It’s wonderful to be together again. As I have traveled over this past year and been with you in many classrooms and meetings, I have been reminded of what talented and faithful people you are, and I am so grateful to be involved in this work with you. I love you and I appreciate so very much the blessing it is to work with devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, who strive to live His gospel and follow the teachings and direction of His latter-day prophets. Thank you for the way in which you live and for the astonishing contribution you make to the Lord’s kingdom.
In our most recent “Evening with a General Authority,” Elder M. Russell Ballard powerfully explained the need to protect our students from the worldly influences that would weaken their faith. He encouraged us to help them to follow the Lord’s pattern for discovering truth and to help them in their efforts to find answers to their questions. To respond to this need, he announced that the Board of Education recently approved an initiative called Doctrinal Mastery, which he referred to as “inspired and timely.”1 We appreciate your efforts to study his message and the other materials you were encouraged to review in preparation for this meeting.
There will be other resources that will also help you prepare. I’ll suggest one right now: Sister Sheri Dew recently spoke at a devotional at BYU–Idaho. Her talk, called “Will You Engage in the Wrestle?” is brilliant and definitely worth reading.2
Now, as we discuss Doctrinal Mastery, I hope you will pray for inspiration to understand how you might best prepare and implement these principles both in your classrooms and in your families.
You may be interested to know that Doctrinal Mastery has been piloted in a number of classrooms, and the response from teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive. Our students have expressed both the need and the desire to better understand the doctrine of the Church and to declare it and defend it. They are what President J. Reuben Clark said they are: “Hungry for the things of the Spirit; … eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, [and] undiluted.”3
Doctrinal Mastery will take the place of the class time previously used for Scripture Mastery. It is intended to help seminary students deepen their understanding of true doctrine, learn associated scripture references, and practice using those verses and the doctrine they teach to apply the gospel and to learn how to think about and answer their questions. To do this we will combine and build upon our previous efforts from what was called Basic Doctrines and Scripture Mastery. Our efforts will also draw heavily from our previous priority known as Seek Truth, which helps students and teachers to appropriately answer doctrinal, historical, and social questions.
The same need we are addressing for our youth through doctrinal mastery exists among our young adults. However, in institute, teachers are not being asked to implement the Doctrinal Mastery program. This need will be met through the Cornerstone classes as institute teachers incorporate the principles associated with Doctrinal Mastery.
The first part of Doctrinal Mastery is called “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” which is foundational to everything else we will do. If you brought this, would you please open up your Doctrinal Mastery Core Document to the section following the introduction and find the heading “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge.” (It’s on page 2 in the English edition.) In this section you will see three fundamental principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge.
First, “Act in Faith.” To act in faith is to trust God and to turn to Him through sincere prayer, study, and obedience. It’s seeking the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost. It’s relying on the testimony one has already received while seeking additional knowledge and understanding.
Second is to examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective or, in other words, to learn how to consider issues or questions in the context of the plan of salvation and the teachings of the Savior. This will require that our students learn to reframe questions based on the Lord’s perspective rather than the world’s and to measure what they hear and read against the Lord’s standard of truth rather than accepting a worldly premise or assumption.
And third, seek further understanding through divinely appointed sources, which is to study the teachings of the scriptures, latter-day prophets, and other Church leaders so that the Lord’s authorized servants become a vital source of truth and helpful to our students as they seek to learn true doctrine and to find answers to their questions. Students will also learn to distinguish truth from error and to recognize that there are many unreliable sources, some of which are intended to destroy faith.
After learning patterns for acquiring spiritual knowledge, students will then be given the opportunity to apply those principles as they study the nine doctrinal topics outlined in the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document and used in the Come, Follow Me curriculum.
Within each doctrinal topic, key statements of doctrine have been identified. They are supported by scripture references, called doctrinal mastery passages, that can be used to teach and reinforce these statements of doctrine.
After studying the doctrine and associated scripture references, students will participate in practice and review exercises. These learning experiences are found in the Doctrinal Mastery teacher material that will be provided for each of the four years of study. These exercises will give students the opportunity to incorporate the doctrine and the scripture references they have learned by making connections with real-life situations or by applying them to questions they have. These activities will also help them to be better prepared to share these truths with others.
For additional details and further clarification of doctrinal mastery, you can study the Doctrinal Mastery curriculum materials and additional training will be provided by your inservice leaders.
