How can I adequately thank you seminary and institute teachers for what you’ve done for my family? Each of our 11 children have attended seminary for four years, so that’s 44 years of seminary blessing our home. And our grandchildren have been in seminary classes for 8 years, so that’s 52. My husband taught institute, and children who have gone to school out of state have gone to institute. We are in your debt. Thank you so much! This 15-minute talk cannot possibly repay you for the debt of time.
More than an amount of time in classrooms, I would like to consider the conversion experience created by the environment in your classroom. Do you realize how powerful you are? As a called, set-apart teacher, your access to the powers of heaven in behalf of your room is strong indeed. Youth should be able to sense a marked difference between the outside world and the place where you meet. We are immersed in the world, not necessarily by choice—but we all know the power of peer opinion, popular acceptance, worldly philosophies, and digital trends. We are surrounded by them. The poet wrote: “The world is too much with us; late and soon.”1
How do we create a place where the world drops away and is not with us? We consistently put something better—the Spirit—in its place. We imbue the classroom with truth and honesty, two virtues missing on the worldly stage. Students’ honest searching for truth can be rewarded in your classroom with solid, spiritual understanding that stays with them as they walk back out into the world.
The Savior chose places not of the world to teach His followers. He taught them on the hillside, within a home, near a well, beside a field, from a boat, and finally, in a private upper room. He knew His people. He fit in their environment. He gathered them out of the world and gathered them into the living truth of the gospel. You seminary and institute teachers can do the same, right within the walls of your classroom, be it at Church, in a school building, or in your own homes.
Yes, they will enter your classroom with a wide variety of attitudes. How will they leave? Here is your opportunity to connect them to powerful truths that relate to their personal lives. It will only be a lasting connection if the Holy Ghost sanctions your efforts and warms the atmosphere of your gathering so that the students actually absorb, take in, and live these truths. All the laughter, fun, and social friendships that go along with seminary and institute do help—and the youth have plenty of that—but class time must not be light-minded. Only doctrinal truths of Jesus Christ have saving power—and Heavenly Father wants His children saved! We work under His power and direction.
The daily reality of Christ’s redemption should be uppermost in our minds and in the minds of the students. When they feel that He will help them overcome the world’s darkness, then hope and spiritual connection pour into their lives! Your classroom can be a place of connection. They will learn with mind and heart that He will guide them on their way, He will bind up our wounds, and He will do it sooner rather than later if they, the youth, will open up and trust Him. That’s where I think you come in, dear teachers. Will you be sure to appropriately open up to your students in class? No “pretend perfection” here! And make it clear that you are real, letting them know you have to work through struggles, just like the rest of them, doing your best to obey and trust the Savior. Your authenticity will be a welcome gift to your students, and they will then have a pattern for applying the true gospel to their own challenges as you do.
The creation of such a classroom requires spiritual discernment, so the earnest teacher asks of God, “What is needful?” Such creation requires courageous honesty, so the teacher takes a personal inventory and asks, “What should I change in my own way of teaching? Am I really addressing the students’ needs? How can I provide the best classroom environment for gospel learning?”
Can you see how the Lord’s creation of the earth is a pattern for your creation of a classroom environment? The Lord, under the direction of His Father, created the divinely designed classroom that we call earth:
By spiritual planning,
By loving and orderly effort,
By strict obedience, and
By knowing what Heavenly Father’s children need in order to grow and prosper.
You, too, can follow the Lord’s way, in your own limited mortal fashion, to create a spiritually designed place of truth and freedom. Such an act of creation requires holiness of heart. There is nothing halfhearted about creating a holy place of learning.
It’s your space. I like to think that in the best classrooms there is really no empty space! From wall to wall and floor to ceiling, it is full of love and acceptance, built on faith in the Savior’s Atonement and teachings.
I am not declaring that all youth seem lovable and acceptable! You know that. But God loves them, and He will bestow upon us who are true followers of His Son His love for these students if we plead with all energy of heart.
Heavenly Father is a safe and loving place for all His children—He asks for no qualifying standard for His love. His Son, Jesus Christ, opens His arms to all and says, “Come,” regardless of our wide diversity of testimony, appearance, attitude, or background. Teachers, you can do the same and meet the students where they are emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.
My granddaughter tells of a loud demonstration recently on the school grounds across the street from her seminary building. High school students were protesting a rule, and a large crowd gathered to yell and wave banners. She had to walk past the demonstrators to get to the seminary building. She said, “It was weird. I had to walk by the demonstration, and it was so nice to get to the seminary building. When I got inside I had the feeling ‘I belong here, and not out there.’” She also said that her seminary teacher was standing outside the building watching for his students, to beckon them, Lehi-like, toward the seminary building, a place to partake of the love of God.
What gave her the courage to walk past the mob and keep going until she got to her class? What drawing power does that class have that kept her moving forward? It would have been so easy for her to avoid going to seminary that day, but she kept going. Why? She felt she belonged; she was wanted; she was loved. She trusted the condition of the classroom and the condition of the teacher’s heart.
“Heaven is a place,” President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “but also a condition.”2 Students will be blessed as they walk into class when the “condition” of the room has a heavenly feel. Then we can address, with the youth, their concerns and challenges and teach how doctrine answers their questions.
Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Administrator, Chad Webb, said, “We are going to be more effective in the future in our classrooms, … teaching by the Holy Ghost in a way that protects and edifies and helps young people to come to the Savior of the World.”3 My grandchildren feel protected and edified in seminary class.
