Home-Centered, Church-Supported Learning

Home-Centered, Church-Supported Learning

By Scott C. Esplin


“As Latter-day Saints, we have become accustomed to thinking of ‘church’ as something that happens in our meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home,” noted President Russell M. Nelson in the October 2018 general conference. “We need an adjustment to this pattern,” he continued. “It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.” Accordingly, President Nelson revealed, “For many years, Church leaders have been working on an integrated curriculum to strengthen families and individuals through a home-centered and Church-supported plan to learn doctrine, strengthen faith, and foster greater personal worship.” He announced “a new balance and connection between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church.”[1]

To better implement these changes to teaching and learning in the Church, the Religious Educator, the journal for BYU Religious Education, recently published interviews with Brother Tad R. Callister, Sunday School General President, and Brian J. Hansbrow, Ted Barnes, and Paul Murphy, curriculum developers in the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department.[2] These individuals are among those who prepared the new Come, Follow Me resources for learning and teaching the gospel. As producers of the curriculum materials, they provided helpful insight into the new model for gospel learning in the Church. We are pleased to share excerpts from their insights.

How did the changes come about?

Brother Tad R. Callister outlined how the curriculum was developed. “The Come, Follow Me curriculum for the youth commenced in 2013. . . . At that point in time, the feeling of the Brethren was ‘We like this content material of Come, Follow Me for the youth. We’d like to see something like that developed for the adults.’ . . . The question was raised, ‘How can we employ Come, Follow Me principles with adults?’ Then the thought came, ‘But how can we make it home centered and Church supported?’ I think this was truly an evidence of revelation coming line upon line, and there was direction from above, there was direction from the curriculum staff—input that they received from all the auxiliaries.”

Curriculum developer Brian Hansbrow added, “The month that we launched youth curriculum, January of 2013, we went right back into our executive council, and they said, ‘When are we doing this for the adults?’ . . . We had created this nice wonderful curriculum for the youth, and there was an approach to teaching and learning there that was a little different. The model was a little different. It wasn’t just about participation, but that became one of the ways people evaluated whether or not they were following the model. Our director at the time, one of the Brethren that was leading our little team, focused on a little phrase in the Church handbook.”

Fellow developer Ted Barnes continued, “That phrase from the handbook was quoted in general conference about being ‘home centered and Church supported.’ . . . So we wrestled for a long time, wondering, ‘What does that mean and how should that guide the curriculum?’ Our leaders would say, ‘You’re never going to get this curriculum right until you focus on the home.’ We weren’t even thinking about the home at that time. We were just thinking about Sunday School and adults—in fact, the adult Sunday School and the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society. . . . I think Elder Christoffel Golden said, ‘You’ll never get the curriculum right until you figure out the home.’ He had a vision for how curriculum needed to be more than just a classroom experience, that learning and teaching is much broader than that, and if we limited ourselves to just what happened at church, we’d miss out on most learning opportunities.” Accordingly, a home-centered, Church-supported model emerged.

How does Come, Follow Me integrate learning across the Church?

As they focused on the home to produce the curriculum, developers realized that they needed to integrate all of the priesthood and auxiliary groups in the Church. Speaking of the alignment that could occur across all ages as a result of the curriculum, Brian Hansbrow added, “We went to the Primary General Presidency and said, ‘We can’t create something that’s centered in the home and supported at church with our current model of curriculum because in my home I’ve got six children and they’re all on different things.’ So how do we unify the home around one topic? . . . . It was working with the Primary Presidency to say, ‘Can we create a curriculum that brings in every family member?’” The curriculum that emerged aligns the course of study for children, youth, and adults, in their Primary, Sunday School, youth, Relief Society, and priesthood classes.

Brother Callister concluded, “Honestly, it truly was a combined effort, and I think it was integrated in two ways. One way is that the family was included in an aligned study. But the curriculum was also integrated in that all of the auxiliaries were participating, realizing that the individual and family book involves every single auxiliary in the Church—the priesthood, the Relief Society, the youth, the Primary, the Sunday School. They all had to be in harmony on what that ought to be.”

