Lesson 27: Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–67

“Lesson 27: Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–67,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 27,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 27

Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–67


In the revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith found in Doctrine and Covenants 20, the Lord commanded that His restored Church be organized on April 6, 1830. He also gave instructions about the government of His Church, including an explanation of different priesthood offices and the duties of those who would hold those offices. With these offices in place, Heavenly Father’s children could receive priesthood ordinances and make covenants.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–59

The duties of priesthood offices are set forth

Write the following on the board before class: preach, teach, expound, exhort, warn, invite all to come unto Christ

At the beginning of class, refer to the words on the board and ask the following question:

  • Who has these responsibilities? (You may need to explain that the word expound means to teach something in greater detail and that the word exhort means to strongly encourage someone to do something.)

Students may point out that prophets, apostles, other Church leaders, and full-time missionaries have these responsibilities. They may also point out that these are duties that all priesthood holders, including Aaronic Priesthood holders, can carry out. If they do not mention Aaronic Priesthood holders, mention this truth yourself. Emphasize that the Aaronic Priesthood holders in your class have been trusted with significant opportunities to serve.

Divide the class into three groups. Explain that in connection with the organization of the Church, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith many of the duties of priesthood holders. Ask one group to study Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–45, looking for the duties of elders. Invite the second group to study Doctrine and Covenants 20:46–52, looking for the duties of priests. Invite the third group to study Doctrine and Covenants 20:53–59, looking for the duties of teachers and deacons. As they study, write the following across the top of the board:



Teachers and Deacons

D&C 20:38–45

D&C 20:46–52

D&C 20:53–59

After sufficient time, invite a representative or two from each group to come to the board and list the duties of the office or offices they have studied.

  • What differences do you notice between the duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons? What similarities do you see?

  • Which office has the authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost? (Elder; see verse 41.) Which offices have the authority to administer the sacrament? (Elder and priest; see verses 40 and 46.) Which offices have the authority to ordain priests, teachers, and deacons? (Elder and priest; see verses 39 and 48.) Which offices have the authority to expound, exhort, and teach? (Elder, priest, teacher, and deacon; see verses 42, 46, and 59.)

  • What truths can we learn about priesthood offices by comparing and contrasting their duties?

Students may identify a variety of principles, but be sure to emphasize the following:

As Heavenly Father’s sons receive higher offices of the priesthood, they receive more responsibilities and opportunities to serve others.

As a priesthood holder is ordained to additional offices of the priesthood, he retains the lesser offices and their associated responsibilities.

All priesthood holders have the responsibility to perform ordinances and to watch over members of the Church and minister to them.

After you help students identify the last truth in the preceding list, write it on the board under the list of priesthood responsibilities. You may need to point out that the word minister means to give service.

To help students understand priesthood holders’ responsibilities, direct their attention to the list on the board and ask the following questions:

  • What are some ways Aaronic Priesthood holders can “watch over the church” and “be with and strengthen them”? (Examples might include home teaching, caring for the poor and needy, caring for the meetinghouse and grounds, and fulfilling other assignments from the bishop and quorum leaders.)

  • What are some ways Aaronic Priesthood holders can “invite all to come unto Christ”?

As class members discuss this question, you may want to ask a student to read the following counsel:

“If you are a priesthood holder, remember that the priesthood should be a part of you at all times and in all circumstances. It is not like a cloak that you can put on and take off at will. Any ordination to a priesthood office is a call to lifelong service, with the promise that the Lord will qualify you to do His work according to your faithfulness.

“You must be worthy in order to receive and exercise priesthood power. The words you speak and your everyday behavior affect your ability to serve. Your behavior in public must be above reproach. Your behavior in private is even more important” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 127).

Write on the board the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud. (This statement is found in “Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 46.) You might want to suggest that students write it in the margin of their scriptures in Doctrine and Covenants 20 or in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.

“The purpose of priesthood authority is to give, to serve, to lift, to inspire” (Elder Richard G. Scott).

Ask students to tell about times when they have seen priesthood holders give, serve, lift, and inspire. You might add your own observations.

As part of this discussion, point out that while the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 20 is about priesthood holders, all members of the Church have the responsibility and privilege to minister to others. Young women have many opportunities to serve. Some may choose to serve missions, and they will someday have the privilege of being members of Relief Society, “work[ing] alongside men who hold the priesthood to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need” (Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society [2011], 7).

Give students a few moments to write about what they have learned from Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–59. Encourage the young men to consider writing a goal that will help them faithfully watch over and strengthen members of the Church. This could be done as part of their efforts with Duty to God.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:60–67

Guidelines on priesthood ordinations are given

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:60 aloud, and ask the class to look for the Holy Ghost’s role when someone is ordained to a priesthood office.

Ask students to raise their hands if they have witnessed a priesthood ordination or have been ordained to an office in the priesthood. Invite a few of those who raised their hands to share their experiences and any feelings they had during the ordinations. You might ask the following question:

  • How was the Holy Ghost part of the ordination?

Write the following statement on the board: Priesthood holders need the power of the Holy Ghost with them as they perform their duties.

