I generally enjoy teaching at church. It wasn't always that way. At age 16 I was assigned to teach a church lesson the first Sunday of the summer I spent planting pineapple in Hawaii. The lesson went well for about seven minutes. The trouble was that I had about 38 more minutes to fill. I had planned on more input from class members (who were all teenage boys). Bad planning on my part. We survived, but it was pretty painful for all involved.
Yesterday I was assigned to teach a priesthood lesson. The only instruction I had was to focus on the Savior. I like to think that I have become a fairly adept teacher in the years since my debacle in Hawaii. I've been down the road of preparing and executing lessons a time or two. I have even stepped up to unexpectedly teach classes. Many of these experiences have been wonderful.
As I worked over several days to prepare yesterday's lesson I kept getting impressions. But there seemed to be something missing. None of these disparate ideas seemed to gel into a cohesive message. Nor did I get any particular impression about timing or order of presentation.
Finally I fell back on the talk given by David S. McConkie in the October 2013 general conference, where he said, "After you have prepared yourself and your lesson to the very best of your ability, you must be willing to let go. When the quiet promptings of the Holy Ghost come, you must have the courage to set aside your outlines and your notes and go where those promptings take you."
I had prepared. I had plenty of material to choose from. I could just jump in and let the lesson go where it needed to go, based on the needs of class members as dictated by the Spirit. Due to an unusual number of business items during priesthood opening exercises, about half the class period was gone by the time it was my turn. That would have bothered me if I had had more of an idea of how the lesson should go. But feeling rather rudderless, the short time remaining comforted me.
We had already sung a hymn in opening exercises, but I felt like I should start my lesson with a hymn. I chose My Redeemer Lives, a poem by Gordon B. Hinckley set to music by his lifelong friend G. Homer Durham. Then I quoted a favorite scripture, Omni 1:26. My intent to was to choose selections that testified of Christ.
Some of the best teaching that I have ever experienced in priesthood lessons has been during discussions where members have taught each other. I hoped to start a discussion based on the Savior by inviting class members to offer any favorite scriptures or sacred songs about the Savior.
Brother B. offered Hebrews 4:14-16. Brother H. talked about how he feels when he hears the children's song, I Feel My Savior's Love. So far so good. These were good things to mention, but not much discussion ensued.
Then another brother cited the Psalm of Nephi from 2 Nephi 4:15-35. These are powerful verses that are among my favorite scriptures. But they don't specifically mention the Savior, so they were somewhat off topic. Another brother then talked about how inspired he feels when he hears America the Beautiful and My Country, 'Tis of Thee; songs I love but that don't directly reference Christ.
It kind of went on in that vein with brethren talking about fine songs and scriptures that uplifted them but that were off the lesson topic. I would express appreciation for the insights offered but would then try to pull the discussion back to the Savior without much success.
With time running out I closed off discussion. Hoping to return to my assigned topic, I referenced some inspiring events recorded in 3 Nephi 17 and the story of the disciples walking with the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus from Luke 24:13-35.
After concluding I felt unsatisfied about how the lesson had gone. It felt like a jumble in my mind. Why had I felt like I was wrestling with the class members? Moreover, why had I felt like I was wrestling with the Spirit? I had done my best to follow the assignment given by my priesthood leader. Should I have jettisoned the topic and allowed the discussion to flow with less restraint? What was the Spirit trying to tell me that I had been too hard hearted to receive?
Yesterday's lesson was enough to make me question my teaching abilities. But maybe that's where the problem lies. In church instruction, human teaching skills are only valuable to the extent that they are used to assist the Holy Ghost in teaching. Sticking too tightly to a topic can sometimes get in the way of that instruction, even when the topic is as centrally important as the Savior. Or perhaps the Lord had prepared a different path to such a witness than I was willing to permit.
I'm still not sure what went wrong yesterday. But I will be taking a different approach the next time I prepare a lesson for church.