A Conversation about Church Curriculum
Anyone who has had spiritual experiences will remember how special it is to read a stirring passage of scripture or to hear an inspired speaker—to read or hear words that penetrate your soul, that cause your heart to thrill at the burnings of the Spirit. We don’t have those kinds of experiences often enough, because we fail to read the scriptures or do the kinds of things that put us in tune with the Spirit.
“I ask all to begin now to study the scriptures in earnest, if you have not already done so. And perhaps the easiest and most effective way to do this is to participate in the study program of the Church. … It is hoped that all will support this program of scripture study. … We invite you to join in this excellent opportunity.”
(President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, July 1985, p. 5.)
Ensign: The Church is encouraging all of us to study the scriptures so that we learn the gospel and strengthen our personal spiritual roots. What kinds of spiritual experiences should members of the Church be seeking? How can we really invite the Spirit of the Lord into our personal lives?
Elder Asay: Anyone who has had spiritual experiences will remember how special it is to read a stirring passage of scripture or to hear an inspired speaker—to read or hear words that penetrate your soul, that cause your heart to thrill at the burnings of the Spirit. We don’t have those kinds of experiences often enough, because we fail to read the scriptures or do the kinds of things that put us in tune with the Spirit. In most instances, those spiritual experiences come through the scriptures or through inspired teaching.
When the Spirit is with us, we can think thoughts we’ve never thought before, we can say words we’ve never said before, we can perform beyond our natural abilities. That power is related to truth, to the scriptures, to the stirring of the Spirit within. And the power won’t come unless we’re actively courting the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Ensign: How does the curriculum of the Church contribute to that spiritual progress?
Elder Paramore: The curriculum is designed to help members build testimonies of Jesus Christ and gain a growing understanding of the principles of the gospel. All of the courses of study complement each other in this task. Our curriculum leads people to the scriptures and provides a setting for inspired teaching to occur.
The Lord has encouraged us to “first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21.)
When we really learn and understand the gospel, we find ourselves on a different spiritual plane. We find it easier to withstand the philosophies of men and the temptations that are constantly around us. And we are more able to take advantage of the countless opportunities to share this knowledge with others.
I like the statement President Hugh B. Brown once made: “When I hear you say, ‘I know the gospel is true,’ I would like to stop you and have you repeat that but say only, ‘I know the gospel.’ “Of course it is true if it is the gospel, but do you know the gospel?” (In Speaker’s Scrapbook, Albert L. Zobell, Jr., comp., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970, p. 138; italics added.)
Ensign: Since parents have the major responsibility for teaching their children the gospel, what kinds of things should parents be doing?
Elder Lee: First of all, we as parents should be praying regularly, studying the scriptures daily, and living the commandments the best we can in order to be in tune with the Spirit.
Second, we should be teaching our children the gospel every day—by setting the proper example in our own lives and by holding family home evening and other gospel discussions with them.
Third, we should do all we can to get our children actively involved in their appropriate Church classes and activities.
Ensign: How can we help our children get the most out of Primary?
Elder Lee: We should be interested enough to find out what our children are being taught in Primary—what’s going on in their classes. We should ask them what they learned and discuss the lesson material with them.
We should also be conscious of opportunities to supplement or enhance at home what they’re being taught in Primary. For example, we should encourage them to read Church magazines and books. And we should read to our younger children from the Friend and other scripture books for young children.
Elder Lee: To help parents know what’s going on in their children’s classes, charts have been prepared that list the gospel principles taught to the various age groups. (See pp. 20–22, this issue.) If I had young children at home, I would place those charts in a prominent spot and refer to them time and again through the year, so that my wife and I and all of our children would know where we are going.
Ensign: What about children or youth who are the only members of the Church in the family, or whose parents aren’t motivated to teach the gospel in their homes? What would you say to them?
Elder Paramore: I would encourage them to attend their Church classes and their sacrament services and then spend a liberal amount of time with the scriptures. That perhaps requires more discipline than when you have the help of parents and other family members, but it will accomplish the same purpose.
Ensign: The chart listing resources for families includes Gospel Principles, Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood, The Latter-day Saint Woman, and Walk in His Ways. Aren’t these materials intended for the developing areas of the Church?
Elder Asay: They were developed for people meeting in very small units of the Church—units in the International Mission, branches in mission districts, even isolated families. But the materials are so basic and so good that I think parents are amiss if they don’t use them in their homes wherever they live. It should be noted that the Gospel Principles book is one of the basic references for all missionaries; it’s a part of their study program. Whenever my wife prepares her Relief Society lesson, Gospel Principles is perhaps the first book she turns to after she has read the lesson and related scriptures.
Ensign: Of course, the greatest resources for studying the scriptures are included right in the LDS editions of the scriptures themselves. …
Elder Asay: That’s right. When I think of the new LDS edition of the scriptures, I think of an expression Elder Boyd K. Packer used in the scriptures fireside last year. (See “Using the New Scriptures,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, pp. 49–53.) He referred to the scriptures and all the teaching aids and references that have been included in the LDS edition as a “library.” How very descriptive! The scriptures are a library because they are a compilation of many books. But, when you think of all of the footnoting, all of the information provided through the Joseph Smith Translation, all of the cross-referencing and other study aids, we have now a library of information that heretofore was available only in a large number of books. When Latter-day Saints sit down and read the new edition, they have at their command a library—almost an endless resource.
Ensign: What responsibility do I have as a member when I walk into class on Sunday?
Elder Paramore: We hope teachers indicate to their class members every week which scriptures to study for the next lesson—and we hope members study those scriptures before class and prepare themselves for the discussion. For the brethren, the Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide can be a great help as they study the scriptures to more fully understand the doctrine, principle, or duty set forth for discussion that particular week.
