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Seminary and institute teachers today received instruction and guidance from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during an annual worldwide training broadcast designed to help them fulfill their roles as teachers and mentors for young members of the Church.
During the Wednesday broadcast, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the seminary and institute programs are currently a major focus among top Church leaders.
“As the world becomes increasingly secular, we must learn how to be ever more helpful and exemplary for our young men and women and young adults,” said Elder Holland.
Seminary is a worldwide, four-year religious educational program for youth ages 14 through 18. Currently, there are more than 400,000 students enrolled in seminary in 140 countries. Courses are taught by full-time instructors in populous areas of the Church and by volunteers in other areas. Institute of Religion is designed for young single adults ages 18 to 30 and for married college students. There are currently more than 330,000 students enrolled in institutes.
Elder Holland reminded teachers that their frequent contact with students puts them in a unique position to be able to influence and guide them as they strive to live the gospel and navigate difficulties.
“[Church leaders] look to you to be well-versed, well-prepared, spiritually in tune and significantly able to address questions when they arise the right way in the right time,” said Elder Holland.
Chad Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes, specifically urged teachers to emulate the example of Jesus Christ in the classroom and avoid condemning or belittling students who are looking for answers on complicated issues.
“Many students come from difficult, even traumatic situations that leave them doubting if they are loved and valued,” said Webb. “Some struggle with challenges with anxiety or perfectionism that causes them to hear condemnation instead of hope.”
Others, he noted, have questions about their sexual identity or feel they have no place or future in the Church.
Webb shared the story of one former seminary student who expressed his concerns in this way: “The commandment is to love your neighbor, but it feels like people think it’s to love your neighbor unless they’re gay. The overarching message is that is the worst possible thing. It makes me question how I can have self-worth and how Heavenly Father can love me.”
In response to this former student’s concerns, Webb told teachers, “We need to listen in order to understand and to communicate sincere empathy and love. We need to create classrooms where questions are welcomed and issues are discussed with respect and thoughtfulness. We need to clearly teach truth and help every student recognize his or her eternal identity as children of loving heavenly parents. And we need to help students know they’re not alone. Showing more love and understanding will invite the Holy Ghost, increase learning and heal broken hearts.”
Webb said additional training and resources for seminary and institute teachers will be available soon to help them respond more helpfully and compassionately to students.
In other remarks during the broadcast, Church leaders noted the recent announcement that beginning in 2020 the seminary curriculum would align with the Come, Follow Me curriculum used by Church members around the world. The move has been billed as a “significant” one that will better unite seminary students and their families in studying the gospel.
“I am thrilled when I imagine the youth and young adults bringing gospel truths from their classes into their homes,” said Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president. “They will gain confidence in both their own understanding and in their capacity to share the gospel.”
Elder Kim B. Clark, commissioner of Church Education and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, encouraged teachers to help students follow the counsel of President Russell M. Nelson — whom Church members revere as a prophet — and to share their feelings and spiritual progress with family and friends.
“Our students live in a wonderful and yet challenging time,” said Elder Clark. “They will be protected and blessed, and revelation will flow into their lives if they will follow the counsel and the invitations of the prophet of the Lord.”
The worldwide training broadcast takes place each year, originating from Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is open to more than 50,000 seminary and institute instructors and their spouses, as well as missionaries assigned to support these functions.