The myth of “Church Approved” resources

I got an email today asking me if my website was church approved.  I thought I had squelched the myth of “church approved” 11 years ago…  Guess not.

This question indicates a misinterpretation of Church leaders’ teachings that just gets me so frustrated that I felt it merited a public response.  This post originally appeared on my MormonShare.com FAQ, back 11 years ago:

Is your website Church approved?

No, it’s not. There is no such thing as church “approved” materials.  There are only church-produced materials.  Church-produced materials are created by Church employees and approved by its Curriculum department. The Curriculum department of the Church oversees the production of materials printed by the Church, like the Friend, lesson manuals, etc.

You should know, however, that teachers are not strictly limited to materials produced by the Church to prepare lessons.

For example, the incredibly helpful materials you find in the Resource Center of the Relief Society building in Salt Lake City do not fall in the “Church produced” category. They are ideas from leaders in the field, that the YW, RS, and Primary General Boards have deemed worthy of your attention. They are not “Church approved” either, because they have never been reviewed by the Church curriculum department. On a recent visit, when I asked the receptionist missionary if those materials would ever be published online to help Church members outside of Utah, she told me no, because they had not been through the curriculum department and there were no plans to submit them there. Those materials, while useful and even made available to you by the Church, are not “Church approved” without that review. But are they useful and inspired? Could they be used in a church setting, even without being “approved”? Of course.

I occasionally get asked if it’s okay to use clipart from this site in a lesson. If you couldn’t find what you needed at http://library.lds.org/ or in your Church library, would it be inappropriate if you drew the picture you needed yourself? Of course not. I’d say, then how could it be inappropriate to use already prepared clipart for that same purpose? Because it wasn’t Church produced, you’d say. Neither was the picture you drew or the handout you printed with that quote from President Hinckley in the cute font. It must, therefore, be okay to use sources other than the Church in some circumstances, and I can even show you how this use is expected and can be correctly used as per Church guidelines.

But they told us at the Primary Open House not to use any materials not published by the church! That means I can’t use your website anymore!!!
What you were reminded at the Primary Open House was to use materials provided by the Church first when preparing lessons. There has been a tendency, especially among Primary leaders, to use materials produced by commercial publishing companies as the primary source for sharing time lessons, instead of the excellent, inspired resources provided by the Church. There are many, many fabulous Church produced resources that are often under-used by teachers.

And yet, the reasoned thinker will recognize that the lesson ideas briefly outlined in the Friend or CSMP Outline cannot possibly meet the needs of every child in every unit of the Church. They are not intended to! They are intended to give you lots of inspired ideas that

a) best fit the theme as outlined by the General Primary Presidency,
b) you can adapt to meet the needs of the children in your unit, and
c) allow you to learn to use the inspiration you are blessed with in your calling.

Have you ever noticed that many of the ideas found in the Friend do not have enough material to teach a complete lesson? Aren’t you always worried when another Primary leader gets to teach the “good” ideas from the Friend before you? If the Primary General Presidency actually intended you to teach only the 3-4 ideas they outline briefly in the Friend (or CSMP), wouldn’t they have published full-blown weekly lessons with handouts or crafts for each week?

These brief lesson ideas, much like the new RS/Priesthood manuals, are intended to give you the latitude you need to adapt to the needs of your students, while still teaching gospel principles in accordance with the annual theme, AND gain spiritual confidence by listening to and acting on the promptings of the Spirit.

All teachers in the church should be using the inspiration that comes as a result of their calling to prepare their lessons by following the steps and teaching methods outlined in Teaching, No Greater Call. You will find that much of that instruction book for teachers is dedicated to helping teachers appropriately USE MATERIALS THAT THE CHURCH HAS NOT PRODUCED in their lessons! (Gasp!)

Yes, really. Here’s a quote from TNGC:

Church-produced lesson manuals are carefully prepared to ensure that the doctrines of the Church are kept pure. They establish guidelines for teaching in Church settings, and they ensure a consistent approach to gospel topics and principles. You should be true to the teachings and guidelines in these manuals. However, you do not need to present lessons exactly as they appear in the manuals. You may adapt the lessons according to the needs and circumstances of those you teach.

