Everything changed at October General Conference - at least for the youth and anyone who works with them, The reduced age requirements of 18/19 make everything we do with the youth - as parents and church leaders - more important, and more urgent.
Better. Stronger. Faster.
or maybe Better. Stronger. Sooner.
So who has the "Bully Pulpit" in teaching our youth? (FYI, "Bully Pulpit" is a phrase coined by Teddy Roosevelt that means a position that provides an outstanding opportunity to speak out, and be listened to on any issue. The term "Bully" is not like the kid who stole your lunch in elementary school, it is means 'wonderful' as in "Bully for you.")
What's your guess? Who has the Bully Pulpit for our youth? Who is actually in front of our youth teaching them the most?
That's easy! President Monson, right? Wrong. Our kids maybe hear from President Monson 2-3 hours a year.
Well then it has to be the Bishop, right? Wrong again. Between talks and firesides the Bishop might get to teach the youth 4-5 hours a year.
I made a series of highly scientific guesses to figure out who has the most face-time teaching our kids.
1) Seminary Teacher: 120 hours per year. 40 minutes per school day, 180 days a year. Think your kids don't need to be in Seminary? Think again.
2) Mom & Dad: 110 hours per year. Sadly, home is not where your teenagers will get the most religious instruction. Some teenagers are rarely home. Even if you are trying hard and doing what is counseled, it doesn't add up to much time. A realistic take? Family scripture study - 12 min per day, 300 days a year. FHE 1 hour per week, 50 weeks per year (1/2 of them activities) Spontaneous religious discussions 30 minutes per week. Hopefully you have a good head start from when they were younger.
3) Sunday School Instructor: 30 hours per year. 40 minutes per Sunday, 45 weeks a year. Solid teaching time - no fluff, no filler. In theory.)
4) YM/YW Leaders: 17 hours per year. This is a little more convoluted. 30 minutes each Sunday lesson, 1 hour each week for Mutual. 45 weeks per year: 67.5 hours max. But, in reality, it doesn't work that way. Mutual is rarely about teaching doctrine or things that matter. In some wards it is merely a playtime with dodgeballs or fingernail polish. In my opinion, one of the greatest tragedies of the Church is wasted Mutual time. But I digress... (I've already written about it here, and here.)
Opening exercises use up a lot of time YW and Priesthood on Sunday, usually leaving the teacher with less than 30 minutes to teach - and this time is usually split or rotated among 2-3 instructors, advisors, etc. Because of this, I'm going with this math: Sunday lesson time, 30 minutes per week, 45 weeks per year. Mutual 1 hour per month, 34.5 hours split by 2 people ending up with about 17 hours.
What jumps out at you? Sunday School. Did you think that the lowly Sunday School teacher has more facetime with your kids that anyone else, other than you or the Seminary teacher?
You might have already thought about this, but I never really "got it" until I made the switch from being Gospel Doctrine instructor to Bishop. I quickly realized that I had much more time with the adults of the ward as a Sunday School teacher, and I missed it. Sure, as a Bishop, I could speak in Church, have 5th Sunday meetings, and firesides, but nothing nearly as consistent as teaching Gospel Doctrine.
If you do the same math above for adults, you take out #1, #2 and #4, and you are left with the stark realization that the person in your life who is in front of you teaching the gospel most is your Gospel Doctrine teacher. (Bishops take note.)
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I am currently serving as a Sunday School instructor for a class of teenagers - most of which have declared their intentions to serve missions. It is a great calling, and I wouldn't mind being here for a long time. It is a great place to be at an exciting time.
When President Monson announced the missionary age changes, I immediately knew that it would impact me in my calling., I would have to do things differently. I am sure I'm not alone. I have been making some changes, contemplating others.
Here are a few thoughts about being a Sunday School. (Feel free to cross-apply it to any teaching calling.) I know that all of you aren't in that calling - but you might be - and most of you are in those classes, or have kids in those classed, so I broke it down into three categories: Sunday School Instructors, Parents & Youth.
• Consume the manual "Teaching: No Greater Call." Link here. Read it. Learn it. Live it.
• Recognize a sense of urgency and importance. There is no longer time for spending the whole class playing hangman. Same for trashcan basketball, or any other time-wasters. This time is precious and valuable! We need to use it productively.
• We have 30 hours a year to teach the Gospel to those preparing missionaries. They have one or two years less to prepare than they used to. How will we use it? How much will we waste chatting, playing, or having fake "review lessons" because we are unprepared? We need to make a commitment to be an excellent, prepared teacher.
• Have the Spirit with you. "And if ye receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach." D&C 42:14 It requires both worthiness and preparation to deserve His help.
• Prepare by learning the doctrine, but also by figuring out a way to present it so that it will "stick." in their minds and hearts. I do not mean fancy handouts, or cutesy fluff. I mean stories, experiences, object lessons. The "spice" to brighten up a lesson, and capture attention.
• Leave the treats and cookies at home. Send them off with something better, instead of having the final takeaway from the lesson be cookies. (You also set an unfair precedent for the teacher that gets them next.)
• Acknowledge that when you "wing it" because of lack of preparation, we aren't nearly as good as we'd like to think we are. In my opinion, those think they excel at "winging it" usually just ramble a lot. Hint: If you are seeing the lesson in manual for the first time in Sacrament meeting, you have already blown it. Also, if you are reading the lesson out of the manual during the lesson, you could do better.
• Challenge your class members to do something every week: Write in their journal, do some service, go to the temple - something to encourage them to stretch and actually apply the concept they learned that day.
• Involve the youth in the actual teaching of the class every week. Have them take turns. Give them an assignment to teach a concept from the lesson. Offer to help them prepare well in advance.
• Testify with the Spirit, so your youth can feel it, and learn how to do it.
• Have family scripture study and FHE regularly. Sunday School should be a reenforcement of things they have already learned in your home. They should rarely come home with some major doctrine or teaching that is new to them.
• Talk about what they learned in Sunday School - preferably around the dinner table. (Link here) I deleted the rest of this bullet, because it was so long I figured it should be its own mini-post. I'll put it up later.
• Know what they are learning. Once in a while you will find that they have been taught faulty doctrine, or misunderstood something that you will need to correct. (Which means you know the correct doctrine.)
• Don't be afraid to talk to your teenagers teacher, should there be specific needs or challenges that would be helpful for the teacher to know about.
• Bring your scriptures to Church. You need them. Preferably hard copy - because you won't be using your iPhone in the mission field.
• Ask questions, and look at Sunday School as an opportunity to really learn.
• Put away the phone.
• If a teacher says "Go home and read..." Do it!
• Really, put away the phone.
• Flaunt your maturity. Don't chat with each other when the teacher is talking. Be polite. And awake.
• Take challenges and assignments seriously. THey will help you gain a greater understanding of the concept being taught - and this models exactly what you will be doing in the mission field.
• When asked to participate in teaching the class, do it happily and willingly! This is excellent mission prep in a safe zone. This is what missionaries do: Teach gospel principles with the Spirit. You can too. Start now.
Teaching Sunday School is one of the best callings in the Church, and it is now more important than ever. We have these youth for a short season, and then they are gone. Let's up our level of commitment, preparation, and Spirituality.
I hope you have a great Sabbath, and particularly enjoy Sunday School.