Chapter 4: Teaching by the Spirit

Missionary Preparation Teacher Manual Religion 130, (2005), 25–33

The purpose of the missionary effort is to teach the message of the restored gospel in such a way as to allow the Holy Ghost to direct both the missionaries and those being taught. This chapter will help prepare future missionaries to teach by the Spirit by instructing them to understand how to invite the Spirit into their teaching as well as helping them learn and use basic teaching skills. Your effective efforts to teach and motivate students to become excellent teachers of the restored gospel will make them more capable instruments in the hands of the Lord.

Sister Missionaries teaching

Doctrines and Principles to Understand

  • Personal preparation and worthiness are necessary to teach by the Spirit.

  • Missionaries can invite the Holy Ghost into their teaching.

  • Missionaries should practice methods of teaching that edify.

Teaching Suggestions

Personal preparation and worthiness are necessary to teach by the Spirit.

Display a radio or a stringed musical instrument, such as a violin or guitar (or write “violin” or “guitar” on the board, or display a picture). Ask students to read the statement by Elder David B. Haight in the student manual (p. 32) and look for what the objects displayed have in common with being in tune with the Spirit.

  • How is the sound of a radio or musical instrument negatively affected if it is not in tune?

  • According to Alma 17:2–3 and Alma 8:10, what can missionaries do to be in “tune” with the Holy Ghost when they teach?

  • According to Doctrine and Covenants 1:33, why is it important that missionaries are worthy before they can teach with the Spirit?

  • Why is it vital that missionaries understand how to invite the Holy Ghost and recognize the voice of the Spirit? (see 2 Nephi 33:1).

Write the following chart on the board (and leave it throughout the class period):

What Invites the Spirit into Our Lives?

What Prevents the Spirit from Entering Our Lives?

Invite students to suggest answers to each of the questions above, and write their responses on the board.

You may also want to ask the students to recall a time when they recently felt the Holy Ghost:

  • Where were you and what was happening when you felt the Spirit?

  • What do you think invited the Holy Ghost in that moment?

Ask students to compare the preparation needed for an important exam with the preparation necessary for going on a mission.

  • What elements of both types of preparation are similar?

  • What kinds of spiritual preparations are needed for a missionary to invite the Spirit into his or her life? (If necessary, students may refer to the statements by President James E. Faust, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and Elder Henry B. Eyring in the student manual, 32–33.)

  • Does being in tune with the Holy Ghost guarantee that we will always be directed specifically in every aspect of our teaching? Why or why not? (You may want to refer to the counsel of Elder Dallin H. Oaks; see student manual, 33.)

Missionaries can invite the Holy Ghost into their teaching.

DVD Track 9 Show “A Man without Eloquence” from track 9 of the DVD (6:00). It portrays President Brigham Young sharing the story of his conversion, emphasizing that it is the Holy Ghost that convinces man. Or you could read the Brigham Young quotation in the student manual (p. 31).

Add the following heading to the board in the third column of the previously used chart:

What Invites the Spirit into Our Teaching?

Have students suggest what they can do to invite the Spirit into their teaching.

  • Why is the Spirit important in teaching the restored gospel?

Have students read President Hinckley’s counsel on how to teach with the Spirit (see student manual, 33).

  • What do you feel it means for missionaries to speak out of their hearts rather than out of their books?

Ask for a volunteer to take two or three minutes to teach the class “from the heart” the importance of the Lord’s Church in his or her life.

Share the following counsel from President Ezra Taft Benson, and have students notice why he refers to the Holy Ghost as the most important ingredient in teaching the restored gospel:

“Carry the right message, and then teach with the Spirit. The Spirit is the single most important ingredient in this work. Through the Spirit, the individuals and families you teach will know of your love and concern for them and will also know of the truthfulness of your message and will have a desire to follow it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 62; or Ensign, May 1987, 51).

Read the following quotation:

“A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 178).

