“4. Leadership and Councils in the Church of Jesus Christ,” General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2021).
“4. Leadership and Councils in the Church of Jesus Christ,” General Handbook.
As a leader in the Church, you have been called by inspiration through the Lord’s authorized servants. You have the privilege of assisting in Heavenly Father’s work of “bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). You do this by encouraging members to engage in the work of salvation and exaltation for themselves, their families, and others (see chapter 1). You will find joy as you serve God’s children.
Following Jesus Christ’s example, you will often serve others one by one. You will also have opportunities to provide leadership in Church meetings and activities. In addition, you may give important service through councils. These can include presidency meetings, ward council meetings, and others. Sections 4.3 and 4.4 provide guidelines for effective councils. Details about specific council meetings are provided in chapter 29.
Your consecrated service requires a sacrifice of time, but do not neglect your own needs and the needs of your family. Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost to help you balance and fulfill your responsibilities (see Mosiah 4:27).
Leaders encourage members to engage in God’s work by becoming “true followers of … Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:48). To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples by following His teachings and example (see Luke 18:22). Then they can help others draw nearer to Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. In the process of helping others, they become better disciples themselves (see Mosiah 18:26; Doctrine and Covenants 31:5).
Being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples is the purpose behind every calling in the Church. Each calling includes opportunities to serve, lead, and strengthen others.
During His earthly ministry, the Savior set the example of leadership for His Church. His central purpose was doing the will of His Heavenly Father and helping others understand and live His gospel (see John 5:30; Mosiah 15:7). He loved those He led and showed that love by serving them (see John 13:3–5).
The Savior increased the capacity of others by giving them responsibility and opportunities to grow (see Matthew 10:5–8; John 14:12). He encouraged and corrected with clarity and love (see John 21:15–17).
The Lord said, “Let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:99). These words apply to all who receive responsibility to serve and lead in the Savior’s Church.
Seek the Lord’s guidance to help you learn and fulfill the duties of your calling. As you study the scriptures, look for leadership principles the Savior demonstrated and taught. Applying the principles in this chapter will also help you lead more effectively in the Savior’s Church.
Jesus prepared Himself spiritually for His earthly mission (see Luke 4:1–2). You likewise prepare spiritually by drawing close to Heavenly Father through prayer, scripture study, and obedience to His commandments. Following His prophets also helps you prepare spiritually (see Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–6).
Seek revelation to understand the needs of those you lead and how to fulfill the work God has called you to do. Through your efforts to draw closer to the Lord, you can receive guidance in your personal life, family responsibilities, and Church calling.
The Lord has also promised to bestow spiritual gifts upon those who seek them (see Doctrine and Covenants 46:8). As you humbly call upon Heavenly Father to receive these gifts, He will increase your ability to lead and lift those you serve.
Jesus ministered personally to people, reaching out to lift and teach those who felt alone, hopeless, or lost. By His words and actions, He showed people that He loved them. He recognized the divine nature and eternal worth of each person.
Love the people you serve as Jesus did. Pray “with all the energy of heart” to be filled with His love (Moroni 7:48). Establish sincere friendships. Reach out to those who may be lonely, need comfort, or have other needs. Your love will bless their lives and help people desire to come unto Christ.
Help individuals deepen their conversion and strengthen their faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Help them prepare to make covenants as they receive their next ordinance. Encourage them to keep the covenants they have made and partake of the blessings of repentance. Help them know they can progress toward fulfilling their divine potential regardless of the challenges they face.
All leaders are teachers. Strive to follow the Savior’s example as a teacher (see chapter 17; Teaching in the Savior’s Way). Through your words and actions, teach the doctrine of Jesus Christ and the principles of His gospel (see 3 Nephi 11:32–33; Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–14). Effective teaching inspires people to strengthen their relationship with God and live the gospel, progressing toward eternal life.
Teaching in the Savior’s way is more than talking; it includes listening and asking questions the way He did (see Matthew 16:13–17).
Effective teachers are also diligent learners. Make the study of God’s word a high priority in your life. Understand that learning is a lifelong process. Seek to learn from others, including those you teach. (See Doctrine and Covenants 88:122.)
Teach from the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets (see Doctrine and Covenants 52:9). Remember that “the preaching of the word [has] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than … anything else” (Alma 31:5).
Seek the influence of the Spirit as you prepare and teach. The Holy Ghost carries the truth unto the hearts and minds of those you teach (see 2 Nephi 33:1).
Teach members to devote themselves to prayerfully studying the gospel both personally and with their families.
