A Curriculum of Stale Chips

Note: This is fourth in a series about teaching. Click to read Part 1: The Incredible Power of a Teacher, Part 2: Creating a Community of Belonging, and Part 3: When Trauma Appears at Church.

Photo Credit: Tim Samuel, Pexels

There is a convenience store not too far from my house that my kids occasionally talk me into visiting. While I wait for them to fill slurpee cups full of brightly colored slushy liquid, I often pursue the shelves of food offerings. I’m drawn to colorful food —like a bag of puffed Cheetos I once purchased. While alluring, they turned out to be disappointingly stale and not satisfying. They were, after all, highly processed food from a convenience store where all the items of the shelves are covered in a light layer of dust. I had to remind myself that if I wanted something satisfying to eat I could cook it myself or go to a restaurant that uses fresh food like vegetables, fruits, grass fed beef and such. I love good food; even writing about good food brings a smile. 

Imagine, though, if someone told me the stale Cheetos were perfectly fine, they were all I needed, and I should feel guilty for even suggesting they were not satisfying. The contrast between them and a farm-to-table meal illustrates how I feel about the Come, Follow Me curriculum. I’m sure the writers of the curriculum put a great deal of effort into the project and had good intentions. It’s also a difficult task to write curriculum for a worldwide church. And the business side of the church is organized in a hierarchy that makes completing *anything* incredibly difficult because any sort of project—from creating a curriculum to building a temple—passes through many layers of management who each have their own opinions. (If any curriculum writers happen to read this, please tell us your story of creating the curriculum.) 

All graciousness aside, the curriculum is stale. Sure, it’s better than the previous manuals that hadn’t been updated for decades. At the same time, my irritation with CFM is its underlying premise: The lessons are designed to encourage a warm fuzzy loyalty to the church institution and ideas espoused in the Family Proclamation. To me, this approach strips the idea of God, understanding peoples’ relationship with God as recorded in scripture, and accessing the divine through sacred texts, of its mystery and wonder and tries to cram something big and beautiful into a little box. It’s the equivalent of processing a farm-to-table meal into stale Cheetos. 

A few days before writing this post, I listened to the podcast Fireside with Blair Hodges. A quick shout-out for Fireside; its tagline is “Interviews about culture and religion with brilliant people to fan the flames of your curiosity,” and Blair does exactly that. He is a thoughtful person who finds interesting people to interview. Plus, the occasional sound of a crackling fire is so realistic I once glanced around to look for a fire when I was listening while biking through a wooded area. 

Blair has a graduate degree in religious studies and he knows his stuff. In the particular episode I was listening to called “The Books,” guest Vanessa Zoltan of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text discusses three different postures she proposes people use when they approach sacred texts. Those approaches are as a fan, or as a scholar, or as a devotee. This was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me because I realized I often crave a scholarly approach to sacred texts. But the real eye-opening moment came when Blair and Vanessa discussed the differences between a devotee and a fan. (Note: this exchange has been edited for length.)

BLAIR HODGES: I would say sometimes I think about…fans, where they almost get too—they’re almost too obsessive. And anything that doesn’t fit the vision that they wanted to have for it, there’s a lot of—there can be anger, you know?

VANESSA ZOLTAN: Oh, that’s interesting…I would say it is not their fandom that is getting in the way. I would say that there are other things that are often getting in the way..

BLAIR HODGES: Like prejudices that they’re bringing to it…

VANESSA ZOLTAN: Exactly, I don’t think it’s their fandom that is the problem. 

BLAIR HODGES: But do you think there’s a lack of openness there to it, then? It’s like, they’re not letting that canon,….they’re not letting the sacred texts question them. They’re bringing what they already have to the text and just wanting it to say the things they’ve already got.

VANESSA ZOLTAN: Right. Exactly.

Boom. Mic drop. 

“They’re bringing what they already have to the text and just wanting it to say the things they’ve already got,” is Come Follow Me in a nutshell. If you’ve ever looked at the manual, particularly the youth lessons, and wondered how in the world a scripture has been made to, for example, support marriage when the scripture happens to be about anything but marriage, that perspective is how. It’s what the church leaders via the writers of the curriculum want; they’re not allowing members to allow sacred texts to challenge them. Leaders seem to want members to walk out of church with pre-determined answers. 

