Helping Our Students Become Spiritually Self-Reliant

Barbara Morgan Gardner

Barbara E. Morgan, "Helping Our Students Become Spiritually Self-Reliant," Religious Educator 13, no. 2 (2012): 45–59.

Barbara E. Morgan ( was an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU when this article was published.

Lehi's dreamAfter Nephi heard his father tell of his dream, Nephi too desired to "see, and hear, and know of these things." Jerry Thompson. Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

After Nephi heard his father tell of his dream, Nephi explained that he too desired to “see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him” (1 Nephi 10:17). As a result of the messengers—both the angel and the Spirit—using fundamental teaching principles in a divine pattern, Nephi did see, hear, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost of those things that he desired. As we teach using the fundamental principles taught by the Spirit and the angel, we too can help our students to see, hear, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost those things which are of greatest value to them, thus helping them become spiritually self-reliant.

Spiritual Self-Reliance

Nephi’s dream came because he desired, as Joseph Smith and others did, to know for himself. This spiritual process of coming to know for oneself is taught throughout the scriptures. Adam and Eve, the brother of Jared, Peter, and many others sought to know for themselves and were granted that blessing. The Prophet Joseph Smith, for example, was expert not only at teaching truth but in showing us how to obtain truth for ourselves and to have our own personal experiences with God, or to become spiritually self-reliant. Joseph Fielding McConkie expertly taught:

The prophetic efforts of Joseph Smith did not center in sharing his spiritual experiences but rather in the effort to qualify us to have our own spiritual experiences. The emphasis of his ministry was not on what he had seen but on what we could see. . . . Critics of the Church have made a lot of fuss about the fact that we have so few contemporary accounts of the First Vision. But that rather makes the point. Joseph was talking more about what we could do than what he had done. We have a dozen revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants that invite us to see God. Joseph invited us to check him by having our own Sacred Grove experience. The validity of an experience is if it can be repeated. A good seed not only bears good fruits but it always bears the same fruits—regardless of who plants it. [1]

Just as Joseph Smith had his own experience and then tried to show us how to have our own personal experiences, Nephi too was trying to have his own experience and then teach us, the readers, to do the same. The scripture could have simply read, “I desired to see, hear, and know the things of my father by the power of the Holy Ghost, and my desires were granted by the Lord.” Instead, however, we are taught by Nephi how to receive our own revelation, and by following his example, we then can help others receive theirs. Thus we are helping them become spiritually self-reliant. It seems that Nephi’s emphasis on the process he went through to see, hear, and know is equally as important as what he actually saw, heard, and knew. Is this not what we are also about—trying to have our own spiritual experiences and becoming personally self-reliant, acting rather than being acted upon, and then helping others do the same?

Like Nephi, our students need not only to be taught what the Holy Ghost is but to feel it as well. They must not only be told what the fruit is but taste it. Note that Nephi did not merely want to listen, look, and read; he wanted to hear, see, and know. It was Nephi’s desire to become spiritually self-reliant. Our students desire the same. It is our responsibility as teachers to help them get there. As religious educators, many of us are aware of the important role of the Spirit, the teacher, and the students in the teaching and learning process. We cannot underestimate the importance of any of these roles, but the role of the Spirit is especially critical to be understood as we, as teachers, try to better understand our role and the role of the students.

The role of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost’s Role Is to Teach

It is interesting to note that Nephi, from the beginning, understood the role of the Holy Ghost in his own learning process. Fundamental to all gospel teaching is the recognition and understanding that the Holy Ghost truly is the teacher. In our efforts, therefore, to help our students see, hear, and know of the things of God, as Nephi desired, we must help our students recognize, as Nephi recognized, that true gospel learning is possible only through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is not only present with the teacher who teaches by the Spirit but is also present with students and teaches them directly, as well as helping them teach each other and the teacher. In other words, the Spirit is the teacher in all gospel learning and does not need to come only through the teacher. I have observed three types of classroom experiences, with the last usually being the most effective. In the first experience, the teacher tries to teach students by the Spirit. In the second, the teacher and students focus on learning directly from the Spirit. In the third, teacher and students are all involved in both learning from the Spirit and in teaching each other in order that “all may be edified of all” (D&C 88:122).

