I taught a sucky Sunday School lesson yesterday

March 13, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 12:58 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

The Sunday School lesson I taught yesterday ended up being relatively lame, I thought. I did not connect well with the class members. The Spirit was not really teaching us most of the time. Sure, there were some high points of the lesson, but overall it was weak. I’m pretty bummed about it — mostly because it was surely due to lax spiritual preparation on my part.

This periodically happens when I start getting overconfident as a gospel teacher. I start feeling good about my teaching skills and my cockiness leads to a decent intellectual lesson but a poor spiritual one. I’m always reminded of D&C 50 in these situations:

17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

As a result, 40 to 50 people experienced mediocre Gospel Doctrine class — one that was “not of God”. That really bugs me. I apparently need to be periodically reminded that when it comes to the gospel, I’m not a good teacher — God is a good teacher. If God isn’t an integral part of the process the preaching/teaching fails.

How does that fact about in-church gospel discussions apply to blog gospel discussions? A lot more than 40-50 people will read this post after all…


  1. First!

    I’ve given some real stinkers before. But, since the audience seems very unprepared as well, I don’t worry too much over it.

    In Elders Quorum, they’re too busy sleeping, doodling, drawing, and playing with their blackberry, to really notice anyway.

    I made it up the next week by bringing debbie cakes, and we had the best lesson ever. Or at least they liked it the best. Food can have that effect on people. :)

    Comment by Speaking Up — March 13, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

  2. Sometimes it’s not the teacher, it’s the lesson material and the way they want us to present it. I taught this week and it was on choosing a wife and the marriage covenant. Terrible lesson outline, more applicable to teenagers than adults and in my opinion dumb questions to ask people.

    Bad lessons can be from: poor material or outline, poor preparation, poor attitude when presenting, poor preparation on the student’s part, and sometimes just a poor teacher that shouldn’t be teaching.

    If it really was your fault…shame on you, but sometimes I think we blame ourselves when it really isn’t us.

    As far as the blog, I love the discussions here, open, mostly intellegent, great info, and fun! Things we don’t always get in a SS class.

    Comment by don — March 13, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  3. Geoff,

    I can totally relate. I have been gospel doctrine teacher since October and I can testify that it is the Spirit which teaches and not I. If I have not properly prepared to have the Spirit with me, the lesson will do nothing but flop as a bunch of uninspiring facts.

    I also find myself getting puffed up from time to time and I need to seek for humility and meekness. I am so afraid of teaching lame lessons that I truly try to keep myself worthy during the week.

    It is such a true scripture.

    I agree that the students can also be unprepared but I have never yet seen all the students unprepared. There is always a few of the people that are in tune when they come to class.

    Comment by Michael — March 13, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

  4. Geoff,

    I would gladly sit through the worst of your lessons. Actually, I would gladly participate in the worst of your lessons, assuming that you don’t just bring out the TV and the VCR.

    Comment by a random John — March 13, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

  5. I imagine that I would get a more uplifting experience from the worst of your gospel doctrine classes than from 90% of the blog posts I read. It seems that ‘teaching’ by the spirit is not even considered on many blogs.

    Comment by Eric — March 13, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

  6. Just be glad you didn’t have to escort drunk people out of the church for the second week in a row.

    Comment by Kim Siever — March 13, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  7. Well I appreciate the compliments even though I wasn’t actually fishing for them (this time). I can say that everyone did stay awake so that was good and I agree with Don that lesson 10 in the manual was quite weak. But Eric’s point is interesting to me: “It seems that ‘teaching’ by the spirit is not even considered on many blogs.” The notion of writing inspired posts along the lines of teaching inspired SS lessons is something worth looking at. The audience here at the Thang is 200-400 visits per day. If that were unique visitors (and it is not) it would be a full LDS ward. But I get a lot more nervous about giving a sacrament meeting talk than I do about writing a gospel-oriented post. Is there a disconnect here? And the audience at a big Mormon blog like Times and Seasons is something like 2000 visits per day. That is more like a full stake. Of course it is not worship service, so expectations are very different. But I still have to wonder about the effort to influence ratio we bloggers have in the ‘nacle. Are we squandering opportunities to do good when we rattle off uninspired posts?

    The other question is how to really know when writing is inspired… the BoM prophets had the same problem. It is easy to tell the Spirit is there when preaching to a live audience — you can feel it. It is harder when you are just writing you ideas down.

    AND now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men (2 Nephi 33:1)

    And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; (Ether 12:23)

    Comment by Geoff J — March 13, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

  8. If you want a perfect example of a poorly prepared lesson/post in the bloggernacle I think my last one at T&S hits the mark pretty well. The problem is that those who read the bloggernacle are a little more than prepared because we all want to be here and aren’t distracted. So yeah, we all have stinkers. Just be happy that you get to teach so often.

