Random Thoughts on the Leadership Training Meeting

Last month’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting is now available online here.

(1) President Packer said, “So you have to be determined to read them, and not just glean from them, but read them from beginning to end—the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price.”

Note that he didn’t mention the Old Testament. As I am sure most of you know, you can make it through all of seminary, Institute, and years of Gospel Doctrine without ever reading the entire Old Testament. Have we partially decanonized the Old Testament?

(2) I noticed that during the teaching segment, Elder Holland asked several fact questions. For example:

Elder Holland: When President Packer was talking with Elder Perry, he said, “I always relied on [blank],” whether at the pulpit or standing in the front of the class. He said he never wanted to go anywhere without them. To what was he referring?

Sister Julie B. Beck: The scriptures.

Elder Holland: The scriptures, absolutely.

I never ask fact questions when I teach–my sense is that people either don’t know the answer and have no way to find it (in which case they feel alienated from the lesson) or they know it already (in which case the lesson becomes a catechism). If I were teaching that class, I would have said something like, “President Packer said he always had his scriptures handy when he taught . . .” and then gone on with the next point. However, Elder Holland’s repeated use of this technique (combined with President Packer’s reminder for teachers to be teachable and willing to learn!) gives me pause . . . is there something about fact questions that I am missing? Why and how should I use them? On the other hand, would I be reading President Packer right if I were to conclude from the statement below that he doesn’t think fact questions are a good idea:

Suppose you were teaching the Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here you are a Church history teacher, and you’ve studied it all, and you know it was on June 27, 1844, at 5:00 p.m. in the Carthage Jail when the Prophet was shot. If you ask them what time of day and where and so on the Prophet was shot, none of them will know. You didn’t know before you read the manual. But you can say, “What brought him to that? What do you think brought him to that?” The minute you say, “What do you think?” they have something to say. They can contribute; even the students that are the most backward will have something to say.

So in the end I’m a little conflicted on the issue of asking fact-based questions.

(3) Elder Holland quoted Alma 31:5, which includes the word ‘virtue,’ and then said, “Another word for virtue is power. When the woman came to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, in the scene in the New Testament, He said, “Virtue [has] gone out of me” (Luke 8:46). The original Greek New Testament language for that is power. So Alma is saying we should try the power of the word of God, since it has such a powerful effect.” I don’t want to make too much of an unrehearsed, possibly off-the-cuff remark, but I am intrigued by the hermeneutic here: he’s using alternate translations from Greek to flesh out the meaning of a word in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps this would seem unjustified to some LDS exegetes, but it could also be read as recognizing that Joseph Smith’s act of translation was embedded in the language of the KJV and that in the language of the KJV, “virute” translates a word that could be “power.” What say ye: to what extent–and why–is it useful to use the underlying Greek text to make sense of the Book of Mormon?

(4) I also found this exchange interesting in the ‘what is the canon?’ issue:

Elder Jensen: So far our discussion has concentrated on the four standard works. We do have other scripture.

Elder Holland: Yes. Do you want to say a word about the living prophets?

Elder Jensen: We do have good manuals, and we do have magazines and stories. Aren’t they powerful?

Elder Holland: We do have great material, to say nothing of the whole world of the living prophets and semiannual general conference broad-casts and publications that go to the Church. We have a wealth of the word of God available to us, and we ought to use it.

(5) Consider this exchange:

Brother Howell: “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?”

Elder Holland: To shift the emphasis a little for broader purposes here, let’s substitute the word called for ordained. Ordained would be priesthood language, and we are going to talk about the general call to teach. So, “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye [called]?”

I’ll resist the urge to get sidetracked on the issue of ‘ordain,’ but what I want to know here is this: under what circumstances–and how do we know which circumstances–is it OK to substitute words, change things around, etc., with the scriptures? We had a sacrament meeting speaker recently who said something like this: “I am now going to read five verses but every time I come to the word Z I will replace it with A and I’ll replace Q with W and F with X and G with J.” And I’m thinking: Why bother reading it in the first place? And why is it OK for you to do that to the scriptures? Now, Elder Holland being a member of the Quorum of the Twelve can obviously do what he sees fit, but when would it be OK or not OK for lil’ old me to do what he did here?

