My experience in my new ward over the past month has reinforced to me the need for another higher level of Sunday School classes. I know that there is nothing new in the ‘nacle but let’s hash this out again, for my sake.
I’m tired of Sunday School and Priesthood lessons right now. Actually, I have been bored of them for ages. This in part is my own fault, my own negative, defeatist attitude. But I’m convinced that there are actually positive reasons for creating a more in depth class for members at the ward level.
For starters, in the current system, there is no room for real Gospel “meat.” I have no issue with Gospel Essentials class or with Gospel Doctrine as a logical next step after it. But we don’t get into deeper issues at all in either class. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that unless there ends up being no place to teach, learn, and interact with fellow Saints about the mysteries of godliness that we are commanded to learn and understand. And this from my experience is the case in far too many wards. In fact, with the rare exception of a self-motivated individual that the ward receives well, this is not the case in any place in the Church. The system isn’t set up to accommodate this need.
In the current system, well meaning teachers teach roughly the same two dozen topics each year. I’m not suggesting that the teachers are at fault (only occasionally is this true); I’m a proponent of the Saints teaching the Saints. I just want to see better manuals and training in place to help them. There has been a movement in the Church to address this issue in the past few years but I feel that it comes short. The current manuals and teacher training don’t, in my opinion, go far enough to break the current culture in the Church of keeping the topics simple and repetitive. For those who like this system, they could continue to attend the current classes as they stand. For those whose spirituality is greatly aided by dynamic lessons on diverse subjects that prompt greater inspection into oft neglected corners of the scriptures and Gospel, a more advanced class is required.
Current classes and manuals also tend to avoid difficult topics or avoid giving them the time and space and insight needed to be properly addressed. Our treatments of the OT, NT and PoGP seem especially dreadful. For example, the Old Testament is longer than any two other sections of the Standard Works put together and yet we cover it in the same amount of time. The result is that a great many people I know dislike the OT and claim not to understand it. This is a travesty! Another example, today’s lesson in my ward was on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The whole book in a single 40 minute class. I can’t even begin to state how fundamental and foundational this text is to the entire Christian world (and should be to us also) and yet there is no time to do anything other than give it a cursory gloss, sharing only the same tired old topics and verses, sometimes completely out of context. And the truth is we do it with all of our scriptures. It’s really sad.
Now I know and understand that much of the Church is too young, too new in the Gospel, too much without proper and experienced Priesthood leadership to handle such a class. Ignoring the fact that this logic may actually be flawed ( in the past even new members rose to meet the level of doctrine they were taught; if we give them some credit and grow them in the Gospel carefully I think that most converts would take to the knowledge well and actually be stronger for it), I still think that the implementation of such a class could work if the decision to hold it (or not) in such areas would be placed under the supervision and guidance of an area authority or the like. It may sound like a lot of work but I think that it would be well worth it and extremely beneficial for the welfare of the Saints overall.
Many people also tell me that they don’t need such a class because they don’t even know the basics well enough to move on to deeper topics. Be this as it may, not all of us feel this way and this is a feeling that should be understood and respected by others. In my personal experience, building on the basics of the Gospel by adding to them and seeing how they affect the meatier things of the Gospel has the effect of making them more real, vivid and meaningful while rehashing them at a much simpler level has the effect of making me bored, tune out, and feel the Spirit even less. I do not believe that God meant for us to remain simpletons in the Gospel and I do not feel that I have many places to grow outside of my personal studies under the current system.
I’m perfectly fine with those who enjoy the current classes and don’t see the need to attend such a class. People not comfortable in such a class are welcome to attend either GD or GP, much the way many experienced members choose to attend GP instead of GD now. In any case, this should not diminish in any way the fact that an actual need probably (certainly in my mind) exists for people who are primarily spiritually uplifted and motivated by this sort of atmosphere.
I’ve heard a great number of arguments against this sort of class from a number of people that I’ve mentioned this idea to (some of which I have addressed) and none of them are convincing to me. Most objections could be quashed by setting up the class so that a member of the bishopric always sits in on the class for mediations sake. This could solve such problems such as Gospel hobbies, contention, false doctrine, etc. (and it’s not like all of these possible problems don’t already exist in the classes we have) This guidance could ultimately enhance the class spiritually while still moderating it.
And such a class could be much more flexible. The lessons could be ordered topically rather than in chunks that often don’t have any real substance in common or which highlight one main theme that has been hashed upon year after year to the complete neglect of other equally important but far less taught themes. Perhaps the Bishop or Stake President could outline the topics for his flock for that personally inspired touch that is still guided by the presiding Priesthood. Church manuals would be avoided at all costs, personalized inspiration would reign supreme.
My post is clearly long enough and I want to know how y’all of the Bloggernacle receive such an idea (as unoriginal as it may be). Are all the objections for such a class unsolvable? Have I missed any huge, glaring problems? How many of you would be in favor of such a class if directed the right way?
79 Replies to “The Next Level of Sunday School”
Lex, Lex, Lex… silly boy. If God wanted a deep doctrine and speculation class he never would have invented the bloggernacle.
I’m pretty sure they are reworking the gospel doctrine manuals right now. I guess we’ll see what they are like when they are complete. Hopefully they will be improved like the new Joseph Smith manual was for Priesthood/R.S.. Just thought I’d throw that out there.
“Now I know and understand that much of the Church is too young, too new in the Gospel, too much without proper and experienced Priesthood leadership to handle such a class.”
This is a statement that I must question. Why would membership duration per se have anything to do with not being able to handle deeper doctrine? If the reason is that the deeper doctrine is much different than the “product” they were sold and bought when being baptized, I think the problem is systemic and on an entirely different and more serious level relating to integrity and honesty. Thanks for your interesting post!
Geoff: Nice man.
Mike: Hope so but I’m not holding my breath.
Northerner: I should have perhaps reworded that phrase a bit. I actually question this logic in the post myself. But there does seem to be some truth to the idea that places where the Church is young and the majority of members are 1st generation struggle in lots of ways that long established LDS communities don’t. I’m just not convinced that this means that they shouldn’t be allowed to teach a class that focuses on deeper doctrine just because they are relatively inexperienced. This was an idea thrown out there to try and compromise with those who will object to such a class on these grounds.
the Old Testament is longer than any two other sections of the Standard Works put together and yet we cover it in the same amount of time. The result is that a great many people I know dislike the OT and claim not to understand
This is backwards.
Oh, I so sympathize with you. It is really, really hard sometimes to sit through these lessons when all I can think about is what great opportunities are being missed. (Or how the teacher is making an argument that looks pretty in English but doesn’t work in Greek.)
But I think where your plan shows its weak side is in the idea of bishopric monitoring: the idea that an average bishopric member would have any perspective on or ability to mediate a SS argument between two bloggernacle regulars is flawed.
A better solution that meets your needs would be to rewrite the manuals with an emphasis on close reading and literary criticism. These questions (“how do you think v17 answers v16?” “why do you think a serpent is a good symbol here?” “what tone of voice do you think Mary is using?”) are questions that your lifer hasn’t considered before but are perfectly approachable by your new convert and/or the person without advanced education. They also lead to devotional application but in a more thoughtful way than the current fare.
The very people who could benefit from an “advanced gospel doctrine” class, are the same people who realize that gospel knowledge does not come automatically with a leadership calling. I’ve known quite a number of sincere, faithful, loving bishopric members, who were frankly clueless about anything but the most basic LDS doctrine and history. At the same time, such a class would never be allowed without the kind of leader supervision you’ve suggested. The very things intended to keep the class “safe” would often defeat its purpose.
Besides, the LDS church is actively trying to reduce its accepted doctrine, via press releases, media interviews, and the like. Suddenly, the LDS don’t know if their deity was once a man, or at least they know little or nothing about it. Suddenly, the LDS don’t have any reason to believe the well-established Mormon teaching that Jesus was married. The list goes on and on. The same individuals driving this reductionist trend would find an “advanced gospel doctrine” class counterproductive to their goals.
Oh, I so sympathize with you. It is really, really hard sometimes to sit through these lessons when all I can think about is what great opportunities are being missed.
This is why you bring really good church history or doctinal reading material with you to meetings. 😉
It is really, really hard sometimes to sit through these lessons when all I can think about is what great opportunities are being missed.
Ditto. But look at the other side. An “advanced” class without a good teacher would be awful. Similarly, a good teacher can overcome the problems of the manual. We had an excellent discussion of 1 Corinthians in the ward we visited in NY a few weeks ago. It was contextual, gave good background, but still relevant to moderns, practical, and thought-provoking.
We don’t need a new class so much as we need much better teachers- not so much in terms of Teacher Improvement as we’ve had the last few years, but in terms of how much the teachers know and how to make that relevant. No amount of pedagogy (the focus of Teacher Improvment) can help when the teacher doesn’t know anything.
“An “advanced” class without a good teacher would be awful. ”
Oh, I agree completely. I think the manual needs to be something that helps the weak teacher, not something that a good teacher needs to “overcome.”
