Terry Lloyd currently serves as the Sunday School president in the Snyderville Ward, Park City Utah stake. In addition to other callings, he has taught in Primary, Sunday School, priesthood quorums, and early morning seminary. In his professional life he is a financial analyst and occasionally provides training on finance and accounting topics.
During 2024 we’ll have the opportunity to study the Savior’s teachings not only from “another” testament of Jesus Christ but from the best one.
Even a full year won’t allow us to dive deeply into some of the material so our consistent focus must be on the key message of the book: our relationship with the Savior.
Nephi (in 1 Nephi 19:23) gave us the foundation for our study: treat the book as a series of “case studies,” or examples to learn from.
By teaching “another testament of Jesus Christ” in the Savior’s way, Sunday School will be more rewarding for everyone.
Focus on Jesus Christ
On average, the Savior is mentioned every 1.7 verses and is identified by 100 different names or titles.
This includes the war chapters and other, “secular,” chapters. Elder Packer made this point and it was expanded on by a former BYU stake president, Thomas B. Griffith who instructed the bishops that every lesson and sermon had to be connected to the “root” of Christian doctrine, the Savior as Mediator.
Elder Packer said.
“This truth [Christ’s role as Mediator] is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.”
As a college student I took several institute classes from an instructor who taught us that being self-focused was contrary to the gospel plan except when studying the scriptures. His abbreviated version of Nephi’s approach was “WIFM,” or “what’s in it for me.” In the 2024 Easter lesson, a specific activity asks (of the Savior’s suffering), “What does this mean to me?”
Simply, how does this story, commandment, revelation, etc. apply to my life? Like Nephi, he viewed the scriptures as a user’s manual and not just a historical text. An easy reference here is to Santayana’s quote,
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The repeating Nephite “pride cycle” may be one of the best examples of this truth. At the individual level the question is whether I can learn from the examples—good and bad—of others. Someone else noted that a smart person learns from his/her mistakes, but a genius learns from the mistakes of others.
Speaking to Church educators (and by extension anyone who teaches the gospel), Elder Holland referred to this as the “therefore, what?” key to gospel teaching.
“’Therefore, what?’ I think that is what the Savior answered day in and day out as an inseparable element of His teaching and preaching. I’ve tried to suggest that. These sermons and exhortations were to no avail if the actual lives of His disciples did not change. ‘Therefore, what?’ You and I know that we still have young people, and too many older ones as well, who have not made the connection between what they say they believe and how they actually live their lives.”
“In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.”
“The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we’re not just looking for new information; we want to become a ‘new creature’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means relying on Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to help us change our hearts, our views, our actions, and our very natures.”
Loving Those You Teach and Handling Distractions
A book as rich and complex as the Book of Mormon provides plenty to discuss—though some of it can distract from the key lessons in the record. As teachers, charged with representing the Savior in and out of the Sunday class, how do we handle everything from the honest, seeking questions of children and teens to the thinly-veiled challenges to basic doctrines? These range from the classical question of why Nephi had to kill Laban to textual analyses of the book suggesting it was a creation of Joseph Smith and his colleagues.
Included here as a resource, Elder Lance Corbridge distinguished between “primary” and “secondary” truths and even if true, some things are subordinate to the primary truths. Some primary truths include whether Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world and whether Joseph Smith is a prophet. He added a long, but partial, list of secondary questions such as different accounts of the first vision, DNA and the Book of Mormon, etc. Below are some tools that can help make the Sunday classes enriching and edifying as well as keeping everyone focused on the key teachings.
A called-and-set-apart teacher can lay the foundation for Sunday discussions in advance by “seeding” the discussion with questions and assignments during the week. Even on those weeks with no class, electronic and other contacts can help class members focus on the how-this-applies-to-me focus.
Most wards can send “blast” emails to adults. Smaller classes can be contacted through emails, texts, or social media. Those communications can remind class members about the week’s reading and key points to consider and also make assignments to discuss in class or with family members. (Contact with Primary children has the added benefit of getting the parents involved.) Having contact outside the building is teaching in the Savior’s way. See “Love Those You Teach.”
Some discussion questions can be found in the manual. Others can be found from prayerfully contemplating the people in the class and how the reading applies to their lives.
There are some proven techniques for keeping in-class discussions on track if questions and comments could derail or detract. The following phrases might be useful for questions best addressed in other settings (all delivered the way the Savior would):
- “I don’t know the answer to your question. I’m not aware if an answer has been revealed.”
- “Unfortunately, our limited time doesn’t allow us to explore that here.”
- “An interesting question/issue, but how many of us would have to deal with that situation?”
- “I’m curious about that myself. Can you and I speak after class?”
- “I know they’ve discussed that in academic journals and other places. I’ve read some of that myself.”
The teacher, as the Lord’s representative, is responsible for what takes place in that class, primarily deepening the conversion of the class members. President Eyring has said that a primary source of the way God speaks to us is through speakers and teachers at church.
You can avoid certain distractions by prayerfully focusing class members’ attention even before the discussions on Sunday. We have repeatedly been warned not to get caught up in “the thick of thin things.” See, for example, Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?,”
While some topics, such as the translation process, specific geographic locations, weapons of war, ancient Hebrew writing styles, and the nature of the plates might be interesting, they can also distract from improving our relationship with the Savior. Elder Holland clearly explained the teacher’s responsibility:
“Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can.”
