Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Worst Very Best Calling in the Church

Posted by BrianJ on December 8, 2007

I love being a teacher. There are two things about it—in and out of church—that appeal to me:

First, I relish witnessing a student’s “a-ha!” moments—that instant when she finally comprehends something she couldn’t understand, or appreciates the importance of some “new” idea, or recognizes that she actually doesn’t understand what she thought she was sure of. I won’t say that those moments are “sacred”—but only because I’m not sure if that is the right word to describe them, not because I think the word is too weighty.

Second, I like the challenge and growth that is the result of the pressure to be The Expert. Nothing exposes the gaps in my knowledge more readily than trying to explain a thing I don’t fully understand. “If you can teach it, then you know it,” we might say. Granted, no LDS Sunday School teacher is held up as The Expert, but there is still some expectation of knowledge and proficiency.

So when people ask, “What’s the best calling in the Church?” without hesitation I answer “Gospel Doctrine teacher.” And I know that I’m not alone in this opinion. So this post isn’t about why the best calling is the best calling—you already know that.

This post is to discuss why being a Gospel Doctrine teacher is the worst calling in the Church. There’s really only one reason for this. It is a problem I had been sensing for months now (I have been teaching in my current ward for a couple years), but it only became obvious during an interview with my bishop last week. He asked was I holding family home evening, family prayer, personal prayer, etc. “Yes, yes, yes,” I answered.

“Family scripture reading?”

Again, “Yes.”

“Personal scripture reading?”

Pause. Pause. “No…not really.”

It’s been…well, I can’t remember the last time I studied the scriptures for me. Everytime I open them, it’s with my upcoming lesson in mind. What does my class need? Which parts will confuse them? What other scriptures can I use to explain this? What are we discussing the following week and how will this relate? As I study the material, I frequently find a verse or topic that draws me in—but I have to pull myself away. I ask, in prayer, “Is this what my class needs? No, not this verse; something else. But I really want to meditate on this one. Nope, no time for that: it’s their lesson or my personal study (or skip work or don’t help the kids build a snowman, etc.). Priorities. Good, better, best.” Even when I carve out some time for “personal study,” my thoughts and questions succumb to the gravitational pull of the upcoming lesson.

I’ll state right now that I see the benefit of losing oneself in the service of others, and this is an example. There is something holy about the community of Saints—the members of the body of Christ losing the self in order to become one. And I appreciate that in some way, the Gospel and the scriptures that proclaim it were always about the community and not the individual.

But I also feel the down-side. There is a personal loss that I don’t think is part of the admonition to “lose oneself”. I can’t articulate it except to borrow a phrase from our Evangelical friends: I accept Jesus as my personal Savior. Can I connect with Jesus by myself, without regard to my community? Certainly not. But can I connect with Jesus through only the community? It’s wonderful—I really cannot express my joy—to be with my class as united we feel the weight of the Spirit. I picture us all assembled together, worshiping as one at Jesus’ feet. And while I couldn’t value that more, sometimes I just want some alone time—alone time with God.

17 Responses to “The Worst Very Best Calling in the Church”

  1. The Editor said

    You have interviews with your bishop? Wow. I haven’t had an interview with a bishop in 30 years. Like, since I graduated high school. I’ve had the same bishop for about five years, and I don’t even know how many kids he has. Four, five…I dunno. But he doesn’t know how many kids I have, either, so I guess we’re even.

  2. Susan M said

    Nice post, but you’re wrong. Best calling in the church = nursery. :)

  3. Daylan said

    Best calling = primary pianist

  4. Nitsav said

    “So when people ask, “What’s the best calling in the Church?” without hesitation I answer “Gospel Doctrine teacher.””

    Institute Teacher is one step up. Twice as much time, and a self-selecting group :)

  5. Clark said

    Susan – I loved nursery until about year 3 when the lack of interaction with other adults started to get to me…

  6. NathanG said

    I am not a teacher and have “my own” personal scripture study. I feel like I am constantly being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrinal topic. I have Sunday School lessons to prepare myself for, priesthood lessons, Sacrament Meetings, Ensign, Conference Report, counsel to read the Book of Mormon daily, and random topics on blogs (I’m sure it would be worse if I felt compelled to keep up on other religious books to “help” my study). Times when I’ve thought I know what I want to study for myself the Spirit has essentially said “No.”

    When I do have a topic of personal interest come up (and the Spirit seems to approve), I admit I have the luxury of ignoring other things and taking time to study something for myself, but overall, I feel like these times are not that frequent and I’m often left wondering if I’m getting anything out of my study time. So I go back to being tossed to and fro until something else hits me.

    Brian, I’m sure your class would love to hear what you want to talk about from time to time, I would at least be interested.

  7. Kevin Barney said

    This isn’t a problem that I ever felt personally. I was happy to study whatever the scheduled assignment was, and didn’t feel the need to pursue some other topic personally. I loved teaching GD (I’ve had that calling in three different wards), but I could never last more than two and a half years. It happens every time; I simply burn out. I like to overprepare my lessons, so I reach a point where I no sooner present one lesson than I realize I have to start the preparation process all over again for the next week. And eventually I reach a point where it all gets overwhelming, and I’m begging the bishop to be released.

  8. RuthS said

    After awhile it is difficult to be creative and enthusiastic about the provided materials. It doesn’t really matter what class it is this often happens because we use the same materials over and over again. But, sometimes I miss my personal project. I was interrupted in the middle to end of the Old Testament and haven’t been disciplined enough to get back to it.

