Seminaries to Implement New Doctrinal Mastery Initiative

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 8 June 2016

Youth meet for a seminary class in the Dominican Republic. Over the course of the next year, seminary instructors around the world will be implementing a new initiative—Doctrinal Mastery—in their classrooms in an effort to help students understand the gospel.  Photo courtesy of Chad H. Webb.

Article Highlights

  • New Doctrinal Mastery program will replace Scripture Mastery.
  • The Doctrinal Mastery program allows students to study, ask questions, and teach one another.
  • The program is designed to help students become spiritually self-reliant.

“What this isn’t is a hundred answers to a hundred questions. This is more about how do you think about information and how do you turn to trustworthy sources, and how do you frame questions in a gospel premise instead of the world’s premise.” —Chad H. Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion

Over the course of the next year, seminary instructors around the world will be implementing a new initiative—Doctrinal Mastery—in their classrooms to help the youth of the Church make connections between the doctrine of the gospel and how to apply it in their everyday lives.

Introduced in February by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the annual “Evening with a General Authority” devotional broadcast to seminary and institute personnel, the new seminary initiative is meant to facilitate gospel learning and instruction on a deeper level.

“It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine, and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the Church,” Elder Ballard said in that address. “Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life.”

Recognizing the curriculum at the time—though well-meaning—does not prepare students for the climate they are living in today, Elder Ballard spoke of the great need for youth to feel comfortable asking questions as they are taught the doctrine of the gospel.

“Students have instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every possible point of view,” Elder Ballard said. “Today what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting.”

In an effort to help students be informed, educated, and spiritually taught about the doctrine and history of the Church, the new Doctrinal Mastery has been added to the seminary curriculum.

“These young people are immersed in a digital world where they are literally bombarded every day with voices and messages from the world,” said Elder Kim B. Clark, General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church. “Many of those voices and messages raise questions and issues of the day directly related to what we believe.”

The new Doctrinal Mastery program will provide opportunities during seminary classes for students to study, ask questions, and teach one another. It will be geared toward learning how to apply doctrinal understanding to real-life situations.

“Think about what it is we are preparing them to become,” said Elder Clark. “We want them to be prepared to enter the temple of the Lord and make sacred covenants with Him and really understand what it means.”

What is Doctrinal Mastery?

The foundation for the new Doctrinal Mastery curriculum comes from ten doctrinal points—nine of which are from the youth curriculum, Come, Follow Me. The first point, “acquire spiritual knowledge,” focuses on the Lord’s pattern for learning truth.

“Teaching youth the Lord’s patterns for acquiring spiritual knowledge is an effort to help them better understand how to study the scriptures and words of prophets and to pray and act in faith, and to then live the things they are learning,” said Chad H. Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “The other part of Doctrinal Mastery is intended to help them to study the doctrine as taught in the scriptures, in ways that will help them to find answers and to be prepared to respond to doctrinal, historical, and social questions.”

The other nine doctrinal points include:

  1. The Godhead
  2. The plan of salvation
  3. The Atonement of Jesus Christ
  4. The Restoration
  5. Prophets
  6. Priesthood and priesthood keys
  7. Ordinances and covenants
  8. Marriage and family
  9. Commandments

The curriculum will focus on three principles as youth study the doctrine of the gospel:

  1. Acting in faith
  2. Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective
  3. Seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources

“What this isn’t is a hundred answers to a hundred questions,” said Brother Webb. “This is more about how do you think about information and how do you turn to trustworthy sources, and how do you frame questions in a gospel premise instead of the world’s premise.”

The new Doctrinal Mastery will replace Scripture Mastery—where students memorize specific scriptures throughout the standard works—and will still coordinate with the book of scripture students are studying that year.

“That means Doctrinal Mastery becomes topical, not sequential,” said Elder Clark. “We figured out a way to get the scriptures in there so you still have 25 scriptures that are part of Doctrinal Mastery, but the focus is really on topics—doctrinal topics.”

Lessons can be taught for a few minutes each day in class or grouped together in one class a week—ultimately teachers will decide when the Doctrinal Mastery is incorporated into their classrooms. The lessons include studying from the scriptures and words of the prophets, asking and answering difficult questions, and looking at case studies.

“It’s the same effort as Scripture Mastery, but we think it will be more helpful and more relevant,” Brother Webb said. “We will still study all of the standard works. It is not taking the place of our lessons, but it will take the place of Scripture Mastery and will add a dimension where students will now do more to understand how the doctrine applies to their questions and how these gospel principles apply to their own circumstances.”

Asking and answering questions

In his address Elder Ballard said, “More than any time in our history, your students also need to be blessed by learning doctrinal or historical content and context by study and faith accompanied by pure testimony so they can experience a mature and lasting conversion to the gospel and a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ.”

For the youth of the Church today, asking questions and being asked questions is not unusual. It is the hope, said Brother Webb, that students bring their questions to class and instructors teach students in “a setting of faith with someone they can trust instead of thinking, ‘Well, nobody wants to answer my question so I’ll go look on the internet.’”

“[Students] are being asked these questions by their peers and they are seeing them all the time—daily, hourly on social media—so those questions have become part of their lives,” Elder Clark said. “This is something they are getting every single day and so we felt strongly that we needed to create seminary as a place questions were not only welcome, but embraced. We engage questions, and then we learn how to work with our students to address their questions in a way that not only helps them find answers, if there are answers, but helps them learn a process that equips them as individuals to be spiritually self-reliant.”

For seminary teachers, questions often invite the Spirit and provide a powerful teaching opportunity.

“If teachers have confidence that they can do it in a way that is helpful and doctrinally sound, they will be more likely to be willing to have those conversations than if they are uncomfortable because they are unsure how to respond,” said Brother Webb. “Hopefully, this is going to give our teachers more confidence to invite these kinds of questions.”

Training for teachers begins with the annual training broadcast for instructors held on June 14. Additional training will take place in areas around the world over the next few months in preparation for the new school year.