Panel Discussion

Elder Ballard: I think we would say, as a panel, to begin with, that Bishop Richards and his council gave a wonderful presentation. Also, I’d like to say that what we’ve learned from Elder Oaks and Elder Cook and our beloved President has been really a wonderful experience. We’re grateful to be able to participate, and I would like to ask our panel first, as you think about what we just watched with the ward council, what were some of the things that you felt were handled particularly well? Sister Beck?

Sister Beck: Well, I thought it exemplified very well the scripture, if I may, in Doctrine and Covenants 88:122. I’m saying this because everybody can take the scriptures home, and this is your measure of what happened:

“Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.”

I saw that in action in that council meeting. It created a feeling of edification that was beautiful.

Elder Holland: President Monson introduced it, and then both Elder Oaks and Elder Cook stressed these wonderful introductory chapters in the handbook, the first of which focuses on family. I thought this council was remarkable to keep coming back to parents, rather than just immediately jumping into “What is an organizational activity going to be?” or “What will the auxiliary or the quorum do?” Though there was a needful part of that, they repeatedly, regularly—I sat and listened and took count—they repeatedly took it back to parents and how they could get parents involved and how they could strengthen the home. I thought that was terrific.

Elder Bednar: I would add that consistently through the entire council, they were focused on people, not programs. And they were ministering to individuals and to families. I think that’s the spirit that’s intended in the new handbook.

Elder González: Yes, I think that’s very clear. The level of participation they had was fostering revelation. And a highlight for me, also, was the follow-up. So ideas were there, but the principle of follow-up was so clear that those ideas will go to action.

Elder Bednar: I think we saw a very good example of how a bishop can direct, but not dominate, what takes place in a council. The bishop listened more than he talked. And I, frankly, have seen lots of ward and stake councils where a priesthood leader says, “Here’s the issue; here’s what I think we ought to do. What do you think?” And nobody says anything. Well, no kidding!

And so what you had was this bishop presenting the issue, framing the issue, asking a thoughtful, inspired question, and then he would listen more than he would talk.

Elder Ballard: Those are all good insights. When we think about a ward council or we think about this new handbook, what is the underlying purpose of it all? What are we trying to accomplish together in the Church and then bring down into a council? Where are we trying to go?

Elder Holland: If I’m not jumping in too quickly, I thought Elder Oaks went immediately to that in his introductory remarks—that we’re engaged in the work of salvation and we are attempting not to divide up too much, not to categorize too much, not to break out lines of division and boundaries that seem impossible to pass or cross. He went straight to the prophetic statements, the scriptural statements, that we’re engaged in the work of salvation.

May I quickly say that for me, that is one of the delights of chapter 5. I may be a little ahead of the discussion, but chapter 5, entitled “The Work of Salvation,” integrates missionary work and retention and temple work and teaching. That seems to me, symbolically and literally, a terrific step forward in this manual.

Sister Beck: Elder Ballard, watching this council, they seemed perfect. And I wonder if everyone out there looks at that council and says, “Well, we don’t look like that, and we don’t act perfect.” And what I loved about the council example that we had is that we don’t need to focus on “Is it perfect?” They had the patterns in place of a good council. That’s what was modeled for us—that they were unified, they were focused on ministry, and they were talking about people. They had a goal in mind—Heavenly Father’s goal in mind. Sometimes we might worry if we’re perfect in our council.

Elder Ballard: That is, I think, the mark of a great leader in any setting: one who is willing to understand that there is an issue but then has the gift to be able to draw from all of the resources that the Lord has provided. Oftentimes we hear the statement that bishops are overburdened. And they are if they allow themselves not to understand this principle.

If they understand the principle of the function of the ward council, they’ve got a lot of help. The thing that they need to understand is that they can open up the dialogue. They can open up the insight, the inspiration, the revelation. It will come from men and from women on issues that the bishop feels burdened over.

And I thought that the bishop did well in the council. One of the things that we also ought to take away from that, I think, is that the Relief Society presidency is a council. The Sunday School presidency is a council. Each of those people that were represented there, they would go back to their own council, hopefully, and talk about the things that the ward council was concerned about. And in that setting, if they will do that, they will come back with even more insight and better ideas.

Elder Bednar: This is the work of salvation, and the council is the setting for receiving inspiration. That’s why unity and confidentiality are so important. We can’t receive inspiration if we’re not united and if we violate sacred confidences.

Elder Holland: You know, it struck me, Elder Ballard, that that will have to go, and will go, both directions. One is that council can’t quite do everything they got assigned. If they try to go out and do that personally, they’re going to be as burdened as the bishop was. So they’re going to have to go to their councils. They’re going to have to spread this concept. That’s great for the participation.

