When Church Is Boring

The church posted a message on Facebook on Sunday to help members focus their attention in church, quoting a talk by Bishop Dean Davies. This post has gotten a few people in online communities asking questions.

Some of the questions I’ve heard in response to this post are:

  • Who’s responsible for boring talks and lessons?
  • Does this mean the church is acknowledging that our meetings are boring?
  • Is the onus entirely on the listener or is this blaming the victim for their bad attitude?
  • Is “shaming” people an appropriate tactic? [1]

Pres. Uchtdorf’s opening talk at the Saturday morning session of General Conference addressed this question also. He spoke of the spiritual experiences we’ve had that brought us to church in the first place and asked, quoting Alma 5:26: “Can ye feel so now?”

Thinking over my own church experience of nearly 50 years, my honest answer to that question is “Depends.” Sometimes I can “feel so,” but sometimes I simply don’t have it in me. Life is long. They wouldn’t call it “enduring” to the end if it was non-stop enjoyment. So yes, when a lesson or talk is boring, partly that’s because I’m just not feeling it right then. As Pres. Uchtdorf says (to my condemnation):

Considering all of this, how could it ever be possible that we of all people would not be excited about attending our Church worship services? Or get tired of reading the holy scriptures? I suppose this could be possible only if our hearts were past feeling to experience gratitude and awe for the sacred and sublime gifts God has granted us. Life-changing truths are before our eyes and at our fingertips, but sometimes we sleepwalk on the path of discipleship. Too often we let ourselves be distracted by the imperfections of our fellow members instead of following the example of our Master. We tread a path covered with diamonds, but we can scarcely distinguish them from ordinary pebbles.

Fine, I suck. Actually, I’m not sure how much control I actually have on my suckitude. There are times when I can nudge myself over the line into good-attitude-land, but there are other times when I feel a sense of dread going to church, like I’m about to board a really long flight in coach.

At other times, I tend to think a specific lesson or talk just isn’t for me. Not everything has to be tailor-made for me. I don’t like every book I read, every movie I watch, every topic of conversation people bring up, or every political candidate who gets nominated (*cough, cough*). But there might be someone else for whom that talk or lesson is really important and just the right thing for them at the moment. [2] It doesn’t have to mean I am a spiritual low-life just because that talk or lesson wasn’t my cup of (herbal) tea.

For example, I was talking to someone about the poor preparation of a Gospel Doctrine teacher that week at church, and that person empathized and contrasted the unprepared teacher with their own glowing view of a different Gospel Doctrine teacher, someone I particularly disliked because of that person’s self-aggrandizing, bombastic style. I can see that bombastic puts some butts in seats–it’s not boring at least. I prefer more scholarly lessons, but there are plenty of people who might find that boring or a turn-off like I find a loud, lecturing style with little classroom discussion a snooze. We don’t all like the same things. While lack of preparation might be a universal turn-off, maybe it’s not. Maybe some people would adore the ramblings of an absent-minded professor and find that self-deprecation charming. Perhaps it’s most charitable to shrug and say, “Hey, that wasn’t for me, but I’m sure someone else got what they needed. Bully for them.”

It’s interesting that the picture in the post shows two people who are both potentially not paying attention. While the woman is focused on the talk being boring (criticizing the speaker?) the man is thinking about gratitude for the Savior. It’s ambiguous whether his thoughts have anything to do with the actual talk being presented. Musing on the atonement rather than focusing on the speaker or teacher seems to be better than dissing on the poor quality of the talk, particularly since we don’t have professional clergy addressing our congregations. A measure of charity can’t be a bad thing. But let’s have a measure of charity for the listeners, too, eh? We showed up.

There’s another factor that can contribute to the soul-crushing boredom of some of our talks and lessons aside from the jaded listeners, the untrained speakers and teachers, and the threadbare topics, and that’s the lesson manuals themselves. Unlike some other Christian churches that just use the scriptures and the pastor’s discretion, we have a centrally written curriculum. Teachers are required to follow the lesson plans, and in most wards are discouraged from bringing in any outside materials (other than scriptures or lds.org) in creating their lessons or talks. That greatly restricts the intellectual curiosity of speakers and teachers as well as class members. In most lessons, it seems like we continually ask the exact same questions and get the exact same “official” answers over and over. It reminds me of the chanting in some high churches where the priest chants one line, and the congregation responds with the scripted answer, back and forth. Good thing we dislike vain repetition.

That’s why ward members need to keep it real. People need to speak up and discuss things in fresh new ways. The lesson manuals may be correlated, but the contents of our heads and lives are unique! If you say something that’s unusual, challenging or authentic–but hopefully still on point–you’ll find that you have people coming out of the woodwork to thank you for saying it. People you wouldn’t expect, even. People who might not ever do so themselves. We are starved for anything to shake us out of our stupor, or so it seems.

Or we can daydream the time away when the lesson’s a stinker.


