“For the Perfecting of the Saints”: A Look at Church Curriculum

January marks the beginning of another curriculum year in the Church. During this month, some members will advance from one class to another, most will be introduced to new courses of study, and all will become involved in a variety of learning experiences. It is a good time to ask:

  • What do you know about the curriculum of the Church?

  • Do you understand the basic premises upon which the curriculum is based?

  • Are you familiar with all of the instructional materials provided by the Church?

  • How can you and your family members obtain all of the blessings offered through the Church’s instructional program?

These important questions are worthy of thoughtful consideration as we begin 1986; for this year, and all other years, should be a time of learning and spiritual growth.

The word curriculum is generally used to identify the whole body of courses offered by an institution. Applying this definition to the Church’s instructional program, we find that the standard LDS curriculum consists of the holy scriptures and forty-nine courses.

Eleven of these courses are designed to meet the needs of children in five distinct age groupings; twenty-two are written for youth in three age groupings; and eighteen are meant for use in adult settings. (See chart, pp. 20–23.) If a person were to move in sequence through the full Church curriculum as presently structured, he would receive information printed in thirty-nine separate books or manuals. And, in the process, he would be exposed to many supplementary and audiovisual helps prepared for use by parents and teachers.

It should be understood, however, that the number of courses offered varies from one Church unit to another. Members living in isolated places, whose circumstances require them to worship in family or small branches, are encouraged to use the materials designed for small units of the Church. These materials consist of the scriptures and seven manuals. This allows youth and children of different ages to be grouped into fewer classes, reducing cost, space, and teacher requirements. As these smaller units grow, use of the standard curriculum also grows until, in areas where membership and sufficient classrooms warrant it, the full program is provided. (See chart, p. 24.)

Some Fundamental Considerations

Church curriculum is not a “hit or miss” proposition, nor something that has simply evolved. It has been carefully designed, based upon the following fundamental considerations:

1. The home is the central curriculum agency for all age groups. One very significant scripture teaches that “inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …

“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28.)

It is in the family setting and the home that members receive their basic gospel training. This training includes reading the scriptures, praying, holding family home evenings, serving one another in a spirit of love and unity, and doing all else that lays the foundation of Christian living.

Many resources have been made available by the Church to assist families in this home training. These resources include the LDS editions of the scriptures, the Family Home Evening Resource Book, the Church magazines, and many other aids. (See p. 23.)

2. The priesthood, through its quorums, and the women’s organizations stand next to the family as curriculum agencies. One Church leader said, “The Church should be, first of all, a great teaching institution.” (John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood Church Government, Deseret Book Co., 1967, p. 177.) According to the Apostle Paul, priesthood officers and Church organizations were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:12–13.) Such purposes are realized as inspired teachers lead quorum and class members in the search for truth.

3. The scriptures of the Church constitute the heart and core of the curriculum. Simplified scripture stories are used with the very smallest children to help them understand who they are and how they relate to our Heavenly Father, to the Savior, and to their parents and family. Later, as the children prepare for baptism, they are exposed to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel through the use of the scriptural accounts.

When youth enter the Aaronic Priesthood or Young Women program, they receive further understanding of the gospel and are introduced to additional scripture study aids. These study aids are used as the young men and women probe deeper into the scriptures and seek to develop testimonies. The adult curriculum is based upon a systematic, four-year study of the standard works supplemented by the inspired utterances of modern prophets. One year the Old Testament is studied; the next year the New Testament is featured; the third year, focus is turned to the Book of Mormon; and year four centers upon the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history. In fact, the standard works have replaced all other materials as the basic texts in the adult curriculum of the Church.

Throughout the curriculum, there is one prevailing intent. It is to help members develop a love of the scriptures and “to adopt a program of daily gospel study in our homes, both as individuals and as families.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, July 1985, p. 3.)

President Kimball adds: “I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.” (Ibid., pp. 4–5.)

4. The curriculum of the Church is correlated. Careful and prayerful plotting of gospel principles with the use of planning charts and computers has enabled Church workers to correlate the Church curriculum. For example, if we were to look at the curriculum planning charts to learn how and when the first principle of the gospel—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—is being taught, we would quickly learn that seventeen lessons are devoted to this principle in the children’s curriculum. The charts would also reveal that in the youth courses of study, twenty-one lessons have this principle as a major emphasis and eight additional lessons have it as a minor emphasis. The planning charts indicate the degree of complexity, the lesson objectives, supporting materials, the age group being taught, and the organization teaching the principle. Thus, a systematic, progressive, balanced study is prepared for the children and youth of the Church.

The same system is used in planning the adult courses, with each principle being reinforced or repeated in balance with other important principles. Of course, for a balanced gospel study, one should attend and participate in all Church meetings provided him; and teachers should remain true to the approved courses of study.

Weekly Sunday School lessons for the adults in the Gospel Doctrine class provide a systematic study of the scriptures in their historical setting. This broadens our in-depth study of the scriptures by helping us understand the context in which they were written. Simultaneously, priesthood and Relief Society offer a more extensive study and personal application of the doctrines taught in the scriptures. One series of lessons support the other, and together they constitute a well-rounded program of searching, understanding, and applying the scriptures.

One more thing should be mentioned about the correlated curriculum. Lessons relating to the three missions of the Church (proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead) are found in almost every course of study. These gospel activities are presented very simply to children, discussed more pointedly with youth, and “post-holed,” or studied in detail, with adults. It should also be noted that short genealogy, member-missionary, and temple preparation courses are listed among the supplemental offerings for adults.

5. The “Church magazines are essential tools in our gospel teaching program.” (First Presidency Letter, Oct. 2, 1972.) This fundamental curriculum principle has been in place for some years and grows in importance as the Church expands throughout the world.

Church publications (the Ensign, the New Era, the Friend, and the International Magazines) are referred to as the voices of the Church and the official line of communication from the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to the members of the Church. Each month a First Presidency message appears in the Ensign. Home teachers are expected to discuss this article with all assigned families. Quite obviously, the curriculum would become stagnant and lose its relevance if we failed to hear the voices of living prophets.

One of the most significant of all Church publications is the conference edition of the Ensign magazine. This important issue carries the current written messages of the Brethren conveying the mind and will of the Lord. Included with each conference issue is a chart suggesting how these addresses might be used to enrich courses of study currently in use by the various organizations.

Magazine editors work cooperatively with curriculum planners so that supplementary curriculum materials may be provided for leaders, parents, and classroom teachers. These materials may include informative articles, instructional aids or suggestions, historical background, questions and answers, and other helpful ideas. Since all are written with one end in mind—to help teachers be more effective—teachers should be encouraged to subscribe to and make use of the publications in their classes.

The magazines are published to meet the needs of specific audiences. Efforts are made through design, content, and reading levels to reach children, youth, and adults in the age groups targeted for the respective magazines. Hence, each publication becomes almost a self-study text or reader in the hands of the subscriber.

The Blessings of Gospel Study

The blessings associated with gospel study are almost without limit. They include increased faith, added knowledge, a stronger testimony, and a deeper love of God and one’s fellowmen. They give insights leading to a better understanding of life and its purposes, a more sincere desire to repent, peace of mind, willful obedience, and many other spiritual benefits. Perhaps the finest summary of the virtues that come through the study of the word of the Lord, the holy scriptures, is this: “[They will] make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15.)

You and your family members can obtain all these blessings and more from the Church’s instructional program by—

1. Understanding the premises upon which the curriculum is based. This will enable you to see purpose in the classes you attend and the materials you read. It will also enable you to harmonize more effectively personal, family, and quorum or class study. If you understand the purpose of something, you will generally be more inclined to become actively involved.

2. Becoming acquainted with the instructional resources provided by the Church. Many excellent teaching aids are now available for family and class use. In addition to manuals, magazines, pictures, films, and tapes, other helps may be found in the meetinghouse library and in the distribution centers’ catalogs. The listing grows each year. But first and foremost among all the resources is the LDS edition of the scriptures. This edition is a library of books and learning aids and is an essential reference tool for all members. Those who have teaching responsibilities can gain confidence and achieve teaching excellence through using the resources provided by the Church.

3. Attending regularly the classes and activities sponsored by family, priesthood, and auxiliary groups. As already stated, the Church curriculum has been correlated carefully; each course has its purpose and place. Lessons taught in Relief Society are associated with lessons taught in Sunday School. Both the Relief Society and Sunday School lessons have bearing upon that taught in the home. All are important and all should be received to have a balanced spiritual diet of gospel teachings.

4. Making your home a “real” learning center. A learning center is more than a collection of books and pencils and desks. It is a place where truth is cherished, honest inquiry encouraged, and uplifting dialogue exchanged in a congenial atmosphere. Some consider the teaching in the home complete if family home evening is held routinely. Actually, family home evening is only a part of the teaching that needs to take place if learning is to become centered in the home. Some very important teaching occurs when family members discuss a Sunday School lesson around the dinner table, when parents assist a child in preparing a talk or fulfilling an assignment, when someone seizes an opportunity to teach a spontaneous, practical lesson, and when all within the household take delight in reading a good book in some quiet corner.

5. Developing a genuine love for the scriptures. Much has been said about classes, courses of study, family activities, and other group-oriented aspects of Church curriculum. All of these are important. However, the central purpose of the curriculum is left unrealized unless individual members of the Church develop a genuine love for the scriptures. The Prophet Nephi declared: “My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord.” (2 Ne. 4:15–16.) Is this not the real intent of all that is done in the Church through established programs of study?

An Evaluation

The curriculum of an institution may be evaluated in terms of appropriateness, completeness, balance, and other similar criteria. Ultimately, however, the “goodness” of any instructional program must be measured in terms of what it does for the participants.

A good nutritional meal may be placed upon the table, but that meal must be eaten by someone before any nourishment is received. So it is with the curriculum of the Church and all of its supporting resources and instructional aids. The LDS edition of the scriptures has only cosmetic value unless it is used; the forty-nine offered courses are just so much paper with print unless studied; the magazines or “voices” of the Church cannot be heard unless they are read; and all the other offerings placed upon the curriculum table will be void of spiritual nourishment and saving power unless the Saints “eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely.” (Alma 5:34.)

One might ask: “Who serves the meal which has been placed upon the ‘curriculum table’? ” This sacred responsibility is shared by parents, leaders, and teachers—those who have been called to “feed the flock.” (See Ezek. 34:1–19.) If those who serve do so in a caring manner, those served will likely eat with pleasure; moreover, they will likely be inclined to return for more. If, however, the meal is served in an impersonal, haphazard way, appetite is spoiled and the joy of eating is lost. It is, therefore, urgent that all who teach the gospel give their finest effort.

We often refer to scriptures such as “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), “It is impossible for man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6), and “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.” (D&C 1:37). Do we really believe these statements? If we do, we will not be casual in our quest for truth, nor will we be less than active, enthusiastic participants in the Church’s instructional program. All who are invested in this inspired curriculum effort echo the divine invitation, “Come and … be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.” (Alma 5:62.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Snow