As an example of how doctrinal mastery will be a blessing to our students, let me share a scenario of a young woman who represents many students who sit in our classrooms who are having similar questions and concerns. I have chosen this particular example because I am the father of six daughters, whom I love and for whom I pray that they will feel how much Heavenly Father loves them.
Imagine a young woman named Monika who comes from a faithful family and has learned the gospel throughout her life. She loves attending Young Women and seminary, but suppose that one day a friend, a teacher at school, or even a family member says to her that the Church does not value women. The argument is made that the world has recognized the contribution of women and treats them as equals. Then comes the question: When will the Church “catch up” with the rest of the world on this social issue?
Monika has never felt unloved or unappreciated at Church. She has been taught that she has a divine nature and individual worth. She has observed powerful Young Women leaders and a wonderful mother who happily serve in the Church and in their communities. But Monika is unsure how to answer the question. In fact, it starts to bother her, and she begins to wonder why women don’t hold certain positions in the Church. The argument she has heard about equality and fairness for men and women begins to sound reasonable to her.
One day in seminary her teacher, Sister Bell, initiates a doctrinal mastery discussion about the Godhead and the principle that God loves each of His children perfectly and that all are alike unto Him. They then study 2 Nephi 26:33. As the discussion progresses, Monika wonders how that can be true if women are not given the same opportunities as men to hold certain callings in the Church. Still wondering about this issue, Monika writes a note to Sister Bell, asking, “When will the Church be like everyone else and start treating men and women equally?”
The following day, Sister Bell decides to address the question in class. She asks how a person with this question might act in faith. Students discuss things such as the importance of praying to Heavenly Father for help and understanding. One student expresses the importance of holding on to what they already understand about their relationship with Heavenly Father and shares an example of when she came to know that Heavenly Father loves her and values her.
Then, to help the class consider how they might examine the question with an eternal perspective, Sister Bell encourages them to think about the worldly assumption or premise upon which the question is based. She asks, “How might the world define equality and fairness?” A few students comment on how some people think that equality and fairness mean that everything must be the same between men and women. A young man explains that according to the world, a person’s position determines his or her importance. And that could lead to the perspective that some Church callings are more valued than others, making it seem unfair if everyone can’t hold those callings.
This loving teacher then asks how they might reframe this question from the Lord’s perspective. As this is a difficult skill and the students have not had a lot of practice with this, Sister Bell suggests that they might ask, “How does the Lord define equality and fairness?” Or “How does the Lord view the role of men and women in the plan of salvation?” One student suggests that to the Lord, equality does not mean that men and women are exactly the same. Another student says that in the plan of salvation, and in the Church, both men and women have different but equally important roles. One young woman says, “I was thinking of it a little differently. Should this be about what we want or should we care more about what the Lord wants?”
Sister Bell thanks the students for their insights and reminds them that the Savior does not view callings and leadership as the world does.4 She points out that the scriptures teach that “the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have not need of thee”5 but that all members are an integral part of the body of Christ and that all are needed and have an opportunity to serve.
Then Sister Bell asks, “During His mortal ministry, how did the Savior show that He loved and valued women?” With the help of their teacher, the students think of examples, like the way He treated His mother, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene. They also remember miracles that He performed that blessed and healed women.
Sister Bell then asks, “What is the third principle of acquiring spiritual knowledge?” Students have been through this process enough times that they know it is to seek further understanding through divinely appointed sources.
Sister Bell encourages her students to search their memories for helpful scripture references and talks from Church leaders that relate to this question. They identify resources such as the family proclamation and Gospel Topics. One particular talk is suggested that catches Monika’s attention. It is a talk by Sister Linda K. Burton called “We’ll Ascend Together.”6 Sister Bell also suggests a talk given by President Russell M. Nelson called “A Plea to My Sisters.”7 Monika makes a note of these in her study journal and decides to study them later.
The discussion ends with Sister Bell sharing her testimony of the Lord’s love for His sons and daughters and reminds her students of the doctrinal mastery scripture reference which says, “The Lord … doeth that which is good among the children of men; … and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”8 Sister Bell encourages her students to continue to prayerfully study this question and invites them to bring to class what they learn.
Monika leaves that day knowing where to look for answers. She knows she has a teacher that is willing to help, and she has felt the Spirit bringing direction and peace.
There are so many students sitting in our classrooms that are just like Monika, who have pressing questions and who need you to teach them how find answers and to choose faith. My hope is that we will do all we can to prepare to effectively implement this program. Remember what Elder Ballard said when he introduced this: “The success of Doctrinal Mastery … will depend to an important extent upon you [the teacher].”9
Now, in addition to wanting to be clear as to what it is, I want to share just a couple ideas of what Doctrinal Mastery is not.
