Tips on teaching like the Savior from the Young Men, Young Women and Sunday School general presidencies

With the new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum being introduced in 2019, Latter-day Saints are focusing on teaching and learning at home and at Church. Consistent with this emphasis, we desire to help our youth teach more like the Savior.

Why is it important for youth to teach in the Savior’s way?

In truth, everyone in the Church is a teacher — not just formally called teachers. Missionaries are teachers, parents are teachers, and every Church leader is a teacher. In preparation for these experiences, youth can and should learn to teach in the Savior’s way. Doing so will help them strengthen their own testimonies as they learn to understand and then articulate doctrinal principles with clarity. In addition, it will accelerate and sharpen the skills they need to become inspired missionaries, parents, called teachers and leaders. One effective way to help our youth in this pursuit is to train them how to teach and then give them opportunities to do so.

How often should youth teach?

Youth should not teach so often as to displace the formally called teacher as the principal teacher — one who should teach doctrine, bear testimony, share personal experiences and be a consistent teaching model for the youth to follow. But the youth should teach frequently enough in Sunday School, Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women to develop skills and attributes that will enable them to teach in the Savior’s way. This allocation of teaching time is a delicate balance to be decided by ward and youth leaders as guided by the Spirit.

A group of youth at Sunday School in New Zealand study their scriptures together.
A group of youth at Sunday School in New Zealand study their scriptures together.

These teaching experiences for youth should be determined based on age, spiritual maturity and experience. For example, a young and inexperienced youth might be given the opportunity to teach a brief portion of a lesson. An older, more experienced youth might teach a somewhat longer portion and, on occasion, an entire lesson. While a conscientious effort should be made to stretch our youth to new heights of teaching, care should be taken that no one is embarrassed or overwhelmed in the process. Teaching for our youth should always be a rewarding experience.

Who should train youth to teach?

In many cases, we have noticed that youth are given the opportunity to teach but without any prior training. To learn to teach more like the Savior, a youth needs both opportunity and training.

The primary responsibility to train a youth to teach in the Savior’s way rests with parents. In addition, however (or where there are no parents to do so), Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women advisers and youth Sunday School teachers can and should assist. This would normally require them to spend some time with a youth well before a lesson is given. For these purposes, “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” (in print, online and in the Gospel Library app) is a valuable resource.

Learn about the new gospel library created by and for young adults.
Emily Kezerian glances at her scriptures during a lesson on the plan of salvation, Sunday Feb. 17. Emily and other youth in the Forest Bend Ward helped with the Green Arrow Project, an initiative where the youth went to homes of families in the Forest Bend Ward to teach about family history.
Emily Kezerian glances at her scriptures during a lesson on the plan of salvation, Sunday Feb. 17. Emily and other youth in the Forest Bend Ward helped with the Green Arrow Project, an initiative where the youth went to homes of families in the Forest Bend Ward to teach about family history. Credit: Whitney Evans

In addition to individual training, youth might be invited on occasion to attend a teacher council meeting which focuses on how youth can teach in the Savior’s way. Parents and formally called teachers can also highlight Christlike teaching principles as they or the youth teach so as to impress these principles on the minds of the youth who are present. For example, if a youth teacher uses a picture effectively that results in a successful doctrinal discussion, the teacher might comment: “Did everyone notice how the effective use of that visual helped us gain some doctrinal insights we might otherwise have missed?”

Speaking of our youth during a Worldwide Training Broadcast on Nov. 5, 2016, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “We underestimate their ability and overestimate their experience.”

The following are suggestions to help us train our youth, so they can gain experience that will help them teach more like the Savior.

To teach like the Savior requires more than knowledge and a testimony

One mission president and his wife made it a habit to teach lessons with the missionaries. As they did, it became apparent that many fine young men and women who had a knowledge of the gospel and a testimony of its truthfulness, had not yet developed the gift of teaching the gospel in a clear and concise manner.

Young woman helps teach a youth class in Ayacucho, Peru.
Young woman helps teach a youth class in Ayacucho, Peru. Credit: Jason Swensen, Church News, Church News

One case exemplified the problem. Two missionaries were teaching about the apostasy and Restoration. The missionaries made a point, followed up by one random thought after another. There was no logical sequence, no building of one point upon another. One could see the learner’s eyes glazed over. He just couldn’t follow where the missionaries were going. As a result, an opportunity to teach the gospel with purity and power was lost.

The Holy Ghost can best confirm the truth of doctrine when it is taught with clarity and conciseness. We need to help our youth develop the gift to teach simply, clearly and powerfully as the Savior did. Simply being an active youth in the Church does not automatically make one a good teacher. It also requires observation, experience, practice, study and prayer.

