Seminary and Institute Teachers Told to “Teach by Example”
Contributed By By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor
Seminary and institute prepares young people for the greatest of all blessings—that of eternal life, said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“That is of supernal significance. It pertains to their faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, their endowment and sealing ordinances, and remaining faithful to covenants made in the holy temple. We care about their enduring to the end.”
Offering prerecorded remarks as part of the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion broadcast on August 6, Elder Nelson mentioned the concept of “real growth” in the Church.
“By that we mean the true and enduring conversion of each individual member of the Church,” he explained. “We have too many who view the Church merely as a social organization. Too many go through life without a true understanding of the truth of the gospel and the eternal blessings of the ordinances and covenants of the temple.
“Of course we care about the growth of the Church as an institution. We listen to the annual report at general conference. It includes the number of members and the number of wards, stakes, missions, temples, and more. All of this is interesting and important.
“But what we really care about is the people.”
The meeting was translated and sent via satellite and Internet to seminary and institute instructors across the globe. Speakers for the broadcast, which originated from the Little Theater at the Conference Center, also included Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy; Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president; Chad H. Webb, administrator for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion; and H. Kelly Haws and Richard D. Hawks, both associate administrators for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.
During his remarks, Elder Nelson reminded the instructors that their purpose, as quoted in the Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, is to “help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”
Elder Nelson added, “Remember that purpose every day before you teach your students.”
To achieve this purpose, teachers must live the gospel of Jesus Christ and strive for the companionship of the Spirit, teach students the doctrine and principles as found in the scriptures and the words of the prophets, and administer the program and resources appropriately, said Elder Nelson, continuing to quote from the handbook.
In addition, he asked instructors to harmonize their efforts with prophetic priorities.
He then mentioned the Church’s missionary responsibilities.
“The recent adjustment in minimum age for full-time missionary service carries many implications for seminary and institute teachers,” he said. “The youth who are going on missions may have a little less time to prepare now. So the homes, seminaries, and institutes have a wonderful opportunity to assist in the preparation of missionaries.”
Elder Nelson said future missionaries are preparing as they study the scriptures diligently. “Can you imagine any better training for missionaries than mastering the key scripture passages and learning the fundamental doctrine of Christ?”
He said along with the adjustment in the age of missionaries has come the development of the new youth curriculum, Come, Follow Me, and an invitation for young people to engage in family history work.
Finally, he spoke directly to seminary and institute teachers.
“Brothers and sisters, remember that even more eloquent than what you say is the eloquence of your own personal example. By example, you teach the fundamental doctrine of marriage and the family. How you live in your homes, how you regard your families, how you revere your marriage covenants, how you love your spouses and children will be evident to your students. Your objective and hope for eternal life will be communicated to your students by your manner of living. Your objective is to live the kind of life that your students want to live.”
Elder Johnson, Commissioner of Church Education, spoke on the topic of change.
“We all face change, and how we respond will affect our personal happiness and our ability to follow the will of the Lord and contribute as the kingdom rolls forth,” he said.
He said one of the great examples contrasting different ways of dealing with change is found in the transition after the law of Moses was fulfilled among the people of the Book of Mormon and that same transition among the people of the New Testament.
“The Book of Mormon people’s understanding of the proper place of the law and the smooth transition from the law after it was fulfilled is in stark contrast to what happened in the New Testament,” he explained. “Among the Jews of the New Testament there didn’t seem to be a general understanding that the law would ever be superseded. In addition, the law was meant to bring focus on the Savior—the Lawgiver—and that focus was lost to many, partly because of oral traditions and unauthorized additions to the requirements of the law. Many looked beyond the mark (see Jacob 4:14–15) and missed the Savior of the World.”
Another example from medical history illustrates the danger of resisting change because of being steeped in tradition, he said.
In the 19th century, before germ theory was understood, there were different ideas about how infectious diseases were spread, Elder Johnson explained. A Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, concluded that the doctors were transmitting diseases as they went from one activity to the other without washing their hands. He recommended that doctors wash their hands with a chlorinated solution.
“The medical profession in general did not accept the recommendations from Dr. Semmelweis,” Elder Johnson said. “In fact, some of the doctors were offended to think that they could actually be spreading disease. … There are now thorough washing and scrubbing techniques for operating rooms along with very sanitary conditions to prevent infection, but these changes were not easily made because of the stubbornness of many in the medical profession at the time.”
Elder Johnson said his hope is that those serving and working in the Church Educational System don’t become stumbling blocks to the progress of the kingdom in any way.
“Many things can and will change in the future. How can we be ready to move forward with needed changes and not get so entrenched that proper change seems like apostasy to us? We face change in the Church, in Seminaries and Institutes, and sometimes most challengingly, in our families and personal lives. … Our willingness to accept and embrace those personal changes the Lord would have us make is an important key to our individual development.
“In the end we all want our hearts, our countenances, and even our very natures changed. Our willingness to accept and even embrace difficult things triggers the Lord’s power to make these fundamental changes in us.”
During her remarks, Sister Burton spoke of a 15-year-old young woman from Africa who was the only Church member in her family. Her father was forbidding her to attend seminary. An inspired priesthood leader invited the young woman’s father to attend seminary with his daughter. He agreed to do so.
“One student who understands the depth and breadth of the Atonement of Jesus Christ can yield a profound influence leading a family to the temple and towards an eternal family,” she said. “That is why we do what we do in this wonderful work.”
Because of this it is important that seminary and institute teachers have the Spirit in their homes every day.
She noted that in Doctrine and Covenants 25 the Lord gives inspired counsel that applies as Latter-day Saints seek to have the Spirit in their homes:
• “Comfort [and speak] consoling words, in the spirit of meekness” (v. 5).
• “Lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (v. 10).
• “Lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto … covenants [and] … keep my commandments continually” (vv. 13, 15).
• “Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy [companion], and the glory which shall come upon him” (v. 14).
“I close with the simple and sweet words penned by Stephen Chalmers: ‘Out of the dreariness, into its cheeriness, come we in weariness home,’” said Sister Burton. “May our homes be worthy of such a description as we strive to live as devoted disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ. Surely then, we too will glimpse heaven.”
Brother Webb extended an invitation to each instructor that “with the coming of a new school year, we each study again the Book of Mormon and prayerfully consider how we might encourage each youth and young adult within our circle of influence to have a meaningful personal experience studying the Book of Mormon.
“That’s it, that’s my message. Will you please do that?”
He said the real miracle of the Book of Mormon is that it changes lives, and that “miracle continues to happen every time a person begins a serious study of its pages.”
Brother Haws asked instructors to teach not only from the standard works of the Church but also from the words of living prophets and apostles.
He explained that “listening to and following the teachings of the prophets leads to greater faith in the Savior.” He also said the “teachings of the living prophets will fortify our students against temptation and increase their ability to withstand the evils and persecutions they face today.”
Brother Hawks said that as good as seminary and institute teachers are currently, they still must get better.
“Many of our leaders have been telling us this repeatedly,” he said. “We have been asked to ‘raise our sights.’ We have been shown that ‘the world … is changing rapidly,’ and so are the tactics of the adversary. We have been told that ‘we cannot do things exactly the way we did them 10 or 20 years ago and assume that’s enough,’ because what was sufficient then will not offer adequate protection now. My message today is intended to inspire a unified and persistent commitment toward getting better.”