If you are called or assigned to preside in a Church meeting or activity, ensure that the teaching is edifying and doctrinally correct (see Doctrine and Covenants 50:21–23).
The Lord revealed that “of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers” in His Church (Doctrine and Covenants 107:21). Those who hold priesthood keys preside in their areas of responsibility, such as a quorum or ward.
Other organizations in the Church, including the Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, and Sunday School, are also led by a presiding officer. These leaders are called, set apart, and given delegated authority by one who holds priesthood keys or someone he has authorized (see 3.4.3).
Each presiding officer serves under the direction of a person who holds priesthood keys (see 3.4.1). This structure provides order and clear lines of responsibility and accountability in doing the Lord’s work.
A presiding officer may delegate to another person a temporary assignment to preside. For example, if a Relief Society president will be absent from a Relief Society Sunday meeting, she would assign her first counselor to preside in the meeting. If the first counselor will also be absent, the president would assign her second counselor to preside.
A leader who presides in a Church organization, meeting, or activity ensures that the Lord’s purposes are accomplished. In doing this, the leader follows gospel principles, Church policies, and the direction of the Holy Ghost.
Those who preside follow the example of Jesus Christ in serving with gentleness, meekness, and pure love (see John 13:13–15). A calling or assignment to preside does not make the person who receives it more important or valued than others (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:109–10).
If you have been called or assigned to preside, follow the Savior’s teaching that “whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:27; see verses 26–28). Counsel with others and seek unity in understanding the Lord’s will and doing His work (see Doctrine and Covenants 41:2; see also 4.4 in this handbook).
It is not appropriate to aspire to preside in any organization in the Lord’s Church (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–37). Rather, humbly and faithfully serve in the position to which you are called. Strive to accomplish the Lord’s work with an eye single to His glory (see Doctrine and Covenants 4:5). Trust that the Lord will give you opportunities to grow and to bless Heavenly Father’s children.
As a leader, you can help others grow by delegating assignments to them. In this way you will also help them receive the blessings that come from serving. Strive to engage all members in doing God’s work.
Delegating will also make your service more effective. If you try to do too much, you will “surely wear away” (Exodus 18:18). Seek the Spirit’s guidance about what to delegate so you can focus on your highest priorities.
Delegating is more than giving an assignment. It also includes teaching and trusting another person to fulfill the assignment. It usually includes the following elements:
Meet with the person to invite him or her to serve the Lord in an assignment. Help the person understand the assignment and its purposes, including how his or her service will bless others.
Counsel together about the assignment, who else could be involved, and when it should be finished. Ensure that the person understands and willingly accepts the assignment. Express confidence in his or her abilities.
Encourage the person to seek inspiration about how to fulfill the assignment. Show your trust and help the person succeed. Provide direction and support as needed.
Periodically ask the person to report on the assignment. Accept the person’s best efforts, and express appreciation for what he or she has done.
The Savior prepared His Apostles to become leaders in His Church. You likewise help others prepare to be leaders and teachers. The Lord’s work focuses on helping people, not just administering Church programs. These programs are not ends in themselves. They exist to help people grow.
When considering who could serve in Church callings or assignments, be prayerful. Remember that the Lord will qualify those He calls. What is most important is that they are willing to serve, will humbly seek the Lord’s help, and are striving to be worthy. Callings and assignments can help them grow by providing opportunities to exercise their faith, work hard, and feel God magnifying their efforts. Provide guidance and assistance to youth, new members, and others who may need extra support in fulfilling their callings.
Sometimes the same people are called repeatedly to leadership positions. This can overburden them and their families and take opportunities away from others. Seek to give all members opportunities to serve and grow.
For more information about Church callings, see chapter 30.
Seek the Spirit’s guidance in planning meetings, lessons, and activities that have clear purposes. These purposes should strengthen individuals and families, bring them closer to Christ, and help accomplish God’s work of salvation and exaltation (see chapters 1 and 2). When planning, follow the principles in chapters 20 and 29.
Make long-term plans for your organization. Keep an annual calendar. Focus on encouraging members’ spiritual growth.
Regularly review your responsibilities and spiritual growth as a leader. Consider also the growth of those you lead. Unit, priesthood quorum, and other organization leaders can review the key indicators, the quarterly report, and other reports in Leader and Clerk Resources to see where there is progress and where there is potential for growth.
