The development of the monumental “Come, Follow Me” integrated curriculum began years before it was released with the Sunday School general presidency intently searching the scriptures verse by verse, for hours a day, to identify all the doctrines being taught.
Once identified, these emphasized doctrines were then organized into lesson outlines. A group of diligent staff writers added the “flesh and bones” before each lesson was reviewed by many sets of eyes, edited, refined and sent out to be tested in stakes worldwide.
The rigorous process was a rewarding experience, said Brother Tad R. Callister, who served as Sunday School general president from 2014-2019.
“I think the Lord expects us to do our homework,” Brother Callister said. “We went through a lot of testing, we went through a lot of honest exchange back and forth. It took us about two years to really get there and start drafting everything. But once we had the vision and we all were in accord, it started to flow from there.”
Brother Callister, along with Brother Devin G. Durrant, first counselor, and Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor, were released as the Sunday School general presidency last April. The trio recently reflected on their years of service together, which included memories of working on two projects: “Come, Follow Me” and “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.”
“It really was just a joyful journey to contemplate how to become more like Jesus Christ,” Brother Durrant said. “It was a joyful journey to work on projects like that, to consider how the Savior taught and how He might teach today. It was a lot of work and I enjoyed every second of it.”
After serving for six years in the Second Quorum of the Seventy, Brother Callister was called as Sunday School general president in April 2014, with John S. Tanner as first counselor and Brother Durrant as second counselor.
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One year later, Brother Tanner was appointed president of Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Brother Durrant became the first counselor and Brother Ashton was called as second counselor.
Brother Callister knew both Brother Durrant and Brother Ashton. While serving as a General Authority Seventy, he supervised missionary work in Texas, where Brother Durrant was a mission president in Dallas and Brother Ashton was a mission president in Houston.
When asked about the development of the curriculum, Brother Callister focused on their “intense” examination of the scriptures, the unity of the staff and the revelation that followed.
“I’ll miss that concentrated study of the scriptures and trying to wrestle with how can we present it in a way that will be helpful to the membership of the Church,” Brother Callister said.
One powerful experience for Brother Durrant came as they initially read through the New Testament and discussed the Savior’s Atonement.
“We had some wonderful discussions,” Brother Durrant said. “That was a particularly poignant study time for me as we reviewed how to best present the Savior’s Atonement for individuals and families.”
A group of staff writers played a significant role in developing the curriculum. Not only did they work hard, but they often shared good ideas, Brother Callister said.
“Because the staff was so good we reached almost total unity. We were able to be candid with one another and reach the point where we say, ‘OK, I don’t care whose idea it is, let’s get whatever the best idea is and march forward.’ A nice spirit of unity prevailed,” Brother Callister said. “I pay that as a tribute to the staff. They were terrific.”
Unity among the staff was an essential part of the work, Brother Ashton agreed.
The former second counselor recalled an all-day, off-site meeting in which everybody emerged with a clear vision of the project and their respective role.
“With unity comes revelation. That was something Brother Callister constantly taught us,” Brother Ashton said. “After that meeting, the work went up a couple levels. It was fun to see that all come together. The staff did a marvelous job.”
Developing the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum involved the time and efforts of many people, Brother Durrant said. In addition to the presidency and the staff writers, the material was continuously reviewed by others in the Priesthood and Family Department, General Authorities, and other general auxiliary officers before it was tested by stakes around the world.
“We were a small part of a large group effort,” Brother Durrant said.
While creating a curriculum for families, it was also a high priority to help single adults feel part of this new resource. To accomplish this, they intentionally included a cover photo of a single person and purposely used “individual” in the title, Brother Ashton said.
“The curriculum starts with individual ideas for individual scripture study,” Brother Ashton said. “The idea was to make sure that no one in the Church felt left out.”
The “Come, Follow Me” curriculum (New Testament version) was ready for release in January 2018, but only in English. The First Presidency decided to delay the release a year so it could come out in over 40 languages around the globe at the same time, Brother Durrant said.
Since the curriculum’s release, the Ashton family is one of many to navigate the ups and downs of adapting the resource to fit its needs. One humorous moment came when Brother Ashton’s 9-year-old son became frustrated and said, “I hate whoever developed ‘Come, Follow Me!'”
“We thought that was really funny,” Brother Ashton said.
Initially, the Ashtons let their five kids (who are still at home), ages 6 to 16, decide how they would proceed with “Come, Follow Me.” The Ashton children opted to study the whole lesson on Sundays and read the Book of Mormon on other days of the week.
This worked well for the older kids but not so great for the younger children, so they adjusted. They moved the family gathering spot to the kitchen table where the kids could have a drink or something to eat. After discussing that week’s two most important principles, the smaller children were dismissed (unless they wanted to stay) and the older children continued with the rest of the lesson. After a while, the younger children asked to stay for the entire lesson.
“President Russell M. Nelson said it would take time for families to figure out how to use ‘Come, Follow Me,’ and we’ve seen that,” Brother Ashton said. “Across the Church I’ve heard a lot of success stories and I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments. We’re still working on it.’ That’s OK. Just keep working on it.”
The former Sunday School general presidency hopes their contributions to the manual, “Teaching in the Savior’s Way,” will help gospel teachers to teach more like the Savior did.
Many gospel teachers in the Church are good “one-note” piano players who either lecture or lead a discussion. The Savior used multiple teaching methods, such as sermons, questions, parables, stories and visuals such as the lilies of the field or the fig tree, among others, Brother Callister said.
He suggested teachers consider these four questions when preparing to teach:
- What doctrine can I teach by the Spirit?
- What scriptures or general conference talks support it?
- What inspired questions can I use to support the doctrine?
- What teaching aids can I use to support the doctrines, such as music, art, parables, analogies, object lessons, etc?
“I think that teachers need to realize that the Savior used many different avenues, always to support the doctrine,” Brother Callister said. “As you strive to do that, it will help you teach like the Savior and not be a one-dimensional teacher.”
Looking back, each member of the former Sunday School presidency expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve.
“I feel gratitude that the Lord allowed us to participate in both ‘Teaching the Savior’s Way’ and ‘Come, Follow Me,'” Brother Ashton said. “Hopefully those two things will help bring people in the Church closer to the Savior.”
“It was the Lord working with a lot of humans and their weaknesses,” Brother Durrant said. “But I think the Lord has provided His children with some wonderful tools to enhance scripture study and make it easier for families to have meaningful gospel conversations, as well as for individuals to deepen their personal conversion.”