Last week I discussed a little bit about teaching and gave six points I thought caused problems and that we could improve upon. A few of my suggestions, such as limit the crying, generated a bit of controversy. A few thought that I was intimidating those called to be teachers who were feeling inadequate. Well, if you thought those were controversial I’m sure my next few points will be even more so. My last post was primarily about the style or form of our teaching. This one focuses in on content. That is, things you probably ought not mention in your lessons.
1. Be careful with General Authority quotes. That is, if you are going to quote a General Authority, be conservative. Stick to quotes from correlated materials (i.e. priesthood or relief society manuals), official statements of the 1st Presidency, or relatively recent conference talks. Why? Well as much as I love it when General Authorities speculate on the scriptures, such speculations really are no more appropriate in church than any other speculation. We’re there to teach the gospel. One big problem I think the church faced in the 1970′s and 1980′s was that a lot of speculation got taught as doctrine. It led to people being confused about what was or wasn’t doctrinal. And that’s not a good situation for people to be in. While I agree that so-called “Sunday School answers” are boring and superficial, the speculations of General Authorities – often in books not officially published by the church – aren’t better. That’s not in the least to say they aren’t valuable or worth discussing. Just not in church.
2. Stick to the basics of the gospel. This one will be controversial I’m sure. But I don’t think Church is the place to get into detailed discussions of history. Now I love Church history. Warts, controversies and all. Further I know a lot of people complain about church not teaching such matters. However I feel that the point of church is to teach the gospel, not history. If you’re interested in history there are tons of great books out there. Further don’t get into deep theological matters. This is related somewhat to (1) but can be found in the old joke about High Priest’s lessons. The basics of the gospel, faith, repentence, ordinances, the spirit, are amazingly deep and very important. A lot of stuff that might be appropriate for blogs or books really ought not be in church lessons. (Not the least of which because it’s hard to discuss such matters without being very speculative)
3. Limit scripture reading in class. Yes this is admittedly more of a style issue than content issue. However the way most teachers have scriptures read breaks up the flow of the class. 9/10 its better to have the teacher read the brief quotation. Never do the extended reading going down a row with one person reading each verse. Hardly anyone gets anything out of it. If you are going to read a scripture, keep them short so people don’t tune out. We have to study the scriptures, but in Sunday School typically people ought to have read them. However most times giving the reference and a brief excerpt or summary to make ones point is best. When you really want a scripture used, it is good to prepare someone in advance and have them comment on it as well. This may seem controversial since we are supposed to be studying the scriptures. However long reading really does lead people to tune out. Ideally if we had overhead projectors we could put them up there. But that’s pretty rare in church.
4. Be careful in attributing beliefs to other faiths. We all hate it when people tell Mormons what we believe. Often they are wrong. Yet far too often teachers seem willing to say what Catholics, Evangelicals, Islam or even Atheists believe. I’ve had many cringe inducing moments in church when a massive distortion of a belief is made. We don’t have to do that to talk about the apostasy for instance. We definitely don’t have to do that to show superiority. Remember that you may have an investigator in class who is from one of those views. Investigators seeing their beliefs put down and distorted doesn’t exactly open them up to the gospel. Sometimes this is understandable, especially with subtle theological matters. (i.e. the doctrine of the Trinity) But the Golden Rule really does go a long way here.
5. Be careful about making sweeping comments. Yes they can sometimes generate great discussions. (i.e. a broad overgeneralized comment so as to illicit comment on why it is wrong) But there also are inappropriate uses of it. i.e. all rich people are evil type comments. A little caution goes a long ways at times. However, as I said, this can also be an excellent teaching aid in getting people to think and comment.
So, what are your thoughts? Am I off in left field? I promise next time to focus on positive things I’ve seen in lessons. I don’t want to seem like I’m just harping on the bad.