The Calling of a Teacher
[Given by Chris Juchau in Stake Conference, October 2016.]
Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. I am grateful that Elder Worthen has invited me to speak this morning. Sister Pugh has spoken to us about becoming more effective teachers in our homes. I would like to speak on the importance of callings as teachers in the Church.
There are in the Church—whether merely in Church folklore or in reality—certain negative caricatures of different types of teachers.
- There is the High Priest Group instructor who delves into topics far past the fringes of useful doctrine—perhaps because the basic topics bore him.
- There is the youth teacher who asks his students to call him by his first name and really just wants to be liked by the youth and seen as one of them.
- There is the Gospel Doctrine teacher who adopts an academic, tedious, and not very spiritual approach to teaching—as if Sunday School is an exercise in pedagogy rather than an exercise in spiritual learning.
- There is the brother who underprepares. Or who hurriedly throws something together during Sacrament Meeting.
- There is the Relief Society teacher who overprepares. Or who puts excessive work into handouts and crafts and table decorations.
- There is the Nursery teacher who was called to be a Nursery “worker” and views his job as being all about babysitting and not at all about teaching.
- There is the Elders Quorum instructor who likes to liven things up by playing Devil’s Advocate and asking not just thought-provoking questions, but provocative questions.
I honestly do not know how often any of these situations occurs in our stake. But I would like us to take a view of the calling of a teacher that is so elevated and grand and clear that none of these types of situations would exist.
Of course, we look to the Savior as the example of a perfect teacher. Admittedly, sometimes it is easier to say “Follow the Savior’s perfect example” than it is to find actual examples from Him that model the circumstances we face. We don’t have a specific illustration, for example, of the Savior teaching a class of Mia Maids. We do, though, have many examples of him teaching and interacting with people, and there are many principles we can derive from those. To wit:
- Even when Jesus was just 12 years old and was left behind in Jerusalem, Luke records that He “sat in the midst” of the people He was teaching “both hearing them and asking them questions.” From an early age, the Savior modeled the importance of teaching through discussion and of inviting thought and spiritual prompting through asking (surely) the right kinds of questions. We, too, can engage those we teach in the learning process.
- Jesus prepared for teaching by arising early in the morning and praying and by sometimes seeking solitude so He could commune with His Father. We, too, can ponder and pray over the things we’ll teach and the ways we’ll teach them.
- Jesus didn’t always hand out the answers, but knew that people must discover truths for themselves. To Andrew He extended the invitation, “Come and see.” To many he extended the invitation, “Come, follow me.” We can also invite people to take steps that will lead them to their own testimony-building experiences.
- Jesus bore testimony—of His Father, of Himself, and of other critical realities. To the Samaritan woman at the well, he said, “I that speak unto thee am he.” We, too, can focus our teaching on the Savior and His mission. And we can testify of Him as the true source of “living water.”
- Jesus both sought out individuals and He also followed-up with them. Two of my favorite stories of Jesus are in John 5 and John 9. In both stories, he heals a man—and then later goes and finds the man again and instructs him further in private. We, too, can learn to focus on the one, not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom.
- Jesus lifted and encouraged His students. In the Sermon on the Mount, he comforted His students while teaching them about His Father in the beatitudes. He said to them, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Heaven.” He explained to them that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. After He healed people, He told them that it was their faith which had done it. We, too, can help build the courage of those we’re called to teach.
- Jesus taught from the scriptures and focused on pure, simple doctrines. He announced his own mission by quoting Isaiah and bearing testimony of its immediate application. We, too, can show others how the scriptures can be applied to them right now.
- Jesus ate with his students. He dined with Matthew, Zacchaeus, Simon, and many others. We, too, can show caring for our students outside the classroom.
- Jesus put people above everything but God. He said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. He taught children to honor their parents and adults to honor children. He pointed out the faith of a poor widow who gave two mites. He took time for people others were ignoring and passing by. We, too, can make our calling to teach be about people and not only about doctrine.
