Friday, November 12, 2010

True Dat

Not too long ago we had a High Councilor speak in our ward's sacrament meeting who asked: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if all [425, give or take, people who are on the records of our ward] were here in attendance every Sunday?" I couldn't help but think to myself "Wouldn't it be wonderful if every Sunday meeting was worth having them all attend?

Jana Riess minces no words in her assessment of dull meetings:

"LDS leaders often wonder why retention is low among new converts, and identify valid reasons for attrition: converts don't have enough of a social network in the ward, or they find it tricky to live the standards of the gospel, or they have logistical difficulties getting to church. All of these are true in my experience, but the elephant in the room is that what passes for worship in the Mormon Church is not feeding these new converts, not at all. And that's a tragedy, because great worship is exactly the transformative missing ingredient that could help them find their place, give them the strength to rise to new behavioral standards, and want to attend church more often. We need to stop giving them--and ourselves--stone for bread." (--Jana Riess at Flunking Sainthood)


aquinas said...

In the 1980 October Priesthood Session of General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball expressed his concern this way:

"Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. The Savior has told us to feed his sheep (see John 21:15-17). I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or meeting, and they then return home having been largely uninformed [Elder Holland uses the word uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time when they may be entering a period of stress, temptation, or crisis. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous enlistment work to get members to come to church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come."

~ Spencer W. Kimball, "Ministering to the Needs of Members," Ensign, Nov 1980, 45.

Clean Cut said...

GREAT quote; excellent links. Elder Holland's talk in particular has long been one of my favorites, and I love how he uses President Kimball's quote. Of course, I completely agree and feel, as I know you do aquinas, that this needs to be increasingly emphasized.

Matt W said...

I dunno. This is a little too pessimistic for me. If I had my choice between lessons I enjoyed or everyone having the opportunity to serve, I'll take the latter every time. Especially because lessons are subjective. Lessons you hate are loved by others.

aquinas said...

Matt, I think the real problem that I find is that people think of lessons as somewhat of a luxury but not really part of worship and not really the reason for attending Church. It's often seen as nice if it happens, but not really the real important part of Church. However, what I would really like to see, and I try to foster this myself, is more of a perspective that teaching is service. We are called to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom" and I think we do that as we meet as the body of Christ and learn together. I also think we teach each other through service and fellowship. So, I want to see teaching and the time we spend sharing the meaning of the Gospel in our lives, strengthening each other, as an integrated part of our worship. I tie it back to King Benjamin's talk that "service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." I wish we could really see our teaching and participation as a very critical part of serving one another.

Clean Cut said...

"I dunno. This is a little too pessimistic for me."

Well, everyone has different experiences, and everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

I happen to be partial to Elder Holland's opinion that "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."

I agree that some lessons are subjective. All I really care about is that the teaching environment is one in which there is a two-way commitment from both "he that preacheth and he that receiveth" in order to truly be edified and rejoice a little more often. I'd like to see a little more buy-in and a little less "settling" for something less. I can only go so long with the spiritual "twinkies" before I get tired of the diet.

Again, to quote Elder Holland:

"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.

"During a severe winter several years ago, President Boyd K. Packer noted that a goodly number of deer had died of starvation while their stomachs were full of hay. In an honest effort to assist, agencies had supplied the superficial when the substantial was what had been needed. Regrettably they had fed the deer but they had not nourished them."

Papa D said...

The last two wards I have attended have had wonderfully spiritual talks and Sunday School classes, generally - with enough boredom and lack of inspiration to highlight the normally excellent spirit and instruction. I think it's not unrelated that both wards have experienced and are experiencing greater growth than average in their respective stakes and regions - and that retention is very high, as well.

I believe strongly that the single most important thing we can do in the Church is make our meetings a spiritual feast that our members anticipate attending and mourn when they miss. One of my favorite quotes is, "It takes a fine meeting to be better than no meeting" - so I want our meetings to be fine. The alternative for too many is to settle for no meetings.

R. Gary said...

Yes, I agree. Leaders should feed the sheep and provide spiritual nourishment not theological Twinkies. I also agree with Dallin H. Oaks who, quoting Spencer W. Kimball, has said: "We do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even solely to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord."

Papa D said...

I agree with R.Gary - for the mature members. It's the new members and the "weaker" members (for lack of a better word) who can't be blamed if the leadership and general membership fail to provide a feast that will nourish them.

Matt W. said...

I've read Elder Holland as well, but the first rule of a poor teacher is one who just quotes others and doesn't express himself. ahem!

Now seriously, Everyone knows teaching in the church needs to be better, but in that there is no universal best, what can be done?

Anyway, I am from the camp of "If it's meant to be, it's up to me." So as a thought exercise, what say we brainstorm ways to improve teaching then get together in a couple weeks and You can shoot holes in my ideas and I will shoot holes in yours.

Papa D said...

Nice, Matt. I've always liked the principle of that quote.

Fwiw, I absolutely loved what Elder Bednar said in the worldwide training today about the CHI when he was summarizing his thoughts about the model Ward Council. He said he wished we viewed gatherings in the church not as "meetings we attend" but rather as "revelatory experiences" - but that it won't happen until we strive to make it happen.

