What a thrill and an honor it is to be asked to participate in this worldwide satellite broadcast to the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion teachers, leaders, and their spouses throughout the world. I am grateful for the inspired leadership of the Church Educational System, and I am humbled to be asked to address those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the young people of the Church in seminary and institute classes worldwide. I acknowledge the importance of our spouses, who are in attendance, and express my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your dedicated work in building the kingdom of God through your service and support.
I am a fervent defender of both seminary and institute. I am the product of both. When I was 14 years old and a new seminary student, my family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where there was one small branch of the Church in the whole metropolitan area. But, oh, did we have a seminary program there!
We were a small group of students of all economic and cultural backgrounds who came from far and near to meet at the only chapel in Nashville at a very early hour. The talent and leadership in our small branch may have been limited, but I realize now that the Lord provided for us the best seminary teachers in all of the Church! Brother Don Richards was working on a doctorate degree from Vanderbilt University in Germanic studies, and despite his busy schedule, he took his charge to teach us the gospel seriously. In fact, in my immaturity, I thought he took it a little too seriously! He had high expectations of this little rag-tag class of students. He expected us to take notes. He gave us tests that I secretly claimed his college students could not have passed! He expected us to think and to participate in class discussions, and he actually had the nerve to ask us all to read the scriptures! (This was before some of the great programs we have now.) My brother and I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to attend seminary, and all of these seemingly unreasonable expectations which Brother Richards placed on us were just adding insult to injury, at least in my youthful mind.
He challenged us to read the Book of Mormon. I think I accepted that challenge just to show Brother Richards that he wasn’t going to get the better of me. What a great blessing this teacher of the gospel was in our lives! Because of his expectations, his diligence, and his concern, I read the Book of Mormon and began to feel the stirrings of the Spirit, which lead to true conversion. I had loving parents who also taught me the gospel in my home, and that, combined with Brother Richards’s challenging seminary class, ignited a spark which was fanned into the bright flame of testimony.
As an adult, I was an early-morning seminary teacher for nine years in three different parts of the United States. I realize that this is a mere drop in the bucket compared to some of your careers in CES, but it has been enough to give me some idea of how seminary and institute can be the means of bringing about true conversion in the lives of our youth. I am thrilled with the new seminary graduation requirements, which will require more from our students in the way of reading, effort, and learning.
We often refer to the scripture that where “much is given much is required.”1 I believe that a close corollary to this is that where much is required, much more will be given. In other words, if we expect more of our youth, they will step up to the challenge, and I do believe that we need to require more of them. We need to step up our teaching so that our youth do more on their own to understand the doctrines of Christ and the reality of the Restoration, and we need to find a way to motivate them to write these things on the tables of their hearts.2
The reason for this need to increase our efforts is that the world, and the atmosphere in which our youth live when they are outside of their homes, is often the equivalent of a spiritual land mine. Unfortunately, many of our youth do not have ideal family situations to counterbalance the influence of the world.
Satan is having a heyday in our time. Consider the law of chastity, the sanctity of our bodies, traditional marriage, the family, the roles of men and women, motherhood and fatherhood, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and spirituality in general, which are all either under attack or are being trivialized by pop culture. Everything that is sacred, critical, or of most importance to our salvation is being assaulted. Even our most sacred temple ordinances have been portrayed on prime-time television. Never in the history of this earth have temptations been more enticing, easier to access, and easier to hide from the eyes of parents and others because of personal computers, iPads, and cell phones, which even our young children can access in the privacy of homes and bedrooms.
Those who stand up in defense of traditional Christian values are considered to be out of touch, outdated, or even intolerant, bigoted, and hateful. We see a fulfillment of the scripture which prophesies that there will be those “that call evil good, and good evil.”3 No wonder our youth are sometimes confused or tempted to wander into strange paths.
We should not become discouraged with all of this bad news. I truly believe that our Heavenly Father has reserved some of His choicest spirits to come to earth in this time. In a devotional given in September of last year, Elder Russell M. Nelson said to the young adults of the Church: “Each of you young men and young women was commissioned by your Heavenly Father to build up the kingdom of God on earth right now and prepare a people to receive the Savior when He will rule and reign as the Millennial Messiah. Your noble birthright, identity, purpose, and divine commission set you apart from all others.”
Elder Nelson goes on to say: “But neither your birthright nor your premortal ordinations and commissions can save or exalt you. That you will do through your individual decisions and as you choose to access the power of the Lord’s Atonement in your lives.”4
The reality is that you, as seminary and institute teachers, have, after the home, more formal teaching time with the youth of the Church than any other organization or auxiliary in the Church. What a tremendous opportunity to teach those things which will help our youth become truly converted and committed disciples in the Lord’s kingdom.
