Rethinking devotional talks

Last year I didn’t include any kind of spiritual thought or talk in my devotional for Seminary. I didn’t feel that as a first year teacher I could confidently expect the students how to prepare a decent devotional. I am the kind of person who has students redo work that isn’t acceptable, and I’m not sure that beginning class with a “yeah, you’ll do THAT over tomorrow” is going to bring the spirit into my classroom. The value of helping only a student or two occasionally didn’t seem worth the headache. But this year, I’m feeling more confident that I can add in some devotional talks. I am sticking with my rule about no outside work for Seminary beyond reading the scriptures, which means that any talks students present will be prepared during class. Last week I was reading the new Seminary manual and found this: “A word of caution: … Teachers should ensure that students never feel forced to answer a question, share their feelings or experiences, or bear testimony. (GTL, 5.1.3)” This seems to conflict with the idea of a devotional talk. A scripture recitation or something else might be a good alternative, but in my view, why read an unrelated (or even related) scripture before the lesson, when the lesson will be filled with scriptures? It just seems a little silly. I think a devotional talk needs to be something created by the student, but in keeping with the manual advice, students should not be forced to share a testimony, feeling, or experience. I have seen devotionals that followed a very strict pattern set by the teacher. Those are the best *sounding* devotionals, but I’m not sure that it helps students actually develop a way of communicating that is personal (and thereby truly authentic). I’ve been thinking about it a lot. At first I thought I would have the kids write a couple of 1-3 minute talks with my help during class. Then I’d put their names and the type of talk (Preach My Gospel, Scripture Mastery, Hymn) in a bin and then the class president would draw a name and talk type out. That’s the talk that student would give. After reading the manual about forcing students, however, I think this may not be the best approach after all. I could ask for volunteers, but I’m not sure that will get my less enthusiastic or shy students the opportunity to speak, too. Now I’m thinking that I might do something on a trial basis. I have come up with 5 or 6 different types of talk that can be given by a student both with and without preparation. On the day of their devotional assignment, students may choose which type of talk they’d like to present. I hope that will fill the requirement of not forcing testimonies, while still giving everyone the opportunity to speak as they feel comfortable. I may have students mark off on the chart the type of devotional they give so that I don’t get 55 talks about hymns. After everyone has rotated through the choices, we’ll take a day to write some talks again. Here are the ideas I’ve come up with

  1. Choose a scripture mastery passage that you like. Write a two or three minute talk about the doctrinal or historical significance of the passage. How can this passage help you in your life? When might you use this scripture? Why is it important? Does it remind you of a personal experience?
  2. Choose a section from Preach My Gospel that interests you. Prepare a short 2-3 minute talk on the doctrines or principles taught in this section. Why are they important to you? Why will others be interested to hear this information? Explain to the class how you know this information is true and important.
  3. Choose an entry from the Bible Dictionary that interests you. Explain why you are interested in this topic and read the entire entry aloud to the class.
  4. Who in the scriptures was a great follower of Jesus Christ? Using the scriptures, briefly tell the class about this person’s life. What can we learn from the experiences of this person? What is this person’s biggest strength? How do you think you can apply this person’s experiences in your life today? On your mission? In your future family? At a future job? What do you think is the most important thing we can learn from this story?
  5. What event during the life of the Savior has helped you understand or appreciate him most? Using the scriptures, share this event with the class. How has your love of the Savior grown by studying this event in his life?
  6. Describe a hymn that has been important in your life and why it has been important. You may wish to read aloud verses or a phrases of the hymn that are meaningful to you. How can music strengthen a testimony, uplift, teach, or comfort us?

Here’s another: “What scripture do you read when you are struggling? Share this passage with the class, and if appropriate, share a time when reading this passage helped you overcome a difficult time in your life.” I think it might get a little bit too personal, however. Maybe I’ll add that one in later. I may have the kids all do the scripture mastery passage and Preach My Gospel one and then choose one they like from the others. There’s several different ways that will allow students to prepare a short devotional that is meaningful to them. Maybe I’ll choose one that’s required and they can choose the other two. I will have to give them a talking-to about appropriate use of humor and explain that I will read and approve their talks before they are given. I will still draw names so I don’t have students skipping if it’s their turn to share. I’m hoping this is a way to give the students an opportunity to present a devotional talk in a way that I can control the quality of the presentations. I can see how this type of sharing can really build unity in a classroom. Our SI guy told me that he knows a teacher that does devotional like this: Welcome, song, talk, prayer. Putting the talk after the song focuses everyone on the speaker quietly. It may also help set the tone for appropriate presentations…. I think I will try it. After the prayer, I’ll stand up to teach. I think for the first time I will have the students only prepare 2-3 talks. That way, if it’s not working, I can just drop it after everyone has had a chance to present a talk. If it works, we can take a free day and write more talks.