Saturday there was a Worldwide Leadership Training for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the new Church Handbook of Instruction was introduced. There was no great change made, no great revelation, no new programs or policies introduced, and yet it was quite an impressive meeting. What there was was a refocusing of attention, a re-emphasis on those things that matter most.
The Church is getting back to the basics of what the gospel is all about, not activities and programs, but doctrine. There is a renewed emphasis on the work of the salvation of the children of God and on strengthening the family. There are now several chapters at the beginning of the handbook dealing specifically with points of doctrine, including the role of the family and the purpose of the Church. Leaders are encouraged to study these sections and the scriptures and rely on the Spirit in guiding them. There are certain things that need to be uniform in the Church, and these are outlined in the Handbook, but there is also a chapter that describes when and how adaptations may be made.
What really impressed me was the word that was repeated the most : Council. There is now a renewed focus on councils in the Church, and this really isn’t that surprising. The First Presidency is a Council and they counsel together to make their decisions, the Quorum of the Twelve is a Council, as are each Quorum of Seventy, each Stake Presidency, each Bishopric, each Elder’s Quorum presidency, Relief Society presidency, etc. With increased reliance upon the Ward Council, the Bishop is relieved of a lot of the work that has kept them so busy. This should also change the way in which our meetings are held.
Nothing says Mormonism better than meetings, and lots of them, during which a lot is said. But the new model, which is really the model we should have been using all along, is that we counsel as a council. We discuss and reason together how we can best help the families for which we have responsibility. There shouldn’t be as much talk about activities and dates and numbers, but we should be talking together about how we can help bring about the purpose of the Church, which is to help with the Salvation of the children of God and to strengthen the family. That is our focus, as it should always have been.
And so, as I said, this is nothing new, this is nothing more or less than the way the Church should be functioning if leaders understand the principles and doctrines of the Gospel. There are a lot of instructions to help new leaders and leaders in parts of the world where the Church is not as strong or establishes, to keep the business of the Church unified. As President Monson said, “New policies will be implemented by the First Presidency, and not by word-of-mouth or rumor from one leader to another.” He also said that 80% of the letters that the First Presidency receive with policy questions could be answered by the Handbook if leaders were more familiar with it.
I see this as a great step forward, to put more of the power of the Church into the hands of local leaders and to relieve the burden of Bishops and Stake Presidencies and even the General Authorities. Especially as the Church continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the General Authorities to instruct each Stake President or Bishop called, that is why there is a General Handbook of Instruction, translated into 95 languages.
And I see the same need for every member of the Church to be more familiar with the scriptures, with the doctrines of the Gospel. We do not have to rely upon our leaders for everything, we can search the word of God and go to Him in prayer to know what we should be doing in every aspect of our lives. And as we do so we will be filled with the Spirit more fully and that Spirit will fill our meetings and the Church as a whole. Elder Bednar, with his lovely gift for coining phrases, said that he wished he could abolish the word ‘meeting’ from the vocabulary of the Latter-day Saint. Instead, he says that they are “revelatory experiences” as we counsel together, we invite the Spirit to reveal to us what we should be doing. This principle works with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and it can work in Bishoprics, Ward Councils, Elder’s Quorum presidencies and as couples in our homes. Priesthood leaders need to counsel and seek for “revelatory experiences”, as fathers this means together with your wife.
That is how the Church will continue to grow, and that is how we will increase the Spirit in our lives and our devotion to God.
Edit: A friend just pointed out to me that the second volume of the Handbook is available online for anyone. This is amazing. The first volume is specifically for Stake Presidents and Bishops, but the second volume is available so that all know everything. It used to be split up, with each organization only receiving the portion they needed. Now every member of a Ward Council can have all instructions to help keep things running as they should be. But, with this, we still need to remember that certain men have been called and set apart to preside over the ward. Just because we now have access to the handbook, we cannot assume to teach the Bishop, but we can work with him to build up the ward and the Church.