Teach, Teach, Teach

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Randy Bott

As a MISSIONARY, you are sent forth for one purpose—to teach. How and what to teach will be a challenge for your entire mission. Let's start by broadening your vision of whom you are to teach. You might say you are to teach nonmembers the six standard discussions. True, but it hardly describes the scope of your stewardship. Let's consider some other areas of responsibility

First, you are under divine command to teach yourself: Almost a year before the Church was formally organized in this dispensation, Hyrum Smith felt a great urge to share the gospel with others. The Lord gave Hyrum's younger brother, Joseph, a revelation for Hyrum, which reads:

Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.

But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men,... until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto (D&C 11:21-22).

In teaching yourself, you will discover quickly the holes in your understanding of the gospel. If you were so unwise as to waste your youth (and so many of us did!), then you will have to redouble your efforts to catch up. On the day I arrived in Samoa for my first mission, the elders who met the plane took me to visit an old Catholic priest. I did not know they did this with all new missionaries. After the introductions were over, this good man kindly (sometimes not so kindly) beat me about the head and shoulders with my own doctrine. He knew much more about what I believed and where it was found in the scriptures than I did. I felt like a total failure. Had there been a plane heading back to the United States, I probably would have been on it. But since there was only a weekly flight to Hawaii, I was stuck. So I determined at that time never again to be embarrassed like that.

I started an intensive study program that has continued for the twenty-nine years since then and will likely continue until death halts my earthly study. When you are not preaching, spend your time studying the gospel. Study the scriptures ("my word which hath gone forth") and the teachings of the latter-day prophets ("my word which shall come forth"). Once you master the scriptures and the teachings of the latter-day prophets, you can broaden your study to other sources—but this will likely not happen while you are in the mission.

Next, you have a responsibility to teach your companion. As a "greeny," you may think your trainer has the sole responsibility to teach you. In many things that will be true. He or she has served longer, has more experience, and is therefore more qualified to teach you the practical points of effective missionary work. But no trainers have perfected themselves to the point that they have no need to continue learning. Perhaps they come from a less-active family and have little background in the gospel or how to live successfully in a family. If you have expertise in areas where your trainer is lacking, don't be shy about sharing your understanding with him or her.

After you've been in the mission awhile, you'll discover that there are no perfect missionaries. Every time you get a chance to share the truths you take as commonplace, the Spirit will lift you up. Be careful not to come across as a know-it-all. No one likes to be talked down to or treated like a little kid. In Doctrine and Covenants 43:8 the Lord commands, "I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given."

The discussions provide golden opportunities to share your insight without the tone of preachiness. Sometimes, waiting until your advice is sought is infinitely more effective than trying to interject your thoughts when they arenot welcomed. Be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. Believe it or not, you are also responsible to teach the members. Many of them are eager to do member-missionary work, but they just don't know how. It is a natural reaction to become frustrated at their lack of know-how. But remember that a natural reaction is not necessarily correct. "The natural man is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19). Come down off your high horse and assume that people are basically good and want to do what their Heavenly- Father expects of them. Whenever members foul up, it is to your advantage to give them the benefit of a doubt. Step back, as philosophers do, and ask, "Is there a prior question?" In plain English that means, "Is there something even more basic that I need to explain so they can successfully do what I am asking them to do?"

If you train your mind to ask "prior questions," you will almost always find some point you need to teach or reteach. Be very careful not to come across as the hypocritically pious, more-holy-than-thou missionary who passes outtidbits of celestial counsel. Be humble and sincere in your approach. People respond warmly when they perceive that you are genuinely interested and are trying to help. They will shut you off in a minute if they feel you are condescending or insincere in your attempts to help. You should never tire of trying to help others do better. Remember, your Heavenly Father (whom you represent) did not give up on you, even though as you look back on your youth, you may not understand why he didn't!

Included in the member group you are to teach are priesthood leaders and other officers. The bishop, a very busy man, wants to be totally successful. The fact that he doesn't devote every meeting to missionary work does not mean he is not interested. He may not know how to integrate missionary work into his regular schedule. Here is where you can offer to help. Don't demand time in the priesthood executive committee (PEC) meeting or the ward correlation council (WCC). Suggest to the bishop that you have some ideas you would like to share with the leaders of the ward at a convenient time. You might be surprised how receptive the bishop is to your teaching.

