Monday, September 5, 2011

The Best Church Instructors Know How to "Play the Organ"

Organ playing as a metaphor for
Great Teaching
In 1969 I was called to teach the two seventies and three high priests of the Washington D.C. Singles Ward.  John Miller, our stake patriarch took me aside soon after I was called and taught me a most valuable principle of church class leadership.

"A church class is like an organ recital." he began.  "In the academic world, the professor knows so much more than the students that they come to be taught.  

In the kingdom the instructor is the focus of discussion, yes, but if he is wise he will follow these step and harness the inspiration in his fellow students:

1. Prepare Thoroughly:  Study, Pray, Seek Inspiration, Simplify and Condense.

2.  Come Humbly:  Understand that the class has nothing to do with showing off your skills or intelligence.  They are your fellow student and while you are the focus, your task is a simple one:  create the atmosphere of love and trust so that each member will feel comfortable sharing.  The following steps are key.

3. Cite THE Scripture:  In the limited time you have, just the right scripture will make all the difference.  Of course you can use other scriptures to fortify your point, but don't get caught up in using so many scriptures that you neglect "Playing the Organ" 

4. Pose a Great Theme Question:  Phrase it so that it sparks some interest and thought in members of the class.  It should recall experiences and motivate sharing for the next step.  Don't underestimate the power of your silence at this point.   One great instructor I know told the group, "Well, that's all I've got! and that he was going to depend on them for the rest of the class, then he backed away from the microphone.  He was only about six or seven minutes into the class but he had phrased the Theme Question question in such a way that the class immediately picked up on it.  He spent the rest of the hour just calling on members to "help him out".  It takes maturity and a good sense of what works!  It is the essence of step 5.

5. Play the Organ:

This wonderful, wise 80 something brother had a twinkle as he shared this simple formula for great church teaching.

I had to ask, "What do you mean, 'Play the Organ' ?

"Every brother  in the class (and in the auxiliaries, sisters, too) have deep opinions." He continued.  "If they've studied the sciptures as they should, they'll have corresponding life experience that can inform and inspire the other members off the quorum.  

"Each man represents an organ key, and it's your duty to create an atmosphere that will help them feel comfortable to share their inspiration and edify one another.  As the instructor you, too can learn from them and be inspired with their truths in a mutually satisfying and spiritual experience.  That's what "playing the organ" means.  Touching them as you would touch the keys in a magnificent recital."  He knew me well enough to know that I played the hymns for priesthood once in a while.

Church "instruction" is less about facts and much more about feelings as we build testimonies in church classes.  It's all about edifying one another when a skilled and loving teacher knows how to, "Play the Organ"..


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