A few weeks ago, my husband was preparing to substitute in gospel doctrine while I was preparing my weekly Sunday School lesson for the teenagers in our ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He innocently asked for some “Come, Follow Me” tactics to increase class participation. I innocently offered to help.
The first sign that we might have a little trouble reconciling our methods was when I compared his six-page outline to my half-page outline and his subsequent long pause after asking which sections of lesson content he could delegate. The next 10 minutes became like a philosophical tug-of-war similar to a right brain/left brain, old school/new school battle of the wills. It was like an engineer and a free-spirited artist trying to agree on how to set a dinner table.
And then my husband came up with one of his masterful metaphors on the matter.
He said as a gospel teacher, he was like a builder who was framing a house according to a blueprint and that at the end of his calculated labor and preparation, he was now looking for a few nice pieces of furniture to fill spaces. But in contrast, I was a “Come, Follow Me” builder who was constructing a house around the dimensions of every special piece of furniture I wanted to include.
I had to agree with him 100 percent. He picked this analogy because it just so happens that two years ago we built a home and several times during the process of working with the draftsman, he dropped his head into his hands and sighed loudly when I insisted, for example, that the dining room be a certain size to accommodate my dining room table that I had every intention of keeping forever.
“We’re not building a house around a piece of furniture,” he would groan more than once during the process.
But we did. And thank goodness for a wonderful draftsman who knew how to appease both of us with the dimensions I needed for my furniture while also calculating the most cost-effective use of materials.
So for a few seconds last Sunday, my way of thinking was redeemed when I explained that “Come, Follow Me” incorporates effective ways to teach and share the doctrines of Jesus Christ while taking into account the beautiful nature and individual needs of each class member.
Eventually, we both waved the white flag and agreed that no matter your methods of gospel teaching, if preparation is built on a foundation of Christ’s doctrine with the needs of the members of your class in mind, you cannot fail.
I knew he did a wonderful teaching job when several sisters told me in Relief Society that his lesson was one of the most inspiring discussions they had had in a long time. So, even if he didn’t listen to a word I suggested, I was happy to hear that he was not a lecturer but instead a discussion leader.
Last Sunday, our ability to mesh teaching styles was again tested when he was asked to teach the younger teenagers in our ward while I taught the older ones. I offered to prepare two copies of the materials I was using in my lesson in case they would work for him.
I must confess, a little part of me was determined to “make” him try my methods so he could see how successful the new curriculum is with our youths. But all I could do was provide the materials and let him govern himself.
After the second hour of church, I was only partially surprised to hear that he spent half his class time in the gym in an extravagant (and successful) attempt to compare the Plan of Salvation to the process of learning to shoot free-throws. Most impressively, he had every student participate without a single, irreverent bounce of the ball on the hardwood.
Before I was tempted to think, “Why didn’t he do it my way,” I had to remind myself that he constructed an hour around the needs, attention spans and enthusiasm of the individuals in his class — just like I was doing down the hall. And as a result, every Sunday School hour in every church classroom across the world is going to be one-of-a-kind.
The “Come, Follow Me” curriculum encourages teachers to follow outlines but not too close. It encourages us to plan and prepare but not be too rigid. We are encouraged to learn about and love our students enough to let them teach and testify so that all may be inspired on a fast-track of testimony building.
I believe Sunday School is gaining a new reputation as being a place of interesting and lively conversation, where it’s socially acceptable to share deep feelings and where we’re not afraid to realize that it doesn’t matter where we each are on our spiritual journey as long as we’re moving forward.
Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org