And frankly, not many members ask to be challenged, either. It takes effort to think of anything other than what we already know is the “right” answer. It can also be uncomfortable. But as I have learned from my fitness coach, it is important for growth to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Amos, the lesson from yesterday’s Sunday School, can be read by centering Amos 3:7 about the Lord’s word being revealed to prophets. With that verse we can pat ourselves on the back with reassurance that we belong to the one true church that has prophets. Or we can, as Blair brilliantly did while teaching Sunday School in his ward, allow the text to challenge us. 

Amos, an average person, was asked to tell the people to do better, to treat others fairly by addressing inequalities and exploitation that was happening among the Israelites, including the priests. It’s uncomfortable to consider how  we might be participating in systems of oppression. It may be uncomfortable for many members to consider that current church leaders react to pleas to do better pretty much in the same way that institutional authorities back then reacted to Amos by having the priest at Beth-el tell him to be quiet and go away. 

I assert that there are long-term costs when we don’t allow sacred texts to challenge us in much the same way that there are long-term costs to eating stale Cheetos instead of fresh food. I see those costs being incurred right now in the church. As a teacher, I understand it’s scary to let go, to allow your students to grow and be challenged by a rigorous curriculum, because the outcome is not controllable. However, that’s how I understand my job—to cultivate student growth. For church leaders, curriculum writers, and teachers, I assert it is your job to help cultivate growth of the people in your classes.  It’s worth it. We all need to be nourished and strengthened when we feast on the word.


  1. Yes, I would love a less-stale CFM so much! For now, I’ve found glimmers of what it could be in small discussion groups but would love it if the whole curriculum reflected a commitment to growth – as you rightfully said it should.

  2. Yes! I couldn’t believe how boring the OT manual was. I suggest reading Amos 3:7-8 and see what it really says about prophets (not what we usually get taught in Sunday School!)

  3. Thank you so much for this! I left Sunday School this week thinking the lesson could have been called, “How to Completely Miss the Point of Amos.” We spent most of the lesson talking about how great prophets are. The teacher framed many of her questions to encourage people to talk about their testimonies of Joseph Smith. I was thinking, “It’s the Old Testament. We don’t HAVE to talk about Joseph Smith.”

    I was wishing for a discussion about how one of Israel’s main sins at that time was ignoring the poor – maybe even profiting off the poor. I would have loved to have a discussion about that. About how maybe we are similar. About how we can avoid the same condemnation.

    And what about Obadiah? Yeah the book is only a chapter long, but there are some cool things going on in that book. My family watched a Youtube video of an overview of Obadiah and it was fascinating. Our church acts like we understand the scriptures so well because of modern revelation or the JST or something. But really we have a curriculum that doesn’t teach us anything. Your stale chip analogy is spot on.

  4. I often think about this quote from Rabbi Heschel from the 50s when sitting/teaching Sunday School:

    “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”

  5. My problem with CFM is that it wants me to teach 11-12 year olds the exact same lesson used in Gospel Doctrine! I find this shocking and confusing. What is going on at the COB? The youth Sunday School manual is what the adults use! Why? How is that age appropriate? Plus, the lessons are about one page long for a one hour class. Do they think 12 year olds have deep gospel discussions of the material? It makes no sense and has been a huge struggle as a teacher.

    • Ug, yes to everything you said. It’s not age appropriate. One of the teacher licensing standards for my state is being able to create developmentally appropriate lessons. I’ve taught secondary from 7th-12th grades and there is a significant amount of difference between ages. The next post in this series that I’m writing is about methods of teaching. That won’t be posted until next month which doesn’t help you now. Plus, I still have to figure out how to write about teaching methodology in a way that is applicable to church.

      In the meantime, here are a few ideas:
      Angie who also responded to your comment seems to have found something that works about consulting the primary manual as well.

      Next, look at the top of this post for a link to the post about creating community. There are ideas in that post about how to create community. Not only will this take time, I assert that kids need it – especially as the enter the teen years. Try starting class with an opening circle. (I think I would about this in the community building post?) Everyone sits in a circle, either in chairs or on the floor. Play a chime. Pretend to light a candle because I don’t think open flames are allowed in church buildings, let everyone share something from their week, and do an energizer activity such as yoga, stretching, ball-a-vis-x (, or anything that gets those young bodies moving for a 3-5 minutes. Then start the lesson. Look for active learning methods coming in my post on the 4th Tuesday next month.

