This summer, I spent memorable hours in conversation with friends about our discourse of prophets and prophecy in the Church. So many of us have witnessed disillusionment and anguish when friends lose trust in church leadership. Often, a covert message of prophetic infallibility has been conveyed in childhood church experiences, a belief that inevitably crumbles later and erodes faith with it. We asked ourselves, “How do we talk about prophets in a way that provides a sustainable basis for mature faith?” In discussion with friends, I decided that a minor adaptation of a familiar phrase–“Follow the Prophet” becomes “Follow the Prophet to Jesus”–implicitly conveys most of our intent. In particular, I wanted to emphasize the following points: 1) Prophets need not be infallible to point the way to Jesus; 2) In fact, prophets are better guides because they personally experience the processes of gaining faith, repenting of sins, etc; 3) The prophetic office–a narrowly defined priesthood role–exists in service to the larger prophetic mission of leading souls to Christ, which encompasses believers regardless of sex. General Conference season seems an apt moment to develop the lesson and send it into the wild. Please enjoy, use, freely adapt, and consider sharing if the ideas speak to you. I’m convinced that small, fully faithful tweaks in our discourse about prophets can make a big difference in the resilience of young souls’ attachment to the Church.
Attention Activity: Younger Children: Sing the Primary song “Do As I’m Doing, Follow Follow Me,” encouraging the children to follow the directions you pantomime, like mixing cake batter, hammering nails, or playing a violin. Make it tricky and fun! Older Children: Ahead of time, set up a grid of sticky notes on the board, with a castle chalked under one of them. Choose a child to come up and move a magnet through the course. Give a multi-part oral direction starting from the upper left corner to arrive at the destination (for example: down three, right two, up nine, and left one, etc.) The child tries to remember and correctly execute the directions.
Introduce the Doctrine: Following directions is important if you want to cook something, build something, or find your way to a castle. But if you want to find your way to Jesus, following disciples is even better than following directions. Prophets are specially-chosen disciples of Jesus Christ who lead us along the path of faith. We follow the prophet to Jesus.
The prophet Nephi taught about four landmarks on our path toward Jesus, which we call the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: first, seeking faith in Jesus; second, practicing repentance; third, receiving baptism; and fourth, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Post a word strip for each of the four principles, and set out the following four visual aids: 1) a toy horse (or picture of a horse); 2) a toy bow or arrow (or a picture); 3) a small jar filled with water and a bit of sand, to represent a river; 4) a simple ribbon wand of yellow and red ribbons taped to the end of a pencil or similar. In turns, invite a child up to hold the appropriate visual aid as you share the following brief accounts of prophets who demonstrate the principles of the gospel.
Faith in Jesus Christ. David O. McKay was prophet of the church around the time your grandparents were born. One day when he was a teenager, he was herding cattle in the mountains. He got off his horse to rest, and suddenly felt a strong desire to pray for a sign from Heavenly Father that would give him faith. He prayed right there beside his horse under a serviceberry bush! But he didn’t receive any sign that day. He felt disappointed, but he kept wanting faith and praying for it. One day several years later, while he was on his mission in Scotland, David felt the Holy Spirit strongly and his heart was suddenly filled with faith. He knew it was an answer to the prayer he offered years ago. David O. McKay searched for faith. (Source)
Repentance. The Book of Mormon prophet Enos was the grandson of Father Lehi. One day Enos was out hunting in the forest. He started thinking about everything his father had taught him. He remembered we can live again with Jesus after this life, and he wanted that very much! Enos kneeled down and prayed to Heavenly Father to forgive his sins and mistakes. He prayed and repented all day and all night! Finally he heard the Lord’s voice say, “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed … because of thy faith in Christ.” But that wasn’t all! Enos kept on praying, first for his family, and then for his enemies! Enos repented of his sins. (Source)
Baptism. One day the Joseph Smith and his friend Oliver Cowdery went into the woods to pray. They had been reading in the scriptures about baptism by immersion, and they wondered if they should be baptized, too. The resurrected John the Baptist visited them and gave them authority to baptize each other in the nearby Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. They went into the river, where Joseph baptized Oliver, and Oliver baptized Joseph. Afterward they felt very happy! “We experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father.” Joseph Smith was baptized. (Source.)
Holy Ghost. When Jesus was alive on earth, a man named Peter was one of his closest friends and disciples. Before Jesus went back to heaven, he told Peter that the Holy Spirit would come to them. A few days later, Peter was with Jesus’ other friends and mother together in one room. Suddenly a noise like a strong wind from the sky filled the whole house. Little bits of fire came to rest on each one of them but these fires did not burn them at all! All of this wind and fire meant Jesus’ friends and mother, Mary, were filled with the Holy Spirit. It was Jesus’ promise to them! Peter received the Holy Ghost. (Adapted from source.)
Each of these prophets followed the path to Jesus, through faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost, and we should follow them!
Faith and repentance are things we seek in our own hearts, but we need the Church and the priesthood to receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Prophets have the special responsibility to direct and protect the Church, so that all people have the opportunity to follow the path to Jesus.
Invite a child forward. Ask her to follow you on a short journey around the room. Then instruct her to choose another child and lead him on the same journey. When you are following the prophet on the path to Jesus, other people can follow you! Anybody with a testimony of Jesus has the gift of prophecy and can show others the way. The scriptures teach us that “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19:10.)
Faithful women like Abish in the Book of Mormon, Anna in the New Testament, or Sister Joy Jones, our Primary General President, exercise the gift of prophecy when they testify of Christ.