Re your final paragraph: so what’s your proposal for improving teachers?
The teacher improvement movement in the church over the last few years has been good, but not good enough. There are two main limitations it has suffered under.
First, the existing Sunday School manuals are simply useless. The activities and questions the manuals suggest are patronizing and have a tendency to limit genuine participation. Instead, they encourage adults to play a Sunday School role of giving short, simple, repetitive answers that are the discursive equivalent of the formalized prayers Mormons sometimes decry in other faiths.
Second, in terms of pedagogy, the teacher improvement material to date hasn’t been good enough. Relying on the Spirit is certainly essential, and I’m happy that the materials have emphasized this. Yet really a lot is known about what does and doesn’t work to engage adults in a learning-focused discussion — and none of that has been conveyed via the teacher improvement stuff. For example, you can get a lot farther in working with adults in a teaching session by posing a problem for them and helping the class work through the process of solving that problem than by lecture or abstract discussion. Indeed, for the latter two techniques, adults tend to have little or no recall of anything discussed in the class even shortly afterwards — while problem-based sessions are consistently far more memorable. So, challenging the class with uncomfortable, difficult-to-resolve, or unfamiliar aspects of a scriptural text and expecting the class to devise a reading of that text live with minimal shaping and guidance from the teacher might be a good teaching technique. Yet our improvement materials don’t really push this or any other relatively effective approach. Instead, it’s all about running better lectures and abstract class discussions. Which is a lot like trying to sell a new, improved Betamax machine through eBay.
I do think an advanced class is an excellent idea. If we were to provide good in-depth materials, plenty of time (say, 4 years on the New Testament, for example), and official encouragement, I see no reason why teachers and classes couldn’t discover a lot and break a lot of ground together. With respect to issues of monitoring and correcting false doctrine, well, that ship has sailed in any case. I haven’t ever bothered to quantify the number of uncorrected statements per week in one of my wards that’s officially questionable or heretical, but I’ve never been in a ward where the average would be zero or even terribly close to zero. That’s just the consequence of having untrained and basically unaccountable lay members give sermons and teach classes.
I think you also have to take into account the perception among leadership. Taking the manuals as evidence, there is clearly an intended emphasis on ethics over exegesis. In fact, I would suggest that to the extent the manuals treat doctrine, it is almost always in a supportive role, to give reasons why LDS members should behave in a particular way. Those who promote this kind of emphasis would find an “advanced gospel doctrine” class to be counterproductive, if not outright harmful.
Yesterday in EQ we were treated to 35 minutes of movie about some high school kid that went on his mission prior to playing minor league baseball. No gospel content at all. It was mostly a highlight film of him playing football and baseball. I walked out.
As long as the primary purpose of Sunday School is devotional, rather than instructional, there is no reason to have advanced content levels.
“Taking the manuals as evidence, there is clearly an intended emphasis on ethics over exegesis.”
True, but this doesn’t have to be done *acontextually* (my primary gripe). Particularly in Paul’s letters, there are plenty of ethical situations that can be related to the Church and members today. For example, a teacher could spend ten minutes on how the Corinthians came from vastly different social, economic, and religious backgrounds and how that was causing the problems paul discusses. It’s not a huge leap from there to some kind of “how can we integrate church members today who may come from vastly different backgrounds to avoid these kinds of problems?”
A restate: I think the thing that really bothers me the most is that after having a lesson on Romans, no one knows anything about Romans. All discussion is completely decontextualized.
How can this change, barring institutional change?
I think better trickle-down from DB will help. Perhaps as their books get better, general scriptural knowledge will rise to the level where the average teacher has something sitting around his house that DOES talk about Romans.
I think the blogs help, but if someone doesn’t read blogs, it has no effect.
I think seeing a good teacher helps.
I think knowing where to turn for resources helps, and many people lack any idea of where to find out information beyond the manual.
I think reading non-KJV versions helps, at least in the fact that it encourages people to read the upcoming chapters.
A restate: I think the thing that really bothers me the most is that after having a lesson on Romans, no one knows anything about Romans. It’s completely decontextualized.
How can this change, barring institutional change?
I think better trickle-down from DB will help. Perhaps as their books get better, general scriptural knowledge will rise to the level where the average teacher has something sitting around his house that DOES talk about Romans.
I think the blogs help, but if someone doesn’t read blogs, it has no effect.
I think seeing a good teacher helps.
I think knowing where to turn for resources helps, and many people lack any idea of where to find out information beyond the manual.
I think reading non-KJV versions helps.
As long as the primary purpose of Sunday School is devotional, rather than instructional, there is no reason to have advanced content levels.
I think this statement is true only if we accept that many or most members will become relatively inattentive in Sunday School after a certain period of participation. Does inattention serve devotional ends?
lxxluthor, I have been in a couple of wards with a significant population of academic types (because of local demographics and geography) and they have had multiple gospel doctrine classes (2 or 3) where some were more practical and some were more exegetical and it worked out nicely. The majority of the wards I have been in would not be able to support this kind of model. Expecting the Church to centrally do something about this is not realistic. It is easy to complain about the Church manuals when you are in the US and are highly educated, have a lot of disposable time and income and so on. The majority of the LDS Church population is outside of the USA, right? Then how can we expect the Church to use us as a model for the rest of the world? We cannot. The Church has Institute programs and so on, take advantage of them. If they dont cut it for you, then volunteer to teach in your ward or local Institute. What it boils down to is we as individuals have to pursue it on our own, and that is all there is to it. Expecting the Church as an organization to address the needs of a minority, any minority, isnt realistic.
Nick Literski, the notion the LDS Church is responsible for teaching complicated doctrine and history to the members is entirely wrongheaded. The responsibility of the Church is to get people to live and do what Christ taught, and repent when they do not, period. There is no complex doctrine or in-depth history required for that. Naturally, being an ex-mormon who is promoting his book on historically obscure connections between the early LDS Church and Masonry, you are finding fault with the Church for failing to know and bring to light what you think is so relevant and important. But, it isnt important when it comes to people’s individual daily walk with God. In fact, it is irrelevant for pretty much everyone, but you. Accusing the Church of trying to hide things is just axe-grinding. Show me where Jesus taught we need to have a PhD in Theology and History to get into the Kingdom of God.
Again, all, the Church’s responsibility is to teach people to do what Christ taught, not educate people on complex doctrines and esoteric history. That is why in a couple of weeks we will have General Conference again and nobody will spend their time at the pulpit doing in-depth exegesis on Romans. Instead, they will tell us to do our HT/VT, keep the sabbath, stop looking at pr0n, and generally live all that stuff Jesus taught by repenting and actually doing it instead of talking about it. That is what their job is to do, cf. 1 Cor 2. Understanding the beatitudes is simple, living it is tough. The Church’s job is to get us to live it. You can sit there and complain about how crap your EQ and SS meetings are, or you can do something to make them better.
“The current manuals and teacher training don’t, in my opinion, go far enough to break the current culture in the Church of keeping the topics simple and repetitive.”
The manuals are really, really good for someone who is inexperienced with teaching and does not have a good background in exegesis (i.e. most members). And the new Teacher Improvement manual is, in my opinion, excellent for its intended audience. Here are two simple suggestions I have for improving teaching:
1) Make the manuals a lot longer, but create lots of little mini-lessons within each lesson. Get rid of the “main purpose” line for each lesson. Leave the teacher with lots and lots of good topics they can select from, rather than staying with the “same old lesson” each time they cover—for example—Genesis 1. The manuals sort of do this already, but the “main purpose” header and lesson titles make it seem like it’s not okay to focus on something else.
2) Take two years to cover each book, on a rotating basis:
…and so on
Right now there’s a three-year gap between when we cover BoM; under this model the gap would be 4 years (so not all that different). But those two-year stretches for each book would let the teacher really “get into it.” Imagine, you could spend about 6 months covering the Gospels, and still have 18 months to cover Paul’s letters—maybe even five weeks on Romans alone!
I have wished for an “Honors” Sunday School class for years now. But it will never happen. First of all, it will never get approved by the Church leadership. Further, as a practical matter, even if it was approved, nearly every member would consider themselves eligible and prepared for it, and it would eventually get dumbed down again anyway.
The other thing is that the Book of Mormon seems to speak out fairly explicitly about the consequences for a church when the people become divided according to their class, knowledge, and access to learning.
Yesterday, in GD we did the lesson on the second half of Corinthians. Note how Correlation conveniently omitted the chapters including many of Paul’s difficult teachings about marriage. Furthermore, the teacher chose just about the most vanilla topic possible (“Gifts of the Spirit”)out of the chapters he had available to him. There was great material in there about the resurrection, the three kingdoms of glory, whether women should veil their faces in the Church, etc. I learned a great deal about these things in my own personal study (of non-LDS biblical literature, incidentally) and there would have been great insights to share, but alas…twas not to be.
