Teaching with the Scriptures


Church leaders have urged us to rely more on the scriptures when we teach. Here is a sampling of members’ experiences in doing so.

So many anxieties come with teaching the gospel. We may feel we don’t know enough about a topic. We may not be sure what background to give. We may worry about keeping our classmates’ attention. We may want discussion but fear that the moment of silence after we ask a question will stretch to five minutes.

Not surprisingly, the best stress-reliever for gospel teachers is the scriptures. The standard works contain abundant insight, instruction, and advice on any problem we might face. They are attention-getters and a surefire source for finding answers to on-the-spot questions. Most important, they bring the Spirit strongly into any setting. That’s the conclusion many teachers have drawn from their experiences in using the scriptures in their teaching. A number of these Saints have shared their experiences with the Ensign.

Margaret Cannon of Provo, Utah, says: “For a long time, I avoided the scriptures in my teaching because I felt insecure with them. I couldn’t remember chapter and verse references, and I felt I might misinterpret what I presented. Now, thanks mostly to the new Topical Guide and to experience, I feel more confident. I’ve come to realize that God has not given us scripture to intimidate us. Rather, through the scriptures, he has given us treasures of wisdom and spirituality. I have found that scriptural stories give vivid examples and excellent role models for us to follow. Even very young children understand the story of Joseph in the Bible or Ammon in the Book of Mormon. I have also found that the scriptures instruct us clearly about what is right and wrong. The more I use the scriptures in my life, the easier it is to use them in my teaching. Recently, I spent a memorable evening with a group of young women sharing our favorite verses with each other. For me, the scriptures have become a God-given key to a more fulfilling life.”

Others, too, have learned what a powerful tool the scriptures can be, not only in teaching at church, but in any situation when only the divine voice can guide and comfort.

Using the Scriptures in the Home

  • “Our ward in southern Mississippi is near an air force training school. There are always several people who attend church for the few weeks in which they complete their course of study. Some are away from home for the first time; others have had to leave wives and children. They’re all quite lonely. After discussion with the bishop, my wife and I began to invite the military personnel to our home for family home evening. After a hymn and prayer, everyone takes a turn reading verses from a few chapters in the Book of Mormon. (We choose chapters that concern our Savior and his teachings.) Then we close with prayer, serve refreshments, and socialize. This program has turned into the highlight of our week. I’m always amazed at how successfully the scriptures prompt discussion and increase our depth of spirituality and insight.”—Michael Heninger, Biloxi, Mississippi

  • “We once took in a homeless friend of our fifteen-year-old son. The friend was not used to obeying rules and guidelines, so he balked when we grounded him and our son because of a curfew and trespassing violation for swimming in the city pool around midnight. They soon ran away. My husband saw them two days later in a nearby park and took them home. That evening, we sat down for a serious discussion. My husband began telling the boys about the dangers of making the streets a home and not being able to trust the people they met there. As he did so, our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter said, ‘Prayer, prayer,’ but we didn’t pay any attention. Then she started saying, ‘Book, book.’ Thinking she wanted attention, I told her to get a book. She came back with the Bible. We realized that she wanted us to have a prayer and use the scriptures. After offering a prayer, my husband opened the Bible, and our daughter pointed to a spot and said, ‘Here!’ The passage was Jeremiah 9:2–8 [Jer. 9:2–8], which is about habitations of deceit and not being able to trust others. We started to laugh. The tension broke, and we were able to communicate better, discussing the scripture and the situation until the problem was resolved.”—Peg Rungaitis, Thousand Oaks, California

  • “One family home evening has had a great impact on my family. We began by reading scriptures about seeking to bring forth Zion. (See 1 Ne. 13:37; D&C 6:6.) Then we studied the characteristics of a Zion people, listing their traits. (See D&C 82:19; D&C 97:21; Moses 7:18.) We learned of the peace that resulted from establishing Zion successfully. (See 4 Ne. 1:2–5, 13, 15–16.) We turned to an address on pride by President Benson and read this quote: ‘Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.’ (Ensign, May 1989, p. 7.) We identified problems of pride in our family and discussed the changes we could make. We then reread 1 Nephi 13:37, which promises the power of the Holy Ghost to those who seek to establish Zion. [1 Ne. 13:37] The children were unusually attentive and quiet during the lesson. Since then, in family prayers, we have prayed for a feeling of unity in our home, and we are more careful to avoid contention.”—Mary Susan Johnson, Sandy, Utah

