How to Teach the New MP/RS
Posted by BrianJ on December 21, 2009
While the topics are (supposedly) not new, many teachers are new to teaching lessons from a manual like “Gospel Principles,” the newly revised manual for priesthood and Relief Society over the next two years. We at the Feast Blog plan to regularly post lesson notes at least a week before each lesson (i.e., two posts per month). To kick things off, however, I thought it would be helpful to discuss how to teach from this manual.
I see six general approaches:
1) Gospel Essential for Everyone: investigators and new members attend this introductory course using the same manual; deliver the same lessons to MP/RS.
2) Back to Basics: review and repeat what we all already know to remind us of what “really matters.”
3) Reinforce Our Foundations: why do you believe what you believe? where did “doctrine x” originate?
4) Probe the Shadows: explore the limits of our belief to extend our understanding and appreciation of the Gospel; including challenging “fuzzy doctrine.”
5) Testimonial: share personal witness/revelation/experiences.
6) Redlining: highlight the changes made in the revised edition.
This is open to debate, but I’ll go ahead and say that #1 and #2, in most wards, would be unhelpful. The first disregards one’s audience entirely, and I can’t imagine a good lesson as a result. True, most classes will have one or two new members who haven’t “heard all this before.” While they benefit from an introductory course, they already get one during Sunday School, so delivering essentially the same lessons on essentially the same level serves neither them (sitting through back-to-back lessons) nor the long-time members. Also, wouldn’t it be nice for new members to start out knowing that there’s much more to the Atonement, or Heavenly Father, or Faith than can be covered in only 30 min? How better to show this than to deliver an entirely different lesson on the same topic?
The second approach is probably even worse—and I only bring it up because it’s an idea I’ve heard several times. For starters, it’s insulting: what about the past several years of devoted study didn’t “matter”? Second, it reinforces the false and harmful idea that there are doctrines “we” all know, or all understand, or all necessarily accept; i.e., a creedalist approach to Gospel teaching. Third, it’s a wasted opportunity to teach and learn.
That leaves #3-6, which are all helpful and complimentary. I will probably initiate my lessons with approach #3, before shifting toward #4. “Chapter and Verse!” will be my mantra on the occasions I get to teach; “If you don’t know why you believe something, then why do you believe it?” Inevitably, some doctrines will come up that are difficult or impossible to support with scripture. That’s when approach #4 kicks in: in what sense did Jesus “pay” for sins? how was that price calculated? who was paid? what are the limits of “debt/payment” language?
My lesson notes will probably never include #5, partly because it’s not my strength in teaching and because those are difficult to share in a blog format. I hope that absence doesn’t suggest that I devalue personal experiences; in the end, they’re all that really matter.
I’ve already seen posts following approach #6—I first saw it here. This approach could start up some very productive discussion, but I’d caution against making too much about specific changes. Since in many cases it’s impossible to know exactly why a change was made, pushing the issue too hard is bound to be contentious. I’ll approach any revisions in much the same way I approach the JST or different Bible translations: differences reflect other possible interpretations and should be the start, not the end, of debate.
What are your plans for teaching MP/RS?
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