Those familiar with John Bytheway’s work know that his enjoyable style of teaching is built around three fundamental practices: simplifying complex gospel principles, using metaphors and analogies to relate those principles to our lives, and injecting relevant humor at appropriate moments to keep audiences engaged—all while teaching by the Spirit.
Choosing a Topic
Before trying to spice up a talk or story, selecting a subject is the first step (if you don't have one assigned to you). So how does Bytheway choose what to write and talk about?
“I guess they’re just things I’m currently interested in,” he says. “That’s where I get my ideas—the things that I’m interested in and the things that youth are interested in. One of my goals is to make the difficult parts of the gospel interesting—that’s why I wrote Isaiah for Airheads and Righteous Warriors about the Book of Mormon war chapters. People say, ‘What’s that for? How come there are so many wars in here?’ or, ‘The Isaiah chapters are too hard.’ I try and find a way to make that more accessible to everyone.”
Simplifying Complex Gospel Principles
The first step to making something easy to understand for others is knowing it yourself. And like you'd expect, Bytheway is a serious gospel scholar.
“When I suddenly found myself teaching the Book of Mormon at BYU," says Bytheway, "I thought, ‘I’ve got to learn this stuff!’ So I got to work.” When preparing to teach about the Isaiah chapters, he began researching all he could about the difficult-to-understand prophet and then distilling what he learned.
“I had about eight Isaiah commentaries and four different Old Testament translations all open and surrounding my desk in a circle. I would read a verse at a time, swivel my chair around reading all the scholarly commentaries, and then face the keyboard and ask, ‘Now, how would I say that to the average member of the Church?’ I didn’t know if anyone would publish it or not, but I didn’t care because it was a wonderful, enriching experience, and I discovered the benefits of going from a ‘casual reader’ to a ‘serious student’ of the scriptures.”
This serious scripture scholar even voyaged to the Holy Land, where he was inspired to write another favorite title, Of Pigs, Pearls, and Prodigals. “Once I saw the backdrop for the parables, I got so excited about it. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that much enthusiasm for a book as when I got home from the Holy Land and thought, ‘I’m going to write about the parables.’”
Video still from Standards Night Live.
Using Metaphors and Analogies
Because all things testifies of Christ, the key to a good analogy is looking for one. Bytheway explains, "I see life lessons in so many things." In just one example, he wrote Golf: Lessons I Learned While Looking for My Ball. "With golfing," he explains, "I had just started golfing—and I kind of see life lessons in everything—and I saw life lessons in golf more than any other sport. So I said, 'I want to write about golf,' and Deseret Book said, 'Okay.' I was kind of surprised."
Thinking about our lives with an eternal perspective often yields great metaphors and analogies. Other great examples from Bytheway include his discourse on the basketball standard from his Standards Night Live talk, other great sport lessons he explains in Sports: Life Lessons from Court, Field, and Gridiron, or really any of his works. You can't go long in any John Bytheway talk without hearing a great metaphor or analogy!
Injecting Relevant Humor
Of his unique and humorous teaching style, Bytheway says, “I just try to keep it real, try to put some humor in it, and try not to take myself too seriously.” But the laughs don’t always come naturally. “I have to add the humor later. I have to figure out what I’m trying to say, what’s most important to say, and then my secondary question is, now how do I get the person who doesn’t want to listen to be engaged?" The message, he explains, always trumps humor.
"The first question is always, what ought to be taught? The second is always, how do I teach it so I don’t lose any of those who are most at risk? So the humor doesn’t come naturally—I have to think to myself later, ‘This part’s getting boring—what do I do?’ There are other people that the humor just flows for, but I have to work on it.”
What Makes it Worth It
Though making talks and lessons engaging requires a lot of work, for Bytheway, teaching is a labor of love. “I love seeing the change in a young person’s countenance when they learn something new, when they taste truth, or feel enlightened. I love seeing that look, and I love having that experience myself, which is why I love to read and research and listen to what others have discovered.”
And if you take the time to try and teach, you can see the lightbulb of understanding turn on, too--just like John Bytheway.
Discover more of John Bytheway's insights in his latest book, How Do I Know If I Know?, where John Bytheway teaches us how to F.E.E.L. our testimonies, that is, to use our feelings, our experiences, outside evidences, and logic to support our personal witness of the truth. -->Learn more
And don't miss John Bytheway, along with the Nashville Tribute Band and Elaine S. Dalton, at Time Out for Women and Time Out for Girls events this weekend (November 7-8) in Phoenix, Arizona. -->Get the details