Teach the Doctrine


This morning I attended a regional auxiliary training originating in Chicago and reaching as far as Minneapolis, I believe. The featured speaker was the second councilor in the General Sunday School Presidency. The focus of the presentation was principles derived from the Church’s Teaching in the Savior’s Way initiative, and part of the presentation entailed modeling what is supposed to happen in Teaching Council meetings.

One of the key principles to this initiative is to “teach the doctrine,” and the presentation this morning focused on that one and they showed a three-minute video articulating that ideal. And I was a little bit puzzled by the video, because it never really explains what they mean by “teach the doctrine”; in particular, what are we supposed to understand “doctrine” to be in this context? The film just assumes it’s obvious and never explains it.

To me part of the lack of clarity is that the expression “teach the doctrine” is in essence a cognate accusative (meaning that the verb and the object of the verb mean the same thing). That is, “doctrine” simply means “teaching,” and so the tag line literally means “teach the teaching.”[1] So unless we explain what we mean by doctrine, the concept is circular and therefore meaningless.

So what the principle “teach the doctrine” is supposed to mean is not obvious to me. The implication of this being a part of the new Teaching in the Savior’s Way initiative is that this is something new that we haven’t been doing, or doing adequately, before, and we need to start doing it now. But how does teaching the doctrine differ from what we’ve already been doing for all these years?

Perusing the lesson on Teaching the Doctrine at lds.org, I take it that the basic notion is that our teaching should be grounded in the scriptures and focused on teaching the doctrine of Christ, apparently in contradistinction to this: “If you focus on simply entertaining learners or keeping them occupied, you may miss out on teaching eternal truths that will help learners make meaningful changes in their lives.” And I have to wonder, What Gospel Doctrine lessons have they been attending all these years?  The curriculum is the scriptures, and has been for a long time, and our focus on Jesus Christ has also been in place for decades. I can’t recall attending a class where the teacher was just trying to entertain the class or keep them occupied. (Perhaps they did not have adult Gospel Doctrine classes in mind, but youth classes that end up playing hangman or something; my experience is almost entirely with the adults.)

So I guess my question for you is twofold: What does it mean to “teach the doctrine”? And how is that different from what we historically have done in Gospel Doctrine class?


[1] Doctrine comes from Latin doctrina, which means “teaching” and is related to doctor “teacher,” both from docere “to teach.”  The short video also quotes John 7:17, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” The word doctrine here is a translation of Greek didache, which simply means, you guessed it, “teaching.”



  1. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Well, I can assure them that they need not be concerned about adult Sunday School classes being entertaining.

    However, I do find actual discussions of doctrine, it’s foundations, implications for its application, and factors that contribute to how doctrine(s) has evolved through the years to be highly entertaining. Focusing on those things is absolutely consistent with teaching the doctrine. So, let’s make sure to encourage it.

  2. We have a brother in our ward who was sometimes called upon to be a substitute GD teacher when I used to attend (I’m in Primary now, so I’m not sure if he still fills in – I know he used to teach in High Priests group classes too). He would usually bring in a pile of “visual aids,” often including hand-drawn maps or very old illustrations of, say, “Book of Mormon archaeological sites” or “genealogies” showing that the Queen of England is actually descended from Judah, etc., and turn the lesson into a discussion of these items, no matter what the lesson manual presented as the topic of the lesson. I think “teach the doctrine” means don’t turn the class into a speculation session about how big the ark really was or where Zarahemla was located, even though these things are much more fun to talk about than why we should take the sacrament every week or keeping the Sabbath day holy or whatever.

    In terms of teaching youth and children, I think they’re trying to get teachers to focus more on presenting ideas from the scriptures/prophets and less on keeping the kids’ attention with movies or treats or games.

  3. As a volunteer seminary teacher the past couple years I’ve been interested to see this push as well. No longer do we memorize scriptural mastery verses, it’s all about doctrinal mastery: https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrinal-mastery-book-of-mormon-teacher-material?lang=eng This is boiled down into the following nine categories of “doctrine”: Godhead, Plan of Salvation, Atonement of Jesus Christ, Restoration, Prophets & Revelation, Priesthood/Keys, Ordinances & Covenants, Marriage & Family, Commandments. The tricky thing as a teacher is that the manual then identifies many principles for each lesson/scripture section that fit into these categories; from there, we extrapolate and teach application. Yet in my mind, doctrine is eternal and unchanging (while application can change), but many of these topics have changed quite a bit (priesthood and marriage in particular). And commandments, beyond the two great ones Jesus gave, also change. So I’m still a little befuddled. Look forward to more insights here.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, good one Turtle!

    Villate, I’m all for avoiding the kinds of lessons you describe. I guess they don’t want to give actual negative examples of what they mean, perhaps to avoid giving teachers ideas. Here’s a classic Mormon comic that illustrates your point:

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops, the link didn’t take. It shows a teacher beginning his class this way: “Today’s lesson will be on repentance, which will deteriorate into a discussion on ancient American airfields.”

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks acw, those doctrinal mastery categories give some sense of what is meant by “doctrine” in this context.

  7. I can think of any number of lessons in both Sunday School and Relief Society that have not taught doctrine. There have been Sunday School lessons that were nothing more than one person after another giving their opinions on why we should not give money to panhandlers; one on all the ways the ministers of other churches don’t really believe the gospel they pretend to teach; a Relief Society lesson from the Joseph Smith manual/year that was supposed to be about the temple but was instead about how Merlin (the magician) who was a prophet who had built temples in England during the age of King Arthur — connected with Villate’s teacher’s charts about the Queen’s ancestry; a “special” Relief Society lesson on abortion which degenerated into women each trying to top each other in the horrible details of the cases of “someone I know,” culminating with a general authority’s wife saying that she knew a woman who had been raped by her ex-husband and got pregnant but decided to keep the baby “because her ex-husband was such a good man,” I kid you not, I have no doubt.

    I would even put in this class the kinds of discussions we have online, that are *about* the scriptures but don’t really teach doctrine, no matter how helpful and interesting they might be: a lesson that discussed, say, which kings of the later Israelite history are attested in extra-Biblical sources would be fascinating — and true — but teach no actual doctrine. It should be used sparingly to introduce a doctrinal point, maybe, but shouldn’t be the majority of the lesson.

