The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered all over the world to receive instruction on the release of two new handbooks of instruction for all leaders of the Church on Saturday, November 13, 2010. The following is a brief report of that meeting.
There was excitement in the air as we gathered in our stake on Saturday, November 13, to hear the worldwide leadership training broadcast and the introduction of the new priesthood leadership handbooks. This broadcast was going out on the satellite system to 95 countries and in 22 languages. On everyone’s mind, it seemed, was the question: What changes will be made?
Subtle and major changes were gleaned from the two-hour training session. According to the Church’s official press release: “Major new doctrinally based chapters have been added at the front of the book on the eternal family and leadership and priesthood principles.” We also noticed, in passing, the announcement that the activities committees in the ward have been discontinued. Priesthood Executive Committees will likely meet less often than they have and ward councils will meet more often and/or be utilized more effectively. The welfare committee meeting will no longer be held. Leaders were encouraged to use delegation extensively and to reduce some temporal services performed in wards such as moving members. Fathers, though not fully temple worthy, can, under the discretion of the bishop, name and bless his children, baptize his own children and ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A father in similar circumstances may stand in the circle when a child is confirmed or a son is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but he may not act as voice. Reemphasis was given to the use of home and visiting teachers. The most consistent thing we heard throughout the training broadcast was the empowerment of the ward council to support the bishop and to strengthen individuals and families in each ward.
The Use of the Ward Council
Much of what was talked about reminded us of the teachings that Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve had given us in conference, October 1993, in a talk entitled, “Strength in Counsel.” In this talk Elder Ballard said, “All councils in the Church should encourage free and open discussion by conferring with one another and striving to have clear, concise communication… Ideally, all members of any Church or any family council should share their concerns and should suggest solutions based on gospel principles. I believe the Church and our families would be strengthened if stake presidents and bishops would use their council meetings for finding answers to questions on how to improve sacrament meetings; how to improve reverence; how to focus on children; how to strengthen youth; how to help singles, including single parents; how to teach and fellowship investigators and new members; how to improve gospel teaching; and many similar issues.”[i] This same counsel was given on Saturday; focus is to be on individuals and families and to do much to relieve an already overburdened bishop.
“The handbook includes two volumes, one of which will be provided to hundreds of thousands of men and women who shoulder significant responsibilities in administering local Church programs and congregations,” reports the Church’s newsroom press release. “It contains the vast majority of revisions and was posted online Saturday at lds.org, the Church’s website for members, where anyone can view it. Complete video of the worldwide leadership training broadcast was also posted online late Saturday evening, Mountain Time.”
Local leaders were reminded by general Church leaders that “while the handbook is an essential guide in a large church with a lay ministry, it is not scripture, and that individual leaders are expected to seek inspiration and use judgment when administering their church duties.”
Background from President Monson
To show how far the Church has come in the past generation, President Monson led the training by telling a story that took place in the 1970’s. He said that he was assigned to see after the work in Eastern Europe. Because of the near impossibility of getting materials into the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany or the DDR), President Spencer W. Kimball assigned then Elder Monson to memorize the priesthood handbook and bring that information, in his head, over the boarder and then disseminate it to the East German priesthood leaders. The task was almost overwhelming. Who could really memorize the entire priesthood leadership handbook? He went to work, carefully organizing into his mind each section, each concept, each principle. He was finally ready to go.
He arrived in East Germany and immediately asked the leaders there for an office, a typewriter and a ream of paper. They gave him what he needed then he began downloading everything he had learned. He typed and typed and typed for about two hours. He then took a stretch break for a few minutes. He looked around the office where he was working and he spied on the shelf the new priesthood leadership handbook, already there—already translated into German! Someone had smuggled it across the boarder and had completed the work he had come to do! He said that much has changed since then.
President Monson reminded us that the membership of the Church has now exceeded 14 million. He encouraged all leaders to read the handbooks, to come to understand the contents, to become very familiar with them. He said that if we did not follow them carefully, errors could creep into the Church.
Elder Oaks About The Process of Putting Together the New Handbooks
Elder Dallin H. Oaks began his remarks by saying, “We accept President Monson’s challenge to read, understand and follow these handbooks to maintain the integrity of the policies, procedures and programs of the Church.”