- Jesus invited his students to act. He invited Peter to join him on the water. He invited the woman taken in adultery to sin no more. He invited many to be of good cheer, to fear not, and to exercise faith. We, too, can invite our students to exercise faith and act.
- And, last that I will mention, Jesus invited his students to bear testimony. “Whom say ye that I am?” He asked them. We, too, can invite our students to share testimony in ways that will strengthen them.
Brothers and Sisters, we need to think in different way about how we teach at Church. Gone must be the days that teachers think that their job is to fill the air—or otherwise occupy people’s time—for 40 minutes each Sunday. Let me give you some ideas of new ways we need to approach callings to teach…
Callings to teach should be more about people and less about “teaching.” After bishopric members extend calls to members to teach, the next words should not be “Here is your lesson manual” or “Here’s where you go online to find your lesson material.” It should be, “Here is a list of students in your class. Let’s talk about them for a few minutes.” Those discussions should be followed by teacher orientation meetings with organization leaders.
For some, the idea of teaching a class brings feelings of fear and trepidation and self-consciousness at the thought of standing in front of a group of students and presenting things to them in ways that will keep their attention. This comes in part, I think, from a false understanding of what the calling is. The scriptures teach that “Perfect love casteth out fear.” I have learned that when I stand to speak in front of an audience and feel nervous, my nervousness dissipates when I look closely at the faces of the people I’m speaking to and ask myself what they are feeling.
The critical question a teacher faces each week is not, “What will I present for 40 minutes this coming Sunday?” but rather: Who are my students? How are they doing? Where are they in their relationship with God? How can I help strengthen their relationships to God?
Callings to teach should be more about learning and less about “teaching.” This is a major change! We must shift our focus from “teaching” per se to “learning.” Of course, there’s no such thing as teaching without learning, anyway, so if we’re not focused on learning, we’re going to accomplish little but filling space and time.
Once we consider the individuals we’re teaching and their needs, the next question is not, “How will I teach them?” but rather: “How will they learn this?” “What experience or experiences could they have in our classroom that will help them learn this principle?” “How will I engage my students in learning?”
Now I would like to add a caution about engaging students. Engaging students effectively does not mean forcing them to do things that make them uncomfortable. There are more than a few members of our church who skip Sunday School or Relief Society classes, for example, because they don’t trust their teacher to not make them answer questions they’re not prepared to answer or to read aloud when that makes them uncomfortable. Church must be a safe place, particularly for those who feel anxious about some social situations. There is no virtue in calling on people who don’t volunteer their own outward participation. This will more often cause them to shrink than turn them into discussion leaders. Socially, our church culture elevates people who are great public speakers, but we must be equally supportive of those whose participation is mostly inward.
Our main question must be: “How will my students learn this?” Not, “How will I teach this to my students?” It’s a critically important difference.
Callings to teach are invitations to enter a training program. I wish that in our church we had a student teaching program like colleges have for education majors. It would be great if people could serve as teachers while being under observation and receiving feedback and guidance from seasoned teachers. Of course, we don’t have that the way a university would. But. Ideally a call to teach is taken as an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher.
Teachers can study the principles of “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.” Teachers can study “Teaching: No Greater Call.” Teachers can practice principles and skills and methods taught in those types of materials. Teachers can do a little self-evaluation after each class: “What was effective today? What wasn’t? What did I learn today about teaching?” Really brave teachers could invite someone to come watch them teach and provide feedback. Imagine teachers wanting to become better teachers to the point that they would invite some personal coaching! (I’m going to do it.)
Learning to be a great teacher is ultra-important for all members of the Church—first because of its importance in our homes; and second because of our responsibilities to share the gospel with others. All teachers should view the short time they get in teaching callings as an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher.
Callings to teach are callings to leadership. We sometimes think incorrectly about leadership callings in the Church. We appropriately honor, follow, and sometimes even revere, those formally called to lead us. This is often especially true of living prophets and apostles and also of bishops.
