News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

General Sunday School President Tad R. Callister Gives Inspired Counsel at Training Fireside Hosted by the Pittsburgh Stake

Photo courtesy of LDS Media Library © 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
General Sunday School President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tad R. Callister

What a rare blessing it was to hear direction on teaching in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Sunday School general president. Nothing is so frequently used and needed in the functions of the gospel as inspired teaching. Brother Callister's warmth and candid words left little room for interpretation of the Lord's direction in this regard. He allowed the spirit to speak through the voices and hearts of the audience as well as himself, which gave special life to his presentation. A note on Brother Callister's title - he is referred to as Brother due to the fact that he is a Church general auxiliary leader. When he was a Seventy, he was referred to as Elder. 

By way of background information, Brother Callister was serving in the Presidency of the Seventy and as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy when he was called as Sunday School general president. He has served in a number of Church callings including full-time missionary in the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, bishop, stake president, regional representative, mission president, and Area Seventy. He received a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Brigham Young University, a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in tax law from New York University Law School. He spent most of his professional career practicing tax law. He and his wife Kathryn Louise Saporiti are the parents of six children. He has also authored a number of outstanding gospel related books, among which are the classic "The Infinite Atonement", his newest, "The Blueprint of Christ's Church", and "The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration".

Brother Callister began his address by reflecting on his time serving a mission in the Pittsburgh area. He has real roots here. He then gave an overview of the new Church resource "Teaching in the Savior's Way". This book shares 20 teaching principles that can be the basis for teacher council meetings, which are to be led by a member of the ward Sunday School presidency. Such meetings are a time when teachers can share successes, problems, and principles together. One audience member asked "How long will the Church continue to have these meetings?" There is not an end planned. Ward auxiliary presidencies are to train new teachers in their organizations, and this book is a resource to help those auxiliary presidencies in doing so. They will sit down with the teacher for 45 minutes to an hour and give vision and instruction. Brother Callister then shared some things to look forward to in regards to curriculum in the years to come. 

Teaching should be by the spirit so that it inspires class members to be more Christlike. Some think they can't do it. Whom the Lord calls the Lord qualifies. By weak and simple things...the keystone to being a better teacher is to be humble and rely on Christ. Elder Groberg once said to a stake president: "There are many revelations waiting for you". Inherent in every calling is the right to receive revelation to help magnify that calling.

"There is no doubt that if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties...I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (Brigham Young).

Brother Callister then asked how we might live that we can receive revelation. One audience member said to "Live worthy". Another shared "Love the people". The Savior spoke to people as individuals: "I'm praying for you Peter, that your faith won't fail you". Joseph Smith was the master receiver of revelation because he was the master asker. What is appropriate to ask? What kinds of things would help teachers touch the hearts of the people they teach? One audience member said to ask help for their students' testimonies.  Dixie Thielet said to ask for help in conveying that the gospel is exciting! An idea shared by Brother Callister to make teaching exciting was to give class members a "spiritual trailer" of sorts. A missionary he knew not only told an investigator to read 3 Nephi 11 in the Book of Mormon, but that missionary explained the scriptural passage and the amazing events surrounding the coming of Christ to the Nephites and how God spoke to them, "Do you know what he told them to do?" Read the part that I underlined to find out!

The more specific we are about prayer, the more specific will be God's blessings to us. Revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge - this is the revelation that teacher's have. A video example was given for auxiliary presidents to help them teach. The gift to teach must be earned. The Savior was a teacher, and he should be our ideal. His image can become engraven on our countenances. We teach what we are. Our conduct may determine whether his words are accepted or rejected. There should be deep regard for what he taught and how he taught, for Christ was the master teacher. Brother Callister asked for comments on important principals. Cynthia Greathouse said we need humility. Another sister said that we are teaching who we are - our words don't hold value unless we are living them. "You can't fake the spirit". The audience contributed these thoughts: When our countenance reflects Christ's countenance, people will trust us. It's okay to aspire to be like him.

Brother Callister counseled to read the scripture block for a lesson before reading outside commentaries. Read the scripture, ponder, and seek revelation first. "If you are familiar with it, it will come back to you". One sister shared that she feels that reading the Pinterest versions of lessons blocks our own personal revelation. Brother Callister said to seek our own revelation before others'. Another resource or commentary can never predict the questions that will be asked in class. (As we study the actual passage, God can inspire us with a certain part of it that we may need to know to answer a question one of our students may ask). So much comes out of the original scriptures. Get information from the head of the river, so to speak, before the cattle have trodden through it. Don't go to the commentary for the answer. Think it through yourself first, then consult the commentary. Brother Callister found that when he did this, sometimes he would get things that were the same as the commentators, and sometimes he would get a customized answer. Spend the bulk of preparation time on the scriptures.

So what could be better than spending from 1 to 3 in the afternoon on Saturday preparing for our Sunday lessons? Prepare at least a week early, and ponder the lesson. Brother Callister repeated to prepare at least a week in advance. If we start early enough we give the Lord time to inspire us, and also we have a chance to assign readings to class members. If we have very little time but do the best we can with what time we do have, the Lord will still help. Record spiritual impressions. Elder Richard G. Scott told Brother Callister to record every single spiritual impression he had when he was called to be stake president. Why is it so critical to record spiritual impressions when they come? We show God that we value them. The Lord gives us counsel and sometimes we roll our eyes! "Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need". This practice enhances the likelihood of one receiving further light. A little seed of spiritual knowledge can become a great redwood. Joseph Smith said that if we fail to write what God has told us, the spirit could withdraw, and there would be "A vast knowledge of infinite importance which is now lost".

Brother Callister said to teach the doctrine with the spirit. Doctrine has an inherent power. (Doctrine is the word of God as found in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles - Boyd K. Packer said that "the study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior". If you teach the doctrine, the spirit will come". Doctrine counters falsehood. A story was shared about an elder who wanted to go home from his mission because he felt that he had failed in explaining a gospel concept to someone. The mission president told him to go to his apartment and study the doctrine on his perceived failure for a time period, then tell him what he learned. The elder did this, and no longer wanted to go home because he learned the doctrine of the situation. Doctrine counters falsehood. The purpose of the Holy Ghost is to bear witness of the doctrine that we teach. Joseph F. Smith said not to substitute your testimony for the needed discourse of instruction. The course of instruction is the meat of the learning experience for a class.

The question was asked of the audience: "What is an inspired lesson?" One audience member said "To help our class members learn the doctrine and live it". Using questions that begin with why or how is teaching more like the Master. Ask inspired questions. Lead inspired discussions. Teachers do not need to rush - just cover the most important things. Remember that a discussion is a means, not an end. Discussions are successful if they help the learner to understand and live the gospel. A teacher is not the facilitator of a discussion! The discussion is just a component. A teacher gives instruction and doctrine. A teacher know his or her students. A teacher uses stories, art, and music to enhance his or her words. A teacher reaches to less active members of the church. Neal A. Maxwell compared teaching to belonging to a big army. When a soldier walks past artillery and digs a foxhole, for that spot, he is the army. When we go into the classroom, we are the Church. Strive to be the most influential teacher we can be!
Photo by Molly Peterson
Left to Right: Brother Tad R. Callister, the Pittsburgh Stake Presidency: First Counselor President Ron E. Paul, Stake President Erich B. Peterson, Second Counselor President George P. Cavalier, and Elder S. Marc Clay of the Seventy 


  1. Molly, thank you so much for posting this. I didn't get to go and wanted to know some of what he said. This give me a lot of direction for my own study and preparation. JoLynne