Brother Chad H Webb: Anciently, it was considered a supreme honor to be selected to be the messenger of good news, especially to be the messenger of a victory in battle. In BC 490, a young man named Pheidippides was selected for the honor of carrying the news to anxious citizens in Greece that their armies had saved their nation by defeating Persian invaders. Legend says that Pheidippides ran the entire way from the Valley of Marathon to Athens to proclaim the good news. More than 2,500 years later, people in much better condition than me continue to commemorate that run by running their own marathons.
Isaiah referenced the idea of being the messenger of good news when he said:
“And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! …
“… O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
“And … how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those … [still publishing] peace?”1
Those verses of scripture changed everything for me when I was a young, homesick, and discouraged missionary. The spirit of those verses opened my heart and mind to the fact that I had been trusted to be the messenger of the greatest news the world could ever hear. Despair and self-pity were replaced by hope and gratitude, and I’ve never forgotten that morning when I first understood through the Holy Ghost that I was to represent the Savior in delivering the good news of His matchless love, His atoning sacrifice, and His victory over sin and death.
Every day you walk into a classroom, you are the messengers of the good tidings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you for publishing peace in a world of divisiveness and discord and for bringing light and truth into a world that can feel dark and full of confusion. This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. You have been prepared and selected to be messengers of peace to the youth and young adults of the Lord’s Church. What an honor it is to represent Jesus Christ, to teach His gospel, and to strive to teach it in His way!
Last year we had the opportunity to learn from Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf as he introduced the new handbook Teaching in the Savior’s Way. I love that this new handbook focuses on the example of Jesus Christ as the Master Teacher. As Elder Uchtdorf said, “The best way to become a better teacher is to become a better follower of Jesus Christ.”2
With the availability of Teaching in the Savior’s Way, we will retire the Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook. Teaching in the Savior’s Way is not intended to be a training resource; its purpose is to provide definitions and explanations of effective learning and teaching. Training resources have been and will continue to be produced to help you apply the principles taught in Teaching in the Savior’s Way. These resources include some elements of the Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook that have blessed students for years.
I know many of you have already spent a considerable amount of time studying Teaching in the Savior’s Way and pondering the personal evaluation questions. Thank you for all you are doing to be Christlike teachers of the restored gospel.
To further improve our training materials, I would also like to announce an adjustment to the official objective statement of Seminaries and Institutes. Before I share with you the new language of our objective statement, let me provide some context. Over the past two years, we’ve been focusing on providing learner experiences that lead to conversion, relevance, and belonging, and making those experiences accessible to more youth and young adults. It is imperative that we recognize that these principles are not of equal value. The ultimate purpose is to provide experiences that invite our students to learn the gospel and deepen their conversion to Jesus Christ.
Relevance and belonging are important, but they are indirect outcomes. They are a means to an end that when used effectively can lead to our direct goal of conversion. Relevance that leads to conversion is more than simply talking about things of interest with our students. Nothing is more relevant for our eternal progression and happiness than Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. The plan of salvation is God’s plan for all His children. It has immediate relevance and eternal significance to every child of God.
Relevance that leads to conversion is established as the Holy Ghost helps students understand God’s plan, Jesus’s central role in that plan, and the significance of the gospel in our daily lives. Relevance that leads to conversion helps students see how the scriptures and teachings of modern prophets relate to their circumstances and needs. It helps them recognize how the gospel answers the questions of their souls. It happens when they feel inspired to act with faith in Jesus Christ and experience the fulfillment of Heavenly Father’s promised blessings. That is relevance that leads to conversion.
It’s also true that belonging, in and of itself, is not the end goal. In fact, because the word belonging is used in so many ways, it can sometimes be misunderstood as to what we mean by belonging in a gospel context. Many of us have felt belonging in a variety of settings. Growing up, that happened for me on athletic teams. My teammates were my closest friends, and I certainly felt invested in our cause to be successful. That kind of belonging is healthy and even important. But there is so much more to belonging that leads to conversion.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, in the latest general conference, taught that the doctrine of belonging has three parts: the gathering of the Lord’s covenant people, service and sacrifice, and the centrality of Jesus Christ in belonging.3 These concepts are at the heart of what we mean when we say belonging that leads to conversion. Certainly, belonging includes loving and respecting one another. It also includes principles that bring us to the Savior and engaging in His cause as we help each other to walk the covenant path back to Him.
The blessings of true gospel-centered belonging also include covenant connections. Belonging as defined through the lens of the restored gospel helps us to know our true identity and our eternal relationship with our Father in Heaven. Our covenants are made available because of His love for us and connect us to Him, to our families, and to a community of believers who have promised to carry one another’s burdens. This type of belonging leads to conversion to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.
