[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.
It has been said, with some authority, that “wickedness never was happiness.” I agree. And would add: ignorance isn’t happiness, either. I guess it may be bliss to some people in a way for some period of time—but it isn’t happiness.
Does that mean that knowledge is happiness? Well. Some knowledge is. Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” Life eternal sounds pretty happy.
On the other hand, happiness through knowledge is conditional. “To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” Some people seem to handle knowledge better than others. For some, what they know magnifies for them the things they don’t know and they seek to learn from a position of humility. For a few others, being well read can make them proud and arrogant. Knowledge, by itself, is not happiness. How we approach knowledge and what we do with it matters.
One of my very most favorite things about Joseph Smith is how he taught his followers to use their noggins. Would we describe Joseph Smith as a charismatic prophet? I think in some ways, yes. But he was a leader who taught people to think for themselves. He taught faith, but not blind obedience. To Joseph Smith (or, better, through Joseph Smith) can be attributed teachings such as these:
- “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
- “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.”
- “The glory of God is intelligence.”
- “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”
- “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.”
- “Obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries.”
- “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”
- “Study it out in your mind.”
- “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books.”
And I could go on. This was a man raised in much ignorance—or at least without significant formal education. Yet he studied—and taught—and started schools. I have been told that for the members of the church Joseph Smith restored, there is a positive correlation between level of education and level of activity. There should be!
May I suggest that among the list of things of which we should not be ignorant are these two: First, we should not be ignorant of Joseph Smith—neither of his life nor of his teachings. We ought to know the man—what he did, what he said, what he taught, what others said and thought of him, what he accomplished, etc. Second, we should not be ignorant of spirituality, the workings of “the spirit,” the sources of testimony, and the reality of our need to ultimately determine some critical things by relying on the Spirit to guide our faith and choices.
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” The Spirit and knowledge work together. They don’t need to be balanced, per se, as much as they both just need to be fully utilized.