Whatever you do to adapt lessons, remember that your adaptations should help learners understand and live gospel principles. Therefore, adaptations should be made only after prayerful study of the lesson material and consideration of each individual you teach. (36123, Teaching, No Greater Call, B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching–Prepare Every Needful Thing, 33: Adapting Lessons to Those You Teach, page 102)

What follows next is a list of appropriate ways to adapt lessons to the needs of those you teach. Appendix F in that book has about 25 pages of ideas that you can use to provide variety in your lessons. One of those example states the following on how to create flannel board figures:

Draw a picture, or trace and color a picture from a Church magazine, manual, or other resource. (TNGC)

Clearly, other resources may be used or created when the materials you need cannot be found in Church sources.

Many of the kind of ideas and visual aids mentioned in TNGC can be found in good books, the newspaper, in a drawing or picture you or someone else created, and even on the internet, in addition to Church-produced materials.

Also in that book are instructions on using everyday items and experiences to teach lessons here. Among the ideas is this one:

You may also want to make a folder for each of the lessons you will teach in the next few months. As object lessons, comparisons, and other ideas occur to you, put a note in the appropriate folder. When the time comes to prepare a specific lesson, you may find that you have collected a treasure chest of ideas and activities to enrich the lesson.

This type of “folder” is the premise of this website. It is where I keep the ideas that come to me for lessons, or that I’ve used successfully for lessons. I also allow others to share their ideas here. These ideas, like those that would be found in a lesson planning folder, are not limited to Church produced materials, though most are created directly from them or relate directly to them.

You should never use the materials from this or any other source to replace the lesson materials provided by the Church. But, you may confidently use them to supplement your lessons as you are inspired to do so.

Not only is it good teaching technique to occasionally supplement your lessons using materials not published by the Church, the judicious and wise use of these materials is encouraged in TNGC.

My head is reeling! First you said use Church-produced materials, then you said it’s okay to use materials not published by the Church… What do you really mean?

I’m saying use Church-produced materials first — always. Be sure to check your unit’s library for more help. Then supplement with ideas as you are inspired to do so or as need dictates. This supplementing should never change the basic format of the lessons published by the Church. They were carefully prepared for your students and approved by prophetic leaders.

When you can teach a principle better by using a story or handout not published by the Church, do so by prayerfully ensuring that the method is both appropriate and the best method for teaching your students.

In selecting methods, you should first review the discussion questions, stories, and other learning activities that are suggested in the lesson manual. If you feel that these methods will help meet the needs of those you teach, familiarize yourself with the methods. If you feel that you should use other methods, begin early to determine how to teach the principles. Consider using examples, illustrations, comparisons, or personal experiences that will help teach the main principles of the lesson. Teaching, No Greater Call, B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching–Prepare Every Needful Thing, 31: Preparing Lessons, 98

When you were set apart as a teacher in the Church, you received the right to receive inspiration in preparing your lessons. Use it! In most cases, you’ll find that the lesson outline will work as is, or it can be easily adapted to the needs of your students by using materials already produced by the Church.

Occasionally something you need might not be produced by the Church, and Church leaders recognize that fact. Truthfully, this doesn’t happen very often because the resources already provided are incredibly vast. This supplementation will not replace Church-produced lesson materials, either. But by using the principles taught in TNGC, you should know you can adapt your lessons when needed or as you are inspired to do so.

One caveat …

You’re getting my views after reading TNGC and the Open House workshops for Relief Society and Primary. The leadership in your Stake or Ward may have determined that there should be no use of any materials outside the scope of Church published materials — ever — for a variety of reasons. I don’t believe this is an injunction from Headquarters, but I can see why this type of strict rule may need to be instituted temporarily locally.

If you’re not certain what your leaders meant when they gave you instructions, ask them to explain what they want you to do. It would be best to use a specific example, like “Can I use this clipart image of a shoe in my sharing time lesson? It didn’t come from lds.org…” I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.