrequent mention of the Savior. We can go through a whole tithing lesson, discuss a book of scripture or principle and seem to entirely forget that maybe throwing Jesus’ name in here or there atleast as a token mention would be nice.

    I like the tithing good, not tithing bad approach

  82. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Natalie B: I totally agree. The Teaching the Gospel class, like many of our youth classes, is designed for no more than 10 to 12 students. We could have so much more participation with smaller classes for adults in Sunday School.

  83. #33 Instead, he calls a specific person with a particular package of life experiences, interests, and idiosyncrasies. Any teacher who isn’t using those to make her lessons engaging and distinctive is holding something essential back from the calling.

    Really good point, JNS. I had not thought of it that way.

    AHLDuke #36 I decided that I would stray from the manual when called for and that I wouldn’t teach anything I don’t believe or that I can’t be passionate about. In short, I decided to teach a lesson the way that I would want to be taught.

    I have a friend who is a GD teacher who has the same basic approach. I would love to be in her class, but she’s not in my ward.

    Mike S #45 I would bag Sunday School all together.

    Dare to dream, indeed.

    Although I do see the definite benefits of mixed-gender discussions, I think I could get by with the occasional combined RS/PH session. I just really loathe Sunday School, though, and being at church for 3 hours because I’m lazy and selfish. It doesn’t matter anyway, though, because Sunday School will always be with us. Until maybe when the earth is glorified and receives its paradisiacal glory.

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Glenn Smith no. 76, thank you for referring to my father’s article, “Creativity in the Classroom.” The Liahona reprint you mention is here:

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=334a5991d66db010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    It was originally published in the Ensign, I’m pretty sure in the first year of its existence, but for some reason it’s not in the Ensign archive at lds.org. (It was also republished in the first edition of Teaching, No Greater Call, but was not included in the current second edition.)

    Maybe the powers that be in the Church no longer wish to encourage creativity in church classrooms…

    No. 75, regarding calling on people in class, I personally only called on people who volunteered. I’ve known too many people who were deathly afraid of being called on, and I wanted them to feel comfortable sitting in my class.

  85. A) I think the problem here are that there are too many commenters who really hate SS. Is there anyone here who *loves* SS and can share why they love it?

    B) The most boring wards are the suburban wards. Trust me. I’ve lived in 15 wards in 20 years. The best wards are the small wards. The inner-city wards, the small-town wards.

    If you’re talking about diversity, maybe. But I would say that the teaching is substandard in small branches that don’t have a critical base of teachers. Suburban wards tend to be filled with a lot of people with nothing better to do than work on a lesson, which makes for better lessons.

    C) Serious thought — should we recommend to teachers how much time they put into lessons? I know teachers who put 20 hours into a lesson (they don’t teach every week/team teach) and you can tell the preparation is there…

  86. Mr Andersen says:

    All in all, I agree with you. In fact, I often complain to my wife that Church should simply be reduced to 2 hours (if I had my way, even less).

    The substance of most of the official Church lessons, and the depth of the discussion questions that go along with those lessons, has, very rarely, justified the time allotted. With very few exceptions, everything that in most lessons could be said in 10 minutes or less.

    In any event, for good or bad, I’m in the habit of bringing books and papers to church now. You might say I ought to just go home after sacrament, but, besides the fact that church is extremely boring, I do still want to be part of the community, serve the ward, and get announcements about things. So, I stay, with my own literature.

  87. I live in a place where I really love SS and it’s almost always because of the dynamic in the class where the class is trusted and invited to participate. Which means, as others have mentioned, good questions. Lecture style, imo, so often does not work well. In my view, what makes it work well is when the teachers don’t try too hard to be the *source* of a “good lesson” but let the class discuss and discover together. One of my huge pet peeves is when there is too much, “We need to get through the lesson” mentality and not enough “We need to experience the Spirit” approach.

    I love the application focus of the teaching we are encouraged to have, because then it isn’t an intellectual competition of who knows more, but an invitation to look for specific guidance and answers and experiences with the Spirit from engaging the scriptures. It’s recognizing that whole “Every time I read the scriptures I see something new” possibility. Teaching with and by the Spirit can help the scriptures become that kind of thing even in a classroom, with each person experiencing something maybe a little different because the Spirit is teaching (I agree with whoever mentioned Elder Scott’s talk — I was so interested in the message that it doesn’t matter how awful or off the teacher is, the Spirit can teach us if we seek His guidance).

