Lay leadership creates an interesting dynamic in the LDS church. There are bishops that are Ivy League educated and other that are simple potato farmers. They are called of God and asked to manage an organization of people without any prior experience required. There are more positive outcomes to this approach than negative; however, it does lead to some head-scratching decisions.
Leadership Councils Help Avoid Mistakes
Church or group councils are one safeguard against flawed decisions made by a single leader. Having a variety of opinions in one room helps minimize individual bad decisions. The overall consensus usually wins and better decisions will be made. Group discussion is recommended and even fierce debate can push a council to the correct and inspired decision.
Caution is still needed to avoid groupthink, and that is where the leader’s role is most important. The leader is to preside and manage the flow of the meeting in a way that no independent thought is being suppressed. All angles must be considered and debated in order to sincerely make the best decision and then have it confirmed through revelation.
The Lord has given direction on how the general councils of the church should make decisions, and it would be wise for local unit councils to follow the same model:
27 And every decision made by [the First Presidency, Quorum of the 12, and the Seventy] must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—
29 Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men.
Human Nature in LDS Leadership and Their Councils
In a 1991 BYU Devotional, Elder Packer said, “Even with the best of intentions, it does not always work the way it should. Human nature may express itself on occasion, but not to the permanent injury of the work.”
There is no doubt that human nature and human mistakes are abundant in the church–especially in the leadership. As often as leaders would like to work by clear inspiration from above, many times the Lord simply leaves us to our own faculties and allows us to make the best judgment because it will not result in “permanent injury of the work”.
The infinite reach of the atonement covers leadership mistakes as well. The Lord will create balance and even strength from human weakness, making “weak things become strong unto them”. (Ether 12:27)
Trusting the Process of Revelation
This information is meant to give encouragement to any leader who worries about the lasting impact their decisions (and their council’s decision) will have on individuals and the church. These scriptures and quotes should never be used to justify picking and choosing which leadership direction falls in the “human nature” category. Having faith in all decisions from God’s anointed is the safest choice–not to follow them blindly but to consider that they come through a sacred process of deep discussion and pondering. One should seek their own confirmation about their inspired leaders.
As Brigham Young stated “Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (In Journal of Discourses, 9:150.)
Even though human nature will never cause “permanent injury to the work”, it is up to each individual to make sure flawed decisions don’t cause permanent injury to his or her personal testimony. That is a personal decision and is never the fault of church leadership and can be avoided by having a consistent spirit of forgiveness.
In the audio podcast of this post I reference additional quotes by general authorities that are worth studying:
“God Is at the Helm”, President Gordon B. Hinckley, April 1994 General Conference
“Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood”, Elder James E. Faust, October 1993 General Conference
“Continuous Revelation”, Elder James E. Faust, October 1989 General Conference
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