Kurt’s comment appeared while I was typing mine, so I feel compelled to respond. I think we are talking about two different things. Some of us (Nick L., etc.) are talking about asking SS and PH/RS teachers to teach the deep doctrines of the Church and give full expositions on history during the three-hour bloc. As has been discussed around the bloggernacle as of late, this will likely never happen, and even if it did, the results may not be what we expect or desire.
I wrote about the inoculation debate over at my blog, but I did not comment there on what form I thought inoculation should take. The more I think about what Kurt said, I am not entirely sure that the Church itself has a duty to be active in inoculating its own members through official means. That is a tentative conclusion, and it will likely remain so. However, one improvement could simply be to stay out of the way and create an atmosphere where the members of the Church can take care of inoculating themselves and each other.
The second group of us is simply talking about having more satisfying and less vanilla lessons about the scriptures. Deep doctrine is a matter apart. We just want to engage the scriptures in a serious way, and not in a way that assumes that there are no difficult issues in them, apart from carrying some of the moral counsel into practice.
I agree pretty much with what Kurt has just said. Living is more important than knowing. But it does strengthen my personal testimony and committment to living the principles when I see the indepth meaning of O.T. prophecies, their exact date fulfillments, the details of the scriptures that bring about those “ah ha” experiences. That’s why I end up attending a non-Mormon bible study each week…I don’t get it at church and my personal study doesn’t give me the insights I get from outside viewpoints.
I’m for an advanced class. If I come to SS class and am uplifted instead of bored then maybe I’m more likely to keep the commandments….maybe not!
Nick Literski, the notion the LDS Church is responsible for teaching complicated doctrine and history to the members is entirely wrongheaded.
I agree. Kindly show me where I promoted such a “notion.”
The responsibility of the Church is to get people to live and do what Christ taught, and repent when they do not, period. There is no complex doctrine or in-depth history required for that.
Agreed. On the other hand, there is no need to toss the unique aspects of Mormonism aside, in order to accomplish that goal.
Naturally, being an ex-mormon who is promoting his book on historically obscure connections between the early LDS Church and Masonry, you are finding fault with the Church for failing to know and bring to light what you think is so relevant and important.
Hmmm….Interestingly enough, Kurt, I didn’t bring up the fact that I am writing a book. You did that. As to whether any “connections” discussed in my forthcoming book are “historically obscure,” I would encourage you to wait and see what the content of the book is, before you choose to classify and judge it. Of course, “obscure” is in the eye of the beholder. I had a missionary companion (a real oddball, to be sure) who had grown up in the LDS church, but insisted that he literally had never been taught that men can be exalted and become gods. I kid you not. I suppose to him, this was an “obscure” doctrinal idea. He was very angry at me, and thought I was a gross blasphemer, until several other missionaries confirmed to him that this was basic Mormon doctrine.
But, it isnt important when it comes to people’s individual daily walk with God.
Wow…are you a recent convert from a protestant group? I’ve never heard an LDS member use that very protestant phrase, “daily walk with God.” Of course, I’ve been an “ex-mormon,” as you note, for just over a year and a half. Maybe things have changed quickly. 😉
In fact, it is irrelevant for pretty much everyone, but you.
To the contrary, many LDS and non-LDS are very much interested in Mormon history. I’d think you’d understand that, since you participate in the bloggernacle. In fact, there’s hardly a week that goes by, that I don’t get e-mails asking for an update on when my book comes out, and the majority of those e-mails are from active, believing LDS, who are eager to explore new aspects of history.
Accusing the Church of trying to hide things is just axe-grinding.
Show me where I made such an accusation. I pointed out that modern BYU religion instructors are promoting differing views, even to the point of belittling the doctrinal positions of earlier Mormon leaders. I also pointed out (as you have repeated in your own way) that LDS leaders are much more concerned about teaching behavior, than they are about doctrine and history. I think you’re just looking for a fight, Kurt.
Show me where Jesus taught we need to have a PhD in Theology and History to get into the Kingdom of God.
Show me where I said any such thing, Kurt. Then, show me where Jesus taught that you should arrogantly rebuke any interest in doctrine and history, on a personal crusade to reduce Mormonism to an ethical code.
Kurt rightly observed “The responsibility of the Church is to get people to live and do what Christ taught, and repent when they do not, period. There is no complex doctrine or in-depth history required for that.”
The entire focus of the SS lesson manual is to this end. Nearly every point, question and observation is intended to reinforce personal righteousness. As a gospel doctrine teacher, that constant pounding of the same objective in every lesson used to drive me crazy. But I asked myself, if I were to write the lesson manual for a world-wide church, with the responsibility and mission to help members live faithful, righteous lives, wouldn’t I take the same approach?
Steven B., if your goal was to minimize the impact the Sunday School time has on the lives of members, such a repetitive approach would be exactly perfect.
AHLDuke The second group of us is simply talking about having more satisfying and less vanilla lessons about the scriptures. Deep doctrine is a matter apart. We just want to engage the scriptures in a serious way, and not in a way that assumes that there are no difficult issues in them, apart from carrying some of the moral counsel into practice.
Yes, naturally, but this is going to have to be done informally among like-minded members in the Church and not as a church-wide program. I am all for this in principle, but in practicality it just isnt going to happen aside from individuals taking upon themselves to do it.
Nick Show me where I made such an accusation.
How about comment 7 paragraph 2 sentence 1 and comment 12 last sentence? I suppose you would classify those as complimentary matters of fact and not your jaundiced opinion?
Nick I think you’re just looking for a fight, Kurt.
And you arent?
Nick Show me where I said any such thing, Kurt. Then, show me where Jesus taught that you should arrogantly rebuke any interest in doctrine and history, on a personal crusade to reduce Mormonism to an ethical code.
Talk about arrogant rebukes, you just won the gold medal, Nick. Click on my link, smart guy. I own and operate LDSGospelDoctrine.net to give SS teachers access to material outside the standard manual in an effort to help make things better rather than just sit on my butt and whine. I too am sick of crap SS classes, but whining about how the Church is trying to dumb things down is a complete waste of time, besides being untrue.
I haven’t read all of the comments up to this point but I don’t have any more time on my lunch to tackle this. I appreciate the comments. I still think that the Church should address this. How do you all react to Nick’s assertion that as an institution that we are moving more to ethics and leaving behind our doctrine? I can’t deny that there are some signs that this is true but I can’t believe that that is where all this heading. With proper manuals, better teacher training and real focus on change I think that this is all very possible. And I don’t think that the people who would appreciate this type of class would be much on a minority. We could all do with better Gospel education in my mind.
Lxx: But we don’t get into deeper issues at all in either class.
What do you have in mind here?
The reason I ask is because once one does start asking deeper questions it becomes apparent that nobody knows the answers for sure — including modern apostles and prophets. Here are some examples:
Is there viviparous spirit birth or not?
If in what way are we children of God?
Are spirits actually eternal or not?
Is there really a difference between an “intelligence” and a spirit?
Is there progression between kingdoms of glory or not?
Was the Father a savior on a previous world or not?
Who inhabited those other worlds?
The list of unanswered “deep” doctrinal questions goes on and on. And for most of them one could find two completely contradictory GA opinions. Why? Because God has not revealed answers to most of these questions yet. So I have trouble envisioning what a deep doctrine class would entail other than presenting the various opposing GA “camps” on these questions. I have a hard time seeing a class that pits Bruce R. and JFSII against Elders Widtsoe and Talmage as being desirable to the leaders of the church.
“Another example, today’s lesson in my ward was on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The whole book in a single 40 minute class.”
I taught that lesson yesterday, and I didn’t think it was so bad.
Look, throughout the lesson manual it says that teachers should be praying for the Spirit, and under inspiration be tailoring our lessons to meet the “needs of class members.” Those manuals are written for age 14 upwards; nobody expects us to cover everything in the proposed lesson.
I live in a “newlyweds-and-nearly-deads” ward near a college campus. We have separate Gospel Doctrine classes for the two groups, and I teach the nearly-deads, which also includes a few folks as young as their 30s. It includes three stake patriarchs, many temple workers, many returned missionaries (from both youth and couples missions).
One of their major needs is not to be bored by the lessons, so I spend a lot of time researching for new angles, etc. I bring in my ipod with recent conference talks that touch on the topics we are discussing. I spend about 6 hours preparing each lesson.
For our discussion of Romans, we spent the first five minutes on an overview, another five on the first chapter, 15 minutes on chapter 8, and 10 minutes on chapter 12.
At the start of the lesson, I announced that it had been a long reading assignment, and so if anyone had something they had learned and wanted to share first, they could. The only person to raise their hand said they wanted to talk about Romans 8: 37-39, and since we were already planning to discuss Romans 8 in detail, I defered discussion until that part of the lesson (and caught my breath to think that we were so much on the same brainwave.
We spent about 5 minutes just discussing Romans 8: 26 and what it means to our lives.
So while of course we didn’t get a chance to discuss all of Romans, I think folks did learn something meaningful from what we *did* cover in class, which is all I can hope for.
Of course any stake can organize an adult institute class, and there are BYU homestudy courses available for those who want more.