    I also so appreciate honest questions. When a unit’s hearts are knit together and people are willing to open their hearts to such things, I think classes can become a sacred space.

  88. John C.,
    “Part of your comment seems to imply that many people would prefer to be bored. Either I’m misreading you or humanity.”

    Misreading me.
    It’s not that many people prefer to be bored; it’s that some people prefer not to be intellectually stimulated in church. They prefer different kinds of stimulation, e.g. emotional or aesthetic. Interestingly, some of these people are very bright and engage in intellectual pursuits outside of church. The point is that you can’t please everyone.

  89. My problem with SS classes is that I don’t believe that the Schutzstaffel should have any part of our religious instruction. But maybe that’s just me.

  90. Bro. Jones says:

    #85 Basically what m&m said in #87. Neither teachers nor students have to be perfect, but if there’s room to breathe, think, ask, and listen, the Spirit will fall upon the people in a classroom, and the class will be great.

    If the teacher refuses to go off of a predefined script–whether that script originates in the manual or not–or if the students refuse to listen to each other or be willing to learn, then a Sunday School class is unedifying at best and boring misery at worst.

  91. StillConfused says:

    I routinely teach other attorneys about estate planning and tax issues. Just that sentence alone will make many of you fall asleep. But when I teach, I throw in zingers and give interesting stories and such so that the class stays alive and fresh. In addition, the questions solicited tend to be more specific rather than about pat answers. In other words, it isn’t the subject matter; it really isn’t even the students (I teach to attorneys after all); it is about presenting the material in a way that keeps people engaged.

  92. StillConfused says:

    My approach to teaching and giving talks at church is really different. I will tell a story about something that happened in my life — the motorcyclist who wrecked into my car on the freeway; the unlicensed pilot who crashed and died when I was an air traffic controller. Something that really draws the people in. Then once I have them hooked on the story, I “sneak a little Jesus in on them” by turning the story into a parable of sorts. That makes the discussion more lively because there is an actual situation to reference rather than just pat questions and answers.

  93. I will agree with JNS that pedagogy is the issue here (at least the most likely and prevalent issue). I have watched my wife who has been teaching professionally for about 20 years, and she is constantly working to upgrade her skills as a teacher. She’s really, really good, but it is not just a natural talent or gift; she has worked and studied and read about HOW TO TEACH. Over the last five or six years she has dramatically changed her teaching style at school, with a result that she has felt that her students ability to learn has increased along with her own improvements (corroborated by test scores).

    Teaching takes skilz, and they can be learned. The church manuals that we have do include information that allows a total non-teacher to be able to give a lesson, but once you get beyond that, how do you become more effective?

    As someone else pointed out, the current lack of focus on teacher development is hurting our teaching. Anyone (almost) can teach, but every teacher can become a better teacher. The real improvement comes with training, observation, group discussions about what works and what doesn’t, reading about teaching practice and theory, and critical review of your teaching by competent mentors. Bring back Teacher Development in our wards and stakes.

  94. Steve Evans says:

    Kevinf, I just don’t believe that teacher development classes make good teachers.

  95. So many good suggestions here for both teacher and student. All I can really add is that for both student and teacher something that works for one person may not work for another. Be willing to experiment and figure out what works best for you. Both teaching and learning can be improved.

    But the basic structural issues remain: the diversity of preparation, needs, and desires of the students in church classes; and the (really rather unique) challenge of teaching the same material over and over again. It’s much easier teaching a group of students who are learning something for the first time, especially when they have at least some minimal motivation to learn. But given the context of the students and the material in most adult church lessons, lessons that are fabulous for some may variously be insipid, tendentious, overreaching, manipulative, vapid, off-base, etc., etc. for others.

  96. I recently taught in High Priests class from “teachings for our Time” – The talk was about Elder Scott’s address from last conference. There is so much insight in this talk about personal revelation. He uses two teaching examples one where the teacher is sincere but struggles to communicate effectively with the class. The other was a a teacher who appeared to be more intent on impressing the class rather than teaching them with the Spirit.

