[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, April 2017.]
In her wonderful talk, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family,” Sister Julie Beck said that the three great “Pillars of Eternity” were put in place in support of eternal families. She said,
The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.
The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.
The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families.
When we speak of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families.
Families are, of course, wonderful. But, as we all know, the fact that family relationships exist does not mean that there is nothing but constant goodness and harmony inside those relationships. Being married in the temple certainly does not, by itself, make for a celestial marriage. Nor does going to Church together every Sunday guarantee that Dad and Mom will be kind to each other at home, that youth will be honest with their parents, or that brothers and sisters will be loving and supportive of one another.
Yet, regardless of our current family situation—whether in a mostly happy family or a too-frequently unhappy family; whether divorced or not yet married—we must realize that Sister Beck is teaching true doctrine: each of us living in and contributing toward a successful eternal family is the ultimate goal and has been the purpose of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us from the beginning. He wants us not only to return to Him, but to return to live as He lives. That means men becoming great husbands, co-leaders, and fathers. And it means women becoming great wives, co-leaders, and mothers.
This morning we answered questions submitted by youth. Among the many excellent questions submitted, this one was one of my favorites: “How can I prepare to be a good wife and mother?” It would be good if every young woman asked herself that question frequently—and if every young man frequently asked himself how he can prepare to become a world-class husband and father.
To the youth listening today, I repeat: your becoming great partners in a marriage and great parents to your children is the destiny God desires for you. Perhaps in this life, but certainly in eternity, nothing that I know of will bring you greater joy and satisfaction. For me, I am nowhere near the great husband and father that I need to become, but in addition to keeping myself aligned with God, those are, by far, my most important personal goals.
For those sisters with unfulfilled desires to marry or who have been let down in marriage, I suggest patience, faith, and ongoing preparation—and assure you that you have our support and respect. Patience is one of those things that sounds really great until you’re the one who has to be great at it, but the alternatives are even harder. Please do all you can to remain (or become) aspirational in this regard.
Now, how do we create harmony and goodness in our families and within our family relationships?
Let me share with you three instances of personal failure related to that question in the hopes that they will be instructive. There are many moments in my life I feel ashamed of, but I’ll limit today’s sharing to just three. All three of these were during my youth.
The first is a very specific moment. I am the third of five children. The oldest is my one brother and numbers 2, 4, and 5 are my sisters. We didn’t fight much in our family. My brother never fought with anyone, period, ever. My older sister and I were probably the two feistiest of the children, with me the worst. One evening when I was probably about 10 years old and my older sister about 13, she and I got into a fight about something. She being three years older than I and, hence, able to easily beat me up, I knew to keep our fight to words and not to fisticuffs.
I have no idea today what we were fighting about that evening but something made us both angry and things escalated to mean words right on the edge of getting physical. I don’t recall what she said to me but I remember at one point being so angry and wanting to lash out so badly that I considered what I knew to be the nuclear option. I knew full well that there was one word I could use that would cut her to her very core and hurt her more than anything. For a split-second I weighed in my mind whether I should say something so hurtful (I can remember this moment like it was five minutes ago) and to my shame I let my worst demons get the better of me. And the moment I did, I knew it hurt her just like I expected.
To Lauri’s tremendous credit, I feel today no sense of lingering bitterness over that moment years ago and probably other moments that I don’t remember so well. She is a tireless wife and mother with a wonderful family and a great soul. It’s my privilege to be her brother, and I very much wish that I did not hurt her that day like I did.
The second story isn’t really a story. It’s just more of a general bad memory—in this case, involving my two younger sisters. When I was about 17, Michelle and Nanette were about 15 and 10. My older brother and sister had gone off to adulthood and I was the oldest of the three kids left at home. My life was pretty good. I wasn’t the most popular at school or the smartest or the best athlete or anything, but I had friends, did well in school, had a good job, had a lot of fun, and generally enjoyed a very positive life.