The role of the Holy Ghost

The role of the Holy Ghost

The Role of the Holy Ghost

In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, for example, Lehi is the teacher. Nephi recognizes the role of his father in teaching his family but still has a desire to learn for himself. In a sense, Lehi becomes a catalyst to Nephi’s ability to learn directly from the Spirit. The Lord does not need to go through Lehi, however, to teach Nephi what Nephi needs to know. After having his experience with the Spirit and angel, Nephi is better prepared to teach his brothers. Thus, in a sense, the Spirit taught Lehi, who inspired Nephi to learn for himself, which allowed him to be better prepared to teach his peers, or brothers, if they would be but willing to learn. As teachers we at times, even in our desire to teach by the Spirit, become an eclipse between the Spirit, who is the teacher, and the student—trying to teach by the Spirit but getting in the way of the Spirit actually teaching. In no way does this minimize the important role of the teacher in the classroom, but perhaps it reminds us of the true role of the teacher. It was Lehi who inspired Nephi to know for himself. Without the influence and guidance of Lehi, Nephi perhaps would not have known what he desired. Understanding the fundamental role of the Holy Ghost as the teacher will better help us help our students to use the Spirit as Nephi did to see, hear, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost—in other words, become spiritually self-reliant.

The Teacher’s Role Is to Help Students Act

Just as understanding the role of the Holy Ghost is critical to effectively helping students become spiritually self-reliant, so too is understanding the role of the gospel teacher. Elder David A. Bednar wisely explained: “The role of the teacher is to invite a learner to act in accordance with the truth taught by the Savior. A parent or teacher cannot push truth into the hearts of children and young people. Our best efforts can only bring the message of truth unto the heart (see 2 Nephi 33:1). Ultimately, a learner needs to exercise agency in righteousness and thereby invite the truth into the heart—and thereby seek to obtain the spiritual gift of understanding.” [2]

This role of the teacher as described by Elder Bednar is a paradigm shift for many, but it is what the Brethren have constantly and consistently been teaching. Becoming proficient in our abilities as teachers to help our students effectively act upon the teachings of the Savior—and I would add, the Holy Ghost—can take effort on our part. This stretching of ourselves as teachers, however, for the benefit of the students, is what is being asked of us in these days.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught a group of professional religious educators: “We need to devote the same kind of effort toward improving our teaching abilities that a man or woman in any other profession would exert, be they physicians, or attorneys, or computer experts, or microbiologists. In the Church Educational System it is essential but not sufficient that we be good men or women—we must also be good at what we do. We must be very good. Our subject matter and the lives of our students demand that we give our very best effort in our teaching.” [3]

Just as there are different ways to perform surgeries or different ways to practice law, there are different ways to teach. There is not one correct methodology, because there are different people, different doctrines, and different desired outcomes. Consider the various methodologies used by Christ. Perhaps some of Christ’s greatest teaching moments were when he said little at all: at his birth, at his death, and in his resurrection. Consider the principles and doctrines learned at each of these occasions. Yes, Christ taught using parables, but he also taught with object lessons, stories, questions, lectures, and silence. Consider the many teaching methodologies Christ used on the cross!

Christ himself taught in various ways, but one consistency in how he taught was that regardless of what he taught, he always required the individual to act. Why did he allow or invite the man to move the stone in the raising of Lazarus? Why didn’t he move it himself? Why did he have the little children open their mouths and teach things previously unknown? Why did he use the fish of the young man or draw on the sand and talk with the woman at the well and allow her to talk and ask questions? For that matter, why do we have a prophet on the earth? Why do we have callings? Why do we teach when Christ could do it all himself? He desires us to become like him—which requires action, learning by faith, and asking and answering questions of each other. Indeed, Christ is the great example of one who is helping us to see, hear, know, and feel. He wants us to become like him, he who walked among men healing the sick, causing the lame to walk, asking questions, and going to his father. He was a teacher, a mentor, a guide, a friend.

In secular terms, much of what Christ did would be titled “active student learning,” but it was much more than that. Like the Lord, we are concerned not with merely being active or convincing but rather with converting, and that requires methodology consistent with the teachings of the Lord. It requires our students to learn by faith.

