PD50043158_000_14Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 7, 2012
Elder Dallin H. Oaks: My dear fellow teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are pleased to be with you for this discussion of gospel teaching. President David O. McKay said that “no greater responsibility can rest upon any [of us] than to be a teacher of God’s children” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1916, 57). And Elder Harold B. Lee added, “The calling of [a] gospel teacher is one of the noblest in the world” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 461). A good teacher can make all of the difference in the lives of boys and girls and men and women. And so here we are, as a group of gospel teachers, to discuss that holy calling with you. Seated beside me is Chad Webb, seminary and institute administrator. Brother Webb, will you introduce the other members of our discussion group?
Brother Chad H. Webb: Thank you very much. We have with us Zachary Horton, who is a released-time seminary teacher in the Salt Lake Valley, and Brother Kevin Brown, who is our coordinator for all of Church education in the country of Jamaica. To your right is Brother Matthew Pope. Brother Pope is currently in the training services division in the central office, but he has been a seminary and institute teacher and a coordinator in his native country of Australia. And then Sister Colleen Terry, who currently is teaching at the Orem institute.
Elder Oaks: Let us begin our discussion with the first subject: Creating unity with those with whom we work, serve, and teach. The first thing that comes to mind in connection with unity is the revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 38, where the Lord said, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). How can we achieve unity with those with whom we teach, and how can we achieve unity with the students whom we teach?
Brother Zachary Horton: I’m reminded of advice that I received from our bishop when my wife and I were first married. He stated that in order to be unified, we only needed to unify ourselves to a single point—and that point being Christ and His gospel. And the more we became closer to Christ, the more unified we would become. I’ve seen that same principle among faculties—as faculties strive to become closer to the Savior, they consequently become closer to each other.
Brother Kevin G. Brown: I think it’s also important for us to recognize that everybody has a role to play. Once we start to recognize our own weaknesses and recognize that we need to depend on each other, I think unity comes a lot easier.
Sister Colleen Terry: I work on a very large faculty. We have 28 teachers at the Orem institute, so sometimes, with all of our schedules and teaching schedules, it’s hard to find that unity. But one thing that has really helped us is that we consciously make an effort. We even have a newsletter that we do on an occasional basis that announces grandchildren or trips or different events in each other’s lives, and it helps us to keep in contact with what’s happening, and the friendships develop. In seminary I felt it was important that we ate lunch together every day and helped the camaraderie that way.
Elder Oaks: Surely, love for the students is an essential ingredient for unity in the seminary or institute classroom. In my experience, if the people we are trying to teach feel our love and concern for them (instead of a sense of self-centeredness that can creep into our work if we’re not careful), that draws us all closer together and achieves the unity that we seek.
Brother Matthew B. Pope: I was thinking back to the early-morning setting—and we had some wonderful teachers. I remember, back in Australia, the way they would welcome students so early in the morning. They would be there before the students arrived so they could be there to welcome them. And they would at many times have class presidencies that would take the lead and try and help foster that environment of love as well—and just to encourage the youth to be involved and to feel welcomed and like they wanted to be there. I think that was a great key.
Elder Oaks: When you mention early-morning seminary, I remember teaching an early-morning seminary class and being impressed with the fact that quite a few of the students there weren’t hearing anything I was saying because they were asleep. That’s a real problem with early-morning seminary. How do we achieve unity with someone who’s asleep?
Sister Terry: In the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook, in section 2.2, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland states: “If those [students] are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow” (Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion , 19). One of the feelings of the Spirit is love, and if they feel love, then they are more apt to be taught.
I had a student who I felt was very unresponsive. I felt that I was not reaching him. He visited me a year after his graduation and said, “I heard every word you said. I tried not to.” He said, “I put my head down, and I would try to sleep, or I would talk to somebody else, but I heard every word.” He came back with an expression of gratitude, and his life had changed that year. I was pleased to see that because I thought I was not reaching him—but he knew that I loved him.
