When teaching and when helping people learn how to teach in the Church, three elements are essential: teach doctrine, invite to action, and promise blessings, say the members of the general Sunday School presidency of the Church.
That message was conveyed in auxiliary training sessions for Sunday School leaders held in conjunction with and prior to the recent general conference of the Church.
"If you look at some of the classes you attend, there are times when you can't identify the doctrine being taught," observed Russell T. Osguthorpe, Sunday School general president, at the March 30 session in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City. "Gospel learning and teaching means teaching the doctrines of the kingdom. Every time, we teach key doctrine, we invite to action, and we promise blessings."
Brother Osguthorpe and his counselors in the presidency focused in turn on each of these elements. Here are summaries of their comments:
Teach Key Doctrine
Matthew O. Richardson, second counselor in the presidency, cited Doctrine and Covenants 88, saying it was intended to bring about peace among the early members of the Church.
"As a matter of fact the Prophet Joseph called section 88 'the olive leaf,'" Brother Richardson noted. "I invite you to read section 88 with new eyes; read it with your teaching eyes, and find ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ has invited us to use teaching to find peace in our lives."
He referred to verse 77 in that section, the commandment "to teach one another the doctrines of the kingdom."
"Not simply preach and not simply teach, not get together and share," he commented regarding the verse, "but in this aspect of improving learning and teaching that will bring peace to our souls. And especially during troubled times we are commanded to teach the doctrines of the kingdom."
For an explanation of what the doctrine is, Brother Richardson referred to a statement from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve that doctrine refers to "the eternal, unchanging, and simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Brother Richardson expressed the hope that teaching of doctrine would never be "burdened down with being so unrealistic or overwhelming to individuals," but rather, be founded upon truths that are the simple elements of the gospel of Christ.
Such truths answer the "why" questions of life, he said, citing Elder Bednar.
"I will forever be grateful," Brother Richardson said, "to those individuals who, by their leadership and their teaching, stayed true to the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
As an example he told of his father, a convert to the Church who served for over 10 years as Scoutmaster before he was baptized. "He went through 23 sets of missionaries during those 10 years. But the element that went through and truly helped him was not simply the association, but it was the doctrinal association that came from those leaders who stuck to the simple truths that helped him answer the 'why' questions of his life."
Displaying an animated cut-away illustration of a key going into a lock and fitting the sequential elements of that lock, Brother Richardson said, "Our job is to turn the lock, and while it may appear that everyone has the same lock on their hearts, on their lives, etc., that is not the case. We must find the expedient, the key, doctrines that will allow that lock to be turned."
He encouraged the Sunday School leaders to invite others to prepare early. "As we prepare early, the Holy Ghost can guide and direct us not simply to understand the breadth of the doctrines, and even the depth of the doctrines, but to work upon us to be able to pick out the essential or key doctrines."
As an example, he said a gospel doctrine lesson might cover the parable of the good Samaritan and the parable of the unmerciful servant. In a particular class, "the sanctity of the marriage relationship might stand out as we percolate upon these elements of our preparation," he said, "and then we may choose to teach the parable of the unmerciful servant, which teaches we must learn to forgive for small and large things, and that may be the most relevant for my gospel doctrine class, dealing with married individuals that need to overcome and learn."
Invite to Action
David M. McConkie, first counselor in the presidency, shared a parable of a renowned chef who invited guests to his home for a special evening. He prepared an elaborate meal for the occasion. On the appointed night, he invited his guests to tour his kitchen, where they could smell the wonderful aromas from the meal he had prepared. He talked to them about the process of preparation. When the tour was completed, he thanked the guests for coming and escorted them out of the door of his home.
"As teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our classes, we're often like that chef," Brother McConkie said. "We will prepare in the minutest detail in our lesson. ... But sometimes we forget to invite them to partake and to internalize those things we have taught."
Occasionally, after a teacher has presented a well-prepared lesson, the student is left to wonder, "What now for me?" Brother McConkie said.
"When the Savior was on the earth, He invited all to come unto Him," he said. "As teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ we are agents of the Lord. We represent the Lord Jesus Christ; we are on His errand. And our ultimate responsibility as gospel teachers is to invite our students to come unto Christ, to be like Him, to live as He lived, and to act as He acted. We do this each week as we teach key doctrines."
Thereafter, a teacher is to invite the students to act, to do something with what they have been taught, he said. "Then, they can leave that class with some goals in mind. That next week, as you meet with them as a teacher, you can even refer to what they've been invited to do and maybe even ask some of your students to share their experience of the past week as they accepted your invitation as a teacher."
He asked, "Can you imagine the Savior teaching and not inviting someone to do something different with that message He brought to them?"
He added, "We teach and we learn line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. As we do that, the strength and testimony of our students and us as teachers will grow and develop. We will become closer to the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ."
Brother Osguthorpe said he has heard teachers express discomfort at inviting students to action or promising blessings; they reason that it seems presumptuous to do so since they are not General Authorities.
“My answer to that is if you look at the doctrines as they are explained in the scriptures, the invitation to action and the promised blessings are always there with the doctrine, because when the Lord teaches doctrine, He always invites, and He always promises blessings."
He cited as examples the teachings on tithing and the Word of Wisdom. In the scriptures, these doctrines carry promises that, in the case of tithing, the windows of heaven would be opened and blessings would be poured out and, in the case of the Word of Wisdom, the obedient would run and not be weary and walk and not faint—and they would receive hidden treasures and protection from the destroying angel.
"So the Lord is promising the blessings," Brother Osguthorpe said. "We as teachers are helping people recognize the blessing."
He said that when he was a mission president, he told the missionaries under his charge that every day they should recognize the hand of the Lord in their lives. Individuals who do so will see His blessings come to them, he said.
Recognizing promised blessings is gospel learning, a type of learning with which the world at large is unfamiliar, Brother Osguthorpe said. "Promised blessings are unique to gospel teaching, and this is what we are about in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helping people take invitations, respond to these invitations, change something in their lives, and then receive the promised blessing that is attached to that doctrine." firstname.lastname@example.org