Teaching by the Spirit is one of the most important skills you can learn as a missionary. If you have the Spirit of the Lord with you in all your mission activities, teaching, tracting, reactivating, etc., you will be a more effective instrument for God.
President Ezra Taft Benson once said: “The Spirit is the most important single element in this work. With the Spirit magnifying your call, you can do miracles for the Lord in the mission field. Without the Spirit, you will never succeed regardless of your talent and ability” (see Preach My Gospel, 176).
The missionary lessons that you will teach from contain the gospel doctrines and ideas for teaching, however, the lessons will not tell you exactly what to say. Instead, as a missionary, you are responsible to study and understand the principles of the lessons and then teach by the Spirit in your own words. By teaching through the Spirit, you will help others strengthen their faith in Christ, have a desire to repent, and then enter into covenants with God through baptism (see Preach My Gospel, 19).
Blessings of Teaching by the Spirit
The Preach My Gospel manual points out at least five reasons why missionaries must teach by the power of the Holy Ghost in order to be effective. The Spirit will…
- Teach you new truths and bring the doctrines you have studied to your remembrance (see John 14:26).
- Give you words to speak in the very moment you need them (see D&C 84:85).
- Carry your message to the hearts of the people you teach (see 2 Nephi 33:1).
- Testify of the truthfulness of your message and confirm your words (see D&C 100:5–8).
- Help you discern the needs of the people you are teaching (see Alma 12:7).
In teaching the gospel, as a missionary or in other callings in the LDS Church, you should not rely primarily on your intelligence, teaching expertise, or personality but rather you should to have the influence of the Holy Ghost present (see 2 Nephi 4:34). As you make yourself a conduit of the Spirit, the Lord will use you to move His work forward.
Spirit to Spirit
When we teach by the Spirit, our message is carried directly into the hearts of the audience, which is a far superior form of communication that oral or written language. Elder D. Todd Chistofferson said, in his April 2012 General Conference talk, “The Spirit does not need to be limited to words; He can communicate Spirit to spirit with a language that is unmistakable because it has no words. It is a communication of pure knowledge and intelligence from the Spirit, and I have come to know that it truly is the best way to acquire knowledge. It is stronger and longer lasting than touching or seeing; we can come to doubt the physical senses, but we cannot doubt when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. It is the surest witness.”
Similarly, Elder M. Russell Ballard said in his October 2004 General Conference talk, “The missionaries are now preparing to teach the lessons, not as memorized dialogue or a rote presentation; but rather, they will outline gospel principles in an organized way, calling upon the Spirit to direct how they communicate gospel truth to investigators, spirit to spirit and heart to heart.” Read 3rd Nephi 19: 31-34 for more information on the spirit to spirit and heart to heart communication.
An example from my mission of teaching by the Spirit
In the latter half of my mission, when I was in the Godoy ward in West Rosario, Argentina, I remember during this time that I felt particularly guided by the Spirit in all aspects of our missionary work. I felt the subtle promptings of the Spirit helping my companion and I know where to go, what streets to tract, what to do, and what to say to help the members and investigators in this area.
I specifically remember one lesson that we taught to German Arrieta and his family. It was not one of the official six missionary discussions of the time, but as we sat with him one night, I felt prompted to talk in detail about our pre-earth life. I taught about the council in Heaven, the plan of salvation, the role of the Savior, and how we all sustained the plan that would allow us to come to earth, gain a physical body, and be given the opportunity to prove our worthiness and progress back to our Heavenly Father’s presence. The Spirit was present during the lesson, and perhaps it was exactly what the family needed. The lesson was well received and German was baptized soon thereafter.
Teaching by the Spirit doesn’t negate preparation
To teach by the Spirit does not mean that preparation is not needed, on the contrary in fact, teaching by the Spirit often means you will need to prepare more and then be flexible in your lesson delivery. I love this quote from the Seminary and Institute manual called Gospel Teaching and Learning: “Teachers should keep in mind that teaching by the Spirit does not remove their responsibility for diligent, thoughtful lesson preparation, including using the curriculum that has been provided. On the other hand, teaching by the Spirit requires more than merely following every curriculum suggestion without prayer, thought, or possible adaptation. In addition, teachers should not be so focused on rigidly following their lesson outline that they are not open to receive and follow impressions from the Spirit during class.” (GTL, p. 13)
Tips for being prepared to teach by the Spirit
The Preach My Gospel manual gives the following tips to help missionaries (and future missionaries can start these steps now) to be prepared to teach by the spirit:
- Daily personal and companion study strengthens your faith and your ability to teach by the Spirit.
- Pray for the Spirit (see D&C 42:14).
- Purify your heart (see D&C 112:28).
- Keep the commandments (see D&C 20:77, 79)
- Diligently treasure up God’s word (see D&C 11:21; 84:85).
- Teach so that others understand your message and are edified (see D&C 50:13–22).
- Exercise faith (see Moroni 10:7).
I’ll conclude with a wonderful scripture from the Book of Mormon about teaching by the Spirit. The prophet Moroni is speaking here and discussing the importance of being led by the Holy Ghost in conducting meetings in the Church. “And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moroni 6:9) I know that if you, as a missionary and throughout your life, teach by the Spirit, then you will always be led to do and say the right things, and you will have great success in building up the kingdom of God.