“Chapter 23: Shepherds of the Flock,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 249–57
“Chapter 23,” Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, 249–57
President Spencer W. Kimball frequently taught the importance of sustaining local and general Church leaders. During the priesthood session of general conference in April 1978, he recalled feelings he had as a youth regarding each man who served as his bishop: “We always had a good bishop. We always loved him. There was Bishop Zundel and Bishop Moody and Bishop Tyler and Bishop Wilkins. I loved all my bishops. I hope all my young brethren love their bishops as I did.”1
In another address he said: “I remember coming to this tabernacle [the Salt Lake Tabernacle] as a boy from Arizona, with my father, to attend general conference. I was thrilled to hear all the Brethren speak. … I was thrilled at their utterances and took their warnings seriously, even as a young man. These men are among the prophets of God, just as were the prophets of the Book of Mormon and of the Bible.”2
President Kimball often expressed appreciation to members for their willingness to sustain him and other Church leaders: “Everywhere I go, there is a great outpouring of love and kindness, and for that I am humbly thankful. It is manna to my soul. Your prayers and your love sustain me. The Lord hears your prayers and blesses me and my Brethren with health and strength and directs us in the affairs of his kingdom here upon the earth. For this all of us are deeply grateful.”3 He also spoke of the love he and other Church leaders felt for the Saints: “We love you people and wish for you total progress and joy and happiness, which we know can come only through following the admonitions of God as proclaimed through his prophets and leaders.”4
The Master and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, stands at the head of this Church in all his majesty and glory. He directs his affairs through his divinely appointed and sustained prophets and apostles.5
The affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ are administered by the Presidency of the Church and the Twelve Apostles, with numerous other General Authorities assisting, and also through the stake and mission presidents and the bishops. These men are the shepherds of the flock. The Lord has placed these men to lead his kingdom on earth, and upon them he has placed authority and responsibility, each in his particular sphere. He has given these men the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is his own power and authority delegated to men. He recognizes and ratifies the acts of these chosen and anointed servants.6
It is my testimony to you that the leaders in this the Church of Jesus Christ are divinely called and set apart to lead through the spirit of prophecy as in other dispensations.7
To every member of this Church, the Lord has given leaders on three levels: the Bishop or Branch President, the Stake President or the Mission President, and the General Authorities. These leaders are dependable. One of them may be limited in knowledge, education or training, but he is entitled to the revelations of the Lord for his people and he has the channel open to God himself.8
Since the crucifixion, there have been tens of thousands of men called by the Savior to fill positions of responsibility, not one of whom has been perfect, and yet all are called of the Lord and must be upheld and sustained by those who would be disciples of the Lord. That is the true spirit of the gospel.9
Chosen, approved, ordained leaders will protect us against “the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.” [Ephesians 4:14.] One can never be deceived if he protects himself against the blind or vicious guide by following the Spirit and the proper leaders of the Church.10
No one is more anxious than the Brethren who stand at the head of this Church to receive such guidance as the Lord would give them for the benefit of mankind and for the people of the Church.11
I know that the Lord has contact with his prophets, and that he reveals the truth today to his servants as he did in the days of Adam and Abraham and Moses and Peter and Joseph and the numerous others throughout time. God’s messages of light and truth are as surely given to man today as in any other dispensation.12
Some may wonder why General Authorities speak of the same things from conference to conference. As I study the utterances of the prophets through the centuries, their pattern is very clear. We seek, in the words of Alma, to teach people “an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.” We preach “repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Alma 37:32, 33.) We praise humility. We seek to teach people “to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Alma 37:33.) We teach our people “to never be weary of good works.” (Alma 37:34.)