    Elder Scott’s reaction to both and what he learned from two lessons from opposite spectrums is a huge lesson for us about how we can gain strength, instruction and guidance when the teaching isn’t as it should. He describes the experiences he gained from these lessons as “life changing”.

    Personally I try an apply his thoughts on questions like those posed here.

  97. Peter LLC says:

    gst, you’re forgetting that the battlefield tactics can help us better understand the BoM.

  98. I teach university science courses and gospel doctrine. At the university, the students ask most of the questions once the semester has progressed a little while. In GD, I ask most of the questions. I find that odd, since I think the gospel is a much more challenging topic than anything covered in my science courses.

    Not to diminish its great interest and utility, but I don’t find that I need lots of cultural background or knowledge outside the manual, but real discussion about the gospel and the challenges of living a Christ centered life always brings the spirit and is never boring. Of course it is hard to get people to talk about that sort of thing. Cliche answers that hide the real challenges of faithful living often overwhelm those conversations.

  99. If our expectation is to be wowed every week, we are probably setting ourselves up for a failed experience.

    Who ever said that church should be entertaining? I think we can all learn something even from the most boring, ill-prepared instructor, if he/she has a desire to convey something that is important to them and does so from the heart.

    I like an address that Elder Bednar gave a few years ago in which he addresses the student or learners responsibility. It is easy to point to poor teaching as the problem, but I think we would all get more mileage from focusing on what we each can do ourselves to benefit from what is offered…

  100. I wish I could attend gospel doctrine once in a while. I have almost always been in the YM or been a SS teacher of a youth class or both. I look back on being able to simply attend a gospel doctrine class with great fondness.

    My memory of the good teachers I saw were those that created some kind of human connection to the material: The lesson material caused them to reflect on something in their lives which was meaningful and which they shared with the class, generating interest and discussion. Those kind of classes were always good and always over way too soon.

    I always try to do the same in teaching my class. I have the 12-13 yr olds. Holding their interest for the whole class period is tough (though not as hard as when I had the 16-17 yr olds). They need stories from your life to illustrate the principles you are teaching. If you don’t have stories from your life, use stories from other people’s lives. But don’t read them! You have to tell them in an interesting way that solicits their input and comments. Once you do that they will jump in with their own stories and it becomes a great class.

  101. I went to Teacher Development classes when I was a Primary teacher. I wanted to be a better teacher. (I pretty much suck at it.) All I got out of the classes, though, was that I needed to have the Spirit to teach effectively, and I thought, “Well, that ain’t happening anytime soon.” I was released shortly after that, though, so it stopped being a concern for me.

  102. gst also forgets that Adolf Hitler used to attend Primary when he was a little boy.

    As long as we’re talking initials, doesn’t anybody else think it amusing to talk about the “best GD Sunday school teacher I ever had.” Reminds me of Patton’s response to the chaplains, that he read from his Bible “every GD day!”

  103. All I can say is that it’s unfortunate that the initials for Gospel Doctrine and Gosh Darn are the same.

    Or, maybe it’s fortunate, depending on how amused one can be by the interposition of meanings.

  104. Natalie B. says:

    In re #101: So, seriously, what does it mean to teach with the spirit? We rely on this phrase a lot, but, as 101 points out, I don’t think I have ever sat in a GD class that felt spiritual. When people use this term, do they mean that they pray about and put forth effort into their lessons, or do they think that as they are teaching we will all feel our bosoms burn?

  105. Natalie B. says:

    Another thought concerning teacher preparation: I have sometimes witnessed what I consider to be the problem of too much teacher preparation. Teachers who speak too much, don’t let discussions unfold, or otherwise dominate the lesson also end up boring people and/or disincentivizing the audience to participate. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the solution is to demand more preparation: Instead, I echo the comments about wanting a different kind of dialogue–one centered on genuine questions and responses as supposed to canned answers.

  106. Natalie B. says:

    One more question: Why does RS have to focus around a lesson anyway? Has RS time ever been used for more hands-on service? I would love an hour in which I could truly get to know, support, or serve other church members. In the current block schedule, there is never any time for just visiting with people.

