Savior is the master teacher: Scriptures contain examples of Christ's teaching methods

The Savior provides the ultimate role model for any teacher of the gospel, said Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the Presidency of the Seventy and an executive director of the Church Curriculum Department.

Elder Pinegar said the scriptures provide numerous examples of how the Savior taught during His ministry. He listed some of the Savior's teaching methods that today's teachers of the gospel might try to emulate:- The Savior taught as one having authority. "The Savior had the power, the presence, the personal magnetism, you might say, to `teach as one having authority.' What was it that gave Him authority? It wasn't just that He was the Son of God, although that would be sufficient reason for anyone to pay attention and listen.

"He taught in the synagogues where priests had authority, where a man could only go with authority. He went there as one having authority, although He was not a rabbi. And even the rabbis listened to Him.

"What He taught them was the truth. The power of truth was so significant that the Lord told people in our day, ` . . . seek not to declare my word but first to obtain it.' "

  • The Savior expected His listeners to have read the words of the prophets. "We talk about the teachers and the members having the Spirit," said Elder Pinegar. "This was the expectation the Savior had. The Savior talked about `knowing the word.' (See Matt. 12:3.)

"I have a new appreciation of His preparation when He knew the scriptures, but even His perfect knowledge of the scriptures did not keep Him from reading them. He could have quoted them. When I see a teacher having the members of the class read the scriptures, I think of the 18th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. There is a powerful verse that states why we should read the scriptures to one another.

"In that verse, we are told we have the scriptures because He is the one who has preserved them. Then He says, `These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; . . . and by my power you can read them one to another; . . . Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice and know my words.' " (D&C 18:34-36.)

  • The Savior used parables. The Savior told of experiences of people with whom His listeners could identify: farmers, fishermen, laborers, debtors, stewards, benefactors, among others. During part of the Savior's Galilean ministry, the record states "without a parable spake he not unto them." (Mark 4:34.)

"A parable, in its simplest terms, is an account of a daily experience," explained Elder Pinegar. "We are asking teachers today to use parables - the parables preserved in the scriptures as well as contemporary ones. To the person who has had the experience, it is just that - an experience. To the person to whom that experience is told, it is a parable. A teacher might share a spiritual experience that has been prompted by a reference or a gospel principle that has come from studying the scriptures. That might cause a class member to remember and share an experience. As the teacher involves the class, the members benefit.

"Sometimes a student expects the teacher to be the only one who has all the good experiences. But when a member sitting by that student shares an experience, then the student can see just how close to home gospel applications really are."

  • The Savior often perceived the thoughts of His listeners. "That is where the Spirit comes in," said Elder Pinegar. "While teachers in the classroom or parents in the home may not perceive the thoughts of their listeners, if they are attentive to the Spirit of the Lord, then the Spirit can inspire them to say or do what needs to be said or done to reach into the hearts of their listeners.

"An example of a teacher who had the ability to perceive the thoughts of the person he was teaching was Ammon. When Ammon was teaching King Lamoni, he perceived Lamoni's thoughts, and the king knew that. The king asked, How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart?' (Alma 18:18.) I love Ammon's response:. . .a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.' " (Alma 18:35.)

  • The Savior simply stayed with the doctrine of the kingdom. "The Savior taught only one thing - the gospel of the kingdom," said Elder Pinegar. "He didn't try to solve the social problems of the day. He, in essence, said, `Here is the doctrine.' "


Strive to `bring souls unto the Lord'

"The Lord expects us to bring souls unto Him by inviting all men to come unto Christ, and, by so doing, find Him ourselves," said Elder Gene R. Cook of the Quorums of the Seventy and an executive director of the Church Curriculum Department.

Elder Cook has given addresses on the topic of teaching by the Spirit, including addresses in general conference and to members of the faculty and staff in BYU's Department of Religious Instruction. (See October 1988 general conference report.)

In these addresses, he emphasized that not only the teacher but the learner must have the Spirit of the Lord, and the teacher must do all in his or her power "to prepare the hearts of men so the Spirit can teach."

He suggested several examples, which, if humbly employed, will "immediately invite the Spirit into your heart and the hearts of others."

  • Pray. "Pray for the Spirit. Ask those you teach to pray for you and for themselves while you are teaching." (See 3 Ne. 17:2-3; 20:1; D&C 136:29, 32.)
  • Use the scriptures. "They are the words of the Lord to us, and the Spirit of the Lord will speak through them to all, both young and old." (See 2 Ne. 32:3; Alma 31:5; D&C 32:4.)
  • Testify. "If you follow His promptings, the Lord will direct you to testify frequently. . . ." (See 2 Ne. 33:1; Alma 5:44-47.)
  • Express love and gratitude to God and man. "Express love openly for God and for His children, and the Spirit will be felt profoundly." (See John 13:34-35; 1 Ne. 11:21-23; Moroni 7:47-48.)
  • Use hymns. "Music, particularly Church music, brings the Spirit of the Lord. It would certainly not be inappropriate, if need be, to stop in the middle of your teaching and say, `Let's sing a hymn together,' and then pick one that really relates to what you are teaching."
  • Share spiritual experiences. "Spiritual experiences have great impact upon men's souls. Share them as prompted by the Spirit." (See D&C 50:21-22; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 26:1-32.)

"When teaching by the Holy Ghost has occurred," Elder Cook recently told the Church News, "the most prominent aftereffect in the people are things like:

"Feeling humbled before the Lord.

"Feeling repentant.

"Being desirous of improving lives.

"Being filled with faith, hope and determination to do what is right.

"When that occurs, an individual has truly been taught by the power of the Spirit."

No time constraints on Holy Ghost

Time - or not enough of it - is often one of a teacher's greatest challenges. In the 40 minutes allocated for Sunday School classes, for example, teachers might feel they don't have enough time to teach all the concepts they would like, or to complete the material they have prepared.

"Because a teacher's time is limited is all the more reason to strive to teach by the Spirit," said Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the Presidency of the Seventy. "Five minutes with the Spirit is sufficient to have a lasting impact in the life of an individual. The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that if we could look five minutes into the eternities, it would be worth a lifetime of experience.

"Some of the greatest talks and lessons I've ever heard have been short, almost vignettes of a gospel principle. For example, I was visiting with a regional representative in Mexico, Elder Octaviano Tenorio, who has just been called as a mission president. We were discussing how important teaching is in the home and family, and we talked about how the Book of Mormon is a great teacher.

"He told me his young son had been reading the Book of Mormon, and, as parents often do when their children are reading any book, he asked the boy, `Who do you like most in that book, who is your hero?'

"Elder Tenorio said he expected his son to name Nephi, Ammon, King Benjamin, Moroni, or some other great person in the book. Instead, this 5-year-old boy said, `Daddy, there is only one hero in the Book of Mormon. That's Jesus. He is the one everybody went to for help.'

"That taught me a great lesson," said Elder Pinegar. "Here was a child who, in his purity, grasped in just a few moments what the Spirit was able to communicate. I've thought of that story and find myself asking, When we teach from the Book of Mormon, what do we teach? Do we teach of Ammon's defense of the king's flocks, or do we teach about from where Ammon's power came? Do we teach about Ammon's courage, or do we teach of his humility, such as when he said,I have no power; this is the power of the Lord'? "

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