Doctrine: Teaching BY the Spirit is not the same thing has having the Spirit WITH us. They are two different things. Most people think all they need is to have the Spirit WITH them. Then, they fail to learn how to teach, preach, discuss, encourage, or discipline BY the Spirit; and they end up doing these things “some other way.”
Like all gifts of the Spirit, some people are born with an innate ability to “teach by the Spirit” while the rest have to seek for the gift. It’s not too much different from someone who is born with a natural knack for music or computer programming. Learning it for them is more like being reminded how. While, the rest of us must struggle through step-by-step, principle-by-principle until we master it.
Now, I’ve met many people who are naturally gifted at something who never rose to their potential because it was “too easy” for them. This is because they took for granted their talent. And, I’ve met others who were not naturally gifted at something who worked hard and went on to become great and renowned in their sought-out gift/talent. It is similar with teaching, except that in teaching some are born to it, but God intends all of us to master it. It is a command, not a passing suggestion. This makes it a big deal.
Now, when I say “teach by the Spirit,” I mean giving a talk at church, teaching a lesson at church, having a gospel discussion with a friend, being a full-time missionary, giving Family Home Evening lessons, giving devotionals or spiritual thoughts, being a parent or regular person and teaching every moment of every day, and so forth. There isn’t a person on this earth that is exempt from learning to teach by the Spirit. Not one. Why? Because it is something we should be doing every moment of every day.
Teaching, talking, discussing, encouraging, or disciplining, etc…by the Spirit can greatly DECREASE our chances of giving offense, teaching false doctrine (or our own philosophies mingled with scripture), or exercising unrighteous dominion. Teaching by the Spirit can help us all to treat others as moral agents and avoid infringing on personal agency while still inviting them to do good. Teaching by the Spirit can give authority to our testimonies and help prevent us from giving stifling ultimatums when we intended to give powerful encouragement.
One of the biggest misconceptions I have found in “teaching by the Spirit” is that a large amount of Latter-day Saints believe it is a once-in-a-while thing at church. Therefore, because of this incorrect belief they never trouble themselves or take the time to figure out exactly how one “teaches by the Spirit,” nor do they ever practice and improve. It’s something they fear or mess with when they have a partial teaching responsibility. While not commonly “on purpose,” most people completely ignore the whole concept and prefer rather to pray extra hard and hope for the best. In so doing they end up NOT teaching by the Spirit but in “some other way.”
Doctrine and Covenants 50:13-22 we read (and I will annotate to enhance possible ways to interpret, though it is not the only way to interpret these passages):
13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
14 To preach my gospel BY the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.
Note here that we preach BY the Spirit, not WITH the Spirit. Having the Spirit with us is not the same thing as preaching BY His required methods. So, while we most certainly need the companionship of the Holy Ghost, to preach BY the Spirit requires also becoming familiar with the methods and techniques that the Holy Ghost uses that He may fulfill His role as the teacher. Because you’ll note that God says that the teacher is the Comforter, NOT US. We are the preacher, or the instrument which facilitates the teaching
So, what does that really mean? Well, the Holy Ghost, as the Teacher is the one who gives power to, and uses things we say or do to impress the minds of those we are teaching with the things God wants them to know. But, no matter how cool, true, or wonderful something is that we say or do, IF the Holy Ghost doesn’t choose to use it, our words and actions will accomplish nothing. They will not be remembered nor have any lasting impact.
15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God and in this are ye justified?
Note that “spirits” is the term God used to describe the BY methods people are using. He isn’t saying people are possessed WITH evil spirits. He says people are entertaining, receiving, and utilizing methods and techniques which are incorrect. To me it is more of “the spirit in which we approach teaching situations.”
16 Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.
If we are teaching BY these incorrect spirits, God understands that our intent is good. He says He will be merciful.
17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
18 And if it be some other way it is not of God.
Again, note that God says BY not WITH. He’s not convicting them of being possessed with incorrect spirits, He’s convicting them of teach BY incorrect spirits.