    I”m no fan of saying “we don’t know what doctrine is” because this or that has changed over the years, or this or that is ambiguous. In that way, doctrine is a little like pornography: Maybe you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. And when you don’t.

  8. When confused about “pure doctrine” I usually take refuge in what the BoM calls the “doctrine of Christ.” In addition, to quoting Nephi in those HP discussions of “doctrine” I think I’ll now also quote Ardis: “doctrine is a little like pornography.” That should capture their attention at least long enough to be able to explain what she meant. I’ll omit the visual aids — on that point anyway.
    Thanks, Kevin, acw, Ardis, all.

  9. Ardis FTW.

  10. Happy Hubby says:

    “doctrine is a little like pornography: Maybe you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. And when you don’t.” – except that many people have different understanding of what doctrine is and what is or is not pornography. I really struggle with what is/is not doctrine.

    ACW mentions 9 doctrinal categories and myself (along with many here) could give a extemporaneous 45 minute lesson on each of those. That is partially because I have 40 years of multiple classes on these subjects. I find it frustrating that the real questions I have are not discussed, but instead we have the same discussions over and over with the pre-approved answers to the small number of pre-approved questions.

  11. I take “teach the doctrine” to be shorthand for “keep the focus on stuff that’s spiritually uplifting, especially stuff about Jesus.” I guess I can’t point to anything specific that justifies that interpretation, but I think it’s consistent with the general attempt in recent curriculum changes to move away from rote repetition and toward conceptual discussion. “Teach the doctrine” is a rule of thumb for teachers who are trying to guide discussions without following step-by-step instructions from a manual. I’m happy about this general change in the curriculum, though I recognize it’s no panacea.

    Kevin has a good point about “Teach the doctrine? What do they think we’ve been doing all these years?” I had the same reaction to the title of the manual: “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.” Really? But I also take these things with a grain of salt. I attribute them to the bureaucratic need to justify new initiatives–the organization has to come up with something that sounds catchy, even if the slogan looks kind of silly up close.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Great comment, Ardis. And Loursat, I suspect there’s a lot of truth in your second paragraph.

  13. Left Field says:

    They do something similar every time they come out with a new set of missionary lessons.

    “NOW, missionaries will teach by the SPIRIT!”

    (As opposed to all those other slobs for the past 150+ years who were called by God, and had to fumble along on their own because the Holy Ghost hadn’t been invented yet.)

  14. Geoff - Aus says:

    Teaching in the Saviours way, must come close to taking the Saviour name in vain. One of the 10 commandments, and probably doctrine. In our chapel we have a picture of the Saviour, with a a message about keeping his house clean, in every room including the toilets. I think this is another example of taking the Lords name in vain.

  15. Eric Facer says:

    It may be possible to define what doctrine is in the abstract, but identifying an eternal, never changing doctrine that has been articulated in its purest form is something mere mortals are incapable of, in my opinion. As Professor Harrell has throughly documented in his book “This is My Doctrine,” virtually every doctrine taught by Joseph Smith and his successors has undergone change—and not always for the better. This is also true of both the Old and New Testaments. Pauline Christianity, for example, differs markedly in several respects from what Christ himself taught.

    Further, the scriptures are often ambiguous regarding the scope and nature of particular doctrines. Witness the different way various passages in the Book of Mormon seem to embrace modalism or a variant of trinitarianism when discussing the Godhead. Even though some of those verses were subsequently modified because they seemingly conflicted with the three-distinct-members approach Joseph finally settled upon, this is only further to my point: this stuff changes.

    Moreover, the limits of the human mind and our earthly languages render it impossible to articulate any doctrine in a pure, infallible form. This does not mean that the quest to identify and comprehend eternal truths is pointless or quixotic; rather, it means that it is a process that can never be completed in this lifetime and will always yield imperfect results and honest, good faith differences of opinion, though, as noted in the OP, it should always begin with the scriptures.

    Finally, I think this sudden “new” emphasis on “teaching the doctrine” is intended, in part, to keep the focus on simple, noncontroversial platitudes, thereby discouraging members from asking inconvenient questions during class about some of the church’s dubious truth claims (e.g., that Isaiah 29 really does refer to Martin Harris’ visit with Charles Anthon) or its less-than-flattering historical episodes.

  16. I have found that the volume of snoring during GD is directly proportional to the purity of the doctrine being taught. Task #1: KEEP THEM AWAKE! All else follows from this. I wonder, I really wonder, why this is never on the radar in the upper echelons.

  17. Happy Hubby says:

    P – I don’t think they ever see it. Just think if a 70 came and sat in GD or High Priest. Everyone would be awake that week. In High Priests, we have actually had broken ipad screens due to people falling asleep and dropping their device. The last time I gave a lesson I was glad to see 50% of them awake.

  18. As a former (retired) high school teacher, I recognize standard practices the public school teachers are instructed to use in theirr classrooms in “Teaching n the Savior’s Way”. I don’t think these practices necessarily represent how the Savior taught, but they could be useful if understood properly. The “Teachers Council”, which my husband attends, are lead by facilitators with no background in education and they are at a loss. There is just a lot of fuzzy thinking. I sit through gospel doctrine class and see how the classes could improve by using these standard practices, but nothing has changed. I think these practices get lost in the language used in TITSW which creates a lack of clarity as you pointed out with the phrase “teach the doctrine”. It would be better if they forgot about trying to script everything in a religious context, and called “a spade a spade.”

  19. Jerrod Guddat says:

    I have heard it described this way: principles represent the what, doctrines represent the why, and applications represent the how. Example: women are primarily responsible to nurture their children (what), because we should strive to raise righteous families who care to bring others to Christ too (why), each family determines how best mothers can nurture their children (how). A Gospel Doctrine class that delves into the idea that “mothers should stay in the home” (application or how) would be in violation of the Teach the Doctrine value. Sunday School lessons that spend time on applications (or the how) are missing the mark from my perspective.