But when the Lord told people during the Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we don’t understand Him to have been speaking to a gathering of formal religious leaders. We picture that, rather, as a gathering of humble men and women and surely some youth and children.
The very notions of teaching and leading are inseparable; they are almost interchangeable. There is a good reason why the Church Handbook refers people to Chapter 3 on Leadership when it discusses the calling of Teachers at other places in the Handbook. Elder Holland quoted President Hinckley in conference—and then repeated it a second time for emphasis. Pr. Hinckley said: “Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church.”
This, by the way, is why you find the stake presidency speaking in your Sacrament Meetings and in Priest Quorums and Relief Society and in 5th Sunday meetings and other places. We do not wish to shy away from our responsibility to teach. You cannot imagine how much joy I take from the incredible teaching abilities of Pr. Vernon and Pr. Madsen.
All members of the Church share the purpose of full-time missionaries: to invite others to come to the Savior and be healed by Him. All of us are leaders. All of us are teachers.
Callings to teach are callings to reactivate less-active members. This is one of the things about calls to teach I am most anxious to change in our stake. Isn’t it an interesting ritual we go through every Sunday where a roll is passed around Sunday School, marked off, and slid under the door?! Does anybody have any idea what happens with that and what purpose it serves? Well, we know what purpose it should serve!
When the Good Shepherd took roll and discovered that 99 of His sheep were present, he didn’t slide the roll back under the gate to the sheepfold and return to his less. He went after the one who was absent. That was the perfect model of a Priesthood or Relief Society instructor, a Young Men or Young Women’s advisor, a Sunday School or Primary teacher. That was the perfect model of a Gospel Doctrine teacher. How many Gospel Doctrine teachers reach out to the absent? All who don’t need to repent. You are not called to fill 40 minutes. You are called to save souls. This includes—and probably especially so—the souls who are not marked “present” on the roll.
The calling of a teacher is a call to strengthen the less active—the absent.
Lastly, callings to teach are about helping others learn the simple doctrines that will change their lives—not about exploring fringe questions of curiosity and speculation.
I am convinced that many of our members suffer from a lack of understanding of some of the important, basic principles of the Gospel. For example:
- What is the significance of “works” in my salvation? Will my works save me?
- Am I clean before the Lord right now or did I become unclean a few moments after I last took the sacrament and had an angry thought?
- What is the relationship between faith and agency?
- Why am I so distressed as a parent when God, the perfect parent, is happy?
- Does God forgive me if I repeat sins I’ve repented for?
- How many “R” words actually constitute all the steps of repentance? And what if I miss the sixth R on one of my 37 million sins?
- How are sins removed at baptism?
- Exactly what gets sealed to what in the temple?
My concerns on this subject were validated by a talk in General Conference a year ago. Elder Randall K. Bennett began his talk with these words:
“My heart sank during a recent meeting with wonderful Latter-day Saints. The question was asked, “Who desires to live with Heavenly Father again?” Every hand went up. The next question was “Who has confidence you’ll succeed?” Sadly and surprisingly, most hands went down.”
Why do we not have more confidence in the Atonement? As teachers, we need to focus on the most important, basic principles of the gospel that will bless our lives. Is it good for us to know how to think about multiple accounts of the first vision and seer stones and polygamy in the early days of the Restoration? I think so. But it is ultimately a better understanding of faith, repentance, ordinances, the Godhead, the Atonement, and the Plan of Salvation that we need the most.
Brothers and Sisters, I agree with the title of the book, “Teaching: No Greater Call.” We are all called to lead and we are all called to teach. Sometimes we receive formal callings to teach in organizations in the Church. When we do, let us worry less about teaching and more about people, how they’ll learn, what they need, how we will love and encourage the absent, and how we can become more effective at these things.
I testify that the Spirit of the Lord will inspire us as we seek to approach our callings as teachers in these ways and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Pattern of Priesthood Leadership
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, October 2016.]
Good morning, brethren. Thank you for being here this morning. My Patriarchal Blessing reminds me to attend faithfully all the meetings at which I am expected. I have tried to do that and it has blessed my life. You are in the right place and I join you in looking forward to being taught by Elder Worthen in a few minutes.
