I asked Kurt Francom of the “Leading Saints” podcast if it is ok to ask sticky church history questions in Sunday School. I was surprised at his candid response: “We have to have these difficult conversations.” What can leaders and lay members do to improve church culture? Kurt gives some ideas.
Kurt: I would say the vast majority of members, if you sat down and said, how would you rate the quality of teaching and your Gospel Doctrine class, there’d be very poor, right? Very low, but we’re all patient and try and encourage them by us being there and answering their superficial questions or whatever. And so early on, I thought, “Oh, that’s just because we’re lay ministry. They’re not experienced in teaching and they’re not very good. Well, I think it’s more of a question of the culture of not allowing conflict into the room because we see conflict as if, as if it was synonymous with contention. And I’ve written a few articles about this along with some other contributors on leading saints that about that the important need of conflict in an organization to gain a deeper meaning and understanding of doctrine. But a lot of people see that and 3 Nephi comes to their mind. They say, “No, no, no, no, no. Contention is of the devil.”
And we say, “We did not say contention. We said conflict.” If someone came to me and said and said, “No, my marriage is going great. We never have any conflict.” I would say, I think there’s something wrong about your marriage that you’re not seeing. It is in the conflict that I have with my wife where we gain a deeper love and understanding and a deeper bond together right now. If we were just contending, if it was conflict in our marriage, yeah, that’s not healthy.
But we absolutely need conflict because that helps us grow. And so in the context of our Sunday school classes, we do need more room for conflict, and that it can only begin with the bishop or the leadership saying to the Sunday School President, “This is okay.” Or to be the devil’s advocate at times, the raise your hand and say, “Well, I know some people see it this way. What do you think about that?” Right? And it’s not about a watering down doctrine or promoting a false doctrine because you would be surprised. Many people think they know the doctrine. That’s not the doctrine. There’s core tenants of the doctrine.
And so to me the greater principle is as a leader, what can you do as a leader or as an everyday member? Set an appointment with the bishop and go in there with a full heart and just saying like, “I don’t feel heard in Sunday school. Does that matter to you? Because when we have these lessons and I don’t want to be there, if I get the impression that it doesn’t matter to you, but I’m guessing that’s really not how you feel.” Right?
And if you can be as empathetic towards them so there’ll be empathetic back. I mean we’ve got to have these difficult conversations everyday members saying, “I don’t feel validated when I come to church and part of me wants to not come some weeks. How do you feel about that?” Right? And, if we can’t have those real conversations, we’ll get nowhere. And I get it that you may be thinking in your head, “You don’t understand my bishop. There’s not a chance in eternity that he’s going to willing to have that conversation.” Well, if that’s the case, sit back. That’s why we have a lay ministry that rotates in and out.
Would this work for you? Listen to more of what Kurt said, and check out our other conversations with him!