The Image of a Church Leader

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“The Image of a Church Leader,” Ensign, Aug. 1980, 5

Leadership at Home and Church

The Image of a Church Leader

An address given to Regional Representatives, 30 March 1979.

“What manner of men ought ye to be?” the Savior asked of his Nephite Twelve as they were about to take over the ministry.

And what was the answer to that question? “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).

Even as he is! Think of it! Jesus the Christ is our pattern.

And when did he expect those brethren to adopt his pattern of life? It was not for any tomorrow or any future year. It was immediate. As his ministers, they had the responsibility then and there to reflect his image to all mankind.

That is the key to the manner in which all of us are to conduct his work.

But let us ask, what is his work? He says that his work and even his glory are to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. But what is eternal life? It is to become like God. Because we are his children, we have the potential of actually becoming perfect, as he is.

This opportunity is open to all mankind, in every land and clime. But it must come through faith in Christ. And how do people obtain that faith? Paul asked that same question in these words: “How … shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

“And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:14–15).

We are his preachers. We have been duly sent. Then how do we conduct our ministry?

Be Converted

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Can we ever forget what the Lord said to him? “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

We relate this teaching to our being born of water and of the Spirit in baptism. Too often we rest with an explanation of water baptism alone and give little thought to the baptism of the Spirit.

We receive confirmation by the laying on of hands and are given the gift of the Holy Ghost. But we must remember that in that ordinance we also receive a newness of life. If we are sincere, we are literally born again. In a very real sense we become different and better persons. We receive a new heart. We put away the man of sin, as Paul describes it, and take upon ourselves the name and the image of Christ (see Col. 3:9–10).

We need that rebirth so that others may believe through us that indeed Jesus was sent from heaven by his Father, that he is the Savior, and that we are his servants, authorized to lead them in the way of truth. That is the beginning of their salvation and an extension of ours.

We must constantly preserve the effect of his rebirth in our own lives. We seek rebirth for others through our ministry, but we cannot give something we ourselves do not possess. If our house is not properly structured, we can hardly be effective architects and builders in the lives of others.

So what manner of men must we be? Even as he is.

The Lord taught many important things which he expects of his disciples. One of his most penetrating lessons was that we should be living witnesses that he is the Christ, thus convincing other people that his Father in Heaven truly sent him into the world to become our Savior.

And as he prayed for his disciples, he also prayed “for them also which shall believe on me through their word. …

“That the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20–21).

This is one of the most precise definitions of our divine calls that we have on record. What a purpose! What a responsibility! Those words should be our guiding star. But do we fully understand them?

They are the heart and core of our religion. No one can be saved without this basic faith. As officers of the Church, all we say and do must reflect this great truth. He is the Son of God. He is divine. He was sent into the world by the decree of heaven. We are his representatives, his witnesses, and he depends upon us to so labor that the world will believe that God did send him, and then perchance that many may live his gospel and be saved.

Be an Example

As Paul told Timothy, we must be examples of the believers, “in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

How much attention do we give to the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants?

“Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify [a person] for the work.

“Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. (D&C 4:5–6).

“The field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4, italics added).

Our homes are foundation stones in the kingdom of God. Since we are his servants, what kind of home life do we have? Does love abound there? Do we set a Christlike example for our families that they, too, through us, may believe in him?

Are we clean and chaste in our intimate habits? Do we allow sin or filth, even secretly, to raise barriers against the Spirit of God, thus keeping holiness out of our lives? Or are we willing to uphold virtue to the point where we value it even above our lives?

Are we free from hypocrisy? Do we have a different mood while we are in Church, appearing before our pious neighbors, than we have in our daily business activities?

Can anyone take unrighteous license from what we say or do to justify evil acts on their part? Or do we rise above all such worldliness and inspire others to greater things?

As leaders, are we always examples of the believers? Or do we raise doubts in other people’s minds by faulty attitudes which we may exhibit?

Are we kind and considerate of other people? Are we honest? Do our actions in any way belie our image as servants of God?

Are we forgiving? Are we just? Do we recall that forgiveness is granted to us only as we forgive others?

Do we practice the Golden Rule and do to others as we would be done by? All of this fits into the image of a true servant of God.

We are shepherds of the flock of God. That flock most certainly includes our families as well as other Church members.

Being Christlike ourselves, we will teach them to be Christlike. Being devoted ourselves, we will teach them devotion. Being willing to follow the program ourselves, we will teach them to follow instructions.

We will teach them the value of the inspiration of the Spirit, understanding that without it we cannot be in tune with God. If we are not in tune we are left to our own puny resources, and of how much real value are they?

Be United

One of the most striking characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ during his mortal ministry was his oneness with God. He desired earnestly that his disciples also should come into that circle of unity. It was essential to their mission. Prior to his passion he prayed that his disciples might be one, even as he and his Father were one (see John 17:20–21). And through Joseph Smith he said, “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

This became a basic standard for his disciples everywhere. It is the foundation of all our successes. Without it, we surrender to the opposition.

Christ is the Prince of Peace. We also must be messengers of peace. Conflict can destroy us if we allow it to arise. It could seriously hurt the Church. It destroyed the ancient Church, and it could wipe us out. Do we recall what the Lord said about contention?