As has been the case with the other fundamental principles, learning by faith is demonstrated clearly by the angel in Nephi’s vision. In fact, the angel uses a variety of methods to help Nephi learn by faith, to act and not be acted upon. Elder Bednar recently encouraged all religious educators to study chapters 11–14 of 1 Nephi and “notice how the spirit both asked questions and encouraged Nephi to ‘look’ as active elements in the learning process.” [4]

Asking Questions

It is a pattern of the Lord throughout the scriptures to ask questions of his children. The first words the Spirit says to Nephi are in the form of a question: “What desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2). Nephi states that he “desire[s] to behold the things which [his] Father saw” (v. 3), to which the Spirit responds, “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” (v. 4). There is no question that the Spirit knew the answer to this question before he asked, but he, in the very asking of the question, invites Nephi to respond, thus helping him exercise his faith and exercise his agency. Nephi is now involved, and the Spirit has the opportunity to rejoice in Nephi’s response.

The Spirit’s next question, then, will lead to Nephi’s ability to interpret what his father saw and to see, hear, and know for himself. The Spirit asks, “What desirest thou?” (v. 10). And again Nephi has the chance and takes the opportunity to respond: “To know the interpretation thereof” (v. 11). Note that neither the Spirit nor the angel gives him the interpretation. Nephi, rather, is guided through the process and not only comes up with the interpretation on his own but goes deeper into the feeling and thus the conversion process. He states, “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (v. 22). Only after Nephi comes up with his own conclusion does the Spirit testify with Nephi and confirm his interpretation, but he adds his own feelings of confirmation as if they have both now experienced it for themselves. This is more than a true-false test or multiple-choice level of thinking; Nephi understands the tree of life and feels the love of God beyond cognitive ability. It is as if Nephi, like Lehi, has partaken of the fruit for himself, and it too filled his soul with exceedingly great joy. Indeed, the things of the Spirit are often caught, not taught. [5]

Note the other questions asked of Nephi in this experience:

  • Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken? (1 Nephi 11:4)
  • What desirest thou? (v. 10)
  • Nephi, what beholdest thou? (v. 14)
  • Knowest thou the condescension of God? (v. 16)
  • Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? (v. 21)
  • Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? (1 Nephi 12:9)
  • What beholdest thou? (1 Nephi 13:2)
  • Knowest thou the meaning of the book? (v. 21)
  • Rememberest thou the covenants of the Father unto the house of Israel? (1 Nephi 14:8)

These are thought-provoking, personalized, applicable, and covenant-and doctrine-oriented questions that allow the angel to evaluate where Nephi is, help Nephi evaluate himself, and see what is important to Nephi and the angel. The angel was able to take Nephi where he was, allow Nephi to learn from his own responses, and then guide him to learning even greater truths. The questions asked are formative, with the seeming intention of helping Nephi to see, hear, and know for himself as part of a larger learning process, not summative, as a test question with a regurgitated right or wrong answer. The questions allowed Nephi to feel as he explained and to learn for himself during the process of responding, and they allowed the Spirit to confirm to him truth which would eventually help him to act. The questions seemed to open Nephi’s eyes, heart, and mind. He was seeing, hearing, and knowing for himself as a direct result of being asked the questions. How would Nephi know that he knew for himself from the Spirit had he not been given the opportunity to respond personally to these questions? Each question required him to participate and learn by faith and be active in the learning process. Elder Richard G. Scott taught, “Appropriate questions lead a student to think about doctrine, appreciate it, and understand how to apply it in his or her personal life.” [6]

A more careful study of these questions shows the importance of not only open-ended questions such as “What do you see?” and “What beholdest thou?” but other questions that are very specific and doctrinally oriented. Those asked of Nephi were not mere fact questions but were questions of import to him as a learner and to all of us. They had application to him at that time in his life and would guide him in the future. The doctrine of the condescension of God, the tree of life, the Twelve Apostles, the book, and the covenants all have eternally significant purposes that the angel knew Nephi needed for him and others to obtain salvation.

The angel’s questions also kept Nephi personally invested in the learning experience. Not only was he required to be in attendance but he knew he would be expected to be an active participant. It is difficult in the classroom to have all of our students be accountable for the questions being asked, but there are a variety of methodologies that allow for greater personal, one-on-one experiences for our students. Although the exact methodology may not be the same, the principles of accountability and student involvement can still be accomplished. Our students must be acting and not merely being acted upon. Expecting our students to actively participate in class by answering questions, whether voluntarily or by being called upon, posed by teachers, other students, and especially the Lord enables the Lord to teach them and give them the blessings associated with acting on truth.