My younger sisters—both of whom, like my older sister, were and are wonderful people—weren’t having as smooth of a time as I was. Being 15 is hard under virtually any circumstance. Being a 15-year-old girl certainly brings challenges I’ve never experienced. I didn’t really know much about the challenges Michelle was facing because I wasn’t really paying attention to Michelle even though we were fairly close together in age. I was paying even less attention, probably, to Nanette who was even further removed from me in age.
And this is the problem. I was completely self-absorbed. Far too focused on myself to give any thought to how my younger sisters were doing and how an older brother might have helped them. I couldn’t have removed their challenges for them, but I believe I could have done much more to validate them and to encourage their confidence by showing genuine love and interest in them and by spending some time focused on them. I didn’t.
Whereas my sin with my older sister was one of commission in calling her something hurtful, my sin with my younger sisters was one of omission—for failing to even show up as the older sibling they probably could have used.
The last of my three stories did not occur in a regular family setting but it is instructive nevertheless.
I was called to a mission in northern Germany. My two months in the MTC were wonderful. I made good friends, we worked really, really hard together. We were anxious to be great missionaries and, after two months in the MTC learning and thinking about how to be a great missionary,… I had all the answers.
When I met my trainer in Germany, it took me no time at all to be disappointed. This is not to my credit.
Elder Barton knew how to do two things really well. In retrospect, he knew how to do two things exceptionally well. He worked hard and he was obedient. At the time, I figured those things were pretty good, but I thought that working “smarter” was a whole lot better than working “harder.” Elder Barton and I left our apartment every morning at 9:30. I don’t recall it ever being 9:31. We came home every evening at 9:30. I don’t recall it ever being 9:29. For 11 of the 12 hours in between every day, we knocked on doors—and sometimes we ran between doors.
I thought I was so much smart. I felt bad that I was not assigned to someone who would focus on members both active and less active—and use his teaching skills and people skills to extract golden investigators from them. I knew everything there was to know about missionary work and I regretted my misfortune. What an immature fool l was! Fortunately, it only took me about a month to figure that out and grow up.
If I could assign a mission companion today to any of my children or to any youth from our stake, I would pick someone just like Elder Barton. We did the two things that mattered most. We worked really hard. And we were meticulously obedient. And the Lord blessed us. How embarrassed I feel today to think that I thought myself smarter or better than Elder Barton. And how grateful I am that he and the Lord taught me to grow up a little. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love and respect Elder Barton today and how grateful I am for him.
In those three sad stories are three lessons for happiness in family life.
From my story with Lauri, it’s easy to see how a lack of self-control can damage a family relationship.
From my story with Michelle and Nanette, it’s easy to see that to be a good sibling (or spouse or parent or child), you have to show up and care and quit focusing your whole self on yourself.
From my story with Elder Barton, it’s easy to see how pride and a lack of humility can keep a person from learning and growing and from seeing clearly. Humility and gratitude are so much better!
The Church’s “Proclamation to the World” describes with fundamental clarity the path to happiness in our family lives—and, I believe, in our personal lives. It says:
Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of:
- work, and
- wholesome recreational activities.
In his 2007 talk titled “Divorce,” Elder Dallin Oaks said to members who are contemplating divorce, “I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation.”
Implicit in his references to repentance and reformation is the idea that I need to focus on my repentance and reformation, not my spouse’s need for repentance and reformation.
It stands to reason that unhappiness in family life is most likely the result of departures from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ—and that at least part of the answer lies in successfully exercising the control that I can exercise over my own contributions to:
- Work, and
- Wholesome recreational activities.
I should not have to say but will also mention… Our doctrine is that men and women are equals. A man’s priesthood office gives him the responsibility to serve his wife, not the right to exercise authority over her in any regard.
On this Easter Sunday, let us see clearly the connection between the Doctrine of the Family and the Savior. He atoned for our sins that we might gain the joy that comes to celestial marriages and celestial families. Our achieving that goal rests upon our placing Him and His gospel at the center of our lives. Actually achieving celestial marriages and celestial families depends on each of us acquiring His attributes and in treating each other the way He would and does. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, April 2017.]
