One of my readers has suggested that I write about teaching lessons for girls of all different backgrounds. I was intrigued by this idea - I wondered what she meant. Like, less-active girls? Part-member families?….I’ve thought about it a lot.
If your ward is like mine, you've got a wide range of backgrounds in your young women organization. When you boil it down, I feel that no matter what the background or circumstance, all of the young women need the same thing. They need a testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel. This is what prompts them to keep the standards, repent, study the scriptures, pray, want to attend lessons and activities, be missionaries, etc. I feel that this is the root of a lot of the struggles our young women are facing, regardless of their background and family situation.
I made a list of some of the different situations/backgrounds that our young women might have. This includes young women who may show up on any given Sunday, who may not necessarily be on your attendance sheet. I'm sure there are many more scenarios, but these are the ones I'm familiar with (not necessarily about girls in my particular ward):
- Part-member family (one or more parent is a non-member)
- Less-active (not attending class and/or activities as much as she should be, may have a calling but usually does not do it)
- Inactive (not active in the church in any way - not attending church/activities)
- Non-member (not a member of the church, perhaps visiting with a friend or relative)
- Unbaptized member (active in the church, but unable to be baptized for some reason)
- Investigator (meeting with the full-time missionaries to learn more/prepare for baptism)
- Recently Re-activated (used to be inactive, has recently become active or less-active and may not have a large gospel knowledge background)
- New Convert (baptized after age 8, did not grow up in the church, possibly never attended Primary)
- Disgruntled (upset about church policy and/or gospel doctrine and/or leadership decisions)
- “Over it” (thinks she is too mature, too cool, too whatever to listen or participate)
- Forced to attend class/activities (don’t want to be there, but parents make attendance non-optional)
- Paid to attend class/activities (don’t want to be there, but parents bribe them to attend)
- No testimony
- Weak testimony
- Not sure if she has a testimony or not
- Thinks the standards are ‘old fashioned’/rules should be bent to fit her preferences
- Has no intention of keeping the standards, but lies about it so her parents don’t find out
- No home support (parents may be inactive or non-member, but do not provide support like rides, help with personal progress, etc)
- Speaks a different language
- Special needs (physical)
- Special needs (mental or developmental)
- Special needs (emotional)
- Special needs (abuse victim)
- New Beehives (less familiar with the program, may be unsure of higher level concepts in lessons)
- "Hermoine Granger" (totally “gets” it, bears testimony at every opportunity, raised hand to answer every question, volunteers for everything, may be labeled a “goody-goody”)
You'll probably recognize most of these situations in your own ward. Of course, these situations I've listed might not apply to everyone and many girls will fall under multiple categories. Its usually not helpful to label people, because we are all complex individuals, but it is important to be aware of the situations our young women are dealing with so that we can be of the most help to them.
Just like adults, every single one of the girls I’ve worked with could use some testimony-strengthening. Specifically their testimony of Christ- who is the center of everything we believe and do.
How do we do this?
My personal “mantras” for teaching any Sunday lesson:
- No matter what the assigned topic, Jesus Christ is the topic.
- Prepare/teach a lesson as if it were the last one they are going to hear (because sometimes it is).
Let me elaborate.
I am a convert to the church (the only member on my side of the family) and a returned missionary. So I think (and hope) that I’m pretty missionary minded. When I prepare a talk or a lesson, I recognize that there will probably be at least one investigator or non-member visitor in the congregation that day. I plan for that. I try to think about what I would say if one of my own family members were there. Would I “phone it in” with my preparations and just 'wing it' or read a Conference talk word for word if I knew that they would be there? I would try harder to have the spirit and teach from the heart, and bear an honest testimony thats for sure.
But what do we bear testimony of? And what if our topic is something potentially awkward to a visitor or less-active member, like tithing?
I would never want a visitor or investigator to come to church for the first time and hear a talk that I gave and go home thinking, “My pastor was right - they aren’t Christian. The speakers spent the whole time talking about home teaching, and didn’t even mention Christ”
Even if I am assigned the topic “Tithing,” I still consider Jesus Christ to be the primary focus of that talk….Why do we pay tithing? (to show obedience to Christ, to become more like Christ, to teach us sacrifice like he has sacrificed for us, etc). You don’t have to talk about Christ the entire time, but if Christ is the head of our Church and the center of our lives, should be at the core of all we do and teach.
I use this exact same concept for young women Sunday class lessons.
2 Nephi 25:26 “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”
Are we teaching, preaching, and testifying of Christ, every chance we get? Do we talk about him every single Sunday? If we want the young women to understand that they can look to him, we need to make his name and teachings a presence in our lessons. The girls need this - no matter what background or situation they come from. The investigator, the disgruntled young woman, the girl who is only sitting there because her parents are “making” her, the Hermoine Granger - every one of them. Some girls (many) are not getting this at home. Even if they are, its not something you can reinforce too much.
In our ward, we don’t have advisors, so the presidency members teach the Sunday lessons. I’ve had experienced some situations when I’m teaching a lesson and I know that it is likely to be one of the last lessons one of the girls will hear (or maybe even the last). As the girls grow older, they want to make their own decisions and create their own identity. They start to question why they have to keep all of these ‘rules’ and begin to realize that its getting harder and harder for their parents to force them to come to church.
I think to myself- what can I say, what can I do to help this girl? What will she remember about this lesson? Will she say that she’s not accountable because she was never taught the correct principles? Will she say that she didn’t know whether I had a testimony or not? Even if she doesn’t have one - I need her to know that I DO.
This is how we should approach teaching the young women every time…. not just special occasions or with special visitors - every time. Because they need it and because it might be the last time they bother to show up. I don’t mean to sound negative, but its not uncommon for young women who used to be active to suddenly refuse to participate in young women. Their reasons may vary from “its dumb” to “I just don’t believe in the doctrine.” As a leader who cares for and stressed out over how to help the young women in our ward, it hurts.
I feel that focusing on Christ and bearing our honest testimony are two of the most important things we can do to help these girls.
I am totally on board with the “Come Follow Me” youth curriculum, so please don’t misunderstand. Our emphasis has gone from preparing an old-fashioned “speech” lesson to trying to create an interactive experience for the youth to develop their own testimony through discussion, experiencing teaching, etc. Although I try very hard to follow that model and it has been very successful, I always try to keep the focus on Christ and still always try to end with my heartfelt testimony. I never want anyone to leave the class without knowing that I know.