Now, let me go back to the change to our objective statement, which has been approved by the Church Board of Education. In an effort to position conversion as the direct objective of all our teaching and learning experiences, our objective statement will now read, “Our purpose is to help youth and young adults deepen their conversion to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.” This adjustment will help us organize our training and our efforts to create learning experiences in the hope that we can help students be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. The identified roles of a teacher in Teaching in the Savior’s Way will remain to help us better understand a teacher’s role in helping students deepen their conversion. We have also updated the Live, Teach, and Administer paragraphs associated with our directive, which you can find on the S&I website.
Whatever may change or might be emphasized in our efforts to effectively teach the gospel, what will never change is that we will be Christ-centered, learner-focused, and scripture-based. And we will always try to infuse our teaching and learning experiences with the inspiration and witness of the Holy Ghost. All we do should deepen our conversion to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel because He is the answer to their challenges and questions. He is the God of their deliverance and redemption.
Now, I would like to make one other announcement of another approval made by the Church Board of Education. Again, I would like to preface that announcement with some context, this time using a principle taught by the Savior. I recently noticed that in the parable of the sower, Jesus said that some seeds brought forth an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. What was significant to me in this reading was that each of these grew out of what the Savior referred to as good ground. This was not the wayside, the stony places, or the seed that landed among thorns; this was good ground.
It caused me to wonder whether our current approach to requirements for course credit is analogous to only recognizing those who brought forth an hundredfold, while failing to acknowledge and be grateful for the efforts and contributions of those who bring forth sixty- and thirtyfold. Every student has a different level of family support, gospel understanding, and personal commitment. Certainly, we should have high expectations, but we should also be careful not to discourage those who are doing their best in the circumstances they are in.
These verses made us wonder if it was possible to maintain high standards and find ways to personalize our approach. Could we find ways to encourage and recognize growth and progress at every level along the covenant path and help all our students to succeed? Could we support them in their efforts to study the scriptures and learn the gospel with more intrinsically motivated goals so that students develop habits and patterns that will stay with them long beyond their time in our classes?
With that in mind, I would like to announce the following for seminary: the learning assessment will move from an individual assessment to a group review, which will ensure that students have learned the content that has been represented. Those who have mastered the content might help others so that all are given the opportunity to deepen their understanding. The portions of the assessment related to belief and application will still be an individual exercise intended to create an opportunity for self-reflection. The reading requirement is also changing and will no longer require 75 percent of days read each term.
Moving forward, in order to receive course credit toward graduation, seminary students will be required to read selected passages from the book of scripture in each term. For example, during the first term of Doctrine and Covenants—Church History, students will read Joseph Smith—History. They will then be asked to set an additional intrinsically motivated personal reading goal with high expectations for upward growth. These personal goals should reflect a student’s abilities and acknowledge individual effort and progress.
Teachers will also encourage students to track the progress of their individual goals and encourage them to follow through. They will encourage students to read the assigned scripture passages for Come, Follow Me in the seminary week, either individually or with their families. They also encourage students to consistently study the Book of Mormon individually or with their families. In the near future, more information will be sent to you regarding both of these changes, including implementation details and timelines and what this might mean for previous terms when requirements were not met.
Now, I would like to share with you something that President Henry B. Eyring said when this change was discussed. He said, “To do this well will require more personal, individual attention from teachers. It will add a burden, but it is a burden teachers should be glad to carry because their personal ministries are as important as their classroom instruction. If anyone can do it, your teachers can. They are wonderful.”
I agree with President Eyring; you are wonderful. I also realize that a movement away from rigid standards to individual goals will require more time and attention from you. But what could we do that could bless our students more than to help them create a personal daily habit of scripture study that is motivated by the right reasons?
Lastly, the attendance requirement will remain the same. Please help students see that the experiences they have in class increase their gospel understanding and deepen their faith. That is why they want to attend, not just to receive credit. A student who understands this will want to be there 100 percent of the time.
In institute, we will continue with the same requirements for credit, but we will emphasize intrinsically motivated reasons for attending and engaging in the learning process. Reasons such as deepening faith, drawing closer to the Savior, and learning His doctrine help students understand the why, help them to set goals that draw them closer to Him, and encourage them to be accountable to Him.
Many of our students are just beginning their journey and are being invited, maybe for the first time, to make room for the seed of faith in their lives. Instead of being concerned that they have not yet experienced all that a more mature learner has experienced, we should be grateful for their desire to believe. When they see the fruit is good, we should rejoice with them and celebrate that gift from our Father in Heaven. Then together we can patiently wait for the day when the seed becomes a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
I invite you to continue to carefully study Teaching in the Savior’s Way and to consider what more the Lord would teach you about conversion, relevance, and belonging. Please also consider carefully the principles behind the changes to our objective statement and course requirements. Thoughtfully incorporate these changes in ways that inspire and bless all your students.
Lastly, I invite you to continue to focus on Jesus Christ in all your efforts. Prayerfully consider how you might learn from Him, learn to follow His example as the Master Teacher, and learn to depend more on His grace and His love as you strive to bless those that you love. I testify that He is the way. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.