  20. Jerrod: Huh. In all the teacher’s councils (and teaching advice) I’ve had, the counsel from everyone has been to move towards a more of an applications/”how” style of teaching in all the classes, including GD. The reason for this is that a) doctrine isn’t very useful if you just think about it and don’t apply it (I am super guilty of that, myself — I LOVE the whys and am not so great at actually applying the gospel), and b) this gives rise to questions where everyone, a new convert as well as life-long members, can participate in the discussion, and that’s important to the leadership in our ward (which I think is great). It’s important to do this for GD especially, to my mind, because (as I mentioned in comments to a previous post) if it’s “why”-heavy, it can quickly devolve into a situation where only the two loudest, most obnoxious, and most fussy-about-particular-points-of-doctrine people are contributing.

  21. Kristine N says:

    Marsha–I wish TinSW was more explicitly focused on skills for good teaching/discussion leading. I’m not a terrible teacher, but I could stand some improvement. It’s a lot easer to teach the doctrine when I, as a teacher, am focused on the material more than focused on the mechanics of teaching. If teacher training were actual *training* I’d be a lot more interested in spending the hour on it.

    I had much the same reaction when the punch line of the first teacher training session was “teach the doctrine.” I took the attitude, ok, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing since that’s what I’ve been trying to do all along.

  22. sidebottom says:

    Plenty of GD classes boil down to ‘my favorite BYU professor said…’ Having not gone to BYU I can only conclude that most of these folks are completely off their nut. Too much commentary often gets in the way of teaching the doctrine.

    The current lesson manuals aren’t much better – they are nominally based in the scriptures but are focused on topical discussions that refer to scripture only when it fits with the topic. They teach doctrine but not the doctrine as its presented in scripture. Our latest lesson on the Abrahamic covenant talked a lot about missionary work but not a word about circumcision.

    The best GD classes I’ve attended are those where a knowledgeable teacher leads the class through the scriptures and lets them experience the text firsthand. Mix in a couple of mildly provocative questions and allow the discussion to evolve organically. I’d much rather hear from my fellow ward members than some stale commentary.

  23. Teaching in the Saviors way.
    Teach His teachings.

    “teach the teaching.”[1] So unless we explain what we mean by doctrine, the concept is circular and therefore meaningless.”

    Maybe what’s circular and meaningless is the way you’ve used the intellect the Lord has blessed you with and developed in a way that obfuscates what is plain.

    If you used your intellect to add to what has been given, you’d be a more profitable servant.

    Or you can intelligently nuance the teachings of his servants and make them seem meaningless. Not sure what fruit that provides but… Ok.

  24. Happy Hubby: “I really struggle with what is/is not doctrine.”
    I have wondered whether such struggles happen because, as a people, we have generally bought into the slogan that “the doctrine never changes” and at the same time try to include whatever has been taught by GAs within the concept of “doctrine.” Maybe, if we insist on immutability, the word “doctrine” would be better reserved for what is set out in 3 Nephi 11 as Christ’s doctrine…followed up with “whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil…” But that could make short work of the “Gospel Doctrine” class.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    He briefly described the new manuals, which roll out in 2019 New Testament . There will be a scripture block, which the teacher reads and studies and prayerfully considers what to share with the class. No more attention activity stuff. Sounds promising, but of course the devil will be I. The details.

  26. @Kevin, you shouldn’t correct your last comment. I loved reading “the devil is I.” in context of an educated person teaching a correlated lesson.
    It’s possible that the bretheren believe that those who are teaching false personal discoveries as doctrine are really aware that they aren’t teaching doctrine. When in reality, those things make up the some of the grounding principles of that person’s testimony and truly believe that Queen Victoria’s genealogy is doctrine.
    Without some examples the emphasis is meaningless.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, that’s what happens when I try to post from my phone!

  28. J Michael says:

    Seminary teachers are taught to use the context and content of scriptural accounts, not as the focus of a lesson, but to identify (verbalize and/or write out) doctrinal principles, then to discuss the principles so a deeper understanding is reached, giving people a chance to testify of the truth of that principle so the spirit can witness and ultimately move class members to new or renewed application of the principle. The point is that without specifically identifying 1-2 discreet principles in a class, it’s harder to drive toward deeper understanding of a thing, harder for the spirit to witness of truth, and harder to know how I might change my behavior. I’m in complete agreement with those who have suggested that this is best achieved, not by a predetermined “talk” or “lecture,” but through collaborative and interactive discussion involving as many class members as possible discussion, which can require more preparation, much more flexibility, and much less talking by the teacher in class.

  29. After watching the video I think that it’s probable that the brethren aren’t trying to make a change, so much as reinforcing a good principle. They made up a plan called “Teaching in the Saviors Way” and one of the points is to teach the doctrine. Somebody was then assigned to make a video about each point, and so we get the “teaching the doctrine” video. It may be not that it’s new, but a principle repeated once again, to hopefully prevent straying in the future.

  30. I really think the sense in which “teach the doctrine” is meant isn’t that someone is confused over, say, a 19th century sermon that doesn’t accord with our tidy modern division between Elohim and Jehovah, or whether plural marriage is a requirement of exaltation, or whatever other point someone might be debating.

    In the context of Sunday lessons, it seems clear to me that they are making a distinction between religion/faith/theology/devotion/orthopraxy, and history/sociology/”mysteries”/philosophy/other “iffy” and debatable ways to fill up the time without much of a possibility of building faith or motivating to live a godly life. Is it really that hard to distinguish between doctrine and not-doctrine in that sense??

  31. @Ardis, separating those things may be difficult if some of those things was a big deal in your spiritual identity at one point. In one of the periodicals(?) BYU recently sent me, I remember reading an account by a Biology professor. The content of the article was on the evolution of his testimony and the intersection of the gospel and science. He recalled how as a missionary he had to tell an investigator that they had to give up a belief in evolution if they were to be baptized. I doubt that was ever part of a baptismal interview question, but probably came from lessons he received growing up in the church. As a result, it became part of how he identified members as separating themselves from those who hadn’t accepted the gospel.
    What you might rightly consider to be an “iffy” thing, might be part of what someone else uses as what makes a member of the church, a member of the church.

