Today I attended a worldwide satellite broadcast of a training session from the leadership of the Church to help local leaders understand the changes in the new General Handbook of Directions (volumes I and II) that guide the local operations of wards and branches in the Church. A very nicely done two-hour session that included an interesting role playing scenario with a model ward council (the bishop was terrific–sign him up for Hollywood!), a panel discussion, and some inspiring talks to give overviews and some important details.
The most important changes built into the new manuals are increased reliance on ward councils to carry out the mission of the Church. Welfare committee meetings are now eliminated, being built into the operation of the ward council (or branch council). The manuals aim to decrease the burden on bishops, to be more focused on the needs of individuals and families, and to add a little more flexibility in a few areas.
President Monson pointed out that so many of the problems the First Presidency has to deal with arise from mistakes made by local leaders who failed to follow the Handbook. He urged leaders to “read, understand, and follow.”
President Monson also observed that failure to read, understand, and follow the directions from the Church has led to numerous unauthorized changes in practices and even ordinations in various units of the Church. This is in a time of easy communication, of political tolerance, and abundant living leaders touring the earth to keep the Church on course. Remove authorized apostles or break down communication between leaders and the units for a few decades, and one can only imagine how far things could drift, especially when strong-willed local leaders come up with their own preferred innovations. It’s a good reminder of why the Restoration was needed to bring back true authority and authorized priesthood leaders to maintain unity and order in the Church.
I was really impressed by the vision of church councils being taught by our leaders. This is not about a leader bossing people around to make things happen his way. It’s about a team of people with diverse skills and responsibilities working together in love, in confidence, and with inspiration, to bless the lives of families and individuals. There is a recognition that inspiration on how to help others and strengthen the church need not come from the bishop only, but can come from others on the council or beyond, though the bishop as the authorized leaders is the one who must recognize and affirm it. This points to a paradigm of Church leaders focused more on listening than in pushing.
As Sister Julie Beck pointed out in the panel discussion, the LDS concept of leadership through councils is counter-cultural, being contrary to prevailing cultures all over the world. Because it is contrary to the way we are trained by the world, Church leaders must expect to face a learning curve to develop the skills needed to make councils function properly. But we can gradually learn how to do it.
Time well spent, in my opinion. Well organized, nice mix of content, and a good way to help leaders in the Church learn how to improve they way they work in building Zion and following Christ in the work we are called to do in our roles in the Church.