Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday School Blues--D&C 88: 122

"Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege." (D&C 88:122, emphasis added)

To say that Sunday School today turned into a conversation between the brother in the front row and the teacher would be to overstate the extent to which the teacher was permitted to contribute.

There's nothing wrong with the brother who monopolized our class; he seems like a very interesting guy, and he doesn't always take over. But today, whatever filter normally prevents him from immediately speaking to almost every question was malfunctioning, and so he single-handedly cut off the participation of most of the class.

According to the scriptures of the restoration, we are all supposed to speak, and we are all supposed to be privileged to hear from the wide range of perspectives available in our classes. Perhaps this is because a living church needs words that are themselves alive: the right answers are not enough; in our classes, we need answers infused with the individual spirits of those speaking them. No matter how insightful one individual may be, if he or she speaks in a way that cuts off, rather than encourages, that participation by other class members, the Lord's directive on gospel education is not being followed.

[Insert embarrassed look here.]

You will probably not be surprised to hear that I fear I am guilty of the very offense I now preach against. As you can tell from this blog, I like to talk about the gospel. A lot. I think my own ideas are cool and that everyone wants to hear them and that I do a service to the world when I talk or write. (Doctors, I think, call that narcissism. It's the -ism I'm best at.) The truth, however, is that church classes are better when people like me are careful not to talk too much.

So, in the spirit of repentance, today I have prepared advice for my fellow over-exuberant class participants. Do you know who you are? I hope so.

Tips for the talkative student:
1) Be aware of your own talkativeness. Do you find yourself speaking much more than others? Do you find yourself wanting to weigh in on every question? Don't be ashamed. That words and ideas come to your mind quickly is a spiritual gift. Do be cautious: this gift is one that sometimes gets in the way of others.
2) Carefully choose when to speak. Because I know that I will want to answer open-ended questions, I avoid volunteering to read scriptures and answering fact-level questions. These opportunities are better left to those who might struggle more to think quickly of responses to open-ended questions, but may find themselves responding to a scripture they themselves read out loud or elaborating on a fact-level answer they give to a question. If I volunteer for everything, I take away opportunities others might make use of to develop their own thoughts, and in the process, rob myself of their insights.
In addition to avoiding those two kinds of participation in most cases, I try to distinguish between responses to teacher questions that will be most useful to me personally and ones that will be most useful to the class as a whole.
I try to avoid speaking on questions that get good responses from my classmates and direct my comments, when possible, to times when they might help improve the class energy and get more people thinking/speaking rather than times when they will get in others' way.
3) Bring a pen and paper to class. If you are at risk of talking too much, this may prove extremely helpful. With a pen and paper, you can respond to every open-ended question the teacher asks, but in a way that doesn't monopolize the class and does give you a record of your insights. You also will have extra opportunities to respond because you can write ideas that come to you because of your classmates' comments. I think you'll also find that the Spirit will help you more when you're trying to help the class be conducted in accordance with the Lord's counsel.
After church, you can talk over your scribbled-down insights at home with loved ones, post them on a blog, or fold them into a paper crane and set it on your windowsill.


  1. wow...for a while i was feeling sorry that you had to sit through a class with someone taking over....then, surprise--i felt sorry that you came away from class feeling like you shared a little too often.

    you make some excellent suggestions on curbing this impulse...the paper crane is my favorite.

    thanks for some constructive suggestions. ccc

  2. I appreciated the post, since I'm one of those people who bubbles over with ideas during Sunday School (and Elder's Quorum) lessons.

    Since realizing that I was sometimes preventing others from speaking, I have tried to limit my comments as well. For me, the method that has worked the best is simply to listen actively, responding in my head to other comments until I come to a conclusion that is new and helpful. Then I spend a few minutes thinking about the best way to say what I'm thinking, so that when I do speak I won't ramble or wander.

    Since thought happens faster than speech I'm still able to follow what is being said by others in the class.

    Another way I've tried to combat the auto-response twitch is to put myself on the spot (once again internally.) When the teacher starts to talk about something I know (and would usually comment on) instead I start to ask myself how well my knowledge is being translated into action. Usually these questions are short and to the point, such as "ok, so what are you doing about it?" "What can you do better?" "What is stopping you from doing better?"

    Both of these exercises could be augmented by use of paper, I'm sure. However, they still work when I don't bring paper, which is nice.

    Something you didn't mention in your post-have you had the experience where it seems the teacher is looking to you for input? I think in a setting where you give comments in the same class for months and months, the teacher learns to look to you for more comments. (Especially if you have a knack for nifty comments). From the teacher's perspective, then, you have to be aware enough not to pick the same three people every time you want to get an insightful answer to your question.

    Speaking of comments, this sure was a long one. I guess it shows that I've thought about this before.

  3. I love these suggestions. I've never heard anyone address this topic in this way before. I particularly like how sensitive you are to the purpose of class participation.



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