Is church Correlation the new United Order? I remember a conference talk from years ago (by Pres. Packer, if I recall correctly, though I haven’t been able to find the actual talk to confirm it.) The speaker talked about how his local church unit had a wonderful and unique youth program — something about performance or public speaking, I think. It was managed by great leaders and the results with the students were remarkable. They were engaged, enjoying themselves, and learning new skills.
However, the call came down from higher authorities to shut down the local program and replace it with a correlated curriculum that was being used church-wide. The speaker told how he was disappointed at first. The new program wasn’t as effective. However, over time he came to realize that the church leaders were concerned with the welfare of all the church units, and that it was better for the church as a whole to have a B-level program that could be replicated across the church, accessible to all the youth, than to have an A-level program that only helped the youth in one particular area.
When I was a kid, my mom used to play a record called “The Order is Love”. Do any of you remember that one? It was a musical about the story of the Orderville community trying to live the United Order. In one scene I remember, the children of the town are gathered together, and one of the town leaders is passing out candy to each of them. Candy was rare, so this was a very special event. When they got to the end of the line, they discovered that they were short a couple of pieces. The rule in the United Order was that all share equally, and since there wasn’t enough for everyone all the children had to give their candies back.
Today it hit me that the story of the youth program is essentially the same as the story of the candy. We complain about correlated lessons and materials because they are so bland, generic, and uninspiring. I think we all know superstar teachers who could do amazing things with their classes if they were left to their own devices. But perhaps the church isn’t concerned with superstar teachers. Most of the teachers aren’t superstars. Most of the youth and Sunday School teachers are busy people who rarely even peak at the lesson book before they arrive at class to teach it. Keeping the lessons simple means that even the most poorly prepared teacher can still provide some useful instruction to the class. I suppose that our correlated lesson manuals are an expression of that principle of the United Order — it’s better that we all receive unremarkable instruction than that some of us receive amazing instruction while others are left flailing alone.