One of my duties back on the farm was to feed my fathers sheep. During the cold winter their survival was dependent on my supplying them with hay and grain we had stored from the summer.
Beneficial as that was, nothing could compare with the Spring, when I would open the gate and guide the sheep out onto the grassy slopes where they could forage for themselves. Instead of huddling in bunches waiting to be fed, they would move freely over the hillsides, searching for and feasting upon living food from its original source. By fall they were always fat and healthy.
Later I went into the mission field with a similar commission to feed my Father’s sheep. Again I experienced the joy of opening the gate by declaring that winter had passed, that the gospel had been restored, that new truth was springing out of the earth, and that by following the Good Shepherd, each child of God could personally feast upon that truth.
Important as it was for me to declare the message I had received from God, I soon realized how much more important it was for me to lead the investigator into a personal study of God’s word, where he could seek and learn and come to know within himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that the gospel is true.
Teaching and learning the gospel is like feeding the sheep. Performed properly, that process requires active participation, not only of the teacher but also of the learner and of the Spirit of God. The basic involvement of each is readily recognized in missionary work. The missionary declares the gospel message to an investigator and develops communication with him in a relationship like this:
The message declared is one that the missionary has received from God through his own diligent study, through prayer, and through involvement in the priesthood programs of the Church—like this:
When accompanied by the power of testimony, the missionary’s message touches the heart of the investigator, whose understanding and testimony of truth comes when he likewise develops a personal relationship with God, with the scriptures, and with the Church—like this:
• Seeks for and receives understanding and testimony of truth
• Becomes model of obedience
• Understands students and their needs
• Develops ability to teach plainly
• Organizes lesson approach
• Feels hunger and thirst for things of the spirit
• Seeks fulfillment
• Provides student stimulation as necessary
• Declares gospel from scriptures and words of living prophets
• Guides in personal study
• Checks for correct understanding
• Testifies, and encourages application
• Searches scriptures and words of living prophets for true principles and their implications
• Asks for and receives understanding and witness of truth and its meaning
• Knows what to do and chooses to obey
• Obeys and gains testimony
The great importance of developing this relationship between the investigator and God is emphasized when one considers the unstable position of one who joins the Church on the strength of the missionaries’ words alone. Without the understanding and witness that comes through the power of the Spirit, it is generally only a matter of time until he falls by the wayside.
As it is in the mission field, so it is in the classroom or in the home. Elder Mark E. Petersen has said, “As class instructors we are missionaries, and if we expect to convert our class members to the doctrines we teach, we must use the power of testimony just as do the missionaries in the field.” (Mark E. Petersen, Instructor, August 1970.)
By replacing the term missionary with teacher, and the term investigator with student, we can use the following diagram to identify some of the significant involvements which exist in each of the three basic teaching/learning relationships.
Most of us are called to teaching positions at one time or another. And we are all students as we attend priesthood quorum meetings, Sunday School, and Relief Society. In this first article of a whole series devoted to teaching and learning the gospel, Brother Theo McKean discusses the three-way relationship between the teacher, the student, and their Father in heaven.