But it’s not clear to me if by “deeper” doctrine what is meant is “controversial” or what.
In response to my request that he show me where I accused the LDS church of trying to hide things, you wrote:
How about comment 7 paragraph 2 sentence 1
Kurt, how can this sentence be an accusation of the LDS church trying to hide things, when I noted that they explicity said that earlier leaders had “speculated” on the topic? That’s an open admission, not hiding. I made no accusation of hiding things.
and comment 12 last sentence?
Again, nothing there about hiding anything. Read the comment, Kurt. The sentence you refer to points out that an “advanced gospel doctrine class” would be counterproductive to the apparent LDS leadership goal of emphasizing ethics over exegesis in Sunday Schools—a goal you have not only recognized, but endorsed.
I suppose you would classify those as complimentary matters of fact and not your jaundiced opinion?
These statements are both simply statements of fact, Kurt. You can read my personal disappointment into the first, to be sure, but the latter is quite objective.
And you arent [trying to pick a fight]?
No, Kurt. I made observations about why I felt that an “advanced gospel doctrine” class would never fly in the LDS church. They happen to be similar to some of the other statements made in this thread, but you’ve chosen to fly off the handle at me, apparently for no other reason than the fact that I no longer choose to be a member of the LDS church. I think you are simply reading into my comments, based on what you personally expect an “ex-mormon” to say. This is a case of your prejudices at work, rather than actual persecution.
How do you all react to Nick’s assertion that as an institution that we are moving more to ethics and leaving behind our doctrine?
This is problematic because our ethics our our doctrine. In our religion, more times than not, orthopraxy is orthodoxy. I am not sure what you mean by doctrine here though.
We could all do with better Gospel education in my mind. Gospel education of scripture education?
Saying that, I do see that our classes are sometimes fairly lackluster, but on the other hand, I disagree with what some have said, that pedagoguey(sp?) is not relevant. It has been fairly well studied in most settings that adult classes dealing with soft skills (as most sunday school classes do) are better served by the teacher taking less of a teaching role and more a facilitating position to the class. Typically though in church, the teacher fails in either 1 of 3 ways:
1.> They teach a lesson without allowing and pushing for interaction from the class.
2.> They do not prepare a lesson at all and just go through the manual. (these first two are typical of SS school)
3.> The Manual is not really a lesson manual at all, but is instead a book, and lessons shouldn’t be lessons, but should be book club discussions (Like the PH/RS books)
I don’t think spliting and having an advanced sunday school is a good idea. That misses the point of sunday school. Having sunday school in general advance to a better prepared and better executed format would be beneficial for all.
For a class that goes more indepth on Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Principles wins every time.
Having Sunday School in general advance to a better prepared and better executed format would be beneficial for all.
I couldn’t agree more, Matt. There’s a lot of room for us to improve how we teach our classes on every level. If we were to introduce an “advanced” curriculum, that would be no replacement whatsoever for improving our existing classes. Better pedagogy is just essential, regardless.
I think it’s important to note that class interaction per se isn’t really a positive value, though. If that interaction involves repeating “Sunday School answers” without any thought, we’re really no better off than if there’s no interaction at all. The pedagogy research that I’ve been trained with tells us that what people remember is conversations in which they’re emotionally and intellectually invested while the discussion is taking place. If we ask students to confront issues they haven’t seen before, to resolve problems in the text, etc., we can get this kind of engagement a lot more often than if we recycle the same discussion on tithing, say, that people in the class have already had three dozen times in their lives. There’s a lot we can do to make Gospel Doctrine better, but it’s going to involve instructors taking the chance of doing things they haven’t done before. Sometimes they won’t work, and things will be no better than at present, but when trying new things does work, the results will be far better and class members will carry lasting ideas, memories, and impressions away with them.
If we ask students to confront issues they haven’t seen before, to resolve problems in the text, etc., we can get this kind of engagement a lot more often than if we recycle the same discussion on tithing, say, that people in the class have already had three dozen times in their lives.
I can agree with that, with the caveat that there is a reasonable limit to how far we ought to go with this. Thus it is equally important that the teacher knows how far they can go with their students. (otherwise, the teacher is either not realy challenging his class, or is a jerk) Finally, their is a necessity for the teacher to keep withing the bounds of promoting the agenda of the organization they represent, and not some his own views or some other entity. This can be problematic, of course.
And yes, “canned” answers are a problem, and my experience leads me to believe they typically come from “canned” questions. I think I am agreeing with you on that point.
There are, I should note, other techniques that work well in promoting class engagement. One is connecting the class with a specific real-world project. This could work beautifully for teenage Sunday School classes, where the curriculum could be used to motivate some grand service project, etc. It might be trickier for adult Sunday School. Another useful approach involves simulations, which are probably not terribly useful in the Sunday School context. One more effective alternative involves giving each student an out-of-class project of going in-depth into one topic and then presenting back to the whole class. I think this could be really wonderfully useful in adult Gospel Doctrine classes. If each class member has a couple of months to do some serious reading and thinking about three or four chapters in a scriptural text, that class member will obviously learn a lot — and more often than not will present the material with passion and freshness that will translate into real learning among the other students and the opportunity for a powerful shared class spiritual growth experience.
I believe an older version of the General Handbook used to suggest having two GD classes in the ward, so that people who prefer different approaches could gravitate to the class that meets their needs. Even when Hugh Nibley was holding forth in the chapel as a GD teacher, there was an alternate GD class that was very well attended. But I don’t think the current manual continues to suggest this (it would be logistically difficult in smallih wards outside the Mormon corridor).
I think a big part of the problem with our GD classes is that we encourage class participation at almost all costs. But the class doesn’t actually know anything about the subject. Hardly anyone has even read the assignment in advance. So it’s the ignorant teaching the ignorant. I think it is the teacher’s responsibility to bring some actual knowledge and information into the mix. In the absence of a good teacher who has the capacity to do that, your average GD class is dreadful.
I think it’s possible to remain within the bounds of ‘orthodoxy’ while maintaining a high level of interest. One of my Institute Teachers was really good at that. In his first class there were twenty students expecting your average Institute class. Two years later, you couldn’t get a seat in a two hundred fifty seat auditorium to listen to him.
We can go much deeper with what we already have without having to dig out the Journal of Discourses or change Sunday School into a university style “Issues in Early Mormon History” or “Applied Methodologies for Hermeneutical Understanding of Ancient Texts” type lecture or discussion. But I think we can examine the core doctrines of what we believe. What is the place of grace and works in the Mormon church? What exactly is charity and why does it ‘never faileth?’ Are there parallels between the Israelite Exodus and the westward movement of the early Saints? None of these topics are controversial and they can lead to really good gospel discussion. But I think the problem is twofold: Teachers aren’t trained to lead discussions and the members have been conditioned to give pat meaningless answers. If you can change that, you won’t need an advanced class.
The manuals are really, really good for someone who is inexperienced with teaching and does not have a good background in exegesis (i.e. most members).
Surely you aren’t included the PH/RS manuals in this are you? While I think someone with some teaching ability and enough gospel knowledge to bring in related topic can construct an ok lesson out of the material in these manuals in practice we get horrible lessons, either reading each and every paragraph with no discussion or having a lesson that ignores the book entirely for the teacher to go off on their own special tangents.
Reading through the comments a lot of people nailed what I would say (particularly Nitsav in #9 and #15), but I have to say RT’s suggestions in #11 are quite good. If I am ever called to teach adults, I will make use of that comment, so thanks.
My vote? I would be sorely disappointed if church classes headed in the direction that is hoped for by most here, even as much as I love learning new things and love getting more understanding about the history, language and context of the scriptures. But I can do that on my own time, at my own speed, and as a supplement to my gospel study. In short, I think that church is best kept at the devotional level. When you get a group of people who savors this approach, and comes together with the desire to worship and refuel and recommit, the Spirit can be strong and teach us new things even as it appears we are doing the same ol’ same ol’. It’s never the same and boring and repetitive and milk-like when the Spirit is present, imo. The meat can be found in the milk. I love love love what happens at church, and I love it most when we discuss the gospel principles and don’t get mired in the intellectual pursuit of the scriptures.
We just had Elder Eyring come to Stake Conference. The Spirit was thick and I feel the Saints were prepared for his visit. But in response to that preparation, he didn’t spend the time teaching us some new, unheard-of thing. He taught about prayer, humility, repentance, and how to access God’s power. He taught us how we can come closer to God, to be more like Him. I’ve rarely felt the Spirit as strongly. I can’t help but think that if we all really understood the basics and how deep they really are, we would want to spend more time studying and discussing them together rather than thinking it was time to ‘move on’ to something more ‘advanced.’
Again, it’s not that I don’t love learning more, and I think it is helpful to understand history, language, etc. But is it necessary to get to the meat of the gospel? I can’t help but think that the answer is no. The Lord is no respecter of persons. He will reveal His truths to the unlearned as well as the learned. IMO, the key is humbly accessing the Spirit, not gaining some specialized knowledge or information.
