Councils help us seek the Lord’s will in unity and faith. Councils function in all levels of the Church, including general, area, stake, ward, quorum, and other leadership councils.
The purpose of Church councils is to seek and obtain divine revelation. Church councils are an environment where we can receive inspiration to make decisions, better serve individuals and families, and plan and coordinate the work of the Church.
Councils operate differently in the Church than they do in other decision-making bodies. They are not governed by majority rule or best practice, and the leader does not make decisions on his or her own. When a question or need is brought to the council for consideration, “council members are encouraged to speak honestly, both from their personal experience and from their positions as organization leaders” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church [ChurchofJesusChrist.org], 4.6.1). After carefully defining the question or need, those participating in the council consider instruction by Church leaders and what the Lord has taught in scripture. They also consider what resources might best answer the question or meet the need.
Councils bring together the insight of people with diverse backgrounds, experience, and viewpoints. These differences strengthen the council, and everyone should feel safe to express his or her opinion in a spirit of love and kindness. Such expression is essential to the purpose of councils, so leaders should establish a climate in which every person is heard and every opinion valued. As council members listen, humbly consider others’ feelings, and seek to know Heavenly Father’s will, a spirit of inspiration and unity can prevail (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:27–31).
Describing councils, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that each person should “speak in his turn, and in his place, … that there may be perfect order in all things, and that every man, before he makes an objection to any item that is [brought] before them, for their consideration, should be sure that they can throw light upon the subject, rather than spread darkness, and that his objection be founded in righteousness, which may be done by applying ourselves closely to study the mind and will of the Lord, whose Spirit always makes manifest, and demonstrates to the understanding of all, who are in possession of his Spirit” (Manuscript History of the Church, vol. B-1, pp. 688–89, josephsmithpapers.org).
Church councils are most successful when all involved set aside personal preferences and seek to know the will of the Lord—when they follow Alma’s admonition: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:37).
The leader of the council does not decide how to resolve a question until he or she has heard the discussion. The leader “encourages discussion without dominating it” and “asks questions and may ask particular council members for their suggestions.” The leader “listens carefully before making a decision. These discussions should foster a spirit of inspiration” (Handbook 2, 4.6.1). After counseling with the group, the leader, following the inspiration of the Spirit, may make a decision or propose a course of action for the council to consider.
When considering sensitive needs or questions, council members are cautious not to discuss personal details. Some matters are best left for confidential conversations with leaders.
Councils seek to be unified in their decisions (see Matthew 18:19; Doctrine and Covenants 42:3; 107:27). “If council members have strongly unsettled feelings about an important decision, the [leader] may wait for another council meeting to consider the matter further and seek spiritual confirmation and unity.” After the leader makes a decision, “council members should support it in a spirit of unity and harmony” (Handbook 2, 4.6.1).
“Counseling with the Bishop”
“Presiding Councils,” Handbook 2, 2.4.4
“Build Unity and Harmony,” Handbook 2, 3.3.2
“Councils in the Church,” Handbook 2, 4.1
“Teacher Council Meetings,” Teaching in the Savior’s Way
“Ward Councils at Work,” Ensign, April 2012
“The Teacher Council Difference,” Ensign, July 2016
“Training Emphasizes Importance of Councils,” Ensign, February 2011