    Comment by Rusty — March 13, 2006 @ 4:18 pm

  9. I’m with you on this one, G. I actually had some inspiration on this this morning as I thought about the lesson that I taught in gospel doctrine yesterday and the one that I will be teaching in elder’s quorum next week. The knowledge is secondary. It is the inspiration that we receive that welds that knowledge to our souls that is supreme.

    I have taught a number of classes in the past where I provided some really interesting (to me anyway) facts, but I’m sure that some of those lessons lacked the spirit that is necessary to change hearts.

    Comment by Russ J — March 13, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

  10. I’ve written posts where I felt directed by the Spirit, in general or in specifics. I don’t stress too much about it, though, because I mostly see blogging as a personal expression and I just don’t think the Spirit directs even the most worthy of us in everything that we do.

    I think ninety percent of revelation is using the sense that we’ve been given.

    I agree with the general sentiment that we shouldn’t say things irresponsibly in a way that will negatively affect people.

    Comment by D-Train — March 13, 2006 @ 7:39 pm

  11. Off topic, sort of, but do you think more than 50 people will read your post? I went to my blogger thing, trying to put a picture up and it said 500 people had checked it. It never occurred to me to put any information up there. Do you really think that many people read these?

    Scary thought, indeed.

    I liked your post, Rusty. I didn’t think it was poorly prepared.

    Geoff, I’d sit in your class any time, as well. I don’t think it’s possible to teach a good lesson every time, we all have ups and downs. Although I think it’s probable that every teacher touches somebody every time. You do the best you can and individual spiritual growth rests with the individual.

    Comment by annegb — March 14, 2006 @ 10:48 am

  12. Just to use Rusty’s term, I am sure most of my posts are stinkers. I put absolutely no preparation into my posts. I see a news article or come across a scripture or have an experience, and I simply post about it. I don’t usually go into too much detail regarding my thoughts though. I usually like to see the thoughts of others.

    Comment by Kim Siever — March 14, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

  13. How does that fact about in-church gospel discussions apply to blog gospel discussions?

    It doesn’t. You’re not ordained and sent forth to blog.

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — March 15, 2006 @ 10:37 am

  14. I totally had this same realization almost ten years ago when I was teaching GD back in Cleveland. The way I see it, is you can let yourself be a good conduit, and being that conduit is just as important as any intelligent understanding you can add on top.

    Take the lesson; leave the guilt, and do better next time. :)

    Comment by Naiah — March 15, 2006 @ 6:47 pm

  15. One of the biggest failures of my mission was with a young woman that was taking a leave of absence from becoming a nun to work and go to school. We had fantastic intellectual discussions about gospel topics that stretched the understanding of all involved. Although she would say to us that she believed the things we were sharing with her, in the end that belief was not founded in the confirmation of the Spirit.

    It was the duty of my companion and I to bring that Spirit in to our discussions and we failed.

    Comment by chris runoff — March 15, 2006 @ 9:40 pm

  16. Hmmm, my husband is the designated substitute for the Sunday School in our ward. He’s teaching in Gospel Doctrine this Sunday–I should have him come look over this post/comments.

    Comment by Téa — March 16, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

  17. I’m late to this thread, as usual, but I’m interested in Christian’s point. How does being called really effect what we say or do? Can we put our guard down if we’re not called? Do we not have the same access to the Spirit when we’re not called? Or is just a matter how others perceive us—we have to listen to the SS teacher whether we want to or not b/c that’s who’s been called, but we don’t have to read any particular blog? I’m not really expecting an answer, just wondering aloud….

    Comment by Robert C. — March 17, 2006 @ 6:56 pm

  18. Too many Mormons I have known are self-obsessed and almost morally-retarded. Their spirituality is focused on little personal behaviors that make little or no real difference.
    I am so glad my children are not being raised in the Mormon religion.
    Perhaps you can use a new standard to determine whether you are prepared to teach your class: When you are excited to share the lesson, you are prepared and it will go well. Give it a try.

    Comment by Steve A. — April 23, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

  19. I think you have a point, Steve. Are you a former Mormon, then? You have some ideas, if you’re inactive, or whatever, it would be refreshing to hear them, although perhaps you could leave out the morally retarded part, as it might insult the parents of handicapped children.

    You could be part of the solution.

    Comment by annegb — April 23, 2006 @ 9:34 pm

  20. I think you are right concerning the word “retarded.” I was thinking of it more techincally than colloquially. Perhaps “underdeveloped” or “arrested” would be better. The Mormon church is diverse. I am certainly not talking about all Mormons.
    Yes, I was a very active Mormon for 40 years. I am still being counted among the 12.5 million even though I am not at all Mormon now.
    I don’t know how I or any person not in the upper hierarchy of the Mormon church can be part of “the solution.” It isn’t really an organization that solicits ideas or constructive criticism from outsiders or its grassroots members is it? Why should they? They have THE answer. Actually, I find not having THE answer one of the most rewarding aspects of being out of the Mormon church. My life simply works now, but it is a very different life from before in many ways. I am certain very few active Mormons would be in a position to really learn anything from me in this area. My answers are simply too far from the Mormon answers and I am not interested in having any Mormons believe what I believe.
    I do wish I could change the minds and hearts of Mormons on the issue of homosexuality, but that is happening. I think I am concerned about this issue because it has real impact on real people and the Mormon position is so blatantly wrong to me. My Mormon friends are generally eager to not be bigoted in most areas, except this one.

    Comment by Steve A. — April 23, 2006 @ 11:04 pm

  21. Steve A,

    You are welcome here at the Thang.

    In order to avoid a major threadjack I’ll ask commenters to stay on the topic at hand — that is teaching by the Spirit of God. (One need not be a Mormon to do that after all!)

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

  22. Steve, check out the blog, Beyond Ourselves.

    Geoff, you know, I think I actually teach very little asking for the spirit. Well, I don’t teach at all really, never have. But when I have, I’ve done okay, but my focus has been on survival (like Steve’s point about self absorbing?) and if people like my lesson and I am more popular after, it’s all good for me. I just want to live through it without throwing up, or cussing. It’s terrifying.

    Except for little kids. I subbed for a friend in primary yesterday and I barely glanced at the lesson, saw that it was on priesthood blessings, so I got a bunch of containers at Deseret Book and some oil and that was basically the lesson. We went into priesthood, watched them bless the oil, talked for a few minutes about band-aids and scratches on our knees, and sick baby sisters and they went home and I felt okay. I didn’t ask for the spirit or God’s help because I thought I was on the right track. But then, it was 5 year olds.

    But if I were called to teach gospel doctrine, for instance, and actually accepted (which the angel Moroni would have to appear to me three times in the night, maybe even God Himself), I would only be able to do that with the help of the Lord.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

  23. I don’t seek to teach by the spirit or do anything by the spirit. This was one of the last Mormon teachings I abandoned and I never thought I would, but I have been rewarded far beyond what I would have imagined by giving up on the ambition of seeking the spirit anymore. My mind is now clear and I have more consitent (almost continual) joy and peace. Living deliberately and authentically is also more natural and easier. Surprisingly, I also experience “flow” more often and I have more reliable access to deep wisdom (I have five kids so really need it). I know how this sounds to active Mormons, but you might try experimenting with not seeking the spirit for a week or two and see if you have a similar experience of calm and reduced chatter in your head. Perhaps my not being a Mormon makes it inappropriate to post here and I do not suppose that my experience will prove true for everyone else or for most of the readers, but I thought since you all were talking about seeking the spirit I could tell you about my experience.

    Comment by Steve A. — April 24, 2006 @ 8:51 pm

  24. but you might try experimenting with not seeking the spirit for a week or two and see if you have a similar experience of calm and reduced chatter in your head

    Sounds to me like you found the Holy Spirit when you stopped looking for it. My guess is you were seeking for it in the wrong places and/or wrong ways before.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 24, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  25. Your “guess” is certainly right regarding my having been seeking in the wrong places and in the wrong ways, but I think you are wrong about me having found the Holy Spirit (At least not the Holy Spirit as I have ever heard it described in LDS doctrine). If you are satisfied and content, that is great. I’m not saying you are wrong. I just sensed that your comments regarding your lesson revealed that perhaps my experience might be relevant. If you have this spirit thing down, good for you.
    Okay. I have to be honest Geoff, your original post was filled with false humility and blatantly self-absorted pontificating (and yes, compliment fishing). I was sucked in. I know I could never say anything that would ever have the least impact on you. I wasted my time and yours. You have all the answers. Thank you for reconfirming the lessons I should have learned long ago. I will return to the shadows.

    Comment by Steve A. — April 24, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

  26. Okay. I have to be honest Geoff, your original post was filled with false humility and blatantly self-absorted pontificating (and yes, compliment fishing). I was sucked in. I know I could never say anything that would ever have the least impact on you. I wasted my time and yours. You have all the answers. Thank you for reconfirming the lessons I should have learned long ago. I will return to the shadows.

    You obviously have a poor sense of judgment. i never got the impression that Geoff was filled with “false humility,” or “self-absorbed pontification,” or that he was in anyway “compliment fishing.” And I don’t think anyone else that has read this thread has even had that cross their mind. Could you maybe be projecting? Or are you just a genuine jerk?

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — April 25, 2006 @ 3:44 am