Brother Webb: Another idea includes some practical things we can do. I think of devotionals, for example. Sometimes we go through the motions of having a devotional without really teaching students why we’re doing that. If they understand that we’re singing together in order to invite the Spirit, that we’re praying together to invite the presence of the Holy Ghost, that a student shares and turns to scriptures, that we all do that together and really listen and try to understand each other’s comments and insights and experiences—those kinds of activities that they participate in together start to unify the class when they understand why they’re doing it and make a real effort to learn and to understand and to be a part of what’s happening in the classroom.
Brother Pope: I think having clear expectations of what we want to happen in the class can really set the tone for that class for the year.
Brother Webb: I think it’s interesting, when I watch classes, to see that that happens also by the way a teacher responds to student comments. It’s really interesting to watch a class and have a student comment and then have the comment almost be dismissed. The student no longer feels like his or her contribution is needed or appreciated. Compare this to a teacher who really confirms and appreciates students and what they’re doing to participate and help in the class. It really lifts the class. It encourages more participation and unity just by the way the teacher responds to the students.
Elder Oaks: Surely, and at a minimum a teacher should always say thank you or acknowledge that someone has spoken, even if the teacher doesn’t comment on it at length.
Sister Terry: I think it’s also important in the beginning of the year to give students time to get to know each other on a casual basis—just give them a few minutes. What was your favorite thing that you did this summer? Discuss that with the people at your table or your neighbor. It helps them become more acquainted with each other. And then, as time goes on, when you have them share deeper things, such as scriptural feelings or experiences, that’s more likely.
I had a class one time in seminary with 42 students, and our goal was to make sure that everybody was there every time. We had a young man who wasn’t coming at all, and the other students rallied around and found him and brought him in, and it helped his Church activity. He ended up serving a mission and getting married in the temple. I really think it is because those students went after him and cared about him.
Elder Oaks: We know that with the ages of seminary and institute students, peer approval and peer pressure are extremely important, so anything we can do to encourage the camaraderie and team spirit that works in every organization is going to reinforce what we’re trying to do in reaching the hearts of these students and teaching them principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Encouraging love among our class members is a vital technique for seminary and institute teaching.
Brother Horton: I think as students gain that view—that we are one and the same and no one is valued higher or lower based on their involvement at the high school or a social group—it really helps them to feel more comfortable becoming unified.
Elder Oaks: Excellent.
Brother Webb: I think a big part of that is helping students feel safe. One of the most important things that can happen in a classroom is for students to be able to express their feelings. As they’re feeling the Spirit, as they’re learning, if they have the opportunity to share their own experiences and their own insights, it really deepens their testimony. As President Boyd K. Packer and others have taught us, a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it (see “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 54). A student who does not feel safe in a classroom setting will never venture out to share those feelings. So what you’re saying, I think, is incredibly significant—that as they feel that unity in a classroom, they feel that safety. Then they’re willing to participate and share things that really matter to them. Doing that invites the Holy Ghost and deepens conversion.
Brother Brown: One aspect of unity that I thought we should mention is that there are other people who are working with the youth whom we as seminary and institute teachers need to work with. We have the Young Women presidents, who meet and talk to the same age-group that seminary teachers would meet with, as well as the Young Men, Relief Society, and elders quorum presidents. I think seminary and institute teachers should make an effort to coordinate with and meet with and develop a relationship with these individuals who are also interfacing with the youth and sharing in their challenges and concerns.
Elder Oaks: Thank you.
Teaching as Directed by the Spirit
Elder Oaks: Let us turn now to the second subject: Teaching as directed by the Spirit. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told His priesthood leaders that they should “teach the principles of my gospel … as they shall be directed by the Spirit. … And if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:12–14). When we teach gospel doctrines and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching. It’s our duty and our privilege to seek to attain that level of spirituality where the topics we teach to our students will be directed by the Spirit rather than being prearranged for our own preference or convenience. That’s a great challenge, brothers and sister. And there are so many different aspects, so many different features of teaching by the Spirit, that it offers a great opportunity for us to further our discussion with our fellow teachers.
