Unto All the World: Priesthood Leadership Conferences


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(Editor’s note: Today’s prophets and apostles carry the gospel “unto all the world,” just as apostles did at the time of Christ (see Mark 16:15; D&C 1:18). Beginning with this article, Unto All the World will become a regular feature in Prophets and Apostles Speak Today, opening the door to a deeper understanding of the modern-day ministry.)

It is a Saturday unlike other Saturdays. It may take place—many have already taken place—in locations like Africa, India, Japan, or South America. But on this Saturday it is taking place in Layton, Utah. It is a Saturday set aside for a priesthood leadership conference, an opportunity for stake presidents and bishops to receive instruction from and share questions with an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On this particular day, leaders from 13 stakes in northern Utah are actually meeting with two Apostles—President Boyd K. Packer and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve—as well as Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder J. Roger Fluhman, an Area Seventy in the Utah North Area.

Wherever Apostles Visit

During a priesthood leadership conference in Layton, Utah, Elder Tad R. Callister (left) and others listen intently as Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasizes an important principle.

Similar four-hour priesthood leadership conferences are held wherever Apostles visit, in fulfillment of the scriptural mandate given in the Doctrine and Covenants that the apostles are to “to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (D&C 107:33). The meetings are also held in support of the divine commission to enlarge and strengthen the stakes of Zion (see D&C 133:9).

“One of the great privileges that we now have is to gather priesthood leadership—and this is going on all over the world—in groups,” Elder Ballard said during an interview following the meeting in Layton. The purpose of such multi-stake meetings, he said, “is that we [are] able to share the instructions that the First Presidency and the Twelve [want] our leaders to hear from the Twelve and from the Seventy, and then be in a position for them to ask us some questions.

“Our role as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to carry the gospel to all the nations, is clear. In Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are commanded that the gospel will be carried to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We have that responsibility.” He explained how the Seventy work under the direction of the Twelve as the Twelve work under the direction of the First Presidency. “The Lord knew the Church was going to grow and that it was going to cover the earth, or He wouldn’t have commanded us to go out and carry it to all the corners of the earth—and we’re almost there. We’re teaching the gospel in places that 30 years ago, I suppose, we would have wondered, ‘Will we ever be there?’ But we are there. … The Lord has the capacity to do His work, and He expects us to step up to it … and get the job done. … We are doing it His way, and when we do it His way, it works.”

Extending the Ministry

Stake presidents and bishops from 13 stakes receive counsel from Elder Ballard.

He said that the Twelve are able to extend the reach of their ministry by meeting with many leaders from multiple stakes at one time. “It is also a great opportunity for us to listen as to what are their current worries and challenges, and what are their questions as it relates to administering the gospel and helping their people embrace and internalize the blessings of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. … That’s the only way the Twelve now, as big as the Church is, … can get more access to an intimate relationship with our leaders. … I think it’s a wonderful opportunity and blessing for us as leaders to hear, and for them as leaders to be taught and to have an opportunity to ask questions.”

Strength and Encouragement

Elder Ballard continued, “We would hope that … the power and the spirit of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ would be felt by those who are in attendance, and that they, from that, would be fortified spiritually to know that this really is the Lord’s work and that they are a very key, important part of this work. … Hopefully, when it’s over, they go home and throw their arms around their wives and say it was a great four hours and I can do this now for another two or three years.”

Helping Members Hold to the Rod

He also said he has noticed that wherever the Twelve conduct priesthood leadership meetings, the experience is similar. For example, “I just came out of Brazil with Elder Neil L. Andersen [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] and Elder Jay E. Jensen [of the Presidency of the Seventy] and [we met with] the Area Presidency. We held two leadership training meetings in Brazil, and the needs, concerns, and worries are exactly the same in Brazil as they are in Layton. It all comes down to individuals. It all comes down to how do we get the gospel and doctrine of Christ anchored deeply into the hearts of the people so that they’ll be able to hang on to the iron rod as times become ever more difficult.”

Love and Appreciation 

Expressions of deep love and appreciation are an important part of the reason why priesthood leadership conferences are held.

Elder Ballard also noted that one of the purposes for priesthood leadership conferences is to show deep love and appreciation for local leaders. “The Church is an absolute miracle to me, that men and women rise up to fulfill these callings … [to] donate their time, energy, and strength in trying to help, bless, and lift the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children. … To me it’s a miracle. And I would have to say that I hope they felt our love, number one, and number two, I hope they learned a few things that they can do to be better ministers to the needs of the people in a world which is filled with Internet mischief, morals that are … collapsing all around us, and other stresses that are coming into the human family.”

When Apostles meet with local leaders, he said, they are special witnesses bearing testimony that the work of the Church is the work of the Lord. “He lives. … This is His Church, and … He is watching over it. It doesn’t matter whether we are in Layton, Utah, or in Brazil, Africa, Asia, or any other part of the world. He is there. His power is there. The Holy Ghost is there, confirming without reservation or question that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of God. This is His Church.”

Renewing the Rescue

He said the meetings also provide an opportunity to discuss leaders’ rescue efforts. He stressed the importance of understanding that “the doctrine of the gospel of Christ is the power by which people will make a course correction in their lives.” He said priesthood and quorum leaders and stake and ward council members need to understand that it is one by one that the rescue occurs.

“It occurs as a priesthood leader is willing to knock on a door and say,  ‘I’m here because we love you and it’s time for you to come back. Let me tell you why.’” Then, Elder Ballard said, “Open the scriptures and explain it, and let the doctrine and power of the gospel of Christ touch their hearts.”

He said, “It’s our experience [that] when a priesthood leader, and particularly those who hold the keys, make a visit and extend an invitation, a lot of the brethren and the sisters respond to that.” He said that when one of Heavenly Father’s children is rescued, “the meaning of that to the Savior and to our Heavenly Father is probably even beyond our ability to comprehend.”

He also said that rescue efforts extend to those who are not yet members of the Church.  “When we … bring somebody who doesn’t know anything about the Restoration into the Church, that’s a great rescue mission,” he said.

What President Packer Taught

As is typical at priesthood leadership conferences, Apostles and other leaders hear and then discuss questions of concern to stake presidents and bishops.

During the meetings in Layton, President Packer taught the leaders how to find answers in the scriptures, reminded them that “we are commanded to do all we do in the name of the Savior,” and said that there is strength in simplicity. He reminded bishops that when they are in charge of the ward council, they are acting as the presiding high priest in the ward.

He quoted a scripture that “changed the Church forever and will change the world forever—it says that every man might speak in the name of the Lord” (see D&C 1:20). He said that means the Lord organized the Church in such a way that every man would receive the priesthood and that all priesthood leaders have the same priesthood with the same authority and the same privileges. However, quoting Brigham Young (second President of the Church, 1801-1877), Elder Ballard said that too often we live far below our privileges. “You know that the power is there with you,” he said. “You can be worried or concerned, but you cannot be afraid. You cannot have fear and faith at the same time, so when you have a worry or a fear, erase it with faith.”

He said quorum members need to know they can use the power of the priesthood to bless others, even those who live far away. He urged them to follow the example of the Savior, who freely shared what He received from heaven. President Packer also taught leaders that the influence of the priesthood should be felt in every home in the Church and urged them to treat their wives with love and respect and pay attention to their counsel. “Our wives are more delicate and tender in their nature, more sensitive to wisdom,” he said. “If you will listen to your wife, she will counsel you in wisdom.”

What Elder Ballard Taught

Elder Ballard greets a local leader. “I hope they felt our love, number one,” Elder Ballard said. “And number two, I hope they learned a few things that they can do to be better ministers to the needs of the people.”

Elder Ballard expressed gratitude for the teachings he has received from President Packer through the years. “He toured my mission when I was mission president. … That was the beginning of being tutored by him. He just doesn’t give up on me, and I’m so grateful that he’s willing to continue to teach me. He asked me the other day how old I am, and I said, ‘I’m 83,’ and he called me a boy because he’s 87!”

Elder Ballard bore witness that “my testimony has been strengthened through his [President Packer’s] and through the testimonies of my brethren of the Twelve and the First Presidency. You cannot go on the errands that the Lord has sent us on, to all corners of the earth, the languages that we do not understand, with the responsibilities to find stake presidents, to reorganize, or to teach, or to do whatever needs to be done in regulating all the affairs of the kingdom of God, without coming away from those experiences absolutely knowing that God is in the heavens. He is our Father, we are His sons, and He does love us.”

He bore testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, saying that testimony is profound. “You could not do what we are asked to do if we did not know the fact that we are on His errand and this is His Church,” he said. He noted that many of the challenges we face in the world have been predicted by prophets and that “those of us who bear the holy priesthood of God must be able to stand forth and declare our witness and our testimonies in such a way to hold together the flock that we are charged with and to strengthen the flocks that we are charged with … in preparation for that day and time when He will come again.”

A Saturday Morning in Layton

As guided by the Spirit, leaders take notes about specific promptings they feel during the priesthood leadership meeting.

For those in attendance, the meeting on this Saturday was an opportunity to receive counsel and encouragement from two apostles, to share questions with them, and to discuss doctrines and principles that will aid in finding answers. Similar priesthood leadership conferences throughout the world foster clear direction, create and strengthen friendship, and promote unity and understanding.

Elder Callister, who was also interviewed following the meeting in Layton, said that the priesthood leadership conferences came into being because the Apostles needed a way to have more contact with priesthood leaders. “This gave them a forum to do so,” he said.

He explained that when he was serving in the Pacific Area Presidency, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would provide excellent instruction and would occasionally come to visit and hold priesthood leadership conferences and other meetings.

“It gave us the opportunity to prepare the way for his visits and to follow his instructions to carry out the messages that are given by our prophets and apostles,” Elder Callister said. “We [the Seventy] have the opportunity to plant the seeds, and then the Quorum of the Twelve can come along and they can water and nurture [them]. We’re trying to [follow] the same pattern that was [followed] in the New Testament. The Savior sent out the Seventy, and said, you help to prepare the minds of the people, and find them, and then we can come and further teach them. I think we’re engaged in that same pattern today.”

He continued, “I think when people know that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve is coming, that they come spiritually prepared in their minds to be taught, they come spiritually prepared with questions that affect their ministry. And there is a healthy forum, a spiritual forum, where they can receive a vision of what they ought to be doing, they can receive motivation to carry on, they can receive love to know they are appreciated, [and] they can feel the Spirit to know that the Lord’s hand is in this work, so that when they leave, they leave like new men. They are lifted up and they have a renewed vision and a motivation and the Spirit to help them carry it out.”

Such experiences truly make a Saturday on which a priesthood leadership conference is held—wherever and whenever it is held—a Saturday to treasure.