Gospel Principles. Again. And Again. And Again.

One of my callings in my ward is that of ward missionary. Among other responsibilities, this calling requires me to teach the investigator/new member Sunday school class once or twice a month. For as long as I have been in the ward–coming up on four years now–this course has been going through the Gospel Principles manual, front to back, and starting it over upon completion. The idea, of course, is that new members, recently activated members, and investigators should be given “milk before meat” (or “MBM” hereafter) and learn the basics of the gospel before moving into the standard Gospel Doctrine courses with the rest of the adults. After a couple of months of this, a couple of issues occurred to me.

First, I am sick to death of the Gospel Principles manual. One of my other callings just happens to be as an instructor in the Elders Quorum, and guess what I teach there? Yep. The Gospel Principles manual. So since (as luck would have it!) we recently finished the GP manual the investigator class, we started the manual over again, I am hearing the same lessons in Sunday school and Priesthood meeting, only a couple of weeks apart from each other.[1]

Second, the Gospel Principles manual is can be a horrible choice of material for investigators and new members. While I completely agree, in principle, with the basic idea behind having an MBM course, I question whether much critical thinking or planning has been done (at least in my current and past wards) to ensure that the target audience is actually getting what it needs on a weekly basis.

Although there are likely some wards where large numbers of investigators–and long term investigators, in particular–attend church meetings regularly, the ward I live in rarely has investigators among the attendees. Moreover, it is even rarer to see the same investigator in Sunday school more than once, and still further less common to see the same investigator on consecutive weeks. The new members and recently-activated members are similarly less-than-consistent with attendance.

This is where the use of the Gospel Principles manual becomes problematic in a MBM course: It only represents actual MBM if the investigator happens to catch the first lesson and continues to attend regularly from there on out. If an investigator shows up in January, they may be treated to a great, simple discussion of the Plan of Salvation. However, if an investigator shows up for the first time in April, they may get a lesson on “The Lord’s Covenant People” for their pre-meat meal. Show up in May, and you’ll receive a lesson the Gifts of the Spirit during your first worship experience with the Mormons. November investigators? The Gathering of the House of Israel, baby!

The point is, because investigators, less-active, and recently activated members vary considerably in their knowledge of LDS theology, history, and practice,[2] a Sunday school course employing the Gospel Principles manual in chronological fashion is almost certain to be almost constantly out of sync with the continually shifting target audience.[3]
Additionally, I have begun to doubt whether or not some of the chapters and topics in the Gospel Principles manual are actually, well, “Gospel Principles” at all, in the sense of being principles of the Restored Gospel. For example,

  • Lesson 27: Work and Personal Responsibility
  • Lesson 28: Service
  • Lesson 31: Honesty
  • Lesson 34: Developing Our Talents

Is there anything particularly “Mormon” about these principles? Anything that doesn’t follow directly from earlier concepts about following the Savior, loving our fellow man, and trying to keep our noses clean? Stated another way, is anyone likely to walk away from a standard lesson on these topics thinking that they have a significantly increased understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I approached my Ward Mission Leader with these questions recently, and after some healthy debate, he concluded that there is some merit to my reasoning, but he’s not willing to scrap the manual altogether. For the time being, I have been given the additional task of preparing a set of “Lessons-Ready-to-Eat” (LREs) which I will use whenever we have actual living, breathing investigators in the classroom, or when other needs arise.

These LREs are to meet the following criteria:

  1. The lessons should be aimed primarily at investigators, with focus also on recent converts, less-active and recently activated members.
  2. The lessons should help the target audience “become a Mormon, or become a better Mormon”.
  3. The lessons should be digestible for any investigator, regardless of what lessons they’ve had from the missionaries or whether they were in meetings last week and the week before.

Your Suggestions, please!  What material/kind of lessons do you think new members/investigators really need to help become integrated members of the Kingdom? Be creative!


[1] But that’s not all. Since this year the Gospel Doctrine courses are covering the Old Testament and Pearl of Great Price, and since I didn’t get my calling as a ward missionary until March or April, I got to hear the Plan of Salvation, Agency, Creation, & Fall lessons from the regular Gospel Doctrine class, too, since that material is heavily covered in the PoGP and Genesis. Three times, folks. Can’t you just see the folks from the Curriculum Department, sitting around a table talking about what to use for a manual three years ago?

“We need to get back to basics. What could be better than using the Gospel Principles manual?” “I’ll tell you what could better: Waiting until the Old Testatment year!” “Hooray! Back to Basics times two!” (High-fives all around).

Seriously, I know this happened, and nothing you say will convince me otherwise.

[2] To say nothing of the variance of knowledge of these topics among life-long members…

[3] It’s actually even worse in our ward, because we have split each class into 15 minutes of reading the BoM chronologically, and the rest for Gospel Principles. It doesn’t matter when investigators show up–the Book of Mormon is in no way whatsoever MBM. Keystone of our faith? Check. Super-awesome? Check. Word of God? Check. MBM? Notachance.


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  1. how about lessons in church history. My sister would still be a member of the church were she to have learned about church history from Mormon sources than anti-Mormon sources, I’ll tell you that.

    Otherwise, I have absolutely no interest in any of the lessons from the Gospel Principles book. Utterly utterly boring.

  2. Daniel,
    Yes, lessons in Church history–but what lessons in Church history? Keep in mind the criteria.

  3. sigh

  4. John,
    You’ll be happy to know that my debate with the WML, after which he granted me license to come up with some new lessons, was more or less just a 45-minute stream of consciousness rooted in your Sunday school posts.

    BTW, I have already done one lesson–we had an investigator at Church two weeks ago, and when the time was turned over to Brother B., we opened our Bibles and talked about Luke 15 for 40 minutes. It was awesome.

  5. Before I go any further, have you considered using the lesson material in Preach My Gospel? It is meant to be basic and flexible (GP is also meant to be flexible, but that ain’t happening so far).

    Since I don’t generally object to the topics in GP, I would initially suggest that you take a couple that interest you and explain why they interest you. Assume that your investigator will be an interested lay person. If they are at church, they probably know who Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith are. Beyond that, be prepared to explain, but you shouldn’t often have to. Your enthusiasm for a topic of your choice, your desire to sincerely share this topic, and your willingness to go at a pace that they dictate should appeal to the investigator.

  6. Coffinberry says:

    “Is there anything particularly “Mormon” about these principles?”

    IIRC, they’re essentially TemplePrep lessons, being principles that really have to be digested before being able to make temple-type commitments.

    Or at least, that was my impression last time I went through the cycle. I wouldn’t know about nowadays, though. I’ve not had to sit through a single GP lesson yet this year. But that reminds me… you might do well to take a gander at the Primary 4, 5, 6, and 7 manuals (designed for 8 to 12 year old children) for ideas/methods to implement into your LREs.

  7. Scott,

    Dunno. Maybe lessons on who the “Founding Fathers” of Mormonism are. Like Parley P Pratt or Orson Hyde. Lots of well seasoned Mormons quote them, or talk of them.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I feel your pain. And that 15 minutes of BoM reading split thing is really, really weird. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    You should use Mormonism for Dummies as a text.

    It seems to me that I saw once a book intended for investigators/new converts that had all sorts of practical information, going over the basic nuts and bolts of being a Mormon. I wish I had bought it. We assume so much knowledge, because it’s all second nature to us, but so much is not intuitive or obvious at all. Go to Church sometime and try to imagine you know nothing and have no experience vis-a-vis the church. I can imagine that it’s even a little bit scary for these poor folks. And then we lead them into GE class and teach a lesson on developing our talents. Not really that helpful for the target demographic.