Doctrinal Mastery is not intended to provide the answer to every question. Rather, it helps youth learn how to seek for truth, how to think about new information, and how to answer their own questions. Principles taught on the Seek Truth website are critical in helping students to learn the divinely appointed process of discovering truth, feeling loved and trusted in our classrooms, and finding answers to their questions for themselves.
Doctrinal Mastery does not replace sequential scripture teaching in seminary. It will be done during the time previously used for scripture mastery and will require teachers to start class on time and to use their classroom time efficiently. It can be done by allotting an average of 30 minutes a week. Teachers have flexibility as to how to implement this as described in the Doctrinal Mastery teacher material. Careful preparation and planning will allow teachers to implement it effectively within the classroom time available to them.
Doctrinal Mastery will not allow time for all the things we used to do with scripture mastery. We will need our precious but limited classroom time to focus on a study of the doctrine, the scripture references, and the practice and review activities. We may not have time for memorization activities in class. And it’s also true that some scripture mastery activities that were used in the past are not consistent with the spirit and intent of Doctrinal Mastery. However, because the memorization of scripture passages can bless our students, teachers may encourage memorization of scripture passages outside of class.
As I mentioned, Doctrinal Mastery is not directly intended for institute. However, it is essential that seminary and institute teachers understand the principles behind this initiative and incorporate them into their teaching.
For both seminary and institute, these principles include the following:
Students are more likely to ask sincere questions and to turn to trustworthy sources when our classroom environment is one of love, respect, and purpose. Help them to see that the Lord loves them; they are His children. Help them to identify themselves as children of God and as disciples of Jesus Christ. Help them to know that they are loved and needed.
Students are more likely to ask sincere questions and to turn to trustworthy sources when they know that we will listen to them and try to understand their needs without being quick to judge or condemn. We must learn to really listen and to be observant and to prayerfully seek the spirit of discernment before responding to questions. This will require that we are patient, understanding, and loving. Remember that making a difference in the lives of students often requires personal, individual mentoring. While we are not to take the place of parents or priesthood leaders, we do need to show students we are interested in them and in their questions. If students feel their questions were “brushed off,” they will look elsewhere for answers. And we cannot trust that the Internet will promote faith.
Students will better respond to attacks on faith when they understand the role of God’s prophets on the earth and that we come closer to the Savior by following His authorized, trusted servants. Help them to measure all information against the truth that has been revealed through the Lord’s prophets in these the latter days.
Teach truth. Teach it with kindness, but teach it clearly and with pure testimony. Teach the gospel as it is taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets of God.
Teach students that an honest search for truth requires effort. Complex questions cannot be answered with superficial answers.
Teach students that the condition of their hearts and the intent of their questions will have much to do with whether they are able to qualify for the help of the Holy Ghost. They must learn to ask in faith, with real intent, with the sincere desire to follow the truth the Lord is willing to give them. Remember, we cannot learn the gospel for them. They must study and they must pray if they are to find answers to their questions.
We also must remember that we are never to sow seeds of doubt. Many of our students have been blessed with the gift of a believing heart. The majority of our students have questions, not doubts. The way in which we approach Doctrinal Mastery should confirm faith and help students to answer questions for themselves and prepare them to help others. But it should never be done in a way that will create doubt or diminish faith.
You have seen and felt how much this is needed. Please be prayerful and thoughtful. Know the doctrine; know what prophets are saying currently about doctrinal and historical questions. Ask the Lord for help as you prepare, as you teach, and as you respond to questions that matter to our students. I add my prayer to that of President J. Reuben Clark when he said, “May [the Lord] give you entrance to the hearts of those you teach and then make you know that as you enter there you stand in holy places.”10 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/16. Translation approval: 5/16. Translation of “Doctrinal Mastery.” English. PD60001875 000
1. M. Russell Ballard, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century” (Evening with a General Authority, Feb. 26, 2016), broadcasts.lds.org.
2. Sheri Dew, “Will You Engage in the Wrestle?” (Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional, May 17, 2016), web.byui.edu/devotionalsandspeeches.
3. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. (1994), 3.
4. See Mark 10:35–45.
6. Linda K. Burton, “We’ll Ascend Together,”Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 29–32.
7. Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 95–98.
8. 2 Nephi 26:33; emphasis added.
9. M. Russell Ballard, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.”
10. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education,12.