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I think there is very much a problem. The correlation chapter of the McKay biography is a must-read for those interested in the speil.

While the church could not maintain its programs in the face of increased growth, it seems that the price was too high.

As a little teaser: look for some fascinating related content at BCC!

"Is the problem in the concept? Or the execution?"

Mostly the execution - todays SS lesson was the most awful lesson ever. How can a lesson telling us how wonderful the correlation of the church is be testimony building? (Or maybe it was just my ward)

I like that we all study the same things in priesthood/RS etc. but the material is tired and repetitive.

The curriculum needs a good shake up, and for goodness sake - lessons on Easter and Christmas so I'm not embarressed to invite a friend, dreading that the lesson will be on tithing or something else inappropriate for the occasion.

As I recall, a young Neil Maxwell called on Harold B. Lee to explain how lame the Church manuals were.

I'm not disputing whether some of our manuals are lame, just pointing out that it's a problem that goes back at least a generation or two.

When I asked a former mission president how he went about preparing lessons for Priesthood from the Presidents of the Church manuals, he replied that he liked to look and the topic and then just teach from the scriptures, possibly throwing in a quote from the manual.

I was surprised to learn at his funeral that one of his mantras as a stake president had been, "what does the handbook say?" He really believed that there was no need to try to reinvent something that was already working--and you couldn't know if it worked until you tried it as prescribed. All the more interesting, then, that he didn't choose to use the correlated materials when teaching.

There is a problem.

And that's why God invented the Bloggernacle -- to give us a place to seriously study the gospel together and share ideas. (grin) If the Church has gotten so big that all they can give us in the oficial manuals is "excerpts on the same set of thirty topics you've seen every year for the last ten" (and it has) then I suppose we just need to continue to be anxiously engaged in the good cause of seeking doctrinal and theological "meat" on our own.

Hey lets all complain about how crappy our Gospel Doctrine teachers are and blame it on the LDS Church because the manuals do not fit our personal views of what they should be!

If you don't like what is happening in your GD class, then do something constructive about it.

I am so glad to hear people discussing this. The curriculum is very lame, and it is all in the execution. The lessons are so watered down that they don't even say anything any more. Yet, I feel that with the church growing and expanding so much, going 'back to the basics' may be just what the Lord intends. If people want to make the gospel interesting they are going to have to do that on their own at least for now.

Let's remember, correlation means a lot more than lesson manuals. Boring lessons existed long before the administration of Harold B. Lee.

Another aspect of correlation is the simplification of church programs on the local level. It seems to me there has been a real effort to make it easier for smaller church units to adapt the program of the church to fit their needs and circumstances. This is a good thing.

Dave, I'm with you - I can see the problems, but I think the benefits outweigh the problems, so put me down as a fan. I think the problems that exist are due to our flawed execution. Give us another generation or two, and it will look better.

I consistently find quotes in the RS/Priesthood manuals that are inspiring enough to spark profound thoughts and deeply meaningful discussions. The manuals themselves say that they are not intended to be read straight through during the lesson. I think that there are problems with correlation, but most of the complaints lodged here reflect faults in the teachers and in the students. The material we have is sufficient for inspiring lessons. That's not to say that the approach of reading mostly from the scriptures and sharing a few of the quotes from the manual is not also a good one.
The only thing that sometimes bothers me about correlation is not that it occurs, but that members sometimes misinterpret it and regard the content of the manuals too highly. The manuals are good, but IMO they should serve as a springboard for a discussion that is led by the Spirit, not as an exact map for where the discussion should go. I think that the manuals themselves make this abundantly clear, when they explain that they are to be used as a guide but the teacher should always use the direction of the Spirit.

I think something like Correlation is unavoidable in a Church like ours, in which unity on a global scale is an important priority.

I don't think it's a real problem. The simplicity works in outlying areas, and in mature areas, a good teacher (and indeed any class member with a strategically placed single question) can generate stimulating (and not necessarily controversial) discussion around a few verses of any scripture assignment or a prophetic quotation or two.

I don't have too much of a problems with correlation itself, but I do with the lesson material and the rotation. Having to use a 4 year rotation forces us into a "touch a few high points" approach instead of real in depth study. I'd like to see a 6 or 7 year rotation. 2 years O.T., 2 years N.T., 2 years BOM and 1 year D&C (maybe even 2 years here too!).