  9. Antonio Parr says:


    The fact that you were able to use the word ~awesome~ and ~lesson~ in the same sentence puts you ahead of most people on this list.

    The curriculum does not seem designed to promote deep insight and wisdom, but, instead, seems to reflect the mindset that the people were made for the manual, and not vice-versa. Unless you are lucky enough to have (or be) a teacher who is willing to breathe life into the manual, things can be more than a bit mind-numbing.

    My solution for sanity is to be faithfully subversive: to attempt to impact a class in a way that doesn’t seem haughty or superior or overly-anxious, which requires that I fight like heck to have as much of the Spirit as I can harness when making my point. Sometimes I succeed, and both the speaker and the listener are edified. Other times, I am lacking in humility or love or kindness or whatever, and I end up ruing the moment that I raised my hand.

    In short, we are consigned to live within the confines of the manual (most of us are, that is — you have succeeded where others dare not tread!). In order to make a difference, it takes some inspiration and a properly-placed comment to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse.

  10. John,
    Yes–using PMG was actually my first idea, and a cornerstone of the sales pitch to my WML. However, my motivation there was slightly different:
    The elders in my ward are absolutely awful teachers*, and I suggested using PMG in a subversive-yet-innocent way to, well, teach the Elders how to teach the gospel.

    *seriously, if I had to make an instructional video on how to lose investigators through painfully bad teaching and people skills, I could do no better than just setting the camcorder up with these Elders at their next discussion.

  11. “Stated another way, is anyone likely to walk away from a standard lesson on these topics thinking that they have a significantly increased understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

    A “standard” lesson – probably not. A good lesson – yes.

    I was going to suggest the Preach My Gospel approach, but John C. beat me to it. Having said that, whenever I teach GP, I take the topic that week and treat it like I was teaching with the instructions from PMG – which basically are to cover the teachings by following the Spirit. Gospel Principles is a fine text if the teacher isn’t limited to reading the manual and asking the questions in it. I’m not sure there is a fine text if that is the approach taken to “teaching”.

    Oh, and if there are no investigators or new members in the class, why is it being taught?

  12. Ray,
    A couple of things–

    First, there are always a few people belonging to the MBM target audience at church on Sundays–just not always investigators.

    Second, there is no doubt that any lesson from the manual could be fantastic with a great instructor. Although I am tired of it, I don’t want to put the manual on trial for everyone–just for this class. That’s the question: is the GP manual the best resource for the target audience?

  13. Also, again, the goal outcome is not to simply be uplifted or come closer to Christ–those are excellent and needed goals, but the purpose of the class is specifically to accomplish those things by becoming more completely integrated into the Church.

    Honestly, although I am genetically predisposed to disagreeing with Daniel, I actually think that a “Who’s Who in Mormonism” is kind of a brilliant idea.

  14. Latter-day Guy says:

    I am sick to death of the Gospel Principles manual.

    I hear you, but when your calling requires you to teach from it, you’re kind of stuck. When I was an EQ instructor, I was able to save my sanity by doing two things consistently:

    1) Always find some good/interesting/fun non-manual sources to use in the lesson.
    2) Ensure that some portion of the lesson constitutes a calculated act of subversion of some aspect of Mormon culture that you find abhorrent. (Yeah, this sounds sinister, but remember it’s “culture,” not “doctrine” or “gospel.”)

  15. Antonio Parr says:

    Doesn’t the manual give you the option of selecting a point and then running with it? If so, then it would seem that there is an almost infinite potential of what you can do with any given lesson.

  16. We got onto some topics in my class a few weeks ago that I simply felt no degree of passion about, just had nothing to say. So instead, I used it as an opportunity to teach scripture study methods using the topical material as the lesson, but focused on utilizing the LDS scriptural references, practicing close reading, asking meaningful questions, cross-referencing, etc. as the main points of emphasis for the lesson.

    This helped us as a group engage the text of scriptures more directly and meaningfully. I might have pulled in a paragraph or two from the manual, but otherwise I basically didn’t really pay attention to it. Got very positive feedback…may never go back to the “standard” way of teaching again…

  17. I updated the post a bit, since the comment thread isn’t really going at all where I hoped it would; this is not ya’lls fault–it was my own fault for not asking the right question.

  18. I hear you, but when your calling requires you to teach from it, you’re kind of stuck.

    That’s just it–I’ve been given the freedom to go elsewhere now, entirely away from the manual. Now, the question is not about making the manual interesting–it’s about building “new member/investigator lessons” from the ground up.

  19. So, I don’t understand why you have a Gospel Essentials class with no investigators or recent converts.

  20. C Jones says:

    My husband is a convert. The thing that was most helpful by far in “becoming an integrated member of the Kingdom” was church softball.

  21. C Jones says:

    Also, we had a GE class that was attended by just the two of us. I have been a member all my life, but had been inactive in my teens and for the first few years of my marriage.

    At the time my husband was baptized, we lived next door to the EQ President. In addition to the really great fellowshipping from the members of the EQ, we had a GE class that was pretty much just for the two of us. The best teacher in the EQ came to our home on Sunday afternoons and just talked about everything under the sun. Later, we had a regular class during SS at church, and once in a while someone else was there, but usually it was just us and another of the best teachers in the ward.

    I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for the careful nurturing that was given to us at that time. It made all the difference in the world.

    Scott, I think from what you have written here, you will be that teacher for someone.

  22. Coffinberry says:

    *whistles in the dark* (wonders why nobody seems to have heard her before. But that’s ok.)

    I noticed, a while back ago (making visual aids for my son who’s a missionary in Chile), that the Liahona had great one-page gospel basics. Looking for them in English allowed me to locate them in Spanish. I printed out a bunch of ’em for my son, and stapled them together in a little booklet for him to use. It had stuff like why fast, and how paying tithing works, what the priesthood is , etc.

    Also, if you haven’t lately, be sure to get out your copy of “Teaching, No Greater Call.” Use it to create interactive lessons. My experience as a Sunday School teacher (yes, I once upon a time taught grownups) was that the techniques that get children involved also help get grownups involved. It should never be a matter of talking down, but of challenging them to step up. Your goal should be to help your students take responsibility for their gospel learning. Use pictures, objects, readers theater, role play, finish-the-story, game, activity, puzzle, maze, etc. Check old FHE lesson manuals for alternate approaches to the same topic.

    A couple of weeks ago, my missionary son and his companion wanted to teach an investigator family about the importance of personal conversation with God–Prayer. This is what they did: they hid a small sweet in the room, and called it a treasure. The couple’s five-year-old daughter was invited to look for the treasure. The ward member accompanying the missionaries was the person the little girl could get answers from. Her mom and dad were to encourage her (you can do it), but the missionaries were to pretend to be ‘the world’ and would distract her from finding it. The little girl was easily distracted, and too shy to ask the member where the treasure was. The parents, quickly grasping the idea, encouraged their little girl to ask the member where it was. It took some time, but finally the girl asked, where is my treasure. And the member answered “it is over there” pointing to it. Of course the little girl was delighted to find her treasure. The parents quickly understood the analogy to prayer, and why it is important to pray. During that week, the little family began to have personal and family prayers, and were delighted at the Spirit that was welcomed into the house by doing so.

  23. J.,
    As I told Ray above, we do have some every week. Just not always the same people, and not always the same number.