To help the young men consider their worthiness when performing priesthood ordinances, invite a student to read the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

President Boyd K. Packer

“Your authority comes through your ordination; your power comes through obedience and worthiness. …

“Power in the priesthood comes from doing your duty in ordinary things: attending meetings, accepting assignments, reading the scriptures, keeping the Word of Wisdom” (“The Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 32–33).

Invite the young men to prayerfully consider what the Lord would have them do to invite the power of the Holy Ghost to accompany them as they perform their current and future priesthood duties. Emphasize that young women also have important responsibilities in the Church. Invite them to consider what the Lord would have them do to invite the power of the Holy Ghost as they fulfill those responsibilities.

You might explain that Doctrine and Covenants 20:61–63 mentions some of the purposes of holding Church conferences, such as openly conducting Church business.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:65 aloud. Explain that in this verse, the word vote refers to the sustaining vote someone receives before being ordained to an office in the priesthood. Ask the young men in the class to recall the last time they were sustained by the members of their ward or branch to be ordained to a priesthood office.

  • How did you feel when you saw that members of your ward (or branch) sustained your ordination? How might remembering their sustaining vote help you in your priesthood service? (Answers might include that they will feel more accountable to the ward for their service and that they will feel the support of ward members.)

You may want to invite a few students to share why they are thankful for priesthood authority. Also share your testimony of the truths discussed in the lesson.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 20:42. Watching over the Church

Speaking of the central purpose of the priesthood, President James E. Faust of the First Presidency said:

President James E. Faust

“Caring for others is the very essence of priesthood responsibility. It is the power to bless, to heal, and to administer the saving ordinances of the gospel” (“Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1997, 41).

Elder W. Grant Bangerter of the Seventy spoke of those who hold the priesthood as “ministers” who watch over the membership of the Church:

Elder W. Grant Bangerter

“For several years I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of President Marion G. Romney, who taught us about the ‘constitution of the Church’—meaning that revelation given on the occasion of the organization of the Church wherein the Lord outlined the procedures by which it should be governed. The elders, it says in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, assisted by the lesser priesthood, are to ‘watch over the Church.’ (Vv. 42, 53.) A part of that ‘watching over’ is done by visiting the houses of the members and in instructing them to do their duty. In another revelation the elders quorum is specifically mentioned as a body of ‘standing ministers.’ (D&C 124:137.) Those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood are also called ‘standing ministers.’ (D&C 84:111.)” (“The Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 69).

President James E. Faust of the First Presidency told the following story about a young priesthood holder who lifted and strengthened a neighbor in need:

President James E. Faust

“Some years ago a priests quorum decided to gather food for the needy as a service project. Jim, one of the priests, was excited to participate and was determined to collect more food than anyone else. The time arrived when the priests met at the chapel. They all went out at the same time and returned at a specified time later in the evening. To everyone’s surprise, Jim’s cart was empty. He seemed rather sober, and some of the boys made fun of him. …

“… The adviser asked Jim if he was upset. Jim said, ‘No, not really. But when I went out to collect the food, I really got a lot. My cart was full. As I was returning to the chapel, I stopped at the home of a nonmember woman who is divorced and lives within our ward boundaries. I knocked on the door and explained what we were doing, and she invited me in. She began to look for something to give me. She opened the refrigerator, and I could see there was hardly anything in it. The cupboards were bare. Finally, she found a small can of peaches.’

“‘I could hardly believe it. There were all these little kids running around that needed to be fed, and she handed me this can of peaches. I took it and put it in my cart and went on up the street. I got about halfway up the block when I just felt warm all over and knew I needed to go back to that house. I gave her all the food.’

“The adviser said, ‘Jim, don’t you ever forget the way you feel tonight, because that’s what it is all about.’ Jim had tasted the nutrient of selfless service” (“Spiritual Nutrients,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 54).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:46. “The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament”

President Wilford Woodruff

President Wilford Woodruff said: “I traveled thousands of miles and preached the Gospel as a Priest, and, as I have said to congregations before, the Lord sustained me and made manifest His power in the defense of my life as much while I held that office as He has done while I have held the office of an Apostle. The Lord sustains any man that holds a portion of the Priesthood, whether he is a Priest, an Elder, a Seventy, or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling and does his duty” (Deseret Weekly, Nov. 7, 1896, 641). (See also Boyd K. Packer, “The Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 33.)

Doctrine and Covenants 20:60–67. Proper priesthood ordination

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized that proper priesthood ordination is of great importance to the Lord:

President Boyd K. Packer

“You can receive the priesthood only from one who has the authority and ‘it is known to the church that he has authority.’ (D&C 42:11.)

“The priesthood cannot be conferred like a diploma. It cannot be handed to you as a certificate. It cannot be delivered to you as a message or sent to you in a letter. It comes only by proper ordination. An authorized holder of the priesthood has to be there. He must place his hands upon your head and ordain you.

“That is one reason why the General Authorities travel so much—to convey the keys of priesthood authority. Every stake president everywhere in the world has received his authority under the hands of one of the presiding brethren of the Church. There has never been one exception.

“Remember these things. The priesthood is very, very precious to the Lord. He is very careful about how it is conferred, and by whom. It is never done in secret” (“The Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 32).