Be ready for these topics, but don’t introduce them in class.
- The necessity of killing Laban
- Extensive detail in the Isaiah chapters (like geography)
- Extensive detail in the war chapters (like armaments and tactics)
- The (minor) role of women in the book
- DNA in the Americas
- Dark skin/the curse
- Geography and specific locations
The Church is not an equal opportunity forum, and Sunday School is not a symposium for more academic aspects of the gospel like language, warfare, ancient temple worship, etc. Elder Packer told seminary and institute teachers this,
“The idea that we must be neutral and argue quite as much in favor of the adversary as we do in favor of righteousness is neither reasonable nor safe. In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it.”
Alma 36 as a Case Study
Alma 36 gives us a good example of how we can be distracted from the best by the good. See Dallin H. Oaks October 2007 conference talk, “Good, Better Best.”
Alma 36 describes Alma’s first-person account with the angel and what followed. In the 1960’s a curious, inspired missionary, Jack Welch, discovered in the Book of Mormon an ancient Hebrew writing style called parallelism or “Chiasmus.” Brother Welch later became a professor at the BYU law school. He has spoken and published extensively on Chiasmus. This structure contains two parallel or mirror versions of the same lines in a poem or verse. You can see more about it in numerous places,
While this literary device in the Book of Mormon is intriguing to many of us, focusing on the structure of Alma 36 (and other chapters ), it can distract from—literally—the central point of that chapter: the Savior lifted Alma out of his suffering. There are other examples of the Savior lifting and healing throughout the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. In reading these “case studies,” the focus is to put ourselves in the place of the woman taken in adultery, the lepers, the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, and all the others.
Applying the 1 Nephi 19:23 approach, we learn that, like Alma, I can be rescued from whatever hole I find myself in. Elder Holland described it this way.
“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
Looking Forward (and Back) to Easter Week
The events of Easter week in the Savior’s mortal ministry are central to the gospel and the Book of Mormon. The atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ should be the focus of our study all year. In 2024 there is a separate, stand-alone lesson on Easter in the reading and discussion schedule for March 31st. However, all the chapters and class sessions, before and after that week, can reinforce the central message of Christ’s unique work for us. Any discussion not reinforcing these lessons needs to be re-worked.
That discussion will be proceeded by numerous references to the Savior’s role in the reading and reinforced through His personal visit and Moroni’s conclusion. Even if the lesson only includes a brief confirmation (or testimony) that Jesus is the Christ, every lesson needs to bring us back to Him. Teaching by the Spirit requires a different preparation than the way the world teaches. Preparation like this may be more effective in the temple rather than a library.
Pray That Your Teaching Will Bring Change
The teacher represents the Savior in and out of the classroom as His agent or proxy. Elder Holland clearly stated our purpose as teachers:
“Pray that your teaching will bring change. Pray that, like the lyrics of a now-forgotten song, your lessons will literally cause someone to ‘straighten up and fly right.’ We want them straight, and we want them right. We want them blessed, happy in this life, and saved in the world to come.”
One of the best explanations of the Savior’s Atonement I have heard—and seen—came from a PhD physicist in our ward explaining how Rembrandt accidentally illustrated it. That painting, nicknamed the “Night Watch,” was a group portrait completed in 1642 for a local civic guard. Over the centuries, candle smoke and pollution accumulated over the underlying work. Attempts to preserve it even put seven or eight layers of varnish on top, sometimes puncturing the canvas. It has been attacked by protestors its edges were literally cut off so it could fit into a new location.
After an extensive process the original color and full beauty of the work was restored in 2022. During the process the restorers were also able to follow the changes the artist made to the work as he painted.
Like the painting, all of us have become bruised, stained, and injured by our experience in this life. The Atonement can remove those accumulated imperfections, defects, and wounds. That spiritual cleaning and restoration is available through the Savior’s Atonement.
As teachers, we can use whatever tools—like art and music—to teach gospel principles as directed by the Spirit. One image that teaches the Savior’s role to me is one of Him with two girls by His side. We are told to compare ourselves to people needing rescue like Alma, the wounded traveler, and others. In addition to His work in lifting and healing us, this image conveys the peace and protection the Savior offers all of us. Nephi said to read myself into the scriptures. Can I see myself in this picture, standing alongside my personal Redeemer and Guardian?
Summary and Conclusion
The Savior is our primary focus as teachers and the Book of Mormon will give us the opportunity every week to emphasize that doctrine and to lift those in our classes to be nearer the Father and the Son. We not only have tools, we have the assurance we can teach in the Savior’s way. Commenting on Matthew 7:7 (“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”), Elder Holland said
“I’m thinking of something the Savior Himself said directly to His disciples in the New Testament, and I am told that it is the scriptural promise and declaration repeated more than almost any other in all of scripture. Someone said that some variation of this appears a hundred times in the scriptures. Now, if it appeared only once or twice, I guess we could embrace it once or twice, but something repeated 20, 40, 60, or 80 times obviously has great significance for the Lord.”
“I love the crisp, clear, declarative spirit of that promise. If we ask, we will receive, and if we knock, it will be opened. We can do this.”
We can effectively teach about the Savior and in His way from the Book of Mormon in 2024. Using this book and His methods, we can bring people in the class closer to Him and the Father.