      • We often talk with the kids about their interests, something that has happened in the week, etc. for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class. They don’t need, nor can they really handle, a 50 minute lesson.

  6. I agree that we must “allow sacred texts to challenge us,” but I think you grabbed the wrong bag of chips when you wrote:

    “Amos, an average person, was asked to tell the people to do better, to treat others fairly by addressing inequalities and exploitation that was happening among the Israelites, including the priests. It’s uncomfortable to consider how we might be participating in systems of oppression. It may be uncomfortable for many members to consider that current church leaders react to pleas to do better pretty much in the same way that institutional authorities back then reacted to Amos by having the priest at Beth-el tell him to be quiet and go away.”

    A reference to most any non-Latter-day Saint Bible commentary would have revealed the following, such as this quick reference to Wikipedia regarding the so-called “priest” Amaziah:

    “Amaziah was an idolatrous priest of Bethel (Book of Amos 7:10–17), who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II.”

    A deeper dive into the biblical text and its historical background provides us with even more of the fresh foods you mentioned by giving insight into what was really going on here in this exchange between a true prophet of Jehovah and a false priest of the Northern Kingdom’s (Israel’s as opposed to Judah’s) corrupted and illegitimate worship.

    You seem to want to see justification or support for crying out against the modern Church and its leaders and use this text to support such an approach, when in reality the very opposite is happening.

    Here’s a lengthier quote from another non-Latter-day Saint commentary that provides plenty of fresh, nutritious, and maybe challenging food for thought, which actually supports the CFM curriculum:

    On God‘s behalf Amos denounced Israel’s idolatry, not simply because idolatry was a fraudulent means of worship, but also because it was a system of life which in contrast to the covenant religion required no personal ethics, thus allowing its practitioners to exploit others for their own gain. Idolatry was rampant in Israel, a condition reflected by the wide distribution of attacks on it throughout the book. Judah’s idolatry is a central factor in its apostasy (2:4) as is Israel’s (2:8—note the language there … “their god”). The opposition to orthodoxy reflected in 2:12 may also reflect the acceptance of an alternative system, which in some cases may have been essentially Yawistic, either exclusively or predominantly, but because it was carried on in clear contradiction to the Mosaic covenant (Deut.12:1-19) it was idolatrous, a arrival religion. Consequently, the heterodox worship at Bethel and/or other covenantally illegal cult sites such as Gilgal and Beersheba is categorically condemned (3:14; 4:4; 5:4-5; cf. 7:10-13).

    At 5:26 and 8:14 explicit mention is made of idolatry. The virtually universal assumption of the ancient world, that representations of gods and goddesses made present their essence and aid, had been welcomed more and more into Israel. Though the excesses of Ahab’s day (874-853 B.C.), when Yawistic religion was all but expunged from the north (1 Kings 18, 19), were not repeated in Jeroboam‘s reign, the witness of Amos and Hosea to idolatry, as also attested in 2 Kings 14:24, confirms the adulteration of Israelite religion. Amos mentions both Bethel (e.g., 4:4) and Dan (8:14), the centers where the golden bull-idols were worshiped. Samaria appears also to have had its idol (8:14), but whether this was associated with Yahweh or not cannot easily be determined.

    Amos’ oracles reflect the presence of plenty of regular, heartfelt worship experiences in the lives of the people (5:21-28; 8:3). But in the absence of orthodox, covenantal religion and in the presence of idolatry and personal/social immorality, this religion was hateful to God (5:21). Amos makes no attacks on either priests or prophets as a class, as, for example, Hosea does (Hos 4:4-9; 5:1-3). Prophets are mentioned positively (2:12; 3:8), perhaps according to the view that only true prophets of Yahweh are legitimately prophets at all.

    (“Word Biblical Commentary: Hosea-Jonah,” vol. 31, Douglas Stuart [Word Books: Waco Texas, 1987] p. 292-293)

    I find Stuart’s commentary on this episode of God’s dealings with His children to be full of fresh and nutritional foods, as well supportive of the CFM curriculum. Legitimate prophets still call Israel and the world back to true worship, just as Jesus did in His day when speaking to the woman of Samaria (the Northern Kingdom, John 4:19-24).