There is just so much more to study and learn than the few points we hit each week.

I agree with Christian. In a church like ours where the hierarchy is now so deep there's no choice. In the 1950's it wasn't uncommon for people to meet in a constructive fashion with an apostle or other high figure. Now you have more layers of bureaucracy - of necessity because the church is so large and so dispersed. If there wasn't a kind of attempt at central control then small screwups wouldn't be caught and would magnify. You'd end up with even more diversity than you find in the general "evangelical" movement.

I think the real problem is that we are so lay member based that we forget that most people don't have the training to do a good job. I think more training would be useful, but that then takes people away from their families. A lot of people I know already resent the long and frequent meetings anyone with a significant calling have to go to. Despite the efforts of the leadership to streamline things, it seems that most meetings aren't terribly productive. Further you always have some people who are apparently lonely and use it more for socializing.

How do you resolve all this though and keep our lay structure? I can't see anything beyond small changes and different emphasis each year. It'd be ideal were there a real robust teaching training class - but many wards have a hard time getting people to do the callings they need.

I don't think there are any good solutions.

The bottom line: It's so boring that I am regularly skipping lessons to talk in the foyer, or going to a restraunt to eat until the kids get out of their classes, or reading scriptures during class, or reading another inspirational type book, or sleeping in class. In fact lets do a top 10 list of things Mormons do during classes.

I've told my wife a dozen times: "I get more out of reading and studying the scriptures at home for an hour; than I do going to 30 hours cumulative of Sunday School + Priesthood classes." So about a 1:30 ratio.

I blame the manual, the teachers, the LONG 3 hour block, and low blood sugar reactions on fast Sunday.

The problem definitely lies in execution--though the manuals don't help. I believe there is a bigger problem with the youth manuals. I am stunned at the inordinate amount of questions that are replied using "SMA," standard Mormon answers (pray, read scriptures, go to church & Seminary, etc.). Whenever I accidentally would ask my youth SS classes one of these questions, I would just smile as they would simply reply "SMA!" That was enough said.

The steady nature of the flow of lessons is what I feel is the best part of Correlation. I was in CTR as a youth and in a very small disfunctional branch. Teachers in primary came and went sometimes lasting just a few Sundays.

One day sister C took our class and started on a lesson. I interupted her and said we had already had that lesson three times in the last two months. Hers would have been the fourth.

With that happening certain basic issues of doctrine that should have been introduced to us were lost in the teacher shuffle. I like the fact that I know that a broad range of subjects will be addressed and in order. I know my nieces and nephews are getting the same lessons and are all up to speed on certain subjects. One good ward can educate while one bad ward could hurt a whole bunch.

I heard about eight really interesting and insightful things yesterday in Gospel Doctrine (and I only said two of them). It was draining. I don't think I could have taken another hour of it, so I went grocery shopping.

We were (I think) on the SAME lesson, but the focus was entirely different.

Now there's a completely original explanation, Ann. Correlation keeps lessons from being *too good*, otherwise people would feel "drained" and go home after Sunday School. I feel that way sometimes, but only after I teach. ;-)

Correlation is still a bit mysterious to me, but it seems a generally necessary and good thing. I have been in lots of boring lessons based on the recent line of Priesthood/RS manuals, but I've also been in very interesting ones, like yesterday. Guess what: what was different about yesterday was we had a particularly talented and well-prepared teacher. Whenever I've taken the time to read carefully enough to say whether I think there is basis there for an interesting lesson, my conclusion has been that there is. I think boring lessons generally result from mediocre preparation by the teacher.

The skimming over the surface that too often is the routine in church classes again I think comes most from weak teaching and lackadaisical preparation by those attending the class. The manual doesn't say you have to cover everything it mentions. There's nothing stopping a teacher or class from slowing down and really working over one chapter, or one issue. It is just easier to say something superficial, so that's what often happens.