Brother Horton: I think of the invitation given in Doctrine and Covenants section 50, verse 14, to missionaries ordained “to preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.” I’ve found it extremely helpful in my career to understand my role in relationship to the Spirit’s role. And I’ll even point that out to students at the beginning of the year by saying, “I am not the teacher of this class.”
Elder Oaks: The teacher’s part of that responsibility is well described in our marvelous publication Gospel Teaching and Learning in section 2.1, where we read, “Teachers seeking to teach by the Spirit should not rely primarily on their intellect, teaching expertise, or personality but on the influence of the Holy Ghost” (12). That’s a challenge for any one of us to set aside our preference or our supposed expertise and reach the hearts of those we teach by relying on the impressions of the Spirit.
Sister Terry: In that same section President Henry B. Eyring says: “Giving students experiences with the Spirit is far more important than talking about it. And just know that each person experiences the Spirit a little differently” (Gospel Teaching and Learning, 13). And so I think it’s important that we help them have more experiences with the Spirit so that they can learn different ways that they feel it. I think at that age we tend to think it’s only one way that we feel it. And if it’s not the way the teacher feels or somebody else feels, we feel that it’s not happening. So it’s very important that they get a wide variety of experiences and are taught all the different feelings of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22, and to identify that and help them with that.
Brother Brown: President Wilford Woodruff said that every man or woman that has ever entered into the church of God has been baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, has a right to revelation—a right to the Spirit of God, to assist them in their labors (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 49). That has helped me personally as I recognize that I don’t have exclusive rights to the Holy Ghost—that the students in my class are baptized, they have been confirmed members of the Church, and, as such, have a right to the Spirit. President J. Reuben Clark reminded us that the students are just as capable and just as ready to receive revelation, and we just need to help them to have that experience (see The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. , 3–6, 9).
Elder Oaks: It is so important for us to help students receive revelation, but we must be careful not to program it in an artificial way. Our youngest daughter came home from a class once, and I asked her what happened.
She said, “Well, the teacher said, ‘Today we’re going to have a spiritual experience.’ And she had all of us hold hands.”
I said, “How did that make you feel?”
And she said, “It made me feel icky.”
I said, “You got the right feeling.”
These things are vital and sacred, and they must be encouraged and taught, but they must not be programmed like that particular teacher was trying to program a spiritual experience for a group of young women.
Brother Webb: I think it’s interesting that as you started to talk about this item you started with the idea of teaching the doctrine. Sometimes when we think about inviting the Spirit, some people might incorrectly go to those types of activities that maybe are more emotional than spiritual instead of thinking that the role of the Holy Ghost is to bear testimony of the Father and the Son, to bear testimony of truth. As we teach the gospel in simplicity and clarity, that’s when the Holy Ghost can come and magnify those efforts and bear witness of the truth. That’s one of the critical ways of inviting the Holy Ghost—simply teach truth clearly from the scriptures.
Elder Oaks: I’ve sometimes illustrated the point by saying, “When I give a lecture on a legal subject, I always sing a solo. When I teach a principle of the gospel, I always sing a duet because the Spirit will be there to reinforce what I’m teaching.”
Brother Pope: I think good teaching—and teaching by the Spirit—begins with preparation as well. That’s where it needs to start. It doesn’t mean we walk in and just go it alone with our own knowledge and experience.
I recall a lesson that I taught last year. I’d prepared for the lesson, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened when we got into the lesson. One student actually asked the question, “What does the Spirit feel like? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the Spirit.” We were about four weeks into the year. It was a great opportunity for us to shift gears for the next 15 minutes as other students began to answer that question for him, and it was just a marvelous experience to see and hear them share their experiences of how they felt the Spirit. At the end he said, “I think I felt that when I was in the temple a few weeks ago,” and he started to realize what it felt like. I hadn’t prepared that, but I was grateful that that experience came.