I also am really uncomfortable with the idea of separating people who are ‘smarter’ into an ‘advanced’ class. It feels all too ites-ish to me, and rather condescending, to be honest. We are supposed to be a community, not divided by social status or chances for learning or specialized knowledge or income level or whatever else, no? The Spirit is the great equalizer, and the gospel can be, too, if we approach it that way. It seems to me that this kind of arrangement would be especially disastrous in the kind of ward where you have your clearly different rich and poor, because knowledge and learning usually corresponds to financial status. (I have my former east coast ward in mind.)
OK, I’m finally able to contribute to the amazing conversation I began. For starters, let me just say that I have no underlying hope that this discussion will reach “the right ears” and things will change. I simply see that a lot of SS classes are falling way short of where they could/should be. Having said that, I believe that a lot of members don’t see anything wrong with the current system or the need for a more advanced class. Whether you bring the level of the current GD classes up to what I had in mind or you leave things as they are and add another class you accomplish what I had in mind either way. Personally, I like the idea of another class in large enough wards (my home ward growing up had 2 GD classes) because of the choice it afforded the members.
Kurt, et al: If the duty of the Church is primarily to tell us how to live and not what the mysteries of godliness are, then I’ve been pretty mislead during my lifetime. I understand that so much of studying the scriptures and pondering what has been revealed is a personal matter but there still has to be a place for uplifting, in-depth instruction doesn’t there? I’ve already addressed the issue of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy and I still hold that the true Church ought to be a nice balance of believing what is true and doing what is right. A Church heavily weighted to orthopraxy is a an unbalanced Church in my mind. FWIW.
Naismith: Sounds like you are an exceptional teacher. Still, you didn’t get even close to covering a huge amount of the material in Romans. Even if the class was uplifting and meaningful it didn’t and couldn’t cover an important and vastly under-read text properly. And as for your last question, along with Matt’s, I am not proposing a class that covers blood atonement, Adam-God, marriage of Jesus, or any other unknowable topics. I simply want a class that addresses topics that can be understood and scriptures that can be analyzed in depth to great benefit.
And as for the floating question about how to make better teachers and prepare better classes, I think this again an issue of manuals and culture. No one needs to read the lessons. You already know 85% of what is going to be said any way so why bother reading? Previous experience in attending these classes is preparation enough. And teachers can be completely ignorant of the things that could be taught before they prepare for a lesson, a good manual can give them all the materials they need to learn for themselves first and prepare. I mean, how many times have you had a decent teacher who said during their lesson “I learned so much preparing this lesson.” In depth lessons that are very well created can cause teachers to make more serious preparations and might even create a classroom atmosphere that would encourage members to prepare before they came. I mean, how many times would it take you all to come to class unprepared and feel overwhelmed and foolish but also engaged and intrigued before you started reading in advance?
arj, #36: “Surely you aren’t included the PH/RS manuals in this [support for the manuals] are you?” Absolutely not. I meant the Sunday School manuals. I have no idea how to teach from the PH/RS manual.
m&m, #38: as you discuss milk vs. meat, keep in mind that Paul used that comparison as a criticism of the Corinthians: “I have fed you with milk and not with meat, because you weren’t able to bear the meat, and you’re still not able because you are carnal…” So, if Church members weren’t so wicked, then we could have a “meat” class?
AHLDuke, #20: “We just want to engage the scriptures in a serious way, and not in a way that assumes that there are no difficult issues in them, apart from carrying some of the moral counsel into practice.” Beautiful!
BrianJ, I actually think the Sunday School manuals do a special disservice to novice teachers, particularly those who feel overwhelmed. The reason is that the manuals encourage those teachers to fall into bad habits: asking obvious questions that provoke passive-aggressive marginal participation from the audience, avoiding in-depth discussion of any passage by instead emphasizing superficial consideration of many passages, picking sentences or even parts of sentences up out of context as if they were free-floating aphorisms, and so forth. These are exactly the traps that our materials ought to be warning new instructors against. Instead, the manuals reinforce the worst habits that are prevalent in our culture of teaching and learning.
Oooo, I like RT’s 41. That is an excellent, succinct articulation of the pedagogical problems of most current GD classes.
M&m: To each his own but not everyone’s needs are your needs and those needs are not always met the same way. And if every class could be on the most basic things but taught by the likes of an apostle then I probably wouldn’t have written this post. As for whether history, language, etc., are necessary in understanding the Gospel, I say yes. History is context and without it there is no way to know whether we are understanding the things written for us properly. As for language, not everyone needs to or can learn Hebrew or Greek but some of us can and we can and will pass that on for the benefit of everyone. Language is of the utmost importance, it is our primary form of communication. And in my experience, giving the Spirit these tools to works with while it teaches us is incredibly helpful.
The problem with “advanced” courses in Sunday School is the alienation of those that aren’t there for “advanced learning” (which, by my count, is most church-going folks). My ward chose me as a SS teacher because of my educational background, and I’m willing to bet that they lament doing it. Often times I’m way over their heads. (They’ve leveraged me with another guy that is touchy-feely). Just because I think the qal passive of labash means “wore” instead of “wear” and how that enhances the Gideon narrative in Judges 6 doesn’t mean everybody else cares. In fact, sometimes “advanced learning” only disrupts things. LXX, you’re a great guy, and I’ve been in your shoes before when I was young and naive, but you also don’t understand the repercussions of your desire on others. You don’t want SS to be more advanced, trust me. Obtain that “higher stuff” on your own, if you can find it. Church is not the place for graduate-level inquiry into scripture.
Nick L, you rock.
I really don’t get the position being advanced here by some who insist that members don’t need to know anything at all about the scriptures in order to live good lives. While I suppose that this is possible, it does not seem desirable. I don’t get why people think that a more advanced or in-depth SS class would somehow decrease our ability to behave in a Christ-like manner.
I find it strange to hear so many voices coming out in favor of a practice- and ethics-based Church from this discussion. The Church surely privileges righteous living more than many other churches (for example, no emphasis on a single “I’m Saved!” moment), but knowledge has always been so important to the Latter-day Saints. I don’t have my scriptures handy but the Doctrine & Covenants especially are replete with references to the saving power of gaining knowledge about God and the things of the Kingdom. Didn’t JS say that a man is not saved any faster than he gains knowledge?
If I remember correctly, Terryl Givens brings up the importance of gaining knowledge several times in his new book. It is one of the more enlightening insights.
I submitted a comment about a thousand years ago that hasn’t posted yet. This was the gist of it:
I used to attend a ward that had two GD classes–the more obscure one being taught by Bill Hamblin. (You can guess which one I attended.) My mother also attended a ward with two GD classes–the more obscure one being taught by Curtis Wright. (You can guess which one she attended.) There was a natural division in these wards as to who attended the respective classes. No special monitoring was necessary.
Conclusion: If you ever go to ward where there is more than one GD class offered, go to the one less attended.
I have to agree here with TT and AHL. How can studying the scriptures in depth harm us? How can it not help us? I’d drop the Hebrew parsing for a simple “the Hebrew actually reads X” where it is helpful. And as for arguments that this is catering to too small a group, don’t you guys have temple prep and marriage development classes from time to time? There is certainly room for this.
David J: I’ve had the experience of discovering that I’m teaching way over their heads before too. Usually I just tone it down a bit. What I find is even if they can’t follow everything many people still appreciate having something different to listen to and probably learning a few new things. That probably has something to do with all my SS teaching experience coming in BYU wards. Has anyone else had good experiences with family wards or was I really just blessed with a great audience due to situation?
I find this whole thread interesting. I feel like there are several different melodies playing but I’m not sure they are all part of the same score. From the comments made I can tell that people are thirsty for well-taught gospel instruction. I recall Elder Holland’s talk:
Are the comments expressing this desire to improve the quality of teaching in the Church? Is it that people are leaving largely uninspired and want to be inspired and nourished? Is it that these comments reflect what Elder Holland has pointed out?
Or, does this thread reflect a different kind of thirst for knowledge, which goes beyond having better instructors? Is this a greater desire to study the gospel in a more academic setting being informed through biblical and historical scholarship? Are these comments expressing the desire to move from a purely devotional kind of learning towards a gospel study informed by academic scholarship, or perhaps simply a greater thirst to understand and study the bible as one would in a university or college environment, as part of a graduate course? It sounds as if some would say that one should be able to do both at church, but others might draw a line of demarcation and say that Sunday School would not be the appropriate venue for this kind of learning.
Others seem to take the position that for an LDS person, personal study would be the best form for these topics, while others still desire a group setting environment. Most people have recognized that Mormonism has a lay membership and no professional clergy, there are no divinity schools, there are no theological seminaries. Seminary, Institute and Sunday School, are places of largely devotional learning. An Evangelical or Catholic who has desires a more indepth study of the faith has the option of attending a divinity school or theological seminary. Is perhaps this thread a recognition that in the LDS faith there is a kind of void, for better or for worse, and no comparable institutions or venues to satisfy this interest? Is it that some desire a middle point, more than the devotional study they get at Sunday School but less than a full-blown graduate program in religious studies? Would the better analogy be that some desire to see the return of the “School of the Prophets”?