A manual needs to stick with the basics that everyone needs to hear, or it will fail to serve those who still need to hear the basics (as we all do, to some extent). When a class departs from the well-worn, sometimes oversimplified basics, it should be because the teacher, who is in a position to know something about the people who are actually coming, makes a judgment that they are ready for or need something else, and departs from the well-worn path in a way that is tailored to the audience, or to the strengths of the particular teacher. Manuals that try to be too interesting risk giving people dessert when they haven't had dinner yet. If people are going to follow a manual lazily, you want to have a conservative, safe, stick-with-the-basics manual, and that is more or less what we have. But like I said, whenever I have spent enough time studying a lesson to form a suitable opinion as to how much depth a given week's material will support, I have found it is deeper than pretty much any one class, even very well taught, is going to exhaust. You have to read carefully sometimes to find that depth. So what else is new?

It WAS draining! Actively listening and trying to positively engage in an environment and with a community that is often quite hostile to my own POV is hard work. I got through the entire meeting without once saying "poppycock!" and I was greatly rewarded by hearing some very inspiring stuff. My non-spiritual self can't take very much of that. Grocery shopping restored my equilibrium.

I think it was obvious that we were going to run into problems as the Church grew both bigger and more spread out -- we don't have enough GAs to have them dropping by random Sunday meetings, we want to have the curriculum available in 125 languages, we're trying to make sure a unit with 25 adult men (and an unknown, but probably larger, number of adult women and children) can do all same teaching that a ward with 75 women in Relief Society and 65 Elders and another 30 High Priests (that's my current ward, by my own estimates from sitting up in front during the Primary Presentation two weeks ago) can do. We also want to avoid the situation that led to bishops who persuaded their entire ward to apostacize and form a polygamous cult.

I mean, honestly, come up with a good solution that addresses all of that stuff without making it look like Correlation.

The lessons in the manuals, as far as I've seen, require a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher (and students) in the class. They're like a box of Bisquick -- only a really desperate person would rely on the Bisquick alone. But teachers say "oh, look, I've been given all the lessons I need to give, I can start looking over the manual during Sacrament meeting..." and the students say "haha, I just have to show up!" Then they wonder why the students walk away saying "that was the most pointless waste of a 50 minute period that man can conceive."

(and it's one of those things that requires a huge amount of participation -- if you're the only student in the class who's read the scriptures or studied and pondered the quotes in the manual, it's possibly even worse than not being prepared yourself, at least for those 50 minutes)

There's two separate issues getting conflated here: boring lessons and correlation. But they aren't, uh, correlated.

Here's the best argument for correlation ever: I went to a cub scout training meeting and there was a table with at least 50 manuals, books, etc. What a mess! Correlation of materials saves a lot of effort and duplication and confusion--especially for new people.

As for boring lessons, that's an entirely different topic.

What bothers me most about all our meetings is how much time we spend comparing ourselves to other churches and people. We talk alot about how unfortunate everyone else is because they do not have the true church, the true gospel, etc. Yet, at least in my experience, there are a lot of people "out there" who are extremely giving, focused on spiritual things, grateful for life, trying to do the right thing and genuinely worshipful. We would do well by spending more time learning from others, seeking their insights, listening to THEIR testimonies, finding common faith with them, etc., rather than comparing our version of the truth with theirs.

There are very good reasons to keep the weekly lessons during the Sunday meeting block simple, and why those lessons keep repeating the basics:

The main reason is that we, as a church, are not living the basic lessons taught in the scriptures and the basic 4-year cycle of lessons. It's useless to teach the higher stuff if the students don't have the foundation of the basics. If we rationalize or excuse-away the parts of the basics that are hard for us to obey, we'll excuse-away all of the greater.

The second most important reason that I see is due to church growth, both born-in-church members and converts. The lessons may be repeated every four years, but most of us need two, and usually three, cycles as adults, which is 12 years, before they really sink in, which puts the BIC's at about age 30, assuming they stay active and paid attention all that time. And then like the Nephites, we need reminded over and over again, because we are quick to forget.

3rd reason: The higher doctrines and advanced lessons are available. They are available through things such as: self study, firesides, and Institute.

1. The Institute manuals are available to everyone, and go beyond the Gospel Doctrine/Relief Society/Priesthood lessons for Sunday meetings.

2. We have "semi-official" higher doctrine books available:

a) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
b) Discourses of Brigham Young, by Widtsoe.
c) Articles of Faith, by Talmage.
d) Jesus the Christ, by Talmage.
e) Gospel Doctrine, by Joseph F. Smith.
f) Doctrines of Salvation, by Joseph Fielding Smith.

