Speaking in Church

Russell T. Osguthorpe
Sunday School General President

Russell T. Osguthorpe

Why was his talk so effective? He taught pure doctrine and bore witness of the truths he was teaching.

While attending the Kinshasha stake conference in the D.R. Congo, I listened intently to a 15-year-old young man who had been asked to speak. He stood at the podium without notes, only his scriptures. He began by recounting the story of the Restoration of the Church in this, the “last dispensation of the fulness of times.” He recounted how the Prophet Joseph read the verse in James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. . .” . He recited the verse from memory. He then explained how Joseph went into the grove to pray and ask God which church he should join. Next, he said, “Brothers and sisters, I know that the Prophet Joseph saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the grove that day. I know that Joseph was a true prophet of God.”

This young Aaronic Priesthood holder then explained how the Book of Mormon came forth by the gift and power of God. He held up the Book of Mormon and bore a strong testimony of its truthfulness. He spoke freely from his heart. He spoke with clarity and conviction. He shared experiences from his own life showing how the truths in the Book of Mormon had blessed him. As he began to recognize that his assigned time was nearly complete, he said, “Brothers and sisters, I need to close, but before I close, I need to bear testimony one more time of the Prophet Joseph.” And he bore a strong testimony again of Joseph’s courage and faith. He continued, “I know my time is nearly done, but I can’t end without bearing testimony again of the Book of Mormon. This book is the word of God. I know it.” He then closed by bearing witness of today’s prophet, President Thomas S. Monson.

I leaned over to the mission president seated next to me and said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more powerful talk by a young man!” He agreed with me. Why was his talk so effective? He taught pure doctrine and bore witness of the truths he was teaching. He shared experiences from his own life that showed how the doctrines he was teaching had blessed him personally. He did not read his talk. He spoke from the heart. And the power of his own witness came through in every word he spoke.

When we are asked to speak in a Church meeting, we can all speak with the same power I felt from this young man in the D.R. Congo. We all have access to the same Spirit. We all have access to the same pure doctrine. We simply need to prepare in the right way and then rely on the Spirit as we speak. How can one prepare and give a talk with clarity and conviction? I offer the following suggestions:

  • Pray to understand the needs of those to whom you will speak.
  • Identify the key doctrine that will help meet those needs.
  • Select scriptures and words from living prophets that teach this doctrine.
  • Include your own experiences in living the doctrine.
  • Outline your talk.
  • Practice delivering your talk until you feel confident that you can speak from your heart without reading the talk.

The young man in Kinshasha knew his audience. Many were newly baptized members, and it was estimated that over 200 investigators were in attendance at the stake conference that day. What more appropriate topic for these new and soon-to-be converts than the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

His talk was centered on the doctrine of the Restoration, and because it was centered on pure doctrine, his talk was full of invitation to action and promised blessings. Invitations and blessings are inherent in every doctrine. The verse in James not only invited Joseph to pray for guidance, James’ words invite all of us to “ask of God” for the wisdom we lack. And when we ask in faith, the Lord will bless us with an answer to our deepest concern, just as He did with the Prophet Joseph. Doctrine, invitation, blessings—these should always be present when we teach the gospel from the pulpit, in a classroom, or in our home.

When should one prepare to give a talk? Should we wait until a member of the bishopric calls us and assigns us to speak in sacrament meeting? Here’s an alternative: We should always be preparing to teach the gospel. As a college student, Elder Bruce R. McConkie used to practice in his mind giving a talk as he walked from his home to the university campus. It was one of his methods of learning the gospel. Then he was always ready when called upon to speak.

While serving as an Area Seventy, I once accompanied Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to a stake conference. During the Saturday evening session, he spoke on the “loneliness” of the Savior. On that Saturday evening (Jan. 24), Elder Holland was preparing his talk for April general conference, “None Were with Him” (Liahona, May 2009).

While I was serving as a mission president, a missionary once asked me, “So when do you prepare for zone conference?” I had never thought much about it, but I explained that we began preparing for the next zone conference during the current one. I asked the missionary, “Where do you think we get our topics for zone conference?” He looked puzzled. I said, “You—the missionaries—tell us what you need, and then we go to the Lord for help in how to give it to you.” So as a mission president I was always looking to see what missionaries needed and then praying for help in knowing how to teach it to them. I was always preparing to teach.

When we study the scriptures, each time we receive inspiration—each time we see something new or understand something in a new way—we should prepare to teach that insight to someone else. “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). We might share it with a member of our family, or we might prepare a talk or a part of a lesson based on that insight. This is what Elder McConkie was doing while he was walking to class as a university student. He was preparing to teach, preparing to bear witness. It’s what Elder Holland was doing at that stake conference, months before he chose to use it in his general conference talk. And I’m convinced that the young man from Kinshasha had been preparing to give that talk long before he was assigned to do so.

The Lord will help us know what we should say to those we have been asked to teach. He helps missionaries. He helps His servants. And He will help each of us. The doctrine we teach will itself show us how to invite and promise blessings, as we focus on the scriptures and the words of living prophets. We will have no need to read our talk, because we will prepare in ways that help us rely on the Spirit rather than a written text. Our witness of the truthfulness of what we are teaching will be evident throughout the talk, just as it was with the young man in the D.R. Congo. The Lord will speak through us, because, as President Thomas S. Monson has taught, “when you are on the Lord’s errand, you are entitled to the Lord’s help.”

scriptures and magazine

Scriptures, words of living prophets, and an outline are elements in preparing and giving a talk with clarity and conviction.