Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » In Our Ward: Gospel Principles, Lesson 11: The Life of Christ

In Our Ward: Gospel Principles, Lesson 11: The Life of Christ

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 15, 2010

I hesitated to post this lesson outline; hence its appearance on Tuesday instead of Sunday. I hesitated because in looking at this as written, it would appear that I devoted far more time to an introductory story that did not come from the manual than to the lesson itself, and we’re all sensitive these days about criticism that goes “Stick to the manual! Stick to the manual!”

In reality, however, the story took only a couple of minutes, and the vast majority of the time was involved with discussing the lesson presented in the manual. My outline for that doesn’t take much space because it is simply a list of questions and could not predict the exact course of the discussion. Whether it is evident or not from what is posted here, whenever the discussion included specific ideas from the manual (and it often did), we read the suggested scriptures and I tried to be sure to respond to comments in a way that drew on the discussion in the manual.

This is my first attempt to teach out of the Gospel Principles manual (I’ve just been moved over from Teachings for Our Times). The first thing I realized when I began to prepare — something I hadn’t noticed as a class member, surprisingly — is that these lessons have no explicitly stated purpose. All other church manuals for generations have suggested what class members show do, know, feel, or understand by the end of class. There’s nothing like that in this manual. Now, maybe some teachers don’t pay attention to those stated purposes, but I’ve always used them to shape the general direction of my lessons. I had to consider what I wanted this lesson to accomplish, and write my own purpose to keep me on track.

Hence the story about Tissot. I wanted the sisters to recall specific events from the life of Christ, to emphasize his life, rather than general principles or vague ideas associated with his missions. By starting with this story, I could, when necessary, refer back to it to pin the sisters down with their responses: Rather than stopping with “I love Christ because he was so kind to everyone,” I could prod them into identifying specific instances — moments that might have been painted by Tissot — of Christ’s kindness. And they came up with them: His coming to Mary and Martha to mourn over Lazarus, his personal attention to the needs of his mother, his willingness to mingle with crowds rather than standing aloof. I thought that would be more effective for my sisters, more in keeping with a lesson on the life of Christ. And I think it worked, particularly in the last part of the lesson where I asked for instances of people whose lives they thought emulated the life of Christ in one way or another — we started off with instances from the lives of Joseph Smith and Thomas S. Monson, then moved to the examples of ward members who, as Christ did, bless the lives of children, or feed the hungry, or serve in temples to continue Christ’s mission to the dead. These are events that we can replicate, that have the power to change how we live our lives.

Gospel Principles: Lesson 15: Life of Christ

Purpose: To remind the sisters of the centrality of Jesus Christ to their lives, and to encourage continued reflection on specific events from the life of Christ that we can emulate in our own lives.


James J. Tissot was a significant French artist during the 19th century. He studied with the greatest teachers and exhibited in the best known salons. He was a successful artist in both France and England, and his subject matter was what was fashionable during his lifetime: Scenes of Parisian nightlife, and the lifestyles of the European upper crust, and a series celebrating women and their noblest qualities.

In late middle age, though, Tissot underwent a religious conversion. He claimed to have had a vision of Jesus Christ that not only convinced him that he should follow Christ as a disciple, but also that he should illustrate the life of Christ in a way that would help other people understand the Savior and his ministry. Rather than paint Christ in the supernatural, otherworldly style that was typical for religious paintings, he would show Christ in realistic fashion, as a man moving among men. He would do this, he said, not to reduce Christ to a mere man, but to help people approach Christ as a figure who had really lived and breathed and walked on the earth.

To prepare for doing this, Tissot made three trips to the Middle East, studying the architecture and the plant life and the faces of the people. He dressed in the costumes of rabbis and Bedouins and others so that he could gain an appreciation of how they stood and sat and moved. He talked to people from all walks of life about the parables and sayings of Jesus so that he could better understand how the people of Christ’s world understood his words.

And then he began to paint – scenes of Christ’s birth, and his youth, and his baptism, his miracles, his movements among his disciples, his death, his resurrection. He painted for ten years, documenting the life of Christ. (I know you have no way of knowing this, but how many paintings would you guess he painted in those ten years, about different aspects of the life of Christ? – 365) His paintings were considered shocking by some people of his time, because they were so realistic, showing Christ as a camera might have seen him, but they were also enjoyed by a great many people. After he published a book reproducing most of his images of Christ, his paintings were sold as a lot to what is now the Brooklyn Museum, where they are now on exhibit for the first time in many years.

One piece of trivia that you might find interesting: In 1908, the very first color pictures ever distributed by the church in any magazine or lesson manual, appeared in the Children’s Friend, one picture per issue. There was no printer in Salt Lake then who could print in color, so the Primary purchased copies of these color pictures from an eastern supply house, and they were bound in when the rest of magazine was printed here. Those first color pictures, which the church found so important to go to all that trouble to give to our children, were twelve of the paintings of James J. Tissot.

Lesson Development

Tissot was a man who loved Jesus Christ, and who came to know his life so well that he could tell at least 365 stories about that life – most of those stories being from the three years of Christ’s adult ministry. Do you think you could draft a list with 365 stories from the life of Christ?

There is no life that deserves more of our attention than the life of Christ, and, as Latter-day Saints with our revealed understanding of the purpose of Christ’s life, his role as Savior, there are no people anywhere who need to be more familiar with his life.