3. These might qualify as "quasi-official" books, because they are often quoted in correlated material:

a) Miracle of Forgiveness, by Spencer W. Kimball.
b) Faith Preceeds the Miracle, by Kimball.
c) The Messiah Series, by McConkie.
d) Doctrinal New Testament Commentary.
e) Mormon Doctrine, by McConkie.

4. And these might be considered un-official:
a) The Divine Center, by Stephen Covey.
b) Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, by Covey.


Did you consider Hugh Nibley a pseudo-intellectual? If so, then what consitutes a genuine intellectual in your mind?

Dan, when it comes to gospel topics, "pseudo-intellectual" is as good as it gets.

It's not the contents of the lesson manuals that are a problem. It's a combination of the teacher and the class members. See D&C 88:77.
Whenever I have had a less-than-ideal teacher, I have found that if I actually study the lesson, not just reading the lesson and the scriptures that go along with it, but really studying it, even a really bad teacher can provide a good lesson. If even only a few people do this, they can get the whole class actively engaged in worthwhile discussions where everyone benefits.
You do have to put some effort into it, though. Read commentaries and other manuals (such as Seminary, Institute, college, and even Primary manuals) for additional insights. Pray about it.
I have had truly awful teachers in the past, but I'm fortunate to have great SS and PH instructors right now. This method works with any kind of teacher.
Basically, if you're not enjoying class then you aren't properly prepared or you're focusing too much on what you can get out of the class and not enough on what you can contribute.

I would have to agree with Marty's comments about interest in classes. Keep in mind that while you may feel you know the material, there are those who don't know it as well - and you may have some input they need to hear (or are waiting to hear). Remember, the purpose of our regular meetings is not just to get training, but to share and strengthen testimonies. Many of our teachers are not called because they are the best or most effective teacher. They are called because the Lord's servent asked them to serve in that position for many reasons. We need to share our knowledge and testimonies with each other. If you look at the manuals cloesely, particularly the RS/PH manuals, they are to lead discussions.
Now, correlation is a whole different matter, not to be mixed up with lesson manual material. That is merely a small part of correlation in process. Correlation in the Church is the same a correlation anywhere - it is correlating our efforts into a unified whole. For example, a Deacon's Quorum Presidency whol holds a presidency meeting (with the help of his advisor) who is concerned about the well-being of a quorum member and is using quorum activities, scouting, fellow quorum members and assignments to help is using correlation. On the ward level, correlation meetings aren't supposed to be a calendar meeting, but a chance to have those called in various positions (and thereby entitled to receive revelation for that position) to meet and identify the needs of the ward and how to address them. For example, maybe there is a family with a bread-winner father that has been injured. The Ward could help support that family through the correlation process (not that this is the only support for this family - but it is a support). The elder's q president should know of elders with specific skills that may be able to help out, and the RS pres would similarly know of sisters that could provide assistance. Likewise the Youth program leaders may have inputs and ways to help within their purview.
That same process applies to the Stake, and on up. Correlation is about the various organizational units working together, utilizing the power and authority of each leaders calling, to meet the mission of the Church.
Too often correlation is misunderstood or ignored. In a business, we know this process is truth, but somehow, we seem to be unwilling to use good business practices in the service of our Lord. But really, truth is truth regardless of where it comes from.

I'm new here so pardon my interrupting a discussion that is on going, but I would suggest another problem, that being the students themselves. Now I'm sure that some of the above comments are given in tongue-in-cheek, but too many express the opinion that the listener is simply smarter than the teachers presenting the material and that they are the only ones who have anything interesting to say. This is simply arrogance. There are some great critiques concerning proper teaching mentioned here, such as effective preparation, but essential in any classroom is the attitude of the students. When the students feel that they know more, or in this class, possess the proper revelatory access to make the class better, this becomes a problem. It is possible that the student may in fact know more, but the instructor has prepared, this must be respected by the class. In my SS class, I am frequently thinking "I wouldn't have taught like this", but never would I say the teachers are ineffective because they didn't teach what I would like to hear. In fact, because they do prepare in spite of my different approach, they are excellent teachers. Finally, there is the possibility that the calling of this specific individual is not for your edification only, but perhaps it is for the individual who has been called as teacher. Teaching is not easy for everyone, teaching can be very difficult to do, thus it becomes an experience for the student to understand the true nature of sustaining. Sustaining means to support, to uphold, including boring teachers. Sustaining isn't meant to only mean those whom you find interesting, but is particularly important for those who have a tough time fulfilling their calling. Sustaining means to take care, to help in any way possible, it does not mean to walk out of the meeting, go talk with friends, or any of the others ways in which we avoid the class. If the teaching needs improvement suggest how to improve it. Pull the teacher aside and tell them, appropriately, what might work. More often than not, teachers will like appropriate feedback. Tell them what works, they're more likely to do it again. Make sure that the Teaching Improvement course is being offered and make sure that good instruction is given. These will work, your involvement in sustaining the individual is more effective in improving the teaching, than getting online and telling others how dissatified your are.

