Chapter 4

Teaching by the Spirit

“Chapter 4: Teaching by the Spirit,” Missionary Preparation Student Manual (2005), 31–38


Missionaries are called to teach the restored gospel with the power and authority of God. “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit” (D&C 50:13–14; italics added). Speaking about the importance of effective gospel teaching, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, or will be, a teacher” and that “we are His servants with the sacred responsibility of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, the greatest message of all time. We need more teachers to match that message” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1999, 100, 104; or Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78,80).

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it” (History of the Church, 3:389). President Brigham Young also emphasized the necessity of the Spirit when teaching the gospel: “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, ‘I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:90).

As a servant of the Lord, you must learn to minister, which means to teach with the Spirit. This includes learning and using teaching skills and principles that allow you and your investigators to receive the influence of the Spirit. The Lord knows what each person needs to learn. When you teach correct doctrines and principles clearly and with the Spirit, the message will touch hearts with power. Inspired teaching will strike a chord in souls that can lead to conversion through acceptance of the first principles and ordinances of the restored gospel.

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.

Supporting Scriptures and Statements

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

■ The Lord will bless prepared and worthy missionaries with His Spirit. President Joseph F. Smith taught: “Every missionary should strive to devote part of each day to study and prayerful thought on the principles of the gospel and the theology of the Church. He should read and reflect and pray. … His mind should be well stored with thoughts worth uttering, worth hearing, worth remembering; then the spirit of inspiration will bring forth the truths of which his [listeners] are in need, and give to his words the ring of authority” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 363).

■ “One purpose of the Spirit is to ‘manifest the truth … of all things’ (Moroni 10:4–5). Only through the influence of the Spirit can gospel teaching be edifying and inspiring.

“Your privilege as a gospel teacher is to be an instrument through whom the Holy Ghost can teach, testify, comfort, and inspire. …

“If you prepare spiritually, the Holy Ghost will help you know what to do and say in your teaching. You can prepare yourself by praying often, studying the scriptures, living the gospel, and being humble” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 169).

■ Elder David B. Haight, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Our missionaries teach and testify by the Spirit. But they must be in tune with the Lord. Hoping for the Spirit is not enough. Praying is not enough. Missionaries must do what the Lord requires: live the commandments, be clean, be wholesome in deed and thoughts. ‘The Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples.’ (Al. 34:36.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 86; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 57).

■ President James E. Faust, a counselor in the First Presidency, compared worthiness to receive the Spirit to receiving a signal on a cellular phone:

“Cellular phones are used for much of the communication in our time. Occasionally, however, we find dead spots where the signal coming to a cell phone fails. This can happen when the cell phone user is in a tunnel or a canyon or when there is other interference.

“So it is with divine communication. The still, small voice, though still and small, is very powerful. It ‘whispereth through and pierceth all things’ [D&C 85:6]. … Perhaps something in our lives prevents us from hearing the message because we are ‘past feeling’ [see 1 Nephi 17:45]. We often put ourselves in spiritual dead spots—places and situations that block out divine messages. Some of these dead spots include anger, pornography, transgression, selfishness, and other situations that offend the Spirit” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2004, 67–68; or Ensign, May 2004, 67).

■ Elder Dallin H. Oaks described what we can do to invite the Spirit:

“The best way to have the spirit of revelation is to listen to and study words spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost. In other words, we obtain the Spirit by reading the scriptures or reading or listening to the talks of inspired leaders. …

“As we devote ourselves to the Lord’s work, we must be involved in the hard work we call preparation” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 9).

■ Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized prayer as a means to nurture the presence of the Holy Ghost: “Just as pondering the scriptures invites the Holy Ghost, so does daily pleading in prayer. If we do not ask in prayer, He will rarely come, and without our petition He is not likely to linger. ‘And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach’ (D&C 42:14). Heartfelt, constant pleading for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, with the pure intent to nourish our Father’s children, will surely bring blessings to us and to those we love and serve” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 115; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 84).

■ Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed the question of what to do when we don’t sense the Spirit directing our words: “Careful preparation is required for those times when we are not given the specific words to speak. In my experience, we are often left to formulate our own words to express the gospel truths we have studied and the testimonies we have received. The Lord does not direct us in every act or word, so we must always be prepared to proceed on the basis of our own best judgment. As we do, we can grow in faith and spirituality on the one hand and in mortal experience on the other” (“Teaching by the Spirit” [address delivered at the Provo Missionary Training Center, June 21, 1988], 7).

Missionaries can invite the Holy Ghost into their teaching.

■ Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy declared, “You, as the teacher, must do all in your power to prepare the hearts of men so the Spirit can teach” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 48; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 38). Missionaries must learn how to invite the Spirit into their teaching in a variety of ways, including using scriptures and bearing testimony. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed. When individuals … feel the Spirit working with them, or when they see the evidence of the Lord’s love and mercy in their lives, they are edified and strengthened spiritually, and their faith in Him increases” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 97; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 75).

■ President Gordon B. Hinckley taught how to teach by the Spirit: “We must strengthen ourselves and our people to get our teachers to speak out of their hearts rather than out of their books, to communicate their love for the Lord and this precious work, and somehow it will catch fire in the hearts of those they teach” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 619–20).

■ Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Missionaries are being taught to fill their minds and hearts with the basic doctrine, with supporting scriptures, and with relevant experiences from their own lives. Those become resource material upon which they can call as they identify through the Spirit the need of a particular investigator family or individual” (in “Teaching from the Heart,” Ensign, June 2004, 6).

■ Elder Henry B. Eyring emphasized the role of the Holy Ghost in teaching and preparing investigators to receive certain truths: “The Holy Ghost will teach each of us in individual ways. But I promise you that when [investigators and missionaries] ponder and pray about the messages in the Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost will testify of the Savior, they will remember Him, and the Holy Ghost can in time become their companion. It will bring truth to their remembrance. It will reveal the hearts of people to [the missionaries]” (The Book of Mormon [address at seminar for new mission presidents, June 25, 2003], 6).

■ Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles named some prerequisites to being able to teach by the Spirit: “Our teaching will be effective if we approach it humbly through prayer and study. We will then be assisted by the Spirit in imparting the word, consistent and in harmony with what the Lord would have us teach” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1999, 7; or Ensign, May 1999, 8).

■ President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reflected on a lesson he learned while serving as a mission president. He wrote that his mission wasn’t progressing as it should. He didn’t know what it was that needed changing. During a testimony meeting at a zone conference, he heard the testimony of a frightened, new elder. President Packer recalled:

“The testimonies we’d heard from all the other missionaries went something like this: ‘I’m grateful to be in the mission field. I’ve learned a lot from it. I have a fine companion. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m grateful for my parents. We had an interesting experience last week. We were out knocking on doors and. …’ Then the missionary would relate an experience. His conclusion would be something like this: ‘I’m grateful to be in the mission field. I have a testimony of the gospel.’ And he would conclude ‘in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’

“This young elder was different somehow. Anxious not to spend an extra second on his feet, he said simply, in hurried, frightened words, ‘I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that we have a prophet of God leading the Church. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’

“This was a testimony. It was not just an experience nor an expression of gratitude. It was a declaration, a witness!

“Most of the elders had said ‘I have a testimony,’ but they had not declared it. This young elder had, in a very few words, delivered his testimony—direct, basic, and, as it turned out, powerful.

“I then knew what was wrong in the mission. We were telling stories, expressing gratitude, admitting that we had testimonies, but we were not bearing them” (Teach Ye Diligently [1975], 275).

■ “Your testimony will be most powerful when it is expressed as a brief, heartfelt conviction about the Savior, His teachings, and the Restoration. Pray for guidance, and the Spirit will help you know how to express the feelings in your heart” (True to the Faith, 180).

■ President Gordon B. Hinckley noted the importance of testimony in the conversion process: “Personal testimony is the factor which turns people around in their living as they come into this Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 90; or Ensign, May 1998, 69).

■ President Hinckley described the power of a missionary’s testimony: “[Testimony] is something that cannot be refuted. Opponents may quote scripture and argue doctrine endlessly. They can be clever and persuasive. But when one says, ‘I know,’ there can be no further argument. There may not be acceptance, but who can refute or deny the quiet voice of the inner soul speaking with personal conviction?” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 91; or Ensign, May 1998, 70).

Missionaries should practice methods of teaching that edify.

■ Teaching by the Spirit requires that we understand important methods of teaching so that the Spirit can accompany our efforts. Teaching by the Spirit does not mean that we teach in a dull, unenthusiastic manner. Quite the opposite is true. We must teach in a way that edifies. To edify means to enlighten, to instruct, or to improve spiritually. We do this when we use clear and simple explanations, ask good questions, watch the reactions of our investigators, and share our message with enthusiasm.

Missionaries should help investigators recognize the role of the Spirit in the conversion process. Discussing with investigators their feelings about the restored gospel can help them identify the Spirit (see the supporting scriptures and statements for the principle “There are many ways that the Holy Ghost influences our lives for good,” in chapter 3 of this student manual, pp. 23–27).