“There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been. …

“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Ne. 11:28, 30).

Do we remember what prevented the establishment of the city of Zion in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith? Joseph had sought the Lord in anxious prayer because of the expulsion of our people from Jackson County. In reply the Lord said about the Saints:

“Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

“They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.

“In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me” (D&C 101:6–8). Is there any greater treatise on obedience?

Be Obedient

The Lord gave an important parable through the Prophet Joseph urging the Saints to greater devotion, again showing how he expects us to follow his divine instructions. He said:

“A certain nobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my vineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive-trees;

“And set watchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive-trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take unto themselves the fruit of my vineyard.

“Now, the servants of the nobleman went and did as their lord commanded them, and planted the olive-trees, and built a hedge round about, and set watchmen, and began to build a tower.

“And while they were yet laying the foundation thereof, they began to say among themselves: And what need hath my lord of this tower?

“And consulted for a long time, saying among themselves: What need hath my lord of this tower, seeing this is a time of peace?

“Might not this money be given to the exchangers? For there is no need of these things.

“And while they were at variance one with another they became very slothful, and they hearkened not unto the commandments of their lord.

“And the enemy came by night, and broke down the hedge; and the servants of the nobleman arose and were affrighted, and fled; and the enemy destroyed their works, and broke down the olive-trees.

“Now, behold, the nobleman, the lord of the vineyard, called upon his servants, and said unto them, Why! what is the cause of this great evil?

“Ought ye not to have done even as I commanded you, and—after ye had planted the vineyard, and built the hedge around about, and set watchmen upon the walls thereof—built the tower also, and set a watchman upon the tower, and watched for my vineyard, and not have fallen asleep, lest the enemy should come upon you?” (D&C 101:44–53).

Note the doubts that were raised by the servants in the vineyard. What need hath my Lord of this tower? What need? What need?

Do such doubts occur to any of us? Do any of us say, what need hath the Church of this or of that? What need? What need?

How vital it is that we have an attitude of complete compliance with our instructions and fulfill them in detail!

The Lord also tells us: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (D&C 107:99). We must know our business, and work at it with all the intelligence of our minds, and with all the strength of our bodies.

Be Devoted

Then what is the image of a Church leader? It must be the same as that of every other earnest minister for Christ.

Can it be different from that of a General Authority? Can it be different from that of a good regional representative, a good stake president, a good bishop, a good mission president, or a good elders quorum president?

Are we not all his chosen servants? Are we not all under the same covenant of the priesthood? Do any have special privilege? Is God a respecter of persons?

Are we in any manner ambitious for place, position, or distinction in the Church? Is such an attitude Christlike? Is it not devoid of humility?

The mother of Zebedee’s sons came to the Lord seeking a place for John and James above that enjoyed by the other brethren. The Lord rebuked her for having such unwarranted ambitions. “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren” (Matt. 20:24).

The Savior then made it clear that there should be no inequalities among them, and added: “It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:26–27).

In all cases, devotion to duty is the watchword.

Be Producers

And next, the Lord expects us to be producers. He commands us to bring forth much fruit. This he illustrates with the parable found in the fifteenth chapter of John. There the Lord tells his servants how to conduct the work. There he establishes the image of a true servant of God.

This chapter begins with a parable concerning the vineyard of the Lord. He says that his Father is the husbandman, or the proprietor, and he likens himself to the vine in the vineyard. He says that we—his workers—are as branches on the vine, and that we are to bring forth much fruit in the vineyard of the Lord:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” [John 15:1–2]

Then he draws a picture which should be familiar to all of us. He speaks of pruning the vine to make it produce more. In his vineyard he prunes us—he purges us—he sanctifies us so that we will produce more of his kind of fruit.

He speaks next of branches that do not produce at all because they have become separated from the main part of the vine. And why do they not produce under those circumstances? Because the nourishing sap, the life-giving fluid, is cut off if the branch is severed from the vine. This fact persuaded the Lord to say to his servants: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” [John 15:4]

And then he adds: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

Here is a great lesson. As long as we are close to the Lord and are nourished by his Spirit, we bring forth much fruit. But except we do abide in the Lord and receive of his strength, we can no more produce than can a branch that is severed from the tree. Hence he says: “Without me ye can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

To add further importance to this theme, the Lord says: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” [John 15:8]

But there is yet another lesson in this scripture which should give us great concern. In verse 16 he says:

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.” To what purpose? “That ye should go and bring forth fruit.” [John 15:16]

But there is more. Not only are we chosen by him, not only are we ordained for the purpose of bringing forth fruit, but we are also called and ordained to so labor that our fruit will remain.

Note his words: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” [John 15:16]

What does that mean? Simply that we must plan and pray and work toward the end that there will be no dropouts because of our neglect, no one losing his testimony, no one going into inactivity. Our fruit must remain.

Then the image of any servant of God comes back to a matter of attitude. As a man thinketh in his heart so will he labor.

This Church is the kingdom of God. The world is his field, or his vineyard. We are his chosen laborers. Success can be ours only if we abide closely in the Vine. And if we do, he gives us a golden promise which is most desirable:

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you, …

“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:7–11).

Illustrated by Preston Heiselt