"Come, Follow Me" Changing Gospel Teaching and Learning
Contributed By By Russell T. Osguthorpe, Sunday School general president
The new learning resources for youth entitled Come, Follow Me, are changing the way members think about learning and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. During the past year, I have observed youth classes and quorum meetings in 15 cities located in seven different countries. When I asked a 16-year-old priest to share his impressions about the new curriculum, he hesitated for a moment and then said:
“Well, to be honest, when I saw that we were going to be spending a whole month on one topic, I thought, ‘That’s way too much time.’ But then, when we started to study the ‘Godhead,’ I found out that I learned so much more than I ever could have imagined.”
A young woman, when asked to give her assessment of Come, Follow Me, responded, “Now I feel like what I have to say really counts. The teacher really listens to us.” This young woman was confirming the words of counsel we have received from those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators: that teaching is not so much about “talking and telling.” Rather, it is “listening and observing, so that we can then discern by the Spirit what we should say” (Elder David A. Bednar, 2011, Teaching Inservice Meeting for Leaders and Teachers in Seminaries and Institutes).
I once had the following conversation with an 18-year-old-young man about the new youth curriculum.
“If you visited a class using Come, Follow Me, how would you tell if they were using it effectively?” I asked.
“Oh,” he replied, “it would be pretty easy. I’ve got one teacher who really gets it, and another one who is just kind of teaching the same old way,” he responded.
“So how do you tell the difference?”
“Well, if the teacher’s really doing it, the teacher would be asking real questions about how the lesson applies to our lives, not just, you know, questions like about dates and places and stuff that everybody already knows the answer to.”
“That’s very insightful,” I responded. “Would you look for anything else?” He thought for a moment and then replied,
“Yes, I would see if the youth were up in front teaching.”
“Are you saying the teacher would just give the whole lesson to the class member to teach?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “class members would just be teaching brief principles and bearing their testimony about what they were teaching. The teacher would still be the teacher.”
I saw a young man in Sao Paulo, Brazil, teach the first part of the lesson in an Aaronic Priesthood quorum meeting. He invited each young man to share his views on the gospel principle being taught and to describe the blessings that had come into their lives from living that principle. Each comment built upon the previous comment, as quorum members strengthened each other with their experiences and testimonies.
This group of youth, like so many other groups throughout the world, are simply following divine guidance for how we should learn and teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Lord counseled those who participated in the School of the Prophets in 1833:
“Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege (D&C 88:122).
This one verse might be viewed as a blueprint not only for the new youth curriculum, but for all gospel learning and teaching.
I continue to see more and more adhering to this definition of “teacher” as they use Come, Follow Me. One such teacher lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. When I asked her to describe blessings that she was experiencing as a youth Sunday School teacher, she began to weep as she recounted how her class members had inspired her during a lesson she was teaching on missionary work. She said:
“I told the class that a non-LDS woman lived next door to me who was very poor. I asked the class to give their suggestions about how I might interest her in the Church. One class member said, ‘Well, you just need to invite her to come to Church.’ I agreed that I could do that. Then another one said, ‘But she doesn’t have enough food to eat, so we should do something to help her.’ Then another said, ‘Hey, it’s fast Sunday next week, why don’t we fast and pray for her and then take her the food that we would have eaten.’ These ideas all came from the class members themselves. So everyone brought food to my home, and we took it to my neighbor. I told her that the youth themselves came up with the idea. She was touched by their generosity.”
The next day I attended her class. She began by explaining the doctrine of eternal families. She asked the class to share blessings they were experiencing as members of their own families. One young woman began to cry as she expressed her gratitude for her parents. Others expressed their gratitude. Then a young man sitting on the back row became very emotional as he said, “I don’t want a family like mine. My dad is alcoholic and is drunk every morning when I wake up.” The teacher responded, “So what will you need to do to have an eternal family yourself?” He responded, “I’ll need to have good friends and keep all the commandments.”
The young man sitting next to him put his hand on his shoulder to show support, and then the young man sitting on the other side did the same. The teacher then asked the class, “If you hope to have an eternal family, what will you need to do right now to plan for it?” The class members shared their ideas. Then the teacher asked, “Do you think you might write your plan down and bring it next week so that we can talk about it?” They agreed.
I am certain that this teacher, as she prepared to teach, thought deeply about how she would invite participation and how she would invite learners to live the principle she was teaching. She was not concerned about delivering content to her learners. She was concerned about helping them deepen their own conversion.
This teacher invited all to participate. All were not “spokesmen at once,” but each one shared in turn. And all were edified of all. I was edified by the power of the comments and testimonies of class members. The teacher had created an environment of trust and acceptance. The Spirit was evident throughout the class. The teacher, as well as the students, were all trying to help each other by building one another up. This was how the Savior taught. And it is how an ever-increasing number of teachers are teaching throughout the Church.