Missionaries frequently bear testimony. The Holy Ghost can witness the truth of the restored gospel to an investigator as a missionary bears testimony.

  • How might bearing testimony invite the Spirit into your teaching?

Have the students read the account from President Boyd K. Packer and the statement from True to the Faith in the student manual (p. 34).

  • According to President Packer and True to the Faith, what are the critical elements of a testimony?

  • What other things might be appropriate to share in a testimony?

Explain that although many investigators are initially drawn to the Church by friends, a program of the Church (such as family home evening), or a doctrine (such as salvation of little children), it is often the power of the Holy Ghost working through a member or a missionary’s testimony that convinces them of the truthfulness of the message. Always remember that the Holy Ghost is the ultimate converter. The Spirit bears witness when an honest testimony is borne by a sincere, faithful missionary.

Read and discuss with students the final two statements by President Gordon B. Hinckley in the student manual (p. 34).

  • According to President Hinckley, what power is there in bearing testimony?

  • What can a testimony turn people toward? (Coming to Christ by accepting the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.)

Ask students to divide into pairs. Have them each select one of the following topics, ponder their feelings about that topic, and then take two or three minutes to thoughtfully share their feelings with each other about the topic they have selected. Remind them that sincere testimony is an important part of teaching with the Spirit.

Conclude this section of the lesson by asking if anyone would like to share their testimony with the class, or share your testimony.

Missionaries should practice methods of teaching that edify.

The following teaching suggestions offer ways to introduce students to a few teaching methods and briefly practice these skills. It is imperative that missionaries learn to teach with enthusiasm, confidence, and clarity if they are to teach with the Holy Ghost.

Note: This teaching suggestion was referred to at the beginning of chapter 3. Invite the students previously assigned to come to the front of the class.

Tell the class that you have asked two students to demonstrate how missionaries might teach a particular principle. Invite one or two additional students to act as investigators. Ask the class to observe and be prepared to discuss the missionaries’ overall teaching approach. Suggest they take notes to discuss effective methods the missionaries used as well as ways the teaching could be improved. Allow the teaching to commence, following it with class evaluation and feedback. Be sure to include the observations of the “investigators.” If needed, you may use the following questions and suggestions to help evaluate the teaching:

  • What is your reaction to their teaching approach?

  • List on the board methods or skills they used that were helpful to their teaching. Help students see that strategies like good questions, paying attention to a companion while he or she is speaking, and careful listening to the investigator’s questions and comments are all methods to be observed and discussed.

  • What habits or behaviors during teaching might distract an investigator from the Spirit and importance of the message?

  • In what ways do good teaching skills invite the Spirit?

Continue to add to the list on the board under the heading “What Invites the Spirit into Our Teaching?”

Write the following chart on the board, leaving off the skills listed in parentheses.

The Savior used edifying teaching methods that we can emulate.


Teaching Skill or Method

D&C 45:3–5

(Pray on behalf of others.)

Matthew 16:15–17; Luke 10:26–27

(Ask questions and listen to responses.)

Matthew 17:20; Luke 5:4–10

(Use pictures and objects.)

Matthew 26:30

(Use music.)

Luke 10:25–37; 15:11–32

(Share stories and examples.)

Luke 24:27

(Use the scriptures.)

John 10:17–18, 27

(Bear testimony; teach the Atonement.)

Invite students to take turns reading one of the scriptures aloud. Then invite the class to suggest a method the Savior used when teaching that they could also use. Write their answer on the board. Invite them to add any other scriptural examples from the life of the Savior that they may think of.

  • Why do you think following the Savior’s examples of teaching would help you learn to teach with the Spirit?

To be effective teachers, missionaries should not use words and phrases that are unfamiliar to their investigators. When teachers use unfamiliar words without explaining their meaning, the likelihood of the investigator understanding and being edified is lessened. Read the following hypothetical case study to the class:

After recently meeting the missionaries, the Miller family accepts an invitation to attend church on Sunday. In sacrament meeting, the Millers hear announcements regarding the stake priesthood meeting, the ward Relief Society enrichment activity, and Mutual. Mr. and Mrs. Miller attend a Sunday School class with the missionaries. The teacher uses words and phrases like dispensation, mortal probation, spirit world, and telestial.

