Calling seminary and institute “two of the most significant contributions” to the Church’s strength, stability and main focus on the salvation and exaltation of Heavenly Father’s children, Elder Ulisses Soares reminded instructors and leaders of the two programs of their dual responsibility to both “become” and to assist youth and young adults in their own journeys of becoming.
“One of the greatest challenges for us who are engaged in this wonderful work of saving souls is the quest to ‘become,’ meaning to grow or turn into the type of disciple the Lord expects us to be,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Then the Lord will enable us to impact the lives of those we teach as they walk on the path toward eternal life.”
Elder Soares provided the keynote address at the 2020 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Training Broadcast from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
Also speaking in the June 9 afternoon online broadcast was Elder Soares’ wife, Sister Rosanna Soares, Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of the Church Educational System, and Chad H. Webb, administrator of seminaries and institutes.
Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, and Sister Michelle Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, also participated in a panel discussion along with Sister Jill Johnson, wife of Elder Johnson, and Seminaries and Institutes associate administrators Jason A. Willard, Bert L. Whimpey and Chad R. Wilkinson.
Elder Soares said a crucial question is “how individuals can achieve the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, through our service, as we strive to help others to do the same.”
In addition to the gospel of Jesus Christ providing key assistance in both “becoming” and helping others in their “becoming,” the apostle also offered five principles in helping seminary and institute instructors in their lives and the lives of their students.
1. Always follow the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ
Earnestly reflecting Jesus Christ in attitudes, words and actions increases one’s capacity to influence and persuade others to prepare and qualify for eternal life with their Father in Heaven, Elder Soares said.
“In doing so, we can help our youth to learn to love the Lord, for what they love will determine what they will seek. What they will seek will determine what they will think and do. What they will think and do will determine who they will become.”
2. Teach the truth with courage and clarity
Elder Soares said seminary and institute instructors are to be “instruments of truth” and teach truths with such clarity that that they will not be confused with the philosophies of the world, and labeled the instructors as “an extension of the 15 prophets, seers and revelators” in their role of proclaiming truths to the youth as they prepare to journey into a confusing world.
“The world is forgetting the importance and the role of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in their lives and is losing the vision of their divine nature. More and more worldly philosophies are taking the place of the holy absolute truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts of people. You and I have the great opportunity to be instruments in the Lord’s hands to bless our youth and bring truths that were declared clearly and powerfully in this proclamation into their hearts.”
3. Teach by the Spirit
Besides diligent preparation and mastering teaching techniques, instructors should qualify themselves to have the Lord’s help through the Holy Ghost by living lives that qualify for that help, Elder Soares said.
“We can be very eloquent and capable of speaking well in public, but without the Spirit, our abilities will not make any difference,” he said, quoting President Russell M. Nelson’s recent teaching “that it has never been more imperative to know how the Spirit speaks to us than right now.”
4. Teach from the heart
Elder Soares saluted his teachers who spoke heart to heart, with genuine care, sincerity, passion and conviction.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ was the perfect example of that principle,” he added. “He left physical footprints in the sand of the seashore but left the spiritual mark of His teachings on the hearts and in the lives of all whom He taught. He instructed His disciples of that day — and to us He speaks the same words — ‘Follow thou me.’ ”
5. Testify of what we know to be true
The power of strong testimonies from instructors will change the lives of their students forever, Elder Soares said.
“A strong testimony through the power of the Holy Ghost is the sustaining power of a successful life and gives peace, comfort and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our paths. Your strong testimonies will sustain the faith of your students and will help them develop their own testimonies of His gospel.”
In addition to his own insights on the five principles, Elder Soares included comments of childhood friends Glaucia and Reinaldo Barreto, Lucelia and Mauro Gonçalves, and Celia Maria and Ramilfo Silva, with whom he grew up and attended seminary and institute in Brazil. Elder Soares shared that these lifelong friends have been blessed by devoted seminary and institute teachers and have lived faithful lives of service.
Elder Soares also asked Sister Soares to share a testimony of how seminary and institute has blessed her life.
She recalled first hearing of the gospel at age 9, but she was unable to get her father’s permission to be baptized for eight years, with four of those years spent as a nonmember attending early morning seminary. Her father’s stipulation for her participation was that she be given a ride daily by her seminary teacher, for which she expressed appreciation.
Sister Soares also remembered 30 years later teaching seminary to her daughter at home, since the daughter’s school schedule precluded her from attending seminary at the meetinghouse. She spoke of the lessons learned by both mother and daughter because of conscientious efforts made to prepare and participate in the seminary lessons.
“I know the word of God can make all the difference in our mind, in our attitude and in the way we see ourselves and others,” she said.
Teaching students to ‘hear Him’
Elder Johnson, who noted that he first began teaching seminary full time 42 years ago, quoted President Nelson from a recent video commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Vision and God the Father’s introduction of the Beloved Son, Jesus Christ: “I invite you to think deeply and often about this key question: How do you hear Him? I also invite you to take steps to hear Him better and more often.”
Elder Johnson said he has pondered the invitation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global repercussions that began to spread about the time the video was released. He thought of periods of struggles and ensuing learnings from the times of the Prophet Joseph Smith in both the Sacred Grove and Liberty Jail, of Alma the Elder leading his people through persecution and of the Nephites in Bountiful before the coming of the resurrected Savior.
In each example, there was an outpouring of revelation that was a blessing to the Church and to the world — both for the people then and for years to come, he said, adding that the individuals involved also received some very personal revelation and blessings.
“As we learn to better hear Him and receive the help we need to teach our precious students, I sense that we will also have personal treasures and knowledge made available to us — just as Joseph Smith, Alma, and the people of Bountiful did,” Elder Johnson said.
“These personal messages will come to us as we are humble and open to the guidance of the Lord. They may come unexpectedly as they often do to those who are focused on others, but they are powerful blessings.”
Focus on needs
Underscoring the Church’s effort to better focus on students’ needs, Webb spoke of research done with thousands of young people across four continents, both attending seminary and institute and not enrolled. Responses fell into three key categories, he said — conversion, relevance to personal spiritual growth and a sense of belonging.
- Conversion: “Consider how you might help them to seek for, recognize, and act on the influence of the Holy Ghost and then to act in faith, repent and make and keep sacred covenants,” he said. “Ultimately our hope is that the experiences they have will help them to know and love Jesus Christ and strive to become like Him.”
- Relevance to personal spiritual growth: “A teacher who is thoughtful about the spiritual progress of her students, is willing to meet them where they are,” Webb said.” She gives them hope and helps them see how living the gospel can bless them and help them progress toward their ultimate goals. She helps them develop confidence that the scriptures and teachings of latter-day prophets really do provide the answers to the questions of their souls.”
- A sense of belonging: Belonging is created through relationships and connections with our Heavenly Father, with the teacher, and with other students in the class, he said. A sense of belonging comes when there is an environment where everyone feels welcomed, supported, needed and valued. A sense of belonging also increases when students feel they are a part of meaningful cause.
“I know that as we sincerely seek for revelation, the Lord will help us know how to bless His children,” Webb said. “Individually and collectively, He is ready to help us provide experiences that deepen conversion, are relevant to personal spiritual growth, and create a sense of belonging. He is ready to give us more.”