Good morning, Brethren. It is Easter Sunday. I would just like to share a few words with you about the Savior before we break into groups.
A week ago yesterday I had the privilege of touring the Vatican. We were in a small group of about twelve, mostly Americans, being led through by our Catholic Italian guide, Laura, who was knowledgeable and passionate. It felt like there were a half-million people there as we squeezed through dense crowds to see, among other things, the Sistine Chapel, the works of Raphael, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and four sainted Popes whose caskets lie inside and not just underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was both a fascinating and, at moments, a claustrophobic tour. For me, there were two particularly moving moments.
The second of the two came after we’d been through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and were inside St. Peter’s Basilica. As you know, old European Cathedrals are basically laid out in the shape of a cross with the highest point in the ceiling typically formed by a large dome at the intersection of the cross. In St. Peter’s, this point is tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty underneath it.
As we approached this point at the end of our 3.5-hour tour and I was walking alongside Laura, she said, “And now we enter the very heart of Christianity.” I was immediately and deeply struck by the incorrectness of her words.
The heart of Christianity is not a physical location. Yes, there are sacred places. But I have been to the Garden Tomb and to Bethlehem and the Sacred Grove—and the heart of Christianity is not there, either.
The heart of Christianity lies within my heart and your heart. For me, it is in that portion of my heart and soul that loves God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent. I strive for that portion to be more than a portion—to be my entire heart and my entire soul—and to love them with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.
The heart of Christianity lies also in His heart and in the love that He has for you and for me. His love is perfect. It is perfectly kind, generous, patient, good, forgiving, just, and merciful. His love withstood unfathomable pain and suffering that you and I might receive forgiveness and sanctification.
The heart of Christianity will be found wherever I am—and for you, wherever you are—provided that we remember the Savior and are striving to be one with Him. He said:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
My other moment came earlier in the tour when Laura was explaining the Pope’s Coat of Arms and showed a painting of Peter receiving two keys from the Savior—one gold and one silver. I was, in that moment, filled with gratitude for the reality of priesthood keys and for their restoration to the earth today. Those keys are found in the restored Church. Many in this room right now hold priesthood keys or have in the past. President Smith here holds keys for ordinances in the Mount Timpanogos temple through which eternal families may be formed. President Killpack, represented here today by President Lindley, holds keys to bless the lives of non-members in our stake.
Just a week prior to our visit to the Vatican, fifteen men stood in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and spoke to us one by one. Each of them holds all of the keys once held by Peter and others. Those keys are with us and they are exercised on our behalf.
As priesthood leaders in the Highland Utah South Stake, all that we do should be for the purpose of helping individuals and families come to the Savior. All that we do should be done under the direction of legally authorized representatives of God who hold his authority and the right to exercise it.
On this Easter morning, I wish to testify of the Savior and express my gratitude for Him and for His restored Church. My testimony involves faith and agency. It has not yet been replaced by what Alma calls a perfect knowledge. But that does not mean it isn’t very well grounded and doesn’t rest on a strong, solid foundation.
I have felt the Spirit many times in my life. Occasionally in very large ways. Frequently in smaller ways. I have experienced a joyful connection with the Savior through repentance and forgiveness. I have tried (not completely successfully, but I have tried and do try) to live the gospel. I have many weaknesses. I know that bad things happen to good people. I also know that in all circumstances, there is a sweet and reassuring peace that accompanies me when I strive to live the gospel—and an emptiness and darkness when I don’t.
I often think of myself like the man in the ninth chapter of John, who was blind from his birth and who, after having been granted the gift of sight from the Savior—and then grilled repeatedly by the Savior’s opponents as to how he came to see—said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Like all of you, I hope, I am growing and maturing in my faith and testimony and in my familiarity with the Spirit. Day to day personal growth seems quite imperceptible, but over time it can be significant in each of us. Like the blind man, I don’t know everything, but increasingly I know that I am seeing more and that I am seeing more clearly because of the Savior.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He is, very personally to me, my Savior. He is, I hope personally to you, your Savior. He rose on the third day. The empty tomb said everything we claim it said. He stands at the head of this Church and it is His authority we bear. None of us here bears all of His authority, but we bear the portion that has been delegated to us. If we bear it well, we will bless many lives, including our own.