  24. Cynthia L. says:

    Scott, what is awesome about you is that instead of just thinking about how this sucks, you’ve put a ton of effort and discussion and actual doing into making this better.

  25. I joined the church 12 years ago, in a singles branch in Bloomington Indiana. There were 8-10 ward missionaries that all attended Gospel principles every week. This allowed me to not feel singled out or alone at church which was extremely important to me. The teachers (there were 5 or 6) were excellent and spent a lot of time on various topics of the Gospel, ranging from what seemed fairly simple to the extremely complex.

    However, being a reader, I read the manual mainly by myself at home (and it is one of my favorite church manuals). The lessons swerved from the manual in various ways, shapes, and forms, generally flowing with the discussion of the group. They were always Gospel related but I never recall a teacher reading from the manual.

    It was the greatest sunday school program I ever had.

    I’d say the most important thing was the fellowship though. If you can not have the fellowship, then you may as well have them (the newbies) in Gospel Doctrine.

    I was recently interested to learn Gospel Essentials class was a relatively new creation (1980ish).

  26. Coffinberry (22),
    I reemphasize that I’m not seeking help about how to make lessons whiz-bang. I’m looking for input on specifically what information the MBM groups actually need.

  27. C Jones says:

    Maybe you could ask them :-)

  28. Scott,
    One thing I’ve found that is nice in smaller, more intimate settings is to set apart time at the beginning of each class for the students to either ask anything that is on their mind or share any insights they may have learned. Sometimes it’s just nice to talk about what the students want to talk about rather than some arbitrary topic directed by the manual.

  29. Natalie B. says:

    Most of the people I know who recently joined the church did so primarily because they liked the people they met. They wanted to attend the regular SS, and only after baptism did they attend the GP class. Does it make sense to separate investigators if conversion is coming more through people than through lessons?

  30. C Jones & Rusty–
    Agreed, asking them is a good idea, and I’ve explored that to some degree; however, it is difficult at times because I’d like to prepare some lessons ahead of time, and the attendees in the class vary so much that it’s difficult plan for any particular individuals.

    Regardless, I agree–soliciting input from the students is important. Of course, even as I type that, I can envision myself as a missionary in Finland, asking an investigator if they have any questions right off the bat, and then being posed numerous questions that are way beyond their preparedness, and looking like a tool when I say, “Let’s talk about that a little bit later…”

  31. Natalie,
    Excellent question, and one that I’ve thought a lot about while doing this lesson preparation. I am simply not convinced that a course based on the gospel principles manual provides any significant advantage to new members/investigators over the normal Gospel Doctrine classes.

    Hence, my desire to create an investigator class which does provide that significant advantage.

  32. It wasn’t so long ago I was in that class. It was startling to me at first when I realized the people in there were only in there because of me. I had a good teacher though, and part of what she did was have casual conversations- I could ask questions and as a group, they would try and answer.

    I do like the Preach My Gospel book better than the same old book you’re having to recycle. Like Natalie said, I was there initially because I met people who moved me, and I felt something when I was around them- and I wanted to continue being around them.

    Kudos to you Scott for trying to find new ways to help. I hope you get some responsive people in your class.

  33. C Jones says:

    The advantage in a separate class is that it should be a safe place to ask any question or bring up any topic without worrying about looking stupid. I don’t think that the mission discussion really applies. If they are making the effort to come to class, and asking the questions, they should be given at least an attempt at an answer, even if it’s a simplified one.

  34. C Jones says:

    As far as lesson material,a few things come to mind.
    1. Some basic church history
    2. A good foundation in the Plan of Salvation
    3. The covenant path: from baptism to the temple

  35. Scott, When I was a WML way back in the prior century, we used the older GP manual, and things went fine. One thing we did well was to not go thru the manual linearly (chap X one week, chap X+1 the next week, X+2 the week after, etc.). Instead, we just identified what were the most appropriate chapters for the class and then did those. We chose things like the Restoration, faith in Christ, etc. If we had only new people, then we’d teach one of these even if we taught it three weeks prior. And we’d rotate the lessons so that if we covered a topic again then we’d have different person teach it. That makes it fresh for the members who attend.

    This is an especially good approach if you have different people each week. Sometimes we’d even hand the manual to the investigator and let them choose the topic (fortunately there was no polygamy chapter).

    When we did have a recent convert attending regularly, then we’d adapt the above plan but not completely because even the converts understood that the class was also for visitors/investigators.

    #17: What do you now think is the right question?

  36. Latter-day Guy says:

    How about a lesson/series of lessons structured around ordinances/covenants, with particular emphasis on the atonement as the common thread connecting the ordinances. Then various gospel principles (faith, hope, 72 hour kits, resin grapes) could be slotted into that context.

    The benefit here might be that, like PMG to some degree, they are “action-based” as opposed to being built around some period of history or book of scripture, or (as in Gospel Principles) a kind of Mormon attempt at systematic theology.

  37. More clarifications. Some chapters we’d only teach if we only had recent converts and no investigators. Like tithing. With them, we’d sometimes even do a couple such chapters in a given week. We’d say, “You’ve got to know this stuff. But it’s boring, so let’s knock it out quickly.”

    The lessons we chose when we had investigators were the ones that kept things close to the first few missionary discussion topics. If we also had a recent convert, we’d sometimes let the recent convert take the lead in the lesson. They always got a kick out of that.

  38. The New Testament is filled with gospel precepts that tend to be largely neglected or summarized in a relatively trivial manner. If you read TPJS, Joseph Smith practically couldn’t go more than a couple of sentences without paraphrasing some passage of the New Testament. That level of seriousness has been lost, in fact it is one of the things that many other denominations do better than we do.

    A serious, Sunday School attending member of most Protestant denominations learns the New Testament in great detail, where in our denomination it seems unusual to find someone who has read it even once, let alone have a relatively serious familiarity with it beyond the chapters that are summarized once every four years in Gospel Doctrine class.

    If there is anything that seems to be a weakness with the common Mormon approach to scriptural education, it is the tendency to cherry pick the same handful of points out of the same handful of chapters and neglect the others altogether.

  39. I have thought, many many times, that the missionary lessons given to people is OK for baptism preparation, but really lousy at preparation for being a member of the Church and all the expectations that entails. So maybe, in addition to content about how callings work and whatnot, having some adult converts come talk to the class about their experience transitioning into Mormonhood would be nice (maybe quarterlyish).

    I also think jargon is important. Teaching straight-up vocabulary is really dry, but maybe you could do a “tour of Church programs” and learn associated jargon for the various auxiliaries, etc.

    I agree that some Church history would be good. Since most of the missionary lessons focus on the BoM and Bible, perhaps more focus on the PoGP and D&C would be useful.

    Would it be too boring to go through the Articles of Faith? I might not expound on all of them, but certainly some of them.

    In addition to teaching scripture study (already mentioned), depending on the audience of that week, it might be useful to teach some basic “how to give a talk” or “how to prepare a lesson” lessons.

  40. Mike M.,
    I think the question I want answers to–what I set out writing this post about–is what set of information the target audience of MBM courses actually needs in order to most effectively find a home, not only in the gospel, but in the Church.

    While I like much of what you said about alternative uses of the GP manual, I can’t shake the feeling that, with the same manual being used for PH/RS right now, we are missing a grand opportunity to do some good in a different way.

  41. ESO,
    I like that–a tour of church programs, jargon, and such. You’re right–the basic requirements for baptism and the long-term commitments are kind of distant cousins; no wonder retention efforts are so difficult.