We live in the dispensation of the fullness of times. One of the blessings of living today is that we live after Christ walked on this earth. We have records of some of his words and some of his deeds. We have to exercise faith that he was who he said he was, but we don’t have to doubt that he was here.

What about those who lived before the time of Christ? They had to exercise faith that not only would he be the Savior that God said he would be, but that he would even come at all. If you had lived during all those millennia before the coming of Christ, what might you have wanted God to reveal to you that would help you look forward in faith to the coming of the Messiah? (As ideas are suggested – especially when they are concepts specifically outlined in the manual – read and discuss the appropriate scripture verses.)

Because we do live after the time of Christ, we can look back and know that all these prophecies were fulfilled. We can know a great deal more about the life of Christ than any of these ancient prophets were privileged to know.

What are some of the aspects of Christ’s mortal life that seem to be the most important for you? (As sisters offer opinions, try to pin them down to specific incidents that illustrate whatever they suggest, rather than general doctrinal statements about the need for a Savior. If someone says, for example, that “He taught us how to live,” get her to mention a specific time when he did something or taught someone a principle about right living. If someone says, “He always did what the Father wanted him to do,” have her specify an incident when Christ obeyed the Father. Also, whenever someone mentions an idea that is covered in the manual, have the class read the scriptures that accompany that part of the manual’s discussion.)

Are there specific details about the life of Christ that you wish you knew, but about which the scriptures are silent? What, and why?

Because we claim to have taken Christ’s name upon us, and we claim to be his one true church on earth, there are no people who have a greater obligation to follow Christ and model our lives after him. Who can you think of, past or present, whose life in part shows obedience to Christ? (Again, pin the responses down to specific parallels to the life of Christ, rather than general principles.)

What are some aspects of Christ’s mortal life that you would like to incorporate into your own life? How have you worked to incorporate them? Why is it sometimes hard to do so?


We are blessed to live in a time when we can know that Christ did come to earth. We have both the technology and the wealth for each of us to own a record of Christ’s mortal life. We are blessed with the education and the leisure to be able to study that life. (As much as possible, summarize what sisters have suggested are the most meaningful parts of Christ’s life for them.)



  1. Lovely idea, Ardis – a very real and inspiring story of a follower of Christ and how he shared his love for Him.
    Incidentally, although there’s been a lot of concern about “sticking to the manual”, the Gospel Principles manual intro for teachers advises that, “As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons.” So I think your lesson wins on two fronts there: James J. Tissot’s personal experience, and the Children’s Friend publishing the paintings! :-)

    Comment by Alison — June 15, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  2. Thanks, Alison. I guess I get so prematurely defensive because there is soooo much “stick to the manual” emphasis, especially by people who are not good teachers. You know, those who can, teach; those who can’t, snipe about breaking the rules.

    So many teachers have trouble teaching because they don’t know what to do besides read straight down the manual, or else have class members do it. Good or bad, I hope my outlines suggest other ways of teaching it. In this case, we *did* cover the material in the manual (or as much as there was time for, anyway), but instead of reading down the manual I asked questions that allowed class members to suggest what they thought was most important or most on their minds about the life of Christ. Then by the way I responded to their comments, I could steer us toward the points emphasized in the written lesson. It didn’t play out in the same order as the manual, and sometimes we got into a point in a way that was less direct than the manual, but it was a heart-felt discussion by class members rather than a tedious coverage of the written lesson.

    (I know how vain this must sound. I don’t claim to be the world’s best teacher. I’m only hoping to help some other teacher by analyzing what worked for me, and why.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

  3. Thank you Ardis, you did a great job, and you helped this teacher.

    Comment by Bessie — June 16, 2010 @ 7:34 am

  4. Thank you for the story on Tissot. I discovered his artwork on your site this past year, and have been delighted to find more at the Brooklyn Museum’s website before today (but I might go back today for more meditation on his paintings.)

    Our RS teacher was great this week. She put up A LOT of pictures from the library of Christ over his life and asked for our input of which was our favorite story and why.
    The 40 minutes flew by! I did not resort to reading my manual once! Sounds like you did equally well.

    Allison in Atlanta

    Comment by Allison — June 16, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  5. Just loved the background on Tissot and could just see his sincere intent and effort to understand.

    Had to smile because our RS lesson was read.

    Comment by Ingrid — June 16, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  6. This is lesson eleven, right?

    Comment by reed russell — June 16, 2010 @ 10:32 am

  7. Oh, duh, you’re right, Reed. I’m teaching Lesson 15 in SS this week so had the wrong number in mind. Will fix that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 16, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  8. I gave this lesson to the High Priests in my ward this past Sunday. I wish I had had your outline, but my lesson went well. We talked about Christ’s role in our lives–as a model, inspiration, etc. The class really got involved.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — June 16, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  9. “Stick to the manual”, sure, but we’re also supposed to use our own experiences and stories we know/thoughts we’ve had ourselves to support the manual, yes? I know my knowledge of the historical development of Modern English comes in useful sometimes when we’re dealing with difficult phrasings in the KJV, and your knowledge of history presumably comes in useful, too. (Or is uncorrelated personal knowledge out nowadays, too, and i never got the memo?)

    Comment by David B — June 16, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  10. Ardis,

    You always inspire me to do more, go further, climb higher, and bask in the greatness which our history illuminates.

    Comment by Of-The-Sea — June 22, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

  11. Ardis, thanks so much. I am teaching this lesson today and will follow your lead re: Tissot. Fascinating story.

    Comment by Jana — June 27, 2010 @ 6:53 am

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