Your success as a leader is measured primarily by your commitment to helping God’s children become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Because all people have agency, some may choose to depart from the covenant path. At times this may discourage you, but as you turn to the Lord, He will lift and comfort you (see Alma 26:27). You can know that the Lord is pleased with your efforts as you feel the Spirit working through you.
Heavenly Father has established councils as an important part of receiving inspiration, making decisions, and accomplishing His work. Councils existed before the world was created. Each of us participated in these councils before coming to earth. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:32; Abraham 3:22–28.)
Following this pattern, the Church of Jesus Christ is governed by councils at every level. For example, the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see 188.8.131.52), Area Presidencies (see 5.2.1), stake presidencies, and bishoprics are all councils. In addition to stake and ward councils, each presidency of a Church organization, quorum, or class is also a council.
The Lord has instructed the leaders of His Church to counsel together in doing His work (see Doctrine and Covenants 41:2–3). Councils provide opportunities for council members to receive revelation as they seek to understand the needs of God’s children and plan how to help meet them.
Some principles of effective councils are outlined in this section. These principles can help leaders in Church councils as well as parents in their family councils.
The primary purpose of councils is to help members work together in seeking divine guidance about matters that will bless individuals and families (see Doctrine and Covenants 43:8–9). Councils give special emphasis to helping members receive ordinances and keep the associated covenants. Council members also seek inspiration about planning and coordinating the Lord’s work in their area of responsibility.
Some administrative business, such as calendar planning, may not require discussion in a council setting. Much of this can be handled through communication before and after meetings.
Council members give particular care to individuals and families with pressing needs. Councils help coordinate assistance. For information about some of these needs, along with resources for understanding and assisting, see Life Help in the Gospel Library.
Presidencies and councils are expected to meet regularly. Each presidency and council has a leader who has been called and set apart. These leaders seek the Lord’s guidance in planning council meetings. They also seek input from council members in deciding what to discuss.
Leaders let council members know of the matters for discussion in advance. Council members prepare to share insights about these matters. For ward and stake councils, much of this preparation occurs in presidency meetings.
Council members prepare themselves spiritually to participate in council meetings. They seek to be receptive to the promptings of the Spirit.
The Lord said, “Let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:122). This principle applies to Church councils.
During a council meeting, the leader (or someone the leader assigns) explains the matter being considered. The leader then encourages discussion among all council members, asking questions and seeking ideas.
The leader encourages members to speak openly and honestly. The diverse backgrounds, ages, experiences, and viewpoints of council members enrich the council. Members share suggestions and listen to each other respectfully. As they seek to know the Lord’s will, a spirit of inspiration and unity can prevail.
In a council that includes women and men, the leader seeks insights and ideas from both. Women and men often have different perspectives that provide needed balance. Men and women reach better decisions and have greater success in the Lord’s service as they value each other’s contributions and work together.
A leader guides the council’s discussions. However, he or she should listen more than talk. When a council leader shares his or her perspective too early, it can inhibit the contributions of others. When necessary, the council leader gently redirects or refocuses the discussion.
After the discussion, the leader may either decide on a course of action or postpone a decision while seeking additional information and guidance. The decision should be informed by the discussion and confirmed by the Spirit. The council process helps bring about inspired decisions that go beyond a leader’s own best judgment. The leader may also refer the matter to a different council.
Sometimes council members may have unsettled feelings about an important decision. When this happens, the leader may wait for another meeting to consider the matter further and seek spiritual confirmation and unity. In some cases, a council member may want to meet with the leader individually to discuss his or her concerns.
The Lord instructed His disciples to “be one” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27). Council members seek to become one in desire and purpose with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They strive for unity in their discussions and decisions. They also seek to be “of one heart and one mind” as they work together (Moses 7:18).
Council members should avoid contention, unrighteous judgment, and gossip (see 3 Nephi 11:28–30). As they act in unity, Heavenly Father will bless their efforts.
Council members do most of their work before and after council meetings. During meetings, they seek inspiration in developing plans to implement decisions. The council leader invites members to fulfill assignments relating to these plans. Council members usually invite others in their organization to help. Individuals should not be overburdened with assignments.
Council members report on their assignments. Progress usually requires sustained attention and follow-up assignments.
All personal information must be treated respectfully. Leaders use discretion when sharing personal information with a council. They generally seek a member’s permission to share this information.
The council respects the desires of any who request confidentiality. Council members should not share personal information outside the council unless required to fulfill an assignment from the council leader.
Some matters are too sensitive to bring before an entire council. As appropriate, leaders review these matters with individual members of the council. Or they may refer some matters to a different council.