[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.