[1] It’s church, people. Shaming is our bread and butter.

[2] The same cannot be said for every political nominee.


  1. Lots of churches have interesting sermons and lessons. It’s not like this is an impossible task. I don’t think we’ve firmly identified the causes of why ours can be so dull. Too easy, I suspect, to blame the lay clergy.

  2. <> My experience has been that the best lessons happen precisely when they ignore this part.

  3. Take II:

    “Teachers are required to follow the lesson plans, and in most wards are discouraged from bringing in any outside materials (other than scriptures or lds.org) in creating their lessons or talks”.

    My experience has been that the best lessons happen precisely when they ignore this part.

    (cursing my lack of technological prowess)

  4. It goes both ways. I blame ensign for most boring talks. And general conference talks. Why do people simply read them? I do like how other churches only use the scriptures and go from there. When this is done in sacrament meeting, in my experience these are the best talks.

  5. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I also cringe when we take the blame-the-victim approach to being engaged at Church. I get so tired of being told that if I am bored, it’s my responsibility to find meaning in a talk/lesson and that failing to do so is my own fault. If I want to be uplifted at Church, I guess it’s up to me. However, if that were really the case, I’m not sure what the point of those talks/lessons really is. I can think of dozens of more uplifting things to do with my 3 hours. When I look around the room, it’s easy to see that I’m not the only one, and am not even in the minority. So, maybe it’s not me.

    One of the issues is that we don’t model good talks/lessons. When my teenagers are asked to give a talk, their initial approach is to reach for the Ensign, Conference talks, or the Topical Guide. That’s their approach because that’s what they see multiple times each week. We are keen to discourage that from them. Also, when you are in enough lessons where the teacher reads from the manual, hands out little strips of paper for people to read, or breaks the audience into groups to discuss something and return and report, you think that’s what teaching is supposed to look like. So, when you’re called as an instructor, that’s what you do.

    I know we have a program where teachers are trained (there’s a new version of this every few years, or course). Clearly, it’s not very effective. I think we should teach teaching (and speaking) seriously, and people should learn how to do it the same way those who actually teach and speak for a living learn how to do it. They learn from mentorship, from practice, from feedback. We should receive feedback, in some form, on our efforts (yes, this is awkward, but that’ how learning happens). Nothing is more depressing than hearing a really lousy talk, and then watching all of that person’s friends rush forward at the end of the meeting to tell them how much they enjoyed the talk and how amazing they are (I’ve seed this happen, even when their friends were asleep, or not even in the room). We’ll never get better if we don’t get honest feedback.

    Yes, I sound cynical. No, I haven’t actually walked up to someone and told them what they did wrong, and how it could have been improved. It’s not my place. But, it should be someone’s place.

  6. I feel that church is often dull because our church culture tends to emphasize conformity above all else. Conformity gets confused with obedience. There is an assumption that anything different than the current church culture is ungodly. Many people aren’t particularly introspective, and seem to be most interested in the church for it’s conservatism on many social issues. I’m in awe that people can repeat the platitudes most of us have heard our whole lives as if we’re all hearing them for the first time.

    I love the gospel and I’ve been fortunate to live in some outstanding wards. Currently, church is a good time for me to get my kegels done.

  7. What makes me crazy is that the 3 speakers we listen to in Sacrament Meeting have all been assigned the same Ensign article from which to prepare their talks. Yes, each has had different experiences, but more often than not, they just read excerpts from the article and recite the same scriptures. It’s extremely difficult when that happens not to pull up a gospel related book on my iPad and read.

  8. Funny, I took both the figures in the illustration to be female. The one without the bun is wearing an off-the-shoulder something. I wonder if it says something about us, the genders we read into it.

  9. Frank Pellet: I think that’s a tie in the picture. It’s just at a weird angle. I like the graphic. It’s kind of modern and artsy, although the woman looks a bit like Wilma Flintstone.

  10. Ah, now I can’t unsee it. Unfortunate that they had to use a binary pair; either way you’d get some segment thinking “of course, X are more/less spiritual, so this only applies to them”

    They should have gone with a single, gender ambiguous person thinking the previous talk was spiritual and the current one boring. ;)

  11. The Ensign is a good example of the trend. I see far more white space and larger font sizes than existed in it’s publication fifteen or twenty years ago. Many talks are rehashed. The discussion/opinion topics have been removed. I don’t enjoy reading it any longer, though I’ve tried. I do review the older online issues. The current Ensign seems to have been “correlated”.

  12. Single Sister says:

    My Bishop of the past few years has insisted that we have a theme for the year – which means that we have almost exactly the same talk (with minor variations) for the entire year. One year it was “love”, which of course meant everyone either talked about marriage, children or (best) the love of HF and Jesus. Recycled week after week. This year it has been on being prepared. Week after week. He also has the same teenagers talk on a rotation. We have a LOT of teenagers and there are only 5 or 6 that ever talk. Last, but not least, when a young man/woman is going on their mission they have to give a talk once a month until they leave. Not on missionary work, but on whatever the topic of the year is. (And I won’t go into how the same people bear their testimonies every month. Not about the Saviour/blessings, etc. but about how wonderful they are or their new boat). Mostly I just take the Sacrament and go to sleep.

