We are all called upon to be teachers, even if we are not teaching in an official capacity. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:122, the Lord puts it this way:
Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.
The Lord expects all of us to open our mouths and speak. His parable about the members of the Church being like the members of the body—each playing its own role in the whole of the Church—also refers to our individual responsibilities.
It is true that there is always one called to be the official teacher, but if you have read or studied out of the Teaching in the Savior’s Way manual, you will see that more and more of the responsibility of teaching is being turned over to the students in the class.
The opening story in this lesson is about an older bird teaching a younger bird how to eat on its own. It is that same lesson of survival that the teachers in the gospel classroom need to teach those in attendance. It is all about personal spiritual survival. The way we do that as teachers is to teach them how to be spiritual on their own, when we aren’t around.
In the example of the bird instructing the little bird how to forage for food, we can see that the big bird demonstrated that it also relied on these practices in order to survive. It was not a do-as-I-say sermon, but a do-as-I-do sermon.
When we teach from the scriptures are we teaching from personal experience? Have we personally found our answers, our comfort, and our direction from the scriptures? If we have, then that will come through in our teaching of the scriptures. The students need to know that it really is possible, and even expected, that the scriptures are their roadmap home. They can’t get home without them.
But no roadmap can be read properly if you don’t know what any of the symbols on the map mean. Just so, even the scriptures have to be taught to be used. The Gazetteer shows all the maps of missionary journeys, wanderings of Israel, places in the Bible, and much more. Can you find it? Do you know how to use the reference section to find a particular place on a specific map? These are important skills.
There is the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), the Book of Mormon pronunciation key, the footnotes with Greek/Hebrew alternate word meanings, the Bible Dictionary, and the Concordance. The Church has provided us with a wealth of knowledge and tools to help us better understand and study the scriptures. Our students need to get comfortable using these tools. Use them in class often to encourage them to get comfortable with them. For that matter, encourage them to bring their scriptures with them to class so they CAN use them.
Though it does not mention this in the lesson, using lds.org is an important resource for our teaching. Each of the conference talks and Ensign/Liahona talks that use the scriptures has references available at the end of the talk or where they are referenced. These can help us get perspective and see how we can use the gospel doctrines and principles in modern daily practice.
Teach with the Spirit
When we are called as a teacher we should concern ourselves with the need to have the Spirit present when we teach. Conversion only takes place when the Spirit carries the message of the gospel into the hearts of those who are present. Without the Spirit in our teaching, no conversion can take place. We can learn facts and figures, but nothing will happen to change lives, and that is the point and purpose of our teaching.
Let me illustrate with a personal example. I live with a condition that keeps my emotions just at the surface all the time. I never know when I will well up with tears and not be able to speak for a moment, because I get so emotional. I can’t control it; it just happens when it happens. That doesn’t mean I have the Spirit with me all the time.
When I have the Spirit, I learn while I speak. As I teach, I discover that new thoughts that I have never even considered are flowing into my mind. That is when I know that the Spirit is there while I teach. If I am learning along with the class, it is because the Spirit has attended the meeting. There is a thrill that accompanies this particular experience that doesn’t happen any other time.
Not everyone will experience the Spirit in the same way. He has many ways of manifesting himself to us. You, as the teacher, will need to learn to identify when the Spirit is in your class. It is important to identify this to your students so they can learn how to feel His presence as well. This is how they will know they are being taught by the Spirit when they go home and study on their own.
The important lesson pointed out by President Hunter is that “sometimes [spiritual experiences] are accompanied by total silence. Other times they are accompanied by joy. Always they are accompanied by a great manifestation of the truth, of revelation to the heart.” More than anything, what our students need to learn how to recognize is the “manifestation of the truth.” If they can recognize that, then anything else that happens at the same time (like tears) is secondary, instead of primary.
The important point in this section of the lesson is that we, as teachers, need to be expendable. If we are not, then our students will find themselves with no way to learn the gospel. We need to make sure our students have everything they need to be able to seek for answers on their own. They each need to be studying the scriptures and receiving personal revelation away from the classroom itself. In an ideal world, each of the class members could comfortably get up and teach any lesson. No teacher should ever feel indispensable to a student’s progression. We want them to be filled with the spirit of revelation, so they can stand on their own out in the world.
Show the students how to answer their questions on their own, then get out of the way, and see what they come up with. Sometimes just giving a class time and resources—in a structured environment—to answer gospel questions, then discussing them as a class, can be a positive learning experience for the students. Help them feel safe asking questions and finding their own answers.
President Hunter makes the point that conversion and teaching is done on a one-on-one basis. Did you know that apostleship is also a call to seek out the one? I’ve heard more than one apostle say that each time they have an assignment to go somewhere and do something, as part of that assignment they seek guidance from the Lord to find the “one” that needs their special care and concern. As they shake hands, sit through meetings, and do interviews, they are searching for the one the Lord wants them to work with. All of the brethren do this.
The Atonement is a universal and eternal payment that satisfies the demands of God’s law of justice, but the application of that sacrifice can only be done one person at a time. It is all based on individual worthiness and desire.
The point behind focusing on individuals is that teaching the class isn’t as effective as teaching individuals in a class. It is the awareness of each person’s needs that counts. This requires teachers get to know their students and become more aware of their spiritual and temporal needs. Knowing some of these things will make it possible to be more sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit to do and say things that will impact individuals as we teach the class.
Teach by Example
When Alma was writing individual admonitions to his sons, he said over and over again, "Do as I do. Know as I have come to know." Teaching is leading by example, not just words we throw out to a class full of people. It is a big responsibility.
None of us are perfect, but we need to be very aware that what we say in or out of the classroom will be monitored by those who listen to us teach. To them we are always a teacher, in or out of that classroom. Any criticism of the leadership in the ward, stake, or the church is license for them to do the same. We cannot, as teachers, be loose-lipped.
Our purpose in the classroom is not just to impart facts, but also to help instill the desire and ability to change their lives for the better. This means we need to be striving for that same thing.
Be an Instrument
President Hunter speaks of the change of heart that we all need in order to become more Christlike. As their example, we need to set the pace in our classrooms (and homes) of those who are seeking this change of heart. If we are not actively seeking to be born again—a process which usually takes decades—then how can we expect those in our classrooms to be seeking for it?
Personal example is a powerful tool for conversion. No one thinks we are perfect. Everyone knows we have failings, but are we seen actively seeking to fix those failings? Are we trying on a daily and weekly basis to be better than we were the day or the week before? This is all we can expect from our students. This is all we can expect from ourselves.
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