  • “A few years ago, we decided to begin each day with a family devotional. Every morning, we read a passage from the scriptures, sing a hymn, and hold family prayer. All but the youngest take turns saying the prayer, and those who needn’t be ready early can return to bed after the prayer. We prayerfully select seven passages, each about a page and a half long, for the days of the week, which we reread every week. Mondays, for instance, were passages from Matthew 5. [Matt. 5] We also selected hymns related to the scriptural passages. Several months after we had started, one of the daily passages was quoted in sacrament meeting. We noticed that one daughter knew it almost verbatim. Every so often, after we have learned a scriptural passage thoroughly, we use a new one.”—Wayne and Thaylene Barrett, Provo, Utah

Using the Scriptures to Prepare for Teaching

  • “Every lesson in the Church manuals includes scriptural references. Yet my lesson preparation has usually been to note what the scriptures were about and go on to other parts of the lesson. Then I came to a more difficult lesson on Jesus Christ as Mediator. I understood this topic in a general way, but I didn’t know how to explain it, especially so that it would mean something to twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls. I turned for help to the front of my manual, where instruction for the adviser is located. There I read: ‘Use scriptures wisely. Through your preparation they can become a powerful teaching tool. … Prepare yourself through in-depth study, prayer, and meditation on those passages you expect [to teach] the girls.’ (Beehive Manual 1, 1983, p. vi.)

    “I’d been doing just the opposite—studying other parts of the lesson and neglecting the scriptures. So this time I changed my focus. I studied each verse, the cross-references, the Bible Dictionary, and a regular dictionary to better understand some of the words. Soon I found myself with an entirely new vision of what having Christ as our Mediator means. In teaching the lesson, I also found an important side benefit. Because of my increased understanding and newfound confidence, I was able to be more flexible during teaching, to listen to what my class needed or wanted to learn, and to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. That lesson became one of the most successful experiences the girls and I have had.—Nancy Beazel, Lancaster, California

  • “As Gospel Doctrine teacher, I accepted the challenge to seek the Spirit to learn and teach. Each week before my lesson, I kneel to supplicate Heavenly Father to help me teach with the Spirit. Then I spend some time every day reading scriptures related to the lesson, especially the ones referred to in the footnotes. I also pray to know specifically what to teach. Sometimes the answers may not come until Sunday morning, but they come. Then, before I leave the house, I kneel in prayer once more. I feel that I know what it’s like to be taught from on high as the Spirit has guided our class through this year’s study.”—Joyce Bartschi, Somerton, Arizona

Using the Scriptures at Church

  • “When I was a CTR teacher, I decided to give my class a hands-on experience with scripture study. Whenever I told a story from the scriptures, we would then read the same story from the standard works. As I read aloud slowly, the children would follow in their scriptures and I would explain words they didn’t know. Then I asked them to read the story later by themselves. I put stars by their names when they completed the assignment, and at the end of the year, I gave them their charts. Some were so excited when they read the story by themselves that they would come to my home to tell me.”—Eleanor Laver, Salt Lake City, Utah

  • “After hearing President Benson speak ‘of classes alive and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages’ (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 6), the ward Primary presidency decided to use the Book of Mormon much more in our meetings, including during Sharing Time. We challenged the children to bring copies of the Book of Mormon to mark. In Sharing Time, the older Primary children mark a scripture displayed on a chart in front, using red pencils in bags hanging from the teachers’ chairs. Each month they receive a short list of references from the standard works to support the theme. Every two or three weeks, we have a short “scripture-find,” using the scriptures they have recently marked. The children raise their hands when they find the scripture. Even the younger Primary children mark scriptures, though they take longer to do so. After telling a story, we present a key scripture which the teachers help the children find and mark.”—Gayle Becraft, Orem, Utah