May you and I come ever closer to knowing Him, to feeling his love, and to developing His attributes. May we find healing in Him and may we help our family and others for whom we have stewardship find that healing—and ultimately that peace that passeth all understanding.
I testify that Jesus Christ is the Living Christ—and the son of the living God—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Closing remarks by Chris Juchau at the conclusion of the adult session of Stake Conference (which was comprised of Q&A), April 2017.]
Brothers and Sisters,
This has been an unusual evening. We decided to solicit your questions because we are anxious to address the things of greatest concern to you and hoped that this approach might allow us to at least try to help in the areas of greatest need. We also want you to know that your questions and concerns are important to us and we wish to be helpful to you even if, like you, we also don’t have every answer to every question.
Many thanks to our Relief Society presidency for their willingness to seek and receive inspiration in the things they shared tonight. There was a question tonight about valuing women. This is a church for men and women. We are equal. Holding priesthood offices does not make husbands or priesthood leaders any more equal than women. Why men hold priesthood offices and priesthood keys, I do not know. But everyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention during their life knows full well that both men and women need the perspectives, points of view, insights, and inspiration that come to and from women.
Let me just make four quick points as we wrap up the evening.
First, as has been said, when there are things that we don’t know, let’s please remember the things we do know. These include that God is our father and that while He desires to help us and does help us, solving all of our problems for us and answering all of our questions in perfect clarity are not part of this phase of his plan for us.
Faith and agency are essential. But there is no faith where there is no uncertainty. And there is no agency where there is no opposition. Both uncertainty and opposition are going to be with us and we should not be caught off guard by either of those when they are with us
We do have the Light of Christ.
We do have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We do have inspired leaders.
And we do have the spiritual gifts and experiences of others around us.
All of which can help light our way as we move forward with faith in spite of adversity and opposition.
In the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light,” we sing the words, “Lead, kindly Light (note “Light” is spelled with a capital “L”!) amid the encircling gloom;… I do not ask to see the distant scene—one step enough for me.” And so it is that if we will trust the Lord, He will light the way for us. Not, likely, the whole way in vivid detail from this moment to the ultimate end. But enough to reward our trust. Let us move forward with faith, striving to learn as we go. Let us not attempt to entirely replace faith with our current learning that is not yet perfected.
Second, let us do the things that will strengthen us as we go through life’s challenges. Sometimes standing at a pulpit and admonishing people to say their prayers and study their scriptures feels a lot like a parent telling their teenagers to remember who they are or their children to look both ways before crossing the street. We fear the eyeroll in response. Jacob seems practically to have given up in exasperation when he said, “Oh, be wise. What can I say more?”
Of all that can be said, few things are more important than inviting people to develop their relationships with God, which will be done by conversing with him in prayer, hearing from him in scripture, and learning through the Spirit in the house of the Lord. Life is hard. But just as adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition will make life better without guaranteeing an absence of hardship,… prayer, scripture study, and temple attendance create spiritual strength which makes life better endured and appreciated.
Third, let us be patient and submissive. If you want to find peace in life, then quit being angry at life’s injustices and inequities. What right would I have to more justice and equity than were experienced by the early pioneers who gave all they had to come to Zion only to freeze and starve to death before getting here. None. And I know it. Instead of anger and bitterness, choose faith with its three companions: trust, hope, and submissiveness.
Let us also be patient and submissive in the acquisition of answers to our questions. Truth is revealed “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” and “unto him that receiveth, I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” Patience is rewarded. Impatience is, essentially, punished. As the Savior said, “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
Fourth, let us lean on each other more. Utilize your priesthood leaders. There is a fear of priesthood authority within some in our Church. We have ten wonderful bishops in our stake. I have two of the finest counselors I could possibly hope to serve with. The thirteen of us are committed to helping you through difficult things as best we can. If that involves sin, we’re not out to get you. We’re anxious to help you. Please let us.