Also, I loved that Elder Cook stressed in that introductory remark that there ought to be planning and preparation before you come. And anything that can be ought to be handled elsewhere, or before, and we start to thin this out and spread it out. And often, that will be some council other than the ward council.

Elder González: Not only in the level of councils, like a presidency or a bishopric is, but that principle was clear in the model we saw when the bishop, Bishop Richards, said, “I gave you an assignment to think of something.” So individually they were also receiving inspiration before the council.

Elder Ballard: There isn’t one person who knows all of the answers to every question. But when the council system is operating, we have an opportunity to draw on inspiration from the various members of the council and even members of the ward. If we’re doing it right, everybody’s got their ear up, and they may hear something that’s not in their presidency but just comes out of a home teaching visit or a visiting teaching visit that solves the issue the council was worried about.

Sister Beck: Elder Ballard, I’m thinking of so many of the places where I’ve been in the world. And I’ve been, as you have, all over the world. And as I’ve studied about what the Lord intends for councils and the example that we’ve seen here, I think that the ability to counsel in the Lord’s way is really counterculture in every culture in the world. It’s difficult in families and homes. It’s difficult for everybody.

But when you come into the gospel of Jesus Christ and you make those covenants and He becomes your model, then you start, bit by bit, trying to adapt to His culture, His way, and His model of how to talk to one another and communicate. I don’t think anybody should feel discouraged if they’re not perfect at counseling in the Lord’s way.

In every council meeting I go into with my own presidency, I try to mentally say to myself, how can I have a better council this week than we had last week? What is something I’m going to take responsibility for to improve that with me and my counselors? We’re better this week than we were last week. And we’re better this month than we were last month, because we’re seeking to get a new spiritual gift, so to speak. It’s a spiritual gift from the Lord to know how to work in His way. We don’t have to be discouraged. We just go line upon line, bit by bit, getting better, helping each other to develop that gift.

Elder Ballard: Elder González, sometimes the bishop feels that because he’s the bishop, he has to know everything.

Elder González: Sometimes. And sometimes you can find some bishops who will follow these principles. Today, for instance, we had a perfect example from this bishop. I really like what he said: “What do you think we can do?” After that, he listened to their opinions, their thoughts. And he expressed himself after listening to the members of the council.

And not only that; for me it was wonderful that he also—and some of the counselors as well—praised their comments. That’s very important in every culture. It’s always good to praise contributions and good ideas of others. That brings unity and also builds Zion, of course, and promotes revelation and inspiration. People feel more comfortable to share their best ideas, and it opens the door for more portions of the Spirit, if you will.

Elder Bednar: I think we have the mistaken notion that every element of revelation coming to the ward has to come through the bishop. By virtue of his keys, he has to acknowledge it and affirm it, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be the only vehicle through whom it comes. So in that council, as you have that spirit of unity and act under the influence of the Spirit, the contributions of all of the council members add elements to the inspiration.

So the council doesn’t decide. This is not just participation in decision making. It’s an inspired pattern that the bishop, by virtue of the keys, has to direct. But he doesn’t have to receive every jot and tittle of the revelation.

Elder Ballard: Perfect. Good example.

Elder Holland: One of those cultural issues with which we’re all familiar that was addressed head-on—not by design, just by spontaneity and by inspiration—is the fact that those women were talking. Those women were engaged. We sometimes have not been as inviting or as encouraging or as outreaching to the women sitting in the council as we should be. And I thought those women were terrific. We’ve been in enough councils with Sister Julie Beck that we know how terrific she is. So if anybody thinks that’s an issue, let’s get past that one. We’ve got to have the help of the women.

Elder González: May I add something? This principle we have seen goes beyond ward councils and even a Church administration, because those principles can be used in family life. Listening to sisters and wives and children is part of those principles. That brings unity to the Church, integrity in policy everywhere.

Elder Ballard: From the council of the First Presidency to the Quorum of the Twelve, which is a council; to the seven presidents of the Seventy, which is a council; to the Seventy who work in their various Area Presidencies, which are in a council; into the stake, where there’s a council; to the ward, to the quorum, to the home—the council system works. And the leader of the council, whoever it is, must be willing to listen, because one of the big keys is being a council leader who will absorb the resources and accept the help that’s available if they’re willing to listen to the input that they get from those who have revelation independent of just being the head of the organization.

Elder Bednar: If you think about the pattern that we saw in this council, I believe the gift of discernment operates more effectively when we’re listening as opposed to when we’re talking. So if you have the presiding officer in a position where he’s guiding and directing, but he’s not dominating, he’s in a far stronger position to have the spiritual gift of discernment in what’s taking place.

Elder Ballard: That also applies to every member of the council. It’s possible that even a sister or another council member would have, maybe, a tendency to dominate the conversation. So the leader of the council has to teach the purpose, and that was beautifully demonstrated, I think, in what we just watched.

