"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.