Crowdsourcing a teachers’ retreat for an Elders Quorum

I’ve recently been tasked with coordinating and overseeing teaching for our local elders quorum. We have a great group of smart and committed teachers, and I would like to support them in their teaching. I would also like to be open to insights into pedagogy and adult learning as well as some pastoral insights that might be relevant to creating an elders quorum environment that strengthens community, stirs faith, and stretches us all a little in mind and heart.

To that end, I’m inviting the teachers over to my house to engage in the modern replacement for Levitical animal sacrifice (rhymes with farbecue) and perhaps an hour program intended to further hone teaching skills.

Any links, resources, stories, anecdotes, wisdom, insights welcome.


  1. My insight is, you are a lucky man for having so many people available that there is a separate calling for just coordinating the teaching.

  2. marginalizedmormon says:

    there comes a time when no more listening is needed, just action–

    George MacDonald (19th century minister/writer) commented that often people felt more righteous for having heard about righteousness, which can be a trap–

    find people to coordinate service; it is service that is needed–

    there are crises all over the place–

    get out of the building and serve–

  3. #1, Not a separate calling, I’m an EQ counselor and the president asked me to oversee teaching. #2 I like a practical bent to lessons, including thinking through specific problems we are encountering in our lives as well as service opportunities and the meanings of service. I think practical and theoretical both matter, ultimately.

  4. Still, I’d love to have a separate teacher called. Sorry I don’t have much insight, the lessons in our ward are usually not that great, and I say that as one who teaches many of them.

  5. About 7 or 8 years ago, my EQ starting siting in a large circle, instead of in rows. I think that it is has had a huge impact on how we discuss things as part of a lesson. I see opening up the possibility of real discussion and sharing, which necessitates the possibility of disagreement and fruitful exposition of perspectives, to be a worthy goal (and I think the goal of the old School of the Prophets). How to get there is the challenge. I think it takes performative examples.

    As far as pedagogy, I think asking difficult questions is the key. Something as simple as, “do we really believe xyz”? is sometimes sufficient. But you can’t have meaningful discussion without meaningful questions. I imagine that there is a literature on that, but I am not familiar with it.

  6. The best quorum meetings I have attended have been when the lesson itself was secondary to the actual work of the quorum. A Sunday School class is all about the lesson, but a quorum meeting has additional purposes. The president would begin the meeting by outlining what the quorum had to accomplish that week — who is sick and needs a visit, who is going to fill the welfare assignment, who can come help a family move next Saturday, and so on. This approach cuts into the lesson time, but it fosters a spirit of brotherhood and togetherness and good will which carries over into the lesson. It helps focus the attention on the weightier matters, so when we get to the lesson, it isn’t just another classroom experience.

  7. Sam, I taught a similar lesson in my ward last year, except without the Levitical animal sacrifice (which, now that I think about it was a glaring omission). I did a mash up of the “Using a variety of teaching methods” chapter from “Teaching, no Greater Call” — a vastly underutilized resource –and Thomas B. Griffth’s 2008 BYU Devotional address, later reprinted in the Ensign, called “The Very Root of Christian Doctrine”. I think it should be mandatory reading for anyone teaching in a church setting. I called it “Using a variety of teaching methods to teach the atonement of Jesus Christ” or something similar. It was very well received. Let me know if you’d like for me to email a copy of the outline.

  8. I wanted to contribute my wisdom to this crowd-source request, since I’ve been to elder’s quorum meetings a couple of times. But Stapley took my answer. I think him saying it has more credibility anyway, ’cause he wears a tie. I love Mark Brown’s suggestion.

  9. I’d agree with above; I think some of the best learning in a Church setting can come when teachers learn how to ask good questions. What makes a good question? How do you distinguish between good and bad questions? (Hint: if it’s in the manual, it’s probably the latter.)

  10. Sam, as I reflect back on the quorum you and I were in together in Longfellow Park and the wonderful lessons we experienced I’m contemplating how I would do it the same and how I would do it differently if I was that Elders quorum president again. I don’t recall that we had actually assigned instructors but instead I believe we called upon each member of the quorum to teach a lesson. I don’t know that I would do that again. But I do recall fondly many of the lessons contributed by our members, including a few by you and I’m not sure that richness could have been replicated if we relied entirely on a few teachers.

    Some key points to consider:

    You’re teaching a quorum and helping the members teach each other through dialogue around specific spiritual topics. You need to ask yourselves as a quorum presidency what your objectives are and how the instruction within the quorum will help achieve those objectives.

    Borrowing from the CHI:
    The primary purposes of quorums are to serve others, build unity and brotherhood, and instruct members in doctrines, principles, and duties.

    They encourage quorum and group members to fulfill their priesthood duties, especially their duties as husbands and fathers.

    They oversee efforts to improve gospel learning and teaching in the elders quorum and high priests group.

    Under the direction of the bishop, they plan ways to address welfare needs in the quorum or group.

