“How can we stay on subject in Sunday School class?” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 63
Sandra Dawn Brimhall, a Relief Society board member in the Grant Eighth Ward, Salt Lake Grant Stake. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are commanded to teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand.” (See D&C 88:77–81.)
A purpose of priesthood, Relief Society, and Sunday School classes is to teach the gospel and help class members develop stronger testimonies. Whether or not this goal is realized depends on the teachers and members of each class in the Church.
In order to teach one another the gospel, we must know the gospel. “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21.)
When class periods convene each Sunday, teachers and class members should come prepared—by study, prayer, and an earnest seeking of the Spirit—to participate in their respective classes. Regular, careful reading of the standard works helps Church members keep up their guard against false teachings. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.)
The importance of the presence of the Holy Ghost in teaching situations cannot be overestimated. It means everything! “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)
The scriptures have provided us with clear guidelines about what we should teach in Church classes and the manner in which the teaching should be accomplished. They have also indicated what we should avoid.
“And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 19:31.)
And from the New Testament comes this counsel: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (2 Tim. 2:23.)
If Church members are careful, they can avoid problems and contention. Sometimes, there is a tendency to want to introduce something “new” into class discussions. Often, these novel concepts are merely the philosophies of men and are not in keeping with the spirit of the gospel or in keeping with the manual’s outline of the lesson. We all have a responsibility to speak only that which is true.
The Holy Ghost can bear witness of what is true doctrine and what is false. The Book of Mormon provides an important guideline on how to judge whether or not a false statement, intentional or inadvertent, is important enough to be challenged.
“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil. …
“But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. …
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.” (Moro. 7:12–13, 17.)
It is possible that a class member or teacher could be faced with the dilemma of how to stand up for what is believed to be right yet not know how to avoid contention at the same time. It is the Lord’s counsel to avoid contention in class discussions. Winning is not necessary. If it is needed, bring up concerns lovingly, humbly, and with patience. Clarify your interpretation of the statement first, and then present your understanding of the principle in question.
If the statement is not one that needs to be taken up in class, there are other ways to clear up concerns. Talk to the teacher privately later, again humbly explaining as you go.
If you are a teacher, sometimes you will face the challenge of class discussion that wanders off the subject or is inappropriate. If a class seems hung up on an unimportant or unrelated question, you have a responsibility to change the subject and suggest the lesson move on.
If a question arises and no one is sure of an answer, the wisest course is for the teacher or an assigned class member to research the matter and report on it at a later date.