(6) I wasn’t at the broadcast but read it online. If I understand correctly, Elder Perry and President Packer had a little interview, Elder Holland taught a mock class, and President Monson gave a talk. Not to get all meta on you, but it seems that they were modeling the idea that people learn best through different approaches–some would related best to the back-and-forth of the interview, others to Elder Holland’s example, and others to Pres. Monson’s storytelling. I worry sometimes that we get stuck in one mode in the church–the ‘teary testimony’ as opposed to the ‘powerful testimony’, the q-and-a lesson as opposed to the storyteller lesson, the ‘sit still’ Primary as opposed to the ‘act it out’ Primary. I’m sure I’m guilty of this myself. How can we do a better job of reaching students who learn in different ways?

(7) Any random thoughts on the training that you would like to share?

22 comments for “Random Thoughts on the Leadership Training Meeting

  1. March 4, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    We don’t read the Old Testament because of little gems like where God orders the genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan. Or where Judah has sex with his niece. Or where kids have sex with their parents. Or….

    It goes on like that.

    But the question of de-cannonization is moot. Of course we’ve partially decannonized the Old Testament. It’s either in the Bible Dictionary or the footnotes that it warns that “Song of Solomon” “is not necessarily inspired.”

  2. Julie M. Smith
    March 4, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    “Or where Judah has sex with his niece.”

    Hey! That’s one of my favorite stories:


  3. March 4, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Julie, when not used exclusively, “fact questions” can be very useful with children and young adults in catching them up to speed, summarizing a story from previous lesson, and tapping prior knowledge in an interactive way.. However, I tend to be transparent in my methods:

    “Last week we talked about the Woman at the Well. I want to talk about her some more, but first let’s refresh our memories — it’s been a long week. [Begin series of fact questions here.] ”

    I also use them as a backdoor for encouraging more thorough participation from those who ONLY tend to answer fact questions.

    What did Jesus say to her?” After a student answers, I might immediately follow up with a “Why? What do you think about that response?” and get the same student to respond.

  4. March 4, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    I taught RS last week, on the conference talks by Pres. Hinckley (Faith to Move Mountains) and Pres. Faust (Discipleship) and consciously tried to use techniques from the training session. For one part of the lesson, we listed typical statements from testimonies indicating where our faith is (“I know that this Church is true,” “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet,” even — with much laughter — “I love my mommy and daddy”) and discussed the works that might be provoked by each of those convictions of faith.

    Pres. Hinckley had ended his talk with the story of people setting out from Salt Lake to relieve the Martin and Willie handcart companies. Because that story has gotten so familiar that I think most members could recite it backwards in their sleep, I told the story from a little different angle, the response of the 70 saints at Fort Supply who were just sitting down to something of a Thanksgiving feast when they got word that emigrants were starving. Because it was unfamiliar, there was no class participation, just me telling a story, a la Pres. Monson.

    Afterwards, I monitored the usual comments and noticed that there was almost a complete divide between those who said they enjoyed the discussion and those who were especially moved by the story. It was the younger (under 35) half of our ward that mentioned the discussion, and the older (60-plus) half who appreciated the story.

    Don’t know what that means, except that different methods do seem to reach different people.

  5. Julie M. Smith
    March 4, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Deborah, thank you for your comment and I agree with you about the usefulness of fact questions for not-yet-adults. It is the adults that I am still thinking about.

    Ardis, that was interesting–thank you. I do think my generation doesn’t have ears to hear oral information–we’ve been ruined for that from Sesame Street on up. Instead, everyone keeps asking us our opinions, as if they mattered.

  6. March 4, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    That always bugged me in law school. The professors would be so interested in what the students thought. And opinionated students would go on and on at almost any opportunity.

    And here I am thinking what a waste of time this is. I honestly don’t care what my fellow students think. They don’t have much of use to contribute to the class discussion. That’s why we call them “students.” I didn’t pay good tuition money to listen to some dweeb from the Federalist Society go on an ideological rant for the 3rd time this week.