Inviting to Look

To look is a simple act of obedience with great consequences. In 1 Nephi we are reminded of the house of Israel and the negative consequences of those who do not look “because of the simpleness of the way” (1 Nephi 17:41). [7] We are also reminded by Nephi that those of the children of Israel who did look to Christ “might live, even unto that life which is eternal” (Helaman 8:15). It is interesting to note that the humble not only look but they look to God. This is what the angel invited Nephi to do—to look to God. This is what President Boyd K. Packer invites us to do as teachers—to help our student “look into the eternities.” [8] Nephi’s simple statement “He said unto me: Look! And I looked” (1 Nephi 11:24) is impressive. It says much about Nephi as a learner, yet the invitation from the angel is critical. The invitation to look allows Nephi to act in faith and not be acted upon. As stated previously, the angel invites Nephi, “Look and behold the condescension of God” (v. 26). He allows Nephi to learn for himself by looking. Note that the angel does not tell Nephi what the condescension of God is, but rather, through the invitation, allows Nephi to learn for himself. The angel does not tell Nephi what he sees but allows Nephi to have his own experience looking and reporting and learning, and then the angel follows with clarification, testimony, and further questions. Nephi looks and beholds and sees throughout all three of the chapters. The angel, although at times doing much of the talking, is constantly inviting and asking Nephi to be a serious participant in the learning. For in reality, there is no teaching if there is no learning. It is clear that the angel is teaching Nephi the subject matter, not teaching the subject matter to Nephi.

It is noteworthy that at the beginning of Nephi’s experience, after Nephi was asked by the Spirit “What desirest thou?” and he responded, “To know the interpretation thereof,” the Spirit told him to look. Nephi instinctively looked “as if to look upon him” (v. 12), but he states, “I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence” (v. 12). The Spirit gets out of the way, steps to the side, so to speak, and allows Nephi to see for himself. The angel does step in shortly after, but during this entire chapter it becomes clear to the reader that it is Nephi who is experiencing and looking as invited by the angel, and the angel does very little instructing, except that based upon what Nephi sees. Later, the angel does become more of a focal point in the story, but not until Nephi has become completely and actively involved in the learning process and has shared what he has learned.

Too often, we as teachers, as stated earlier, even with the best of intentions, become a spiritual eclipse in the lives of these students. If we are merely filling buckets and talking the entire time, giving information that must be learned for a test, we are giving little time in class for the students to be taught by the Spirit. In a sense, we are baptizing by water but not with the Holy Ghost. Just as John the Baptist decreased so that the Savior could increase, so it is with us and the Holy Ghost.

President Hinckley, quoting Phillips Brooks, made the observation “How carefully most men creep into nameless graves, while now and again one or two forget themselves into immortality.” [9] We must recognize our true role as teachers and be willing to allow the students to hear, see, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost. Elder Bednar asks: “Are you and I agents who act and seek learning by faith, or are we waiting to be taught and acted upon? Are the students we serve acting and seeking to learn by faith, or are they waiting to be taught and acted upon? Are you and I encouraging and helping those whom we serve to seek learning by faith? You and I and our students are to be anxiously engaged in asking, seeking, and knocking.” [10]

Through asking questions and having Nephi look, not only did Nephi see, hear, and know for himself by the power of the Holy Spirit the things which his father saw, but he also felt. How else would he know that the tree of life was “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22)?

What a difference it makes individually and with students for teachers to ask them the questions of the heart and look for those which go beyond knowledge to understanding. Rather than asking simple fact questions about Joseph Smith, for example, in teaching the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, perhaps a teacher could ask, “Who in here will recount the experience Joseph had in the Sacred Grove and testify of how you know it to be true?” After guiding a scripturally focused discussion with students about the Atonement, perhaps a teacher could ask the class, “Who in here learned something for themselves about the Atonement that was not necessarily written on the page or spoken by another member of the class, including myself?” As students are trained to pay attention to the teachings of the Holy Ghost in their personal learning experience as Nephi was trained by the angel and then are asked to express what they have learned, with the expectation that they have learned and can express to a degree what they have learned, when the experience is not too personal, and then receive positive reinforcement from the teacher and others members of the class, they will be more likely to look and see for themselves and thus become spiritually self-reliant.