    The best lessons have a call to action and create change within the minds and hearts of those who participate. In order to be an effective teacher, the instructors have to know and truly love the members of the quorum and help them love each other. They need to think deeply about the quorum members and prayerfully consider their needs. Above all, they need to invite the Spirit into quorum lessons and consider how all aspects of the learning environment contribute toward that effort.

  11. My husband recently finished up a year teaching once a month on Daughters of My Kingdom, he said it was very eye-opening for the Elders, to learn from women’s voices and experiences. I probably don’t need to tell you, but maybe adding some instruction on how to do exactly that as they teach would be awesome.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    I like the idea of sitting in a circle. Our HPG meets in an old bishop’s office, and so of necessity we sit in chairs around the wall, basically in an oblong circle. I like it much better than rows.

    On asking good questions, one of my favorite stories is when Lowell Bennion was visiting an elders’ quorum one Sunday. The lesson, on home teaching, was pretty bad, and no one was engaged in it. So Lowell innocently raised his hand and asked, “Why do we find it so difficult to do our home teaching?” And then the floodgates opened, and everyone was fully engaged and participating, sharing their thoughts and ideas. All from a simple, well placed question.

  13. Kevin, I love that quote, and even though I’ve never heard it before I’ve taught several lessons about HT over the last 4 decades (I’m a few years older than you) using the same question. Up until about 10 or so years ago it worked for me just as you describe it working for Bennion. But lately my lessons using that question and other similar ones have fallen flat. And it is always the same reaction, even the mere acknowledgement that we find HT to be hard seems to have become an unacceptable admission. A faithful saint not only does his HT he exults in it, he savors it, he salivates at the opportunity to go…or at least that’s what we want everyone to believe if I use the embarrassed stares or the forceful denials I now get in response to it as a gauge.

  14. Thanks, all, for the great ideas. (and for the fond memories; it’s hard to recapitulate early adulthood in Boston in the 1990s).

  15. Sam,

    One of the best teaching exercises I encountered was an exercise on developing lessons designed to reach across the diversity of the audience in the class. It was in a Cambridge ward where the diversity in background was quite large (as you know) but that is a challenge almost everywhere. The leader gave everyone a lesson and had them prepare a teaching plan. People did that and then briefly shared their ideas for how they would approach the lesson. Then he handed out photocopied blown up faces of people in the ward that represented very different demographics – the PhD student in biblical studies, the older Hatian immigrant, non-native english speaker, the mother with the most small children etc. He asked us all to go back and prepare a lesson just for that person. We then shared what those lessons looked like. Then the question at the end was – could you prepare a lesson that could combine elements from the personalized lessons to create a dynamic, multi-level teaching plan that met diverse needs. Being Cambridge, of course, we then had a good discussion problematizing the desirability and difficulty of creating “multi-vocal” lessons versus crafting lessons that played directly to a given segment and then rotating those each week etc. However, as a teacher (in a very demanding ward in terms of expected teaching quality) I found that teacher training as thought provoking and helpful as any I have attended.

  16. David Redden says:

    Wisdom? That’s debatable, but I’ll offer my $.02 anyway. Well, okay, more like $.05. And it has to do with the nuts and bolts of teaching on Sundays.

    My overriding goals for every lesson are to 1) teach individuals how to seriously engage with their faith at whatever level they are capable, and 2) to facilitate inspiration.

    Of course, to teach others to seriously engage with their faith, the teacher must do so him or herself. This involves the regular stuff, like reading scriptures, praying, etc. But unfortunately, it also involves “thinking interesting thoughts,” which is really the tricky part. No doubt you have no problems in that department, smb, so one of the most tremendous things you can do in a teach-the-teacher class is to show others how to have think interesting thoughts. Teach them to follow a thread through a series of scripture verses, to wrestle with the difficult stuff instead of skipping past, and to ask questions of and about the text while they read. Teach them to make connections between doctrine and their own interests and life experiences and incorporate those into the lesson. Teach them to quote a general authority’s statement and then take it apart and analyze it. Another way to teach people how to seriously engage their faith is to simply engage them in a conversation about faith and help them to articulate it. My favorite methods to do this are to ask a person what they mean, or to take the input of one of the class-members and restate it back to them like this: “I think what you mean is…” I also like to play this clever little game where I tie a wild comment back to the lesson and still attribute it to the commenter. I usually start out with “I think you’re right,” then I make whatever link I can, even though the commenter may or may not have actually been thinking it. It helps keep me on my toes, and it entertains the folks who are paying attention.

