I sat in on a missionary discussion the other night. It was with a woman and her son who both had recently joined the church. They were being taught a follow up lesson on the Plan of Salvation. I was with two really good missionaries. They teach well and they teach well together, almost seamless in their transitions from one teaching to the other. After the lesson we three talked about it and they both agreed that it wasn’t their strongest teaching effort. I offered, as I always do, to give them some feedback and they readily accepted, as they always do.
The feedback was this: they taught the Plan of Salvation in an unnecessarily complicated way. They taught it in the standard way that we all seem to use, with circles and lines representing different spheres of existence and transitions to and from those spheres. But it took over 30 minutes to get all of that on paper. And the reason it took so long is that there were dozens of digressions.
The Plan is vast and it touches at the very heart of what we believe. It helps us understand where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. As we begin to talk about it and teach its truths, we are easily distracted by another example, another appendage to it, another story we’ve heard about one of the facets of the plan, by any number of things that keep us from communicating simply and clearly what that Plan of Salvation really is. We, the teachers, are not bothered by the digressions because we understand the basics, but those trying to learn them get confused by what is really important and what is less so. And when the lesson is over they are not really sure which points are critical. If we can’t teach the Plan in a straightforward way, we lose people who can’t hack their way through the dense forest of facts we have built for them in order to see the truth at the center.
The lesson of the feedback was this: the best teaching is clear and simple. It is always clear and simple. The circle and line drawing can be put on paper in 10 minutes. It can be clearly explained in not much more time than that. If we teach it in that manner and the Spirit is present, the student/learner will have questions. She will begin to ask questions about the parts and pieces she is interested in and that she doesn’t understand. We can then address those. It will be a much more useful learning experience.
I’m not short-changing the beauty of the plan in suggesting that we can teach it very well in a much shorter time. What I am saying is that this particular subject is so filled with details that we could talk about it for hours, explaining more and filling in more with scriptural backing. That is not only unnecessary but confusing to a beginning learning of these things.
If we lay it out simply and clearly it will be easier understood and will create in the learner an increased desire to understand more.
One of the marks of an effective teacher is this: can he teach simply and clearly.