We also have wonderful Relief Society presidents in this stake—incredible Relief Society presidents! And High Priest Group Leaders and Elders Quorum presidents. The bishop is not required for every problem or question. He is required where a judgment must be made regarding worthiness. He is required where Fast Offering funds may be applied. But he is not the only person who can advise you through a financial, or marital, or addiction problem. Get help where you can get it, but if you need it, get it!! And don’t avoid the very people who can help you, including confidentially.
Brothers and Sisters, let me close with my testimony. Joseph Smith saw our Father in Heaven. He saw the Savior. Physically. In person. They spoke to him. He received priesthood and priesthood keys from John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, and Elias. The quintessential importance of families was revealed to him. The sealing power was given to him. Temple covenants, ordinances, and ceremonies were revealed to him.
Fifteen living prophets today each possess all of the priesthood and priesthood keys that Joseph Smith did.
All of that happened that we might come to the Savior, that we might come to Him through valid covenants, and that we might come to Him, ultimately, as husbands and wives, as families. That we might be exalted and live as our Father in Heaven lives.
That is exactly what will happen to us if we make the covenants we need to make and if we strive to yield our hearts completely to God as we strive to keep the letter and the spirit of those covenants.
May you who are so striving feel the love and acceptance of the Savior and of your Father in Heaven. May you believe in them enough to allow yourselves to feel their love and acceptance. If you are not so striving, then repent quickly because your choice to submit to those covenants, or not to, will have consequences. And if you repent sincerely, you are sure to discover that repentance is a joyful and rewarding thing.
This is the Church of Jesus Christ. I so testify in His name, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2017]
The theme of this Ward Conference is: “Improving Gospel Teaching at Church and in the Home.” Gospel Teaching is really just a means to a critically important end, which is Gospel Learning. I would like to speak for a few minutes about our need to be outstanding Gospel Learners—both purely for our own sakes—and also that it might help us become more effective Gospel Teachers for the sake of the Gospel Learners learning from us, beginning in our own homes.
What does it mean to be a great Gospel Learner? Do great Gospel Learners all have thick reading glasses, high IQs, study their scriptures for 90 minutes every day, answer every question in Sunday School, and appear completely at east speaking in front of large audiences? Of course not.
My father has a Ph.D. in pharmacology. It was not his stack of diplomas from his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees that taught me most clearly that learning was important. It was, rather, his open-mindedness in a discussion, his willingness to see another person’s perspective, and his insatiable appetite for learning that taught me that learning is less about being the sharpest looking student in a classroom and more about an attitude of wanting to learn and then making time to do it.
Of course, not all learning comes from studying books! Much of life’s most important learning comes from doing and experiencing and observing and from that attitude of wanting to know more.
Our church is beyond wonderful where learning is concerned. So much of our church is about learning! Think of how unique we are!
- We believe in both ancient scripture and modern revelation.
- We believe that much has been revealed—and that much has not been revealed! That there is much to learn!
- We believe that we can be taught by inspired and legitimate representatives of God.
- We also believe we can be taught by God, Himself, through the Holy Ghost—that each of us has our own direct link to God, the very source of truth.
- The restoration of the modern Church literally began with a question and an answer.
- How many religions in the world teach the value of the mind, the spirit, and the heart, and experience the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does! And how much do we have to learn?!!
Let me give six quick examples of things I think we should be anxiously engaged in learning more about and I’ll put these in the form of personal questions:
- Do you understand God the Father, Jesus Christ, our relationship to them, and the Atonement to such an extent that you can, as the song says, “drop [your] burden[s] at His feet and bear a song away” – instead of being weighed and beaten down by thoughts of how unworthy and inadequate you are?