Brother Brown: One aspect of preparation that I’ve been focusing on and thinking about is not just trying to be inspired in terms of what I should say and what I should do, but also to think of what I shouldn’t say and shouldn’t do. And that has been actually a surprising experience; you recognize things that are maybe sensational or things that are not necessarily needful at the time in a class. I think that has been an important part of my preparation, to eliminate the things that aren’t necessary and focus on the things that are necessary in the class.
Elder Oaks: In connection with preparing to be led by the Spirit, I always like to recall the teaching in the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, that familiar verse 85: “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”
I like to read that entire verse. In my experience it seems like there are more people who follow the first part of it—“neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say”—than there are who follow the injunction to treasure up in your minds continually the words of life. But surely the fulfillment of the promise to have it given to us what we shall say at a particular point is dependent upon our treasuring up continually and being willing to abandon the outline we planned and go forward with what the Spirit dictates in the context of what we perceive to be the needs of a particular person or a particular class discussion.
Brother Pope: When we understand, when we know our students and have an understanding of their needs, or we’ve taken time to know what their situation is and what we can do to help them, we can help direct our preparation in a better way. We can pray for our students and pray that they’ll feel the Spirit, and when we get in class, we can then adapt if we need to. But at least we’ve done our part to prepare well beforehand and gear it toward the students’ needs.
Brother Horton: I have a question that I know has come up in many of our faculty discussions and inservice meetings: On one side we know that we’re instructed to adhere to a specific block—to stay grounded in the scriptures—and our preparation often follows that training. But there’s a conflict that many of us feel about getting into class and having the Spirit lead in a direction that is other than the block that we’ve prepared. I just wonder how we handle that, or maybe, Elder Oaks, if you have any advice for how to balance staying grounded in the scriptures but also following the directives of the Spirit?
Elder Oaks: President Packer has often taught, in my hearing, that we first adopt, then we adapt. If we are thoroughly grounded in the prescribed lesson that we are to give, then we can follow the Spirit to adapt it. But there is a temptation, when we speak about this flexibility, to start off by adapting rather than adopting. It’s a balance. It’s a continual challenge. But the approach of adopting first and then adapting is a good way to stay on sound ground. And if you find yourself constantly working off in another direction, you need to question whether you’re really doing it to follow inspiration or to follow personal preference.
Brother Pope: I had a question that I’ve been wondering about: What can we do to help our youth and the young adults access the gift of the Holy Ghost more deeply in our classrooms so they can rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, specifically—but just that access?
Brother Webb: That’s a great question. As we’ve talked about the role of the Holy Ghost, I remember hearing as a young teacher that I needed to prepare myself in such a way as to somehow acquire the Holy Ghost. And then, if I could teach with enough of the influence of the Holy Ghost, maybe it could even reach to the back row. I think we’re talking about it in different and better terms—that it’s not necessarily channeled through the teacher for the student to have a spiritual experience. It’s helping students to be able to learn how to invite the Holy Ghost. It’s an experience in the classroom where the students have an opportunity to have revelation—personal revelation—and inspiration.
To do that, I think we need to do some things that can prepare them to be successful in that role. We can teach students their role in inviting the Holy Ghost in their preparations for coming to class: Their personal study of the scriptures. Their personal application of the scriptures. That as they seek in faith to understand the scriptures, the Holy Ghost can come as they apply the principles they’re learning—they’ll feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the understanding of those principles. So it’s not just a teacher obtaining the Holy Ghost and then teaching with the Spirit, it’s facilitating an experience with students understanding their roles to invite the Holy Ghost that will allow this experience to happen in the classroom.
Elder Oaks: Also, the element of desire is critical. We can’t create a desire in other people, but what we can say to them is that until you desire this, it’s not going to happen.