Ask students: How could the missionaries have prepared the Millers for their first experience at a church meeting?

Explain that Church members often use many words that do not have familiar meanings to investigators. For example, saying the words ward building to Latter-day Saints would refer to a particular church building, but to those of other faiths it may conjure up ideas of a hospital or other institution. Sometimes even the same words used in two different religions may have very different meanings.

Many terms pose problems of understanding for those not familiar with our faith. Write the following words on the board as examples:

  • Apostasy

  • Apostle

  • Ordinances of salvation

  • Priesthood

  • Stake

  • Stake center

  • Testimony

  • Ward or branch

Invite students to develop some simple definitions for each of these words and write them on the board. Sample definitions might include the following:

Apostasy. When people turn away from God and His teachings; a falling away from the truth.

Ordinances of salvation. Sacred ceremonies or rituals that have spiritual meanings.

Priesthood. God’s authority to act in His name; God’s authority that is shared with faithful men who are members of His Church.

Ward or branch. A group of Church members who live in a particular area and worship together.

Discuss why it would be important for a missionary to define such words for investigators. Ask students to add several additional words to their list that investigators may not know but would hear during missionary lessons. Have the class offer simple definitions for each of the words they add. If they don’t suggest the following words, you may wish to add them to their list and ask for simple definitions: Bible, bishop, endure to the end, gift of the Holy Ghost, Primary, Relief Society, restoration, sacrament, stake, temptation, testimony.

Missionaries should define words or phrases for investigators as they come up during teaching and in preparation for attending a Church meeting. Missionaries could inform class instructors before class that investigators are present so the teachers can be sensitive in how they speak. Many wards and branches offer a Gospel Principles class that is appropriate for less-active members or those not of our faith.

Draw a large question mark on the board. Invite students to discuss why questions are vital to good teaching. If a student does not discuss the following idea, you may wish to read it to the class:

“Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, often asked questions to encourage people to ponder and apply the principles He taught. … His questions prompted thought, soul-searching, and commitment” (Teaching, No Greater Call [1999], 68).

Emphasize that not all questions serve the same purpose. Discuss different kinds of questions missionaries use, and help students recognize their purpose and important guidelines for asking questions. The following ideas on questions may assist your class discussion.

Yes” and “no” questions. Questions that can be answered with a yes or no would be used to obtain commitments or determine if someone understands or agrees or disagrees with what you have taught. Invite students to think of an example of a commitment question that a missionary would use.

Ask questions that motivate thinking and invite a response. Write the words what, how, and why on the board. Ask students how these kinds of questions are different from yes/no questions. (Be sure students understand that questions beginning with what, how, or why encourage learners to think more deeply about the meaning of gospel principles and verses of scripture. They require more than a yes or no answer. Usually they have more than one right answer.) Invite class members to suggest one or two questions using what, how, or why that a missionary could use while teaching the restored gospel. Here are some examples:

  • What did you learn from the account of the First Vision?

  • How would you describe faith?

  • Why do you think Heavenly Father caused us to forget what it was like living with Him before we came to earth?

Write their suggested questions on the board. Ask why these kinds of questions would be helpful for a missionary to ask an investigator. Be sure students understand that these kinds of questions are most valuable when they help investigators apply gospel principles in their lives.

Allow time for thinking before expecting a response. Ask students a series of three or four questions, giving them only two or three seconds after each question before you answer the question. Then ask what made it difficult to answer your questions.

  • Why do investigators need time to think about most questions before answering them?

  • In a teaching situation, why do you think some missionaries might not be patient enough to let those they teach think about the question before answering it?

  • What might be the problem if you give adequate time for a response and those you are teaching still do not provide an answer? (If there is no response, the question may not have been clear and the missionary may need to rephrase it.)

