Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yes! This is what Gospel Doctrine is Supposed to Be Like!"

What a wonderful Sunday School experience I had today! The recently called teacher (who just happens to be married to my cousin) was exactly what a gospel instructor is supposed to be. He's wonderful at facilitating an edifying gospel discussion and humbly inviting the Spirit to teach each of us through the use of inspired questions; questions that really make you think about your testimony, how Christ ministers to each of us, and to liken the scriptures to yourself in ways that you haven't already done. He was so respectful and sensitive to the Spirit, and as a result, people who I have never heard comment spoke up and we all learned from each other.

This is a class/ward that has been used to mostly sitting and having the gospel preached to them in a one-way direction during various teaching settings. I've lamented this many times to my wife; how the culture of teaching still needs work in these parts. (Was I just spoiled while in a BYU married student ward?) Then again, there have been a few wards I've visited when I had to wonder if they ever received "Teaching, No Greater Call" along with the rest of the Church. Granted, not all Gospel Doctrine teachers have seminary teaching or MTC teaching experiences, so I can't be too tough on some of those teachers, but I expect a lot out of Church.

As Jeffrey R. Holland put it in "A Teacher Come from God": "When our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition."

"President Spencer W. Kimball once pled: "Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. ... I fear," he said, "that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or a meeting, and ... then return home having been largely [uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time ... of stress, temptation, or crisis [in their life]. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit," he said, "and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous work," President Kimball concluded, "to get members to come to Church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come."

"On this subject President Hinckley himself has said, "Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church." May I repeat that. "Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life," President Hinckley continued, "will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "A Teacher Come from God," Ensign, May 1998).

I rejoice in my experience today. I found myself getting so excited as inspiration just kept coming to me because of the Spirit and the direction the teacher steered the class. I wanted to jump up and down and exclaim "Yes! This is what Gospel Doctrine is supposed to be like!". Instead of coming away underwhelmed and uninspired, today I came away rejoicing. This is what Church is supposed to feel like!

"[Real spiritual food] is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. Most people don't come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can." (Elder Holland).

So thank you Brad! Yes. This is what Sunday School is supposed to be like.

D&C 50:22
“Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”


Sally said...

Thanks for your nice comments, Spence. I'll let Brad know to look at your blog.

I agree that teaching sometimes seems like a lost art in the church, doesn't it? It's kinda funny because Brad was really intimidated when he got this calling because he didn't have all the scholarly gospel knowledge that the other teacher has. But I think you're right, that facilitating a good discussion and asking the right questions is important.

Lakes are Great said...

Amen Brother. In the Ashland ward here I have loved going to the Family relations class but the teacher is also an ER surgeon and isn't able to teach the class occasionally (It feels like he's gone a lot more than he is because I look forward to his class so much). He is very inviting in his questions and makes even the most timid members of the class feel comfortable enough to speak up.
I can't agree with you more spence, these humble teachers really do make the sabbath so much more enlightening and positive.

The Forney Four said...

love your blog... and your state...and post about the motab (sooo sad) and I hope hope hope the people in my gospel doctrine class feel this way about me :)


Kelli W. said...

I have a few thoughts on this. First: I'm glad you had such an uplifting experience, I too wish it could always be like that. I do hope that nobody else in your ward reads your blog, especially your former teacher! Ouch.
Second: I think spirituality has so many levels. Just because someone is called to teach doesn't mean they are necessarily the best qualified or even the most spiritually mature. Hopefully, the calling will inspire them to grow and learn and improve, but that doesn't always happen. Some people don't understand the difference between Gospel knowledge and loving the Gospel. The latter tends to rely on the spirit to edify, reaching our goal of understanding the Savior and applying his teachings and life to our own. The former is just knowledge. Doesn't do much good without that burning love for Jesus Christ and the desire to follow him, which would include preparing your lessons with the guidance of the Spirit and not just the manual. We all need to progress Spiritually so hopefully those who have that "gift" of teaching with the spirit are also in the class willing to share regardless of whether the teacher does or not. You and Brad have that gift. I know you have that burning desire to grow and learn and seek, so don't wait for the teacher to posess it - just share it!
Love you!

David T. said...

Hey Spence,

Amen to that, brother. We also are blessed with an in-tune, insightful GD teacher who engages the whole room. Nice, huh? BTW, regarding "Teaching, No Greater Call": I was surprised when the Church did away with the Teacher Improvement classes. My wife was its last teacher in our ward, and was informed the program had been discontinued. Actually, I can't swear it was a Church-wide move, but our stake president's too meat n' potatoes to do something like that on his own.

Kelli W. said...

