Like others of the Church’s general presidencies and staff testing the new 2019 “Come, Follow Me” integrated curriculum, Brother Tad R. Callister has looked for opportunities to implement its patterns, principles and practices in personal and family gospel study settings.
Like the time the Sunday School general president and extended family members were reading the Isaiah chapters of 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon — a challenging stretch of Old Testament writings and expressions. Brother Callister engaged a teen-aged grandson with a question, asking if he could identify in 2 Nephi 15 where Isaiah prophesies about modern-day means of transportation.
The grandson identified a train by the description of its wheels and the sparks from the track. That exchange in turn led to more discussion of how and why Isaiah prophesied millennia in advance the latter-day gathering of Israel and how the ancient prophet described transportation unfamiliar to his day.
Such was a glimpse into the potential of the new curriculum and accompanying emphasis on “home-centered, Church-supported” gospel study — an elevated learning experience for individuals and for families, with benefits no matter the age of the learner or the teacher.
“I think if we develop that pattern, trying to ask inspired questions and giving our children a chance to answer, we’ll be amazed at how much insight and revelation will come to them,” said Brother Callister, adding, “if you really give them a chance, you’ll have some incredible comments from these young children who are 8 years old or from a 13-year-old teenager.”
Brother Callister recently joined his counselors in the Sunday School general presidency — Brother Devin G. Durrant, first counselor, and Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor — to discuss with the Church News their insights on and hopes for the 2019 curriculum and the Sunday School’s role.
A fresh start
Brother Durrant sees newness all around — new year, new curriculum, new topic of study (the New Testament) as well as new opportunities to decide how one will use available time on the Sabbath and to refine new study and discussion practices in the home.
“In a way, it’s an opportunity to repent, to change, to start anew and to be more diligent in personal study as well as family study,” he said.
Added Brother Ashton: “We have an opportunity to do what President (Russell M.) Nelson has said, to remodel our homes into centers of gospel learning.”
Brother Callister says he has heard the Brethren talk for some time about a change in Church meeting schedules, but something always seemed missing in the discussions.
“Then the integrated curriculum came along, and it's not just a reduction in time at Church but providing a means and an emphasis to teach the gospel at home that we didn’t have before,” he said. “It is kind of a package deal — it’s going from three to two hours (of meetings), but here are the materials to help you use Sunday wisely.”
“So while we’ve always had an understanding that parents are the prime teachers of the children,” said Brother Durrant, “now we have a resource that helps us implement and provide those learning and teaching experiences in the home.”
Brother Ashton calls 2019’s gospel-study emphasis “a new pattern” rather than a new program. “In my mind, much of what we’ve done in the Church is just read the scriptures. The command is to feast, and this is a pattern for how to feast.”
The home-centered, Church-supported alignment is synergistic — studying at home to prepare for Church meetings, and sharing good Church experiences in turn enhancing home study, Brother Callister said. And an increase of study frequency should foster a reciprocal increased quality.
“Just as President Nelson said we are going from home teaching to ministering, which is a higher, holier way,” he said, “hopefully we’re going from just reading the scriptures to pondering them, which is a higher and holier way to invite revelation.”
More than just Sunday
Rather than being its past separate, weekly series of classes, Sunday School now shares a second-hour meeting slot with the priesthood quorums and other auxiliaries.
Brother Durrant said he hopes members return from Sunday classes and continue sharing and discussing the gospel “until we go back to Church … so that the gospel becomes a part of every day, a part of our conversation and the threads woven throughout our week, not just contained in a certain time frame.”
It’s embedded into your soul more when you have to think it through and articulate it.
But one shouldn’t focus solely on an enhanced Sunday study experience, Brother Callister explains.
“The vision here is Sunday is one key part, but we want our people studying the scriptures as families every single day, and this allows us to do that,” he said, noting that while Sunday allows for a more concentrated time of study and discussion, similar but briefer opportunities can come throughout the week.
“It is a total of weekly and daily family and individual experiences to help us get into the scriptures.”
Preparation and revelation
Now more than ever, Sunday School teachers will have more discussion material than can possibly be taught in a 50-minute setting. And with Sunday School classes scheduled for the first and third Sundays of the month, there could be anywhere from two to five weeks between class discussions, given calendar configurations and possible conflicts with scheduled conferences.
The premise of the new curriculum is for the teacher “to start by reading the scripture block and praying to know what the Lord wants you to teach, —and if you need help, then go to the manual,” said Brother Ashton.
The reasoning, explained Brother Callister, “is that if you do so, you’ll increase your personal revelation, and the rest of the material becomes a supplement to your revelation, not a replacement for your revelation.
“It’s designed to stretch teachers not to be prescriptive givers of the lesson but deliverers of personal revelation.”
With teachers having received the “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” training for several years, Brother Durrant sees the new curriculum as an opportunity to apply those principles — loving those being taught, preparing by the Spirit, teaching doctrine, teaching by the Spirit and extending invitations to class members to act.
“With the new curriculum, we’re all being invited to take responsibility for our own learning,” he said. “And a teacher can assist in that process.”
Combining the “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” principles with the 2019 integrated “Come, Follow Me,” study of the New Testament makes for “a marvelous example and prime opportunity … not just to teach the doctrine but to see how the Savior taught,” Brother Durrant said.
Brother Callister underscored that the manual’s topic statements are not simply factual statements but doctrinal statements — not simply “Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane” but rather “Jesus suffered in the garden of Gethsemane so He could pay the price for our sins.” All subsequent materials in the manual — stories, questions, videos and more — align with the doctrine being taught.
“They’re all designed to support the doctrine, which we know is the greatest converting power, when taught by the Spirit,” he said.
Likening teachers to shepherds, Brother Ashton says a reduction of classroom instruction could result in increased time available for teachers to go outside the classroom to meet the needs of the students, such as providing encouragements or assistance in the home of either the teacher or the student.
Another avenue to enhance advance preparation is to encourage study via social media or other online methods, with a Facebook or WhatsApp group sharing insights throughout the weeks. “It can get more of a conversation going,” said Brother Ashton, “and it will encourage people to study.”
For families with younger children and younger attention spans or families that feel like the new curriculum is too much, too demanding or too much of a burden, Brother Durrant says “don’t go there — we’ve gone to great lengths to not prescribe what should be happening in the home as far as teaching the materials.
“Parents should feel free to follow the Spirit and do what they feel good about as they study individually and with their children and how they’re going to convey this information. We’re not prescribing a so-called ‘right way.’ We’re just inviting them to allow gospel learning to take place in the home as they see fit.”
Parents can provide their children with an even greater benefit if they teach them not just to be good students but good teachers, Brother Callister added.
“We can do a lot better in our classrooms and in our homes to train our children not just to learn the gospel but to teach the gospel. It’s embedded into your soul more when you have to think it through and articulate it. It develops your own testimony as well as your capabilities, and you’ll be a better servant in the gospel.”