Sometimes it seems to me that when women are spoken to in the Church, they are provided comfort and reassurance—whereas men are told to buck up, shape up, and get with the program.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a “healthy” way of approaching life and understanding ourselves, which allows us to see ways in which we need to improve without being discouraged or frustrated (or perhaps demoralized) by it. It is, I believe, Heavenly Father’s desire that we strive for improvement from a position of security in the assurance that while we are striving, faithful, and observing our covenants, we are acceptable to the Lord in spite of our various needs for improvement.
And I believe that describes the vast majority of the men here this morning—faithful to the Savior, observant of and committed to covenants, and striving to magnify callings at home and in the Church. It is my testimony that we may do so from a position of confidence and trust in the Lord.
I would like to speak to you this morning about what must surely be the very most foundational aspect of effective priesthood leadership: personal righteousness. I often shy away from the word “righteous.” I suppose I confuse it with “self-righteous” sometimes and I often think of the Savior’s comment, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” Nevertheless, in our healthy way of striving for improvement, personal righteousness is what we ought to be striving for.
Let me begin by quoting the first paragraph of Chapter 3 from the Church’s Handbook of Instructions (Book 2):
All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of … Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ….
Leaders can best teach others how to be “true followers” by their personal example. This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
I don’t think we talk about that pattern very much. Perhaps that’s because it seems so obvious. But I think we would do well to talk and teach about it more explicitly. When an Elders Quorum presidency, for example, calls a man as a quorum instructor, the discussion accompanying that call could include a discussion of this pattern: “You are being called, not to teach lessons, but to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ—and to be able to do that effectively, you will need to be a faithful disciple, yourself. What do you need to do and how can I help?”
Such a discussion would also be appropriate for bishopric members who are training young men to be leaders in Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidency meetings. And we ought to discuss this pattern in our own presidency meetings.
Let me mention five fundamental areas of personal righteousness we need to all attend to. I would invite you to take notes and teach these things to those you lead. All come straight from the Handbook.
We should keep in mind that all men who bear the priesthood are called to lead. Some may, at the moment, have formal callings of leadership within the Church, but all are called by virtue of the priesthood, itself, to lead others to Christ, beginning with those in our own homes. Principles of priesthood leadership apply to all priesthood holders.
First, effective leaders must keep the commandments. This is a broad notion with myriad associated specifics and applications. All the law and the prophets are summarized in the commands to love God and to love our neighbors. At the heart of our efforts to keep the commandments should be a conscious striving for expressions of love toward God, toward our families, and toward all people.
To keep the commandments, we must be honest in all aspects of our lives. We must be faithful to our wives and our children in every way. We must honor the Sabbath meaningfully. And, we cannot be “Sunday Mormons” or publicly one way and privately another. The integrity of our professed devotion must extend to moments both seen and unseen.
An excellent guide for all of us with regard to the commandments is the pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth.” In my family, our Family Home Evening lessons are often drawn from “For the Strength of Youth” which is certainly no less applicable to us than to our teenagers. It is full of good counsel and reminders, which, exactly as its title suggests, will strengthen us as we follow them.
Second, we should study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Studying the scriptures is, I believe, essential nutrition for our souls. Dietary nutrition makes for a good analogy. If I get a steady diet over the course of a week or a month of all the vitamins and nutrients my body needs, I may notice some fairly immediate effect, but the most important effects will be long-term. Conversely, if I eat a steady diet of junk food and empty calories for a week or a month, I may also notice some fairly immediate effects, but the most important effects of such a sustained diet will be long-term—only they won’t be that long term because I won’t live that long.
Similarly, I can study or not study scriptures and living prophets for a week or so and the short-term effects will be real but probably not staggering. A steady, consistent diet of God’s word, however—or the absence thereof—has tremendous mid- and long-term effects.
These days I find three other things particularly important about scripture study in addition to consistency.