    On the other hand it is wonderful to teach because it builds my testimony and enhances my relationship with the spirit. That is the same thing that personal daily scripture study does. So I haven’t missed it as much as I might have.

  9. brianj said

    NathanG: Well, I sort of talk about what I want. That is, within the assigned reading, we usually dwell on what I find interesting. But if I truly had my way, we’d probably still be in Exodus (that’s right, from all the way back from last year).

    Kevin Barney: Believe me, I know exactly what you mean by burnout.

    RuthS: I don’t know what you mean about “provided materials.” Are those the manuals (which I could definitely tire of) or the scriptures themselves (which is all I use now, and I can’t imagine exhausting them!)?

  10. Jim F. said

    LIke Kevin Barney, I’ve not seen a difference between personal scripture study and studying the scriptures for teaching a class or for some other reason.

    I was released from GD teaching about a year ago, after 5+ years in the job. I miss it and I hadn’t burned out when I was released.

  11. TStevens said

    I was the 12-13 year old teacher for a few years and loved it. When I got called as ymp I said I would only take the calling if I could keep my Sunday school class as well. We are a very small Ward so they said okay to that. I did that for a few years when they gave me my dream in the beginning of this year, adult gospel doctrine teacher. I find I study way more now that I am the gdt than I ever did as an attendee. That probably says a lot more about my study habits than anything else.

  12. BrianJ said

    Kevin Barney and JimF: I’m having a hard time not seeing a difference between personal and group scripture study. So I envy you that you do not feel “pulled away” from some topics by the need to prepare for class.

  13. JrL said

    I wonder how many Gospel Doctrine teachers would consider it the best calling in the Church (and like you’ I’ve that repeatedly) if they understood that the calling means teaching everyone in the class, not just those who attend. Gospel Doctrine teachers 9and, unfortunately, many Gospel Principles teachers) erroneously consider them exempt from the standards that most Primar, youth Sunday School, YM and YW teachers are asked to achieve. Gospel Prinsiples is tough: the composition of the class is constantly changing. But Gospel Doctrine is truly the toughest teaching assignment in the Church — especially in those wards with a signle class, where the teacher is responsible for literally every adult member of the ward, except those in Gospel Principles or some other Sunday School class and those serving in Primary.

  14. John V. said

    By far the best calling is gospel doctrine instructor. I can’t count the spiritual experiences that I’ve had over the years preparing for and teaching the class. Almost as good as being a full time missionary.

  15. Porter said

    I am weird, in that my 2 favorite callings are most people’s worst nightmare:

    I loved being Stake Physical Activities Director (the guy who runs basketball) Had a great time cleaning up the program (if I must say so myself) and moving it from a “Lord of the Flies” type only the strong survive weekly brawl to a functioning Church Program that served the needs/want of participants in a positive way, laying out clear expectations for behavior and, then enforcing them. I think it may have been the challenge of it all, but I loved it. Men’s Basketball is a VERY unique program, because to the best of my knowledge it is the one single thing program in the Church that Adult Males do for themselves. It seems to me that every other calling and program in the Church is pretty much serving others, but basketball is different, it is one thing we do purely for ourselves, for the simple fun of it. The irony is not lost… that in more cases than not, participants screw it up to the point that it is often canceled.

    My other favorite calling is 1st counselor in YM Presidency. You get the Teachers Quorum. Teachers are great, 14 & 15 Year olds. Deacons (12YO’s) are a bit too squirrelly, Priests (16 YO’s) are a bit too full of themselves. Teachers are just right. Honestly hanging with the youth keeps you young, and feeding off their energy and vigor is great. I would take dealing with them over dealing with adults any Sunday! They are inherently more rational than adults. Having said all that.. it obviously is a personality thing, and for some they just would not enjoy hanging with a bunch or hyperactive smelly teenage boys, but it works for me.

  16. RickH said

    I would have to agree that “Gospel Doctrine Teacher” is my favorite calling. It is forcing me to study and read the scriptures when I probably wouldn’t do otherwise. I enjoy the spirit that comes with talking with fellow members about the gospel. I am a convert of over 23 years now and I joined the church while serving in the Army in Germany. I had a roommate who introduced me to the Book of Mormon. I think you site is very informative, but, it seems to be a little to analytical. I am sure that Brother Talmage would have enjoyed your site very much but the Gospel
    is basically pretty simple. A lot of your posts seem to be trying to impress with the knowledge they have or the insite they might give. The Book of Mormon is clean, clear and consistent with its message. After growing up with years of confusion, it was like the a cool summer breeze blew away the fog of false doctrine. The only thing you need to teach the Gospel effectively is the “Spirit” that opens your understanding. I must not be doing such a grat job though, because I have been the Gospel Doctrine Teacher now for almost 6 years….lol. I really like your site and added it to my favorites.
    Das Kirche is Wahr.

  17. val said

    My favorite calling, is my calling now: “Primary Pianist”. And I think it is the BEST I ever had. I have only played for the primary once when I was in the Young Women(as a PP Project) and I really thought the primary songs were sooo difficult. Last year, when I was called as the Primary Secretary, they also asked me to play the piano. Somebody else plays the piano for primary, but she is our Primary Music Leader, so it was a nice opportunity to get to listen to the children sing. My favorite now is “If the Savior Stood Beside Me”. It is really powerful, and when you hear the children’s voices on Sunday morning, you know you’ve started your week just right.

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