  • “When the instructions for the Doctrine and Covenants curriculum came out, I decided to change my method of teaching to rely completely on the scriptures. I now use the Topical Guide to select sets of scriptures on two or three related themes, which I study and pray about during the week. In class, we read the scriptures on the first theme, discussing as we go along and relating our experiences to what we read. Then we move to the scriptures in the second theme, and finally the third, if there is time. If the Spirit prompts me to follow a new direction, though it seems out of place, we go that way. (Sometimes, someone has come to me after the lesson to tell me how much he or she benefited from the digression.) The preparation takes time, but my lessons have less fluff and more of the Spirit.”—Marivene Zohner, Idaho Falls, Idaho

  • “One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to teach was on abuse. Though the Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide had helpful insights, I felt inadequate. This was something a professional counselor should talk about, I thought. I had often testified to the quorum members that the scriptures were relevant to any topic, but I had hit a dead end—what did the scriptures have to say on abuse in the family? There were plenty of wonderful scriptures on love and patience, but was there anything on what to do in an abusive situation or how to resolve such a dilemma? That week I worried and prayed about how to approach the sensitive topic. By Sunday, I had prepared a few scriptures and quotes, but I had a sinking feeling as I went to church. As I partook of the sacrament, though, suddenly this scripture about the prophet Jacob came to mind: ‘Behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.’ (2 Ne. 2:1.)

    “I saw Lehi’s family in a whole new light—a family torn by physical and verbal abuse. Other relevant scriptures in 1 and 2 Nephi and Jacob flooded my mind. In class, we studied the tragic story of their family, a story full of woe, suffering, difficulty in repentance, love, patience, and strength. The ending to Lehi’s story is not a happy one, but it is one of hope. Many quorum members talked of their efforts to let love and kindness rule in their families, and some talked of their struggle to overcome the effects of abuse when they were children. We left that class resolved to love our spouses and children dearly, patiently, and with gratitude for their love.”—Darrell Stout, Kearns, Utah

  • “When I was a seminary student, my teacher asked us to put a red check in the Book of Mormon by any passage we felt was relevant. By the end of the year, my copy was filled with red checks. Since then, I have determined to rely on the scriptures in my teaching. The acid test came when I had an opportunity to teach religion classes at Brigham Young University for a short time. With the supervisor’s encouragement, I planned the curriculum with only the scriptures for texts. The students were given chapters to study, and I came prepared with questions tied to specific verses. We never ran out of interesting discussion material, and we felt the Spirit more than if I had used conventional lecture techniques. In the semester-ending teaching evaluations, the student comments consistently mentioned how they’d learned to rely on the scriptures for answers to modern-day problems.”—Willard Card, Orem, Utah

Words to Live By

Teaching and learning from the scriptures is a multifaceted experience. In ways small and great, they change lives and touch souls. Karen Haering, of Alta Loma, California, perhaps best sums up the effect the scriptures can have on those who approach them with an open heart and a questioning mind.

“Several months ago,” she wrote, “the bishopric asked my family to speak in sacrament meeting on succeeding as a family by living gospel principles. I worried and pondered for days about what I could say. You see, I converted to the Church as an adult. I had grown up with an alcoholic mother, and I never knew my father. But I knew that the main reason for my conversion was the wonderful things the gospel offered to help families, and my husband and I have dedicated ourselves to teaching the gospel in our home. As I reflected on what makes my family life now so complete, I realized that the answers I needed to teach were in the scriptures. I prayed that Heavenly Father would help me in reading the scriptures to learn and convey what all families could have. As I opened the standard works, a wonderful thing happened. I began to thirst to know more. I became unaware of anything around me except for the words that poured from the pages. I wrote down the passages and my impressions as fast as I could. When I later gave the talk directly from the scriptures, I saw many eyes fill with tears as mine did when the Spirit spoke to our hearts.”

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson