Two Sunday School teachers were sharing their classroom challenges recently. One remarked how difficult it was for her to involve the large number of people in her Gospel Doctrine class in any meaningful discussion. The other had just the opposite problem: keeping a group of 16-year-olds focused on the subject and not letting them "walk all over" him.
The two teachers are trying to solve basically the same problem: Involving class members in meaningful gospel instruction. One has the challenge of managing a large group. She has to find innovative ways to let many participate and at the same time not lose control. She also has to make sure that one or two class members do not dominate the discussion, and that those who may not have contributed can voice their opinions, too.The youth instructor needs to find ways for the young people in his care to experience the gospel in such a way as to build and strengthen their testimonies while keeping them focused on gospel principles.
Ultimately, the most effective teaching in the Church needs to involve the presence of the Holy Ghost. Listening to the Spirit - as both instructor and class member - strengthens one another.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, "I fear that all too often many of our members come to Church, sit through a class or meeting and then return home having been largely uninformed. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time when they may be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 524.)
What are our responsibilities as class members? Do we come to Church as an empty vessel waiting to be filled each week? Do we expect our Church instructors to carry on half-hour monologues without ever answering class members' questions? Is there something we can do to make the class time more meaningful to fellow class members?
Effective teaching involves much more than the teacher. Effective teaching involves all class members, whether in Primary, Sunday School, priesthood meeting, Relief Society or in youth quorums or classes. As a class member, we can do many things to enhance the teaching in our classrooms:
- We can read the lesson in advance.
- We can pray for inspiration and guidance, just as our instructor does each week as he or she prepares the lesson.
- We can volunteer to read a scripture or some quotation.
- We can reinforce a gospel principle by bearing our testimony to the truthfulness of that principle.
- We can hold our tongue if our comment would detract from the Spirit.
- And we should be willing to substitute for the teacher, when we are asked, especially if we have knowledge or experience with a gospel topic.
The apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonians: "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another even as also we do." (1 Thes. 5:11.)
Many of the Savior's most pronounced "teaching moments" came from simple questions from His listeners. As the Master Teacher, He cut to the heart of an issue troubling His questioner. He answered with knowledge, yes, but mostly He answered with love. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matt.5:6), He told those around Him.
Do we come to our Sunday meetings "thirsting after righteousness" or are we merely filling a seat?
Sometimes, as listeners, we may take lightly the counsel from our teachers or leaders. When we fail to do what they tell us, it is we, not they, who suffer. "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise." (Prov. 19:20.)
The Lord, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, instructed the Saints, "Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another . . . and let your words tend to edifying one another." (D&C 136:23-24.)
"That my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands." (D&C 105:10.)
"And also the body have need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system be kept perfect." (D&C 84:110.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "We must strengthen ourselves and our people to get our teachers to speak out of their hearts rather than out of their books, to communicate their love for the Lord and this precious work, and somehow it will catch fire in hearts of those they teach." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pp. 619-620.)
If teachers and class members alike speak from their hearts, the system will be kept perfect.