A student is not a “container to be filled” — a student “is a fire to be ignited.”
That was the impassioned message shared Wednesday, June 12, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland during the global broadcast for seminary and institute instructors.
Hoping not to be reported to safety authorities, Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles laughed and said, “As teachers, we are to be spiritual arsonists. Our lessons are to be incendiary devices.”
The annual gathering was broadcast live to legions of seminary teachers, leaders and their spouses in approximately 150 nations and in nearly 40 languages.
Elder Holland reminded his vast audience that he was no stranger to the Church Educational System family. The storied teacher signed his first CES contract 54 years ago. “And [my wife, Patricia Holland] and I have been affiliated with you one way or another virtually every year of our life since then.”
The apostle reminded his colleagues in the seminary and institute programs how much they — the General Authorities and general officers of the Church — love and support them. He estimated that perhaps a third of General Authority discussion time is spent reviewing some needs of the young people, some program or principle that affects a child from home or Primary up through missions and university studies.
“We talk of the world they are in, the challenges they face, the social and cultural realities that seem to come to them at an ever younger age. Not all of those realities are evil, but some of them are. Those young people need all the help they can get, and fortunately they can get it. God is at the helm of this ship, and it will come safely into port. He has made every necessary preparation for that.”
The Lord’s educational program, he added, is structured to give young people “substantial midweek experience” rather than depending solely on Sabbath school experience.
“As the Church moves toward more of a home-centered, Church-supported curriculum, we can be proud that CES with its weekday and home-study focus has always been pointed that way. This current adjustment moves seminaries and institutes closer to the mainstream curriculum effort of the Church than ever in its history.”
The world is becoming increasingly secular. It is essential for seminary and institute teachers to be ever more helpful and exemplary for young Latter-day Saints “who have to defend their faith while living in a culture that often denies it or, worse yet, demeans it.”
“Generation Z” students — ages 7 to 22 — are often defined by characteristics that might pose challenges to teachers, he said.
Broadly speaking, Zs are always “wired” to some sort of device. They have perhaps been exposed to “flagrant, destructive pornography” at early ages. They tend to support gay marriage and transgender rights as part of everyday life. “Because of this sociability, the thin line between friendship and condoning behavior begins to blur.”
Many are also growing up in a “post-Christian” society and do not identify with any religion or are guided by any form of spiritual leadership.
Meanwhile, a sizable percentage of “Generation Zs” are lonely and/or unhappy with their bodies — prompting unhealthy weight-control behaviors.
Seminary and institute teachers are not going to immediately solve such problems, said Elder Holland. But they must be “well-versed, well-prepared, spiritually in tune, and significantly able to address questions when they arise the right way in the right time.”
Always stay open to the Spirit — and leave wiggle room in lesson plans, he added.
“If you need to shorten a lesson a little in order to bear your testimony and stimulate a discussion on a contemporary issue, please do so when prompted by the Spirit that it is appropriate.”
Elder Holland noted the many teaching situations in the Book of Mormon where individuals taught with “power and authority.”
“That is my greatest desire in my own teaching, and I hope it is in yours.”
Just remember to always be yourself.
“You can’t be a Bruce McConkie or Boyd Packer or Russell Nelson, though we would do well to ask ourselves why those teachers affect us the way they do,” he said. “Learn all you can from great teachers, but of course, in the end, you have to teach naturally, teach your way. However, whatever approach that turns out to be, the result should be powerful, authoritative teaching.”
Great teachers such as Nephi and Lehi from the Book of Helaman and the prophet Abinadi all taught with power and authority.
“What I pray for and think about and hope can come to the Church Educational System is truly astonishing teaching,” he said. “We need to astonish those students and do it with the power and authority of God that is given to a teacher — professional or volunteer — who teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ boldly and honestly.”
Such teaching is both demanding and elusive, added Elder Holland. But unless an instructor feels passionately about something, “you cannot possibly, worlds without end, ever make your students feel passionately about it.”
Power of Personal Revelation
Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of the Church Educational System, identified three patterns of personal revelation in the Book of Mormon.
- Sacred records that testify of Jesus Christ and the Father’s plan. “When we teach the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon, our students can feel that power,” he said. “As our students seek personal revelation through feasting on the Book of Mormon, it will become for them what the brass plates were for the people of Nephi — a witness of Jesus Christ and His redeeming power and a source of personal revelation and joy.”
- The witness of the Holy Ghost that strengthens faith in Jesus Christ and deepens conversion unto Him. The witness of the Holy Ghost, for example, significantly affected the Nephite people and the society in which they lived. “There is no better example than the mission of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites 91 years before the birth of the Savior,” he said. “Through diligent searching of the scriptures, fasting and prayer, these great missionaries had the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation.”
- Prophets who testify of Jesus Christ and stand against evil. “Living prophets speak for the Lord in our day. When we hear their words with the Spirit, we receive direct personal revelation, including confirming revelation that what the prophet has said is true.”
In the Light of His Love
Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president and a former seminary teacher, taught that youth and young adults need to feel, know and come to trust the Lord’s love and light.
“As you allow it, the Savior’s love can come to your students through you,” she said. “And when your students feel His love, they will come to recognize and receive personal revelation. They will discover what it means to walk in the light of His love.”
Sister Cordon considered God’s love in three distinct aspects:
First, love in one’s personal life.
“It is essential that we believe and trust that God loves us. Our students will not feel the love of the Lord through us unless we first feel the love of the Lord within ourselves.”
Second, God’s love in one’s home.
Sister Cordon shared an experience of apologizing to her husband, Derek, after they disagreed on a matter. By seeking peace, the couple allowed God’s love to abide in their home — and in Sister Cordon’s seminary class.
And third, God’s love in seminary and institute classes.
“To really love our students, we need to see them as the Savior sees them,” she said. “What does He love about each one of them? What gifts has He given them? What potential does He see in them? By truly loving them, we will help bring them to the Savior.”
See individuals — not problems
Chad H. Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, challenged teachers to help their students know and love the Savior by helping them see Him.
“My prayer is that we will simply be kind, seeing individuals and not problems; that we will reach out to bless ever more of Heavenly Father’s children; that we will lower the hands of accusation and help everyone feel they have a place and a future in the Lord’s Church; that we will encourage our students to follow the Savior’s teachings as lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ, clinging to the covenant path so they can receive all the blessings our Heavenly Father has for them.”