If we come to class prepared, we are ready to participate in the discussion, ask questions, and bear personal testimony about the value of the doctrine or principle we’re studying. In this way, we’re more likely to grow weekly in understanding and commitment and make spiritual progress.
Elder Pinegar: I think it’s important for class members to know, too, that they have the power either to help the teacher keep the class on track toward a good end, or to sidetrack the teacher and the class. In some classes certain individuals seem to take delight in sidetracking, in asking questions that would raise doubts. This practice is unfair to the class members. If a question is asked in an honest manner, with real intent to learn something, that’s one thing. But if it is asked to tease or tantalize or raise doubts, that’s another. We should be seeking for light, not attempting to create a shadow.
Ensign: What responsibilities do local leaders have toward the teaching that goes on in their wards and branches?
Elder Paramore: Our members come to classes each Sunday and sometimes during the week to be taught and to learn the gospel. To make this a meaningful experience, local leaders should see that the teaching in their units is a top priority. They should know what is being taught in the classes; they should see to it that the curriculum of the Church is being followed and that the doctrines of the Church are being taught in a clear, understandable way without controversy or contention.
In order to do this, stake presidents, bishoprics, quorum presidencies, and auxiliary presidencies need to attend the classes. In a classroom setting, they are able to bear witness of what is being taught or to correct an erroneous teaching. They are able to lift the people by being there and by adding their testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When leaders don’t attend their classes, they are depriving themselves of the spiritual nourishment which they must have if they are to administrate properly. They virtually starve themselves spiritually.
Ensign: What should I as a teacher do to prepare for my lessons? How closely should I follow the manual?
Elder Pinegar: Teachers should understand two important things about their manuals: First, the basic manuals for all classes are the scriptures. The standard works provide the insights, the doctrine, and the principles—the understanding necessary to teach any concept in the teacher’s manual.
Second, the teacher’s manual is carefully designed and organized to aid teachers in identifying and presenting gospel principles in a way that will be most helpful to the students.
We suggest that teachers study the scriptures and the lesson material prayerfully and follow the presentation in the manual. This preparation will enable the teacher to adapt the lesson material to meet the needs of their particular students. And an important part of every lesson is the teacher’s own insight and testimony. We hope, however, that teachers will carefully consider and present the basic principles as suggested in the manuals.
Elder Asay: Teachers should do all of this in such a way as to build testimony and cause people to have higher respect for the Lord and for his commandments—to instill in them a desire to live in accordance with the gospel principles they are teaching. And they should do this in a way that encourages their students to search further into the real resources of truth—the scriptures.
Ensign: How can I be more effective as a teacher of teenagers?
Elder Pinegar: The number one teaching tool for teenagers is the scriptures. Use them in your teaching and encourage the students to study them on their own. The scriptures provide a source of truth which the students themselves can refer to year after year.
Another important resource is the teenager himself or herself. Call upon his or her experiences and challenges; as you do, you’ll gain insight into how to adapt and apply the materials in the manual. And you’ll be more likely to help him or her understand the principles of the gospel and how they can be applied on a practical, daily basis.
Ensign: What can I do as a teacher to motivate teenagers to read the scriptures and prepare for class?
Elder Pinegar: Most motivation has to be tied to a need. Identify the needs of your students so you can help them find the gospel’s answers to their personal questions and problems. A teenager’s motivation is usually linked to “right now”—to the present, the next few minutes or hours or days. It is difficult for some to project their needs very far into the future. As a teacher, consider the ongoing day-to-day experiences of the teenagers—in their homes, in their association with peers at school or in the community, and, perhaps most important, in their personal lives. The closer you can tie your lesson to their day-to-day world, the more likely they’ll be to participate in your class and to look forward with anticipation to next week’s lesson.
Teachers of youth have a great responsibility to help their students become more confident individuals—more confident in the Lord, in themselves, and in their family. The teacher who builds upon these three areas will discover that it’s a joy and a delight to teach youth. The scriptures become a vital part of the instruction because they present the values and principles which bring happiness and satisfaction to daily living. Parents and family members become a major source of information and assistance in motivating the student more effectively toward righteous behavior and a desirable relationship with the Lord.
Ensign: It seems we’re hearing more and more about the importance of personal and family scripture study and of the use of scriptures in the classroom.
Elder Lee: Yes. I believe there has to be a reemphasis on scriptures, a reemphasis on teaching, a reemphasis on searching the truth.
Ensign: Elder Asay, would you mind sharing a personal experience you or your family have had with the scriptures?
Elder Asay: Years ago, my wife and I started a practice of getting up a little early and reading the scriptures together. We included the family as each learned to read. I don’t remember how many years that practice continued, but I do know that we went through the standard works more than once. When the children reached the teen years and became involved in various Church and school activities, we allowed the family reading practice to lapse. This was a mistake.
Later, when I was called to preside over a mission, we determined that we would have our daily scripture reading class, similar to the one that missionaries were asked to hold. We followed a planned missionary study program which had been prepared by a previous mission president. My wife and I have been quite faithful in conducting the early morning scripture reading ever since. We regard that time—our time reading the scriptures—as our daily interview with the Lord. To us, it is just as important as our meals—perhaps more important. I enjoy reading lessons, manuals, and other Church publications; however, none of these items thrill me as do the scriptures.
“Scriptures and Sunday Classes: A Conversation about Church Curriculum,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 25. The Ensign recently discussed with Elder Carlos E. Asay, Elder Rex D. Pinegar, Elder George P. Lee, and Elder James M. Paramore the Church’s efforts to encourage scripture study and to help members learn the gospel. Elder Asay, a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is Executive Director of the Curriculum Department and Editor of Church magazines. Elders Pinegar, Lee, and Paramore are members of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Managing Directors in the Curriculum Department.