    Facilitating inspiration is also a tricky business, but for this most part it involves getting the garbage out of the way so the Spirit can do its work. My three primary methods for doing this are to reduce the pressure, “prime” the class, and shut down unhelpful talk. To reduce pressure, I do everything I can to ask questions in a way that suggests there are no wrong answers. I ask what they think or feel about something, or for their experiences. I leave room for disagreement, asking them if they think x, and if so, why. Another trick is, if you have a question that involves making a list, ask people to just shout out answers while you turn your back and write them on the board and compliment people for their genius. They love that stuff. Next, if I think there’s a good chance a question or topic will elicit a discussion that may offend somebody in the room, I “prime” the class to be more sensitive in their responses. There are a number of ways to do this, the most blunt of which is specifically telling them to be mindful that some in the room may be sensitive about the topic and maybe ask them list off the reasons why. This gives a voice to those who may have otherwise stewed in silence or left. Third and finally, people will inevitably say unhelpful and/or insensitive things anyway, because that’s just how it goes. Common examples include bagging on other faiths, conflating politics and doctrine, speaking contemptuously of certain groups (e.g., feminists, democrats, LGBT individuals, the less fortunate, and other imagined devils), making statements suggesting no reasonable person can disagree when in fact they do, and otherwise not being mindful of those whose lives haven’t necessarily worked out according to the standard Mormon protocol. I politely and quickly shut that stuff down. There a few ways to do that, including playing devil’s advocate, but sometimes you just have to say “Sorry to interrupt, but I don’t want to talk about _____” and move right on. You’re the teacher. You get to do that.

    With these goals and principles in mind, I find I can lead a class in which people are more likely to feel the Spirit, feel like they learned something, and not care whether they make it through an entire lesson.

  17. I think if you can, it would be valuable to Tony Litster-ize all of them. (Mormon Stories #362) It seems that pornography issues find there way into many of my husband’s elder’s quorum meetings. If their perspective could be changed, your whole group could benefit from a new approach that can potentially eliminate shame from the afflicted and explain the biology involved.

  18. I would like to see a discussion of the relative value of church teachings. Compare a declaration (church claims is revelation), with a proclamation, are all conference talks of equal weight, does an apostle speaking at BYU have the same weight as a conference talk.

    There was a SS lesson recently where the lesson said “our church leaders receive ongoing revelation for our guidance” and the example given was Dec 2 (1978)

    When I try to raise this discussion in HP group I am shouted down. Everything that comes from SLC is revelation just as if God had spoken.

  19. The church only claims declarations as revelation and yet most members believe that much more is revelation than is claimed. How can this be?

  20. Thanks again for all these great ideas. I will let you know as this evolves.

  21. Meldrum the Less says:

    I had an idea when I was called to be the EQP about 17 years ago, based loosely on a passage of scripture, teach ye one another the doctrines of the kingdom.

    The idea: Give ownership of the lesson to the members of the Quorum.

    We had about 10-15 who attended and I found it extremely boring. I made a list of about 40 men; from those who at least sometimes showed up to some meetings all the way up to the very active and devout. I started visiting them and telling them the Lord had an important message for them to teach us in one good lesson this year. I instructed them that it only takes a week to prepare a lesson once you know what message you wanted to give, but I requested that they spend 6 to 8 weeks in prayer, repentance and spiritual preparation in order to have revealed to them what the Lord specifically wanted them to teach us.

    Some of the more orthodox requested I follow the manual and I responded that if that was what 8 weeks of prayer and repentance resulted in the Lord telling them to do, then who was I to disagree? Select a lesson out of the manual and teach it. I also gave the instructors every opportunity to procrastinate and flake out so that I never actually asked anyone to teach who really didn’t want to teach. Typically I had about 10 or 15 guys in the bull pen getting ready to teach their one important lesson and being encouraged curiously by myself but not in a guilt inducing way. This was more time consuming than organizing home teaching and lucky for me I had a counselor who wanted to shoulder most of that burden. About 1/4 the time I ended up teaching myself which became a labor of love and I continually was doing the same preparation.

    We started having much better lessons from my perspective. Guys in the bull pen started coming to see how others taught and often kept coming after delivering their message. The ward was somewhat transient and attendance fluctuated. I can’t claim any cause-and-effect with statistical probability, but I was happy to see attendance double and double again. After a year we had over 50 attending and a few guys on the fringe who came to Priesthood meeting to be part of our exceptional discussions but skipped sacrament meeting. There was a different level of energy in the quorum, a feeling I have never experienced before or since.

    You can take an excellent talk from any one of the GAs and give it as a lesson. But it is not your lesson. You do not have personal ownership of it. When you do the thinking and the praying and the research and put your whole heart and soul into it, even if it is not to the same level as a more skillful teacher, it has a greater amount of heart and soul because you own it.

    Going astray doctrine-wise was a risk. I was probably more prone to it than anyone else and I was teaching with more than ten times the frequency of anyone else. But once these discussions reached a certain level of authentic participation, I found it impossible to lead several intelligent and engaged men very far afield. I found this risk to be way overblown.

    When I was released, the next EQP was pretty much by the book. One or two instructors and lessons straight from the manual. He shifted focus away from priesthood lessons and into the black hole of home teaching. Attendance fell back into the teens within a month. I was asked to be the instructor and try to “bring back the magic” (his words) and I really did not want to see my efforts dwindle away. But I could not stand up and teach a lesson every week in the same way by myself as was being done before, as much as I begged the Lord to help me do it. Attendance did not improve and I felt guilty for it.

    I am not sure it is exactly what you do that matters that much, but in how you manage to inspire others to do it.

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