Brother Horton: I was impressed with a teacher in our area who studied the effects of what we do in class on students’ perceptions of feeling the Spirit. He gave them, as I understand it, two different questionnaires: “What did you do in class today?” and “What did you feel in class today?” His findings were that when students felt peace or love or comfort, it was highly correlated with a couple of things that teachers do in class. What surprised me was that it wasn’t associated with object lessons or videos or music clips. I don’t remember all of the points, but I do remember that he found that some of the most highly correlated ones were reading scriptures out loud together, singing the opening hymn, praying together, and student commentary. As we speak about inviting the Spirit in class, not necessarily acquiring it outside and then forcing it into class, I think maybe these are some things we can do in class to help the students feel the Spirit.
Brother Brown: The Gospel Teaching and Learning manual talks about some of the things that we can do in the class to enrich the experience—simple things like giving students opportunities to ponder, to write down their impressions and their feelings, to share with a person beside them or in a group, to explain and share and testify.
Encouraging Daily Scripture Study
Elder Oaks: The mention of scripture and of scripture study as a preparation for feeling the Spirit introduces our third subject: Encouraging daily scripture study. How can we encourage our students to study the scriptures?
Latter-day prophets have stressed the importance of studying the scriptures each day. President Harold B. Lee cautioned, “If we’re not reading the scriptures daily, our testimonies are growing thinner, our spirituality isn’t increasing in depth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 66).
There are few things that a teacher can do that would have a more powerful, long-range effect upon their students’ lives than teaching them the importance of studying the scriptures, giving them that experience, letting them taste the fruit of daily scripture study. In my judgment, that would go beyond any subject that might be taught from the scriptures, except the fundamentals in the first few articles of faith. Beyond that, I think the most important thing we could do as teachers of seminary and institute students would be to connect them with the scriptures and the results of daily scripture study.
What’s been your experience on this?
Sister Terry: I think students need a challenge. Youth tend to respond to a challenge, especially when their peers are doing it at the same time. We had one year we were reading 10 minutes a day so they could get their A grade. And I realized that it just wasn’t challenging a lot of my students. So I pulled some aside and said, “How about if you tried reading the Book of Mormon for half an hour a day for two weeks, and we’ll follow up on that.” I had a wide range of personalities I did that with, and I videotaped them. Then I showed that video to my students. We had a time when we called it “If you want more power, try half an hour”—going along with President Benson’s quote about the power that comes from scripture study (see “The Power of the Word,” Ensign, May 1986, 79–82)—and we had youth reading the Book of Mormon half an hour a day and having marvelous personal experiences. They just need a challenge.
Brother Brown: In the Caribbean Area, the Area Presidency did something similar. It’s amazing how many students have taken up the challenge. Those who did not take on the challenge initially are now asking for a second opportunity. And it’s changing lives. Students are in the scriptures every day and reading the Old Testament.
Another thing that was interesting is the mission president in Jamaica, President Hendricks, decided to read along with the students. He’s been announcing all over the island that “I’m reading with you.” And he’s finished. He’s read the Old Testament with them this year. That has also made an impact on the students as they’ve seen priesthood leaders become a part of the process of encouraging them to read every day. And some have taken on the challenge.
Brother Pope: I think when we have an expectation, they will rise to it. And then when we give them the opportunity to report as well—I saw one seminary teacher who was very good at giving his students the opportunity to share what they had learned from the previous day’s reading. They would take a minute or two and share it with their neighbor—an opportunity to report—and then one person would be able to share it with the whole class. They gained a sense that this was important to the teacher, and they wanted to do it. They wanted to come to class to be able to show what they had learned. It wasn’t just “What did you read?” or “What did you learn from the scriptures?”
Brother Webb: I have found that’s really true. If the teachers are having a good experience studying their scriptures, you don’t have to ask them to motivate the students; it just comes out of them. You see teachers who are so excited about the scriptures—they walk into class, saying, “Guess what I read last night? What did you read?” And it’s just so natural because it’s a part of who they are. It’s not a program. Then it really takes on a life and energy.
Elder Oaks: I think it’s very important when we’re encouraging students to read the scriptures that we not do it in such a way that we seem to be rewarding them for quantity, like the number of pages they’ve read. We need to reward them for quality of reading. That word pondering that’s been used in our discussion is an important part of this. It’s going to change more lives to read carefully and ponder than it is to cover a certain number of pages.