  107. Natalie B, isn’t that was Enrichment is for? (seriously)

  108. I don’t expect the Church to provide my spiritual nourishment, so I’m not disappointed by Sunday School and PH – at least not very often.

  109. Natalie B. says:

    #107: Why should fellowshipping be limited to Enrichment? In all seriousness, I think I would be a lot more spiritual fed at church if I had time to visit with others rather than hear a lesson, because while I don’t feel spiritually engaged during our lessons, I do feel the spirit when I feel like I can be of service to people or just let them know that they have a friend. The times when I leave church with the most spirit/emphasize on Christ-like qualities are when I spend an hour in the hallway talking to someone about their life or have felt that I was able to use my talents to do something for others.

  110. #94,

    Steve,

    What can we do to make teachers better? I ask as a Sunday School President.

  111. #109- I second that emotion. I’ve wondered what it would be like if, instead of holding meetings just for the sake of having a meeting, we were to use that time to accomplish a specific goal for the betterment of our community. Like doing/planning a literacy campaign, or clothing drive, or program to forge stronger ties with other denominations in the area. You know, that love your neighbor Jesus stuff.

  112. I agree w/Natalie that we don’t have much fellowshipping time, we are rushed and we are encouraged sometimes to be quiet for promoting reverance.

    For Sun School, my favorite GD lessons are from a teacher who often uses Conference talks to support points. she also uses great insightful questions, ones that make you think. The teacher respects all comments as well.

    One thing that is hard for me in that class is everyone always seems so smart, I feel quite inadequate in making comments because I feel like the dumbest person in the class.

  113. As has been mentioned a few times already, class size is a big issue. Large classes default to lecture mode, and while individuals might contribute to the presentation, actual discussions are difficult, if not impossible.

    This can create a negative feedback loop, where people don’t want to contribute because the setting is too intimidating / impersonal, and because fewer people contribute, the lessons become less interesting, and people start to tune out. Rinse and repeat.

    Not saying that this is always the case, but I have seen it often enough.

    On the other hand, in smaller groups, there is much more of a possibility of discussion and connection with the subject matter. I definitely found that when I attended university, and took a lot of summer courses specifically for that reason.

    At the end of the day, though, the onus cannot be on the teacher, the students, or on the program exclusively. The teachers must be prepared to teach and the students must be prepared to learn, and they need to be supported by a well designed curriculum.

    And while I am wishing, I’d like for winter to end early too. :)

  114. Also, what Natalie B. said in #109.

  115. Statement: “Everybody hates Sunday School.”
    Interpretation: John C. hates Sunday School.
    Solution: Call John C. to be Gospel Doctrine teacher.

    Most problems aren’t as complicated as they first appear.

  116. When I was an EQP, I used to often use priesthood to do things like coordinate HT, and other direct priesthood tasks/fellowshipping. Other EQPs I know have done that off and on as well. I’m sure that could be done in RS as well. It is in the hands of the local leadership. The lessons don’t have to be long, and leaders are free to deviate from time to time.

  117. I taught sunday school to youth and adults for years. It didn’t take long to feel burnt out. Either give us better lesson materials or can the class. The manuals are outdated and embarrassing. When I tried to make the lessons more meaningful, I got reprimanded for not sticking to the manual. Do you know how hard it is to create a new lesson every week? I have a job and a family too. I would gladly contribute 20% in tithing if that is what it took to have updated manuals. As a teacher, I felt like I was expected to prepare a gourmet ward dinner every week, but told that all I was allowed to serve was hot dogs.