First of all, Brian J., I only used the milk/meat thing because that was in the original post. And sure, if we aren’t learning enough from the Spirit (or teaching enough with the Spirit), there is probably something lacking in us. But is that a surprise? Do any of us really have enough faith, or hope, or charity, or patience, or understanding about the Atonement, or godliness in our lives and homes?
knowledge has always been so important to the Latter-day Saints.
Didn’t JS say that a man is not saved any faster than he gains knowledge?
For the record, I myself don’t take issue with this AT ALL. Knowledge is essential. The question in my mind is how best to get the kind of knowledge that will save us. My feeling and understanding is that knowledge in its greatest form comes through the Spirit, not simply from more information and more factsy depth. Sure, even spiritual knowledge acquisition doesn’t happen in a vacuum without some historical and other knowledge, but I think sometimes too much emphasis is put on the book-based knowledge (what WE know and might teach someone else from our brains vs. instead letting the Spirit be the teacher). I think this kind of ‘advanced’ class structure could very well make that inclination worse. I also think we just need to be careful about making church classes exclusive in any way, because then they have the potential to be divisive.
Another concern I have is this: It takes a truly gifted teacher to keep a brainy class from either turning to priestcraft or at least unbalanced (too much intellectual, not enough spiritual) teaching. And I think that kind of specialized teaching is really, really risky in a lay church structure. And really hit-and-miss. How many people do we really have in the Church who could do this kind of in-depth teaching?
That said, I really do understand why some people would like a more ‘advanced’ class. Would I love an in-depth class on the NT that lasted four years? You bet. Do I think church is the place for it? No, I’m not convinced it is.
And as for Elder Eyring, I should have mentioned that he got up and said he could have sat down without saying anything because we had been taught so well by the people before him. And why? Because the Spirit was running the show. He proved it to us by opening up the scriptures and showing us principle after principle that had been taught. What else did I hear him teaching by these comments? That the best teaching comes through the Spirit, and is scripture- and principle- and application-based. We really don’t need much more to have powerful, powerful experiences. I think we haven’t tapped that potential nearly as much as we could. But that isn’t about getting smarter teachers who know more and using more resources in our classes.
In fact, Elder Eyring quoted this scripture about what had happened Saturday night: “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh– But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;” (D&C 1:19-20). If our GD lessons aren’t good enough, I tend to think that the key won’t be found in more advanced information but in more Spirit and spiritual preparation, by the teachers and the students. The Spirit was strong in this meeting not just because of the speakers, but because we had come spiritually prepared at the request of our Stake Presidency. It made a huge difference. And it was amazing, even before Elder Eyring got up.
OK, enough already. I guess it’s obvious that I have strong feelings about this topic. 🙂 But remember, it’s not because I don’t love to learn from people smarter than I.
m&m: The meat can be found in the milk.
Ewww. Soggy meat.
“But the class doesn’t actually know anything about the subject. Hardly anyone has even read the assignment in advance. ”
That isn’t so much true, in my experience and situation. I really stress reading the assignment and provide my class members with
1) the student study guide
2) a bookmark with the dates of which lesson
3) detailed instructions on how to listen/dowload to the audiio files from lds.org
Plus, I try to look a bit ahead, and tell them which chapters they should read if they can’t read it all. For next week, we are supposed to read all of Hebrews, but I told them to at least focus on Hebrews 1 and 11.
And they know they will get more out of it if they read it in advance, and since they come with questions, I think some/many of them are reading.
But even if they didn’t read, they can still participate and contribute in a meaningful way. A few weeks ago we had a good discussion about unity in diversity, and we had many good comments about embracing diversity, not inflicting USAmerican culture on a worldwide church, etc. and there were many insights from missionary experiences, SISTERZ IN ZION, etc.
A while back, I had a really sweet experience. I was teaching that ugly bit of Corinthians about women obey your husbands, and I was delighted that the lesson manual actually provided a quote about how marriages today should be a partnership. In presenting it to the class, I observed that this scripture had historically been used as a cudgel with which men beat their wives, both physically or emotionally. Someone made a comment that sure we *talk* about partnerships, but according to the temple, the man is really in charge and has the final say. I asked them when this had been necessary, because in 29 years of marriage, we’d never had a situation where there was a need for “final say.” Then they said, well, if he is being righteous and following the Lord, what he decides is what she would want, anyway. About then, someone else noted that while that may be the ideal, in a situation where the man wasn’t so much in tune with the spirit, a woman didn’t have to obey him, and shouldn’t obey him, in many cases.
What was so special is that whle we were waiting for RS to start, I was sitting with that last commenter, and a new sister in the ward came to sit with us and told us that she was divorced and her husband had been abusive and had used that scripture to justify his actions. It was breathtaking that she was willing to share that part of her life, that the SS class made her comfortable doing it, and made me appreciate the value of studying various scriptures.
“Even if the class was uplifting and meaningful it didn’t and couldn’t cover an important and vastly under-read text properly.”
Absolutely true. I could teach Romans for four months straight. But your complaint really seems to be that there are too many scriptures to study, not about Sunday School per se.
And so maybe you are looking for a BYU Independent Study Course (which I have done–they are reasonably priced and wonderful, although a lot of work), an adult institute class, or a scripture study group.
I really do like covering a book of scripture every year, and think the chance to have an overview is worth the inability to dig in depth. My only complaint about the manuals is that they weren’t updated, so that we’ve been hitting/missing the same scriptures for two cycles in a row. If we got some different scriptures each time through, then we would cover the entire standard works over a lifetime.
Plus, as someone who had a bunch of sqirmy babies and then was in Primary for many years, it seems such a luxury to be able to sit and ponder the scriptures on whatever level, so I can’t imagine complaining about Sunday School, because it is pure bliss to be able to attend Gospel Doctrine compared to serving in nursery during naptime.
Nick (29) Again, nothing there about hiding anything. Read the comment, Kurt. The sentence you refer to points out that an “advanced gospel doctrine class” would be counterproductive to the apparent LDS leadership goal of emphasizing ethics over exegesis in Sunday Schools—a goal you have not only recognized, but endorsed.
No, Nick, I do not endorse the notion that ethics be emphasized over, or to the exclusion of, exegesis. What I have stated emphatically and repeatedly is the Church’s primary responsibility is to get members to repent and have a godly walk and not to educate them on complex exegesis and historical minutiae. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but effectively combining them demands a level of education, investment and expertise that is impossible to accomplish as a Church-wide program. This means RT’s suggestions will never come to pass, and shouldnt come to pass, as a Church-wide program. It does not mean they cannot come to pass at the ward level where there are demographics that support it. Any ward that has the demographics to support it absolutely should support such a program through their SS. I have actively participated in just such wards, and will continue to do so. But, that doesnt mean I advocate Church-wide attempts to do so, it is just not practical.
Nick (29) These statements are both simply statements of fact, Kurt. You can read my personal disappointment into the first, to be sure, but the latter is quite objective.
The notion that your comments in 7 and 12 are objective facts is patently absurd, especially the second paragraph of comment 7, which is obviously nothing but your biased opinion on where the Church is going.
Nick (29) This is a case of your prejudices at work, rather than actual persecution.
No, Nick, it is a case of you presenting patently hostile opinions as facts and continually making accusations in ignorance and being called on it.
lxxluthor (39) Kurt, et al: If the duty of the Church is primarily to tell us how to live and not what the mysteries of godliness are, then I’ve been pretty mislead during my lifetime. I understand that so much of studying the scriptures and pondering what has been revealed is a personal matter but there still has to be a place for uplifting, in-depth instruction doesn’t there? I’ve already addressed the issue of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy and I still hold that the true Church ought to be a nice balance of believing what is true and doing what is right. A Church heavily weighted to orthopraxy is a an unbalanced Church in my mind. FWIW.
The Church does have a responsibility to teach people correct doctrines, but the level of teaching and doctrinal and historical content currently being appealed to here in this thread is above and beyond what is the world-wide norm. This blog is comprised of a collection of graduate students, presumably all pursuing PhDs, and I would have to assume all of the commentators have at least Bachelors degrees and many of them probably have advanced degrees. How is that representative of where the Church should be pitching to? It isnt. And expecting the Church to address the needs/wants of a small well-educated minority isnt realistic, especially when that minority is perfectly able to satisfy their own needs by exercising their own initiative. Could instruction be better? Yes. But, that is the problem with a lay ministry. The Church does not foster a culture of meritocracy, nor should it.
TT (45) I really don’t get the position being advanced here by some who insist that members don’t need to know anything at all about the scriptures in order to live good lives.
Nobody has advocated this viewpoint.
TT (45) While I suppose that this is possible, it does not seem desirable. I don’t get why people think that a more advanced or in-depth SS class would somehow decrease our ability to behave in a Christ-like manner.
Nobody is saying it would.