Prophets say the same things because we face basically the same problems. Brothers and sisters, the solutions to these problems have not changed. It would be a poor lighthouse that gave off a different signal to guide every ship entering a harbor. It would be a poor mountain guide who, knowing the safe route up a mountainside, took his trusting charges up unpredictable and perilous paths from which no traveler returns.13
Church leaders are not able, each time we teach you, to offer a new or more glamorous route that will lead back to the presence of our Heavenly Father. The route remains the same. Hence, encouragement must often be given concerning the same things and warnings must be repeated. Just because a truth is repeated does not make that truth any less important or true. Indeed, the opposite is true.14
I can imagine that if the Lord himself were standing on the Mount of Olives and if he were instructing the people, he would say much the same things that have been said and will be said [in our conferences]. I can imagine that if he were standing on the Sea of Galilee with the boats in the water and the people standing around him, that he would say very much the same things: to live the commandments of God, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, and to live every commandment that God has given us. That is what he would say, and so today he is saying these things through his servants.15
When the world has followed prophets, it has moved forward; when it has ignored them, the results have been stagnation, servitude, death.16
Let us not make the error of the ancients. Numerous modern sectarians believe in the Abrahams, the Moseses, and the Pauls, but resist believing in today’s prophets. The ancients also could accept the prophets of an earlier day, but denounced and cursed the ones who were their contemporaries.18
Various excuses have been used over the centuries to dismiss these divine messengers [living prophets]. There has been denial because the prophet came from an obscure place. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46.) Jesus was also met with the question, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55.) By one means or another, the swiftest method of rejection of the holy prophets has been to find a pretext, however false or absurd, to dismiss the man so that his message could also be dismissed. Prophets who were not glib, but slow of speech, were esteemed as naught. Instead of responding to Paul’s message, some saw his bodily presence as weak and regarded his speech as contemptible [see 2 Corinthians 10:10]. Perhaps they judged Paul by the timbre of his voice or by his style of speech, not the truths uttered by him.
… The cares of the world are so many and so entangling, even very good people are diverted from following the truth because they care too much for the things of the world. …
Sometimes people let their hearts get so set upon things and the honors of this world that they cannot learn the lessons they most need to learn. Simple truths are often rejected in favor of the much less-demanding philosophies of men, and this is another cause for the rejection of the prophets. …
The holy prophets have not only refused to follow erroneous human trends, but have pointed out these errors. No wonder the response to the prophets has not always been one of indifference. So often the prophets have been rejected because they first rejected the wrong ways of their own society. …
Prophets have a way of jarring the carnal mind. Too often the holy prophets are wrongly perceived as harsh and as anxious to make a record in order to say, “I told you so.” Those prophets I have known are the most loving of men. It is because of their love and integrity that they cannot modify the Lord’s message merely to make people feel comfortable. They are too kind to be so cruel. I am so grateful that prophets do not crave popularity.19
How do you teach your children to love the authorities of the Church? If you are constantly saying good things about the branch presidency, the district presidency, the mission presidency, and the Presidency of the Church, your children will grow up to love the brethren.20
We pray for the Church leaders. If children all their days in their turn at family prayers and in their secret prayers remember before the Lord the leaders of the Church, they are quite unlikely to ever fall into apostasy. …
The children who pray for the brethren will grow up loving them, speaking well of them, honoring and emulating them. Those who daily hear the leaders of the Church spoken of in prayer in deep affection will more likely believe the sermons and admonitions they will hear.
When boys speak to the Lord concerning their bishop, they are likely to take very seriously the interviews with the bishop in which priesthood advancements and mission and temple blessings are being discussed. And girls too will have a healthy respect for all church proceedings as they pray for the leaders of the Church.21
The membership of the Church will always be safe if they follow closely the instructions and admonitions and the leadership of the authorities of the Church.22
The authorities which the Lord has placed in his Church constitute for the people of the Church a harbor, a place of refuge, a hitching post, as it were. No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you into bypaths; it never has and never will. There could be individuals who would falter; there will never be a majority of the Council of the Twelve on the wrong side at any time. The Lord has chosen them; he has given them specific responsibilities. And those people who stand close to them will be safe. And, conversely, whenever one begins to go his own way in opposition to authority, he is in grave danger. I would not say that those leaders whom the Lord chooses are necessarily the most brilliant, nor the most highly trained, but they are the chosen, and when chosen of the Lord they are his recognized authority, and the people who stay close to them have safety.23
If we will live the gospel and follow the counsel of the leaders of the Church, we will be blessed to avoid many of the problems that plague the world.24
Let us harken to those we sustain as prophets and seers, as well as the other brethren, as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!25
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Consider how your life has been blessed as you have sustained Church leaders on the three levels described by President Kimball (see page 251). As you do so, what experiences come to mind?
Review the section that begins on page 252. What are some recurring messages you have noticed in recent general conferences?
Review the third and fourth full paragraphs on page 253. Why do you think some people find it difficult to follow living prophets? What recent examples come to mind?
What can we do to encourage children and others to respect and follow Church leaders? (For some examples, see page 255.)
Review the last section of the chapter. Why is there safety in following the counsel of Church leaders?