  118. Well, the comments have gone in many different directions and I’m not sure I can add to them in any substantive way, but these are my thoughts.
    I’ve been “Teacher Improvement” coordinator twice. My experience was that the good teachers came to the meetings. Those who really did need help were too busy, uninformed, etc. and didn’t attend.
    I ADORE the Old Testament. I have been sad the last couple of weeks thinking that I’d miss the discussions in Sunday School because I currently have a Primary calling. Then, just this week while driving and thinking I realized it really is a blessing I can’t go to GD because in reality I’ll learn SO MUCH MORE by studying on my own. Gospel Doctrine can, but rarely does inspire my thinking. I think GD actually lulls me into thinking I am studying/learning the Gospel but I’m not. I really really do want to know and understand the Gospel and because I have questions, concerns and experiences that might be outside what feels really safe and doctrinal, they don’t get addressed in a SS class and I’m certainly not going to be inappropriate and ask them!
    The title of how everyone hates SS made me laugh! And reminded me of a big discussion I had with my CTR 7 class the last week of 2009. I introduced a story from the lesson manual and one of the children stopped me. “Oh, I know that story”, she said. And she did! She was able to tell the story with all the right emphasis. The child sitting next to her then starting talking about a couple of other stories we had heard that year and how “we always hear the same stories in Primary”. (This was not a scripture story but an real life application story. Sometimes these are true and sometimes manufactured to support the objective of the lesson.) I had to agree with them. The same stories are told over and over. Even the 6 and 7 year olds recognize the repetition. They may or may not learn something new every time they hear it.
    I totally support the Brethren and the tremendous responsibility they have to lead a world-wide church with such diversity. My guess is they are well aware of the quality, or lack of, in Sunday School. As we discuss possible solutions we can remember that we can pray for them, for the GD teachers, etc. etc. and do our personal best to help when we attend a class. I know that is kind of a Molly Mormon statement, but I think it reflects what we agree to do when we covenant at baptism.

  119. Steve while teacher training courses don’t always help I think often they do. However you have to have someone good teaching them or it’s a lost cause. As Russell noted earlier most members know little about pedagogy. They mimc what they’ve seen before or just plain feel overwhelmed. Good teaching often begets good (or at least better) teaching.

    I think there’s also a tension between people who benefit from being a teach and the class benefitting from having a great teacher. I think many put up with things because we recognize the struggles of people but also that it is unfair to judge just because I don’t enjoy it. Afterall there are others there including the teacher who may be getting scoot out. Who am I to impose myself on the situation. That said I think everyone ought contribute more.

    As for meat and milk it can be trickier. Most wards have one, two or more people with wacky beliefs or who are perhaps too strongly opinionated on gospel speculation. It’s hard to balance that with going too much beyond the simple stuff. (As a peak in the other thread on lessons demonstrates). There’s a lot to balance in many wards.

    I will say I’ve not enjoyed SS since I left BYU singles wards. There we usually had two or three classes and you could usually find one you liked. I had the occasional bad streak but it was rare. Since… it is more mixed.

    I do love most PH lessons though especially ascot is always much more laid back and casual. The focus us typically very practical too. Why the different tone In SS i dont know. I really wish it was as laid back.

  120. Catholic masses used to be so long that people would fall asleep, hence the use of chimes to alert everyone when the “magic” happens: the transsubstantiation of bread and wine.

    To me there is a much more powerful momemt in the liturgy, when the whole congregation rises together on cue and recites, from memory, a page-long statement of common purpose in assembling (sadly no longer in Latin):

    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…

    Though I no longer believe this creed, I still feel a chill when I speak it aloud, and I am swept up in the moment of oneness with fellow believers. It is a vivid reminder that I am not alone. There is no more stirring cause than common cause.

    The very reason to pray together is not to pray, but to be together in prayer. How much Baptists have lost in their one-man-one-Church personal-relationship-with-Christ. From the earliest days, Jews prayed in a minyan. Jesus lowered that 10-men rule to “2 or more gathered in my name”. Love that uplifts is not a solitary activity.

    When I visited the Joseph Smith birthsite, I was not subjected to a lecture as I had feared. Instead, the missionary asked us to read aloud ourselves from the BoM. He knew, as I know, that the power of participation is transformative. How sad to hear that this spiritually uplifting practice is not the norm in LDS block meetings.

  121. If you haven’t read this from 1910 (see link below and go to p. 124) about speaking in LDS church and lack of preparation etc. you should. I’ve read from this book as the “training” in leadership meetings. Slightly different from the lesson context but still applicable. It’s just been a hundred years since this was written and I think change is slow in coming.

    http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=1260&REC=1

  122. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    Your comment that “I don’t expect the Church to provide my spiritual nourishment, so I’m not disappointed by Sunday School and PH – at least not very often” is pragmatic but very problematic.

