Lesson 13: Helping Individuals Take Responsibility for Learning the Gospel

"Lesson 13: Helping Individuals Take Responsibility for Learning the Gospel," Part B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching—Invite Diligent Learning, ()


Each Individual’s Responsibility to Learn the Gospel

In a letter about studying the gospel, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Now let us come to … a conclusion that will have an important bearing on our eternal salvation. It is that each person must learn the doctrines of the gospel for himself. No one else can do it for him. Each person stands alone where gospel scholarship is concerned; each has access to the same scriptures and is entitled to the guidance of the same Holy Spirit; each must pay the price set by a Divine Providence if he is to gain the pearl of great price.

“The same principle governs both learning truth and living in harmony with its standards. No one can repent for and on behalf of another; no one can keep the commandments in the place and stead of another; no one can be saved in someone else’s name. And no one can gain a testimony or press forward in light and truth to eternal glory for anyone but himself. Both the knowledge of the truth and the blessings that come to those who conform to true principles are personal matters. And as a just God offers the same salvation to every soul who lives the same laws, so he offers the same understanding of his eternal truths to all who will pay the truth seeker’s price.

“The Church system for gaining gospel knowledge is as follows:

“a. The responsibility rests upon each person to gain a knowledge of the truth through his own efforts.

“b. Next, families should teach their own family members. Parents are commanded to bring up their children in light and truth. The home should be the chief teaching center in the life of a Latter-day Saint.

“c. To help families and individuals, the Church, as a service agency, provides many opportunities to teach and to learn. We are commanded to ‘teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom’ (D&C 88:77). This is done in sacrament meetings, in conferences and other meetings, by home teachers, in priesthood and auxiliary classes, through seminaries and institutes, and through the Church educational system” (“Finding Answers to Gospel Questions,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. [1994], 80).

The Teacher’s Role in Helping Individuals Learn the Gospel

Knowing that individuals are responsible to learn the gospel, we may ask, What is the role of teachers? It is to help individuals take responsibility for learning the gospel—to awaken in them the desire to study, understand, and live the gospel and to show them how to do so.

Sister Virginia H. Pearce, who served as first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, said:

“A teacher’s goal is greater than just delivering a lecture about truth. It is to invite the Spirit and use techniques that will enhance the possibility that the learner will discover the truth [and] be motivated to apply it. …

“… Imagine hundreds of thousands of classrooms every Sunday, each with a teacher who understands that ‘the learning has to be done by the pupil. Therefore it is the pupil who has to be put into action. When a teacher takes the spotlight, becomes the star of the show, does all the talking, and otherwise takes over all of the activity, it is almost certain that he is interfering with the learning of the class members’ [Asahel D. Woodruff, Teaching the Gospel (1962), 37].

“A skilled teacher doesn’t think, ‘What shall I do in class today?’ but asks, ‘What will my students do in class today?’; not, ‘What will I teach today?’ but rather, ‘How will I help my students discover what they need to know?’ [Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook for CES Teachers and Leaders (1994), 13]. The skilled teacher does not want students who leave the class talking about how magnificent and unusual the teacher is. This teacher wants students who leave talking about how magnificent the gospel is!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 13–14; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 12).

Teachers who understand their true responsibility respect the agency of each person they teach. They rejoice when those they teach study the scriptures on their own, discover gospel principles for themselves, and make insightful contributions to discussions. Teachers are most successful when learners diligently study and grow in the gospel and draw strength from God.

Excellent teachers do not take the credit for the learning and growth of those they teach. Like gardeners who plant and tend crops, they strive to create the best possible conditions for learning. Then they give thanks to God when they see the progress of those they teach. Paul wrote, “Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Encouraging Self-Reliance in Gospel Learning

The following suggestions can help you encourage others to take responsibility for learning the gospel:

  • Nurture your own enthusiasm for studying the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Your enthusiasm may inspire those you teach to follow your example.

  • As you teach, always draw attention to the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. This will help members appreciate how rich and meaningful the word of God is.

  • Ask questions that require learners to find answers in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. While it is sometimes good to ask learners what they think about certain subjects, it is often a better idea to ask them what the scriptures and the latter-day prophets teach.

  • Show learners how to use the study helps in the scriptures. The scriptures can seem overwhelming to some, especially those who are relatively inexperienced in the Church. You can help by teaching them how to use the footnotes, the Topical Guide, the Bible Dictionary, the excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation, and the maps (see “Teaching from the Scriptures,” pages 54–59, for specific ideas). Individuals who learn how to use these study helps become more confident in their ability to study the scriptures.

  • Give assignments that require study of the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Consider ending a lesson by asking a question or giving an assignment that requires those present to search the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Even little children can be given this kind of assignment. For example, after a lesson about prayer, you could ask children to read with their parents a scripture account or general conference talk about prayer.

  • Help learners understand that the people in the scriptures were real people who experienced trials and joy in their efforts to serve the Lord. The scriptures come alive as we remember that the prophets and other people in the scriptures experienced many of the same things we experience.

  • Show learners how to find answers to life’s challenges in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. For example, you could help them use the Topical Guide in the scriptures or the index in conference issues of the Church magazine to search for counsel on topics such as comfort, repentance, forgiveness, revelation, or prayer.

  • Openly encourage those you teach to study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. Some have never understood their responsibility to learn the gospel. Some have forgotten. A bishop remarked that he had once attended a Primary training meeting where the challenge was given to study the scriptures every day. As a direct result of that experience, he missed only one day of study during the next 13 years. He said that this study changed his life.

  • Bear testimony of the Savior as the center of all that the scriptures and the latter-day prophets teach. Be especially bold in bearing your testimony of the Savior. As those you teach see the Savior in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, their hunger to study will increase and their testimonies will be strengthened.

Additional Information

For more on helping individuals take responsibility for learning the gospel, see lesson 5 in the Teaching the Gospel course (pages 208–12).