Listen to investigators’ answers. Ask students if they have ever given an answer to a question only to have the person who asked it ignore their answer.

  • How does having your answer ignored or disregarded influence your willingness to answer other questions?

Missionaries can make sure they understand answers by asking follow-up questions, such as, “Can you give me an example of what you mean?” or, “What do you mean by that?” Questions can also be redirected to others participating in the missionary lessons to learn how they are feeling about what you are teaching.

Practice. You may wish to give students a few minutes to practice these questioning skills. Have them imagine that as missionaries they have just taught the law of tithing. Have each student write two or three simple gospel questions using the words what, why, or how. Make sure at least one of these questions asks a learner to apply a gospel principle. Then have the students form groups of two or three and share their questions with each other. Encourage them to allow time to think about the question before expecting an answer and to discuss the kind of follow-up question they could ask.

Request that each group evaluate the questions. Have them note which of the questions would motivate an investigator to think the most and which questions would require the most verbal response. Which questions could be improved, and how should they be rephrased to make them better?

In addition to asking questions, what other ways can you use to tell if someone you are teaching understands? Have students read President Boyd K. Packer’s advice in the student manual (p. 36) regarding watching the eyes of learners. Then discuss the following questions:

  • What can someone’s eyes, facial expressions, or body language tell you about how they might be accepting what you are teaching?

  • Why is it just as important to pay attention to the nonverbal reactions as it is to words spoken by those you are teaching?

Share the following teaching situations, and invite students to (1) identify the potential problem, (2) discuss how a missionary sought to overcome it, and (3) determine what other solutions could be used. (Possible problems and resolutions are identified in parentheses.) Depending on your class size, you may wish to have the class discuss these in groups:

  • After meeting Mr. Lopez in the city park and showing him the Book of Mormon, the missionaries hand him a copy and explain that there is a unique promise in the Book of Mormon. “Please read what Moroni said in Moroni 10:3–5,” Elder Arroyo asked. His companion added, “Moroni was a prophet in ancient America. His words are found on page 529 in this copy of the Book of Mormon.” (Mr. Lopez may not know who Moroni is nor where to find the scripture. Missionaries can assist those they teach by giving a brief, simple background and offering page numbers. Mr. Lopez may also have difficulty reading. The elders could ask him if he feels comfortable reading aloud. They might offer to read it to him while he follows along in his copy.)

  • The sister missionaries teach Mrs. Young how to pray. They invite her to offer a prayer, but she politely refuses, explaining that she is not yet comfortable praying in this new manner. She has previously offered memorized prayers, and praying from her heart is such a different idea that it will take some getting used to. When Sister Ramos volunteers to offer a closing prayer on the missionary lesson, she prays for several minutes, expressing many personal thoughts and feelings and using many phrases that Church members are familiar with. (When teaching a person to pray, we should offer brief prayers and closely follow the prayer steps taught to the investigator.)

  • The Cutler family has several young children. The missionaries wish to teach several gospel principles that usually take almost an hour to discuss. They decide to break up the lessons, preferring to teach them over a few visits rather than all at once. They also bring pictures and an object to help illustrate the principles they are discussing. (Be sensitive to time constraints. Adjust your teaching to recognize the needs of those you are teaching. If there are young children—and even adults—simple pictures and objects can often add to the learner’s understanding and attention span.)

  • While Elder Gomez is explaining that we go to the spirit world when we die, his companion, Elder Johnson, notices a puzzled look on the face of one of the teenage children. (Companions should be watching and be sensitive to concerns or comprehension of those being taught. When not speaking, maintain eye contact to sense when investigators need additional explanation or testimony. Offer such help as required. Pray for your companion.)

Suggested Assignments for Students

  • Interview one or two of the most effective gospel teachers you know. Ask them to share what has helped them learn to teach by the Spirit. Invite them to share their thoughts on how to teach and on how to invite the Spirit into teaching. Take notes during your interview.