Elder Holland: Elder Ballard, I don’t want to overdo this, but I do think that one of the points that we need to keep coming back to—and that we’ll have to teach in the Church for many months to come—is that we’ve got to help overburdened bishops. That’s one of the purposes of this discussion right here. It’s certainly one of the purposes of the handbook. I was thrilled in that little give and take—was it Sister Madsen who had been ill? Somebody was ill. They had some problems, but two or three people had been to her before the bishop. And then the bishop said to his counselors, “Well, let’s get over there and see how she’s doing.” But how terrific that everybody in the entire ward didn’t wait to see—“Well, is the bishop going to be the first one to get over there, and we’re not going to do anything till he gets there.” No one would have thought that, but that came through so spontaneously, I thought, boy, there’s a step toward helping an overworked bishop, to share the wealth, share the blessing.

Sister Beck: Elder Ballard, we had something taught to us today that I thought was very important: this idea that you can take care of things in presidencies. I remember an experience of meeting a Relief Society president. She was waiting on a curb outside of a home, a poor little home. There she was wringing her hands. I was going to make the home visit, but she said, “I don’t know what to do because I don’t know what my authority is to help this family.”

It happened to be a family in great need. They were hungry. They were cold. They didn’t have water. And she wasn’t sure what she could do. And I said, “You are a Relief Society president. Think for a moment what you and your counselors could do immediately to help provide some relief for this family. Then think what you would take to your bishop and discuss.”

As we started helping her understand what she could do with counseling, a whole new world opened up to her. Her burdens were lighter, and she wasn’t going to dump a problem on her bishop. She was already starting to solve it and become a great blessing to one family and the members of the ward council.

Elder Ballard: What a wonderful thing when a Relief Society president or a Young Women president or Primary president can come to the council and say, “Bishop, we want to report to you. This is what we found, and this is what we did.” What just happened? Part of the burden was automatically lifted off of the bishop’s shoulder.

Elder Holland: Yes, he’s going to need oxygen to hear a report like that.

Elder Bednar: I think there’s a caution too. In our appropriate desire to be anxiously engaged in these councils, we cannot violate the very welfare principles that we’re trying to teach. Everything that we do needs to foster self-reliance. We can be too quick to do too much and make people dependent rather than self-reliant.

Elder Ballard: Very good point. Now, I don’t know whether you Brethren have ever had the experience I have out in the world where people ask questions. Have you ever been asked a question?

Elder Holland: Never. Never in my whole life. I’m waiting for my first.

Elder Ballard: Then I will ask you one. Have you ever been asked a question that’s already answered in the handbook?

Elder Holland: Almost always. In fact, if it’s not divulging too much, the secretary to the First Presidency once said that roughly 80 percent of the questions that come even to the First Presidency are answered in the handbook. We just don’t know the books well enough.

Elder Ballard: Then, we’re going to follow the policy along the line that you’re talking about, Elder Bednar. We’re not going to wander off. We’re going to keep anchored to where the basic policies of the Church are. Elder González, is that a good idea or not?

Elder González: Oh, it’s an excellent idea. We need to know the handbook very well. Someone said that if you want to have a secret well kept, put it in a handbook. So we hope that that will not be the case with these handbooks.

Elder Ballard: We would also hope—at least on behalf of the Twelve and, I think, all of the General Authorities—that we would never walk into a stake president’s office after these handbooks have been delivered and see them on top of the cabinet. We hope they’re out being used.

Elder González: In the international world and in other places where the Church is growing, sometimes one of the challenges is we don’t have models on how to do things. The handbook is the closest we have to a model. So if we have doubts about how to do something because we don’t have a model, then we have the handbook.

Elder Bednar: This handbook contains doctrines and principles and guidelines for inspired judgment. This is not a personnel manual. This is not something where I’m going to find every answer. It has basic principles, doctrines, and guidelines. And given the number of people in a ward and branch council who will have access to this, that’s going to have a carryover blessing in the lives of individuals and families.

Sister Beck: Elder Ballard, I love your idea of everyone studying the whole handbook. There’s no better training than to know what the whole picture is. It takes us out of a little silo or envelope of ourselves, and it lets us see what the Lord has in mind for all of us—what this is about with the family, where He wants everyone to go, how the bishop works, what he needs to do, and then how we all play into that.

Another chapter we have in here explains where we are uniform and how we can adapt. And those are important words carefully chosen. Adapting doesn’t give us the privilege of re-creating the Lord’s Church. Sometimes we get so much creativity going on that we wouldn’t even recognize the Lord’s Church. So following even the guidelines for how to adapt is very important because we don’t have permission to re-create the Church and redesign policies that have been approved by the First Presidency. We have permission to help put these policies in place and practice with some adaptation if we need that.