    But that’s law school, Sunday School is a whole different ball of wax.

  7. Ryan Bell
    March 4, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Interesting thoughts, Julie. I agree that fact questions just don’t seem to actually ‘do’ anything. There’s another type of question that I think is really counterproductive– the question whose answer everyone in the room knows. Notice the next time a teacher asks “So who translated the Book of Mormon?” or “And who did Jesus say we should love?” If you’re in a big group, you’ll hear four different mumbles, with no one speaking the answer clearly. In a small group, you’ll hear nothing for a long time, and the teach will then just say “Joseph Smith, right?” or some brave soul will be forced to offer the answer for the group. There’s been nothing gained at all, no one had an interesting thought, and no inspiration aided the interaction. I hate that kind of question.

    But I see the reason people ask both of these kinds of questions: Because they’ve had it banged into their heads that having a back-and-forth between the teacher and the class is the best way to teach. So without thinking about what that should really look like, they ask fact questions or obvious questions (often one and the same thing), and lean on that as their class participation time. The sad thing is, the more of those questions we have, the fewer questions get asked that actually stimulate interaction, discussion, testimony, and inspiration.

    I don’t know where that rant came from, but thank you for listening. Looking forward to checking out the training.

  8. March 5, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Interesting question about the knowledge questions, and I like both Deborah’s point about transparency and Ryan Bell’s about the Stupid Question Logjam, to give it a pedalogical name.

    About teaching styles–my strategy has always been to teach adult classes as I would high school classes, but with the assumption they have slightly longer attention spans–but only slightly–and very few of them have done the reading. If I have a 45 minute lesson, I need three different strategies. Story telling, open discussion and line-by-line shared commentary are the most common, but think-pair-share and dramatic readings with in-character explication can be really strong as well. Drawing comparison charts and stick figures helps visual learners. I use the same strategies I use in a literature classroom. The emotional experience I want my 10th graders to have with a Mary Oliver poem is not so different from the spiritual experience I want my SS class to have with Matthew 6.

    Some adults hate participatory learning, but if it moves fast and you’re confident and commited to it, I find it works OK. People will roll their eyes a lot but enjoy it in the end.

  9. j.a.t.
    March 5, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Seth, Ryan and Norbert,

    I’m struggling to sit in SS with the ‘class participation’ method abused to the hilt. My spouse and I call it the ‘Oprah/Donahue’ style. Everyone gives their opinion on this topic or that . . . off the cuff. Everyone participates and feels special. But, who can stand and entire hour (or two) of bon mots about people’s lifestyles? Even doctrinally incorrect answers from the peanut gallery are politely responded to by the teacher with ‘Yes, thank you. Anyone else?’ And who really wants to embarass someone by contradicting a personal story?

    Norbert is right, very few people have read the lesson, except the teacher, who acts more like the microphone mediator instead of teacher. So, the one person who actually studied and prepared doesn’t have any time to speak, as the class members are too busy describing the time when their little Jimmy did XYZ. Is this the best way to fill spiritual jugs? So many times D&C 88:122 is twisted to mean that everyone in the class needs to squawk (a la the Oprah model), even if they haven’t studied the material and don’t have anything new to say. Everyone forgets that the first requirement in that scripture is to “let all listen unto his [the teacher’s] sayings”. Teaching can’t take place if we are all mouths and no ears. Also, I seriously ask whether the ‘class rules’ for the School of the Prophets (a very select group of spiritually vibrant early church leaders in a burgeoning university type setting) applies to EVERY SINGLE ss, primary, gospel doctrine, seminary or PH class we ever teach.

    My concern after reading the Church News article on the Leadership Conference is that the Oprah model has received the seal of approval. My spouse thinks that there was sufficient instruction to avoid it. Perhaps the Oprah model it is just fine and I’m twisted in a snit for no good reason.

  10. Julie M. Smith
    March 5, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    “My concern after reading the Church News article on the Leadership Conference is that the Oprah model has received the seal of approval. My spouse thinks that there was sufficient instruction to avoid it. Perhaps the Oprah model it is just fine and I’m twisted in a snit for no good reason.”