  42. Latter-day Guy says:

    ESO: “tour of Church programs” and “how to give a talk” or “how to prepare a lesson” lessons.

    Those are great ideas. In some of the units I’ve attended they actually have a 6 week “teacher-improvement” course. I’ve often thought that they should do the same thing with giving talks, and just have everyone cycle through that class. Just having a class like that sends a needed “we ought to step it up” message.

  43. Cynthia L. says:

    An interesting presupposition here, in the MBM notion, is that GD is the “meat” to GP’s “milk.” But GD itself is so basic, I’m not sure it really qualifies as meat.

  44. Scott, your lesson focusing on Luke 15 sounds perfect. Prepare your own lessons every week straight out of the New Testament and Book of Mormon, as guided by the Spirit. Be wary of simply cherry-picking certain verses of the New Testament that are well known to most Mormons — really dig in. You can trust your own intuition and the still small voice as you prepare your lesson to know what the audience will need to learn and hear.

  45. Antonio Parr says:


    Different investigators/members have different needs. Some are searching for a tribe, and need guidance as to how to integrate themselves into their new culture. Others are looking for hope in the face of personal hardship. Some are looking for theological certainty. There are probably an infinite number of variations on the theme. Your mission, should you decide to accept it (insert here theme from “Mission Impossible”) is to discern which need you are serving on any particular Sunday.

    Some investigators/new members will make their needs known, and you can respond accordingly. Others will require you to prepare to improvise. You obviously are very sincere and very gifted, and I have no doubt that your Luke 15 experience is the rule rather than the exception.

    The one thing that all investigators/new members/old members need is redemption from sin and from death, and both are found in Christ Jesus. Speaking of Him and His atonement with a sense of wonder and gratitude is a wonderful way to invite the Spirit, and an encounter with the Holy Ghost makes any lesson a success.

  46. Aaron B says:

    My idea: teacher dresses up like Dracula, plays opening 30 seconds of Michael jackson’s thriller on boombox, suddenly screams out “the Adam-god theory!!!”, RS sisters scream on cue, teacher delivers Vincent price-like cackle. The rest is details.

  47. The whole MBM idea seems terribly derogatory to me. It assumes that all converts are uneducated and simple minded. It also assumes that the discussions in other church classes are more advanced, which they are usually not. It does give the impression that we are teaching something top-secret in the other classes. I wonder if it is perhaps an institutional device calculated to insulate new people from the more controversial elements of our faith and history, which just might surface in regular classes. We wonder why retention in terrible, but treating people like babies and feeding them crap is not the way to get them to like you, much less the way to get them to like coming to church for 3 hours.
    As for what to teach to get them to become integrated? How about we forget about the idea that we have to become indoctrinated with some committee’s ideas of what is mormonism, and just read and talk about the Savior. I think most people come to church to hear about Christ. I really like the idea of reading from the New Testament.

  48. #47, derogatory?
    Investigators and new converts need milk simply because often times they have no clue what we mean with the words we use. And I don’t mean mormon jargon, I mean all religious words. Priesthood, prophet, resurrection etc. might mean something quite different in our church than in others. It’s not only the simple minded who have hard time with that kind of thing.

    On my mission I noticed that as a missionaries we were great teaching about the gospel, but we didn’t talk that much about the curch. I liked ESO’s idea about “tour of church programs.” Use wide range of church material too. Introduce Ensign to them.

  49. #13

    Honestly, although I am genetically predisposed to disagreeing with Daniel, I actually think that a “Who’s Who in Mormonism” is kind of a brilliant idea.

    you would therefore be genetically predisposed to disagree with brilliant ideas. :)

  50. I think a lot of new members are baffled about why we do certain things and are afraid they’re going to make mistakes. I think they all need to be taught the basic logistics (what meetings are held when and which are relevant to them, how to fill out a donation slip and who to give it to, when Fast Sundays occur and how long should they fast, where to go for stake conference, etc), basic doctrine (Preach My Gospel topics), basic doctrinal/cultural rules (For the Strength of Youth) with accompanying broader perspective (does the WoW include Coke, how bad is shopping on Sunday, how bad are tattoos, how should we dress at church, is gambling bad, etc.) All this stuff should be taught in conjunction with relevant doctrinal lessons, of course.

    Often when they learn this stuff organically, they don’t get a broad enough perspective and develop some funny misconceptions which might make them uncomfortable.

  51. I taugh the class many,many years ago. It was mostly new members (6-8 people). As has been pointed out, it was a tour.
    They wanted mostly to understand how the Church worked. Yes, the jargon. We would talk about the stucture from FP down to Deacon. What was RS? What was a Fast Sunday? What’s my relationship with the Bishop? What’s a Temple for? Etc. Anything they wanted to know or a question unanswered.

  52. Ardis-the-wet-blanket here.

    While I can foresee the occasional need to adapt or forego or expand a GE lesson based on local conditions or the particular needs of a specific class member, I’m very wary of junking the entire established program in favor of the brainchild of any individual teacher, no matter how sincere, inspired, or brilliant. Even one devised by Scott. Especially one devised by most of us.

    The GE class isn’t for the enlightenment or growth of the teacher; it’s for the class members. It shouldn’t matter how many times the teacher has heard some variation of the same material. (How do you think schoolteachers must feel at the beginning of every year, knowing that they’re about to go over the same material they’ve taught before? What would happen to a first grade class if the teacher decided it was too boring to teach the alphabet again?)

    What is a boring repetition to you can easily be an aha! moment for a convert, as the same material is taught again in a different teacher’s words and with different discussion by different class members.

    GE class members need a continuation of what they’ve been getting from the missionaries — basic lessons and explanations, because you can’t take it for granted that even a long-time religious convert has a Mormon understanding of familiar words and ideas.

    I’d wager that most converts would be shy about speaking up in PH/RS or GD because they’re the new kids on the block. GE gives them space to become involved in the discussion and raise their own questions, and the teacher has a chance to recognize misunderstandings and reteach when needed.

    New converts don’t know the “Sunday School answers” to everything. They’re more apt to be candid and spontaneous, if the teacher encourages their participation. If the same lesson were being taught simultaneously in GE and GD, I’d wager the GE class would be livelier, not more boring.

    Cultural instruction is important, but not more important than gospel instruction.

    And what the heck is with your ward’s reading of the Book of Mormon in 15-minute chunks? Reading a chapter or two once a week, especially if you’re nervous about being called on to read unfamiliar names and verses, is not going to help a convert understand, love, or even remember the scripture. Stop wasting that time and get back to the program!

  53. Last time I taught a Sunday School class it was on Agency, out of the GP Manual.

    For the class, I wrote the chapter subheadings on the board, and then we tossed the manual aside and dug into a few blocks of scripture I picked out beforehand.
    As memory serves we read 2 Nephi 2, Alma 41, Romans 6, and 1 Chronicles 29.
    After the class two guys asked me if I had been an AP in the mission cause they thought I was such a good teacher (little did they know I simply copied what a bunch of old dead guys said thousands of years ago). Scriptures are refreshing, we should get into them more.

  54. What is the milk? Probably faith/hope/charity, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost and the concepts outlined in the missionary discussions.

    What is the meat? Probably faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost and the concepts outlined in the missionary discussions

    Imo, the difference isn’t in the topics but rather in the manner in which the meal is prepared and served – the consistency, if you will, that allows digestion to occur with minimal pain and trauma. Therefore, my suggestion probably would be to take the topics from whatever you are using (like the GP manual) and prepare a 20 minute talk about each topic – knowing that, since it hopefully will be interactive in a GP class, such a talk will be plenty to fill the 40 minutes you have to teach the topic. Iow, use the manual topics and some quotes from the manual (whatever manual you use), just don’t rely on the manual.

