Partway through the year last year, I was called to be one of the two Gospel Doctrine teachers in my ward. I was, unfortunately, called just after the class finished studying the Gospels in the New Testament, so I ended up cutting my teeth as a teacher the epistles, not always an easy task. I admit that I do not know the New Testament as well as I should, so I looked forward to this year’s study of the Book of Mormon, which I am more familiar with.
Of course, that familiarity can also be a trouble spot.
We as humans tend to like the familiar and the comfortable, especially when it comes to matters of faith. We often want to respond with, “I’ve never heard that before,” whenever someone teaches a new insight, as if the newness of it to us is the biggest argument against such a thing being right or true.
With the Book of Mormon, I would expect that most of the members of the church are familiar with its contents at least as far as our standard lesson manuals try to take us. I think it is easy to take the path of teaching only what is already familiar to the class.
Since I have only been teaching a short time, I have not yet fully developed my methods and philosophies of teaching, but I do have some approaches that I try to follow in preparing the lesson.
1. My primary lesson material is the section of Scripture we are studying.
Whatever I am teaching must square with what the scriptures actually say. So, the first order of business in preparing a lesson is to become very familiar with the section we are scheduled to study. For me, this means both reading the section assigned, and then listening to it many times as I commute to work.
2. Ask the Lord.
It is impossible to teach properly without having the spirit of the Lord with you. Every ward and every class is different. He knows what the members need much better than I do, so I pray and ask that he will lead me to teach those things that are most beneficial for my class to know.
3. Use non-canonical resources to aid in understanding.
By non-canonical, I mean anything outside the scriptures. I have used alternate bible translations, bible commentaries, conference talks, books, blogs, etc. in my search to understand what is involved in the section of study.
In my approach, the lesson manual falls into this category. I treat it as a help and an aid, not the final say on exactly how and what must be taught. If the intent was to teach exactly the same material in exactly the same way each week, the church could easily produce and distribute video lessons for us to use instead of a live teacher.
4. When teaching, use the scriptures as much as possible, and use any thing else rarely.
I believe that as a teacher, I have a very strict responsibility to teach the truth as purely as I am able to do. The scriptures are the standard works, and using them as my sources almost exclusively gets me as close to the word of God as I can get.
Besides the standard works, I place the teachings of Joseph Smith next in priority. He is the head of our dispensation and the things he taught carry the greatest amount of weight.
I am not necessarily advocating this method as the only correct way to teach, but it is what I have used so far in my preparation, with varying degrees of success. In any approach to teaching the Book of Mormon, the key is to obtain the Holy Spirit and have its influence felt during a class time.
I have found that as I prepare this way, I am more likely to be guided to teach what the Lord would have me teach, while at the same time guiding me to what is most important for me, personally, to learn. These two have not always been the same thing.