Brother Horton: In the section in the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook that talks about daily study, there’s an idea proposed that has really impacted my teaching. It mentions that a teacher can engage a class in a classroom study of the scriptures that mirrors his own personal study. As a teacher does that, as students are trained in what studying the scriptures actually is, they’re then motivated to go home and on their own do what happened in class (see pages 19–20). This was my experience in my own seminary class when I was in high school. I was an inactive member of the Church with a very complicated family background. But as I came into seminary, I had a seminary teacher who involved me in studying the scriptures. It was that involvement that inspired me to go home and for the first time read the Book of Mormon, to gain my own personal testimony, which influenced me serving a mission, getting married in the temple, my family joining the Church, and getting sealed in the temple. And as I look back on it, the key point for me was learning how to study the scriptures on my own.
Brother Pope: That time spent in a classroom training students can be so important. When you help them see that they can discover a cross-reference for themselves or see a pattern and recognize “Oh, Alma said this here, and look what Ammon said here,” and those sorts of things—I just think when those sparks go off in their eyes and they start to see that the training they’ve received has benefit to them, then they go home and share it or use it with their family.
Elder Oaks: And when they learn how to use the Bible Dictionary and the Topical Guide and the footnotes, the cross-references, the chapter headings, and so on, it’s exciting. It’s surprising how many people got along in their life without learning how to use the wonderful advance in the scriptures that President Packer refers to so reverently so often.
Brother Brown: I think asking questions that help students see how the scriptures can impact their life is also critical. Sometimes the scriptures don’t seem to be connecting with where their life is, what they’re doing at home, or the experiences they’re having. Asking the question “How does this principle apply to your life?” in the classroom and as you teach the principle is important to help students see that the scriptures do provide answers to questions.
Another thing that I think is really important is to help the students know that they’re not going to have answers come immediately all the time. There is something that I like to do in my class that my students don’t like. They don’t like it at all. But I think it’s important. They will ask a question that I can answer, and then we could go through it quickly. But I say, “You know what, why don’t we just all take today and tomorrow and think about this question and come back next class and talk about it. Take two days.” We write it down on the board, and we have somebody assigned to remind us that that’s something that we’re going to cover.
It’s been a very rich experience to see those who do it. They don’t always all go home and ponder it, but there are those who come back with insights from having thought about it. Usually I don’t have to say anything. I would just say, “What have you found?” And it’s an amazing experience to have the students share what they’ve learned and what the Spirit has taught them. That’s been powerful.
Elder Oaks: There’s one thing that I’ve learned about scripture study that I wish I’d been taught when I was of an age to be attending seminary or institute, and that is that it is a great mistake to try to read the scriptures like you read a magazine or a newspaper. What I refer to is the fact that I pick up a newspaper and I just read it, or I pick up a magazine or a textbook and I just read it. But when I pick up the scriptures, I’m picking up the word of God, written by prophets under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Those should never be read without praying over them first.
When I go to the table to eat, I don’t take physical nourishment without asking the Lord to bless that food to nourish and strengthen my body. Similarly, I think when we study the scriptures, we should bow our head and pray—often it would be silently because of the surroundings—but we would pray that the Lord would bless us that we’d be able to understand what we’re reading and that the act of reading the scriptures would summon the Spirit of the Lord to guide us on things other than simply the meaning of what we’re reading. In this way the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to help us receive revelation. But it begins with prayer; it doesn’t begin with reading, like a newspaper or a magazine.
Enrolling and Retaining Students
Elder Oaks: We come now to our fourth subject: Enrolling and retaining more potential students. We want to get the gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts of more of His sons and daughters. There are students who are dropping out; there are students who are not getting in in the first place. What can we do about it?