Elder Oaks informed us that he and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve, and Elder Bruce A. Porter of the Seventy had been given the responsibility of coordinating the work of the changing of the leadership handbooks. He told us “these new handbooks will be a treasure and a blessing to each of us.”
“The publication of these handbooks and this broadcast,” Elder Oaks continued, “are the final steps of a three year process.”
Elder Oaks taught us that the old handbooks were reviewed line-by-line and revised as necessary to serve the members of a worldwide Church. “This revision has focused on the salvation of the children of God and the strengthening of their families.”
He said that every line has been read, reread corrected and reread again. “Under direction of the First Presidency, individual chapters were written, read and approved by the Presiding Bishopric, by the general auxiliary officers and by general authorities assigned to the various church departments. The proposed text was then reviewed and approved by the Quorum of the Twelve assisted by the Presidency of the Seventy. Finally, the total text was read, modified and approved by the First Presidency. Throughout this work we’ve been guided by a sweet spirit of inspiration.”
Elder Oaks said that the new handbooks have 12% less word count that the retiring handbooks.
The Purpose of the Church
In 1981 the first reference was made to “the three-fold mission” of the Church. That same language was revisited and modified in the new handbook. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by God to assist in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His Children.
The Church invites all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him. The invitation to come unto Christ pertains to all who have lived, or will ever live on the earth…
“In fulfilling it purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”[ii]
Other Parts of the Training Broadcast
A model ward council was shown in the broadcast consisting of a bishop and his two counselors, the Elders Quorum President, the High Priest Group Leader, the Relief Society President, the Young Women’s President, the Primary President, the Young Men’s President, the Ward Mission Leader, the Sunday School President, the Ward Clerk and the Ward Executive Secretary. Each of the thirteen members of this model ward council took part in the meeting and added significant items, emphasizing individuals and families.
A panel discussion was held with Elder M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder David A. Bednar, all of the Twelve Apostles, and Sister Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society President and Elder Walter F. Gonzalez of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Bednar emphasized that we have the mistaken thought that every bit of inspiration comes through the bishop in a ward organization. There should be great participation in decision making, he said, and the bishop doesn’t have to “receive every jot and title of revelation.” Over and over again in this panel discussion the point was made to listen to the women of the Church and their counsel and that revelation could come to a number of individuals, not just the bishop of the ward.
Elder Bednar said how much he wished we could remove from the vocabulary of the Latter-day Saint the word “meeting.” “We have not been talking about meeting,” he said. We should say that we are preparing to participate in “a revelatory experience” with the ward council. Given the last days, he said, “no one person is going to be where the revelation comes.”
Leaders were told to especially read and understand the first three chapters of Handbook 2. Chapter 1 is entitled “Families and the Church in God’s Plan. Chapter 2 is: Priesthood Principles. Chapter 3 is: Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ. These chapters lay the doctrinal foundation for all the training that was given and outline the principles and scriptures that undergird all that we do in the Church.
The individual and the family are of utmost importance in the Lord’s kingdom. Single members are of vital importance to the Church. “Strong families are vital to the Church, and members should not be asked to make excessive family sacrifices to serve or to support programs or activities.”[iii]
“The Lord’s Church is governed through councils at the general, area, stake and ward levels. These councils are fundamental to the order of the Church.
“Under the keys of priesthood leadership at each level, leaders counsel together for the benefit of individuals and families. Council members also plan the work of the Church pertaining to their assignments. Effective councils invite full expression from council members and unify their efforts in responding to individual, family and organizational needs.”[iv]
Elder Ballard, the master teacher of councils, said that we should take the handbook a chapter at a time and move through it and give an opportunity for some discussion. “What did we really learn here?” In six months we should have councils operating under the direction and knowledge of these handbooks.
President Boyd K. Packer ended the broadcast, significantly, by quoting from the prophecy of Joel: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”[v] That was, again, the reemphasis that all are entitled to revelation in the Ward Council and that we are to move ahead under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, in the pre-mortal council in heaven, so is the Lord’s Kingdom on the earth organized and run by councils.
[i] Ballard, M. Russell, “Strength in Counsel,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 76.
[ii] See Handbook 2, Administering the Church 2010, 2.2, “The Purpose of the Church, p. 9.
[iii] Ibid, 17.2.1.
[iv] Ibid, 4.1.
[v] Joel 2: 28, 29.