■ The Savior used a variety of edifying teaching methods. The following are some ways missionaries can emulate the Savior’s methods in their teaching:

  • Pray. The Savior prayed for those who would hear His words (see 3 Nephi 19:27–29). When you pray for those you teach, you exercise faith that God will soften their hearts. In your prayers, express your love for God and for those you are teaching.

  • Use the scriptures. Jesus Christ taught from the scriptures (see Luke 24:27). Using the scriptures invites the Holy Ghost into your teaching.

  • Bear testimony. Jesus testified of Heavenly Father and of His own divine role (see John 10:17–18, 27–30). A testimony is a simple, direct declaration of belief; it is a feeling or an assurance. As you share your testimony of the gospel principles you teach, the Spirit will witness of their truthfulness.

  • Use music. Jesus and His Apostles “sung an hymn” (Matthew 26:30). Through music, you and those you teach can invite the influence of the Holy Ghost and express feelings that may be hard to express in other ways.

  • Share stories and examples. Jesus taught gospel principles with stories, such as those about the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25–37) and the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32). Use true stories to show how principles of the restored gospel apply in daily life.

  • Use objects and pictures. Jesus used common objects and comparisons to teach gospel principles, such as a mustard seed (see Matthew 17:20) and calling His Apostles to be “fishers of men” (see Matthew 4:18–22). Pictures can also help strengthen others’ understanding of scripture accounts and gospel principles.

  • Ask questions, and listen. Jesus asked questions, such as, “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) and “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26), and listened to the responses. Thoughtful questions encourage discussion and the appropriate sharing of personal experiences from investigators. When you listen, you show love for your investigators and the Spirit can help direct your conversation.

  • Live the commandments. Jesus taught that if we wish to learn the truth of a commandment or principle, we must live it (see John 7:17). He taught His disciples about missionary work by sending them on missions (see Luke 9:1–6). Missionaries can help investigators learn to pray by inviting them to pray during the lesson. Investigators can know the truth of the Word of Wisdom when they begin to live it. They will experience the spirit of the Book of Mormon when they read and pray about it.

  • Expound.Expound means to enlarge on and to explain clearly. Expounding the gospel means that you explain the meaning of doctrines and scriptural passages simply and clearly, relying on the Spirit to guide what you say” (Preach My Gospel [2004], 182). The Savior expounded His teachings from the scriptures as He taught the Book of Mormon people (see 3 Nephi 26:1–5).

  • Use events. Jesus often used events, such as the feast of the Passover, to teach gospel principles. For example, He used the feeding of the multitude and the Passover season to teach that He was the Bread of Life (see John 6:1–14, 22–65). You may use events in your investigators’ lives to teach gospel principles, such as using the birth of a baby to teach the need to be born again.

“When you consider using a specific teaching method, ask yourself the following questions: Will this method invite the influence of the Spirit? Does it match the sacredness of the principles I am teaching? Will it edify and strengthen those I teach?

“Remember that as a gospel teacher, you represent the Lord. Ensure that all you do and say is reverent and consistent with His will” (True to the Faith, 170).

■ President Boyd K. Packer described an important teaching method missionaries should learn to use: “The eyes of the alert teacher move constantly back and forth across the class, taking in each movement, recording each expression, responding quickly to disinterest or confusion. They read immediately a puzzled expression or sense at once when learning has taken place” (Teach Ye Diligently, 138–39).

■ Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the importance of listening to those we teach: “Perhaps even more important than speaking is listening. These people are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic. They are children of God, our brothers and sisters, and they need what we have. Be genuine. Reach out sincerely. Ask these friends what matters most to them. What do they cherish, and what do they hold dear? And then listen. If the setting is right, you might ask what their fears are, what they yearn for, or what they feel is missing in their lives. I promise you that something in what they say will always highlight a truth of the gospel about which you can bear testimony and about which you can then offer more. … If we listen with love, we won’t need to wonder what to say. It will be given to us—by the Spirit and by our friends” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 2001, 16–17; or Ensign, May 2001, 15).

Points to Ponder

  • Read the following statement from President Harold B. Lee, and think about teaching methods that would be most helpful in teaching plainly: “You’re to teach … not so plain that they can just understand, but you must teach the doctrines of the Church so plainly that no one can misunderstand” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee [1996], 459).

  • What can a missionary do when his or her companion is speaking that will help the investigator feel the Spirit and understand the message more clearly?

Suggested Assignments

  • 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 interviews.

Recommended Additional Reading

True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference

  • “Teaching the Gospel” (pp. 168–70)

  • “Testimony” (pp. 178–80)

Notes and Impressions

The Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson