This article is intended to help readers better utilize the new Teaching in the Savior's Way manual that was recently released.
If you want to begin to understand why the Holy Ghost is so important in your teaching, perhaps you should ask yourself this basic question: What can you bring to the teaching situation that is equal to or better than what the Spirit can do?
That is a fair question.
Can you change someone’s heart like the Holy Ghost can? Can you cause someone to comprehend spiritual things like the Holy Ghost can? Can you reveal the nature of God and his plan of salvation like the Holy Ghost can?
Once we realize that we cannot teach anything of a spiritual nature without the presence of the Holy Ghost, then our relationship with the Spirit becomes all important when preparing to stand in front of anyone and speak of spiritual things. We are merely a mouthpiece for the Spirit. We do our best to convey the knowledge and love of the message we have been called to teach, and the Spirit will have to do the rest, the teaching part.
We are called to be teachers, but it is not we who actually do the teaching. The Spirit conveys the meaning of the words deep into the hearts of our hearers. He awakens within them a sense of wonder and awe for the workings of God. It is He who helps them feel a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the mighty plan of redemption. But all of that has to start with our words and our preparation.
Invite the Spirit into Your Teaching
“The ultimate purpose of everything a gospel teacher does–every question, every scripture, every activity–is to invite the Spirit to build faith and to invite all to come unto Christ.” Really? Everything? Some people will recoil at such a thought. Such a statement as, “every question, every scripture, every activity” makes it sound like we have to face our class with a somber face and sour disposition.
Rest assured that this is neither the intent nor the meaning of this sentence. The Spirit conveys to us the love of God. That love brings joy, infuses our souls with joy, and creates a tolerant and forgiving spirit. There is nothing dour or gloomy about the Spirit’s influence.
But this does not change the need for us to prepare to teach by calculating as many opportunities for bringing the Spirit’s influence into our lesson as we can. This is why the rest of the material in this section lists many of the ways in which the Spirit can be invited into our lesson.
As teachers, we need to remember that what brings the Spirit into a conversation with our spouse also brings the Spirit into a conversation with a student or with one of our children or with our neighbor. What invites the Spirit is anything that is pleasing to God.
This is why the prayer of faith, humility, words of the prophets, expressions of love, testimony, and moments of pondering all invite the presence of the Spirit. So when we prepare our lesson, we need to be aware that any jokes to break the ice need to be appropriate for inviting the Spirit. We need to make sure that we don’t lose control of the class and let them get off topic on unrelated topics or begin to become contentious.
Remember that the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. What pleases our Father in Heaven and Christ will also please the Holy Ghost. What is important here is the motivation for what we do and how we do it in the classroom. Are our actions and words born out of love for those we teach? Do we desire within us for them to experience a spiritual witness at some point(s) in the lesson?
New teachers may be more worried about how they look in public or whether or not they have remembered to cover such-and-such a point during the lesson. These worries often get in the way of the more important parts of the lesson: bearing witness of truth and searching for ways to bring greater conversion and greater desire within the hearts of our class members to try harder this week to be better than last week.
Look at the qualities the Spirit brings when He is present—they are listed in the last paragraph of this section. These are some of the important things we need to teach our students. We need to help them identify when someone is speaking by the Spirit. We need to help them understand that 20 people can hear the same message, but the Spirit can teach all 20 people something different. He teaches us what we are ready to hear and can understand. That is okay. This is why we need to be tolerant and patient with one another in our classes.
Be a Humble Instrument of the Spirit
If you ever want a lesson in humility, try to teach a gospel lesson with zero effort to bring in the Spirit to help you reach your class members. See what effect you have on the lives of your class when there is no Spirit in the room when you present your lesson.
Sure, the world has many techniques for grabbing a crowd by the lapels and gripping their attention. Yes, any good public speaker can entertain or educate. Some are even gifted in teaching people how to be self-guided learners. But none of these methods convert the soul.
When we prepare our lesson and rely on our own talents and abilities, we cheat not only ourselves out of a spiritual experience with the word of God but those we teach as well.
There is a section in the manual (and a link in the online version) to Improving as a Christlike Teacher. This checklist of teacher behaviors and attitudes is priceless in helping a person learn what is needed in order to become more like Christ when dealing with other people. This list helps not just in class but in every kind of interaction we have with other people.
You will be well served to spend some time pondering each and every question in the survey, and answering them based on your current teaching patterns. As you select individual questions and focus on improving in that one area, you will see the spirituality of your lessons improving and your relationship with other people rising to new heights. This personal evaluation is extremely valuable as a teaching tool.
Flexibility in teaching is something most teachers learn over time. When we first start teaching any diversion to what we have planned, it derails the lesson and we may find it difficult to salvage the points we were trying to make before the interruption happened.
With practice, patience, and great focus, we learn to either guide the class back to what we were originally wanting to talk about, or we develop the wisdom to let the original lesson go in favor of something far more valuable and meaningful to the students. We don’t usually know what will be most meaningful to the students until they begin to participate in the lesson and their real questions begin to reveal their needs.
As soon as a student makes a comment or asks a question, a judgment call has to be made in the teacher’s head. Listening for promptings from the Spirit, you will be led to answer the question, thank them for the comment and go on with your lesson, or you will be prompted to follow that train of thought somewhere else. It is a constant balancing act between doing what you planned and doing what the Spirit dictates. It takes a lot of practice.
It is important to remember that though salvation must come to all, it has to be applied one soul at a time. We prepare a lesson for all, but as we follow the promptings of the Spirit conversion in the classroom happens one soul at a time. The students may thank you for a great lesson, but you know they thought it was great because the Spirit touched them in the course of the lesson. We should be grateful to have been a participant in such an event.
The manual references 3 Nephi 17:1-9. When you learn to teach with the Spirit, you too will be able to look into the faces of your class members and sense their needs. There come times in teaching when the teacher and the Spirit have whole conversations with each other. These conversations come in the way of thoughts that flood the mind. You just seem to know what question is really being asked or that so and so would like to know more about a certain topic.
Look forward to these experiences. These times of cooperation, as you and the Spirit team up to teach are what make teaching in the Church such a rewarding experience. These are the class periods when testimonies are deepened, and minds are expanded.