Members of the Church don't have to be gospel scholars in order to understand the basic principles of the gospel, according to the newly called Sunday School general presidency.
Instead, the presidency said in a Church News interview, it should be emphasized and taught that "the gospel is really simple.""When the Lord commanded His people to teach children in Zion before they were 8 years old, this showed that it's a very attainable goal for children and adults to understand gospel principles if they are taught them properly," said Elder Merlin R. Lybbert, Sunday School general president.
The new Sunday School general presidency was sustained Oct. 3 during the Saturday afternoon session of conference. Sustained with Elder Lybbert were Elder Clinton L. Cutler, first counselor, and Elder Ronald E. Poelman, second counselor. All are members of the Seventy.
Elder Lybbert was serving as president of the Asia Area at the time of his call to the Sunday School. Elder Cutler previously was second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, and Elder Poelman was serving as a counselor in the Utah Central Area. Elder Poelman has also served in two former Sunday School general presidencies.
Through the years, Sunday School has evolved into what it is today - with an improved curriculum, more of a focus on the scriptures, and emphasis on teaching and learning by the Spirit, Elder Poelman noted.
The new presidency hopes to carry on in that direction.
"Sunday School," Elder Lybbert pointed out, "potentially has more members than any other organization in the Church because the principal responsibility of the Sunday School is to teach the gospel to all members of the Church, 12 years of age and older.
"Our effort is not only to encourage people to attend Sunday School classes, but also to stimulate individual gospel understanding. That is one of the primary aims of the Sunday School."
Elder Poelman added: "One of our goals is to place continuing emphasis on teaching and learning the gospel by the Spirit. Ultimately it's the Spirit that teaches with testimony and conviction. Knowledge of facts and history is interesting, but it doesn't sustain, comfort and strengthen people to meet the challenges and opportunities that they face."
"Another goal," Elder Cutler said, "is that teaching in Sunday School should have a carry-over effect into homes. It is in the home where gospel learning continues with families not only in daily scripture reading, but in family home evening and in mealtime discussions. We need more gospel-centered homes."
The principal responsibility for teaching children is in the home, Elder Lybbert remarked. "Sunday School is to supplement learning in the home, just as other Church classes do. All supplement the efforts of the home."
Some members have felt that because Sunday School is part of the three-hour schedule, instruction time has been shortened and that Sunday School's importance has been reduced as well, Elder Lybbert added.
"But that's not the case," he said. "It simply means we must utilize that time in a better way. We also have the responsibility of assisting the teachers to be more efficient and effective in their teaching."
Elder Lybbert noted that the quality of Sunday School manuals is excellent at every age level and category, but the manuals can be a greater benefit when they are used as they should be.
Those who attend the gospel doctrine course, for example, could greatly enhance their learning as well as add to the Spirit of the class if they would truly read and study the Sunday School material before they go to class, he commented.
Teachers can enhance their lessons by using the scriptures as a base and "not go to other materials that would not tend to develop the gospel principles that are needed," Elder Cutler added. "We need to stay in the scriptures."
"If teachers stay with the scriptures and the prepared lesson material it is easier to invite the presence of the Spirit for the purpose of seeing that lives are changed," Elder Lybbert said. "If lives are not changed, then we haven't done what we ought to be doing in Sunday School."
When a Sunday School lesson brings a spiritual uplift, there is more of a chance to have it carry over into the home as well, Elder Cutler noted.
Elder Lybbert added: "It is very important to select teachers who can develop that spiritual dimension.
"The Church has gone to great effort and expense to provide comfortable classrooms and places where optimum teaching can occur. We pay tribute to the teachers and Sunday School organizations throughout the Church for the job they are doing."
Attendance is one challenge the Sunday School continues to face, he acknowledged. "The quality of teaching can be improved if attendance improves.
"We find too many cases where other things are going on in the building while Sunday School is in session. This not only detracts from the Sunday School classes, but takes people away who should be in the classes as students."
Instructions from Church headquarters emphasize there should be no conflicting meetings scheduled during this time, Elder Lybbert added.
"One of the big areas where we can improve in Sunday School is getting total priesthood support in class attendance," he said. "It would be a great benefit to priesthood leaders, as well as an encouragement to teachers themselves if these brethren would attend. Without their contribution, there is a substantial loss to the effectiveness and purpose of the class."
Sunday School's potential as a missionary tool may also be overlooked, Elder Lybbert said.
"Sunday School is a wonderful place to invite friends or neighbors who have a desire or would like to investigate the Church. The gospel essentials class is designed for that very purpose. It is a place where investigators or new converts can be nurtured and taught."
All three members of the Sunday School general presidency say they are enthused about Sunday School and hope to help the organization move into the future with ease.
"I've always been stimulated by learning and this is an opportunity to promote it," Elder Lybbert reflected. "If there is anything that will change a life it's understanding the gospel through the Spirit."
Elder Cutler added: "I am grateful to be associated with the Sunday School. It holds a special place in my heart. I think back over my life and have been touched by so many wonderful Sunday School teachers who have been instrumental in making scriptures and the gospel come to life for me."
Elder Poelman summed up the focus of Sunday School. "Understanding the doctrines of the gospel and feeling the witness of the Spirit are as important to a successful, happy life as anything that I can think of. Both derive from scriptures and from personal prayer and application. Basically that's the focus of the Sunday School - to help members have those types of experiences."