A grandson says that sometimes as the students are walking from the high school to the seminary building, they hear catcalls and scornful shouts. Shouts like “Hey, you Mormon!”
Doesn’t this situation sound like 1 Nephi 8:33, speaking of those in the great and spacious building? “They did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.”
Some of my grandson’s determination is founded in an assurance that there is a spiritual strength in his seminary class. He knows that awaiting him in his class is acceptance, safety, and truth that edifies and protects. Thus, he can ignore or “heed not” the scorn of the world.
Seminary and institute classrooms will give a sense of place to the seeking student. I believe your classroom can be holy ground when the Spirit is present, teaching the students that they are a significant part of Heavenly Father’s plan in these last days and that they are needed!
The youth are coming to you. That is an act of faith on their part. What awaits them in your class?
I talked with bright, faithful young women in Cambodia and Mongolia last November. As they testified of Christ, I was struck by their steady faith. I asked them, “What keeps your faith in Jesus Christ strong when you don’t have school friends or parents that believe as you do?”
Their answer was consistently “Seminary. Seminary.”
“Why seminary?” I asked.
Some answers were “Because I learn more about the gospel” and “Because I feel good there.”
Many of the students coming in and sitting down before you are burdened with doubts about gospel principles or Church history. Think of your class as a place of clarity, faith, and acceptance of a wide diversity of beliefs. Say to all, “Come, and bring your faith. It doesn’t matter how strong it is. I offer you a place of love and acceptance.” Students will not listen or be engaged if they don’t see how to apply the lesson you are teaching to their own lives, especially if they are having internal conflicts. Are teachers willing to allow for open, frank discussions about fears their students may have? Will you help them see how the gospel can work in their particular situations and connect their discussion to doctrine? I am going to repeat that: Connect the discussion to doctrine.
Visiting Sunday classes of the youth, as well as studying the reports of classes from our international general board, causes me to liken some of these youth to those concourses of people whom Lehi saw. These crowds of youth today are holding on to the rod of iron, but the telestial mists of darkness are blowing about them furiously. Discerning teachers will listen with love to their comments, which may be tainted by the world’s secularity, and allow the youth to speak of their struggles or question the weak faith they may feel. In your class will they be able to speak of personal uncertainty? They need a landing place where they step out of the mists and step into your sphere of rock-solid faith and nurturing. A place and a sphere that connects them. They need a sense of place, where they belong! A sense of doctrine in this place.
If they come in an earnest spirit of inquiry, truly seeking gospel clarity, you are in a position of great responsibility to listen with empathy and encourage them to discover answers backed by prophetic counsel, gospel doctrine, and Church history. How will you do this? Your own authentic experiences and testimony sink readily into youthful minds. Your stated trust in their essential goodness will ring loudly in their hearts. They will know if you are sincerely seeking to understand them.
We’ve all heard this quote, but I am going to share it again because this is really wonderful. Elder M. Russell 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.”4 Trusted Church resources—of course the scriptures—offer guidance for some complex gospel questions.
The youth need relatable answers, and they need to express their own feelings. An effective seminary teacher in New York City wrote to me saying, “I feel the Spirit most as the students share their experiences and their questions and feelings. It is undeniable.”5
The Doctrinal Mastery Core Document says, “Asking questions and seeking answers is a vital part of our effort to learn truth.”6 Some students’ questions or tone may sound adversarial. Love them right where they are, and let them know you appreciate their honest searching. When we don’t know the answers, we say, “I don’t know, but I still want to talk with you.” And then work with the students respectfully and prayerfully to find the best answer available. However, all spoon feeding of gospel answers must stop! Teachers, please toss your spoon in the trash and hand your student a shovel! They need to dig for the answers too!
They can acquire spiritual knowledge, as the Doctrinal Mastery document says, when they act in faith, examine concepts with an eternal perspective, and keep digging for understanding through divinely appointed sources. I love the underlying message of this Doctrinal Mastery focus: take earnest action to learn and then apply to your own life what you are learning.
Your classroom condition will be the seedbed for this spiritually based action. A root meaning of seminary is seedbed—yours is a place where seeds of faith and gospel living are nourished and nurtured.
Seminary and institute teachers, I invite you to establish a classroom of trust, of faith, and of application—a healthy place for spiritual growth, and even a healing place for sorrows that the eye can’t see, for doubts about gospel truth, or for confusion students may have about their divine identity.
William Wordsworth writes of us as newborns, “trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God, who is our home.”7 Can you look upon your students as the “re-born,” trailing clouds of confidence in Jesus Christ as they leave your classroom and face the world once more? I have confidence in Jesus Christ, for I know of the converting power of His Atonement. I know of His infinite grace, forgiveness, and love to save the repentant and teachable seeker of truth.
Yours is the divine charge to discern, with wisdom and love, the needs of your students and teach by the Spirit, thus beckoning them out of the mists of unbelief to a place of truth, safety, and faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/16. “A Sense of Place.” English. PD60001875 000
1. William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us,” line 1.
2. Spencer W. Kimball, “Glimpses of Heaven,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, 39.
3. Chad H Webb (Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Global Faculty Meeting, Jan. 2012), si.lds.org/help/program-details; emphasis added.
4. M. Russell Ballard, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century” (Evening with a General Authority, Feb. 26, 2016), broadcasts.lds.org.
5. Personal correspondence.
6. Doctrinal Mastery Core Document (Church Educational System manual, 2016), 2.
7. William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” stanza 5, lines 7–8.