A new initiative of doctrinal mastery for seminary students will help youth focus on building and strengthening their faith in Jesus Christ, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told Church Educational System employees during a devotional on Feb. 26.
“Drawing on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, [students] will learn how to act with faith in Christ to acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding of His gospel,” he said. “And they will have opportunities to learn how to apply the doctrine of Christ and gospel principles to the questions and challenges they hear and see every day among their peers and on social media.”
During the annual “An Evening with a General Authority” devotional, Elder Ballard spoke of the great responsibility religious educators have in helping teens and young adults face the ever-changing challenges of the 21st century.
The event brought seminary and institute instructors and personnel to the Tabernacle in downtown Salt Lake City, and was translated into 40 languages to be rebroadcast around the world. Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church, shared brief remarks, and a choir of seminary and institute personnel and their spouses from northern Utah provided music.
“As Church educators, help our youth to have a clear understanding of God’s plan of happiness wherein real joy comes to His children,” the apostle taught. “Help them to know it, embrace it, participate in it and to defend it.”
Expounding upon the opportunities and responsibilities teachers in the Church Educational System have, Elder Ballard encouraged instructors to study by faith and teach their students to do the same.
“As Church education moves forward in the 21st century, each of you needs to consider any changes you should make in the way you prepare to teach, how you teach and what you teach if you are to build unwavering faith in the lives of our precious youth,” Elder Ballard said. “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.”
Fortunately, Elder Ballard taught, the Lord has provided timely and timeless counsel to teachers — to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
In an increasingly secular world that is hostile to faith, family and gospel standards, religious instructors can help students by teaching them what it means to combine study and faith as they learn.
“Teach them by modeling this skill and approach in class,” Elder Ballard counseled.
Knowledge by faith produces pure testimony, and a pure testimony has the power to change lives, he declared. Recognizing that some students have already been “infected by pornography and worldliness” before they even enter a classroom, Elder Ballard spoke of the important role teachers play in building foundations of faith for youth.
“Today, what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting,” Elder Ballard said. “Many of our young people are more familiar with Google than with the gospel, more attuned to the Internet than to inspiration and more involved with Facebook than with faith.”
Sharing the new initiative — “doctrinal mastery” — for seminary, Elder Ballard told how the new plan builds upon what has been done in scripture mastery and will focus on building and strengthening students’ faith in Jesus Christ, fortifying them with increased ability to live and apply the gospel in their lives.
“This initiative is inspired and timely,” he said. “It will have a wonderful influence on our young people.”
In a world where students have instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every possible point of view, religious instructors can be a great resource for youth to sort through topics that are “sometimes misunderstood,” Elder Ballard said.
“More than at any time in our history, your students also need to be blessed by learning doctrinal or historical context and context by study and faith accompanied by pure testimony so they can experience a mature and lasting conversion to the gospel and a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ,” he said. “Mature and lasting conversion means they will ‘stay in the boat and hold on’ throughout their entire lives.”
Teachers must diligently learn by study and by faith so they are able to learn the skills and attitudes necessary to distinguish between reliable information and half-truths or incorrect interpretations of doctrine, history and practices.
“Teach them about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance,” he said. “Remind them that James did not say, ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!’ ”
Recognizing that wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges, Elder Ballard said they would instead seek health experts trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards.
“If that is the sensible course to take in finding answers for emotional, mental and physical health issues, it is even more so when eternal life is at stake,” he said.
Religious instructors should be among the first — outside a student’s family — to introduce authoritative sources on topics that may be less well-known or controversial.
“We give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field so they will be protected against diseases that can harm or even kill them,” he said. “In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”
Teachers must have an understanding of important topics. Elder Ballard shared the examples of polygamy, seer stones, different accounts of the First Vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood and Heavenly Mother.
“Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration,” he said.
Using the eleven Gospel Topics essays available on lds.org as an example, Elder Ballard said it is crucial that teachers “know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand.”
“As you teachers pay the price to better understand our history, doctrine and practices — better than you do now — you will be prepared to provide thoughtful, careful and inspired answers to your students’ questions,” Elder Ballard said.
It is important to not pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors or outdated understandings and explanations of the doctrines and practices of the past, he said. Drawing from the words of living prophets and apostles and keeping updated on current Church issues, in addition to doing the things that bring the Spirit into a person’s life, help teachers to teach clearly difficult doctrines and assist in answering questions and concerns.
“Teach our young people that in the Lord’s Church, there is room for all to worship, serve and grow together as brothers and sisters in the gospel,” he counseled.