I like the idea of Teachings for Our Times. In an education system that encourages correlation, the program allows local leaders to make decisions based on the needs of students. This year, I was delighted to find that our stake did not choose the talks for these monthly lessons and passed that responsibility to the wards. I was asked by the bishop to come up with the TFOT lessons for the fist six months of the year, and I went through a process to make that happen. Based on my experience, here are some ideas related to the administration of Teaching for Our Times:
1. Make the decision as local as possible.
The point of the program, as it seems to me, is to allow local leaders to choose, through inspiration and/or discernment, from the 30+ talks from general Conference based on the needs of the people receiving the lessons. It makes sense for those closest to the students to make that decision and/or receive that inspiration. As a rule, the chance for inspired decision-making should be passed as far down the line as possible, especially in terms of administration rather than doctrine. From the guidelines for Teachings for Our Times: ‘Stake and district presidents may choose which talks should be used, or they may assign this responsibility to bishops and branch presidents.’ I would encourage passing the responsibility along unless spiritual discernment suggests otherwise.
Even at the ward level, could the different organizations that sponsor the lessons make their own choices? I gave our auxiliaries the chance to make their own lists of talks, but they declined, consistent with the guidelines. The idea is probably that families would study the talks togehter, but the percentage of class members with spouses attending the other class is small, and the groups might benefit from having their own focus for these lessons. But whatever, it was their decision. We did all agree that the teachers could participate in the process of choosing the talks rather than the organization presidents. After all, they have the right to inspiration in their calling, no?
The four of us (myself and the teachers from the EQ, HP & RS) each chose some talks from the Conference Report and then got together. It was a great discussion, where we dug into the contents of the conference talks that really touched us and shared the insights and feelings we had. We came to consensus on six talks even though we came to the process with more than twenty choices amongst us. I enjoyed the give-and-take of a spiritual debate, and it seemed to me to be the epitome of how church councils ought to work. I then took the list back to the bishop for his approval.
2. Look at the other lessons.
As we looked at the conference talks, we realized that some of them focused on the same principles covered in other third hour lessons. Rather than using those talks on the fourth Sunday, identifying the links between conference talks and Gospel Principles lessons would enrich the lessons and reduce the amount of repetition. For instance, ‘Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ‘ is a wonderful talk by Elder Robert D. Hale and matches up well with chapters 1 and 3 of Gospel Principles; likewise, Vicki F. Matsumori’s ‘Helping Others Recognize the Whisperings of the Spirit‘ would enrich a discussion of chapter 7, ‘The Holy Ghost.’ And so on. We added these talks to the schedule of lessons so students could use those as supplementary reading and cut them from our list of possible TFOT talks. The same could be done with Sunday School lessons, and in wards where conference talks are assigned as topics for sacrament meeting talks, repetition could also be strategically avoided.
3. Talk about how to teach TFOT.
Because we got together to choose talks, we were also able to discuss how to approach the talk as a topic for a lesson. I will go through these ideas briefly because most are covered in more detail in other posts:
- Be able to articulate what you want the class members to be able to do because of the lesson — relate a principle to their own lives, explain a principle in more detail, take some specific action, etc. You can also have a general question to use as a guiding question, but think in terms of what you want the class to remember in ten years.
- It’s the speaker’s talk, but it’s your lesson. Do more than read the talk aloud and testify to the truth of every paragraph.
- On the other hand, keep the original intent of the talk in mind rather than using the talk to prove your own theory about whether animals can speak to angels.
- While the talk may have been addressed to a limited audience, look for ways of applying the concepts to members of the class not in that original audience.
- Deal with the detailed language of the post, looking at phrases and words that helps you understand the principle in a new or deeper way.
- Use the talk as a focal point, gathering scriptures and other resources around the talk.
- As part of the lesson, narrate your own response to the principles of the talk and encourage others to do the same, including asking questions raised by the talk and methods of internalizing the principles of the talk.
Like I said before, I really enjoyed this process, and it was fulfilling in a way that church administration sometimes isn’t. If you have insights into the process, please add them in the comments.
If you’re curious, here are our choices:
January:That Your Burdens May Be Light, Elder L. Whitney Clayton
February: Mind the Gap, Barbara Thompson
March (Palm Sunday): Our Perfect Example, President Henry B. Eyring
April: The Love of God, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
May: Preserving the Heart’s Mighty Change, Elder Dale G. Renlund
June: School Thy Feelings, O My Brother, President Thomas S. Monson