  32. It’s not unusual that a catch phrase like “Teach the Doctrine” falls apart on examination. It is only a headline, a shorthand, and the substance takes paragraphs and examples and probably experience to make clear.

    In this kind of situation, I find it useful — or at least thought provoking — to ask what “Teach the Doctrine” is NOT, what the phrase negates. We have a first example in *not* “simply entertaining or keeping them occupied.” Some more that occur to me (with question marks?):
    >Teach the scriptures? (A frequent complaint in these parts, that lessons tend to use scripture to make a point, not teach or discuss the text itself.)
    >Teach the history? (What happened when, but also how gospel principles developed, how they might have been differently described in the 19th century.)
    >Teach testimony (i.e., motivate, inspire, commit)?
    >Teach behavior?
    >Teach critical thinking?
    Or how about
    >Teach lifetime learning? (The subject of our Teacher Council meeting today, under the heading “Invite Diligent Learning.”)

  33. I suspect that in some sense, “doctrine” is shorthand for “things that everyone can generally agree on.” It’s tricky: on the one hand, you don’t want arguments and hurt feelings or rogue teachers imposing personal viewpoints, but on the other hand Sunday School tends to be boring and unchallenging, repurposing different scriptural accounts to make the same familiar points over and over. (I mean seriously… we use Isaac and Rebekah as a good example of marriage?) Few people attend Sunday School expecting to learn something new, and when you don’t learn, you don’t grow.

    In my opinion, if the church wants better Sunday School lessons (and I’m not sure it does, honestly), the focus can’t just be on improving teaching or the manuals. We need to also encourage a culture of spiritual and scriptural curiosity among all members. Given that teachers are chosen from the congregation and not necessarily considered any more expert than their students, Sunday School can’t promote a lot of real learning unless students are actively involved, not just in commenting, but in preparing, reading in advance, studying, questioning, and trying to answer each other’s questions. I teach professionally (in a field where I actually am an expert) and I know it makes a world of difference whether my students have done the reading and prepared for class. When students aren’t prepared, you end up with something a lot like LDS Sunday School.

  34. EnglishTeacher says:

    My thoughts (and experiences) exactly, Em. Incidentally, my first name is Emily, so it appears we have at least three overlapping points in common: a teaching career, similar sentiments about teaching the doctrine and all of its complications, and the first two letters of our names. :)

  35. jader3rd, that’s an excellent example. Biology/evolution — vastly important, fascinating, with obviously theological implications — doesn’t at all fall within the scope of “teach the doctrine” (I don’t care that Bruce R. McConkie is spinning in his grave. That’s his problem.) That is, no Gospel Doctrine teacher should be teaching a class that they must accept evolution, or that they must reject it, or that they can accept these aspects and reject those, or anything of the kind. The Church has no formal position on evolution. You don’t hear about it over the conference pulpit. It forms no part of any formal Sunday manual. Any teacher presenting any position, or allowing class discussion to any significant degree, is way out on a limb, teaching his or her own views (whichever direction those views take), and not doctrine.

    That topic has to be left for academic study, personal study, online discussion, or whatever. It should be encouraged and supported in those venues. But the missionary in your story went wrong precisely because he wasn’t teaching doctrine. Wherever he had picked up that idea, he had no business teaching it to an investigator. Teach the doctrine. Not topics that are not doctrine.

  36. Mortimer says:

    Jerrod Guddat,
    Thanks for your distinction between principle, doctrine, and application. What I find frustrating is that most sisters give general conference talks on application/principles not “doctrine”. I can’t name any GA sister who has been a peer to Maxwell, who studies the law like Oaks, whose scholarship comes close to Talmadge or Witsoe, or whose doctrinal studies have been as litinous as McConkies. Even powerful female speakers like Okazaki and Dew primarily focus on application. Culturally, LDS find some sort of balance in women giving”soft” talks about their feelings (testimony) or raising families and men tackle (with their authority) extolling doctrine.

    I challenge the blog readers to tally up the number of doctrinal books published through Deseret Book who are male and female. Go ahead- next time DB sends you a mailer- count ‘em up. I bet that you’ll see fewer than 10% are female. What are women publishing? Self help books, art, fiction, humor, and children’s books- including the doctrinally wayward children’s Book “The Not Even Once Club” by Wendy Watson Nelson.

    So, now the RS sends a call to teach doctrine. Perhaps they should take some of their own advice and start giving doctrinally focused conference talks and write books on doctrine.

  37. Our RS presidency conducted a teacher training to get us to focus on “teaching the doctrine.” To them, this meant not straying from the manual and not telling or encouraging personal stories. A recent comment by one person was given as an example of inappropriateness because he shared a pertinent-to-the-lesson insight he’d had from a secular (as in, historical) book.

    My heart sunk. Why have a teacher or class at all if we’re just going to read the manual? I thought church was to learn from each other’s insights and experiences. Pres. Monson himself was a storyteller. Jesus taught in parables. The scriptures are stories. Stories are proven to stay with us longer and can reinforce an idea sometimes better than any other medium. Plus, they’re just more entertaining!

    It’s almost like we believe doctrine is an incantation or spell with magical powers. (Elder Packer came close to teaching this with his, “The study of doctrine will improve behavior more than the study of behavior.”*) We might not be chanting the exact same words over and over, but the phrase “vain repetitions” comes to mind with respect to correlation.

    Oddly enough, my more recent lesson was held up in the training as an example of “teaching the doctrine.” They obviously hadn’t paid attention to which Conference talks I’d been assigned because I’d set them aside almost entirely in order to make the lesson both interesting (because you can’t teach anything to someone who’s tuned out from boredom) and applicable. After struggling to parse a lesson from the assigned dry talks, I had a stroke of what I considered inspiration. Rather than retelling the talks’ narrative, already known to everyone, I encouraged the class to brainstorm the many attributes of Christ, followed by the many ways we can follow his example. I did little actual teaching; I led a discussion and supplied relevant quotes when comments hit on certain topics. It seemed a good spirit was present as everyone reflected on how Christ’s example applied to our lives. Of all the lessons I’ve taught, this was the least “by the book,” but, I felt, the most effective — even if (but more likely because) personal experiences and insights were shared.