Brother Horton: I have seen that bishops are quite a bit more aware of the youth in their wards—their personal spiritual level, what’s going on in their families—than maybe we sometimes give them credit for. And I think it behooves us to contact bishops and youth leaders and say, “Who are the youth in your ward that we might be able to contact?” and receive direction and advice from them on how best to enroll students. I heard a seminary teacher in our area mention that sometimes our relationship with priesthood leaders is hampered simply because they don’t know what we can do.
Brother Brown: I think reporting to that priesthood leader everything you do is also critical—what exactly you’re finding out when you visit the students.
Brother Pope: In some areas we have full-time missionaries working to assist seminary and institute. In Australia we had some absolutely wonderful missionaries who did amazing things in reaching out and bringing those students in. I remember there was one couple who had a huge impact on a seminary student who was not attending very often. They continued to invite him, and he came along and became more active and more involved in the programs. Those couples—those grandparent figures for some of these youth and young adults—were just so welcoming and so inviting that the students just couldn’t say no to them almost.
Elder Oaks: Sister Terry, please give us the benefit of your experience on this subject with institute students.
Sister Terry: Well, with institute it is a constant challenge. It’s a constant challenge. We even have an enrollment committee with a teacher or two over the committee, but it is highly run by students. They come up with ideas that they think can help enroll students. They have T-shirts made that say “Come and see” that they wear on certain days of the week. There are a lot of different interactions with the local priesthood, singles wards—things like that.
I feel they are all effective, but the most effective technique we have found is the personal invitation of another student. Often when we are in class, we’ll say, “Who of your roommates, who of your friends, are not enrolled in institute? You are the best person to invite them.” Sometimes we’ll even have a mass texting, and they’ll text a friend: “Are you enrolled in institute?” Then little answering rings will come back. We’ll have students come to class and say, “I was texted last time, and I’m here with my friend.” That helps them to keep coming because they have someone to go with.
I think what they need more than anything is a friend, because it’s a little uncomfortable to show up alone sometimes. It’s easy to talk yourself out of it. But if they have someone to go with, it’s a lot easier. And then they bring a friend, et cetera. So I think the most effective method that we have found is the one-on-one invitation from their peers.
Elder Oaks: President Hinckley said something about retention that I suppose applies to seminary and institute. He said that to retain someone, the person needs “a friend, a responsibility, and [nourishing] with ‘the good word of God’” (see “Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997, 47).
Brother Horton: I think that counsel from President Hinckley is reflected in the scriptures in John, chapter 1, where two disciples who had previously followed John turn and follow the Savior (see John 1:35–37). We often hone in on the phrase of “come and see” (John 1:39) and on Peter being invited and introduced to the Savior (see John 1:40–42). The two disciples heard John bear testimony of Jesus and heard the Savior’s invitation, which is nourishing by the good word of God, and they followed Jesus. We know that Peter was brought by his brother, so there’s the friend. And then we know they were later given responsibilities. In seminary or in institute, I think that can really help students—as they feel that unity with their peers, as they’re nourished, and as they accept responsibilities.
Elder Oaks: I’ve enjoyed this discussion immensely and have learned by it, but I think it’s time for us to conclude. Would you please wrap things up for us, Brother Webb?
Brother Webb: I’d be happy just to thank everyone. First of all, Sister Terry from the Orem institute, thank you very much; and Brother Pope, our Aussie who is now in the central office in training, thank you. Brother Brown, who has come from Jamaica to be a part of this with us, thank you; and, of course, Brother Horton, who’s our seminary teacher in the Salt Lake Valley. Thanks to each of you. And I also want to say thank you to you, Elder Oaks, for your time to do this and for your teachings and counsel. I want to assure you that we have wonderful teachers and leaders, everywhere in seminaries and institutes, who have a great desire to serve the youth of the Church and to do this work that we have been assigned—their very best. And I can assure you that they will try their very hardest—we will together try our very hardest—to take the counsel you’ve given us and try to implement it and make a difference in the lives of our students. So, thank you for doing this for us.
Elder Oaks: And thank you. We love you, and we invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you and your efforts, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2012 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/12. A Panel Discussion with Elder Dallin H. Oaks. English. PD50043158 000