21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
One of the biggest things most of us fail to recognize is that when we are teaching, discussing, encouraging, disciplining, etc. BY the Spirit, that both us and the other parties walk away feeling, or having been uplifted, inspired, and taught something BY the Holy Ghost that is beyond what was actually said or done. Meaning, we are enlightened as much by the teaching/preaching experience as our students, friends, acquaintances, children, and class.
Now, this blog article will not turn anyone into a great teacher. But, it contains some doctrines, that if understood, can help those who truly desire to begin the journey of learning to teach BY the Spirit.
Also, there is no way for me to list everything here that is needed for you to conquer “teaching by the Spirit.” But, for the sake of wetting your appetite, let me address two main things that I have found are the most critical to beginning the journey of seeking the spiritual gift/talent of “teaching BY the Spirit.”
#1 Let go of the idea that anything you say or do will convert someone.
In every teaching/preaching situation, whether at home, with friends and children, or at church, almost always people think, “What can I say or do to make <blank> do /believe what I want him to do/believe?” “What can I say or do to make my friend do/believe what I want her to do/believe?” or “What can I do to make my child do/believe what I want him/her to do/believe?”
Hopefully, you’ll note that the problem with all of these is questions is WHAT CAN I SAY OR DO TO MAKE…. This question is incredibly flawed. It usurps the Holy Ghost’s role as the true teacher. It ignores agency because we want to make people comply. And, it implies that what WE want is what God wants. All three are major flaws which will leave the Holy Ghost silent on our behalf.
It is so important to understand that nothing any of us says or does is of any value unless the Holy Ghost can make use of it. It’s that’s simple. So, the questions should be (and note the major changes), “What can I say or do to help the Holy Ghost invite <blank> to do/believe what God wants them to do/believe?”
With this correctly focused question, all the accountability to convert or save has been put in proper perspective and in the hands of the Holy Ghost, not us. We do not make people change, the Holy Ghost invites them to change. We do not identify what they need to do or change, God identifies what they need to do or change and communicates it to them completely separate from us. We don’t get to know what He says to them, because He communicates it to their mind and heart (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3).
#2 Possible “some other way” spirits that we teach BY
Figuring out what you do in your teaching moments that is “some other way” is between you and the Lord. But, if you study the Church’s current teaching manual Teaching in the Savior’s Way (https://www.lds.org/manual/teaching-in-the-saviors-way?lang=eng), you will be able to identify—with diligent study and prayer—the ways in which Christ taught BY the Spirit. Then, you can go to the Lord and ask Him what things you do that are “some other way” and that get in the way of the methods and techniques that are BY the Spirit. I can testify to you with certainty that He will let you know what those things are if you have 1) educated yourself and 2) sincerely asked.
Christ taught with simple parables, short object lessons, pointed questions, open-ended questions, inviting questions, etc. In other words, He put everyone around Him into constant moments where they had to ponder, reflect, self-analyze, visualize, and use their agency to receive light and truth. Christ never gave them answers. He always sent them to find the answers themselves. He never told them how to “apply” the doctrine; He gave them the doctrine and invited them to find out for themselves.
So, if you find yourself doing the opposite of these general Christlike teaching methods, you can be certain you are teaching in “some other way.” If you do not provide moments where those you interact with can ponder, reflect, self-analyze, visualize, and use their agency to receive light and truth, this is “some other way.” If you are always trying to give your own answers and how-to’s and telling people how to do things your way—no matter how good or correct you believe your way is—then you are in a spirit of “some other way.” If you insist upon always making sure you get to tell people what to think instead of sending them on a journey to find out what God wants them to think, you are in a spirit of “some other way.” And so forth.
Now, one last thing, reverting back to Doctrine and Covenants 50:22: If you walk away from interactions with your church classes, talks, visiting and home teaching people, family, friends, and loved ones and you have not been inspired, you have not been uplifted, or you have not felt an increase of peace or joy, then it is likely those interactions took place in “some other way.” Only you can go to the Lord and find out how or why the “some other way” got in there.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you were evil. It may mean that others were in a spirit of “some other way,” also. But, when you have the role to teach BY the Spirit and you have not been uplifted and edified yourself, then you should ponder back on those moments and re-orient your viewpoint. Perhaps, it’s time you took seriously the call to learn to “teach BY the Spirit.”