The power of doctrine when taught with love and by the Spirit

At the heart and core of the Savior’s teaching was doctrine. Accordingly, we can give our youth a vision of the power of doctrine when taught with love and by the Spirit — how it can transform and change lives — so youth will make it the focus of their teaching experience. Alma explained that just as a seed has the inherent power to grow physically when properly nourished, so too the word of God has the inherent power to grow spiritually in the recipient’s heart when properly nourished (Alma 32).

Alma stepped down as chief judge so he could reclaim his people by “preach(ing) the word of God unto them” and “bearing down in pure testimony” (Alma 4:19). As Alma went from city to city doing just that, he learned that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just — yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5).

A recent inquiry of some converts confirms this conclusion. One said, “When I heard the doctrine of the premortal existence for the first time, I just knew it was right.” Another said, “The plan of salvation was so beautiful and appealing to me that I readily embraced it.” These impressions are in accord with the observation of Alma that the word of God is “delicious” to the taste (Alma 32:28).

If youth understand the inherent power of doctrine to transform lives, they will realize that all scriptures, all questions, all discussions, and all supplemental resources (such as pictures, music, videos, analogies and the like) used in teaching need to focus upon and support the doctrine and its application in the lives of those they teach.

The Lord has taught us that the doctrine is to be taught “by the power of my Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:15). But how does one get the Spirit to teach? President Henry B. Eyring gave this promise during a CES Satellite Training Broadcast on Aug. 10, 2003: “If you teach doctrinal principles, the Holy Ghost will come.”

In addition, spiritual power is related to our love for those we teach, our worthiness, our humility, the intensity of our prayers, and the degree to which we prepare. Speaking during a BYU devotional in 1990, President Eyring said he once asked President Harold B. Lee, “How do I get revelation?” President Lee responded, “If you want to get revelation, do your homework.”

Youth will receive revelation and the Spirit to teach as they do their “homework” — discovering the needs of those in their class, pondering the doctrine to be taught, sincerely asking for the Lord’s help and taking the time to organize a teaching plan. When youth teach the doctrine with love and by the Spirit, they teach with power and authority of God.

The scriptures are the ultimate source of doctrine

Where, then, does one find the true doctrine to teach? The foundational source is the scriptures — both the words of ancient and modern prophets. The Savior explained that “the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom” (Doctrine and Covenants 35:20). In other words, the scriptures are the purest source of doctrine we have — they come directly from the Lord. We can teach our youth that the scriptures are the original and pure source of doctrine. They are a teacher’s primary resource.

Bear testimony to support the doctrine

All sincere testimony is important, but President Joseph F. Smith gave this counsel to help us maximize the power of our testimonies: “The (teacher) is sent into the (classroom) to preach the gospel … expounding the truths embodied in the first principles of the gospel; then if he bears his testimony under divine inspiration such a testimony is a seal attesting to the genuineness of the truths he has declared.” Then he added this caution: “But the voicing of one’s testimony, however eloquently phrased or beautifully expressed is no fit or acceptable substitution for the needed discourse of instruction” (“Gospel Doctrine,” p. 258). In other words, testimony, in and of itself, is not a replacement for doctrine. Rather, the testimony of a youth teacher is most effective when it seals and confirms the doctrine that has been taught.

How can youth ask inspired questions that support the doctrine?

Sometimes we invite teachers, including youth, to ask inspired questions but fail to train them how to do so.

The ultimate goal of teaching is to teach the doctrine by the Spirit in such a way that it builds faith in Heavenly Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement. Thus, an inspired question is one that helps accomplish this purpose.

A youth might evaluate the quality of his or her questions by asking, “Does it build faith as manifested by the above consequences, and if not, how can I refine and improve it?”

Everyone in the Church is a teacher.

Questions that begin with “when” and “where” may be stepping stones to building faith, but in and of themselves, they often fail to accomplish the desired goal. For example, “When did Joseph Smith receive the First Vision?” or “Where is the Sacred Grove?” are questions that are unlikely to build faith.

On the other hand, questions that begin with “why,” “what,” and “how” are usually more effective in this regard. For example, “Why did Joseph Smith enter the Sacred Grove?” or “What truths did he learn there?” or “How do those truths affect my life?” usually promote more faith-filled responses. As youth ask inspired questions, inspired discussions will usually follow.

Many youth also struggle with asking follow-up questions. For example, a youth may respond to a question by saying she had a spiritual experience while reading the Book of Mormon. An untrained youth teacher might respond, “That’s wonderful” and then go on with the teaching outline. If that happens, the teacher will have missed a golden opportunity to follow up with another question such as, “Would you feel comfortable in sharing that experience with us?” (Matthew 16:13–17.)

