“Teaching as the Savior Taught,” Ensign, Sept. 2004, 28–31
“Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). This invitation from the Savior to become as He is reaches into all aspects of our lives, including our responsibility as teachers of the gospel. We can learn to become better teachers not only from His precepts but also from the way He taught.
The Savior used a variety of approaches to touch the lives of those around Him. Notice, for example, the way He asked questions. Among the questions the Savior asked were those that probed the memory of His listeners, those intended to provoke reasoning, and those directed to His followers’ feelings.
On a certain occasion a lawyer, an interpreter of the law, asked the Lord what he should do to inherit eternal life. The Savior responded to this question with other questions, saying: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26).
The answer was found in the lawyer’s memory. Once he answered correctly, the Savior reinforced the individual by saying, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28).
On another occasion, “Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (Matt. 12:1). Then the Pharisees said that His disciples were breaking the law of the Sabbath. The Savior responded with questions aimed at the Pharisees’ memory:
“Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
“How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?” (Matt. 12:3–4).
Questions that jog the memory of others are probably the easiest for us to use. These questions tend to show how well class members know the letter of the law. As a new young member, I assumed that these were the kind of questions teachers should ask. Therefore, I tried to acquire some knowledge of historical events—names, dates, places, and so forth. This was a good thing to do, because most of the questions in school and in the Church were memory questions, intended to give class members an opportunity to participate in the lesson. These were good questions, but they did not have a strong impact on my behavior or on my becoming more like Him. It is important to note that the Savior also used other kinds of questions to help His listeners in the quest to become as He is.
When the lawyer asked the question “Who is my neighbour?” the Savior related the parable of the good Samaritan and afterward asked, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:29, 36).
This question made the lawyer and other listeners reason to find an answer. This kind of question makes us rely on our ability to discover knowledge. Questions such as “What do you think of … ?” or “What is your opinion about … ?” or “Why … ?” can help us understand one another (see D&C 50:22). Consider the following examples from the Savior’s teaching:
“How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” (Matt. 18:12; emphasis added).
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard” (Matt. 21:28; emphasis added).
Sometimes rhetorical questions—questions asked with no answer expected—can also help increase understanding between the one preaching and the one listening. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said:
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
“And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?” (Matt. 5:46–47).
My wife remembers how her life was touched by a question the missionaries asked. She had an extensive religious background, and one day her brother invited her to hear the missionaries. After teaching doctrine, they directed a question at her reasoning: “Why do you think The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church?” The thoughts this question inspired affected her in such a way that a few seconds later her feelings were also touched. Tears came to her eyes on answering that question, and the Spirit testified to her, thus deepening the conversion process she experienced.
Each of us has been asked questions that help us express our feelings. We also know that we will not express our feelings unless we feel confident they will not be criticized. Such was the case when the Savior directed questions to His listeners’ hearts.
In the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, the Savior asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” The disciples answered that some were saying He was John the Baptist; others said Jeremias or one of the prophets.
Then the Savior asked a question that allowed the disciples to express their own feelings: “But whom say ye that I am?”
Simon Peter shared his feelings: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Our Master reinforced the answer of the chief Apostle by saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:13–17; emphasis added).
During another teaching opportunity after Martha’s brother Lazarus had died, the Savior first testified of Himself by saying, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Then He directed a question to Martha’s heart: “Believest thou this?”
Martha was able to express her feelings: “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:25–27; emphasis added).
We know that “when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1). Appropriate questions directed to the heart can invite the Spirit into any teaching situation.
At a recent family gathering a family member told of a question a missionary asked that had touched her heart. After teaching the first discussion, this missionary simply asked her, “How did you feel about our teachings?” This question created an excellent and edifying conclusion for the discussion.
Questions that allow people to express their feelings might include: “Why do you believe … ?” or “How do you feel about … ?” or “Have any of you had an experience with … ?” All teachers need to understand that when feelings are expressed, we are standing on sacred ground. Feelings should not be demanded, but when shared willingly, they should always be respected and never criticized in any way.
The Savior is the exemplary teacher from whom we can learn to teach in our homes, in the Church, and in the community. As He said to the Nephites, “Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you” (3 Ne. 18:16). Or as He explained to His disciples, “Ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Ne. 27:21).
An excellent exercise in our schooling to become Christlike is observing the kind of questions we ask others in formal and informal teaching settings. Asking questions to retrieve information will teach us about others’ knowledge. Asking questions that cause others to reason will help them discover truths. Asking questions that allow others to express feelings will take us onto sacred ground in the conversion and edifying of those we love. As we make an effort to teach as He taught, we become more like Him.