  13. lastlemming says:

    I’ve been involved with the Family History class for many years now. When we first let it be known that anybody could come into the gym during Sunday School and work on their family history, with our without guidance/interference from consultants, I expected the supposedly bored masses to come pouring in. Didn’t happen. Everybody stays in Gospel Doctrine–they’re not even gabbing in the halls. We had a professional (CES) teacher for several years, but he’s moved on and the last couple of times I’ve gone to that class (because nobody came to Family History) the teacher has offered some truly painful questions (Who can tell me how the Nephites received Samuel the Lamanite?…Crickets.). I really don’t get it. Do people feel guilty if their not bored?

  14. lastlemming says:

    with OR without guidance/interference

  15. Clark Goble says:

    While I think there’s some truth to the “if you’re bored it’s your fault” I also think church really does need a shakeup. The reason I’m sympathetic to “it’s your fault” is that even if the talk or lesson is bad you can study your scriptures. That we’re saying we’re bored is just confessing we find anything we could do on our own boring too.

    A big problem is that we want to be entertained when taught. Some people can do that for certain segments. Especially for Young and Education Week are proof of that. I couldn’t stand those, but clearly many people love them. I suspect some people would go crazy for the LDS equivalent of Ted Talks. I’m not one of them.

    However the overall structure of Church is a problem. I’d love to see one talk cut out of sacrament and perhaps a rethink of PH/RS. I know a few years back the church did some tests in a few areas with 2 hour blocks instead of 3 hour. Presumably it failed. The fundamental truth is that most people don’t study on their own, and what little experience they have religiously is primarily what they passively receive on Sunday at church. That’s incredibly discouraging but appears to be the status quo.

  16. Let me posit that if you had serious teacher feedback, complete with critiques and criticism and analysis of what was done wrong, as Turtle Mack is suggesting, the list of people who would agree to give a talk would dwindle considerably. And I’m not sure you’d like who was left over.

    Look, I agree the teaching/speaking could be better. And I agree that there are things we could probably systematically do to make it a little better. But I hear constantly on this site that the church is not for perfect people–that we’re a hospital for the struggling, not a mausoleum for the flawless. If that’s true, it means that the teacher teaching might not be great at it. And the speaker speaking may have a lot of stage fright. But it also means we can and should still support them and get what we can from them. I think it’s a two way street.

  17. Glad to hear this. Lately I’ve been dying in church. I probably could use an attitude adjustment and be a little more grateful.
    My mission president is Devin Durrant (1st counselor in the SS presidency/ #ponderize) I chatted with him a couple weeks ago about how the gospel principles manual is so dry and boring, and if you stuck to just it your class would be asleep. He pulled out his phone and recorded all of my frustrations with sunday school and the manuals. He told me their working on it. I thought that was pretty nice.

  18. Clark Goble says:

    Sorry. That should be “Especially for Youth.” Dang. Next I’lll be saying, “the internets.”

  19. I wonder what the criteria could be for determining that a 3-hour block is a success while a 2-hour block is a failure. Where in the world is anything declared to be successful because it takes longer to do it? (I’ve got to get me a job that does that. I think it would take a lot of the pressure off.)

    Is it being assumed that we’re being exposed to the Spirit for one more hour than in the 2-hour block and that’s what makes it a success? I guess we’d better get ready for the new and improved 6-hour block schedule.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve no idea and I doubt we’ll ever know. I’d imagine they’d look at certain markers for religiosity but I don’t know what criteria they used.

  21. I have been teaching GD for the last three years and all I can say is that you can’t teach the lessons as written and make them interesting. Here’s an example from last weeks lesson, #37:

    “•When the destruction ceased, the earth was covered with thick darkness (3 Nephi 8:19–23). Why is total darkness an appropriate sign for the death of the Savior? (See 3 Nephi 9:18; see also John 8:12; D&C 11:28.) In what ways has the Savior brought light to your life?
    •What was the reaction of those who survived the destruction? (See 3 Nephi 8:23–25.) How can reading about their experience help us prepare for the Second Coming?”

    Questions like that out of the blue are guaranteed to only return blank stares. All you can do is take the references and make something up and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I routinely use outside material but I don’t reference anything and don’t bring in books or any other printed materials. A year and a half ago the general SS President came for a meeting and said that new lessons are coming but nothing yet. We have a new once a month program, Teaching the Savior’s Way, and it’s something but not enough. The church seems to want the lessons tightly focused possibly to avoid speculation but the way it’s going now it’s not sustainable even for someone with a good attitude.

  22. Clark Goble says:

    The PH/RS manuals are brutal to teach for casual teachers. Are you teaching the subject? The prophet? Are you supposed to just read sections and discuss? I notice a lot of people struggling with it.

  23. EnglishTeacher says:

    My husband and I teach the Gospel Essentials class and it’s been one of my favorite teaching callings because we are generally given free rein on the topics we teach and how we teach them. Our bishopric, I think, is open minded and just happy to see people attend it, so we are left to our own devices. The manual (which desperately needs some updating) can serve as a touchstone for what the topic is, but if we want to teach about something not in the manual, it’s never a problem. The LDS canon is pretty tremendous, when you think about it; not all talks and materials are created equal, but with enough preparation, reflection, and creative thinking, I believe teachers can breathe new life into topics people have been hearing since primary. We have a variety of students in our class, from returning less actives, investigators sometimes, and active/lifelong members that prefer the non-politicized lessons we give outside the realm of Gospel Doctrine. It’s always my goal, whenever I give a talk or a lesson, to teach something new to my audience. Even if it’s just a Gospel Essentials class, we’re not afraid to “go deep” and use scriptures, outside source material, make connections between ideas, invite people to see those parallels as well, etc.

    All of that said, I think the onus for miracles to happen in a classroom rests mostly upon the shoulders of the instructor and the preparation they put into the talk. The spirit won’t stick around to teach anyone without sincerely preparing for its presence–I almost wonder if so many of our lessons are devoid of the Holy Ghost in church simply because it gets bored when there’s nothing to really resonate with the members of the class, or if it’s offended by our vain repetitions we so adamantly claim to oppose. Granted, if people want to be on their phones playing games or zoning out or whatever, that’s what they will do. But for the earnest learners, teacher preparation and passion for the subject is key to not let them down. It drives me bonkers when teachers start a class by fully admitting they only prepared the lesson an hour beforehand, or worse yet, not at all. Likewise for talks. Why would you start out complaining about being assigned a talk/pointing out how unprepared you are/saying you hope the spirit will take over as you wing it? This doesn’t set a promising tone or precedent for the path the lesson or talk could take.

    Part of the reason I think I’m so critical of how these things play out at church is because of my own profession. I teach throughout the week, then come to church and teach some more, so I notice when lessons don’t really have cohesive points to them or if we shy away from grappling with complicated or challenging scriptures in favor of the ones we hear over and over again. The comment above about conformity being confused as obedience probably has something to do with this–it’s easy to conform, especially when we think we will be blessed for it. So onward to the quotable quotes found on LDS.org and printable snippets from Conference to post on Pinterest. Their sentiments, perhaps, present a rough approximation of what a confirmation of the Holy Ghost might give the audience, so we can settle for that approximation because going beyond it is too difficult when we remember Saturday night we have a talk to give or Sunday morning to prepare a lesson.

  24. Oh, how I dislike the blame the victim approach. To roughly paraphrase Kierkegaard, “Truth is not its own evangelist.” Which is to say, simply presenting the gospel is not enough for people to receive it, to be changed by it. The delivery matters. We have a suspicion I think of “packaging,” that it’s superficial and unnecessary, but it does matter. Telling the listener that they are completely in charge of their own spiritual experience, is like telling someone to bake bread without yeast. Sure you can make flat bread that way, but you’re never going to get it to rise.

    I actually think both the problem and solution are rather simple. I don’t believe that good teaching can be taught. Oh, new manuals and new teacher improvement courses can help a little but I don’t think they’ll ever make a mediocre teacher great. Good teaching I think is in many ways innate. The problem then is that bishoprics do not place a priority on putting a ward’s best teachers into the teaching slots. Sure, there are some teachers that might also be good presidents and whatnot, and leaders may feel they cannot be spared to “just” teach. But they must be spared! Slotting a ward’s best teachers into teaching slots can be absolutely transformative in the spiritual uplift and feeling in a ward. Sometimes bishoprics put mediocre teachers into teaching slots, ostensibly with the idea that it will help the individual grow. But how the spirituality of the rank and file shrink in the process!

    Let me leave this with a quote from the famous preacher and professor of homiletics Fred B. Craddock:

    “Some listeners in churches have accepted boredom as one of the crosses that come with the commitment, but I cannot.

    Boredom is a form of evil; perhaps one of Kierkegaard’s characters was more correct when he said, “Boredom is the root of all evil.” Boredom is a preview of death, if not itself a form of death, and when trapped in prolonged boredom, even the most saintly of us will hope for, pray for, or even engineer relief, however demonic.

    For the communicating of the Christian faith, formally or informally, to be boring is not simply ‘too bad,’ to be glossed over with the usual ‘but he is really a genuine fellow’ or ‘but she is very sincere.’ Boredom works against the faith by provoking contrary thoughts or lulling to sleep or draping the whole occasion with a pall of indifference and unimportance.”

  25. From Robert Kirby: If you think I should put away my electronic device and listen to you speak, then I think it’s your responsibility to be more intellectually stimulating than a game of solitaire. If you can’t do that, maybe you should put away that electronic device called a microphone.

  26. Yesterday I totally couldn’t pay attention to the first speaker reading Bruce R. quotes about why we need to pay tithing lest our name will be erased from the book of life (or something). So I read scriptures (non-mormon) commentaries about tithing. It was enlightening.

    Reading Deut. 14:28-29, it seems that once every three years, tithing was supposed to support the Levites and the stranger and the widow and the fatherless WITHIN THY GATE (i.e., your local village, not the temple). How did I miss this previously? I wonder why this aspect of tithing isn’t emphasized more in the Church?

    See. I did just what we’ve been told to do when church gets boring: write your own sermon. Where did it leave me? My faith in the church institution slightly less solid, but my faith in God, as a Father who cares for people (more than malls), was strengthened.

  27. One problem is that we pride ourselves with the fact that we’re not entertaining. Other churches do live rock bands, and that’s not us. So we do want to exclude entertaining, but unfortunately that makes it too easy to go to boring.
    As far as modeling General Conference talks, I don’t believe that the lay speakers in the church do that enough. One Sunday after I had given a talk the ward mission leader mentioned how during my Sacrament meeting talk a missionary leaned over him and said “This is like listening to a General Conference talk.” And he said it in a way that he was awe struck/impressed. I believe that the first step to such a talk, is to not spend 5 minutes talking about how you’ve been dodging all of the bishopric members for weeks, and yet one of them eventually caught you. So perhaps more modeling of GC talk’s could be a good thing.
    As far as Sunday School goes, I don’t believe that I can tell how much effort a teacher has put into a lesson. So I don’t know how much it helps or not.
    For PH/RS, the low bar is the fact that sometimes it is more interesting to just read the lesson straight. That’s what I do when the teacher is having trouble catching my attention. Given that we’ll generally go over these lessons only once, it can actually be more interesting to read through the lesson; than to hear the meandering commentary that’s being shared.
    Also, when preparing a lesson I like to imagine that one of the people who created that lesson, in the lesson manual, will be visiting my class. Will they feel that I do justice for all of the work that they put into creating the lesson in the first place?

  28. Richard Smith says:

    I agree with the general sentiment.

    Blaming the members for being bored at lessons is institutional pride, plain and simple. It’s not really that different in the end than companies blaming the consumers that they don’t like their products, other than the Church relies (too heavily, in my opinion) on the ideal professed by Peter “to whom would we go, you have the words or eternal life” to keep members coming back. I think a lot of inactivity traces back to this issue — the sloganeering and relying on the monopoly wears thin and doesn’t always carry through weak periods in testimony.

    I don’t think the members are looking for show or entertainment. They are looking for substance. Too often the “feast” ends up being like a low grade buffet restaurant 30 minutes before closing — the trays are mostly empty and what is there is dried out from being rewarmed for the past few days. If we are babes in Christ, I can’t imagine a mother blaming her infant for not eating and leaving the infant to wither and die. I’ve seen one the most ardent La Leche League members switch to formula and not look back when breast feeding just didn’t work out for the various reasons why that sometimes happens. I believe a lot of members are spiritually starving — we need spiritual nourishment, not (more) guilt trips.

  29. I used to languish in most meetings too, but one F&T meeting I felt a prompting of “well, if it’s boring why don’t you get up and make it more substantive?” I never did, but I think a point was made that, in a church that relies on lay speakers, the boredom and superficiality is often the fault of us as a community, it’s not like it’s a top-to-bottom dictate that our meetings be fluff. When somebody does do something asinine that lends itself to that kind of roteness, like assign a talk on a talk, it just takes a little extra creativity to connect it something grander and more impactful than soundbites. That’s at least been my experience in dealing with the manual as an EQ teacher. I’ll often bring handouts from the JS paper’s project and such, and nobody seems to mind, and in fact most appreciate the extra bit that it brings.

  30. Michael H says:

    More of the “if you’re bored, you need only change your heart” approach from Church HQ: https://www.lds.org/youth/article/how-to-never-have-a-boring-church-class-again?lang=eng.

    I think individually we Mormons are experts at (mostly) productive self-critisim. I admit I am disappointed to see the institutional Church (HQ and its PR efforts/church-wide guidance) fail to really manifest the type of introspection that I’m sure the people running the show have as individuals.

    Like Tiberius says, I would do better to get up during testimony meeting to tell people what I’m really feeling, quirky/unconventional as it may be.

  31. “I don’t think the members are looking for show or entertainment. They are looking for substance.” This!

    The really hard thing for me is that I have a much easier time having spiritually experiences outside the church than I do inside. Church is boring. But hiking/biking up to a nearby mountain and taking a moment to pray is hugely meaningful.