    While you may have the personal faith and/or inner strength to sustain a spiritual life, there are many who are not that strong, and who come to Church looking to be fed with the Bread of Life and Living Water. Sadly, when the Sunday block is marred by formulaic, plastic meanderings, then those who are most vulnerable return to their homes without enough nourishment to sustain them. (Ditto new investigators who visit hoping to find meetings that are tantamount to a spiritual feast, only to find a superficiality that seem to resemble end-of-the-day fast food.)

  123. Your comment that “I don’t expect the Church to provide my spiritual nourishment, so I’m not disappointed by Sunday School and PH – at least not very often” is pragmatic but very problematic.

    I agree, Antonio. I thought spiritual nourishment was the main purpose of church. It’s supposed to feed and sustain our souls the way good food sustains our bodies. That’s why we need to go every week instead of sporadically or not at all. There are plenty of other avenues to social interaction or opportunities to serve others (and maybe better ones).

  124. Bro. Jones says:

    #122 and #123 It is extremely problematic. The times I have gone inactive in my life were not because of doctrinal issues, personal sin, or being offended, or whatever reason we usually hear in talks about inactivity. I was going through either trying or just very busy times in my life, and when Sundays became utterly boring chores with no fellowship, edification, or nourishment, I found that my well-being benefited much more from staying home.

    That’s one reason I’m so interested in this thread: we in the Bloggernacle often complain about the three-hour block, but I tell you, if we consistently had three quality meetings (including Sunday School) church-wide, far fewer of us would complain.

  125. I think that using a manual is a huge obstacle toward having meaningful lessons. It can be a good tool if used properly, but if the teacher follows the lesson manual question by question and scripture by scripture it communicates a couple of things to the people listening to the lesson, that the teacher isn’t prepared or doesn’t have any personal feelings on the matter. I myself have struggled a great deal with teaching from a manual (especially the Joseph Smith manual) because I felt that I was trying to convey an idea that wasn’t my own. It was much easier to break away from it and not have it be a discussion on Joseph Smith, but on principles of the gospel instead. Otherwise, it seems like a nice collection of stories with no point other than to praise the prophet that it was about.

  126. This and part 2 are exactly right. Nothing is expected of us in Sunday school except to show up. We have Methodist friends who do “Bible Study” This meets during the week, and for months they will study every word in one book of the New Testament for example. They are expected to read, prepare and come ready to contribute. Now that is Gospel learning.

  127. The more you demand (to a point) the more successful the class will be. I think some are skittish about demanding too much – which given investigators already overwhelmed by so much data might not be too far off the mark. Which is why it would be useful to have multiple GD classes.

  128. I’m hoping that Jami(#10) is just joking. Otherwise I might have to smack him/her with the grocery list. I’ve been trying to figure out for the longest time why I have little desire to attend class and I think you hit the nail on the head. I was a bit bummed, however, when you mentioned that your Hugh Nibley quote was just “hyperbole.”

  129. marrakech says:

    Church classes are boring because they are by the book and bland, and any coments that are the least bit provocative and controversial are avoided. Whenever I have a question or comment that I am sincerely excited to have discussed, I just sit in class and keep my mouth shut beacuse I am afraid I would be too controversial. If we could talk or discuss or downright argue in our Church classes as openly and passionately as folks do here at BCC, then Church would really be stimulating and inspirational. I find questions, that I want to ask but am afraid to ask in Church, are rasied and answered here on BCC. I have learned more from this site than from my Church classes, because here people speak of their faith freely and openly and without fear! My best Church teachers I met over the years right here: Ronan, John Dehlin and MikeinWeHo. Thanks you three…you are my Gospel Doctrine and Sunday School heroes!

  130. I looked at the church statistics as reported at conference, and I can’t find the people Elder Nelson is talking about when he “notes that millions have come into the church in the past few years who do not have much of a clue about what it means to be LDS.”

    The vast majority of “new members” in the church are children who were born in the covenant, raised in Primary, Young Men’s, Young Women’s, and Seminary. If they don’t much of a clue about what the church teaches, I don’t think a new lesson manual will help them.

    I’m not sure how he could’ve missed that.

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