I also recently reread Elder J. Reuben Clark’s classic address entitled “The Charted Course of the Church in Education.”5 I find it interesting that Brother Chad Webb and I have both felt the inspiration, independently of one another, to mention this inspired counsel in our talks today. I would also like to refer to the two prime and fundamental teachings Elder Clark identifies, which should be at the heart of what we teach our youth in the Church in order to solidify their commitment to the gospel. They are as pertinent today as they were when he delivered this talk in 1938 to Church seminary and institute teachers.
The first is that we simply can never get too far away from the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.6 He is the Creator of this world, and He is our Savior and Redeemer. Just as the Savior and His Atonement are central to all that occurs in the Lord's house, so should the Atonement of Jesus Christ be central in our own homes and in all that we teach in our classrooms. Let it be said of us, as Nephi taught, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”7 We need to help our youth understand the Atonement and what it personally means to each of them. Teach them that because of the Atonement, there is hope in this life and in the life to come. Somehow, we need to help our youth see how relevant this is to their everyday lives, their happiness, and their eternal salvation.
Help them understand, as they read the words within the scriptures, that they are hearing the voice of Jesus Christ and are becoming familiar with who He is. Help them understand how to draw upon the principle of grace in their lives to meet the challenges and problems they face:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”8
Testify to them that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this Church and guides it through a living prophet today.
The second doctrine which needs to be given our full faith and attention is that Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the Restoration and that the Book of Mormon is exactly what Joseph Smith and countless others have testified that it is—a second witness of Jesus Christ and a true record of the Lord’s dealings with His children in the ancient Americas.9
When the angel Moroni appeared to the young Joseph Smith, one of the very first messages to him was “that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”10 To me, it does not seem that Moroni was saving that tidbit of information to gently break to Joseph Smith later; rather, it was full-disclosure from the beginning! “This is not going to be easy on you!”
Should we be surprised that people are still struggling with Joseph Smith as the Prophet of the Restoration, still finding fault with him, and discounting his divine mission? It was prophesied from the beginning of the Restoration. The difference in our day is that those who desire to slander and criticize the Prophet Joseph have at their fingertips a powerful information highway called the Internet, and anyone with an iPad, cell phone, or computer can find the falsehoods and lies with the click of a button. I hope we can teach our youth to be discerning when it comes to what they read on the Internet. As both parents and teachers, we can teach our youth to choose sources and information which build faith and testimony in Joseph Smith rather than that which creates doubt and perpetuates falsehoods. These things have been around for ages and are now being repackaged as something new and shocking.
Teach and testify that through the Prophet Joseph Smith all the keys, powers, authority, and ordinances which are necessary for our salvation and exaltation were restored to the earth. Teach them to go to the true source to understand who Joseph Smith was and is. Invite them to read the Book of Mormon, study, and pray to know the truth. Help them to see that prayer, the Book of Mormon, and the testimony which comes through the Holy Ghost are a more reliable source of information than the Internet. Help them make the connection that if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was exactly who he claimed to be—a prophet of God.
You teachers of seminary and institute youth have a great charge and a great trust placed in you. Just like Brother Richards, who expected a lot of our little seminary class and, as a result, ignited the fire of our testimonies of the restored gospel, do not hesitate to expect more of the youth in your classes. As J. Reuben Clark said: “The youth of the Church are hungry for things of the Spirit; they are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted.”11 Continue to teach the divinity, mission, and Atonement of Jesus Christ with power and conviction. Help them to gain testimonies of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Expect them to come to classes prepared and ready to engage in testifying and learning. Expect them to put as much effort into their religion classes as they do their secular classes.
I invite you spouses who are listening to consider how you can teach and implement these same important principles in your homes to your families. The best and most important teaching and learning can and should take place in our homes. Think of the great team you and your spouse are with your combined expertise, testimonies, and inspiration to prepare your children before they ever set foot in a seminary classroom.
I am grateful to you teachers of our youth for your love and testimonies of the gospel and for your diligence in sharing these with your students. I am grateful for your spouses and families who support and stand beside you in your responsibilities. You are a mighty force for good in the world and make a tremendous difference in the lives of countless young people. I pray that the Lord will bless you in your homes and in your classrooms as you share your testimonies of Jesus Christ and of the Restoration of His Church to the earth in the latter days. I add my testimony to yours that these things which we have talked about today are true, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2014 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/14. Translation approval: 1/14. Translation of “Greater Expectations.” Language. PD10051052 xxx
2. See Proverbs 7:3.
3. Isaiah 5:20.
4. Russell M. Nelson, “Youth of the Noble Birthright: What Will You Choose?” (Church Educational System devotional for young adults, Sept. 6, 2013); lds.org/broadcasts.
5. See J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. (booklet, 1994; address to Church Educational System religious educators, Aug. 8, 1938); lds.org/manual/the-charted-course-of-the-church-in-education.
6. See J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course, 1–2.
7. 2 Nephi 25:26.
8. Matthew 11:28–30.
9. See J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course, 2.
11. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course, 3.