As a church, I feel that we are pretty good at focusing on the Savior, or at least being reverent and focused enough to engage in meaningful personal worship while we attend. We do a pretty good job of having good sacrament meetings, with some hiccups here and there.
Sunday school is often great for me as well, though sometimes I struggle to connect with a teacher or group. But in large part, the topics are interesting and bishoprics often choose the gospel doctrine teachers with care.
But then comes that third hour. Why are we so bad at this? And I’m talking specifically to the men.
The third hour is our time for priesthood quorum meetings. After starting our third hour as a combined priesthood body, we split off to our individual quorums as high priests (well, groups for them), elders, priests, teachers, and deacons.
Now, the idea is that this is a brotherhood. We are there to support and enrich each other, we have a lesson ostensibly engineered to enlighten or instruct, and then we go forth and serve. That’s the plan. However, what normally happens is that we settle in, and the teacher, after for some reason telling us he just received (or remembered) the assignment two hours ago, has gone through the chapter du jour, underlined a few questions, and a bracketed off a few paragraphs of note.
We all sit in there and hate our life for a solid 40 minutes, feeling guilty for wishing we were – or for actually just going for it – breaking our record on Tetris, checking NCAA scores, or anything more interesting than being read to from a manual by a guy standing in front of us. This should be the exception, but it rarely is. When was the last time your teacher got up and said, “Well, open your books to Chapter X. Let’s get started. Who can read the first paragraph?” You know this has happened to you in the past month, don’t lie. Pro tip, if your lesson is more than 15% reading, you’re doing it wrong.
A popular metric utilized by wards and states is the number of prospective elders in a unit. What this refers to is men who are of age to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, but do not for some reason. Plenty of these guys, active or not, will state that they have a testimony, they just aren’t sticking with church. Obviously, these are guys we want to come and progress in the gospel; this is potentially a big tipping point in life. If these brothers can hit the milestone of priesthood advancement, they have a much higher chance to stick around in the long run.
So what a crummy experience it is to go through all the work of getting a guy to church, willing to stay three hours, then feel the need to apologize for a bad/awkward third hour as you wave goodbye, knowing full well you’ll probably never see that dude again. Prospective elders, of course, are not the only reason to have worthwhile priesthood lessons, but I say this to illustrate a point.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had consistently great third hours? I have to think that if our classes and lessons were great, if that last taste of church was wonderful (inspirational, worshipful, enlightening, bonding), people might actually want to be there and not leave feeling deflated or having defeated all the spiritual good of the first two hours.
So let’s try it. You down? What if we made our final hour of church into a Third Hour of Power™? I’m gonna toss you a few ideas – things to start sourcing into your quorums – and let’s try to win that time back and make it into something we look forward to and don’t dread, or worse – become increasingly apathetic towards. Add more ideas in the comments as you think of them.
- Bring Music Back – For some reason, the Relief Society has the market cornered on breaking up the agenda with musical numbers. Music is a form of worship, folks! It doesn’t have to be relegated to sacrament meeting. Men, contrary to popular belief, can often play an instrument or sing a song. There are few things better than giving up five minutes of a lesson for a killer rendition of “If You could Hie to Kolob” or other powerful hymns. Think of the quiet power of being able to put down your head and have a solid prayer for a minute or two while someone plays or sings. Or, if no men are down with sharing their talents, invite anyone who can perform to come assist. Get the 10-year old who can finally pull off “Praise to the Man” on the viola. Whoever it is, bring music back.
- Chop up Your Hour – Instead of a full 45 minutes of one guy standing there talking at you, split it up into three 15 minute chunks. Have a thought and/or discussion given by person X, then do some business or a training, then have a 15-20 minute lesson at the end and boom, the anxiety and tedium of a nearly hour-long lesson is gone.
- Spotlight – Made popular by my co-host Geoff of This Week In Mormons, approach someone before the lesson then ask him (or her) to give a general rundown of who he is and his background, then open himself up for some questions from the quorum. You’d be surprised how interesting the brethren around you are. People are more interesting than we often give them credit for.
- Missionary Library Thought – Have someone grab a passage from Jesus the Christ or A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (the good ole books from back in the day) and share a thought or experience as it relates to them. There’s some incredible stuff in there, good memories that we don’t think on often enough. You can even use the current missionary library, but let’s be honest, Our Heritage isn’t as exciting as Articles of Faith.
- Show & Tell and Other Skills – This may be better suited for other meetings, but we don’t have a whole lot to lose here, especially if this is fitting into one of the 10-15 minute slots you went to from before (see #2), so I’m going for broke. It’s Hail Mary time. Do you have a guy who can show you how to clean a gun, shine some shoes, tie a bow tie, pick clothes that match, arrange a floral bouquet, aquaponics, do a card trick – anything? Remember, your aim is to strengthen the brotherhood, and sometimes that comes via unconventional means. Don’t let a period go without drawing in the spirit, but if you actually laughed and enjoyed yourself for a 15 minute stretch, that’s not terrible either.
- Attention Activity – Sure, we often lovingly mock these on Sunday School Bonanza, but this is the stuff that FHEs are built around, so there’s every reason to assume it’s worthwhile during priesthood meetings. There are some classics here: turning off the lights and using a single flashlight to illuminate the room, something with string, maybe everyone gets an M&M for good behavior, etc. We’re Mormon, we were built for this sort of hokey stuff. If you can do something like this in your Quorum every now and then, it may end up leading to an FHE later on in their life for one of the brother’s kids or something, so let’s try it out in the safety of our Quorum.
These are just a few, but imagine going to a priesthood lesson that included just one or two of these. How much better would that be than reading from a manual. Seriously. By doing this, by actually trying, we increase the confidence of the members of the quorum to both invite friends to attend because they are confident it won’t be awful, and also to attend and participate on their own. There is an opportunity to participate and feel a belonging that will help all of us gain a social conversion into the brotherhood of the quorum, which needs to exist to complement the spiritual conversion that comes via the Holy Ghost.
We can do more. Let’s do more. Let’s elevate our priesthood meetings to the same level as the other two hours.