The Purpose of Priesthood Lessons

A year ago Julie asked why we doze in Sunday School. Today, one topic that was touched on in priesthood was why we teach priesthood lessons. I’ve been thinking a little about the topic, and I must confess I’m not entirely sure there is a single reason why we have priesthood lessons.

(Note: I’ll discuss this from my own point of view, which is Priesthood meeting. However, I believe most or all of this discussion applies to Relief Society lessons as well).

A few possibilities come to mind:

1. First, perhaps priesthood lessons are to help us learn, in the instructional sense of presenting new information and discussing it. Perhaps we are supposed to treat the lesson manual as a text for instruction.

In my experience, this is very seldom the case. There is very little in the lesson manual that I haven’t already heard dozens of times. As such, the lesson is often not about learning in the traditional sense.

This is not to say that regular learning never happens. For example, we hear lessons from different people, and a new instructor may have some new information. Similarly, sometimes the manual actually covers new ground. In addition, the different backgrounds of the different quorum members mean that most of the time, it’s likely that at least someone will be learning something.

But at the end of the day, that combination of different backgrounds is probably the biggest impediment to regular learning in priesthood. The lessons are kept very simple; brand-new members are mixed in with people who have attended for thirty years; it’s like teaching a roomful of students, some of whom are in first grade and some in college, and they all get the same lesson. The one-room school isn’t a particularly good pedagogical model.

2. Second, perhaps the purpose is indoctrination — not in the informational sense, but in the reminder and repetition sense. We all know that faith is important, for example, and we all know that we should forgive others. However, we can all also use a reminder of this every now and then.

In the sense that Priesthood lessons are about repetition rather than original learning, perhaps they’re most like batting practice. The professional ballplayer knows the basics of swinging the bat. He’s done it a thousand times. But he still takes batting practice every day, to keep his skills up through repetition and exercise. He may occasionally learn a new insight, such as a way to adjust his swing, but it’s mostly about the repetition.

3. Third, perhaps it’s neither about learning nor indoctrination; perhaps it’s just about socialization. Perhaps the most important thing isn’t discussing any topic at all, but simply spending time with other quorum members so that we can draw from each others strengths and support each other in the gospel. If this is the case, then the real purpose of the meeting is to build unity. And if that’s the case, then the lesson is little more than a simple way to keep everyone from going off the deep end in the discussions that result from the quorum being together. If so, the actual effect of the lesson (teaching, indoctrination) is incidental at best.

I’m not sure which of these, if any, is the purpose of Priesthood lessons. Perhaps there is overlap between more than one; perhaps I’ve missed some possibilities.

And of course the related question is “Do Priesthood lessons fulfill their purpose?” For example, if the purpose of the lesson is really instructional, then perhaps we should introduce other teaching tools, such as end-of-year tests or division by grade levels. Perhaps we can better address that question if we have a good idea of the purpose of the lessons.

11 comments for “The Purpose of Priesthood Lessons

  1. Re your #1:

    from my three year old this morning:

    “I don’t want to go to Church! I *already* know about Jesus! How come we have to keep going OVER and OVER again?”

  2. To me, a Priesthood lesson is like a lecture. So why don’t we have Priesthood labs?

    “Wenger, your specimen has died. Class, does anyone know why Wenger’s blessing failed? That’s right, he forgot…to…anoint! Wenger, go get another specimen and do it again.”

  3. Thanks, my friends, it’s good to hear some giggling after three hours in Church today. But the questions Kaimi raises are pretty serious ones, considering the time we spend in those lessons and the challenge to make them interesting. Next week I got to teach in Priesthood the lesson on “Every member a missionary”, to a group of some 70 high priests, all from these few streets surrounding the chapel without, I think, a single non-member. Suggestions welcome to fulfill the purpose of Priesthood lessons.

  4. What I like about priesthood lessons is that they can have a hands-on practical focus in a way that would be out of place in sacrament meeting and often impossible in sunday school. With a focus on current practice and personal experience, the disparity between new members and old can be leveled out to a great extent. Our Stake scheduled us to teach today the missionary lesson that Wilfried mentioned. In a room filled with returned missionaries, some of the best comments came from a newly baptized member who had been ordained a priest 10 minutes earlier. The lesson wasn’t at all concerned about missiology, but rather what has worked for us and what we ourselves have done. When I taught lesson 15 last week (because the stake calendar had us skipping it in August), I kept the discussion of marriage focused on what works and what doesn’t in the marriages of the people in the room.

    Wilfried, while I didn’t teach the lesson, I was struck by the list of five reasons to serve a mission given by DOMcK. The order and emphasis given to each reason weren’t at all what I was expecting.

  5. This is one of the really great things about teaching in Primary. So far my kids have heard (they acted like it was the first time, and twice argued against my point until I convinced them) that God can do anything, that if you really truly repent he’ll forget your sins, that you have to have the right authority in order to do things in God’s name… and they’re starting to get good at recognizing which books (e.g. Jarom, Corinthians, Abraham) came from which compilation (they’re always on the lookout for the two that are from the Pearl of Great Price.) I figure it’s better than “Spiritual Hangman,” anyway –my next “oops, we have time left over” game will deal with recognizing figures from Church history based on items from their autobiographies (“this prophet was born in New York…”)

    Anyway, the sense of wonder they displayed when they finally knew all the steps of repentance was really cool. Not something I saw much in Relief Society, or even Young Women meetings.

  6. My husband often shares with me about the priesthood lesson, which I have usually read because we are usually on the same one. He really gets into them and grows from them.

    Sort of off the subject, but I suggested to him that they put a couple of problem guys in our ward in the high priest presidency. Those guys hardly ever do anything anyway, they could have the glory wihout getting on peoples’ nerves. Or how about the library? Well, maybe not the library, that’s pretty crucial.

  7. Annegb, thanks for making me laugh again! (Yeah, don’t put the problem guys in the library.) It’s also nice to hear that there’s a couple out there actually discussing insights from the day’s Priesthood/Relief Society lesson, as the brethren in Salt Lake City had encouraged when we began sharing the same manual.

    As for Derek’s priesthood lab (#2), a couple of years ago I told some of my Institute classmates (“Preparing for Celestial Marriage” course) that I had attended enough lectures and heard plenty of theory over the years. What I needed was lab work!

    By the way, I like and support the CES Institute program, but it was an eye-opening realization that I had been religiously (pun intended) attending weekly classes, when I could have spent some of those evenings home teaching or attending the temple.

  8. Caffeine deficiency on Fast Sunday….must…have….cola….bev…..ZzzzZZZzzzzzz

  9. In my opinion, the main point of Sunday meetings is not to be entertained, enlightened or edified by the lessons.

    The point is to participate in a community of believers.

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