    *Quoted from memory, so I might’ve gotten it wrong

  38. charlene says:

    Years ago when I taught GD, on an extra Sunday with no assigned lesson I spent the whole hour on the topic, What is Doctrine? We started with several ideas, interpretations and examples, then examined whether those definitions worked or not and how inclusive and generalizeable they were. I don’t know that we came to a definitive answer, but it was clear that the concept was not easily understood nor understood the same way by everyone.

  39. Happy Hubby says:

    charlene – Shouldn’t members of the church be able to clearly define what is / is not doctrine about as easy as we can the articles of faith? Isn’t that a REALLY important basis of what is or is not part of our religion? I have heard some say it is only when the 12 and the 1st presidency speak in unison, but even that isn’t spoken of in unison by the 12 and the 1st presidency!!! And what are we to take of prophets back before we had 15 men to guide us in unison?

  40. Michael H. says:

    I try to stick with the stories. Too many Mormons are losing their Bible literacy. The principles are in the stories. (“No ideas but in things.”) I‘ve always hated the abstract, conceptual approach that only briefly references (cherry-picks) a few out-of-context verses here and a few out-of-context verses there. And every four years the same abstractions and the same cherry-picked verses get recycled, reinforcing the illiteracy.

  41. I enjoy classes where a knowledgeable teacher has studied and prepared where I learn new ideas and ways of looking at the gospel. My frustration with titsw is that we keep being told that the teacher is just a facilitator of a discussion. So we are having lots of discussion now and I like hearing people’s insights, but it is often surface discussion and no one brings any depth to it.

  42. RockiesGma says:

    When I’ve read scriptures I have found that Jesus usually asked a question some answered one way and some another. Then he taught the lesson/message/doctrine/truth the rest of the time. There isn’t an example I can think of offhand where Jesus went back to further discussion. He asked a question to perhaps 1) get listeners thinking along a certain line of thought, and/or 2) see where they were at in their current understanding. Oftentimes, though, he didn’t ask any question(s) first—he just taught. And he taught in parables that not everyone would understand. So teaching in his way includes methods not mentioned currently.

    Seek the Spirit. He’s the true teacher. No lesson goes adrift when teachers teach by the Spirit. That’s teaching in the Savior’s way to me. It has worked all my life and few guidelines or manuals are needed to teach teachers how to teach by the Spirit. In the words of Pres. Kimball, “Do it!” Or if you prefer Nike instead, “Just do it!”

    As I grew old I learned that the younger folks don’t like the same OLD, same OLD. Old is icky. Glory that. So “new” and “fresh” are needed to keep the young interested and desirous to be involved and committed to the church’s programs. And fresh ideas and ways are good for us! No matter the new or the old though, teaching by the Spirit is an eternal way to teach very, very well. Glory that too…..

  43. JustWondering says:

    When I taught gospel doctrine I read much and prepared well. I have loved the learning the scriptures since I was a young girl and wanted to spark a greater interest in scripture study and knowledge in my fellow ward members. My goal was to help the class be familiar with the actual text, provide appropriate resources to understand the context (what did it mean there and then), and also to give opportunity to share ideas about how the passage could apply in our lives today. All of that is a tall order in 40 minutes. Overall I felt successful, and many class members expressed appreciation for the lessons which caused them to think about things in new ways, but still there are always those who enjoy hearing the same things over and over. Apparently the new bishop (not the one who called me) was one who preferred classes with mostly participation and less in-depth understanding of the scriptures. He suggested that the best classes are those in which everybody has a chance to share their ideas and then the teacher pulls in a scripture or two that relates to the topic. That’s not my idea of learning the scriptures or the doctrine, but it seemed to be his, and I ended up having a shorter term of teaching gospel doctrine than other teachers. (One has taught for 5 years and rarely reads any scriptures from the lesson. It’s mostly commentary)

  44. Rockies Gma,
    I appreciated your summary of Jesus’ messages. I especially appreciated the way you pointed out how Jesus may have taught and when he didn’t.

    This will be uncomfortable for many to hear, and some heads will start exploding in 3…2…1….

    Jesus wasn’t a good teacher. As a matter of fact, he didn’t teach much at all. “Teaching” is the wrong word to describe his short 3 yr mission. His role wasn’t to teach, but to provide the standard-to outline the way. To be the perfect one and set the bar. Messiah? Yes. Fulfilled the law? Yes. Dispenser of wisdom and enlightenment for posterity? Yes. Teacher- no. No. No. No.

    Think about your favorite teacher. Mine made learning a fun game. Every student in class learned – no matter where they were on the bell curve. My teacher repeated content, deconstructed big ideas into little ones, encouraged practice, and importantly – gave massive encouragement. In the end, we could perform at a higher level. We soared.

    Christ? Embarrassed and shamed those who asked questions, spoke over the heads of the class, delivered content in secret layers, rarely clarified when the class got lost, and let students fail rather than give them successive accomplishable tasks. In the end, so many around him failed to grasp his message. Teacher? Even calculating for middleastern culture, I have to say, “no way”. They called him “rabbi”, which is a title for teacher, but could also just mean wise one. Certainly, today he would get few stars on “rate my professor”.

    I believe Jesus was a God, perfect and capable of being a perfect teacher, but he wasn’t. If he had been a perfect teacher, could he have illuminated the minds and hearts instead of angering and confusing them? Perhaps if he had been a master teacher he would have avoided going to the cross. A master teacher would have not have needed to excuse his students and himself by saying “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A master teacher would have exemplified master classes that would have carried his church further than 50 years into the future before collapsing. Would his apostles have quarreled so? Would more apostles have figured out in an “ah-ha” moment the Marcan secret? Would mankind have fractioned into many sects and battled one another for 2000+ years over confusion and interpretation of his message? What about the numerous accidental, but harmful attempts to live the life of a disciple? Would these bitter fruits be the work of the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth? I don’t think so. I’m left concluding that Jesus didn’t want to teach, he wanted to be the example and set the standard. After giving us the standard, he commanded those who “got it” to teach and feed his sheep. But learning from Jesus himself was like drinking from a fire hydrant.

