As a senior at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah, Sophie Stubbs has enjoyed attending seminary for the past few years. This year Sophie, a busy student body officer and active youth, has seminary sixth period, right before lunch on her “B” day of classes.
“We have block schedule so I go every other day,” she said. “It is kind of a nice break to sing hymns and then go back to school.”
Although she has enjoyed each year in seminary, this year, she said, things have been a little different. This year she had the opportunity to learn through the Church’s Doctrinal Mastery initiative.
Sophie said they talk about relevant, current issues facing youth today. “It is good because we are getting help from somebody who is a true source, not from Google or something.”
One year after Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced the Doctrinal Mastery initiative and charged instructors in the Church Educational System to do a better job at preparing students for the questions they face today — “a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every possible point of view” — youth and their teachers are spending time each class period looking at current issues and addressing questions.
“Building on what already has been done in Scripture Mastery, this new initiative will focus on building and strengthening our students’ faith in Jesus Christ and fortifying them with increased ability to live and apply the gospel in their lives,” Elder Ballard told Church Educational System personnel during the “Evening with a General Authority” annual broadcast in February 2016. “Drawing on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, they will learn how to act with faith in Christ to acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding of His gospel. And they will have opportunities to learn how to apply the doctrine of Christ and gospel principles to the questions and challenges they hear and see every day among their peers and on social media.”
Elder Kim B. Clark, Commissioner of Education for the Church and a General Authority Seventy, recently spoke about Doctrinal Mastery.
“I believe that Doctrinal Mastery helps our students grow in knowledge and understanding of doctrine, and helps them learn how to use that knowledge and understanding in their lives,” he said during the 2017 “An Evening with a General Authority” broadcast on Feb. 17. “But it does more than that. It also teaches our students the Lord’s way to learn deeply in any kind of knowledge and at any time in their lives.”
Called an “inspired and timely” initiative, many students and teachers in the Church have spent the last few months participating in helpful conversations.
“We have been very happy with the efforts of our teachers to understand doctrinal mastery and implement it,” said Chad H Webb, administrator in the Church Educational System. “It is doing what we hoped it would do — it is helping to teach the doctrine and helping students be able to find answers to questions and improve their ability to make decisions in their life based on true doctrine.”
Although Doctrinal Mastery has only just begun in some areas of the world due to different school calendars — some as recent as February 2017 — Brother Webb said the initiative is underway and so far the feedback he has received has been positive.
A key element to Doctrinal Mastery is helping students find answers themselves, rather than just giving them an answer, Brother Webb said.
“It’s not just 100 answers to 100 questions,” he said. “Students are learning to act in faith, to frame questions with an eternal perspective and to turn to authoritative sources. Then, they are able to learn specific principles and doctrine of the gospel to identify certain questions or situations where that principle applies. They are learning the Lord’s pattern for establishing and learning truth.”
For Sophie, digging deeper into topics has been the biggest difference this year in seminary.
“It has been interesting because it seems like, yes, I know answers to a lot of things because I have grown up in the Church, but then as we learn all about [different topics] I don’t necessarily know about all of these things,” she said. “It’s easy to ask questions to your seminary teacher because you know them fairly well. We ask questions in class and we learn more about the things we didn’t know we didn’t know.
“As we have been looking for the answers, [the teachers] teach us to look in different places like the Bible Dictionary or the Topical Guide. They’ll go through the steps with you to find the answers to your questions rather than just giving you the answer.”
But that learning has gone beyond the classroom, Sophie said. It helps her when a friend has a question, or in any teaching opportunity.
“It is more useful in day-to-day life,” Sophie said. “You are able to take scriptures you have learned and put them into your own words and be confident that you know how to tell [friends] the answer to their question.”
For the more than 45,000 instructors around the world, the initiative has meant more time spent learning and preparing prior to class — especially for called teachers who aren’t employed full-time — but the results, they report, are worth it.
“The one thing I wish is that I had more time,” said Kristin Connelly, an early morning seminary teacher and mother of seven living in Alledo, Texas. She has 10 youth attending consistently, and class begins at 6:15 a.m.
Sister Connelly, who lives in the Hudson Oaks Ward, Wetherford Texas Stake, said she loves the deep gospel learning that occurs in her home each morning, and the addition of Doctrinal Mastery has brought a noticeable change in her “classroom.”
“The conversations are totally different between Scripture Mastery in the past and Doctrinal Mastery,” she said. “Last year when we did Scripture Mastery it was all about where the scripture was and what it said. This year we haven’t focused on that — we have focused on what they are saying.”
Sister Connelly uses the first few minutes of class to work on Doctrinal Mastery and said it sets the tone for the rest of class. This is her second year teaching and she said the change of focus from memorizing scriptures to studying them has been a powerful addition.
“I really like the Doctrinal Mastery program for a couple of reasons,” she said. “It relates to the kids and the scriptures are really taught to help them understand. That’s when I see the kids open up the most because of the topics — they really relate to the kids.”
Sister Connelly said attending seminary is one way the youth are able to “put on the armor of God” as they go into their schools and social situations. Doctrinal Mastery has only helped that armor get stronger.
While some teachers may be nervous to talk about what they would consider more “tough” topics, Sister Connelly said it has been a wonderful opportunity to talk about and discuss but, more important, learn together what the Lord thinks of the various topics.
“I know they still have [more questions], but it seems like the Doctrinal Mastery is answering a lot of them,” she said.
More important than answering the specific questions in class, the initiative encourages youth to study out their questions on their own.
“I have heard a number of stories of how students have felt more comfortable asking questions in class,” Brother Webb said. “We have even heard a few remarkable stories about students who, not wanting to sound like they were doubting their faith, asked their question and have received an answer — revelation on the topic — and have been able to testify to others of what they have learned.”
[email protected] @marianne_holman