Not in a biased way, I agree with Kelli....I've had those experiences where I have heard those earth shattering teachings where the class seems to eb and flow together in unison, a truly amazing spiritual experience. I've also been through the ones that seem to put you to sleep rather than inspire you. But through both I've learned that it's up to us to get out of it what we put into it. I recently attended a stake conference and Kelli said, "Don't forget to take notes so you can teach me when you get home..." That really inspired me to take meticulous notes and thus really helped me to stay focused and really get a lot of spiritual enlightenment out of conference whereas had I not taken notes, there is no question I would have come home way less spiritually filled. Also, there were NO dynamic speakers at the conference at all, but....I really was able to get a lot out of it regardless. I love your passion, Spence and can relate with you whole heartedly on this and am so grateful that I can still school you at NCAA at any given moment. Love you lots, brother, ...Pete

Clean Cut said...

You know David, I was a little baffled about the discontinuation of the teacher improvement classes as well. I have no knowledge of why this was done nor of how its long term ripple effects will affect teaching. I do know that people pay a lot of money to go to leadership seminars, and President Hinckley said that "effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church"--so it seems like it would still be valuable. Maybe teachers themselves were missing out of valuable edifying growth in Sunday School while learning how to better edify. Who knows? I know it's the Bishops job to oversee the teaching in the ward. But Bishops are people too, and people have different expectations for what makes effective teaching.

As for the Wilkinson's--double teaming me on my own blog! Bring it on! :) Actually, I understand and share both of your points. I'd be a fool not to take your advice. As the proverb goes: "fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7)

I sometimes say things that are offensive, although I try really hard not to. My purpose wasn't to diss any teacher. I'm just saying that some lessons are more powerful than others and the teacher makes a big difference. I try not to judge the person teaching--just advocate better teaching all around. Naturally I'm aware that it is our responsibility to "get something out of it", even if the teaching or the talks aren't amazing, but I get bored with that effort after awhile.

I know that it's probably selfish--I really do expect a lot out of a group lesson. I know the Spirit is the true teacher, but when I feel like I'm not getting the return I expect from Sunday School, sometimes I think I might use my time better on my own. As Elder Holland said in "A Teacher Come From God", "Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching "fried froth," the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied". Now I might be able to get by for awhile on that kind of teaching, but what about the new convert sitting next to me or the investigator seeking a witness of the truth? I may be selfish, I know, because I like being "well fed"--in more ways than one!

I know we can make a big difference in the lesson no matter who is teaching. I don't care who it is if they are humbly depending on the Spirit. I know a lot of people teach who think they are so inadequate and yet I think they're the greatest because that feeling forces them to rely even more upon the Spirit. I only lament those who think they know it all and rely on the arm of the flesh when they teach.

They say church is like a hospital. Does it make any difference what kind of treatment or care you receive while in the hospital? Does the competency of the doctor's and nurses matter in the patients' healing? I know that ultimately it is the patients responsibility to heal and get well, but the treatment received can go a long way to aiding the effort.

Likewise, in church, I know it is my responsibility get out of it what I put into it. My frustration is when I feel like I'm trying--really trying--and yet still yielding little results. To put it bluntly, I just get sick of lazy, boring, status-quo, life-less teaching. I don't have one particular doctor/teacher in mind, but I'll stand up for better teaching AND better health care any day. I fully support doctors getting their residency and practice, just as I would support some people who "really need the experience" of teaching more for their own personal growth every once in a while, but let's remember everyone else in attendance and have someone who really strives to make it edifying the majority of the time.

And now I'll step off my soapbox and try to be more meek, humble, and submissive; in short, more Christlike, "notwithstanding [all of our] weaknesses". I suppose I should let those moments of frustration serve as a reminder of all my weaknesses--maybe even ones that go unnoticed. I seem to be patient enough with myself. Why not be more patient with others?

Elder Maxwell once said that "in a Kingdom where perfection is an eventual expectation, each other’s needs for improvement have a way of being noticed... this is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us".

JAMIE Probert COOK~ said...

I am not sure what to say to this...I have had many opportunities to comment, but have waited for some reason.

It is true that some people don't necessarily have the "gift" for teaching like know how I feel about certain things.

I sat in a lesson one time (pure lecture) where they just kept going and going. Several people raised their hands...The person didn't even notice, they were too into what they were saying. It was really hard to sit through.

This same person said "now, all of the men will get this because they are return missionaries, so men, help your wives."

You can imagine how I responded to that one....So ALL men are missionaries? and ALL missionaries are good ones? and women don't know anything?

I tuned out and the next week went to a different teacher. I also wished you could have been one of my teachers.

OUt of all my callings, that one is my favorite calling. I think sometimes people don't take it seriously and realize just how important it is.