Although any student can take BYU’s Seminary and Institute Preservice classes to improve their teaching skills, many want to teach the gospel as a career. The Seminary and Institute coordinator in Madison, Wis. has been successfully teaching for 36 years and offers inspiration in the plethora of stories he can tell.
One story Reg Christensen loves to share involves a time when he borrowed a duck for an object lesson from the UW-Madison Taxidermy Department. Christensen started drawing parallels between qualities a real duck would have and qualities that made the LDS church the true and living church. He said although his class members took over the discussion, he needed to be there.
“Someone had to bring the duck,” he said.
That story, among others, displays Christensen’s aim in teaching the gospel: helping his students apply the gospel into their lives in a memorable way. He said he uses Nephi’s example of likening the scriptures unto himself as a personal motto for his teaching.
“I try to take difficult things and make them simple to understand,” he said.
Christensen said his desire to teach the gospel started in Seminary at North Sanpete High School in Mount Pleasant. His teachers motivated and inspired him, and he said he wanted to do the same for others. After high school, he attended Snow College and then served a mission in southern California, which also intensified his desire to teach gospel truths.
“I thought it’d be fun to teach the gospel all my life,” Christensen said.
After his mission, Christensen graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in Distributive Education and was accepted to teach seminary in Lehi. He taught for 23 years, receiving a master’s in Educational Psychology at BYU and then moved to Madison, accepting the position as the Seminary and Institute coordinator for the Madison, Wausau and Green Bay Stakes.
In order to be a full-time Seminary or Institute teacher for the LDS church one must have a Bachelor’s degree and complete seminary training. Christensen said a seminary teacher candidate must also hold a current temple recommend, follow church program rules, have a good rapport with children and have a desire for continuing in education.
A Seminary and Institute Coordinator has the additional requirements of a Master’s degree and eight years of seminary teaching experience. In either position, individuals have the responsibility of fulfilling the aims of the Church Education System: to help students realize the Atonement and come to know their Savior, Jesus Christ.
He said he counsels those considering a career in teaching the gospel to not put their eggs all in one basket. He said many teachers work part time and are called by the stake, which is another option.
“There are many people in the church who could do what I do,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are not many openings.”
Terry Ball, dean of religious education at BYU, said it’s not unusual to have 30 applicants for one Religious Education faculty position. Although every applicant is different, there is a common theme among those who excel.
“[They] love teaching the gospel, love researching the gospel and love students,” Ball said.
Although Christensen said no two days are the same, he typically is on the road by 4 a.m. to make it to a 6 a.m. seminary class, traveling back to Madison to teach a class in the evening. Other days he spends in his office, preparing for classes and teacher training meetings.
Some of his favorite trips are to Green Bay, requiring him to drive through Oshkosh where his daughter, Jamie Orr, and her family live. Christensen said he likes to call minutes before he arrives so his granddaughter and grandson can sit at the front window and wave to him as he pulls in the driveway.
Orr said even now, whenever she has a lesson to teach in Sunday School or a talk to give in church, her dad is the first person she calls. She said her dad is not only full of advice, but is known for his scriptural knowledge, stories and sayings.
“He’s like the wise old owl,” she said. “He’s always teaching, no matter who it is.”
Along with teaching the core curriculum, Christensen also teaches specialty classes, such as the book of Revelation and the book of Isaiah. After looking through his notes one day, he realized he had enough material to write a book. He writes in his spare time and has published two books on his teachings in Revelation. “Fear Not: Messages of Hope, Healing and Peace in the Book of Revelation” is available at Deseret Book and focuses on what he’s sought to teach his students: how to simplify the truths of the gospel and apply it to life.
Christensen said his classes and books on John’s revelation focus on hope, healing, peace and triumph, not the doom and gloom some people associate with the last book of the New Testament.
“I don’t think John meant to scare anyone,” he said.
Paul and Abby Amberson, both former Institute students who now live in Philadelphia, said they have benefited from Christensen’s classes. Paul said taking the class on the book of Revelation helped him to understand the symbolism and apply the truths in his own life.
“When you read it for yourself it can be a little daunting understanding everything,” Paul said. “He really breaks it down to simple principles.”
Christensen has a box of letters as well as many stories from former students expressing similar sentiments. However, not all stories end well. Christensen said a former student is currently on death row in Nevada State Prison for murder. He said it’s hard to teach the gospel and then watch students make mistakes that cause so much pain. In spite of those disappointments, Christensen continues to be motivated teaching the gospel and training other teachers, knowing he’s involved in a good cause.
“We’re providing that daily rudder for [students’] lives,” Christensen said.
Christensen is currently working on his fourth book, which gives insights on the book of Isaiah. He is also waiting for his third book entitled “Worthy is the Lamb: Scriptural Insights from Handel’s Messiah” to be released this fall. Although retirement is only a few years away, Christensen said he feels like he is in his prime. However, looking back on all his accomplishments, he remains humble.
“I’ve never wanted to be famous,” he said. “I just want to be steadfast and immovable.”