While walking to my car one day, a young father approached me and asked, “Brother Osguthorpe, I thought I’d introduce myself because I’m serving right now as a Sunday School president in my ward.” I asked him how he felt about the calling. He responded with animation in his voice, “You know, I think I’ve enjoyed this calling more than any calling I’ve ever had!” I asked him to explain why he was enjoying it so much. Without hesitating he said, “I just love to watch people improve their teaching.” So I asked him if he had actually seen his ward members improve in their ability to teach the gospel. He told me that he had seen a lot of improvement. “So what have you done to bring about the change?” I asked.
He then explained, “Well, we wanted to change the culture of teaching in our ward. It seemed like some members saw teaching as a burden, and we wanted to change that. So we started visiting classes to see how many good things we could find that teachers were doing. Then we shared what we found in ward council. After about a year of this, I could really see the culture changing. Our teachers found more joy in their calling. They looked forward to teaching each Sunday.”
As I have reflected on this conversation, I find myself wishing that this could happen in every ward in the Church. Such a simple thing: looking for the good. All this Sunday School presidency did was look for good things that teachers were doing to help their students learn the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What could be simpler than that? They were doing what they had been called to do as a Sunday School presidency: serving as “specialists in the ward’s efforts to improve gospel learning and teaching” (Handbook of Instructions, 2:12.2.2). Imagine ward leaders observing a class or quorum, complimenting the teacher on something, and then describing that observation in ward council. When we focus on something it improves. And one of the best ways to focus on something is to observe and then share with others our observations.
I learned this principle most powerfully while serving as a mission president. Each Monday I sent an email message to all missionaries describing the progress we had made in the mission the previous week. In one of these messages, I showed my disappointment in missionary performance. After speaking with a few missionaries following the delivery of that message, I told my wife, “I will never do that again.” My expression of disappointment had a pronounced negative effect on many missionaries. It made them want to stop trying. There were times that I needed to correct missionaries, but that typically happened as I met with each missionary individually.
Following that experience, I was careful to find something positive in every weekly report. The more I looked for the good, the more good I was able to find. And the more excitement I showed about the good I was finding, the more excited missionaries became about their work.
Just as the teachers that the Sunday School president described, our missionaries began to take more joy in their calling. Elder Neal A. Maxwell encouraged us on more than one occasion to give more “deserved, specific praise” (Ensign, February 2001, p. 8).
When Alma met the sons of Mosiah on his way to the land of Manti, he rejoiced not only to see them again, but because they were still his “brethren in the Lord” (Alma 17:2). We do not have details about their conversation, but I am quite certain that Alma, as well as the sons of Mosiah, were looking for the good in each other. They were discussing the successes they had experienced during the previous 14 years. Such conversation caused them to rejoice together.
Learning and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ are joyful activities. So each week as teachers, we can look for the good in our students, and as leaders we can look for the good in our teachers. I am confident that the more we keep looking for the good and talking about it with each other, the more we will see God’s hand in our Church service. And the more we recognize His hand, the more effective we will be in magnifying our calling.