SALT LAKE CITY — A new program is being developed for the adult classes held each Sunday in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and may be implemented soon, the faith's new Sunday School general president said this weekend.
Multiple congregations are pilot testing the program, which is patterned after the youth curriculum introduced last year. The youth curriculum eradicated lecture-style teaching, emphasized preparation and participation by young women and young men, and made manuals obsolete in favor of Internet resources.
"The principles are so representative of the way the Savior teaches," said Brother Tad R. Callister, 68, a popular LDS author, former mission president and former attorney released Saturday as one of the church's general authorities. "You can see the youth respond to it. I marvel when I attend their classes and I see them raising their hands and hear the caliber of the answers they give."
The youth curriculum and the emerging adult program share common themes that emphasize improvement in the learning of members, said Elder Paul B. Pieper, a Seventy whose church responsibilities include curriculum.
Elder Pieper and other church leaders have been clear that improved learning skills are necessary for Latter-day Saints. During Sunday's closing session of the church's 184th Annual General Conference, Elder Marcos Aidukaitis of the Seventy asked a question that explained the concern.
"How can we recognize truth in a world that is increasingly more blunt in its attacks on the things pertaining to God?" he said.
The answer is found in the themes evident in several church institutions and programs — the use of individual agency to spiritually prepare, to seek learning and to share with or teach others.
For example, "Preach My Gospel," the church's training manual for missionaries, calls study "an act of faith requiring the use of personal agency. While learning from a good teacher is very important, it is more important for you to have meaningful learning experiences on your own.”
"We have to invite people to use their agency," Brother Callister said, "because every time they use agency they grow. With increased agency comes increased growth. So teaching ought to be an invitation for people to act, to use their agency."
BYU-Idaho's learning model is another example, with its motto — "Prepare, teach one another, ponder and prove." And the church's seminaries and institutes implemented a "teaching and learning emphasis" around the terms "identify, understand and apply" and "explain, share and testify."
The youth curriculum introduced last year, known as "Come Follow Me," is based on similar principles — "Prepare spiritually. Counsel together. Minister to the youth. Strengthen the family. Teach the gospel."
"Like most things of great worth, knowledge, which is of eternal value, comes only through personal prayer and pondering," said President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his conference address on Sunday. "These, joined with fasting and scripture study, will invite impressions and revelations and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit."
The youth curriculum is based on resources available only on the Web at LDS.org — an online guidebook, learning outlines, videos and talks. The program is designed to create gospel conversations in class based on the teaching style of Jesus Christ.
Elder Pieper has said that as the adult curriculum rolls out for Relief Society, Sunday School and Melchizedek Priesthood classes, time will be set aside in classes to help adults learn and understand online tools.
Brother Callister has been attending youth classes and said that as young women and young men participate more, they have a deeper experience.
"It's not just an intellectual experience," he said, "it's a conversion-of-the-heart experience that's also taking place. And if it's good for them, why shouldn't it be good for the adults?"
Elder Pieper said Brother Callister is prepared to lead the next step.
"Youth curriculum was the first step," Elder Pieper said. "What we have to do is take youth curriculum to adult curriculum. We have to get all of this connected to teaching and learning in the home so that what happens on Sunday supports what happens during the week, and really this is a man raised up by the Lord" to guide that.
"The goal is that what we do at church reinforces the home; what we do at home then comes back to improve what happens at church."
Church leaders hope the new programs for church classroom settings improve teaching in members' homes, both when families gather for weekly home evenings, a church program for gospel teaching and family time, and for spontaneous teaching moments and discussions.
They also believe that improved learning and teaching and participation will make members better missionaries.
Brother Tad Richards Callister earned an accounting degree at BYU in 1968, a law degree at UCLA in 1971 and a master's degree in tax law at New York University in 1972. He worked as a tax attorney in a family firm in Southern California until he served as president of the Canada Toronto East Mission from 2005 to 2008.
His family tree includes numerous former church leaders, including three apostles who each served for decades — his grandfather, LeGrand Richards, an apostle from 1952 to 1983; his great-grandfather, George F. Richards (1906-50); and his great-great-grandfather, Franklin D. Richards (1849-99). Franklin D. Richards was the nephew of Willard Richards (1840-54), another apostle, who was in the same room in Carthage Jail when a mob broke in and killed LDS Church founder Joseph Smith in 1844.
Brother Callister's brother, Douglas L. Callister, served as a member of the church's Second Quorum of the Seventy from 2000 to 2009.
Brother Callister's counselors in the general Sunday School presidency will be Brother John S. Tanner, 63, a former English professor and Milton expert who served as a BYU vice president, and Brother Devin G. Durrant, 53, a former NBA player and member of the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame who has worked in real estate and wrote a book with his father, George Durrant.
Brother Tanner is serving as the president of the Brazil Sao Paulo Mission. Brother Durrant is serving as president of the Texas Dallas Mission. Both will complete their missions in July.