How can I offer suggestions to one of my leaders?
August 1978

“How can I offer suggestions to one of my leaders?” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 30–31

I’d like to offer some suggestions to one of my leaders, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding critical. What can I do?

Bruce L. Olsen, assistant to the president, University Relations, Brigham Young University; first counselor, Orem Twenty-seventh Ward bishopric, Orem South Stake Early in my assignment as a bishop I was approached by a ward member who came to make a suggestion. “The ward is too mechanical,” he said. “You have done much to organize and staff the auxiliaries, but you seem too busy to care about individuals.” I was floored. It had never occurred to me that, in our, anxiety to staff the ward auxiliaries, the bishopric was conveying the message that we were too busy to be helpful to our members. The kindly given information was discussed at length during the bishopric meetings that followed, and it proved most useful.

Perhaps the classical case in the scriptures of offering a helpful suggestion to a church leader is the case of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who observed Moses personally administering the affairs of the children of Israel as they “stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.”

“And when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?

“And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:

“When they have a matter they come unto me; and I judge between one and another and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

“And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

“Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” (Ex. 18:13–18.)

Jethro then proceeded to give Moses specific suggestions that detailed how Moses could both teach principles and choose leaders to help govern the people.

It is notable that in verse 23 Jethro adds, “If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure.” [Ex. 18:23] (Italics added.) At least one implication here is Jethro’s clear recognition that the decision ultimately lay between Moses and the Lord. Apparently, Moses took the suggestion to the Lord and obtained approval because the next verse tells us, “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.”

Offering suggestions to Church leaders from time to time, then, seems to be entirely appropriate, but in doing so we must first make sure that our motives are pure and that the suggestion has merit. Among those questions that we need to ask ourselves are: What is my purpose in wanting to offer my suggestion? Is my idea just a pet peeve of mine, or is it a valid suggestion that could prove helpful? Am I attempting to counsel the Lord or his servants, or am I truly making a suggestion? Have I thought the idea through to see its implications clearly and be sure that it has genuine merit? Can I offer the suggestion without being hostile?

Once we have answered these questions and others that may occur to us, it seems appropriate to take our idea to the Lord in prayer, not to seek confirmation of the idea itself, for that is another’s responsibility, but to seek confirmation that we should indeed present the idea to our leader. If such confirmation is given, we are prepared to approach a leader in humility and with the proper spirit, taking caution not be critical of stewards or programs.

Again, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves, once we have presented our idea, that we allow the leader the opportunity which Moses was accorded by Jethro—to seek the counsel of the Lord. We also must allow for the fact that the leader with the responsibility for his stewardship has the privilege to hear us and to choose not to implement our ideas. It could be easy to be offended if our suggestion is not implemented, but it would be less than wise. Often we can see only a thread or two and the steward or Church leader may see much more of the entire fabric.