One is a steady connection to the Book of Mormon. The purpose of Joseph Smith’s mission and the purpose of the Book of Mormon are to bring us to Christ. The Book of Mormon does do that. From my observation, members of the Church who grow skeptical of Joseph Smith, also grow skeptical of the Savior and sometimes lose their connection to Him. The critical effects of the Book of Mormon are therefore twofold: it brings us closer to the Savior in a direct way and it brings us closer to the Church, which also strengthens us in our relationship with the Savior.
Another is the importance of studying the words of living prophets. I recently began reviewing again conference talks that were given 12 and 18 and 24 months ago—and this time preserving in my own electronic document the words and messages from those conferences that particularly touch my spirit and my mind. Just as we ought not disconnect ourselves from Joseph Smith, we need to stay in touch with living prophets—all of which will help us come to the Savior.
Lastly, I have long believed that we need to be outstanding students of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There we learn so much about the Savior, about our Father in Heaven, and about their love for us.
Do you need to study scriptures for two hours every day? Not in my opinion. But meaningful time in them each day has critical short- and long-term effects on our spiritual well-being.
Third, to develop our own personal righteousness in order to be effective leaders, we must pray. Of course, there are prayers, and then there are prayers. Prayers should be meaningful and they should be bi-directional as much as possible. Prayers should include enough time to be still and listen to the thoughts and feelings we receive in return.
Prayers are best in my opinion when they are heavy on thanking and light on asking. We shouldn’t ask for things we’re not willing to do our part for. And sometimes we should pray for strength to endure challenges more than we pray for our challenges to be removed from us.
Prayers should be more than thanking and asking, though. They should include worship. Worship is personal and, in some ways, hard to define, but I believe it has a lot to do with the depth and sincerity of our gratitude and respect and of our recognition of God’s perfection and generosity toward us. We can feel those things when we pray—and feeling them benefits us.
Fourth, we should fast. We all know the scripture wherein the Savior taught that some problems are not solved except through prayer and fasting. Fasting shows devotion, earnestness, and submissiveness. This is true when we approach Fast Sunday purposefully—and also when we fast for special purposes outside of Fast Sunday. Fasting can help foster unity for families, wards, and quorums.
As with prayer, we might consider sometimes fasting without tying our fast to a request. We might fast purely as an expression of gratitude, an expression of humility, and an expression of worship.
Fasting connected to caring for the poor has many beautiful promises attached to it:
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:8-9)
Lastly, the Handbook mentions that if we are to lead effectively through our example, through personal righteousness, we should “humble ourselves before the Lord.” What does that mean?
Nearest I can tell, all significant blessings associated with salvation, other than the resurrection, are tied to our humility. In 2 Nephi we read:
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:7)
I am convinced that, other than our covenants, the one thing that will most enable the Savior to save and exalt us is the achievement of having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Such a heart reflects faith in the Savior. Such a heart moves us not to occasional repentance, but to constant repentance. Such a heart keeps me well within the bounds of my covenants and stops me from trying to test limits of obedience and submissiveness.
When the Savior encountered broken hearts during his earthly ministry, He responded with compassion and mercy. When he encountered proud or rebellious hearts, he responded with chastisement and justice. When I am sufficiently self-aware, I see that there is too much pride in my heart. It is in my moments of legitimate humility that I find myself most at peace with myself and with the Lord—and I find myself in a position of strength because it is His strength I am recognizing.
Brethren, let me say again: Holding the priesthood, and particularly the Melchizedek Priesthood, is a call to lead—to lead others to the Savior. The very term “priesthood leadership meeting” seems redundant. We who have come this morning have each been asked, though, to lead some specific people in some specific ways and our call to leadership is particularly clearly defined right now.
We will be most effective helping others come to the Savior when our own lives are in order, when our spirituality is healthy, and when we are striving for personal righteousness not just in our outward examples but in our very personal private lives.
That we may keep the commandments, study the word of God, pray, fast, humble ourselves, and do all other things that are necessary for our own spiritual strength is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.