Announcing a significant shift in the curriculum followed by seminaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world, the First Presidency released a letter on March 22, 2019, detailing changes which will align seminary study with that of the Come, Follow Me curriculum and schedule.
The letter states, “Making this change will enhance the home-centered, Church-supported approach to gospel study through a unified study at home, Sunday School, and seminary. We encourage all youth to fully participate in seminary as they seek to increase their love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and deepen their conversion to the restored gospel.”
In a video released the same day on the seminaries website, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Kim B. Clark, Commissioner of the Church Educational System; Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, General Young Women President; and Chad H Webb, Seminary and Institute of Religion administrator, discussed the changes and what they mean for seminary students and teachers.
“In January of 2020, we will shift from a school year calendar to an annual calendar, thus allowing us to align seminary curriculum with Come, Follow Me,” Elder Holland said in the video. “We’re going to make a half-step toward that in the summer of 2019. In June of this year, we will shift and start to study the New Testament.”
While seminary studies will continue to be based in the scriptures, the Church leaders explained that the curriculum will be more doctrine-based and will help to strengthen, protect, and prepare youth for missions, marriage, and service in the Church.
“We think this is a tremendous development at this time when our young people need ever more strength,” Elder Holland said. “We think is a wonderful alignment … with what the rest of the Church is doing. And we believe that it's going to be wonderfully symbiotic with the … Church-supported—and now we add seminary-supported—home-centered gospel study.”
The continuing Restoration
Explaining why the changes are being implemented starting this year and into next year, Elder Clark said, “I think it's because the prophet of the Lord stood up in general conference and said, ‘We need home-centered, Church-supported gospel instruction. In fact, we need a home-centered Church.’ And because he said that, it changed everything.”
Elder Clark explained that rather than worrying about the logistics of making inspired changes ahead of time, President Nelson’s direction allowed them to say, “We’re going to do this, and then we'll figure out how to make it happen.”
As Elder Holland explained it, this too is an example of how the Restoration of the Church is ongoing.
“For me, the element that is most exciting is the backdrop to it all,” Elder Holland said. “And that is that the Restoration is ongoing. ... The Restoration, revelation, prophetic leadership is very much alive and well, and that’s the overlay on any number of these developments that we’ve had, even in the last few months.”
Reflecting on his own experiences, Elder Holland said, “I love seminary, I loved it in my own life.”
Seminary is a valuable tool for youth in the Church, he explained, because it gets them into the standard works and helps them come to know the Savior and focus on His teachings.
“We know that our young people need to be more deeply converted unto the Lord Jesus Christ,” Elder Clark said. “They need to have personal spiritual experiences with the scriptures. And we feel that by going a bit deeper, we can help them do that. So I think that's another benefit from this change.”
Sister Cordon emphasized that allowing more opportunities for the youth to take what they learn in seminary into their homes and use it to teach and testify to their families will “enlarge their souls” and strengthen their testimonies. “There's something different when a youth hears themselves talk about Christ,” she said.
A simplified approach
The new alignment will bring many changes, the Church leaders explained, but they noted that, by being open to change and willing to learn, the new curriculum and calendar will be effective for seminaries across the globe.
Rather than studying a different book of scripture for Sunday School, seminary, and their personal study, the changes will allow youth to spend more time understanding and applying the teachings of Christ from a single book of scripture, the Church leaders explained.
“One of the blessings that I think is very obvious is the simplification,” Sister Cordon said, noting how she has often heard youth question which areas of study they should prioritize. Simplified gospel study can lead to deeper understanding and a deeper conversion to the Savior, the leaders explained.
Additionally, while in the past seminary curriculum has been approached either by topic or by sequentially moving through the scriptures, the new approach will create a blend of topical and sequential teaching and study, Brother Webb said, explaining that the new approach will enhance doctrinal mastery and allow for deeper learning in the classroom and at home.
The topical and sequential blend will “help them still love the scriptures and be tied to what the scriptures teach, but in a way that’s relevant to them and ... that are of most worth at this time in their life,” Brother Webb said.
Elder Clark added, “We want to … give the students an opportunity to really dive deep, and really understand the doctrines of the gospel … We also want them to be able to see the power that comes from weaving different books of scripture together. So while we’re studying the Book of Mormon, we can gain insight from the New Testament.”
There is power in understanding how the scriptures blend and support one another through the doctrine of Christ and when students understand the principles of the gospel, they can live them, Elder Clark explained. And when they learn to really live them, they can “become whom the Lord wants them to be,” he said.