What is the design of the new curriculum?

The design of the Come, Follow Me resources for learning and teaching places greater emphasis on learning as individuals and families in the home, coupled with a class experience that builds on this outside learning. Developer Brian Hansbrow picked up on the role the home should play in the new curriculum. “The previous curriculum model essentially said, ‘The goal is conversion.’ We knew we had to have the Spirit for that, but then we focused on great classes. The previous curriculum was all about the class. We focused on whatever we could do to have a great class, and in order to have a great class, well, we had to have a great teacher. The whole idea was we had to be fantastic as teachers, and we all had to create a great experience, and then this would lead to the Spirit.

“But what the research said was, ‘No, it’s personal and family scripture study—scripture experiences!’ What great teachers do is they encourage those experiences to happen. They say, ‘Tell me about the experiences you had when you read that scripture on your own.’ Or they say, ‘Tell us how you were in Matthew chapter 5 this last week. Where do you feel that the Lord really spoke to you?’ You get people to start having a different kind of experience with the scriptures and start thinking about how the scriptures are speaking to them—how the Spirit is working on them. Then our classes become a different experience too.” Curriculum developer Paul Murphy succinctly stated, “One of the ways we flipped the model was we used to talk about it, then invite people to go home and read it. Now, we invite them to read the material, and come together to talk about it.”

In addition to emphasizing learning that can occur outside of class, Brother Callister added that the classroom experience should improve as a result of these changes. He cautioned, however, that no single approach would be ideal. Rather, teachers should employ a variety of methods in their teaching. “We’ve learned that more discussion was necessary, that we didn’t want talking heads,” Brother Callister outlined. “The pendulum sometimes swings too far, and sometimes we ended up with people who would have all discussion and thought that’s what a Christlike teacher was—solely discussion. But a Christlike teacher also discourses, gives context, has discussion, extends invitations, uses music and art—all these other resources—and reaches out to those who don’t attend class. . . . They are to teach like the Savior teaches, using all of the methods that he uses.”

Offering a specific example, Brother Callister continued, “We’re not saying to this person that you should use 50 percent discussion and 50 percent discourse; we’re saying you need to find the balance that works for you. Now, if I’m going to a class with Elder Bruce R. McConkie, I might want 80 percent discourse and 20 percent discussion. For someone else, maybe the reverse. But we’re saying this is where you have to use personal revelation and decide. We need a balance. But don’t become that one-note player on the piano—only a discussion leader or only a talking head. Use all those resources that the Savior used that made Him such a wonderful, balanced teacher.”

What practical considerations might apply to teaching a class?

Those using the materials will note that they are less prescriptive than some previous study materials. Brother Callister offered useful advice for how teachers can benefit from the new materials. “We have left it open to them to say, ‘You take whatever material from the last lesson that you gave up to the current lesson this week that families were studying—if that’s two or three lessons—you take whatever material from those two or three lessons that you think would be most helpful to the members of your class.’ So instead of having six pages of material, you might have twelve pages of material. You won’t lack for material! The biggest concern is that we’re concerned that the teachers may feel that they have to cover everything that is in there. We hope we can get away from that. Cover the points that you think are most important. If you cover only three of the twelve, that’s fine.”

Developers repeatedly stressed that the pressure “to cover” a specified number of chapters should be reduced. Paul Murphy, a curriculum developer in the Priesthood and Family Department, shared, “I’ll speak to the teachers for just a minute. I think it’s been our feeling that teachers can really do some marvelous things in supporting the home. One of the things that they can do is to let go of the feeling that they have to cover all the material in the classroom at church now. . . . You have two weeks now of material, and many Gospel Doctrine teachers feel this way—that they have to be the one that knows more than anyone else in the room. Those days are gone, and now we get to say, ‘I am one person in this room that’s had an experience in these scriptures. There are many others in this room, and what can I do to tap into their experience and bring that to bear in the classroom?’ I think that in and of itself will transform and motivate people at home—because when they come to church knowing that what they have experienced at home will be drawn upon and that they will be able to share that, they are going to be motivated to share those experiences and to have those experiences week after week after week in their homes.” Ted Barnes added, “The feeling is that we are not as concerned about coverage as we are about the revelatory experience that can happen in our lives.”

