Article of the Week | BYU Studies

Article of the Week

Vol. 39 No. 4
March 6, 2017
Article of the Week
Establishing the Church Simply
John P. Livingstone

This daily feature is the introduction to a full article by John P. Livingstone thatwas published in issue 39:4. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.

In numerous areas of the world (including many places in the United States), units of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are like fragile ecosystems. Members of the Church in these areas may suffer from poverty, family separation, and displacement caused by war, racial tensions, or other difficult situations. Under these conditions, some branches have difficulty implementing all the programs of the Church.

Stake and mission leaders in these areas face a significant challenge in training faithful indigenous leaders who understand the delicate nature of their ecosystem and who can move the church forward at an appropriate pace, offering challenges and setting goals that will best help local members "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him" (Moro. 10:32). Units in such sensitive areas may use a simplified program and curriculum instituted by the Church in the late 1970s. The program was created for use where conditions warrant an increased focus on basic gospel doctrines and on personal and family preparedness issues such as education, health, employment, home storage, resource management, and social, emotional, and spiritual strength.

Missionaries and longtime members need to be aware of this simplified program and curriculum. Otherwise, when visiting, moving into, or serving in small branches adapted to the ecology of the local culture, such members may misunderstand the directives the local leaders are striving to follow. The gospel spirit in those units will be the same as elsewhere, but manuals and materials as well as a reduced organizational structure may feel strange and unfamiliar. Longtime members may inadvertently create anxiety in the local membership by commenting on the unfamiliar materials. When members from fully established areas wonder aloud why the "regular" priesthood and Relief Society manuals are not being used, they may unwittingly send a message that a local unit somehow does not measure up to what is "normal" in the church. Newcomers sometimes succeed in supplanting the simplified curriculum in favor of more familiar materials. In some situations, curriculum alternates back and forth over several years as leadership changes. This article is intended to familiarize Latter-day Saints with the history and background of the development of the Church's basic program and curriculum and to share my positive experience with their use. As the Church expands—and growth outside the United States and Canada outpaces growth within—the need for basic materials becomes ever more evident.