    My kids seem to be having the same experience. My daughter loves going to girl’s camp every year and talks about how strong the spirit is. But then admits she’s never once felt the spirit during Sacrament Meeting on Sunday. If our three hour block isn’t giving us greater opportunities for spiritual moments than the rest of our lives, we have a structural/organizational problem.

    And then with that, the focus in our stake is on youth/YSA retention. Our number is abysmal. (like 15% YSA stay active – although part of the number is that most of the kids of the active families (another 15% of the youth) graduate from high school and then leave for college in other places.) Why on earth would we expect the youth to stay active, especially with the serious commitment of time, energy, conformity, money, etc. that church membership requires, when the weekly high point of all that commitment doesn’t interest or engage them at all? When they know very well that spirituality can be found in many ways and places? (A really interesting take on this is Blair Hodges podcast with Elizabeth Drescher on June 7th.)

    So to me, asking whose fault it is that the church on Sunday is boring is asking the wrong question. The right question is: How do we transform our church services into meaningful, engaging hours of worship that give our youth (and adults) experiences that help them to want to be there.

  32. I’m going to echo whoever it was further up the thread and say we start transforming our church services by putting our best teachers into teaching positions. It can be argued that people learn and rise to the challenge when given the opportunity, and I’d say in some cases that’s true. But it can also be argued that in certain respects we’re a highly imitative people and we will copy what a good teacher does if we see enough of it, and that’s a learning opportunity as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in wards with amazing gospel doctrine teachers, and I think they raised the level of teaching throughout those wards.

    But I also want to bring out an obvious point. Previously I taught in Relief Society and in one particular case had thought and prayed quite long and hard about the lesson I was assigned to give. I came up with what I thought was a good approach (we were in the John Taylor manual, so there was a lot of flexibility in how to approach things). I thought the lesson went really well: the class members were interested, they were engaged, there was a lot of participation, and they left chattering about what we’d talked about. I’d prepared a handout, and as the class ended, one woman approached me and handed hers back. “You can keep that,” I said.

    She just looked at me and shook her head. “Ohhh, nooo,” she said, in much the way she might have reacted if offered a box of hand-rolled Cuban cigars, dropped the handout in distaste, and walked away. Which is when I fully realized that no matter what you do, you can’t please everybody. People come to church wanting and needing different things. Some want a spiritual experience, some want to hear something new, some want to see their friends, some want to be entertained and some, dare I say it, want to be offended. Maybe sometimes we just need to be a little easier on each other.

  33. Why don’t we create a Sacrament Meeting Coordinator calling to help plan sacrament meeting and help speakers prepare their talks? I know that a large part of the problem with sacrament meeting is lack of planning and people who don’t know how to prepare and/or deliver a talk.

  34. I usually consider myself pretty orthodox, but I chuck the correlated manuals almost entirely to the side when doing lessons. I stick with the basic outline and that’s it. I struggle to see any way in which someone following the manual exactly could come up with an engaging lesson.

    Of course, this does mean that in my temple prep class we are going over the (appropriate) parts of the endowment ceremony, initiatory ordinances, and other aspects of the temple in some detail. So far nobody has complained, even when a Bishopric member attends. We’ll see how long I get away with it…

  35. Kristine N says:

    I’m currently teaching RS. I like to read the manual, but find teaching from it difficult because while the lessons are very nice, there’s nothing really to discuss in them. A good discussion opens up the possibility of disagreement–in some ways hinges on people having different opinions or points of view on a subject. I don’t think church culture supports acceptance of differences of opinion being okay.

  36. I’m going to leave two messages here, with almost opposite points:

    First, the lesson manuals, especially the RS/PH manual, are horrible for teaching. The Presidents of the Church series is just so awful. This is because they are devoid of all context. Context is what gives everything meaning. The word “love” may be a positive word, but if I said: “I would love to torture and kill that person,” then the context of that word “love” would be repulsive. Fossils are dug out of the ground, and are interesting, but the context of the fossil gives the fossil much more meaning and value: What layer of earth did it come from? What was found close to the fossil? What similar fossils were found elsewhere? etc, etc. The fossil in its context is way more interesting than the fossil alone. We have learned, for example, that if we looked really closely at some dinosaur fossils, that we find tiny bits of impressions of skin, or organs, or even a bit (very rarely) of color. But often some of the context is destroyed when the fossil is unearthed. These RS/PH manuals string together our prophet’s quotes that are from different eras, different generations, different meeting settings, and put them into an apparently cohesive string. But the lack of context scrubs the quotes clean of their most important and interesting and motivating meaning. It is almost like the actual goal was the make the prophet’s life and teachings as uninteresting as possible. These quotes collections are so horrible! Even if the quotes themselves are good. See, I am not against the fossils themselves, I just wish that we could understand their context. Context always adds and enriches understanding. Teaching from these manuals can be challenging unless the teacher is confident and bright and energetic enough to take the time to uncover and discuss the quotes in their context.

    Really: it would take serious effort to make these manuals actually worse.

  37. Now, a more positive comment. Maybe it just reflects the lucky fact that I live in a great ward. But our meetings are not boring (of course generally speaking.) Our sacrament meetings are usually so good. And here is why: I believe that our ward has a rich tradition of using personal examples (and not the vicarious examples of Ensign articles, etc) to drive home a point. When given a topic recently, I was specifically encouraged to looks to the scriptures, and to look to my own personal experiences as I prepared.

    So… not too long ago we had a sacrament meeting topic along the lines of “understanding, and dealing with loves ones (friends or family) who leave the church.” One of the speakers was a man who is impeccably active, and who had four or five children. One of his sons strayed from the church. He not only left the church, but was rebellious and awful in the way that he left. He tried to bring people after him, including his siblings. He got into serious drug use. We watched in horror as he slipped further and further away. We watched as his parents bore this with dignity, patience, love, understanding, and crushing sadness. Over decades… yes decades.. they maintained their relationship with him and prayed and hoped for a better day. And when he decided to turn his life around, and re-join the church and marry in the temple, they still had a relationship with him and were able to encourage him in his efforts. Now this good brother, mind you, did not even once direclty mention his own personal experience in this talk. He alluded to it several times, but you had to know the story to get the reference. I think that the experience was, for him, too personal and too intimate, to share. But when he spoke about love, about patience, about waiting, about fasting and praying, all of us (well most of us) in the congregation knew that this man walks-the-walk. His towering example underscored his carefully chosen words. This is why we come to church: to share our insights, to build each other up, to learn from one another. Boring? I don’t think so.

  38. When I attend Church with an attitude of spiritual hunger and seeking, I feel fed. Too often I seek other things, warm friendships, new knowledge, or intellectually stimulating discussion. These are sometime met, sometime not and my feelings about Church then flucuate. So I feel much is in my control. If I attend focusing on feeling the Spirit and healing the wounds of the week, it is a good experience. But my heart needs to be drawn out toward God.

  39. Not a Cougar says:

    MTodd, I would turn down that calling in a heartbeat. I’m not going to spend every Saturday evening trying to help someone write a talk that they’ve known about for weeks or months. I’m sure you don’t envision it that way, but I think, all too often, that is exactly what would happen.

    Alternatively, I WOULD support a 2nd hour class that is essentially a “talk workshop.” Something akin to the legal writing and research course most first year law students go through. You would learn about effective talk preparation which, I believe, is separate from scripture study. The syllabus could include lessons on finding primary sources, evaluating sources (e.g., promulgating Mormon folklore), ensuring Christ is at the center of what you teach, effective use of appropriate personal stories (I never want to hear “bleeding from the rectum” spoken at the pulpit ever again), use of scriptural quotations, effective exposition on the scriptures, etc. Students would also have the opportunity to practice giving talks in a controlled environment and receive sensitive feedback on their efforts.

    Of course, none of this will ever happen.

  40. Not a Cougar says:

    *My comment should read “not promulgating Mormon folklore”

  41. The Church does occasionally do “teacher trainings.” Unfortunately, I have no idea what sort of sources they’re using to legitimate the points made in those meetings other than some old people speaking from their limited, probably out-of-date personal experiences. During one of these trainings I tried to insert a point made in some peer-reviewed pedagogical research, and was immediately counteracted by the Bishop with some statement about how we should rely on the spirit, which is true but I think that’s all too often an excuse to not use more externally validated ways to improve.

    There’s still a hesitancy to incorporate the “wisdom of the world” when it may be beneficial, I think some still cling to an ideal where the spirit is enough to make members of the Church the best speakers, leaders, teachers, movie makers, public relations experts, investors, etc. independent of formal training. While I think the Church has found the wisdom in employing the wisdom of the world in some of these areas (especially when not doing so has led to complete disaster in some areas), there’s still a hesitancy to move away from the “spirit is enough” model.

  42. Angela C…I LOVE your post. You make good points and you are honest. We need more of that.

    Shaming and guilting just has to stop. The End. When will church leaders realize it does nothing but turn numb those whom our leaders seek to make feel.

    I am growing impatient with the church not taking responsibility for problems it has created. If church meetings are boring, do something about it rather than blame members for feeling that way. Stop telling them to turn that frown upside down. Start by writing interesting teaching material and lift the moratorium on using outside material (which I too completely ignore and am often complimented on the quality of my lessons for having done so). Stop assigning Ensign articles for lessons and talks. These are to be read. Talks are to be an expression of the member’s research, ideas and personal experiences–whether they are orthodox or heterodox. And BTW, I can be bored AND be grateful for my Savior, at the same time.

    In my experience, members are hungry to learn. Many want to be challenged. They want the doors in their minds to be opened, to be invigorated, to let go of old beliefs and assumptions and embrace thinking that helps them better understand the modern world. We can’t do that if we put being ‘nice’ first and avoiding topics that create “contention.” Instead, we need to recreate our classroom culture so we learn how to cope with and manage dissonance and tension, instead of avoiding it. Not only do we have boring lessons issued by the church, we lack a structure that enables interesting discussions. Better materials alone won’t solve the problem.

    And, in my experience (I have had the pleasure of teaching for most of my adult life), a big issue at play is the fear members have of being honest, and feeling like they will be punished if they are. When you can’t speak what is in your heart and on your mind, what else can you do but star at the floor? We need honest and need to explicitly demonstrate we will embrace honesty as the best of personal expressions. “I struggle to understand the temple ceremony because aspects of it leave me feeling confused. Specifically, I don’t like the way I as a woman am cast within the temple ceremony. Is this bad? Does this mean I am unworthy? I love my church. I have faith but struggle to understand what this inner conflict means?” I have never heard anyone say and ask anything close to this in class. After the class and in private where no one will hear them I have been asked a variation of this question, multiple times. Or “I love the Book of Mormon, but I don’t know if I believe it was translated literally from plates, and I don’t know if I believe in its historicity. But I love it and it draws me closer to God. It’s a foundation of my testimony. Is my faith valid or am I deceiving myself if I don’t believe in its literal historicity?” Same thing. Never in class. Always after everyone has left so none will hear.

    These are the honest questions that could make classes and meetings not boring because they are real, they are personal, authentic, engaging, interesting. The few times a member has asked an honest question–but not approaching the examples I give above–the response from the class is most often beautiful and the member asking quickly realizes they are not alone, and that others have faith-filled stories to share about their own questions and the struggle of growing and developing an authentic personal faith. Really wonderful things happen when this is present rather than “Let’s just talk about that after class if we can.” Or when a teacher is honest in the same way, seeking to facilitate in-depth understanding or to challenge the class’s thinking, and someone interrupts, “Um, where are you taking this?” Translation: Get back in line.

    In my opinion, we have a choice. Boring? Or engaged? And in my opinion, the onus for answering that question falls to the general authority who posted the tweet rather than for members to question their attitudes and buck up.

  43. Reading this comments has been so gratifying. I have been complaining to anyone who will listen for decades about church talks and lessons. It is extremely rare for me to find any sympathy. Nearly every single time my interlocutor refers to the Henry B. Eyring line from his dad about writing your own talk in your head.

    I have been reprimanded a couple of times by a branch president for teaching something that isn’t in the manual. Both times this was because someone complained, even though I had been told by others that they thought the lesson was really interesting. I think one of the reasons that the church is so conservative about lessons is that those who don’t like something new complain very loudly and are usually taken very seriously. Whereas those who like something new that they have heard do not tell their priesthood authority. I think this dynamic probably works all the way to up the hierarchy.

    I have been very fortunate in my current ward to have had members and the bishopric (2-1, anyway) take my side after a confrontation in Gospel Doctrine. I just won’t ever be able to acquiesce and let boredom triumph!

  44. I fear that if more outside material was encouraged, that most lay members would start bringing in creationist theories, more Joseph Fielding Smith and more Bruce R. McConkie. So I’m kind of happy with the state of things as far as that’s concerned.

  45. They do that anyways, at least in my corner of the church. But yes, it would be even worse if they were given more freedom.

  46. I just remembered something today that occurred to me a few years ago. If the lesson manuals are so bad, why doesn’t somebody or some group produce unofficial, underground lesson manuals? People don’t necessarily have to teach out of them, but they would be good for all of us to follow either in church when bored or at home for personal study. We could give ourselves the manuals we always needed and wanted. It would be a fascinating project to put the manuals together even if another soul never saw them. They could include everything historical and doctrinal that members ought to know. This would include admissions of official ignorance about all kinds of important things such as evolution, polygamy, or how the atonement takes sins away.

  47. Felix: Yes, the Gladys Kravitzes always win in the church.

  48. it's a series of tubes says:

    A hopeful data point: our Primary program was yesterday. It featured guitar accompaniment for one of the songs, and a bagpiper in full regalia blowing the doors off the chapel as part of a rousing rendition of Praise to the Man.

    Best sacrament meeting we have had in quite some time.

  49. AnonToday says:

    @Felix – There are any number of blogs that try to do just that…

    However, I got released from a teaching calling about six months ago because I offended an anonymous someone by teaching material from a blog. I wasn’t actually teaching from the blog, but the blogger said something brilliant and I felt like credit was due if I was going to mention the line of thinking. The moment I was called, I figured this was going to happen eventually so I took it with equanimity. The funny thing is that several people came to me afterwards to let me know they’d complained to the bishop about releasing me because the other GD teachers were all boring. I never spoke to the bishop about the response, but I imagine he missed the irony.

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