As you work with the ward mission leader, you may be tempted to criticize him because "he's a returned missionary and should know better!" He may have been back ten years and is struggling to keep his family fed, clothed, and housed. The pressures of his postmission experience may have left very little time to be involved in missionary- related activities. He may even doubt his effectiveness as a missionary. Build him up; make him look good; give him ideas on how to involve the entire ward. Do not become his adversary. If he becomes your enemy, you can cancel your plans for nightly dinner appointments, forget getting members to go on companion exchanges, commonly called splits, with you and your companion, and dismiss the idea of member referrals. Without the assistance of the ward mission leader, you will be at best only marginally successful.

Even if you baptized a dozen people without the ward mission leader's help, who knows how many other people you might have been able to reach with his help. You may use the same rationale with the Relief Society president, the Young Men president, and the elders quorum president—all key people who can make or break your efforts in the ward. Even though missionaries were there years before you arrived, you may still have a massive teaching job before the ward functions the way the Lord intended. Nonmembers or prospective members constitute what you may have viewed as your primary teaching role. There are generally thousands of them in your area. The problem is finding those who are prepared to be taught. How can you recognize them? The Lord gives the answer in Doctrine and Covenants 35:12: "There are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation." Look for those who go quietly about doing good. The news media floods us with stories of murder, gang violence, and scams. Contrary to common belief, criminals do not constitute a majority of the population. I prefer to believe the Lord's promise, "There are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it" (D&C 123-12).

If you can learn to look at your fellow sojourners on earth the way the Lord does, your approach to them will be entirely different. A familiar scripture suggests that we "remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God" (D&C 18:10). How great is that worth? This question helps me to think in terms of potential. How much money would it take to "buy" God? You may think this is a ridiculous question. But remember, every person on earth has the potential to become like our Heavenly Father. For you to say, "0h, that person is a waste of our time" is to say that the Savior's atonement was in vain. Remember again, "The Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him" (D8~C 18:11). Some investigators are presently more prepared to receive the gospel than others. Learn to use your time most productively. When you are not formally teaching a discussion, teach, teach, teach whomever will listen. The great condemnation given by the Lord to the missionaries is this: "With some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them. And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have" (D&C 60:2-3). I don't know of any missionaries who died from teaching too many people. However, some thought they would die of boredom because they did not share their knowledge of the gospel with others. Alma, in trying to prepare his sons for missionary work, taught Shiblon, "Use boldness, but not overbearance" (Alma 38:12). In our zeal to make rapid progress, we sometimes fail to respect others' agency. Not every nonmember will accept the gospel. Not every member or leader will implement your teachings and become more effective in member-missionary work. Not all of your companions and fellow missionaries will heed your counsel and become more Christlike. Many will not—but some will.

What should you teach? The Lord is firm and clear in his directions: "And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel" (D&C 42:12). Why doesn't he mention the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price? The answer is that they weren't yet published when the revelation was given.

His unmistakable counsel is to teach "my gospel" from the scriptures. You are not sent forth to teach your personal ideas. You must teach the doctrine from the scriptures or from Latter-day prophets or not teach at all. The Lord put that restriction in place when he said, "Let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith" (D&C 52:9). The Lord counseled the early brethren who wanted to teach their own ideas, "They shall give heed to that which is written, and pretend to no other revelation" (D&C 32:4).

The Lord, through the proper channels, has provided you with an official set of standard missionary discussions. Use these until they are modified by the Brethren. Many young missionaries have discovered to their embarrassment that the Brethren were wise in teaching only basic doctrines. One big mistake that missionaries make is trying to teach beyond the basics. Remember, you don't understand everything, and the investigator is just beginning to comprehend what is being taught.

Stick with the scriptures and the Brethren. If you fail to heed the counsel, you may learn by sad experience that the Lord knows what is best. For more than one hundred and sixty years, missionaries have been teaching the same basic gospel doctrine—and have had much success doing so.

In order to be more prepared, take the challenge to research, organize, and write two talks per month on a gospel topic. Prepare them as though you were going to be asked to present them in a zone conference, sacrament meeting, or stake conference. If you write them from the time you arrive, you would have forty-eight (or thirty-six for sisters) scripturally oriented talks at your fingertips.

You will be prepared when asked at the last minute to speak, saving yourself apologies and embarrassment. Someday that "minuteman" preparedness will pay big dividends. In addition, your understanding of the dozens of topics will be much deeper and better researched than if you were to deliver an impromptu talk. Perhaps as a concluding remark, the Lord's charge is most appropriate: Teach the gospel from the scriptures by the power of the Spirit (see D&C 50:13-14). Follow this counsel, and you will be on solid ground when the floods of false doctrine rage around you.

From the book: Serve with Honor, by Randy Bott, 1995