    • James, you prove my point that people are not allowed to say that CFM is not great and that I should feel guilty for this by saying that I only want an excuse to criticize leaders. Saying that I grabbed the wrong bag of chips is also dismissive of my experience with CFM. I’m sharing my experience. You don’t have to agree with it because whether you agree with it or not, it is still my experience. You also add a dose of shame by saying that any non-LDS commentary or even Wikipedia (implying that any fool with an internet connection can at least look at wiki) supports CFM. Here’s the thing – last I checked outside sources are currently not encouraged by the church, even if they are scholarly or religious sources so quoting those sources doesn’t help the average person trying to study only with church materials.

      As for Amaziah being idolatrous, does that make his dismissal of God’s criticisms via Amos any less relevant to the church today? Wouldn’t an interesting question be to ask how we, individually and collectively as a church, are idolatrous? We do not make statues but we do create God in our own image. The God President Nelson worships is a God that loves conditionally. Another interesting question this exchange asks us to wrestle with is ‘How do we respond to criticism?’

      There is so much more that could happen with the curriculum. If I am not coming out of church being uncomfortable at least a decent percentage of the time, how am I really growing?

      • Hi Bailey, thanks for taking the time to respond to my lengthy comment. I have another lengthy comment to your response. Sorry. 😉

        I’ve been a teacher for forty years. I’ve seen a lot of curriculum come and go. CFM has come and it will go one day, but as a current Gospel Doctrine teacher, I think it’s the best we have had during my days of teaching (I’ve taught students from age 3-90s). The best part of it is the simple statement at the beginning of both the individual and family as well as the teacher manuals:

        “Record Your Impressions”

        As both teachers and students come to class having done their preparation, the glass is two-thirds full. What takes place in the class as the teacher works to facilitate discussion (we have to get really good at this) fills the last third of the glass, and that should happen in every class. Much depends on the teacher. Even if the students haven’t read the block of scripture or the CFM manual, a prepared teacher can squeeze plenty of good discussion out of her students because the scriptures and the students’ lives are the real curriculum. A prepared teacher, with the aid of the Spirit, will be able to help those two parts of the curriculum come together and soon the glass will be full and overflowing.

        Yes, I do prefer a more academic manual, but as stated above, we already have that in the real curriculum, the scriptures, not CFM. I read CFM in preparation to teach, but I spend most my time in the scriptures looking for how the text relates to our lives today, and I make copious notes, following CFM’s good counsel to “record my impressions.” I also constantly encourage my students to do the same. As such, we never “get through the lesson,” but we are getting portions of the lesson through us, both as an entire class and also very individually.

        The resources that I mentioned are allowed in my preparation. Though I may not bring them directly into the classroom, I have always used such resources in my preparation. I also use other Bible translations, including the original languages in order to help me understand the text more accurately and deeply (the Church-produced Bible Dictionary and Guide to the Scriptures, as well as other material, are also excellent Church-produced resources of a more academic nature that “can” be used in the classroom). This helps me as I seek to find application of the scriptures for our lives today and then I try and draw such applications out of my students. They can usually do it if I help them understand the text and it’s background.

        One additional note on this topic is that the Church is dealing with a global audience and what it produces as manuals, etc., has to be translatable and transferable to all peoples and nations. Thus, it must, to some degree, also be simple. Again, the scriptures are THE curriculum. CFM is merely a resource to help us use them, or draw from them, more effectively.

        The “wrong bag of chips” I was referring to is specifically that I feel your likening the current prophets or leaders to Amaziah is not a correct analogy and does not accurately reflect the original meaning of the text or its likening and application. I suggest a more accurate interpretation and application of the original is:

        Amos = Current Church leaders
        Amaziah = Spokespeople of dissent
        Israel and Judah = Most members

        Yes, Amos was just a herdsman, a normal person, until God called him and made him a prophet.

        Russell Nelson was also just a physician, a normal person, until God called him and made him a prophet.

        We can choose to be an Amaziah by creating our own religion and telling God’s prophets to get out of town or we can humble ourselves and follow them, notwithstanding our discomfort.

        Bailey, I see great irony in our discussion. “How are you responding to my criticism?” “How are you responding to the current Amos’ criticism or counsel? If my comments, or his comments, challenge you and even make you feel a little uncomfortable (something you say you desire), I’d say the curriculum seems to be working very well, and encourage you to take advantage of the growth opportunity such has provided you at this time.

