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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Back to the Basics: How to Excel While Really Trying

Years ago I lost count of how many wards, branches, districts and stakes I have been in.  I think the number is around 50 total. After I stopped moving around and staying put, they started moving wards around me. So, this is not entirely my fault.

What this has given me is a broad understanding of how congregations operate around the country. There are a lot of similarities, as there should be. However, not all of these similarities are good. In fact, some are downright disturbing.

Too many similarities suggest that the basics are getting lost in the frills.

To illustrate this, I need to point out that I have four college degrees and a plethora of awards, certificates, accomplishments and achievements. I have earned, or been awarded, so many that even I can't keep track of them all.

Excelling doesn't come any easier for me than it does for anyone else. So, what is my secret? Pay attention and I'll clue you in.

I do the basics, really really well.

For example, in school I would read all the material assigned. I would do all the assignments. I always went to class and I carefully worked on everything doing exactly what I was told to do. I didn't cram for anything. I learned it and worked hard.

In the long run, this paid off because I didn't cut corners, I didn't cram. I didn't pull all-nighters. I didn't try and B.S. my way through anything. I actually learned and mastered the material. In the long run, school actually got easier rather than harder.

Sadly, most people are ignoring the basics at church, all around the country.

- Few actually read the lessons or the scripture assignments before Sunday.
- Too many teachers try and prepare a lesson the night before or the morning of.
- Too many people don't actually read or study the scriptures.
- Too many teachers never access "Teaching, No Greater Call."
- Too many teachers don't pray or ponder on how to present concepts in the lesson.
- Few people actually watch, listen to or read General Conferences addresses.
- Few actually devote the time to their callings that they need to in order to accomplish anything.
- Too many people devote too little time to talk preparation.
- Too many people don't access any of the resources on lds.org.
- Few actually read Church magazines.
- Few actually read instructions, help manuals or help screens.
- Few actually know how to teach prospective investigators, because they've never accessed Preach My Gospel or any other helpful resource.
- Too many people don't know what is in the Handbook.
- Few people pay any attention to administrative matters.

If you see yourself in the points above; then you cannot reasonably expect to make Church a success, for yourself or anyone else.

People are cutting too many corners. Occasionally cutting corners may be justified; but the number of times is rare in comparison to how often it gets done.

I remember a quote, possibly from David O. McKay, that said something like this: Instead of preparing a talk, why don't you just prepare yourself, then you will always be ready to speak.

Consider programs like EFY and TOFW. I don't think what makes these events so successful is the unique program itself.

I think young people who attend EFY are responding to well-administered events with well-prepared, age appropriate content that is thoughtfully delivered.

I think women who enjoy TOFW are responding to well-administered events with well-prepared, age appropriate content that is thoughtfully delivered.

There is no reason why we can't have well-administered events with well-prepared, age appropriate content that is thoughtfully delivered, with assistance from the spirit at Church.

Too much of church today is poorly prepared, ill-conceived events with age-inappropriate content that is poorly delivered with no hint of the spirit.

Instead, people are devoting most of their time to social events where we prepare and consume humongous quantities of unhealthy food. In addition, we tend to focus our missionary efforts on a handful of  splashy, expensive events that are big on image and low on religious substance. Such events often include public relations press statements and other gimmicks.

These events have their place. However, if we are using them to justify small expenditures on reading the scriptures, thoughtfully preparing lessons or talks and ignoring administrative duties, then we cannot expect to succeed at anything in the long run.

Drop the frills and concentrate on the basics. If we aren't doing the basics, we aren't building on a firm foundation. Our foundation is sand and it will eventually crumble.

When I taught in higher education at the college, university and graduate level I was told to expect to spend three hours in preparation for every hour I spent in the classroom. If I were teaching a new course, then five to seven hours in preparation was the norm. Teaching graduate students usually took a bit more time.

Consider though, that this was for teaching subject matter that I had already mastered myself.

If you put this time into a religious context then we should be spending at least three hours preparing any lesson. I spend at least that much time preparing Gospel Principles every week, often more, and it's a beginner course for new members and investigators. If I'm preparing a Sacrament Meeting talk I'll probably spend about twenty to twenty five hours preparing. The time I spoke in Stake Conference I spent at least thirty five hours of direct preparation time.

This all pays off in the long run. However, I don't think I've attended a church social event in ages. I have never been to a TOFW, or much of anything like it, and I almost never attend the big splashy events that can consume so much of our leaders, and members, time.

I'll stick to the basics, and you should too.

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