    The thing is: every one in Elder Holland’s class had great contributions–no feelings, personal stories, or opinions, but hard, serious questions and scripture references and solid doctrinal contributions.

    Maybe what we need next is a Worldwide Learning Broadcast on how to be students in a church class.

    Rule #1: anything that begins “My sister’s hairdresser in Sandy once heard a Seventy say . . .” is doctrinally incorrect.

  11. ducks
    March 5, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    We have had the experience in our ward classes of the Oprah/Donahue syndrome as teachers attempt to include more discussion in their lessons. It is very frustrating to listen to no end of personal experiences that have very little doctrinal application and no wide application. People just love to share. And it is a lot easier to share anecdotes than actually read and think about the scriptural text and share those insights.

    Elder Holland told a story at the broadcast of deer who were “fed” but not “nourished.” The deer were found dead with full stomachs because they had not been fed nourishing food. It was a great illustration.

    Based on Elder Holland’s comments, including one about learners taking responsibility for their learning, I gave a lesson in R.S. yesterday on class members being responsible for feeding each other gospel “nourishment” during the course of a lesson. I was hoping to get the class members to see that when they make comments they need to be aware of the topic of the lesson and be making points that help the teachers address that topic in a substantial way. It was well received and I hope will cut down on the “this is what happened to me” comments.

    On the other hand, Elder Holland modelled very well, I thought, the way a teacher can keep a pretty tight reign on classroom comments while still encouraging discussion. It is not an easy line to walk and it takes practice. Personal experiences can be a powerful and important part of teaching, but class members don’t always self select the most important experiences to be shared. And sometimes they forget that they haven’t been assigned to teach ten minutes of the lesson. It would have been fun to see Elder Holland handle the bizarre or demoralizing story that goes on forever and has next to nothing to do with the lesson. Every teacher has been in that position.

    The class members in Elder Holland’s class did some pretty good modelling themselves. I thought the point was well made that class members have responsibility themselves to make sure the word of God is shared and not just the fun and enlightening experiences of Barbara and Joe.

  12. ducks
    March 5, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Sorry, I cross-posted with Julie.

  13. j.a.t.
    March 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    The WW Learning Broadcast sounds terrific. Good idea.

    I’m relieved to know that the deer analogy was used. Very interesting. I agree wholeheartedly about the responsibility of class members.

  14. Robert O.
    March 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    I wish I was in j.a.t’s ward. We have been in three wards since moving back to Utah 9 years ago and the dominant teaching format is definately ‘teacher lecture.’ We are currently in a teacher prep class and last week, despite the chocolate cake (visual aid) and scripture puzzle only one question was asked the entire hour and that was a fact question. I agree that the teaching style has to accomodate the class composition and there are definitely some different demographics at work in various wards. However, one has to be a phenomenally interesting teacher to keep it going for 45 minutes if one is using the lecture model. And most teachers are not necessarily called based on their ability or experience. Let’s face it, Sunday School will never be like college in the average ward. The goals are too different. Once one realizes that the goal of SS is to increase faith, unity, and testimony in the ward, while that of secular studies is to challenge, experiment, and question, then it makes it a bit easier to make it through without bringing one’s own reading material.

  15. jose
    March 5, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Re: fact-based questions, I recall the Teacher Improvement manual mentioning the use of such questions is limited and cautions against its overuse. I agree with #3 that these questions are more applicable for less gospelly-learned students (I’ll add new members). I used fact-based questions at beginning of class in Gospel Princ. to determine the level of understanding of class members to help me teach appropriately. I do think they can be used selectively and to fulfill a specific purpose.

    I think E. Holland may have (only having read this post) used the question rhetorically, more interested in helping people imprint the topic in their heads. However, I hope E. Holland wasn’t encouraging teachers to ask “What do you think?”–that is the teaching question I loath most, second only to “What do you think about that?”

  16. Joe Spencer
    March 6, 2007 at 12:42 am

    For any interested, there have been a few threads on this training broadcast over at feastuponthewordblog.org.

