COUNCIL TRAINING SESSION
of the Stake Conference in the
WARRENTON, VA STAKE
Good evening. My name is Calvin Andrus. I am from the Sterling Park Ward. President Brown has assigned me to speak to you tonight in my capacity as a father and as a member of the High Council.
II. JUNIOR SUNDAY SCHOOL
When I was a freshman in college I attended a student ward. The ward's membership was made up entirely of students with the exception of the bishop and his family. My calling in the ward was the teacher for the 7- turning 8-year old Junior Sunday School class (it was before the consolidated meeting schedule). I had one student in my class--one of the sons of the bishop. It was my job to help prepare my student for baptism.
This kid was bright, very active, and had a short attention span. While I would try and give a lesson, he would squirm in his chair, fall off of his chair, look out the window, write on the blackboard, pound on the door, roll on the floor, and talk about things completely unrelated to the topic I was trying to teach. Have any of you had this kind of experience? What I didn't know then, but do know now, is that--compared to deacons--he was well behaved.
So I tried to do things to get him to pay attention. I would try to have him teach the lesson and I would try to bribe him with candy. The only thing I found that would work is if we would go for a walk outside while I taught the lesson. Even then, I could not get him to learn much.
At the end of the class period, I would ask him, "what was today's lesson about?" Most of the time he could not remember. So about 10 minutes before class was over, I would finish my lesson, and make him memorize a short one-sentence summary of the topic being taught. I have to confess that on many occasions, the only lesson I gave was just memorizing the one-sentence summary.
So why did I do that? Why did I have my student memorize the topic of the lesson? I will tell you. I grew up in a Mormon home. At every Sunday dinner, my father would ask us to report what we learned in Sunday School that day. I knew my student's father (the bishop) would most likely ask his son what he had learned in Sunday School that day. The last thing I wanted my student to say was, "we didn't have a lesson, we just threw rocks in the pond." I knew the bishop would not be happy that throwing rocks in a pond was the best preparation for baptism his son was getting out of Junior Sunday School. I like to believe my tactic--of making sure my student could repeat the topic--worked, because the bishop never called me in to complain about how I was teaching his son.
III. SUNDAY DINNER
Let us fast-forward 28 years. I am now a father. I have five children that attend Primary, Sunday School, Young Men and Young Women. We have Sunday dinner in our home. Can you guess what I ask my kids at Sunday dinner? Of course you can. You ask the same questions of your kids that I do of mine. The questions are, "What did you learn in Primary, Sunday School, Young Men and Young Women today?" Maybe you get the same kind of responses I do. Let's see.
This year in both Sunday School and Primary, the course of study is the same as in the Gospel Doctrine class--The New Testament. So I should be hearing about New Testament lessons being given. About 3/4ths of the time I get a report from Primary about the New Testament. Only about 1/3rd of the time I get a New Testament response about a Sunday School class. From Young Men I detect a lesson about 70% of the time, and from Young Women, I detect a lesson about 90% of the time.
So if my kids do not report they had a lesson, what do they report? At least once a month I hear that a Sunday School teacher just did not show up and the kids just talked about "stuff." Almost every Sunday at least one of my children reports that they had a teacher, but the teacher did not prepare a lesson, so they just played "scripture hangman," or "scripture chase." Sometimes they report the teacher just read the lesson out of the book, and were thus so bored they could not force themselves to listen. (Footnote: having sat through similar Melchizedek Priesthood lessons myself, I can't blame them.) Sometimes we hear that there was no lesson in Aaronic Priesthood Quorum, because they were planning a weekday activity or discussing who is going to participate a stake-sponsored event. When I get some of the reports I do at Sunday dinner, I wonder if I should "home school" my children on Sundays. They, of course, would never forgive me if I did.
Every once in a while my kids get brave and ask me what I learned at church. Sometimes I just smile and say, "wait until Family Home Evening. I received such a good lesson in Sunday School (or Priesthood Quorum) I want to give it to you then." I like to say this because it gets such a big groan out of my kids.
IV. TEACHING THE GOSPEL
The Stake President asked me to answer the question, "What can the ward councils do to help parents teach the gospel in their homes?" Well, brothers and sisters, one of the best times for parents to teach their families the gospel is at Sunday dinner. The reports the children give of what they learned at church provides two opportunities. First, everyone in the family gets the benefit of the report, and second, the parents have an opportunity to amplify on the subject matter.
So what can the Ward Councils do to improve the quality of gospel teaching that happens around the Sunday dinner table? The answer is simple. Make sure the teachers in Primary, Sunday School, Young Men, and Young Women 1) show up in the classroom, and 2) teach a gospel lesson the kids can remember at least until dinner time. As a parent, I believe the time my boys spend in Aaronic Priesthood Quorum meeting is just too valuable to be spent planning activities.
Parents are primarily and ultimately responsible for teaching their children the gospel. The ward and ward council is there to help the parents. It is sort of like the parents are subcontracting part of the teaching. Some of the teachers my children have had have been extremely good and the gospel learning has far exceeded the time my children have invested in attending the class. Too often, however, some teachers have so little regard for these children (who, by the way, will usher in the Second Coming) that they think nothing of wasting our children's time at church. The impact of a teacher, both good and bad, reaches beyond the classroom to the home.
I also recommend that adult lessons be given as "train the trainer" lessons. That is, teachers of adults should give their lessons with the object of giving parents material they can use to teach their families. This includes both ideas as well as handouts. In fact, I believe it would be wholly appropriate for a Relief Society or Priesthood instructor to reserve the last 5 minutes of a lesson to ask, "How can we teach the principles just discussed to our families?"
Children should leave church on Sunday being spiritually fed. If not that, then at a minimum they should be able to at least report a gospel topic that was discussed in their classes. The Ward Council is responsible to see that this happens. The tidbits of gospel learning that the children bring home are the springboard which parents use to teach the gospel to their children, adapted to their own family's needs.
This is important work. The price we pay to do a good job is well worth the benefit. Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.