We had a relative visit from back east last night. He just moved there for a job, but has to come back here every other weekend to finish an E-MBA he’s pursuing. He flies in Friday night and sleeps over, then spends 8 hours in class before flying back home.
He slept over at our place last night, and we got to hear some stories about the goings on in his ward, including what leaders thought would be a good youth activity.
They decided it would be good to read the Book of Mormon…
in its’ entirety…
within 36 hours…
The youth and their leaders met together at the church Friday evening to start reading the Book of Mormon. They read constantly, and finished for the night after 9pm.
After a good night’s rest, they met again at the church at 8am, and then powered through the rest of the Book of Mormon, wrapping up around 11pm.
Throughout the evening and day they were free to come and go to use the restroom or eat.
My relative’s son had a miserable time at the Friday night portion. His parents offered to let him decide himself whether or not to go back Saturday, but to make sure to ask Heavenly Father. He told them later that Heavenly Father didn’t want him to go, and passed on the Saturday session.
Forgetting the Purpose
One of the greatest lessons that I took from my mission was to always consider the purpose in what I was doing.
Teaching Towards a Commitment
For example, we would often teach gospel lessons to those who were investigating the Church, but we were given full leeway over what to teach and how to teach it. That’s quite a responsibility, and proved difficult until I discovered a trick.
First, we decided what we wanted to have happen as a result of our lesson. Missionaries would usually leave what we called “commitments”, something an investigator would agree to do. It might be to pray every night, or to read the scriptures, or to come to church, or to stop smoking, or even to get baptized.
Next, we would pick the gospel principles that would support that commitment. If we were going to commit an investigator to read the scriptures, we might teach about prophets, or how the scriptures answer “questions of the soul”, or how we can each receive personal revelation by reading the scriptures.
Finally, we’d put those principles together logically and plan how to team-teach them.
The Youth Activity
Sounds fairly simple, right? Well, this has literally revolutionized my life and nearly everything I do in a teaching or leadership capacity.
And what’s more, as simple as it is, few people seem to do it themselves. Answering the question, “What do I hope to accomplish?” before setting out full-steam ahead is a foreign concept to far too many I encounter.
This youth activity, for example – what did the leadership hope to accomplish by a reading of the entire Book of Mormon in two sittings?
In some of my organizational behavior classes I’ve learned that in order to stay attentive, adults need to change gears every 20 to 30 minutes. You need to move from a lecture to video, and from a video to a case study, and from a case study to a breakout session, even if you’re only working with 90 minutes. Otherwise, people lose focus and won’t absorb what they hear, even if they think they’re drinking it all in.
And what of different types of learners? Auditory, visual, and kinetic learners learn in very different ways. One type of activity (say, reading from the text for hours on end without any discussion or commentary) may not materialize into any long-term effects.
So I ask again, what did the leadership hope to accomplish? If they wanted the youth to get a broad overview of events in the Book of Mormon, there are better ways (reading or watching Book of Mormon Stories, for example, or going over the CES timeline). If they wanted to present some important doctrinal highlights from the Book of Mormon, there are also better ways for that.
What might they have accomplished doing this activity?
They might have taught that it’s not important to retain what you read as long as you get it done. With scripture reading we’re checking off a box, and even though none of those kids will remember the slightest bit of what they read they can all say with pride that they’ve finished the Book of Mormon.
They might have taught that consistency is not important. Why read the scriptures each day when you can force it all in to a weekend or month? How much easier it is to “procrastinate the day of your repentance”!
They probably taught some of the youth to hate the scriptures. Some might have been pressured to participate, whether by leaders, parents, or peers. Now, that’s fine when we’re pressured to do good things, but I’d venture to say it may be hard to see the fruits from this activity.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
What’s the take-away from an experience like this?
The primary take-away is probably that it is essential to consider what we want to accomplish before we do a task. Always be asking yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish?”, and then reevaluate what you’re doing in the light of that purpose.