How to Teach

The Priesthood Quorums Table

by Elder David O. McKay

Improvement Era, December 1916

[179] [At the late conference of the Church, Elder McKay spoke on the divinity and grandeur of the Church organization, and the great responsibility of teaching therein. Referring to Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, he quoted as his text Paul's admonition to these teachers of the people: "Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20: 28–9) Referring to the importance of the calling of the teacher and his duties, he enlarged upon the need of preparation by the teacher, and how they were to teach. We quote as follows]:

"The first thing to do, my brethren, is to look to yourselves, to see whether or not you are prepared to teach. No man can teach that which he himself does not know. It is your duty to teach that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that to him in this last dispensation there appeared God the Father and his Son in person. Do you believe it? Do you feel it? Does that testimony radiate from your being when you enter into the home? If so, that radiation will give life to the people whom you go to teach. If not, there will be a death, a drouth, a lack of that spiritual environment in which the Saints grow.

"Second, is you heart free from backbiting, from faultfinding, from hard feelings one to another? It is your duty, to see that there is no backbiting, that there is no iniquity existing in the Church. You can teach effectively only that which you yourselves feel. Part of the preparation of a teacher consists in freeing his own heart from those things. In doing so follow the advice of one good writer who says: 'In the very depths of your soul dig a grave; let it be as some forgotten spot to which no path leads; and there, in the eternal silence bury the wrongs which you have suffered. Your heart will feel as if a load had fallen from it and a divine peace come to abide with you.' With that divine peace in your soul go into the homes and teach the people.

"But that condition is but the beginning. Three other things should be kept in mind for thorough preparation. The first is a knowledge of those whom you are to teach; the second, a knowledge of what you are to teach; and third, a knowledge as much as may be obtained at least by thoughtful consideration and prayer, of how you are going to teach.

"I have never understood just why we have limited our duties of a [home] teacher to a visit once a month. A visit is not teaching. Reading the outline as prepared by the bishop or the high council is not teaching. Just repeating some passages of scripture, or merely the telling of something to the members of the family in a home is not teaching. Teaching is the awakening of thought in the minds of those whom we visit, and the convincing of their souls of the truth of the message that we bring to them. There must be giving and receiving, a reciprocal condition.

"How necessary it is, then, to know those whom we teach! No two families in any district are alike. I call to mind now one group of six families, one member of which is a patriarch in the Church, living in the [180] sunset of a faithful life with his daughter, a teacher in the public schools, and a grand-daughter, a student in the high school. On the same block next to him, reside a young couple who have but recently joined the Church. The girl had grown up in our communities, but she had not joined the Church until recently. Two of their little children are also baptized. Across the street reside a widow and her daughter, the daughter a typist in one of the business offices of the city, and the other three families present conditions just as varying. Brethren, the message, and particularly the manner of presenting that message, might not be the same when given to one who had spent his life in faithful labor in the Church, as when given to those who are newly converted. As each family is different from another so each individual in the family differs from others, so our messages and our methods, particularly our methods of presentation, might vary. I cite this just to impress us with this thought, that it is our duty to know those whom we are going to teach. That is one reason, I think, why the Lord says: 'It is the duty of the teacher to watch over the Church always.' Not just once a month but always a teacher; no hour in the day when you are free from that responsibility. There is no day in the week when you are free, and when you should not feel it your duty to do something, if possible, to make that group of members in the Church better and happier.

"What you are to teach is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the bishop gives you any special message—tithing, for example—study that principle, first by 'taking heed unto yourself' to see if you can teach it consistently. If it be prayer, 'take heed unto yourself' in regard to prayer. Do you get down on your knees before you go out to teach that message? Do you study some boy who is a little questionable in his life to know just what attitude he will take towards prayer? Do you pray for God to inspire you to say something to lead such an one to see the necessity of prayer?

"O teachers, yours is an important calling! God help you to be true to it, to feel that part of the responsibility of carrying on God's work in this the last dispensation rests upon you. "Even after you have studied your groups as indicated or just hinted at here, and presented your message in the most effective manner you are capable of, your duty is not ended. President Lund, I think, referred to the light attendance at some of our sacrament meetings. You carry the responsibility, teachers, of seeing to it that members of the Church attend to sacrament meeting. How can you teach that duty effectively unless you yourself be present, that you may be able intelligently to commend those in your district who are in attendance, and to teach those who are absent?

"Just a word to the bishops. I believe that teaching will be more effective in the Church if you will call your priesthood to you, and point out to them in meeting, after prayer, in humility, what it means for them to go out from house to house as your representatives. Don't just call them somewhat indifferently from the pulpit, and make an assignment in an indefinite way; but rather there in your bishop's meeting tell them individually what it means to be a teacher, ask them if they will stand by you in your efforts to uphold the standard of the Church. When you have occasion to release them, do it in a dignified and honorable manner, by telling them how you appreciate what they have done, and why they are at present released."

McKay, David O. (1916, December). "[Excerpts from] How to Teach." The Improvement Era 20, 2. 179–180.