    So when I see entire curriculums citing Jesus as the master teacher, and hear GAs admonish is to teach like the Savior, I have to stop and say, “really? Like the Savior from the Bible? Are you quite sure?” Actually, it angers and saddens me. He wasn’t an education professor, he was the Messiah. Insisting he was a master teacher trainer is like saying he was a pastry chef or rug weaver. It just wasn’t his role.

  45. Sometimes I am distracted, or even put off, by the slogans. I just went back to the Introduction to “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” and found no hint that discussion facilitation was the Savior’s way. Discussion has its pros (class involvement and the teacher’s learning where the class is in its learning) and cons (in the extremes — rampant sharing of unprepared ignorance and pointless, rambling stories). But the primary point of the Intro to seems to me to be: “The Savior was full of love. …This love and compassion for people and their needs led Him to teach in ways that were meaningful to them. When the Savior taught, familiar, real-life experiences like fishing, childbirth, and herding sheep became spiritual lessons.”
    In my little corner of Mormondom, teaching in ways that are meaningful to the class would have to include at least efforts to get and keep their attention (entertainment? – but with a purpose), information including context (often through “lecture”), stories (including stories of personal experience – whether the teacher’s or a class member’s), discussion, and focus on application and not just “doctrine,” whatever one thinks that is. [Note the absence from my list of reading-from-the-manual. :) ]
    I do not understand why some want to pretend that discussion rather than lecture was the Savior’s way of teaching. The Sermon on the Mount was not a discussion. Or that “Teach the Doctrine” means don’t be interesting/entertaining or don’t put the scripture or subject in a context (historical, theological or philosophical, or otherwise). Perhaps the intent of the current program (despite its possibly silly slogans) is really to get teachers focused on teaching in ways that are meaningful to the class. Because the classes are composed of individuals that might not be possible with a single style.
    I rather like Ardis’ suggestion that “building faith or motivating to live a godly life” is more important in a Church class than esoterica or gospel hobbies. (Maybe I like it because it was already the point of my efforts to teach with a variety of tools.) But I can’t subscribe to the notion that slogans like “teach the doctrine” or “every class must be primarily a discussion” (the currently most prominent view in my ward) are the best guides to discovering how to teach a particular class in ways that are meaningful to its members.

  46. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’ll echo, for the most part, what Mortimer references. “Christ Embarrassed and shamed those who asked questions, spoke over the heads of the class, delivered content in secret layers, rarely clarified when the class got lost, and let students fail rather than give them successive accomplishable tasks. In the end, so many around him failed to grasp his message. ”

    We can quibble with the details of this, but it highlights how little we actually know about Christ as a Teacher. TITSW seems to project a teaching style onto Christ’s efforts that simply didn’t exist, while completely ignoring what we do know about his approach. If we are to really teach like the Savior, we will spend much time questioning our ecclesiastical leaders, pissing off the bulk of those who hear, and using vague analogies to get across a subversive point (OK, we do fine with the vague analogies part). That’s what we know about how the Savior taught. He didn’t prepare lessons, ask for feedback from those in attendance (except for asking a question that set them up to look dumb), or have everyone sit in a circle or break into small groups to discuss things.

    If those are the things we want to do, that’s fine. But let’s stop pretending we’re emulating the Savior.

  47. nobody, really says:

    Jesus taught using stories. It was a largely oral culture, so short, small stories were a great way to pass on information and train a way of thinking.

    So, if we are teaching in the Savior’s way, we have three options.
    1. Use the same stories Jesus used – parables. Short, simple stories that may or may not have actually happened, but helpful in making comparisons and drawing conclusions. Really simple, like “There was once a lady who had 10 silver coins, and she lost one of them.”
    2. Use stories from general authorities. Even the name implies that they are authorities on something in general. We have stories about kicking skunks, flying planes, setting fires to dry brush on the mountain, and even stories from letters written to general authorities.
    3. Use personal stories. If you’re giving a talk or a lesson and don’t have a personal story to share, you’re doing it wrong. I quote from the 2018 Gospel Doctrine manual for the Old Testament: “You may want to use one of the following activities (or one of your own) to begin the lesson. Select the activity that would be most appropriate for the class.”

    So, I would note that “(or one of your own)” specifically gives us permission and encourages us to deviate from that manual and to use a personal story or example.

  48. Nobody,
    Jesus taught using lengthy sermons or lectures. It was largely an oral culture, so he lectured groups in the Sermon on the Mount (NT) and Sermon at the Temple (BoM) and to the 12 (NT Gospel of John)– probably without the visual aids some of us use to try to maintain class attention in a largely visual culture. So, if we are teaching in the Savior’s way, we also have the option of presenting a lengthy monologue full of pithy sayings largely without stories to illustrate them and without visual aids or maybe full of unexplained metaphorical theological statements (John). Why limit the repertoire of teaching methods to stories? If you omit lecture, pithy sayings, and metaphorical theology, “you’re doing it wrong.” :)

  49. Jerrod Guddat says:

    Hey @ByCommonConsent, when can we get threaded comments on your website? I am loving the conversation here, but it is hard to follow when the convos can’t be threaded. :-(

    The Brethren are not in agreement when it comes to the definition of Doctrines and Principles. Some say they are the same thing, most seem to imply they are different (Elder Bendar in his 3 series Teach the Doctrine books gives a good description.)

    I am sure someone has already quoted Elder Richard G. Scott in the thread, but if not… “Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances.” (Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge, Oct. 1993) If you’ll observe, the Brethren always instruct (principles), rarely command (application). Personal revelation is important when it comes to application from a learned principle or doctrine.

    That is why to some Dr. Pepper is the nectar of the gods, while to others it is a sin. The problem is when we promote as doctrine that which is clearly application. Principle: word of wisdom. Doctrine: to run and not be weary, walk and not faint… Application: well, there is some insight in D&C 89: 5-9 (what not to ingest), 10-17 (what to ingest), but much is left to personal revelation since Dr. Pepper didn’t exist in 1833.