One of the ways we show love for those we teach is to listen to them. When youth teachers ask sincere follow-up questions, it is an evidence that they love and care more about the person giving the answer than their own personal need to hurry to the next point in their lesson.

We can train our youth to listen carefully to each answer and then thoughtfully reflect if a follow-up question might invite an even greater insight into the doctrine being taught or the sharing of a spiritual experience or bearing of testimony.

Using resources to support the doctrine

The Savior was the Master Teacher. Not only did He teach the doctrine by quoting scriptures and asking inspired questions, but He also used a multitude of resources to enrich the doctrine and make it more appealing and personal to His listeners.

An image from the Church's Bible video series depicts Jesus teaching a group of people.
An image from the Church’s Bible video series depicts Jesus teaching a group of people.

He referred to imagery people could visualize, such as the lilies of the field or a fig tree. He told stories such as the parable of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son. And He used object lessons such as a Roman coin to teach a doctrinal truth. None of these were stand-alone objects or stories or activities. Each had a specific purpose — to support a doctrinal principle and encourage the living of it.

Resources like this, when properly used to support doctrine, add a spiritual creativity and richness to the lesson that enhance the ultimate goal of building faith. We can help our youth use resources — both those that are a result of their own inspiration and those in the inspired Church curriculum.

Preparing a plan to teach doctrine

Many teachers, particularly youth, struggle to know how to prepare an inspired teaching plan that incorporates and utilizes the above skills and resources.

Teachers can help youth organize their thoughts and feelings into a simple teaching plan:

As youth prepare a plan, they should keep in mind that they may not have time to use all these references and resources. Rather, they should see these as tools in a toolbox to be drawn upon as the Spirit directs. The more tools youth have in their toolbox, the greater flexibility the Spirit has to inspire them to use those tools best suited to meet the needs of class members. One way for youth to demonstrate love for those they teach is to take the time and effort to prepare an inspired teaching plan intended to best meet the needs of class members.

Extend inspired invitations to apply the doctrine

Once the doctrine has been taught in its purity, a teacher has an opportune time to extend an inspired invitation to apply the doctrine. These invitations can be a spiritual catalyst to motivate us. The Savior, after teaching doctrine, often extended inspired invitations, such as “Come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21) or “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We can encourage and train our youth to follow this pattern of the Savior.

Use varied teaching methods to teach the doctrine

A piano player who strikes only one note is far less effective than the one who plays symphonies and rhapsodies drawn from many keys stretched across the keyboard. Nonetheless, some youth and adults have the misconception that a lesson is successful solely because it is all discussion — robust and participatory as it may be. Many robust and participatory discussions occur in business and secular settings and have nothing to do with building faith.

A gospel discussion is successful when it increases faith, leads to a greater understanding of the doctrine being taught, and inspires the participants to live the gospel more fully. Discussion can be a great help in accomplishing these goals, but it is a means not an end.

A teacher uses technology to teach youth in a Sunday School class.
A teacher uses technology to teach youth in a Sunday School class. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc, Intellectual Reserve, Inc

The Savior was much more than a facilitator of gospel discussion. He used all the teaching skills and resources previously discussed. Likewise, we should be an instrument through whom the Holy Ghost can use varied teaching skills to teach doctrinal truths.

This can be done by powerful discourse and instruction, giving helpful background information, using resources and teaching aids, engaging in discussion and extending inspired invitations. All of these are teaching methods utilized by the Savior. We can help our youth strike the inspired balance among these teaching methods that best utilizes their personal talents and best promotes faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Positive feedback and constructive suggestions

Once a youth has taught, leaders have an opportunity to offer generous praise. President Spencer W. Kimball was once asked by a mission president how to motivate his missionaries. He responded, “Lavish them with honest praise.”

Once a lesson is completed, it is an appropriate time to discuss with the youth one or more ways they might improve their teaching skills. This might be done by asking the question, “What do you think you could have done better?” or by discussing the subject in some other sensitive way that does not embarrass or discourage the youth. This evaluation should be a constructive and positive experience.

Invitation to all parents, youth leaders and teachers

As we help our youth teach doctrine in the Savior’s way, we will strengthen their testimonies and enhance their spiritual skills as missionaries, parents, called teachers and leaders. We will make a substantial, enduring contribution to their lives. We invite all parents, as well as leaders and teachers of youth, to prayerfully and diligently consider how they might help each child or youth within their stewardship teach more like the Savior.