    I have to agree with Deborah. In teaching seminary, fact questions that everyone *should* know the answer to are very helpful for getting through the background of a story real quick (especially while students are flipping to another location in the scriptures: it helps them stay engaged while they are searching). That way you can say six or seven sentences describing the context for a particular verse without disengaging the classroom, and the response can quickly give you an idea of how well the students are familiar with something (you’d be amazed at how much of the “closed” Old Testament is unknown by seminary students… or maybe you wouldn’t be so surprised).

    What really interested me about the dynamics of the classroom during Elder Holland’s teaching was that the sisters asked very serious, very difficult questions, and the brethren answered them simplistically, dismissively, almost with a you-worry-too-much attitude. I was fascinated to watch that happen. I got the sense that the sisters there were far more serious about teaching and about how it needs to change in the Church. I’m still trying to think about why that would be…

  17. paul f
    March 6, 2007 at 12:57 am

    It is interesting to hear the comments from those who read the wording of the worldwide leadership training. My experience with Elder Holland’s demonstration was more organic than pedantic. In a recent thread I had this to say:

    “i too attended the ww leadership training session. elder holland’s class was engrossing. the time flew by as i listened the members of the class speak. it was fun as the class ebbed and flowed. it was like a living organism of spiritual energy. it is a model for what i aspire to in my EQ lessons.

    there were fun moments where he broke from the group and poignantly stated things that he views as poor practice:

    don’t dazzle…stop trying to find the lost tribes and try to find the souls of your class members.

    love your students. find their souls and speak to them out of the energy of your own soul.

    let the students warm their hands by the fire of your faith.”

    Far from the example of a class with ramblings and comments of little meaning, Elder Holland guided this group to draw very meaningful conclusions and give illuminating responses. He had the help of a star studded class, but there was much to be learned about his control of the reigns. There are kind and tactful ways to head off runaway train comments. There are stimulating and specific ways to ask questions that lead to ‘good’ answers. I don’t know if others that attended the conference felt the same way I did, but his lesson was moving, and he talked less than half the time.

    I had a hard time placing the purpose behind Elder Packer and Perry’s interview. The format didn’t seem to fit into any situation I would find myself in at church or in leadership. An answer to Julie’s question about the form itself as an example escapes me. I figured we were being given more instruction on find out questions with the added bonus of hearing from a senior apostle who has been around the block.

  18. Dan
    March 6, 2007 at 1:21 am

    What affected me most (more from the role as learner) was the statement that when we participate in class discussions, we give the Spirit permission to act upon us. I hadn\’t thought of my participation as an act of agency, but put in perspective, I can understand how critical participation from class members is in order to be edified by the Spirit.

  19. Peter
    March 6, 2007 at 8:36 am

    “I gave a lesson in R.S. yesterday on class members being responsible for feeding each other gospel “nourishment” during the course of a lesson. I was hoping to get the class members to see that when they make comments they need to be aware of the topic of the lesson and be making points that help the teachers address that topic in a substantial way. It was well received and I hope will cut down on the “this is what happened to me” comments.”

    Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if that’s not the finest anecdote I’ve heard in a while. I reckon it’s true enough that “it is a lot easier to share anecdotes than actually read and think about the scriptural text and share those insights.”

  20. Matt W.
    March 6, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Julie, off topic, but di dyou ever post the follow ups to the post you linked to in comment #2, I’d love to read them…

  21. Kevin Barney
    March 6, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    I agree with many of the comments in this thread about catechism lessons (yuck!) and the Oprahfication of gospel instruction.

    I didn’t read the OT all the way through until my mission. And no one encouraged me or anything; I just did it on my own.

    I think there is some legitimacy in what Elder Holland did with the word virtue in the BoM, and I think you nailed the reason with your observation of the strong KJV influence on the language.

    We have lots of great “material,” but there is a difference between “material” and canon.

  22. Julie M. Smith
    March 6, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    Matt W.:

    Yes, I did:



    I don’t think there was a third; if there is, I can’t find it.

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