Tom Smart, Deseret News
Last Sunday, my lesson plans crumbled entirely for one reason or another, leaving me with a last-resort seedling of an idea to have the teenagers teach each other speed-dating style — a surprisingly impressive and impactful method.
During the month of April, our Sunday School class has been talking about the apostasy and restoration of the gospel with an emphasis on the restoration of the priesthood. We wanted to tackle what my students felt was their biggest teaching obstacle — understanding the revelation that ordained all worthy males — so they could effectively help resolve other people’s concerns.
After we clarified the definition of “speed dating” (an entertaining conversation in and of itself), I sat in the middle of the room with my students circled all around. With an empty chair in front of me and a timer on the screen of a girl’s smart phone, we were off to the races.
We pretended we were in an elevator with only 30 seconds of conversation before we arrived at our destination. I posed as someone with questions and misconceptions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by saying something like, “I didn’t know you were Mormon, aren’t you guys all racist?”
So there we sat, eye-to-eye and knee-to-knee, with each student taking a 30-second turn to answer variations of similarly posed questions. As each finished, I would compliment and point out a particularly effective choice of words that others could build on.
I was amazed at the power of the exercise and how effectively my students communicated with no preparation and little forewarning.
Together we learned the following:
• Personal experiences are the best way to teach a principle.
The first girl in the “hot seat” shared the fact that her older sister recently married someone with a different ethnicity and how her family loved and accepted him wholeheartedly. She said his most important attribute was that he was a worthy priesthood holder, not the shade of his skin. She ended with words of gratitude for our international church that welcomes all.
• Non-defensive responses squash aggressive attacks.
An extremely shy girl in class responded to my offensive accusations by softly saying, “Some might think that, but I believe ” She didn’t say, “You’re crazy” or “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” or any other charged response that would boomerang harsh judgment right back to the person with the question. She simply validated what I said and jumped to powerful testimony. It worked for me, and I was just pretending.
• Knowledge of scriptures and church history comes in handy.
The week prior, our class spent some time analyzing a helpful historical timeline found online. As a result, their brief answers included thoughtful insights with plenty of meat. They know the name of Elijah Abel and are grateful for his pioneering efforts in the gospel. One said something like, “Early members of our church were persecuted and martyred not only because of faith but because they were publicly against slavery prior to the Emancipation Proclamation and welcomed black members of the church to worship with them in the same congregation. I hardly think that categorizes all Mormons as racist.”
• The restoration continues because of living prophets.
An effective response to anyone questioning aspects of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to humbly focus on the importance of faith. With general conference fresh on our minds, there were several in our class who remembered what they were recently taught by leaders from around the world and testified that listening to conference is a wonderful way to personally receive spiritual confirmations of truth.
By the end of our “speed-teaching” round, I think together we conquered a bit of fear in teaching the gospel to strangers and friends alike. It doesn’t matter the question at hand; the goal should be to teach with simple faith, strong testimony and follow the perspective of Elder D. Todd Christofferson: “Like all that comes from God, this doctrine is pure, it is clear, it is easy to understand — even for a child. With glad hearts, we invite all to receive.”
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