    Dr. Pepper was invented on the red-letter date of December 1st, 1885 if any of you were wondering where I stand on the nectar…er… soft drink.

  50. east of the mississippi says:

    Our doctrine is precise… church policy on the other hand fills volumes…

  51. “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” is a misleading description of how I was trained to do it as a seminary teacher. The idea is to get the students to dig into the materials, so that the class can be a discussion on what is actually there, rather than a lecture on what the teacher thinks is there. Because it is hard to get something sophisticated out of sleepy teenagers at 6am, we gave them a framework to read and study so we could discuss, similar to what Jerrod described early in the discussion.

    First, what is happening in the scripture block, what is the story? Then, what principles can we learn from the scripture block? And the next part of that framework is finding applications of the principles, as taught in the scripture block. And because it was early in the morning, often to help keep them awake, I would have them draw a picture of what we got out of the first three questions. I still have a photo of one of those pictures from the psalms on my phone. When you can get a teenager to understand something from the scriptures well enough that they can draw a picture, they have learned it. Sleepy teenagers can also get silly at times, but they will remember that silliness and come away with good memories of the scriptures. I don’t expect GD classes to divide up and draw Moses coming down from the mountain, but if teenagers can find details in Deuteronomy, so can adults who should be more familiar with the materials.

  52. Responding to RockiesGma.
    Great first paragraph on how Jesus taught. But then you say teach by the spirit. I have given up trying to distinguish between my thoughts and thoughts by the spirit. I have decided I will never ever know when I feel the spirit. Just like the doctrine question no one seems to give me any clue how to know assuredly about the feeling/guidance of the spirit. I am just going to make my own decisions for my life from here on.
    The same with teach by the spirit. While I teach I have some nervousness going, balancing of discussion and what to do next in the lesson that honestly thinking to myself, “oh that’s the spirit I’ll go with it”, I just can’t do nor am able to do.

  53. @Ardis, where can I find out more about Merlin the Prophet? That sounds amazing.

  54. Matthew73 says:

    Kevin, thanks for the post, and thanks everyone for the insightful and thought-provoking comments.

    One challenge I have with “teaching in the Savior’s way” is that we really don’t know how He taught at all. I’m open to correction from the more Biblically literate than me, but my impression is that there is general scholarly consensus that the gospels were handed down orally for a very long time (perhaps multiple generations) before they were finally written for the first time, and of course they were subject to change in the course of their being copied and re-written over the years. Scholars are comfortable tracing the Pauline epistles back to Paul, but so far as we know he never observed the Savior teaching at all.

    It’s easy for me to acknowledge the Bible as one of the crowning achievements of Western Civilization, that it teaches us profound lessons, and that studying and learning from the Bible is worthwhile. But can we rely on the gospel accounts to help us understand how Jesus taught? I would love to say yes — I would love to have confidence that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ interactions with others are how they really happened — but the truth is, I think it’s unlikely. Would appreciate hearing how others deal with this.

  55. Matthew73, Some of my comments, like many others, have proceeded from the assumption that whatever we may know of how the Savior taught is in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. That is, of course, a seriously questionable assumption, but it is often uncritically understood to be the basis of TITSW. In the end, I prefer to think, as speculated by the TITSW intro that ““The Savior was full of love. …This love and compassion for people and their needs led Him to teach in ways that were meaningful to them.” I don’t worry much about whether that useful speculation is historically accurate; it expresses a goal for our own teaching. To me the slogans about “teach the doctrine” and “facilitate discussion” are largely meaningless, but for some they represent attempts to identify ways to teach that would be meaningful to class participants.

  56. My two cents on what it means to “teach in the Savior’s way.”

    I don’t think the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are especially useful for learning teaching principles. These books have some marvelous sermons by Jesus, but nearly nothing about how to teach a class in church.

    If anyone asks, I point to Doctrine and Covenants Section 50 as the passage of scripture that teaches teaching. It talks about reasoning together face to face, seeking the Spirit as a companion in learning, understanding each other, and rejoicing together. Again, there’s not a lot of technique in that, but there are a lot of interesting principles specifically geared toward the experience of teaching and learning together.

    When I teach about how to teach the gospel, I try to instill the principles in D&C 50, and I soft-pedal specific advice or slogans, like, for example, “teach the doctrine.” I find it much more productive to focus teachers’ attention on the question of what it takes to connect with the Spirit–and there is no end of possibilities there.

    As for practical teaching skills, good old secular experts in pedagogy are the best source. Get the professional teachers to train teachers in church, and we’ll be better off.

  57. Bryan D. H. says:

    This sounds similar to another idea that Elder Bednar has taught, viz. that the gospel can be broken down into doctrine, principles, and applications.

    By “doctrine” is meant something like a gospel fact, e.g. God has a physical body. A principle would be a teaching or a practice that flows from this, e.g. we receive a physical body to learn to become like God, we fast to exercise dominion of our spirits over our physical bodies, etc. And an application is self explanatory and can change depending on the circumstance. For example, we fast once a month but if you’re diabetic and can’t skip meals you might fast from television or something.

    And in my opinion the emphasis on teaching the doctrine or the gospel facts will result in more interesting lessons. I would much rather talk about and discuss the doctrine behind the family than to hear about how great your mom was growing up. I would much rather discuss the doctrine behind family history than hear about such and such name you just found.

  58. Chompers says:

    When I was GD teacher, I’d look for concepts in the assigned readings, but never use the manual. “Teaching the doctrine” is for me synonymous with just repeating the same answers over and over, something that has never inspired me. Personally, I like looking at some of the background to scriptures (ie: like Nephi writing his stuff years after it happened, so what point was he trying to make? Why did he present his brothers in such a simplified black and white representation? etc). I find that it be far more engaging, and it gives me the opportunity to think about scriptures in different ways, which I find opens them up in ways I hadn’t considered before.

  59. Matthew73 says:

    JR, I appreciate the way you articulated those thoughts.

  60. Mortimer says:

    A turtle named mack- amen brother or sister!

