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Teaching Principles by Aaron L. M. Goodwin

The variety of opportunities for teaching in the Lord’s kingdom are expansive.

Each member of the church is commissioned to “…speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20).

Mormon explained that the church Christ established among his people did this by regularly speaking, “…one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Mormon 6:5). With salvation at stake, we ought to be less concerned about facts and philosophies, and more attentive to doctrine and principles.

The very best gospel teachers do not impart of their own knowledge, rather, they lead out in a group revelatory experience. I have found that the following principles help to this end.

jesus-teaching

Invite.

“What are you going to do because of what you learned today?”

I have established four rules for all of my classes.

First, I invite that the class prepare. As a teacher, this means feasting on the word, becoming an expert in the text or topic, inasmuch as this is possible.

Second, I invite the class pray—first, for me as their teacher and second, that they themselves will receive revelation. I make my desires very explicit, by promising that if they do this, the Lord will give them an assignment, and that by acting on that prompting, they will receive great blessings.

Third, I invite the class to participate. This may come in the form of reading with heart and meaning, with volunteering to make a comment, or simply sharing an experience. My lessons are based mostly around scripture and questions. Our discussion of these things is the fuel for the engine of edification.

Fourth, and last, I invite the class to practice what they learn. If the spirit and understanding we obtain in those sacred settings disperse the moment we leave the room, then we’ve missed the entire point of the lesson. Thus, my concluding statement is always “What are you going to do because of what you learned today?” This question should book-end each gospel discussion. Finding the answer to this, and then committing to act, enable the effects of the atonement in our lives.

Edify.

...edification occurs where true doctrine is present. Never sugarcoat or embellish the truth; it is good enough to stand on its own.

As a teacher, my greatest concern is not whether my students think I’m smart, knowledgeable, well-spoken, or talented. The most important thing for them to understand is that I love them. In the absence of love, the potential of spirit-filled utterances is replaced by nothing more than hot air. Whatever it takes, those you teach must have no doubts about your love for them.

Additionally, edification occurs where true doctrine is present. Never sugarcoat or embellish the truth; it is good enough to stand on its own. Resist the urge to oversimplify the doctrines in order to make them easier to swallow. Concerns should never be brushed aside; they should be confronted and resolved.

You will come to see that many class members will instinctively try to jump the gun and discuss application of the doctrine. Sadly, many of us have been trained that this is how gospel teaching works. However, the application of the doctrine is actually deeply personal and individual.

When we provide an ideal template for following a given gospel principle, we are essentially offering crumbs to those we teach. The meager morsels of these oversimplified, trite, and potentially incorrect ideas can never provide the spiritual feast that true doctrine, understood, can (Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children”, October 1986 General Conference).

Remember, it is the truth that sets us free, not traditions (John 8:32).

Promise.

...we must obtain confidence in the doctrine.

Any righteous church member, abiding by their covenants, may have confidence to boldly promise blessings for abiding by true principles.

Ideally, a teacher should have their own firsthand knowledge of these blessings from having applied the principles themselves. Prior to sending Hyrum Smith to teach the gospel, the Lord told him to wait, “until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine” (D&C 11:16).

The Lord’s criteria for Hyrum’s commission preach is the same for us: we must obtain confidence in the doctrine. With this surety, our promises are sealed by the Spirit, which “speaketh the truth and lieth not” (Jacob 4:13).

Coda.

Applying these principles provides a pattern whereby gospel lessons move organically because they provide the maximum opportunity for those meetings to be conducted by the spirit, and not merely the teacher or lesson plan.

I have seen miracles occur in my life, as well as the lives of my fellow-learners as I have strived to apply these principles. I have learned them through years of struggle and effort, failed lessons, and awkward discussions.

I continue to be amazed that I find this principles in practice among all of God’s great servants. That is because disciples follow their master, and Christ is the perfect teacher. It was, ultimately, He who espoused these principles. He is the exemplar, and it’s His light which we are to reflect.

Participating in that expanding of light and truth and love is a sublime joy, unmatched by anything else that I know of.

What do you think?

  • What changes in lesson preparation do these principles necessitate?
  • Where have you seen these principles in action?
  • What might be some possible pitfalls in applying these principles? What cautions should be considered?