        • I don’t dispute that CFM is the best that we have had in a very long time. Yes, recording impressions is good. At the same time, like many materials the church puts out, it starts with something lovely and expansive (like recording impressions) and then proceeds to a specific dogma which means CFM isn’t giving people a feast that they need. It is also disingenuous to say the the scriptures are the curriculum and not CFM. If the scriptures were truly the curriculum, then why the reason for CFM? If scriptures were truly the curriculum, there are many things I can image would be different. By the way, your ward is lucky to have a professional teacher who happens to have content knowledge in this area and knows about other resources to study. Most people asked to teach Sunday School do not have that – they only have CFM.

          The bag of chips analogy is meant to illustrate my experience with CFM in general, not as a specific application to Amos. Again, my overall experience with CFM is that it is stale because it focuses on reinforcing current orthodoxy instead of focusing on communal and personal growth.

          As for Amos, wasn’t Amaziah the official priest at Beth-el so wouldn’t a more accurate interpretation be that Amaziah is…..I’ll let you take it from here. That is the uncomfortable part – to recognize that church leaders are very much fallible people and sometimes not very likable. Sometimes even idolatrous, as we all can be, in their own way. This is where the power of AND is helpful. I can hold two things in my mind – disappointment with current church leaders AND still believe they’ve been called their current positions. There are answers I’ve gotten in prayer about that that I will keep to myself. But I don’t participate in the prophet worship that seems prevalent in the church. It isn’t helpful to them or me.

          As for what it is about Amos made me uncomfortable, it is the part where he calls out Israel and Judah for how they are treating people around them by enslavement and exploitative business practices. With Christmas shopping season beginning, am I going to do the easy thing and click on Amazon? Or am I going to take the time to buy local? I know the stats on how much more money stays in a community when shopping local vs. shopping Amazon. Do I spend an extra 10 cents per pound for organic bananas to make sure people growing bananas (and the environment) aren’t exposed to harsh chemicals? Can I buy a book from my local bookseller and be patient to wait for it to arrive? All of these economic choices add up and affect other people. In what other ways am I contributing to injustice in the world? That can be an uncomfortable question to consider.

          • Bailey, I love your “AND” principle that prophets are both called of God AND fallible. I think both Joseph Smith and Russell Nelson would agree with you. Thank you for your continued sharing of your thoughts and feelings. I have three comments and thoughts in response.

            Point one: Amaziah was not a prophet nor was he called of God to be a priest. Amaziah was a “priest” of a false religious system set up by Jeroboam years earlier in competition to the true system that God had already established and which was centered in Jerusalem. Jeroboam did this when he and the northern 10 tribes broke away from united Israel order to keep power to himself among the 10 tribes that had broken away from King Rehoboam in Judah. 1 Kings records this event. Here are three verses from that account:

            29 And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan.

            30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.

            31 And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.

            This is in part why Jesus later told the woman of Samaria that “salvation is of the Jews” in contrast to the religion of her northern people:

            “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).

            President Nelson is a true priest AND prophet called by God in His established system of worship, and “salvation is of the Latter-day Saints.”

            Point 2: Thank you for sharing your feelings about what Amos said that makes you uncomfortable. I agree with your sentiments in many aspects. However, my question was “How are you responding to the current Amos’ criticism or counsel?” The “current Amos” is President Nelson. His words seem to make you feel uncomfortable. His words seem to make many people uncomfortable. His words have made me feel uncomfortable. He seems to be doing a good job of filling the role of a true prophet by making many feel uncomfortable, and that, as you have pointed out, is a good thing.

            Point three: I began teaching for the Church 43 years ago as a missionary. I used the official curriculum of the day — the discussions — to teach the people, but my focus was to get the Book of Mormon in the hands and hearts of the people. That was the converting curriculum. I began “professionally” teaching for the Church 40 years ago as a seminary teacher. I used the curriculum to help me better understand the scripture block I was teaching, but the scriptures were in my hands when I taught. I was instructed by my superiors to “teach the scriptures, not the manual.” I have always done that. The scriptures, when teaching scripture courses, have always been the curriculum. This is my lived-experience.

            I took a break from teaching seminary and institute and for 18 years worked in the Church’s scripture translation effort. It is an amazing work. One of our first efforts is to get a Bible into the hands of the people. We usually identify and recommend for use by members a Bible which our fellow-Christians have thankfully already translated and which many of the members may already possess. This is foundational. It is the core of our curriculum. Much of the rest of what we do extends from that book, just as in English the language of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great of Great Price is an extension of the language and content of the KJV Bible translation.

            The members out there in Armenia and Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania, Persia (Iran) and Papua New Guinea, and so many other places, were and are hungry for the Book of Mormon in their native tongues. It takes quite a bit of time and financial resources to get the scriptures into their hands, but the Church is working diligently to get the word (the scriptures) to the world. Limiting the size and depth of CFM helps reduce the strain on the limited resources that are needed to get the core curriculum (the scriptures) to the people. CFM, as such, is merely a small tool to help get both teachers and members into the scriptures.

            But the members of the Church are impatient at times to get the Book of Mormon and other modern-day scriptures into their own tongues. In their impatience, I would often tell them, “You already have one-half of the ‘library of the Lord’ in your hands with the Bible. Read it and seek God’s word in it.” This reasoning was based on the four-year seminary curriculum. It made a difference in some as they began to take hold of the Bible in a new way. It also better prepared them for the other scriptures and the words of the living prophets that they would be receiving.

            The Bible and the other scriptures —the core curriculum — have this influence on me. When I make great efforts to learn from them and liken them unto my own life, I am more willing and able to receive the words of the living prophets and am “more fully persuade … to believe in the Lord [my] Redeemer,” and it is “for [my] profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).

            I recommend this to all and suggest again Moroni’s counsel as found in Ether 12:41:

            “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.”

    • Also, I’m sensing that, like me, you prefer a scholarly approach to sacred texts. I do wish that resources like the commentary you mentioned were allowed in CFM.

  7. Twice I have been deep in contemplation on how I could follow Jesus and what was He asking me to do to follow Him, once in Come Follow Me and once meditating on a scripture verse during the sacrament and each time looked up the footnote only to be referred to Topical Guide: Priesthood. Very jarring, definitely felt like a door slammed in my face. I don’t take Come Follow Me or the LDS edition of the scriptures very seriously anymore, but have found great joy and success in non-Mormon study guides and in Study Editions of the Bible. Don’t give up on God if the provided/approved/sanctioned study materials don’t work for you! There are lots of work-arounds.

    • Oh, wow, Thanks for sharing! I’ve had similar experiences with the topical guide and at first it shook me a bit. But then I realized there are so many amazing resources out there by other people seeking God that I can’t limit myself to only church approved materials.

  8. “They’re bringing what they already have to the text and just wanting it to say the things they’ve already got,”

    I get to this point, and me seeing the mote in my brother’s eye, think to myself, “I see a lot of progressive posters reading social justice imperatives into the scriptures, isn’t that just as much an example of this criticism”

    Shockingly/s, the following paragraphs read social justice imperatives into the scriptures.

    • If Amos really is telling the people they need to repent for their treatment of people, how is that reading social justice into the text?

  9. Yes to all of this.

    Correlation and the handi-snack gospel have made Sunday school lessons so dull with all the same, rote “Primary answers.” The same can be said for Priesthood and Relief Society with using general conference talks as lessons.

    I long for a curriculum where we can take our discussions, lessons, and our worship go much deeper than what we’re getting now. Learning is supposed to be about growth and introspection, and it’s supposed to be hard and painful at times. There are lessons that do bear repeating, but it can be done in a way without making things stale.

  10. When I first began dating my husband he was attending a Presbyterian church even though his name was still on our church’s rolls. We would take turns attending each other’s worship services and Sunday School classes. It quickly became apparent to me that the Sunday School class he attended at his church was so much better than mine. Why?

    First of all, the class members could have varying opinions and would not be castigated and shamed for thinking differently than other class members. They were encouraged to state their own thoughts and give REAL reasons for why they felt that way. Those who held differing viewpoints from the person making a comment were expected to respectfully consider what the person speaking was saying. Putting the speaker down, trying to prove the speaker wrong, and/or trying to prove to the class that THEY themselves had the only true and righteous answer, which happens way too often in our LDS classes, was strictly forbidden. I’d never before been in a church class of any kind where so many interesting and often differing views were respectfully presented and received. Attending these classes was both spiritually and intellectually stimulating.