Elder Ballard: And that adaptation will come through counsel and prayer and drawing down the Spirit as to what is appropriate and what is doable, what is possible—

Sister Beck: And what is the goal.

Elder Ballard:—with the circumstances that we have. I want to repeat something, though, so it doesn’t get misunderstood. I don’t think we should ask our people to sit down and read the handbook from cover to cover in one sitting. Why don’t we just take it a chapter at a time and move through it. That’s not going to overwhelm anybody. And then there will be an opportunity for some discussion that would really be meaningful: “What did we really learn, now, in chapter 1?” And that would be brought into a council setting. I think in six months, we would have councils operating in the Church directly proportionate to where the First Presidency and the Twelve, through the inspiration of heaven, have brought the Church and these handbooks. So I think that the demonstration we’ve had today is very good.

Elder Holland, after you’ve had years of experience in education, as well as Church service, what observations would you like to leave as we wrap up this panel discussion?

Elder Holland: Well, you mentioned the word education. Let me just pick up on that. We, in the Church, do not use motivation and incentives that are common in most of the rest of the world. We don’t force people to do anything. We don’t pay people. We don’t threaten to fire them. You think of life outside the Church, whether it’s in business or government or almost any other way—most of those incentives and most of those means are not gospel principles, and they are not the kinds of things we’d be doing in councils, in families, and in quorums, wards, and stakes.

What we do, largely, is teach. We are teachers by example, and we are teachers by the word. The Prophet Joseph Smith said once, “When a man works by faith he works … by words” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 72). And when God said, “Let there be light,” there was light (see Genesis 1:3). This is a wonderful incentive, and it’s in these handbooks, beautifully introduced in those early chapters in that handbook, including the chapter on the work of salvation.

That teaching, better teaching, powerful teaching, inspired teaching, humble teaching—that’s what the Savior did. That was the incentive and the ability that He had. He did not use those ways of the world, and neither can we. Thank you for using that word, education, Elder Ballard. I didn’t anticipate that, but I think we can all try to be better teachers. And that’s built beautifully into this handbook.

Elder Bednar: If I had the wish of my heart, I would remove from the vocabulary of the Latter-day Saints the word meeting. We have not been talking about a ward council meeting. We’ve been talking about a revelatory experience with the members of the ward council. And if members of councils, if members of families, as they come together, would think in terms of “I’m preparing to participate in a revelatory experience with my family” instead of going to a meeting—a revelatory experience with the members of the ward council—I think we would prepare and act much differently. In these latter days, given the forces of the adversary and the darkness, no one person in the family and no one person in a ward is going to be the conduit through which all of the answers come.

So all of that speaks to the spiritual nature of this work and seeking for the inspiration to do what the Lord wants us to do.

Sister Beck: I think we have a new opportunity, a new blessing from our Heavenly Father, to decide what we’re going to count. What counts to the Lord? Is it going to be the meetings? Is it going to be the numbers? Is it going to be how many papers we distributed? Or is it going to be the caring that we count—that we value the caring, the love, the service?

What I saw in that ward council is that we want to know how you were serving, how you were ministering. Who was watching over? Who was strengthening? Who was blessing? Who was lifting? That’s what we count in the Lord’s gospel. That’s what He’s worried about. We have such an opportunity to make a new beginning on what we count. And the Lord wants us to count what He would count, the ministry that He did. All the other statistics were invented by man, not by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is our chance to count as He counts.

Elder González: When I think of councils, there’s one thought that really touches me. It’s that in unity and faith we seek the will of the Lord. That’s a wonderful thought that is in the handbook itself.

Elder Ballard: Well, thank you. And in summary, let me just suggest this thought: When a council, whether it’s a family or it’s a ward or branch, when they discuss an issue and come to a conclusion that “yes, this is what we need to do,” there’s such power in that synergy that Lucifer has to get out of the way. He cannot stop that—when council members leave a council meeting and say, “This is what we are going to do,” and it’s not “This is what the bishop wants me to do” but “This is what we’re going to do, because we’ve counseled with one another; we’ve prayed about it. This is what we need to do to lift and to inspire and bless the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children.”

When that spirit operates within the council system of the Church, the work will go forward, and we will rescue many more of our Father’s children. Women are just as important in missionary work and in the rescue and in family history as the men are. And so we take down those barriers we’ve talked about. And it’s one grand work that we all put our shoulder to, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of our Heavenly Father’s children.

I ask our Heavenly Father to bless the councils of the Church throughout the entire world—every ward, every branch, every family. May the peace of the Lord be with them, and may the handbooks and these examples be helpful, which we all pray for, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.