    With that type of preparation, it should be easier to go with the flow at any point in the prepared lesson and focus on whatever resonates that week with those who are attending. That also means that there is a good chance the same topic will produce slightly or radically different lessons for different people.

  55. Scott B, congrats on caring enough about your class to think this through. Personally, I find there’s lots of stuff to mine in the BP manual, both in text and scriptures, and those can be tailored to all sorts of audiences, so a lesson on Priesthood taught in a MBM GP class could be radically different from an EQ or HP lesson.

    I like the idea of using PMG as part of your teaching arsenal, and the suggestion to use Teaching No Greater Call is awesome, too. That’s a really underutilized resource, and I think one reason is that it’s not easy to prepare a lesson on Saturday night using what’s taught in TNGC, and most “lesson manual” lessons don’t fit neatly into TNGC type of teaching.

    One thing that we do in our GP class (where we also have inconsistent attendance) is that often we’ll reach back from one lesson to another to put things in context, draw comparisons, link concepts, and so on. It doesn’t work for every lesson, but it works for many.

    I doubt there are many copies around, but the book unfortunately named, _Welcome To The Kingdom_ (published by Horizon Publishers) was a great intro to the church, with little definition boxes throughout, clear and concise definitions and discussion, and was a great resource for teaching new members.

    If I think about what it seems new members need most:

    1. Praying for answers to gospel questions (and encouraging people to continue to do that) and to resolve life problems
    2. Learning to study the scriptures (the LDS scriptures — topical guides, footnotes, Bible Dictionary), both so they will know how to participate in other classes, and so they will feel comfortable with the study of scriptures
    3. Basic principles and history (including reinforcement of the restoration story taught by the missionaries)
    4. Understanding the commandments (PMG is a great resource as a start)
    5. Preparing for temple worship (baptisms for the dead, especially, since newer members are likely to do that first)

    I also think your idea of helping the missionaries learn to teach better is a great idea. The present method of missionary teaching can be quite challenging for some of our young missionaries, and giving them chances to see good teaching is outstanding. Inviting them to participate in the teaching in limited ways may also help in that regard. I’ve also been toying with the idea of having my GP class members start teaching segments of the lesson to one another.

  56. Sorry — in 55 it should be GP Manual, not BP manual — no capping of wells intended here…

  57. Because of my calling, I attend a lot of GP classes. Frankly, many of them aren’t very good. But I don’t think the manual is the problem. Instead, I see two major deficiencies:

    1. Ill-prepared teachers. More often than not, the teach has done little more than glance at the lesson. Rarely are there signs of preparation like visual aids and teaching methods adapted to the lesson but not specifically suggested in the manual. But most important, I rarely see any sign that the teacher has considered the needs of the class members while preparing. Which leads to:

    2. Teachers who don’t understand their calling. Unfortunately, many GP teachers think their calling is to simply teach whoever shows up. (The same is true of most Gospel Doctrine teachers, unfortunately.) But their calling is to teach those who are class members — including all of the investigators and new members (and perhaps others, typically members returning to activity) in the ward. Frankly, it is impossible to be a really effective GP teacher without spending time during the week in personal contact with at least some of the class members. (Again, the same is true for Gospel Doctrine.)

    The best teachers — those who don’t have those two problems — understand that walking through the manual from lesson 1 to lesson 47, one per week, then starting over again is unlikely to meet the needs of class members. With every group of students, some lessons need more than one week and some can be combined. Some need to be repeated. Lessons often need to be taken “out of order.” (I’ve suggested to some teachers that they keeop a log of what lessons they’ve taught to which class members, so they know what topics those members have missed.) But each lesson must be focused on the needs and questions of the particular investigators, new members, activating members, or others in the class.

    I think that the GP manual provides an effective outline for such a class. Sure there are some other topics that may need to be addressed that are not in the manual. I’m dubious that there are many topics in the manual that should be skipped. After all, the GP manual is designed to give a basic knowledge of gospel principles, going well beyond the Preach My Gospel lessons. A GP teacher who tries to really get to know all the students and pay attention to each one every week will know what lessons to teach and how.

  58. and I agree with Ardis that it’s not about the teacher – not at all.

    I’ve been a school teacher, and, while I tried hard to make what I taught relevant to my students, I understood completely that I was going to be teaching the same things over and over and over again – sometimes to the same students mutliple days in a row emphasizing different learning modalities so all of them would understand. What I taught also was the same basic topics they had been taught for 10 years before getting to me. The only real difference in most cases was the depth of the material I was teaching – and in some cases (like history of different areas or times), not even that.

    Sucked to be the bright kids, sometimes, but that’s group education.

  59. A good GE teacher will be alert to anything going on locally that might need to be discussed briefly in class, regardless of the theme of the lesson: If stake conference has been announced, explain where and what and what to expect; ditto for tithing settlement, or General Conference, or the ward’s summer barbecue. Ditto for anything odd brought up in a Sacrament Meeting talk. Plus whatever questions of any type that have occurred to class members — if it’s a gospel topic that needs more than a couple of minutes, then giving a brief answer and rearranging your schedule to cover that topic next week may be in order. Otherwise, such questions shouldn’t take much time on any given Sunday. Much better to discuss them when they’re hot topics than to cover them in a teacher-devised course of study anyway.

  60. Mike M. says:

    Scott, I think that the problem isn’t that the investigator class uses the GP manual. The GP manual is just fine for that class so long as the teachers pick what is appropriate for the students. The problem is that the P&RS classes use it. Having taught Gospel Essentials, GD, and P before, I think it is the P&RS teachers that should adapt to using the GP manual by ramping those lessons up with more context, etc., not the Gospel Essentials teachers.

  61. Ardis (and Ray),
    While the first bullet point of the post does indeed show that my initial frustration with the manual was based on my own view of the class, it should be fairly clear that the rest of the OP was student-centric, not me-centric. The reality is that my own frustration caused me to simply think about the course a little bit more, and in doing so, a few ideas for how the course could be better for helping members integrate themselves into the kingdom came to mind.

    Ultimately, my first couple of months in this calling were comprised of attending this class every week and watching as different people were told, “This is what we were talking about last week,” and “I know you weren’t here last week, so this might not make sense,” and so on.

  62. Mike M. (60),
    Believe it or not, teaching lessons non-chronologically was one of my initial suggestions to the PTB, but that was nixed immediately on the basis of MBM.

    So, yeah.

  63. I think the the GP manual is a good starting off point for most lessons, but maybe combine that with exploring with new members/investigators what difficulties they’ve had adjusting to/understanding the gospel and mormon culture.

    I also like the idea of asking class members what they’d like to discuss after having them go through the manual to see what lessons might interest them. This could be done in advance to give the teacher time to prepare and offers class members some incentive to come back for a lesson that they asked for.

    I think it would be a good idea to give the class members opportunities to give mini-talks or mini-lessons, thus killing two birds with one stone. Maybe a class member who is comfortable can take 2-5 minutes of class to talk about what the given topic means to them or what they’ve learned about it, or what they don’t understand or have questions about.