Note that as the angel spoke with Nephi, he expected Nephi to answer. The angel asked, “What seest thou?” not “Did you see anything?” In our classrooms, then, rather than asking, “Is there anyone in here who can testify?” ask instead, “Who in here will testify?” Rather than asking, “Did anyone in here learn something for themselves?” ask instead, “Who in here learned something for themselves?” Asking the second type of question shows the students your high expectations of them as learners as well as your recognition that as they follow the pattern shown by the angel to Nephi, they too have received and can testify of these experiences.

This answer goes beyond mental cognition to understanding and feeling. Elder Scott taught: “You can learn vitally important things by what you hear and see and especially by what you feel, as prompted by the Holy Ghost. Most individuals limit their learning primarily to what they hear or what they read. Be wise. Develop the skill of learning by what you see and particularly by what the Holy Ghost prompts you to feel. Consciously seek to learn by what you see and feel, and your capacity to do so will expand through consistent practice. Ask in faith for such help. Live to be worthy of it. Seek to recognize it.” [11]

Our students must understand that there is a process to receiving revelation and becoming converted, and this requires obedience and faith, which includes action. Through his faithful obedience, Nephi not only received what he desired to see, hear, and know, but also seemingly learned by what he felt. This learning can take place only as we follow the example of the Spirit and invite our students to use their agency as a critical key to the learning process.

Training Our Students in Their Role to Act

With this in mind, as teachers we must understand that each student is endowed with his or her own agency to act or to be acted upon. We cannot dismiss the fact that Nephi was critical in his own learning process, as were Laman and Lemuel in theirs. Of himself Nephi writes, “I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 11:1). On the other hand, Laman and Lemuel believed that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:9). Each of these individuals was raised in the same family, by the same father and mother, and in other similar circumstances. Each had his own agency to choose whether to act or to be acted upon. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know for sure what causes Nephi to react differently than his brothers did from the beginning, allowing him to have this dream, but we do know that it was a conscientious choice of Nephi to act and therefore receive. A teacher may be as close to the character of Christ as possible, have perfect expectations, know and live the doctrine, and have the best methodology, but ultimately it is up to the student to learn. Elder Bednar reminds us: “‘When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth [the message] unto the hearts of the children of men’ (2 Nephi 33:1). Please notice how the power of the Spirit carries the message unto but not necessarily into the heart. A teacher can explain, demonstrate, persuade, and testify, and do so with great spiritual power and effectiveness. Ultimately, however, the content of a message and the witness of the Holy Ghost penetrate into the heart only if a receiver allows them to enter.” [12]

It is not, however, enough to simply say that they have their agency and leave the responsibility for growth to the student. They must be taught correctly in order to act wisely, and this involves training and teaching on the part of the teacher. Alma taught that the Lord gave Adam and Eve commandments “after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil” (Alma 12:32; emphasis added). As teachers, we must do as Joseph Smith taught and “teach them correct principles, [even those of receiving spiritual knowledge and conversion] and [let them] govern themselves.” [13] Our students must know that it takes effort on their part and, like Nephi, a willingness to pay the price. President Henry B. Eyring reflected: “It has been my experience in life that most of my gospel teachers didn’t prepare me quite for the effort that the prize takes. . . . I have tasted sweetness in the scriptures, but it never came easily . . . and I know that the price of getting that sweet taste of the scriptures is tremendous effort. You better teach me that it takes effort.” [14]

It is clear in 1 Nephi that both the angel and the Spirit required Nephi to put forth effort, and Nephi knew of this requirement. Nephi came prepared. He recognized the role of the Spirit in teaching and desired himself to be spiritually self-reliant. He had lived a worthy life of obedience, he had had great and correct expectations of the Lord and of revelation and of himself, he listened to his father and understood his language and the doctrines of the gospel, and he was desirous to look and listen and ask questions. He was willing to work. President Heber J. Grant, speaking on the purpose of Church welfare, instructed: “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” [15]

It is not good enough to say that our students have their agency and therefore can choose to listen or not. Just as with the Church welfare system, there must be opportunities for growth provided. There must be training and effort on the part of the leaders and teachers to help those receiving the assistance to use their agency wisely. Ultimately, it is up to the individual, but it is amazing what powerful impact one teacher, such as the angel or the Spirit with Nephi, can have on an individual learner.

