Imagine that you are sitting in an elders quorum, high priests group, or Relief Society meeting. The teacher is just beginning a “Teachings for Our Time” lesson when President Gordon B. Hinckley walks into the room and takes a seat. Everyone turns and looks at the prophet, not knowing what to say. President Hinckley breaks the silence. He excuses himself for being a few minutes late and asks if he might share some counsel with the members in attendance.
Now imagine that the teacher nods in President Hinckley’s direction, smiles, and goes on with his or her lesson. A few members raise their hands and share lengthy comments and personal experiences—without any mention of the prophet sitting in their midst.
About 40 minutes later, you can bear it no longer. You raise your hand. When the teacher calls on you, you say, “Um, I wonder … could we hear from President Hinckley now?”
The teacher looks at the clock. “Oh!” he or she exclaims. “I had so much prepared. It seems like we never have enough time to cover it all. Well, uh … let me conclude, and then we’ll hear a few words from President Hinckley.”
After President Hinckley says a few words, the teacher thanks everyone for participating. Someone says a prayer, and everyone files out of the room.
This is an extreme example, of course. If President Hinckley ever visits your elders quorum, high priests group, or Relief Society, the teacher will surely give him all the time he needs. But what happens when we are assigned to discuss a general conference address by President Hinckley or the teachings of President Wilford Woodruff? Do we give the words of the prophets the attention they deserve? Do we study each talk or chapter in preparation for our Sunday lesson? Do we allow ourselves to be taught by latter-day prophets?
A second example:
Imagine that a few weeks later, you attend another meeting with your elders quorum (or high priests group or Relief Society). The quorum president makes a few announcements and turns the time over to a teacher. Then the teacher walks to the front of the room and says, “Today’s lesson is chapter 17 in the Wilford Woodruff book.” He opens the book to the first page of the chapter and starts reading.
As the teacher reads about the blessings we can receive in the temple, someone in front of you raises his hand. It’s Brother González, who was sealed to his wife and children a few months ago. After keeping his hand in the air without acknowledgment from the teacher, Brother González finally gives up. The teacher continues reading.
A few pages later the teacher begins reading a statement that really inspired you when you studied the chapter last night. You raise your hand, only to lower it a minute later. The teacher reads on as your heart burns with a testimony that you have not been permitted to share.
You look around at your brethren in the quorum. Some are reading along. Others are staring at the floor, glancing at their watches periodically. A few are struggling to stay awake. No one raises his hand.
By the time the teacher has read the entire chapter, his time is almost up. He bears his testimony and concludes the lesson a little bit earlier than he needs to. Someone says a prayer, and everyone files out of the room.
Another extreme example? Certainly. Most teachers are anxious to hear the testimonies and experiences of quorum and class members. But as a Church of teachers and learners, we could probably improve in our efforts to encourage and participate in meaningful discussion.
Although these examples seem unlikely and may even sound a bit ridiculous, they highlight two common challenges with teaching and learning in the Church: Sometimes we are so eager to conduct a good class discussion that we stray from Church-produced resources. On the other hand, we are sometimes so intent on following the prepared curriculum that we shut off valuable discussion.
When we have opportunities to teach, how can we be true to the Church’s curriculum and encourage good discussion? I have pondered this question, desiring to teach the truth by the power of the Spirit and receive the truth by that same power (see D&C 50:17–22). While I don’t have all the answers, I have rediscovered two scripture passages that have helped me.
The Lord declared:
“These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
“For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
“Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words” (D&C 18:34–36).
This counsel refers to the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, but it also applies to the teachings we discuss in Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings—and in all our Sunday meetings. As we read the words of latter-day prophets to one another, we read the words of the Lord (see D&C 1:38).
I believe that if we approach teaching and learning in the right way, every one of us will return home from church with a testimony that we have heard the Lord’s voice. Isn’t that our hope when we share the gospel with one another? When a lesson is over, we don’t want people to marvel at what we have said; we hope they will rejoice in the word of the Lord.
Still, we don’t gather every Sunday merely to read to one another. The Lord taught,
“Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (D&C 88:122).
We need one another’s strength, and class discussions provide a great opportunity to share that strength. I love to see a teacher act as an instrument of the Lord, testifying of truths he or she has learned during lesson preparation. And my testimony grows as I hear the testimonies of others. My experience is enriched when others share their experiences. I am grateful for insightful, honest, faith-promoting discussions at church.
Can we apply Doctrine and Covenants 18:34–36 and 88:122 in the same lesson? I believe we can—if we follow one simple rule: begin with Doctrine and Covenants 18:34–36. Begin by reading the teachings of the prophets. Establish the word of the Lord as the foundation for discussion, and then build on that foundation by following the principle in Doctrine and Covenants 88:122.
This rule is so simple that it almost doesn’t need to be said. However, it can have a profound effect on the way we approach teaching and learning in the Church. For specific ideas on how teachers and learners can follow this rule, we can consult the following Church-produced resources:
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, introduction. These pages include help for individual study and lesson preparation. They outline a pattern teachers can follow as they prepare lessons from the book.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, chapter 6. This chapter, titled “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” contains inspiring counsel on what we should do when we gather to learn the gospel.
Instructions for “Teachings for Our Time,” found in the final pages of each general conference issue of the Liahona and Ensign. These instructions outline a simple process for preparing a “Teachings for Our Time” lesson.
One more example. This one really happened.
I remember sitting in my elders quorum meeting several years ago, enjoying a lesson based on “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” At one point in the lesson a member of the quorum read part of the proclamation. The instructor was about to move forward with the lesson when another quorum member raised his hand. “I have a question,” he said. Quoting a phrase that had just been read, he asked, “How can we teach our children ‘to love and serve one another’?” The expression on his face and the sound of his voice revealed that this was more than just a question—it was a plea for help. I was grateful that he asked because he expressed a plea that was in my heart as well.
This heartfelt question changed the pace of the lesson. Our teacher put his lesson plan aside temporarily. Quorum members paused to think, and some shared ideas and experiences in response to their friend’s question. Then the teacher shared an insight of his own and continued with the lesson, focusing on other truths in the proclamation. The discussion lasted only a few minutes, but it continues to influence my family and me.
Doctrine and Covenants 18:34–36 and 88:122 came together in that quorum meeting. The process began with a teacher who was humble and wise enough to invite us to read the words of the prophets. It continued when a quorum member had the courage to ask a question—to ask for help. Then, as different men with different backgrounds spoke one at a time, “all [were] edified of all.” I testify that by the power of the Holy Ghost, I heard the Lord’s voice that day—first through His prophets and second through my neighbors and friends. And I went home knowing the word of the Lord better than I had the day before.