  64. Molly Bennion says:

    I investigated the church for 7 years, met so many missionaries who could only parrot the basics I just quit talking to them, and credit my conversion to getting past the basics quickly. I like to think I’m not that unusual. Fortunately I turned to the library to fill the void missionaries and GP teachers couldn’t or wouldn’t. You are obviously well suited to be the exception. To answer your question, the questions investigators most need answered are their questions. While making sure our class members know the basics, I’d suggest we create a climate which encourages them to ask and us to answer questions narrow and global. When they don’t, we need to think what those issues probably are. For instance, teaching PH Org last week, I discussed the need for organizations, always plagued by human shortcomings, to be both securely rooted and malleable. The case can be made that the organization of the PH does an admirable job of both. The subject is not in the manual and nobody asked it, but “Why this way” is the obvious big picture question and a testament to inspiration when one compares ours to other religious organizations.

  65. Antonio Parr says:

    As a follow-up to Molly Bennion’s excellent post, wasn’t it the great Brother Lowell Bennion who taught that we teach people, not lessons? And isn’t that the correct standard? We adjust the focus of a lesson to meet the needs of the class.

  66. Latter-day Guy says:

    46 was just glorious. Thank you.

  67. I like everyone’s suggestion that you follow the spirit, as if following the spirit didn’t include an immense amount of prep-work – exactly what you’re trying to do here.

    I like the idea of introducing the movers-and-shakers of the Mormon History as well as the idea of a Mormon-Jargon lesson.

    Here is, perhaps, another idea in the same vein:

    1. Semi-Canonical Resources in the church, where did they come from, who wrote them, who were they intended for? Just simple introductions, so that when they hear them referenced in sacrament meeting and other classes, they’ll know what’s being talked about.
    (For Strength of Youth, The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, The Hymn Book, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jesus the Christ, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Mormon Doctrine(?))

  68. Of course, Aaron B’s Dracula-Adam-God lesson, by far the best.

  69. Another idea would be a series of How To Lessons.

    How To:
    1. Prepare a Talk in church
    2. Give a lesson
    3. Home Teach/Visit Teach
    4. Prepare Funeral Potatoes
    5. Prepare Green Jello
    6. Throw an elbow in Church Ball without being seen by the Ref.

  70. Latter-day Guy says:

    Funeral potatoes are a vicious cycle:

    1. Overwrought funeral attendee drowns sorrows under several kilos of starchy, fatty, cheesy goodness;
    2. Develops cardiovascular disease;
    3. Funeral attendee becomes funeral honoree;
    4. Later, rinse, repeat.

  71. Antonio Parr says:

    70. Throwing elbows is easy – no need for special training.

    When I was at the BYU, there was an intramural basketball pseudo-practice of purposely stepping on an opponent’s feet whenever someone would cut. Happened every season. (I was the victim but never the victimizer — stooped too low for my preference.)

    No offense to you lifetime Latter-Day Saints, but there was something peculiarly ~Mormon~ about this underhandedness (underfootedness?). Never happened in my high school playing or my graduate school (i.e., non-BYU intramurals). Is this some secret covenant that you lifers pass on to one another, and we converts are excluded from the indoctrination?

    Come to think of it, we may want to leave Church Ball out of the “How To” lessons.

    Of course, I digress . . .

  72. Latter-day Guy says:

    Sorry, that should be “Lather.”

  73. #
    “Daniel Says:
    July 19, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    how about lessons in church history. My sister would still be a member of the church were she to have learned about church history from Mormon sources than anti-Mormon sources, I’ll tell you that.”

    Hmm, what history are you referring too? The stone in the hat? Multiple first visions? Adam-God Doctrine? Blood Atonement? The sordid details of “the principle?” The problem is, the church doesn’t ever disclose this history, so when it’s discovered through “anti” sources, one can’t help but feel deceived by the church.

  74. As the instructor in HP group once a month using the gospel principles manual I’ve run into a big roadblock on every one of my lessons this year.

    If I keep it simple (which I don’t want to do) no one responds, no one participates, because everyone in the room knows the basic principles and no one wants to restate the obvious.

    If I try to dig into the principle (which I want to do) and ask questions about our basic assumptions no one responds because I’m questioning their basic assumptions.

    Either way I get nothing and each lesson flutters along like a wounded pigeon and never gets off the ground.

  75. KLC, what are you asking individual HPs to do in advance? The best GP lessons I’ve seen in priesthood (or heard of in Relief Society) are one swhere folsk arrive having read and thought about the lesson, with something to say — preferably something about why the principles taught in the lesson matter. Unfortunately, few priesthood teachers have any contact with quorum members outside of class; they never make individual assignments for participation, instead thinking (nearly always erroneoulsy) that they are better able to “teach” the lesson than well-prepared quorum members are.

  76. Hmm 74/75 — I taught Lesson 13 on the priesthood about 10 days ago. I prepared the lesson, and particularly selected three of four scripture blocks I wanted to concentrate on (D&C 84:18-22, D&C121:34-end; D&C 84:33+, and Alma 13). I then began the class with a technique proposed by Brother Osguthorpe (Gen’l SS president): after reading my first verses on the relation between the priesthood and ordinances, I asked the HP group what THEY would want to teach about the priesthood.

    The first suggestion (without the class’ knowing my scripture blocks) was D&C 121, and its discussion took the rest of our time, with most of the group participating in a lively discussion.

    Maybe we have a more lively group.

  77. 73: Oh, bullsh*t, JR. When I see you at the table next to me, working to dig out church history from the incredibly rich resources that the church opens to anyone, member or not, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the credibility to make such a bizarre statement. Until then, shut up.

  78. Scott, I didn’t mean to imply that your approach is “me-centric” – only that it doesn’t matter how many times a teacher has taught from the same textbook.

    I like your approach to lesson preparation. Really, I do. I just think it can be accomplished most weeks using almost any manual, including GP.

  79. @ 71 – I think church ball “underfootedness” is the result of generations of repressed, accrued anger. *smiley emoticon through gritted teeth*

  80. Rigel Hawthorne says:


    You’ve made a good case for abandoning the GP manual and Ardis has made a good case for using it. It is my understanding that the missionary discussions as outlined in the new Preach My Gospel result in baptism BEFORE the investigator has been taught lessons on the Priesthood and the Temple. This has created some issues in rapidly integrating new male members into the Priesthood because they have to wait for the New Member lessons to get to it. We had two converts baptized near the beginning of the year and the sequence of when the lesson would be taught on Priesthood in the Gospel Principles class was aligned right for them, but then teachers were switched, brand new investigators showed up resulting in modification of the lesson plan and those male converts have still not progressed to receive the Priesthood. The same issues are there for getting people to do baptisms for the dead in the temple 6 months after their baptism dates.

    So, should there be some coordination between those giving the new member discussions and the Gospel Principles teacher? Yes, but it seems for the sake of maintaining a recognizable sequence in a manual that new members are following, the Priesthood or the Temple should be discussed in the context of the lesson that is up for the week (if needed) or as a review of a previous weeks lesson.

    I like what others have offered as a “tour” of things to expect. A tour of the LDS edition of the scriptures might also be helpful, although not so meaningful for the investigator who studied 7 years before joining the church. Learning about the topical guide, the footnotes, the bible dictionary for the more typical convert who worked with the missionaries a couple of months is an idea. This opens up the door for the new member to delve into the scriptures more fruitfully in their individual study.

  81. Left Field says:

    #77: Even a search of the Ensign will bring up good information on a number of those topics.

  82. Scott B. says:

    JR (#73),

    What Ardis said. We have some issues with our history, but your statement is nonsense. You’ve got to do better than that.

  83. Ardis E. Parshall Says:
    July 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    “73: Oh, bullsh*t, JR. When I see you at the table next to me, working to dig out church history from the incredibly rich resources that the church opens to anyone, member or not, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the credibility to make such a bizarre statement. Until then, shut up.”

    After re-reading my comment, I realize I made too broad of a statement in stating “the church doesn’t ever disclose this history.” What I should have said, is this information is nowhere to be found in current church teaching manuals (and if it is, please give me cites and I will be happy to correct this statement) Commentor #1 said the GP lessons should contain church history, since his sister learned about history from anti sources.

    Can we both agree that there is the history the church readily presents in church lessons (such as JS translating the B of M w/ the Urim and Thummim) which doesn’t always tell the whole story? (rock in the hat, as pointed out in Russel M. Nelsons 1992 Ensign article). As you correctly point out, this info can be found in church sources, but not church teaching manuals. So when Commentator #1 said he wanted to see church history, I was wondering which history he would like to see presented. And let’s be honest, most members get their church history from church lessons; they don’t bother to dig on their own, as it appears both you and I have done. Therefore, when the average member learns about this history on their own, there is often a feeling that something has been withheld from them. If it were presented in manuals, perhaps these feelings could be avoided. Do you disagree?

  84. StillConfused says:

    If you truly do have investigators or converts, I think it would be very helpful to explain to them the Mormon Lingo as well as the unique aspects of Mormonism. It took my prior spouse years to finally get that Mormons don’t have Midnight Mass on Christmas.

    I like the Principles/Essentials class because it makes no qualms about being basic and lame. Hence I never have any let down there.

  85. Rigel,

    Don’t fully understand your comment. The lesson to be taught “Laws and Ordinances” after baptism is in Preach My Gospel, and is to be taught by ward missionaries or full time missionaries. It is not part of the Gospel Essentials class or the the Gospel Principles manual. It’s true that GE can reinforce that teaching, but it should not (according to my understanding) replace it.

    Further, missionaries should introduce the concepts of Laws and Ordinances prior to baptism (“Baptismal candidates should at least be aware of these laws and ordinances before baptism”, PMG page 82.)

    Yes, the lesson should be taught quickly after baptism. If ward missionaries teach a lesson a week, and incorporate the commandments and the laws & ordinances lessons into the others, then it can be done in less than a month.

    Hopefully a baptismal candidate will have attended church a number of times prior to his baptism and will also have attended priesthood, so the concept should not be shocking to him.

    In our ward, home teachers can also be helpful in that preparation so that it doesn’t rest solely on the Gospel Essentials teacher.

  86. StillConfused says:

    I also think that manuals can be used as a crutch. I get really annoyed with teachers who just read what is in the manual. Anyone can do that on their own. How about actually teaching something? Draw parallels and contrasts to other faiths; give real day application examples; actually discuss the bad stuff too; etc.

  87. Yes, I disagree, JR. The examples you use to represent “real” church history have no place in the Sunday curriculum, nor should they. Seminary maybe, Institute courses and the public library certainly, but manuals for the Sunday curriculum, no.

    Analogy: You’re teaching a class to prepare newcomers for American citizenship. Instead of focusing on current civics, would you instead teach the bits of the Constitution that have been superseded, and the ugliest phases of slavery and maltreatment of Natives? I mean, after all, some Canadian might bring those up at some point and the new citizens would feel betrayed because the truth had been withheld, no?

    Honest history isn’t that hard to find, from friendly published sources, for church members who have any curiosity to look for it and enough sense to distinguish between honest sources and the foul depths of the anti-Mormon internet. People who are so foolish as to fall into that trap are not likely to be paying much attention in Sunday School anyway, or they’d know better than to frequent history porn sites.

  88. JR,

    Even if you believe in “innoculation” (which to a large extent, I do) It doesn’t have a place in a Gospel Essentials class. There probably is a time and a place for them, but Gospel Essentials should be things that are Gospel-Essential: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Temples, etc.

  89. Personally I find the manual to be fine. I would be custom crafting each lesson to the individual class member though. I do agree with Ardis that some things are true and do not belong in lessons on Sunday. There are other venues for them as mentioned.

  90. Sure, there are other venues. But when was the last time an investigator or less active signed up for seminary or institute? I’m sure it does happen, but rarely (especially outside of Utah/Idaho). So, how then, are they supposed to learn about the troubling history in a “comfortable” environment, especially in today’s internet age.

    Ardis – I disagree with your analogy. For one thing, no one is claiming that America is “the one true country.” For another, new citizens are generally coming to improve their standard of living, so the history doesn’t matter that much to them. Also, barriers to entry to a new country are much higher than most religions. One can much more easily trade religions than citizenship.

    Contrast that with “the one true church.” History is much more important to a church member, because if Joseph Smith isn’t’ who he claims to be, then all Mormons are really wasting their time. If I determine the Mormon church isn’t true, then I can easily go to the Catholic/Baptist/Nature church down the street. Therefore, every detail of the restoration should be carefully studied to determine whether or not it is legit. True, some of it, like the “stone in the hat” isn’t very flattering. But would you rather an investigator or less active finds out from official church sources, or the internet? Because in the internet age, it’s usually a matter of when, not if they find out.

  91. “For one thing, no one is claiming that America is ‘the one true country.'”


    Serious question: Do you live in the US?

  92. Adam Greenwood says:

    “the one true country”

    we still officially frown on dual citizenship. We aren’t saying that the US is the one true country for everyone, but if you’re becoming a citizen, we’re saying its the one true country for you.

    Current opening lines of the oath of citizenship:

    I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen

  93. 91 and 92 – my reply was made in disagreeing with the analogy in 87, either you haven’t read it or I’m not very good at explaining my point (or perhaps both!).

  94. Yep, read it. Just don’t agree.

    It’s the heart of Manifest Destiny – the ideology that propelled the USA from its inception and thrives to this day. It’s the bedrock of American Protestantism. Politicians know it and capitalize on it constantly. It’s so woven into the fabric of American consciousness that it’s hard to imagine the US without it.

  95. Eric S. says:

    I would suggest a class, or series of classes, where the concept of testimony is explored and isolated. The overall objective would be to strip away all other aspects and motivations of Church affiliation (gastronomy, greeters, Pioneer Day, dating, Youth Conference activities, pancakes, make friends, employment, indoor basketball court, whatever) and to focus in on developing and sustaining an affiliation with the organization of the Church based on the person’s conviction of the gospel. What do I mean by “strip away”? To isolate how the person feels when they read, listen to, think about, share, and live the gospel from the way they associate being a member of the Church and its culture.

    Too many times on our missions and in our wards do we see newer members of the Church–who have testimonies–struggle in their association with the organization of the Church due to changing cultural circumstances that coincided with their conversion. By casual observation, these two concepts may be hard for newer members to separate when change or challenge comes along.

    Conversion is a personal and sustaining conviction, whereas culture is something shared and dynamic. I love LDS culture! It is a great, derivative part of having a personal conviction of the gospel (or developing or nurturing one). But the cultural aspects are not why most members go to Church, read scriptures, etc. Most go, I suspect, because they are accountable to a theological conviction. In Joseph Smith speak, “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it.”

    So the class, or series of classes, would talk about personal conviction and testimony, and then identify non-conviction aspects of association with the Church organization. It could be discussed in the context of different scriptural or historical accounts where a person was challenged by a cultural situation but remained integral (or not) based on their personal conviction (e.g., the Thomas Marsh and cream strippings is a personal fav). There are all sorts of ways to approach it. But on the whole, I think such a discussion and awareness would lead to sustained association. And then the cultural benefits are just icing on the cake.

    Our culture is a great introduction to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I’m not convinced that our culture is sustaining. Integration comes with acting on personal conviction because that conviction is the common denominator among us. It is what transcends all other aspects of our association with each other. There are lots and lots of assumptions and understandings built into what I say here, but that’s the stuff to discuss in such a class series.

  96. Adam Greenwood says:

    I’m not sure what that actually means, Eric S., but it sounds cool.

  97. Antonio Parr says:


    What, pray tell, is “LDS Culture”?

  98. Thomas Parkin says:

    “And then the cultural benefits are just icing on the cake. ”

    Or, whatever. *wink* ~

  99. 97 – see comment #69 4-6. Thats it, nothing more, nothing less, the whole of LDS culture.

    I actually thought that testimony was already a chapter, checked, sure enough its not. But I think your ideas could be integrated very easily into some of the chapters that are already there: The Holy Ghost (7)/Gift of the Holy Ghost (21), Jesus Christ (3), and Fasting(25). I think that you bring up some very valid points, I wonder if they might be more effective as an overall theme, than a specific lesson. But, maybe not.

  100. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Paul, thanks for reading my comment and asking for clarification. Your comments are great and I want to parse them just a bit because I think you can help me/my ward if you understand the issues we’re having.

    “It’s true that GE can reinforce that teaching, but it should not (according to my understanding) replace it.”

    This is what I meant in general, but if we are “tailoring” a GE class to the needs of the new converts and investigators, the design of the yearly flow of lessons will be hit and miss for new converts depending on what part of the year they are baptized.

    ““Baptismal candidates should at least be aware of these laws and ordinances before baptism”, PMG page 82.”

    I don’t really get the logic here. It’s like they are telling the missionaries, ‘you don’t have to teach the lesson on the subject until after baptism, but make sure they are aware of what is in those after-baptism lessons before they are baptized.’ So the missionaries are supposed to deviate from the discussions as outlined in order to do this?

    “If ward missionaries teach a lesson a week, and incorporate the commandments and the laws & ordinances lessons into the others, then it can be done in less than a month.”

    Is this process really working that well for everyone? Seems like our new converts really need refreshing of the discussions they have already received. Word of wisdom issues seem to creep back in frequently as well. We’ve had some great converts with great fellowshipping efforts combined, but moving them to the Priesthood has either been more difficult than it used to be or we are missing something.

    “Hopefully a baptismal candidate will have attended church a number of times prior to his baptism and will also have attended priesthood, so the concept should not be shocking to him.”

    Our Bishop has told the missionaries that their investigator HAS to attend Priesthood meeting before he can be baptized, but I don’t really believe he had the authority to make that rule. Isn’t the only requirement that they attend sac mtg? So, they may have attended a minimum number of Priesthood classes, which may not have given him any teaching/reinforcement on the duties of the Priesthood. The concept of being interviewed by the Bishop for evaluating preparation for Priesthood or a calling is a new and foreign experience. The New Member Discussions, in recent observations, don’t seem to capture the momentum of the pre-baptsimal preparation, unfortunately.

    “In our ward, home teachers can also be helpful in that preparation so that it doesn’t rest solely on the Gospel Essentials teacher.”

    I wish our home teaching program was consistently reliable in that regard.

  101. Rigel,

    I can appreciate the concerns you have; they are valid and serious. In fairness, we don’t have many convert baptisms — about one a year at our present rate, so it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on the one. And last year’s has his brother investigating the church this year, so he’ll have had the lessons a gazillion times by the time it’s all done.

    That said, I appreciate your concern. It seems the never-ending struggle of sorting when a person is ready to be baptized. I remember on my mission (in the late 70’s) in Germany, members would have liked investigators to have attended for a year and paid tithing the whole time before being baptized (I’m only exaggerating a little…). And we missionaries of course were ready to move at the drop of a hat.

    Hopefully the bishop and missionaries can work together reasonably. Everything I read says he is responsible for missionary work in the ward. And he certainly controls when someone is confirmed.

    It seems like a reasonable conversation with the mission president might be helpful to sort this stuff out. Hard to believe your unit is the only one having these questions.

    BTW, I agree that thinking about the order of GP to meet the needs of a new member relative to priesthood and baptisms for the dead makes perfect sense. Frankly, I suspect few people would notice…

  102. We will continue to disagree, JR, although we will not continue to debate.

    I’m sure in all your study of the history of the church you must have read and understood Davis Bitton’s speech, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church”. Read it again. When you’re qualified to explain why he’s wrong in a way that is convincing both to my mind and my spirit, get back to me.

  103. 102, Ardis, thanks for the link! Outstanding article which I had not previously seen.

  104. Ardis wrote pure Gold today.
    We love you Ardis.

  105. Mike M. says:

    Scott #62. The MBM principle is correct IMO, but if the class participants differ each week, then I’d say that applying the MBM principle should lead you to NOT do lessons chronologically.

    Antonio Parr #65: “Teach people, not lessons.” Good one.

  106. Mike M.,
    Totally agree. Combining a chronological approach and a changing audience on the basis of MBM is nuts. But, not my call. Alas.

  107. wreddyornot says:
  108. I’ve gone through the GP manual a couple of times as an instructor myself. In my experience, the lessons I’ve felt most satisfied with involve the following process.
    1) Prayerfully read through the lesson.
    2) Select 1 or 2 stories from the scriptures and / church history that illustrate that principle (a handful can usually be found at the end of each chapter).
    3) Read / retell those stories in class and have an in depth discussion about them and how they relate to us.

    I find the stories from the scriptures can be adapted to whoever is in the room more easily than a bullet list of discussion points.

    Sometimes I’ll refer the class members to clarification or more details in the manual, which they can read at home.

  109. Antonio Parr says:

    This morning I read portions of Lowell Bennion’s “Jesus the Master Teacher” (every Latter-Day Saint should own this book!), where he wrote that great talks and great lessons are great because they focus on a single idea and bring that idea to life. A GD or GP teacher has great flexibility in fulfilling this mandate by seizing on a single topic or subtopic and taking the subject wherever creativity and inspiration and the Spirit may lead.

  110. The entire point of GE is to teach *fundamentals*. I actually think that we need to spend 5-10 years of teaching GE to every member of the Church. Because the more I sit in EQ and SS, the more crazy I hear…

  111. If someone wants to teach an Institute class about “Who’s Who in the Church in the 19th Century”, I’d find that interesting.

    But I really don’t want to hear it in EQ or SS.

  112. I don’t mean to gloat, but I teach the Marriage & Family class in my ward and, now that we’ve finished the (short) manual, I’m able to make lessons up on the go. It gives us so much more freedom and because I take my calling seriously, I spend several hours preparing. To me, the manuals and correlation exist to ensure that the lowest common denominator is not a complete disaster, doctrinally speaking. I only have a testimony of correlated materials inasmuch as they prevent ill-prepared teachers or doctrinal cowboys/girls from messing up an hour of the sabbath for a dozen people. Don’t get me wrong…a good lesson can come of the prescribed manuals if thoughtful questions are asked and relevant spiritual experiences are shared and invited by the teacher. But I believe in an approach to teaching that includes prayer and the reading of multiple sources and scripture chains vs. a procedural, rote read-through of a GP lesson in which half the class is zoned out. I see the latter and its effects too much to think that it is preferred by the Lord to a non-correlated but well-prepared lesson.

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