I also love Elder Holland's summary statement that we simply have to teach.

Clean Cut said...

Papa D--I absolutely love your comment here:

"I believe strongly that the single most important thing we can do in the Church is make our meetings a spiritual feast that our members anticipate attending and mourn when they miss. One of my favorite quotes is, "It takes a fine meeting to be better than no meeting" - so I want our meetings to be fine. The alternative for too many is to settle for no meetings."

I also think it's interesting that you notice a significant difference in retention when meetings are worthwhile. Naturally, one would think this link should be obvious. Sadly, (as President Kimball noted) apparently it's not.

Also interesting is the "revelatory experience" ideal expressed by Elder Bednar rather than simply having a "meeting". Even the word "meeting" just sounds so dull. :)

R. Gary, I totally agree that I don't go to Church to be entertained or even solely to be "instructed". I desire a spiritually stimulating (although I enjoy intellectually stimulating as well), but some meetings are more conducive to that than others.

While I personally accept that, as Matt W. said, "if it is to be, then it's up to me", I don't have as much control over the tone of the Sacrament Meeting as I would in a Sunday School class where I can actually contribute to the discussion and ask questions and respond, etc.

Now, I don't think I'd ever say that a particular worship service is a "failure", although I've certainly been in many that leave me feeling (again to quote Kimball/Holland) "uninformed" or "uninspired". And it is "especially unfortunate" when someone who may be weaker in the faith is told that it's their fault if a meeting is consistently "boring" or unedifying--which is somewhat like blaming the victim. I've seen this happen, and often that same Kimball quote is used to justify it. (I agree with Papa D's response as well.)

Clean Cut said...

Matt W: "the first rule of a poor teacher is one who just quotes others and doesn't express himself."

Where'd you learn such a silly rule as that?

More on point, I agree with the sentiment that "if it is to be then it's up to me". Which is precisely why I never settle for a lackluster Sunday School or EQ lesson if I can control some of that through the kinds of questions I ask or the kind of discussion which takes place. Believe me, I don't sit there and silently complain. I speak up and try to improve the situation. But that's harder to do in a Sacrament Meeting.

Clean Cut said...

And for what it's worth, I was mostly concerning myself with the Sacrament Meeting service in the OP, since I rarely get to attend a Sunday School or EQ lesson ever since I've been the Primary Chorister.

jamiegilson said...

Very late in the commenting here.=)
I'm the 4th Sunday RS teacher in my ward and I struggle with how to create that feast. I don't have a talent for expressing my thoughts or communicating with others. I'm a listener and I usually agree with what everyone says. Engaging in discussions is definitely something I need a LOT of practice with. Even in a casual setting, I try to make my answers as brief as possible to avoid the spotlight so I can get to listen to others deep thoughts. I feel like I sound so dumb saying that, but I've always liked to be a listener. Maybe it's because it's the easy way. So why in the world would I be called to teach a class that it seriously takes me all month long to try to prepare?

As much as I'm scared to death and still don't look forward to teaching in front of people, I do know why I have this calling. For the first time in my life I'm being forced to truly STUDY. School was always easy for me. I never had to study to get by with A's and B's so why put forth the extra effort. I've been raised to "study and read the scriptures" but have never known what that really meant or how to really do it and I guess have always taken the easy road and not worked for it. I'd get those little warm feelings from reading my scriptures so I figured I must be doing it right. Well, now that I have to teach a lesson each month, I'm studying more than I've ever studied in my entire life and am amazed at the results. Maybe this calling will eventually teach me to be a good teacher, but I understand that learning how study was what I needed the most. I really do try to share that feast that I find each month with others, but I don't know how. I end up reading the teaching manual again each month trying to glean something new but I always leave my lessons wishing they'd gotten more. Plus I'm not seeing the promises of having thoughts come to my mind when I need them either. I go blank. But I have found that when I'm able to get the sisters to actually discuss something, that's when we seem to have the most success and more spiritual excitement which is what I want to see. But half the time I feel they're going with the easy road that I've always been used to taking.

I learned a great lesson this past month from my studying. This past month the topic was from a conference talk that I specifically remember being something that just flew over my head during conference so it was quickly forgotten. When I went to prepare for my lesson, I reread the talk a few times and still thought "How in the world am I going to present this?" I mentioned to my husband what the talk was and he was excited for me because he'd found it to be a really good talk. Then I got online to see if anyone else had thoughts on it and was amazed at how many sisters thought it was their favorite talk from conference. My only thoughts were "Seriously? What am I missing?" It took all month long studying, reading others thoughts, and discussing with others what I was missing to finally get it. Not only did I learn a lot from the talk and it's now one of my favorites as well, but I learned that we come each Sunday to learn from others what we might be missing. I love my calling (yet wish it didn't involve getting in front of people.=)

Clean Cut said...

"I learned that we come each Sunday to learn from others"

That may well be the most important thing for a Sunday School teacher to remember. Thanks for sharing.