One of the best ways a teacher can help students use their agency is to invite them to act. For example, asking students to raise their hands, Elder Scott teaches us, shows the Holy Ghost that that student is ready to learn. Teach this simple concept to the students, and invite them to do so. Teaching students the importance of writing in regard to revelation and then inviting them to write, and acknowledging them when they do so, is a great invitation that allows the students to act and not be acted upon. Creating an environment in the classroom where students can ask questions, testify, comment, and participate actively, as well as inviting all to participate, allows the students to act. Many students need simple training and invitations in order for them to use their agency to act wisely.

The Power of Love

Paul wrote to the Saints at Corinth:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

I would add, “Though I have all doctrinal knowledge, all pedagogy, the environment set, the true character of Christ in every way imaginable, though I have my PowerPoint slides, and knowledge of language and history and facts galore, if I have not charity as a teacher, I am nothing.”

In speaking of the ideal teacher, President Packer reminisced, “I noticed that he has a sincere compassion for his students, that he knows them and loves them, and he cannot help himself. And the less they deserve his love, the more of it there seems to be sponsored within him.” [16]

I believe that love is the greatest method of all—for what grabs the attention of youth, even mankind, greater and with more enduring significance than honest love? It wasn’t the methodology practiced and perfected which made Christ so effective in his teaching the souls of man, but rather it was his profound love which inspired the method suitable for each case. In fact, understanding the who and the what, when motivated by love, automatically presents the perfect method suited to that individual or group at that time. It was Christ who laid the groundwork through perfect love for perfect teaching. Through his pure love he bids us to come unto him. It is not some contrived method per se but a system of precepts and principles aided by pure love. He who knows all—all people, all doctrine, all laws, all methods—also knows best how to save us all. Christ was the great teacher, and his teaching was inspired by love for all men. President Hinckley conveyed, “I hope that you will cultivate in your hearts not only a love for the Savior of whom you bear testimony, but also a deep love for those you teach.” [17] Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently reminded us: “Not all teachers are the same, nor should they be. We each have different talents, skills, and abilities. We need to celebrate and take advantage of these differences rather than force everyone into the same pattern. But there are some things we all should have in common: we should live righteous lives, love our students, love the gospel, love the Lord, and teach by the Spirit.” [18]


As we recognize the role of the Holy Ghost as the teacher and our complete dependence on him, and as we strive to help our students achieve their great potential by acting and not being acted upon, motivated by the pure love of Christ, they, like Nephi, will see, hear, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost those things which they desire. This generation of youth has been reserved for this time, as Nephi was reserved for his. The doctrines and principles revealed in this dispensation through the standard works and the words of the modern prophets, when understood, will change the attitude and behavior of our students. As we encourage our students to act in faith, as was the case with the messenger and Nephi, our students will become spiritually self-reliant—seeing, hearing, and knowing by the power of the Holy Ghost for themselves—and will help others do the same. They then will take upon themselves the role of the teacher, and, like Nephi to his brothers and future learners, strive with all of their hearts, exhorting all to come unto Christ (see Moroni 10:32).


[1] Joseph Fielding McConkie, Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1995), 206–7.

[2] David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 70; emphasis in original.

[3] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching Skills” (address to CES religious educators, summer 1992), 1–2.

[4] David A. Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith” (address to CES religious educators, February 3, 2006), 3.

[5] See Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 5.

[6] Richard G. Scott, “To Understand and Live Truth” (address to CES religious educators, February 4, 2005), 6.

[7] Jacob 4:14 offers a description of what these people become because of their unbelief.

[8] Boyd K. Packer, interview transcript for the PBS documentary The Mormons ;

[9] Phillips Brooks, as quoted in Gordon B. Hinckley, “Forget Yourself,” Brigham Young University Speeches, March 6, 1977, 2.

[10] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 3.

[11] Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Knowledge and the Strength to Use It Wisely,” Liahona, August 2002, 12; emphasis in original.

[12] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 1; emphasis in original.

[13] Quoted by John Taylor in “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, November 15, 1851, 339; also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 284.

[14] Henry B. Eyring, “Improving Teaching,” March 1983, 8–9,

[15] Heber J. Grant, in Conference Report, October 1936, 3.

[16] Boyd K. Packer (address to seminary and institute faculty, June 28, 1962), 4.

[17] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Four Imperatives for Religious Educators,” in The Voice of My Servants: Apostolic Messages on Teaching, Learning, and Scripture, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 59–67.

[18] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Teacher of God’s Children,” Religious Educator 12, no. 3 (2011): 11.