AHLDuke (46) I find it strange to hear so many voices coming out in favor of a practice- and ethics-based Church from this discussion. The Church surely privileges righteous living more than many other churches (for example, no emphasis on a single “I’m Saved!” moment), but knowledge has always been so important to the Latter-day Saints. I don’t have my scriptures handy but the Doctrine & Covenants especially are replete with references to the saving power of gaining knowledge about God and the things of the Kingdom. Didn’t JS say that a man is not saved any faster than he gains knowledge?
There are different kinds of knowledge. The kind of knowledge the Scriptures advocate is not an intellectual ascent but an experiential knowledge of the nature of God through a relationship with Him by following the example of Jesus Christ, cf. Alma 12:9-10. The Scriptures absolutely do not place a premium on an intellectual ascent, but qualify it as a good thing as long as people dont lose sight of God, cf. 2 Ne. 9:29.
lxxluthor (48) I have to agree here with TT and AHL. How can studying the scriptures in depth harm us? How can it not help us?
You answered this question yourself in your very next paragraph when you said “I’ve had the experience of discovering that I’m teaching way over their heads before too. Usually I just tone it down a bit. What I find is even if they can’t follow everything…” Nobody has said that learning something new is harmful. What I am saying is that expecting the Church to push a world-wide advanced class when there would not be sufficient internal support at the ward level for it is unreasonable. If the ward can support it and there is interest in it, then great, do it. Expecting the Church to institute this worldwide is unreasonable.
And as for arguments that this is catering to too small a group, don’t you guys have temple prep and marriage development classes from time to time? There is certainly room for this.
Room where? In your ward, great. Your ward, by virtue of its geography and demographics might very likely support such a thing. But, how many other wards can do that worldwide? What percentage in the US? What percentage in Central America, South America, Africa, etc.?
Aquinas (49) It sounds as if some would say that one should be able to do both at church, but others might draw a line of demarcation and say that Sunday School would not be the appropriate venue for this kind of learning.
If your ward population can support both, then great, do it. There is nothing intrinsically inappropriate about it. However, from a world-wide Church perspective, it is unreasonable to expect the Church to roll out a program that does what RT and others have suggested because there just isnt the internal support for it at the ward level. Seriously, how many wards have a significant enough population to support such a program? Over my lifetime I have lived in two wards that could, and they both did. Both of those wards were in University towns.
I have taught GD and if you pick through some of my lessons on the website you will see that I do not stick to the manual, do not ask formula questions with standard answers, use alternative translations and non-LDS commentaries, draw on obscure historical material and all of that. But, I always tried to gear it towards feeding people spiritually and not being esoteric, so that people would hopefully feel the Spirit and the need to actually do what Christ taught. The ward I currently live in would not be a good fit for the kind of lessons I teach, so I dont teach there. Do the lessons generally bore me? Yes. But, I still go, because once in awhile someone asks a question the teacher cannot answer and sometimes I can, so I pitch in and do what I can.
If your GD class is crap, whining about it on the Bloggernacle isnt going to make it any better. If you want to make it better, then go and be prepared to help make it better and contribute so it is better.
RT, as soon as you are Bishop of your ward and get all your plans for your super GD/SS classes in place, report back and let us know how it is going.
I once wrote a post asking why we even have Sunday School. The comments in this thread reinforce my quandary on this point. It seems that people in this thread largely agree that Sunday School as currently practiced among the Mormons is broadly ineffective in helping people learn about the scriptures. Yet its structure — which is formally oriented around learning things about the scriptures — also makes it unnecessarily inefficient as a means to other ends. Sunday School is not currently structured to maximize devotional impact. If it were, the focus of each lesson on a scriptural text, some weeks including those of relatively modest devotional power, would probably not exist. Instead, Sunday School would likely consist of a simple gospel theme, one or two especially powerful quotations, and then basically an extended testimony session. Testimony sessions are clearly our most concentrated public Sunday devotional activities other than maybe the sacrament, and their near-absence in Sunday School clearly indicates that, as currently practiced, the sessions are not intended only or even primarily as devotional time. Instead, the existence of reading assignments, lesson material, a course manual, and a focus on explanation and interpretation (however badly done) in that manual indicate a broadly educational focus for Sunday School. Clearly, that education is to be done in a spiritual way and with a devotional component. But the class time is equally clearly supposed to be educational as well as devotional — or the whole system ought to be fundamentally changed.
My guess is that Sunday School is a historical white elephant for us right now. It is a program that we adopted, from the grass roots up, when it was a nationwide craze among other Christians. Yet I think it isn’t currently serving our purposes — devotional or educational — as well as it could with a program redesign that makes the time more focused on one or the other of these objectives and therefore more successful at either of them. There’s obviously a great deal of inertia in these programs, since it’s retained the same basic structure for decades at least. Maybe that inertia is the whole explanation for why the program exists at all?
Kurt #53, one needn’t be bishop in order to teach in ways that are consistent with pedagogical research. I’ve done most of the things that I suggest in this thread in church classes in the recent or more distant past — other than taking several years to address one of the standard works — with consistently good results. I’m not saying that my classes are better than other people’s, but rather that the classes are consistently much better when I do the things I’ve mentioned above than when I don’t. Existing research suggests that the same is true for basically every teacher. Even the most naturally talented instructors tend to teach better classes when they self-consciously adopt pedagogically sound techniques. The big summary, of course, is that lecture and advanced discussion just don’t work nearly as well as the instructor sometimes wants to think.
As a side note, let me mention that no ward I’ve ever taught in has been unhappy when more information was available in Sunday School. People love reading short bits of relevant diaries to supplement the church-history part of the Doctrine and Covenants year, for example. In my experience, most of our Sunday School participants are absolutely thirsting for anything non-rote in our classes.
RT (54) It seems that people in this thread largely agree that Sunday School as currently practiced among the Mormons is broadly ineffective in helping people learn about the scriptures.
How representative are the people in this thread?
RT (55) As a side note, let me mention that no ward I’ve ever taught in has been unhappy when more information was available in Sunday School. People love reading short bits of relevant diaries to supplement the church-history part of the Doctrine and Covenants year, for example. In my experience, most of our Sunday School participants are absolutely thirsting for anything non-rote in our classes.
Some wards have a lot of people in it that are as you describe, some don’t. I’ve been in some small wards and branches that had near zero capacity for anything but the fundamentals. But, as you say, I have noticed a near universal interest in first-person period historical accounts of events, no matter how obscure. I recall reading a journal entry by one of the early settlers in SLC valley who talked about eating sego lily bulbs, crow and coyote meat during droughts and how it really wasnt all that bad and when I looked up from the paper I read from it was plain from the faces that it mightily grabbed their attention.
Kurt, even the fundamentals can be taught well or badly. Good pedagogy should be a separate issue from an advanced class.
In principle, yes. But, in practicality, the two will go hand in hand. If your local ward does not have the demographics to support one it will probably not be able to support the other. This is the curse of a lay ministry. I’ve had professional and informal training in how to teach, and have taught professionally, academically and informally. I am a statistical outlier in my present ward, but in some wards I have been in I would have been normative. The Church has a teaching class for teachers, and, no surprises, these classes are usually as good as the teacher running them. I have been through it a couple of times and one time it was pretty good because the gal running it was an experienced professional, and the other time it was a bore because the guy doing it was just doing it without any practical experience or training. What is the Church to do? No matter how good or bad the manual or the program design, it is up to the people to take up the yoke and work. There is no magic bullet, it comes down to someone at the local level doing the heavy lifting because they have an attitude of charity and selfless service. If you are willing to do that in your ward, then good on you.
Kurt, I completely agree that, at the end of the day, everything depends on what people at the local level actually do. Home teaching might be a really excellent program if it were actually done on a regular basis; we just don’t know. But the problem I see is that right now, the Sunday School program actually teaches people to do the wrong things. It doesn’t seem impossible to me for the church to publish manuals and training materials that don’t actively encourage ineffective teaching styles. Until we reach that point, it’s not really all on the heads of the lay ministry.
RT, #41: I didn’t say the SS manuals are perfect, only that I think they work quite well for an overwhelmed teacher. What you point out in #41, “…the manuals encourage…asking obvious questions…, avoiding in-depth discussion…, [etc], [and] reinforce the worst habits that are prevalent in our culture of teaching and learning.” Okay, I can see what you mean, and I agree that it can be a problem, but at the same time I have seen the manuals be used quite well by novice teachers. Why is that? I suppose that I have just seen many instructors use the manuals “the right way”; i.e. view the lesson plans as suggestions/possibilities and not as scripts.
And if you’ll look back at my #18, you’ll see that we agree (at least in part): “Get rid of the “main purpose” line for each lesson. Leave the teacher with lots and lots of good topics they can select from, rather than staying with the “same old lesson” each time they cover—for example—Genesis 1. The manuals sort of do this already, but the “main purpose” header and lesson titles make it seem like it’s not okay to focus on something else.”
In short, I think we agree that the current manuals’ greatest weakness is that they make it seem as though there is always one clear, simple, and obvious meaning to and application of every scripture. At any rate, thanks for pointing out where I “over-stepped” in #18.