Additionally, the organization of the new curriculum allows for dedicated lessons on significant occasions. For example. Brother Callister noted, “Because it’s by date you may have seen also that on Easter Sunday, there’s a special lesson for Easter on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, so you’re not going to be talking about Balaam and the talking donkey because that’s where you are in the Old Testament. Then you get to Christmas, you will always have a lesson on the life of Christ. . . . So you can bring your friends on Easter Sunday and Christmas and know they’re going to have an appropriate lesson . . . so that we feel comfortable bringing nonmember friends or less actives, that it’s going to be a subject that they ought to be hearing about.”

Brother Callister added specific recommendations for teachers regarding lesson preparation. “I would say a couple of things. One is that they seek personal revelation and not rely just on the curriculum—that it’s a supplement, it’s not a replacement for revelation, that they go to the effort to think of their own questions, their own resources, their own invitations that they might extend, prior to reading the rest of the lesson. If they do that, I have no doubt that they will receive personal revelation that will be very, very rewarding to them and to the class.

“Number two is that they start thinking about the lesson at least a week in advance. I think we all understand the reasons for doing that. Revelation doesn’t come only on Sunday morning from 8 to 9 a.m.; that’s not the only time revelation comes. Revelation comes line upon line, precept upon precept, and if people will start at least a week early, I think that revelation will come at various times. Maybe when they drive the car, maybe when they’re in the shower, maybe at the dinner table. They may hear a conversation and say, ‘Oh wow, that’s a good thought! I could use that in my lesson on this subject!’ It may inspire them to live that doctrinal teaching a little better during that week. If they start at least a week in advance, I think they increase the opportunities for revelation to come into their lives by giving the Lord the chance to work through them and not just that little narrow one-hour period on Sunday morning.”

What do leaders hope will happen because of the adjustments?

Brother Callister added his hopes for what the new curriculum and learning model could accomplish. “I think President Nelson took us from home teaching to ministering, which was, as he declared, a holier way of doing it. I think we’re trying to take people from being page-turners of the scriptures to disciples who study and ponder the scriptures. We’re hopeful for families that, with these manuals as resources and activities as resources, it will help them truly study the scriptures rather than go through the checklist mentality of ‘Everybody read a verse, and then we go to bed.’ That’s a good start, but it can be better. Better is pondering.

“So, number one, it’s to take us to a higher plane in terms of our spiritual study.

“Number two is there is a very clear emphasis that the parents have the prime role of teaching in the home, and now they have extra resources to help them. . . . They won’t take away the inspiration of parents, but there will be enough help to parents to add or build upon that. . . . I think it will lift parents in terms of their vision of the responsibility to be prime gospel teachers in the home, give them the resources to do so, and take us from a checklist mentality to a real pondering mentality that will give us greater faith and make us a holier people.”

With a new emphasis on learning in the home, coupled with resources and a schedule designed to foster it, there seems to be an increased level of excitement for gospel study in the Church. All point toward the goal of moving forward on the covenant path.

[1] Russell N. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” Ensign, November 2018, 8.

[2] See Tad R. Callister and Scott C. Esplin, “The New Home-Centered, Church-Supported Curriculum,” Religious Educator 20, no. 1 (2019): 9–23; Brian J. Hansbrow, Ted Barnes, Paul Murphy, and Scott C. Esplin, “Creating the New Home-Centered Curriculum,” Religious Educator 20, no. 1 (2019): 25–33.