    Second, the teachers and class members prepared for class by reading a variety of biblical study guides and translations of the scriptures. The 411 year old KJV is difficult for many people to understand. As much as I personally love the works of Shakespeare and love the language he uses, reading the KJV is reading “God’s word” in an archaic form of the English language where so many words now have totally different meanings, and cannot only be confusing but be downright wrong if an individual is not well acquainted with Early Modern English. Besides, many more earlier and better versions of the Bible have since been found which show that the translators of the KJV were often mistaken or completely wrong. The Amplified edition of the entire Bible is a fantastic resource because it adds the entire shadings and nuance of the words translated from Hebrew or Greek because the words in those languages often mean much more than the English language version of a word.

    Third, there were no mandatory church sponsored guides that promoted only the church’s viewpoint (especially when those viewpoints show a complete lack of understanding of what the writers of the scriptures were actually saying.)

    Fourth, the scriptures were taught in the context of the times they were written in with regard to history plus the culture of the time that they were written in and anything else that was pertinent. When we forget the particular time, circumstances and culture that the scriptures were written in we’re likely to make horrible mistakes that can cause so much damage to individuals and the church. A good example of this is how the church has latched onto the idea of perfection. In an LDS Sunday School, PH, RS, YW/YM classes the concept of perfection is taught that we must be 100% technically mistake/sin free 100% of the time. In a fallen world this is just plain impossible. Members of the church who try to be technically perfect then beat up on themselves or have church leaders castigate them for not reaching an impossible ideal that we mortals just can’t fulfill 24/7/365. The Greek word translated as “perfect” actually means to discover and fulfill the reasons why we were created and sent to earth for. This correct understanding of the word “perfect” instead tells us that growing, learning and becoming the person who God created us to be is what is asked of us. Making and then learning from our mistakes/sins is to be expected. Big difference isn’t there? FYI polygamy was an ancient cultural construct at the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that had nothing to do with religion. Period.

    Fifth, the Sunday School teachers were actually taken from members of the congregation who ENJOYED teaching. That makes a huge difference in the quality of the experience in Sunday School and the other classes. When the church got rid of the teacher preparation classes that were taught during the Sunday School time they basically shot themselves in the foot. I taught the teacher prep class 15 times. Many of my students discovered that they were capable of being excellent teachers. Others discovered that no matter how hard they tried they had no interest in teaching or were too frightened/uncomfortable in a teaching situation. Why call on people who fit into this last category, especially when the church puts so much pressure on members to accept ALL callings regardless of their ability or level of commitment? That’s just wrong, and the consequences can be so negative for both the teacher(s) and the class(es).

    Finally, there were a variety of levels and kinds of classes for members of the congregation to choose from. By level I mean teaching a very basic level class for new members or for those people who don’t want to do a great deal of thinking. A higher level of class that expected members to do some serious thinking and studying about whatever topic and to be active participants in class discussions would be open to those people who want a lot more out of their worship experience. The last time I taught Sunday School we had two classes. I taught the class for those who wanted to dig deeper into the scriptures and to apply their teachings their own lives. Sure, I lost some class members to the class where the teachers basically read the manual and didn’t engage the class in serious discussions, and that was fine by me. Those who stayed in my class told me that they were loving SS for the first time ever. A BYU religion professor who attended my class often asked my and my students’ permission to use what was taught and discussed in our class in his own BYU religion classes. We felt honored.

    My apologies for the great length of the post. I didn’t just want to focus on how boring our classes and Sacrament Meeting are, but wanted to also give some suggestions that I have learned as an individual and as a professional teacher that might help us make our church classes more spiritually and intellectually challenging and therefore more meaningful. After all, the glory of God really IS intelligence or light and truth.

    • Also, the suggestions are fantastic. I was released a few months ago as a Sunday School teacher when my ward was dissolved and incorporated into two other wards. However, if I get another opportunity to teach in church, I will definitely be referring to this.

      I also wanted to say you make a good point about teachers being people who enjoy it. Several years ago, a friend of mine from another faith told me about her plans to serve in their children’s ministry for a year and then take a few months off. I was astounded at the idea of being able to choose how to serve.

      • Thank you, Bailey. I’m glad that you found my comments helpful. I also wish that we could choose callings that we’re best suited for.

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