RT, good and effective GD/SS teachers dont use the manual at all. We all know that. Its the ones who dont really know what they are talking about and dont have good teaching skills who rely on it, and they are not capable of answering anything but the standard canned questions in a not-particularly-effective presentation so its a fair starting point for the uninitiated lay teacher. Its a crutch for people who would otherwise kill time showing Seminary videos and reading entire chapters of taking turns by verse. I’ll take ineffective teaching styles over Seminary videos. Sometimes crutches are a good thing when you need them, no matter how ugly and unwieldy.
Hey, if you think you can come up with better lesson plans, I’ll happily post them on ldsgospeldoctrine.net, which consistently gets 2000+ people/week. Afterwards, have them translated into the 20 or 30 major languages the LDS Church supports so everyone in the worldwide Church can use them.
Kurt, I know a guy who faced church discipline about ten years ago for publishing supplementary gospel doctrine curricula…
RT- Wow, I’d love to hear the whole story on that one…
Me too. I would have to assume it was because of content and not merely for the act of doing so. I started ldsgospeldoctrine.net 10 years ago and nobody has ever said a negative word to me about it. First Counselor in my local stake presidency here did announce during a ward conf a few months ago that GD/SS teachers should prepare their own material by the Spirit and not use lessons off the Internet. I am sure he has no idea that I run the web site, so I found it pretty entertaining. I havent brought it to his attention, but will if I end up renewing my TR with him.
Kurt, #61, “Sometimes crutches are a good thing when you need them, no matter how ugly and unwieldy.” You said it better than I could. I wonder, how would you make the crutch (manual) less unwieldy? Of course, maybe you have already effectively answered that question through your ldsgospeldoctrine site. If the manuals were “better” (define that how you will), would there still be a need for your site?
(ugh, my #65 could come across as really flippant or cynical—please don’t read it that way.)
No, Nick, it is a case of you presenting patently hostile opinions as facts and continually making accusations in ignorance and being called on it.
Thank you, Kurt, for so aptly demonstrating your own prejudice. I’ve only been out of the LDS church for about 18 months, after being an active member of the LDS church for 26 years. When I left, I was serving as a stake executive secretary. I held a number of other leadership callings, and in relation to this thread, I taught gospel doctrine in every adult ward I lived in, save one.
Of course, none of this matters to you, because you’ve already determined that anyone who chooses not to be a member of the LDS church is “patently hostile” and “ignorant” about the LDS church. Of course, most would consider your behavior a defense mechanism—a way of allegedly “protecting” your own faith from a supposed “threat,” by demonizing anyone who believes differently than you do. Now, you will probably respond to this with even more indignant railing against my character. Such is your option, if you choose it. Rather, however, I would encourage you to behave like an adult, acknowledge that we have differing opinions, and perhaps even point to how your own observations differ.
I have used the various sources posted on your site ldsgospeldoctrine.net to help me prepare all my GD lessons for the last five years. I start with the lesson in the manual, then add to it based on the helpful things I find in those sources and in my own study. Thank you for creating and maintaining that site.
Aside for the issues already mentioned, I think the difficulty with the idea of an “advanced” GD class is that it would separate the people who are the most knowledgable about the scriptures from the people who have the most need to learn more about the scriptures. Gospel Doctrine class is not just about the instructor teaching each person in the class – it is about everyone in the class learning from and communicating with each other. The less expereinced members benefit from the comments and participation of the more doctrinally knowledgeable members, and sometimes the members of the class who want to talk about Egyptian funeral rites and the Book of Jasher are the ones who will benefit the most from hearing the humble testimony of a new convert. I think the focus needs to be on improving the quality of teaching – not on splitting people up.
Kurt: (53, 56) Just because this group isn’t representative doesn’t mean that our suggestions necessarily apply to only the cross-section we represent. That’s what I’m (and RT) trying to say, secular education and profession outside of SS have little to do with whether a person is interested in and capable of understanding a more advanced lesson. In any ward I’ve been in I’ve observed that almost no one thinks that the current GD classes are just right in terms of what the manuals offer to the teacher and the level of depth that is reached in most lessons (with the already noted exception of naturally gifted teachers going the extra mile). I’m not thinking about classes that are up to university standards, I’m simply thinking of a class that isn’t set up in such a way that I (and nearly everyone else in the room) am constantly feeling like I’m being treated like a member of no more than 2 or 3 years. Whether the change that needs to happen to correct this tendency is to improve the class in various ways or to offer a better class in addition, I don’t care. Just so long as something changes and I get to attend a SS class actually worth attending no matter what ward I’m in.
PLEASE, PLEASE teach me in the manner of the Jews so that I can understand! Why were Laman and Lemuel bored? (they didn’t understand the “teachings of the jews”). How can we understand Isaiah, O.T., BoM without this knowledge?
How can we understand Isaiah, O.T., BoM without this knowledge?
What comes to mind is this:
“they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Ne. 25:4)
Brian, #70, this is what I was trying to get at earlier. I would be interested to know the author’s (and others’) responses to this concern, because I think it’s an important one to consider.
I don’t buy the idea that a upper-level SS class would be desirable, but that it is not the Church’s job to do it. It IS emphatically the Church’s job to provide those opportunities, especially where the leadership would look so unkindly and disapprovingly of my attempts to set up an “alternate” scripture study among friends, outside of the context of the Church meetings. I want a betting Mormon to take the over-under on how many days it would take before that got shut down. Plus, an alternate study group would be yet another meeting you have the option to attend, in addition to the 3+ hours you have to attend each week (3 hours on Sunday + any other calling- or auxiliary-related meetings). No one would do it because most people barely read for the Sunday School lesson anyway. I imagine that there are some folks out there who don’t read the lesson because they realize that the teacher won’t really be talking about the scriptures anyway, he’ll just be telling us to pray more and hold FHE.
BrianJ (67) If the manuals were “better” (define that how you will), would there still be a need for your site?
I think the site would still be useful/interesting as a lot of the things posted there are the actual lessons people have taught, so it serves as a source for ideas and reference material. I think most of the users just check it as reference material, although I had one guy confess to me privately to poaching entire lessons of the site and not disclosing the original author.
Nick (69) The accusation of bombastic ignorance on your part was obviously dealing with statements you make, like in comment #23, which I responded to in #26. Your statements in 69 do nothing to address that, it is just an attempt to divert attention. There is nothing prejudicial about my approach to you as it based solely upon your behavior here and now. But, thanks for continuing to attack my person with absurd accusations, it just shows where you are coming from and saves me the bother of pointing it out.
Brian (70), glad you find the site useful. I agree that class participation usually helps improve the quality of the class, especially if the teacher isnt all that knowledgeable on obscurities.
lxxluthor (71), I dont believe the change you (and I as well) would like to see would result from any different programing from Church HQ by the way of manuals. I believe the change has to come at the ward level, the same with any thing in the ward that is dysfunctional. Manuals cannot fix that. Look at the BSA program, they have awesome training and great resources and manuals, but if nobody in the ward is enthusiastic about the program then it will be awful and the kids will hate it.
Kurt, I think the Sunday School situation is a two-part problem. First, as you stress, there is an issue of local will and effort. Second, there are problems with the existing program. Fixing the program by providing worthwhile manuals wouldn’t fix Sunday School automatically. However, for the many Sunday School teachers in the church who are making a sincere effort but don’t know what to do to teach classes that hold the attention of ward members and make a difference in their lives, fixing the manuals would help. Furthermore, since it’s pretty unclear what could be done to increase effort levels, but it’s easy to see what could be done to improve the manuals, institutional change seems to be the obvious first step in improving Sunday School.
Two part problem?
I’d add that many of the people with an ability to actually stand in front of a group of people and speak are in other positions. Bishoprics, high council, RS presidencies, nursery. I know for a fact that many teachers dread their callings and live in fear of each lesson. Not that this in and of itself leads to bad lessons, but I don’t think it helps.
Kurt: I think that your point in 75 is valid. I also think that RT has a valid point also. I think that with better manuals that there are a certain number of inexperienced teachers who would teach better. I also think that your point in 77 is valid. One point that I’m not seeing anyone address is that with better manuals there will also be an increased number of people who will read and prepare ahead. So whether the teacher,the students, or both have better materials that they are actually trying to use, you win with better manuals. Clearly your site is a testimonial to the fact that many desire it. Better manuals will aid any individual efforts at the ward level to improve the quality of SS class, IMO.
I just want to mention Nate Oman’s brilliant idea about SS manuals from an old post on T&S: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3146
I’ve only skimmed the discussion, but I don’t think advanced SS classes would really help. I think what is most needed are good books written by Mormons on how to interpret scripture (not just an effort to demystify the text with historical and textual information and background, but books that carefully read, interpret, and think about the meaning of scripture…). Frankly, I can’t think of anything that fits this bill. My experience is that a good teacher can teach students on any level. (Sorry for ranting, it’s been a rough day.)