- Do you understand the purpose and value of agency and adversity so well that your faith can withstand significant adversity aimed directly at you? That your mind—and faith—aren’t blown away when life’s most difficult challenges hit you directly—in spite of your goodness and “deserving” efforts?
- Do you really understand how best to discern truth from error? And how to utilize heart, mind, and spirit in your discernment of real truth?
- Do you really know how to love? How many of us know that sometimes when our spouse disappoints or upsets us, we are being told of our deficiencies in loving them—and not their deficiencies in loving us? How many of us really understand that when we married our spouse, we committed to loving them, not to being loved by them?
- Do you know how to parent well? Should you be strict or permissive? How do you communicate love? How do your own parents’ bad habits impact your children through your repeating them? What are the true keys to great parenting?
- Lastly, do you know other people and their problems and challenges so well that you have been (or are being) stripped of prejudice, bias, and judgment? How many of us know how to respond to people who are different from us or who are struggling with things that we don’t think we struggle with?
There is so much to learn!
If those things aren’t enough, what about these ten questions recently raised by youth in our stake?…
- How does the Spirit speak to me?
- Are my sins forgiven?
- Why does God intervene in some people’s lives and not others?
- Why would I need a bishop to repent of some things?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why would God change policies within His own Church over time?
- Why do I not always find answers to my prayers?
- Why is the law of chastity such a big deal?
- If marriage is such a big deal, why does God allow people to be born attracted to their own sex?
- How does divorce effect family relationships in eternity?
Brothers and Sisters…
- We need to learn how to love.
- We need to learn how to parent.
- We need to learn how to teach.
- We need to learn about Heavenly Father, about the Savior, and about our relationships with them.
- We need to learn about the plan of salvation and the purposes of life, agency, and adversity.
- We need to learn how to study, learn about, and deal with difficult questions.
- We need to learn how to be people that all other people in the world are comfortable being with.
May I invite you as one of the significant invitations from today’s conference to make time and conscious effort to learn.
- You will learn through study.
- You will learn through observation.
- You will learn by doing.
- And you will learn the most if you consciously strive to learn and make time to learn.
Learning doesn’t generally happen by accident. We can learn some things “the hard way.” But better is to take a conscious, active, prioritized approach to learning.
As for learning by study, we can study ancient scripture; we can study conference talks from living leaders; we can study from “the best books” which opens a whole world of thoughtful—and sometimes inspired—writing.
As for learning through direct revelation, we can pray; we can listen; we can exercise our faith and spirituality; we can watch for little miracles and to answers to prayers.
As for learning through observation, we can notice what does happen and what has happened to others who live the commandments, who exercise faith, and who work to acquire Christ-like attributes.
As for learning through doing, we can live the commandments, ourselves; exercise faith, ourselves; work to acquire Christ-like attributes, ourselves—and discover both the effects and lessons learned by so doing.
We cannot overstate the importance of the Savior’s teaching that “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” and where that doctrine comes from.
As a final comment, there are some truths we cannot avoid.
- We cannot avoid that teaching and leading are virtually synonymous.
- We cannot avoid that, as disciples of the Savior, we are obligated to both teach and lead.
- And we cannot avoid that, whether we want to or not, and whether it is for good or for ill, we are all leading and teaching others around us all the time.
Therefore, one of the things we should want to learn is how to be a good, effective teacher—both at home and at Church. Among the things we study, let us study this. Among the things we observe and practice, let us observe and practice this. If you have been called to a teaching or leading position—or the next time you are called to a teaching or leading position—decide to make a conscious attempt during your experience with that calling to learn how to become a better gospel teacher. Do not, however, wait for a calling. Nowhere is this more important than at home.
As you attend workshops in the rest of today’s block meetings, please do so with a genuine interest in learning how you can be a better teacher, that as a teacher and as one who has learned, you might help others become better Gospel Learners.
I testify that the Lord will help and enable you. As you seek to learn, the Holy Ghost will teach you. As you seek to teach effectively, the Holy Ghost will inspire you and God will magnify your efforts for the sake of the gospel learners in your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[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.