We’ve all been there: a full Come, Follow Me lesson where the only people talking are the parents and every question is met with blank stares and uninterested faces. We either wrap up quickly to end the awkward silence or finish with a passive-aggressive lecture about how nice it will be when everyone starts caring about their eternal salvation.
Even the best teachers have Sunday afternoons like this, but our time together, as a family, digging into the scriptures, doesn’t have to be one-sided if we can formulate questions that are engaging and encourage thought and discussion. few tips for doing this:
- Know your audience. Asking questions that are well above your family’s knowledge or understanding just limits their willingness to participate. Get on their level and speak in terms they understand. Ask a few questions about their general familiarity with the scripture passages to find out what they already know. Let them know that it is okay if they just didn’t “get it” or are completely unfamiliar with what was supposed to be covered that week . . . that is why you study together as a family.
- Give context. I have found that often when I am not getting answers it is because my audience isn’t quite sure what I am asking them. Make certain you explain what you are asking clearly and give them a little background before the question. For example, instead of asking, “What did Nephi say he would go do?” make sure they understand the details of the story surrounding the important scripture. Read it, summarize, or translate for them if the words are too advanced.
- Get personal. It can be difficult to volunteer an answer if you think it might be wrong, but when you ask questions in a more personal manner, there are no wrong answers. For instance, in addition to asking why Nephi obeyed his father and went to get the plates, you could say, “If Dad told you that he needed you to walk for three days to get something that was spiritually significant for our family, would you be willing to?"
- Be specific. If your family is new to answering thoughtful questions, sometimes it helps to really break them down so you can help them think and personally reflect. For example, after the question above, you could follow up with specifics: “Would you go happily and willingly or complain about it?” Would you just trust your dad or would you need to pray about it yourself first?” “Would it be hard to say yes or do you feel like it would be pretty easy?” "Do you think you would be more like Nephi or more like Laman and Lemuel?" These types of questions are great ones for the whole family to answer and a fun way for everyone to share their thoughts.
- Get relevant. After you get personal, you can take it one step further and make it relevant and applicable to your current situation. “When was the last time you felt like God asked you to do something for Him?" "How did you respond?”
- Go first. Sometimes these personal, vulnerable questions are hard for kids to willingly answer, so be prepared to go first, and don’t be afraid to show your human or less-than-perfect side. For example: “When I saw that they needed volunteers to help clean the church last Saturday, I didn’t really want to, but I signed up anyway. So, I guess I was somewhere between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel. I am working on being quicker and happier to do what the Lord wants me to do.”
- Give time. Don’t be afraid of silence. Let your family know that the Spirit can speak to them during quiet times, so you are planning for times to think and ponder. If this is too difficult for your family, try passing out paper and pencils so they can write as they think and have something to go from when it is time to share.
- Prepare them. If you know there is a question you want each family member to answer during your study that week, give it to them ahead of time. Text it to them, tape it on the fridge, or talk about it the day before so they know what is coming and have time to prepare for it.
- Ask open-ended questions. After you share a scripture, quote, video, or story, a few questions that allow everyone to answer freely are: "Was there a part that really stood out to you? Why?" "How did it make you feel?" "What did it make you think of?" "Was there a time in your life that relates well to this?" "Was there anything you learned or insight you had from it?" "Were there any scriptures you highlighted in that passage? Why?"
- Wrap up with a Spirit-based question. One question my family loves ending our study on is, “What did the Spirit teach you today?” This question stops our kids from regurgitating knowledge or throwing a few facts in their back pocket so they have something to say, but makes them listen and pay attention to what the Spirit is communicating to them. The answers are so varied and sometimes not even close to what we discussed but the Spirit works in mysterious ways, and the earlier they recognize it, the better.
- End with a challenge. In order for the doctrine to be taken into their hearts, they need to do something with what they have learned, so we love asking the question, “What will you change this week or what goal do you have to help you act on what the Spirit just taught you today? Can you write it down somewhere?”
This way of teaching allows for much more interesting family discussions and lets the Spirit work on each of us in a very individual way. It doesn’t mean each lesson is perfect and there are still weeks we throw in the towel in frustration, but there have been a lot of beautiful and insightful moments in the midst of the chaos because of great questions.