Wow! Is this the Dan Belnap of University of Chicago fame?

Karl, it is in fact the Dan Belnap. Are you still at Notre Dame,isn't that where you were going? Of course if this isn't Karl Diether than I have no idea who you are. It wouldn't change the fact, though, that I am still the Dan Belnap.

Look, correlated lessons are not the real problem. It's a great way to provide consistency in the church. However, the material has become boring and censored for a broader audience today. The old milk before meat crap... How dare any of us suggest we study REAL doctrine as laid down by Brigham Young, Joseph Smith or even John Taylor. It's pretty bad when President Hinckley goes on national TV and tells the world we really don't believe our own tenet of "as man is God once was, as God is man may become." This to me is what made this church true and unique. We need to be more committed to the teachings of formers prophets and not dilute the strengths of this church... If our modern day leaders attempt to move us away from these precious truths then I for one begin to worry about the direction and future of the church...

I thought it was interesting to read the comments that said things like; I was so bored by the lesson that I went shopping or went out to lunch. If you'll casually admit to breaking the Sabbath, how many other things are you doing that make it difficult to feel the spirit and be edified by a lesson. Lessons are always better when the students come with the spirit. (I believe we recently had a lesson out of the priesthood manual on that topic, you must have skipped class.) God can inspire the teacher and those making comments. If you're relying on wisdom gained only through study and not by the spirit, then good luck.

Thanks for the comment, Really. There are "diversities of gifts," by which Paul seems to mean that some are better feelers of the Spirit than others, while some are better readers and thinkers, and so forth. But I think it's fair to say that a challenging and well-taught lesson, supported by good material and contributing class members, makes everyone's experience better, whatever their learning style or gospel personality.

As for adults who choose to skip a meeting now and then ... well, being an adult does have some advantages over being a child. Like autonomy.

Really, I didn't go shopping because I was bored. I went shopping because my mind was going 100 miles a minute and I needed to get out of my head for a bit.

And yeah, I'm not exactly working to invite the spirit in. After all, it bloweth where it listeth. I'm more a "wait and see what happens" kind of person. However, that's a distinct improvement from just a couple of years ago.

The comment by Tony (#31), echoed my sentiments pretty well. And, Dave, your original post was excellent. I haven't read something so focused on Correlation until now, and I have a good picture of what it is now, and what it is doing to the Church. I now have a name to attach to the mystery.

I agree that "the curriculum materials coming out of the system all sound the same and lack any sense of sparkle or zest", and I look around and don't see it getting any better. Maybe if enough young people realize this, within a couple of generations, we might end up with Mormon-flavored Mormonism again.

I think the "boredom" factor and the lack of committment to restoration principles is actually what drives a lot of people to apostacy and to forming splinter groups. If we could provide meat, we would stay a contiguous body. But, I think gaining a large number of Protestant converts is more of a priority than membership retention right now for the powers that be... and, maybe there is some wisdom in this?

I have heard more than a couple people suggest, that eventually the earth will be sprinkled with Mormon sects, like Protestantism is now, and that the Lord is raising up a mighty army with them, some of which will eventually join together with us at the end.

~Jeff, a Mormon Gnostic.

Elder Eyring's speech about listening and learning in our Church meetings is one of my all-time favorites It's titled "Listen Together" and found in the collection "To Draw Closer to God." It has often come to mind during a particularly trying lesson taught by a newly-wed 18 year old in my married student ward . . . and I must say, when I follow his counsel I've never left church without being uplifted and refreshed by the Spirit. It seems whenever I can take an attitude of praise and worship, even the most simplistic topics become glittering, mind-opening and edifying!

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