Guest Post- Taking Six Years to Teach the Book of Mormon

This post comes from Mom S. Over the last six years, we’ve had many conversations about the relevant books she was reading, questions that arose, and teaching ideas. I asked her to share some thoughts on this class and its effects. 

Some time ago, I was asked to teach an adult scripture class in our ward. It was originally an extra activity for the Relief Society sisters but was expanded by the bishop to include any brothers who wanted to attend. I picked the Book of Mormon for the curriculum having learned from personal experience (16 years early morning seminary teacher, 4 years Institute teacher, 3 years stake adult scripture class, etc.), that a serious study of that book changes people. I was very familiar with the CES manuals and most of the commentaries and was working through Hugh Nibley’s BYU class notes that had been published. My son suggested ordering Brant Gardner’s multi-volume Second Witness, Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and later, Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide.

In March of 2015, after a full six years of meeting for 3 hours 90 minutes weekly, my class completed our study of the Book of Mormon with those commentaries. Because this was not an official Institute class, there were no time constraints and the pace was determined by the needs and understanding of the members. My personal study and thus my teaching has been greatly influenced by my son Ben but also by two of my contemporaries. The first one reads the Book of Mormon each month in its entirety and has done so for several years. Can you imagine his perspective? The second one studies bits at a time, sometimes a word, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a verse until he can write it clearly in his own words. His focus is comprehension and context.

My specific goals for the class were to get individuals to think and become personally involved in the scriptures. These were the approaches that I used. Examine what a passage actually says instead of assuming that you know what it means. Create a timeline so that what is happening makes sense. Remember that Nephi is writing 30 years after the fact. What does he omit? What happened in the in between years? Ask meaningful questions. Identify with real people, their relationships, struggles and situations. Emphasize the role of Christ, His love for all people, and His doctrine. Either there is a need for an atoning Messiah or there is not.

Did the class make any difference? Two less active students started attending church. Because of his activity, one was able to ordain his son to the Melchizedek priesthood. The other went to the temple and was sealed to his deceased wife. Another student who was born in the covenant, in tears said to me, “ I think that I moved to Florida so that you could teach me the gospel.” An 80-year-old grandpa, who has served three missions, loved details about relationships especially Moroni and his father Mormon. The stake primary president noted specific phrases being used metaphorically rather than literally adding a richness and depth to her understanding. A stake relief society president said “Breaking down the chapters verse by verse made me think. These people were alive. They were real. We need to learn from their experiences. ”

I include an e-mail I received from one member of my class:

As Moses, I am better in writing than speaking, so I wanted to write up how this class has affected my life. I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager and have had ups and downs throughout all of it. Some days feel insurmountable and hopeless. My testimony has never wavered and my faith has been steady, but as a mother of [several children], there is always someone who needs something of me, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. It’s quite simple and easy to be drained in all three areas, and not so to recharge. I have sometimes needed more fuel for my spiritual fire than the flicker that I am able muster in the midst of mothering madness. This class, however, has been my refueling, for more than just the spiritual. My eyes are opened and my understanding increased of God’s will and love for me. I’ve just ordered the first book to restart my own study, as I attempt to nourish myself as has been done these past few months. Each week, as the lesson was taught and experiences shared by all, I would find myself feeling as though a spiritual super power of sorts had been given to me, that I had the courage, energy, and understanding to do anything. The “big picture” was revealed and sharpened with clarity, brightness and everything made sense. I have always loved the scriptures, but when knowledge is added to what I’ve already learned, they have come to life, come to my life, in a way that more firmly solidifies my purpose here. My heart has softened, not only toward my own family, but toward everyone I meet. So thank you for your time and efforts in bringing forth such excellent study guides, and delivering them in such an inviting and enticing manner.

What did we learn from spending six years together? That the Book of Mormon has much to offer verse by verse. That there is room in the church for everyone—those leading and those following and those returning. That there needs to be a venue for honest questions and discussion without fear of judgment or ridicule . That it is okay to not know all the answers. That the Lord strengthens faith when we show Him that we are interested in what He says and what He will yet say. That when you invest in each other, you learn to love.

10 comments for “Guest Post- Taking Six Years to Teach the Book of Mormon

  1. very interesting. My first thought was it says a lot about the teacher and students to keep a three hour a week class going successfully that long.

  2. See my correction. I added the time to her post, so no one would think this was a short class. Mom may have been gone for three hours every Tuesday morning, but the class itself was only 90 minutes.

  3. I could relate to this. Back when I taught “Institute” (which is what everyone called it, but in reality it was stake adult continuing education, not specifically aimed at college-age students), I taught a BoM class, and a semester turned into a year, and one year turned into two. There were no constraints on us, so we just kept going. (We didn’t finish anything; I don’t specifically recall, but I don’t know if we even made it out of 1 Nephi.) It was a great experience.

    When I was first called to teach GD, the curriculum was rotating two-year classes, so you would get through the Standard Works in eight years. There were some advantages to that slower pace that were lost when the curriculum was changed to one-year courses with a four-year rotation.

  4. You are inspiring, Ben’s Mom. I wish I lived in your stake. It sounds like there was some (much?) rotation in class members. Did you have to continually re-explain the approach? Did people just join in where you were and move forward? I take it that you personally decided what to study each week and how much to cover…did you create a schedule or just go week by week?

  5. I just finished a two year course in our stake on the BoM. I also used Brant Gardeners commentary as a bases for my study. It adds such a great perspective to the BoM. Continually throughout the course I was frustrated by by two things, first even though the course was two years long there was not time to really dig into many things and a lot was skipped over. Second, the instructors were good people but the classes seemed to become more sermon like than what I had hoped for. Non the less having been away from the church for 20 years this study of the BoM was one of the things that was instrumental in my coming back. I personally credit Brant for most of that however with his guidance and perspective I was able to see and understand things that made the BoM more real and authentic for me. I often thought it wold be nice to be able to conduct the class more like a graduate seminar by going through the BoM verse by verse. Now I am going to attempt a study of Isaiah while at the same time gong through the BoM again. I wish I could have been in your class. Thanks

  6. I would love to hear of there are any take aways that could be applied to Sunday school. Or does the size of the class and time constraints create to much of a challenge?

  7. Ten years ago, I was called to teach an adult institute class for the wards in our area. (By year two, I think stake leaders forgot we existed: it is a small class.) We started working through the Book of Mormon much as described in this post. Though not attended by the university students who have their own, more closely supervised classes, our class meets once a week for 75 minutes whenever the local university is in session. This year, we made it to and through Helaman chapter 5. The Book of Mormon amply rewards this kind of close reading. I have a couple thousand pages of teaching notes and have published several articles based on things discovered while preparing for the class in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and the Interpreter. When I started, Brant Gardner’s commentary was available only online. It has been very useful, as was Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon once it was published and Allen C. Miner’s online commentary which I discovered this past year.

    Having read the Book of Mormon many times before I got this calling, I already loved it well, but my love and respect has grown year by year, chapter by chapter, verse by verse as the magnitude of its literary excellence and spiritual power has been unfolded to me and the students in the course of our intense study. So I can affirm from personal experience the value of the approach taken here. If we continue at our current pace, we will complete the book after fourteen years of close reading, but it may take longer. Our pace has slowed as we have developed an ever greater appreciation of how much there is to find iin the Book of Mormon.

  8. I just spent two years teaching a one-hour-per-week online class for the women in my stake. It was called “A Closer Look at the Life of Jesus Christ.” We made it through nine chapters of Mark in those two years. I loved doing it, of course, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much the class enjoyed it as well. Reading closely is an important skill for enjoying the scriptures.

    This can be duplicated in any church class to an extent: instead of covering all five (or whatever number of) stories in the lesson, pick 2-3 verses from one of the stories and focus on those.

  9. Compared with others of you, I’ve been rushing headlong through the scriptures in my stake’s adult institute class. We spent the first three years on the Old Testament and got through about a third of the chapters. (Before plunging into the OT itself, I took about three months to frame the class with an introduction to the King Follett discourse for a long view, then the atonement, the Sermon on the Mount, and the concept of Zion.) The resource I used most was the Jewish Study Bible. Several people in this small class said those three years changed who they are.

    In the last two years we’ve studied the Book of Mormon and are now into King Benjamin’s address. The Old Testament studies greatly facilitated my approach to the Book of Mormon, and Joe Spencer’s notes on the Feast blog have been a fabulous resource. I anticipate actually finishing the Book of Mormon within the next 5-6 years. This experience appears to be changing all of us in the class. What a book.

  10. I have also been teaching an adult “Institute” class for about 15 years. We go slowly too–and I was feeling guilty for taking 3 years for the Book of Mormon! Thanks for giving me permission to go as thoroughly as we want through this wonderful book. We have also studied the Doctrine & Covenants (2.5 years) and the Pearl of Great Price (a year?), and church history, about 1820 to 1978 (2 years–that was so interesting to study, especially the post-1847 history that we usually ignore). There are about 40-50 of us in the class, many have been coming for years and years. I love meeting for 90 minutes every week with these wonderful people–I’m sure I’ve learned far more from them than they have from me. I’m so glad there are other places in the church with classes like this!

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