    Nobody and JR – I still think that the verb “teach” is the wrong one to use when describing Jesus – even as he told stories. I think better phrases for his work are “disseminate”, “set the standard”. His stories were meant to be memorable containers for the principles he was dispensing until they could be captured in writing. His stories were tools to deliver subversive and controversial content in code. If they “teach” anything, it’s an accidental and inconsistent side effect- nothing more.

    I haven’t seen a definition of “teaching” on the post or in the new manual. I don’t consider dissemination teaching, and I certainly don’t consider coded delivery teaching. Teaching is causing another to understand, to train, coach, to illuminate or drill with the ultimate effect of changing performance, attitudes or behavior. The only synonym for teaching that remotely relates to the Savior is “discipline”, as he did provide commandments and paths that if followed in a disciplined (disciple) way, could lead to enlightenment. Seeing how many devout Christians follow his discipline (as they understand it to be from what is recorded in the Bible), but miss the mark, I have to say that he wasn’t an effective guru. As I said before, he didn’t provide small accomplishable tasks, but set an impossibly high and confusing standard.

    I also disagree that the Savior’s compassion for the people around him motivated him to teach them in ways that were best for them. Where is the evidence for this? He often spoke beyond the person at hand to more universal ideas -as though he were speaking to all mankind. The fact that he did this so frequently made the few times that he engaged with individuals and family members in an intimate (non-universal) way such exceptions that they were written down as anomalies.

  61. I recall Pres. Packer’s talk about the unwritten order of things and his direction that little should be said about the deceased and instead that the Gospel should be preached. Then I watched with interest his own funeral where certainly the Gospel was preached but there were many anecdotes about Pres. Packer – and he didn’t rise up and correct them.

    If at Conference the speakers use personal stories, (airplane) analogies, metaphors, fables, PowerPoint slides, song lyrics, poems, literary quotes, citations to newspaper stories, personal experiences, journal entries, Mormon Memes (“Ponderize” anyone?), testimonies about finding great grandma’s name, etc., then I’ll assume if its good enough for General Conference, its good enough for Gospel Doctrine Class.

  62. Fasting from television is a bridge too far…TOO FAR!!

  63. Kevin Barney says:

    Loursat, I agree with your comment about secular expertise in pedagogy. I went through the teacher improvement course at least twice, maybe three times (I don’t quite recall). The first time around the instructor was a convert to the Church who also happened to be my high school physics teacher. He was widely considered one of the best teachers in that school (and I thought he was the best bar none), and that was a fantastic course, I learned a lot about teaching from it.

    Further, the old Teaching: No Greater Call manuals are very good. Professional educators were involved in those. (My own father, a professor of education, had a chapter in the first edition.) The second edition is still on the Church website, I believe, and is far more substantive than the four short lessons under the rubric of TitSW.

  64. Mortimer, Perhaps in responding to Nobody I shouldn’t have indulged in parody. See instead my response to Matthew73.
    You noted “anomolies”: there do seem to be a few examples in the scriptures of Jesus’ teaching in a way meaningful to the people. Start, e.g., with his instruction to Thomas after the resurrection and with 3 Nephi 11:13-14 et seq., and perhaps Jesus’ blessing the children. Perhaps such reports may serve as a basis for the speculation in the intro to TITSW. (Though I doubt the writers of TITSW gave it much thought or analysis at that level.) Scriptural reports of the kind of “dissemination” you describe seem to me more numerous, but I haven’t tried to count the scriptural reports of either type of instruction whether by word or example.
    Now that commenters have noted significant confusion in the meanings of “teach” and “doctrine,” I will, for myself, be happy to again acknowledge my own confusion and reduce the subject TITSW instruction to the clearly understood, single word: “the”. :)

  65. Southern California Gal says:

    3rd Nephi is full of examples of the Savior teaching only what the Father commanded. He did not make anything up. Just an example of teaching the Savior’s way.

  66. I said in a previous comment that I’m moving to more “how” questions, but maybe I should have also said that I tend to be very big on working from text, putting the scriptures in context, etc. so this was a necessary move for me, I think. (The lessons I gave that were all “why” lectures were deathly boring, although people seem to like it in smaller amounts.) But also I’m not sure what I mean by “how” questions are what other people mean — I do often try to ask things like “How can we make our cities and countries more like Zion and less like Sodom?” which I think are good and necessary questions to ask, but, oh, say, our last lesson on Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, once we read the relevant scriptures, were full of questions like, “How do we understand Abraham’s actions? How do we reconcile that with the fact that if someone tried to do that today we’d say he was insane?” And the meta-question, which I didn’t ask explicitly but which is implicitly there: how do we deal with scriptures where the heroes/prophets act more like jerks? Those are “how” questions to me: how do we do this process where we apply the scriptures to our lives?

    The best thing about the class is when the class members start asking those kinds of questions. That’s when I know something is going right.

  67. Southern Cali says:

    I believe the discussion is not the “how” but what is doctrine.

  68. “So I guess my question for you is twofold: What does it mean to “teach the doctrine”? And how is that different from what we historically have done in Gospel Doctrine class?”

    I notice a few times in the scriptures when the phrase, “This is my doctrine” is spoken by the Lord. Each time it is basically the following: Believe in Christ, repent, receive the covenant of baptism and, in one variation “become as a little child” is also incuded. Alma’s variation on that last phrase was “to be meek (gentle) and lowly in heart” and “never weary of good works”.

    And there is one time when he says that his doctrine is that “stirring up the hearts of men to anger” is to be done away with.

    And Paul wrote to Timothy saying that inspired scripture is “profitable for doctrine.”

    So, for me, “teach the doctrine” means that my litmus test is: Have I taught from the scriptures? Has what I taught helped to increase our knowledge of Christ and our faith in Him? Has it helped us to approach Him and turn our hearts to Him? Has it encouraged us to recognize our sins and turn away from them? Has it helped us to understand and keep the covenant made at baptism? Has it helped us to avoid pride and to increase in humility and gentleness? Has it fortified us in our efforts to do good in the world? And have we been able to discuss and learn together without contention?

    If so, I have taught the doctrine.