“Learning from God’s Pattern of Councils,” Liahona, June 2022.
From the beginning, God has done His work through councils. There is a lot we can learn about the importance of councils and counseling together from our experience before coming to Earth.
“We read that first real council story in the Pearl of Great Price,” said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, referring to the Grand Council in Heaven. In this family council, Heavenly Father presented a plan for His children’s progression—a plan made possible through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was called Jehovah. Heavenly Father presided with love, encouraged free expression, and respected the gift of agency.1
During the ensuing Creation of heaven and earth, Heavenly Father showed a divine pattern for counseling in councils. Instructions were given, and assignments were made and reported on. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ continue to govern God’s family and the Church through councils.
This divine pattern of counseling is “critical” at every level, President Ballard said. In the Church this includes councils at the general, stake, and ward levels.
This pattern also guides individuals and families. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “The principle of counseling is nowhere more important than in the relationship between a husband and a wife and in their relationship as parents to their children—or anyone else who may in an extended family be living with them.”
President Ballard has described family councils as “the most basic and fundamental—and perhaps the most important—of all councils.”2 When a father sits down with his teenage son, President Ballard said, this isn’t just a father-son meeting. “He is in a council meeting with the most precious member he could possibly be counseling with.”
We can all apply principles of good councils in our lives by asking parents, Church leaders, mentors, and others to counsel with us at any time, including when facing important decisions or needing to resolve challenges.
“Those who are single and even students living away from home can follow the divine council pattern by gathering with friends and roommates to counsel together,” President Ballard said.3
Even a person living alone can counsel in a council meeting with the Lord through prayer. They can express love and gratitude and ask for inspiration and guidance as they listen for the prompting of the Spirit, he said.4
Regardless of the kind of council, said President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “the strength of councils comes largely from the faith of the people who are in them.”
Below are some principles from Church leaders that can bless our stake, ward, and family councils.
A council meeting is not telling everyone what to do, President Ballard said. A council meeting is not asking everyone to give a report. A council meeting is when a bishop says, for example, “We have a problem with reverence in the ward. Let’s talk about it. What can we do?” A council meeting is an opportunity to come together to understand and unify around a common purpose.
In the Grand Council in Heaven, Heavenly Father presented His plan for helping His children to become like Him and allowed us to come to an understanding of the plan (see Abraham 3:22–28). Like the Grand Council in Heaven, one of the primary purposes of any family or Church council is “to bring souls unto Christ,” President Ballard said. “It is to help prepare them to receive the ordinances and covenants essential for eternal salvation.”
Just as the Savior was the center of the Grand Council in Heaven, Jesus Christ should be the center of each of our councils, “not our own ego or our own thinking,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
To keep the Savior as the focus, a council might ask: “What would He want us to do? How can we accomplish His purpose?”
President Camille N. Johnson, Primary General President, said councils are not held for only administrative or planning purposes. “This is ministering to the one, and the way we can know how to do that on a global basis is by inviting our Savior into the process and recognizing the Spirit.”
Before discussing a topic, council members could review background information, advised Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Put it in context,” he said. This could be historical or doctrinal context or observations from personal experience. A family counseling about ways to improve their Sabbath day observance, for example, might read related scriptures or general conference talks.
Good information can bring inspiration, Elder Uchtdorf said. “You have to collect information, and then you are in the position to receive revelation when you connect to the Spirit.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Revelation is scattered among the various members of a council. As an issue comes forward for consideration, we need, invite, and hear counsel from everyone.”
Whether in a general, stake, ward, or family council, the voice of each council member is needed and should be valued.
As a husband and wife work together to let their children have a voice in their family, for example, they may learn that “sometimes revelation comes through the voice of an eight-year-old,” said President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President.
“The voice of women at every level, including the home, is critical,” President Ballard said.
Progress is made when women and men are unified and work together, said President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President. To women questioning their value in a council, she said, “Your voice as a woman matters.”
Elder Cook echoed President Bingham’s thoughts: “We need to be equally yoked.” He noted the example of elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies being “equally yoked” in their responsibilities for the work of salvation in the ward. Seeking women’s views in councils will continue to “greatly bless the work of salvation,” he said.
While inviting every voice to contribute, council members should “listen to learn” rather than just waiting for a turn to speak, said President Bingham. The power of counseling comes in learning that “you can listen to anyone in that council and gain something.”
President Cordon said that by setting aside one’s own ideas and actively listening to learn—from others and from the Lord—“the Spirit increases our insights and understanding.”
In the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, for example, no one tries to force a certain point of view, Elder Bednar said. Decisions are reached with “modesty and meekness and by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
President Bingham has observed that in secular settings, group discussions often lead to compromise—an agreement reached as each side makes concessions.
“That’s not how a council in the Church works. We work through consensus,” she said. Honestly and openly sharing ideas, “we continue to work together, looking for the best solution as identified through revelation by the Spirit.” When the members of a council seek to be unified in a decision, it invites the Lord’s power both to confirm the decision and to help make it happen (see Matthew 18:19; Doctrine and Covenants 42:3; 107:27). Once a decision is made, all have the responsibility to move forward and actively support the decision outside of the council.
Sometimes consensus is reached quickly, and other times it may take longer, President Johnson cautioned. “Be patient with the revelatory process.”
President Ballard said those who learn to counsel effectively in their stakes, wards, and families—following the divine pattern Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ showed us—will “always end up with a better result, always end up with a better answer, will always end up with a better spirit.”