In 2010 in a forum intended for individuals who work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Bednar spoke on leadership: “Just think about any responsibility you’ve ever had as a leader in the Church. Were you well prepared before you were called? No. Did you know what you were doing when you were called? No. So the Lord, by inspiration through those who are in authority, calls us to do things that we’ve never done, that we’re not prepared to do, and that we struggle with on the front end especially, learning what we’re to do.
“Well, my phrasing for that is what happens as soon as you begin to have any idea of what you’re doing and gain any measure of confidence, you’re released and you’re clueless again in some new responsibility.
“And there’s a reason for that. As long as we’re clueless we’re dependent upon heaven. As soon as we think we know what we’re doing then we tend to rely more on the arm of the flesh. In the Church every single one of us has been in the position where heaven took a chance on us. We didn’t know what to do, we certainly were not experienced, we were worthy and willing, but heaven took a chance.
“Truthfully, when we then are the one in the chair to receive inspiration for someone else, aren’t we less willing to take a chance on other people? We want folks who have the requisite skill and capacity, and we want everything to run smooth and so we use the same 10 people who at some point in time were given an opportunity, developed the skill and the capacity and the confidence, and we want to look good so we just keep moving them around in the different auxiliaries. The great enjoyment comes when someone who’s really clueless gains confidence in capacity. Thats fun….
“Not too long ago I was visiting with President Packer, and he made just a very interesting observation. He said, ‘David, serving in this responsibility, the longer you serve, the less able you feel.’ If you think about a person who would serve as a stake president, for example, nine years, the first three years you’re pretty much totally clueless, so you’re safe because you’re dependent on heaven.
“The second three years you might begin to see repeating kinds of challenges and cases and you’re still clueless, but you’re not totally clueless so you feel reasonably comfortable. The danger comes in the last three years that you might ever begin to think ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I would suggest ‘Yeah, I know what I’m doing’ is an absence of humility. Because even though this is the 93rd time you’ve seen a case like this, you have no idea what you’re gonna do. As long as that’s your approach. New person, new circumstance, and yes you benefited from the previous 93, but this is a soul where they deserve your very best, and you can’t just apply everything from the past to this particular one.
“So the great danger comes after we have gained experience that we might begin to think we really know what we’re doing.” (A Conversation on Leadership¹; emphasis added).
So if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and feel like you’re in over your head, that’s exactly where you need to be!
1. While the document is hosted and accessible freely online by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its use is “intended for use only by the Church workforce”, which is why I did not provide a direct link. Interested parties can perform a web search for the document and find a PDF of it. I’ve seen the PDF go on and off line over the years so it might be removed from general accessibility at some point
During my first semester of college I was enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) with the eventual goal of being a fighter pilot for the Air Force. While this goal did not materialize because of feelings that my life needed to go in a different direction, I learned valuable lessons in ROTC; I look back on my time in it as including some of the best experiences in my life.
The military is very structured. As part of our training, we were required to learn our chain of command (link is a PDF of a sample chain of command) up to the Commander in Chief – Pres. William Clinton at that time. Knowing this information was important because it was our line of authority from us as cadets (who had no authority) to the person ultimately in charge of the military (the President). Knowing the chain of command taught us the structure of the Air Force and helped us feel part of a greater whole.
This is a part of the discipline of the military. Another component of discipline is saluting your superior officers. Anyone who holds a higher rank is to be saluted and your salute will not end until after theirs has ended. This discipline teaches respect for those with greater authority than what you have, even if the superior officer has no direct authority over you. This reminds me of an experience I had that taught me about respect and leadership. One time we as cadets visited Hill Air Force Base. We were dressed in our ROTC uniforms (which are just like standard Air Force uniforms but we have AFROCT epaulets instead of commissioned officer shoulder marks). What was a little funny to us at the time was how we were treated by enlisted airmen. Some people saluted us, not realizing we did not need to be saluted (we were dressed like officers), but most recognized that we were just ROTC members and did not yet have rank. Anyway, we were at the base early enough for breakfast. I was eating with one of the other cadets when a Colonel came and sat with us. We talked with him for a while. Then another Colonel came and sat with us. One happened to be the commander of Hill AFB and the other was in charge of part of the operations of Hill AFB. Having this experience impressed me because here were two of the top men in command of the base sitting and having breakfast with two ROTC cadets. I was slightly self-conscious during the experience because I wanted to leave a good impression but I was also moved by their concern for us as individuals. That taught me much about leadership.
To be in ROTC I had to take military science courses as well as Leadership Lab (learning about the structure and function of the Air Force) and physical education. We also spent a lot of time learning to march. We learned to march in formation and follow commands instantly – “Present, ARMS! Forward, MARCH! Right shoulder, ARMS! Column right, MARCH!” and so forth. As part of our marching for parade practice I was my squadron’s guideon bearer (I carried the squadron flag). This means that when the commander was present, my job was to be out in front with him (or her), carrying the flag. As part of our training we also learned all the proper etiquette and protocol. We had frequent inspections of our uniforms. We had to have our shirts tucked in (and held taut with shirt garters – which, by the way, were really nice to use), our shoes always shined (I spent about an hour a week shining my shoes), our clothes ironed and starched, and everything lint free. We were expected to be groomed appropriately and looking our finest. We always had to be on time and ready to go. Offenses were potentially punishable by having to drink the grog (at Brigham Young University it was usually composed of punch with a mixture of cookies, whipping cream, soy sauce, crackers, and whatever else seemed distasteful to include in the mix) at the AFROTC ball held every semester.
We had to learn to remain composed when under pressure. We had to answer questions – even ridiculous ones like, “What sound does Tarzan make?” And be able to reply, “Ohhh-ahhhhh-ohhhhh, sir!” without laughing or breaking our composure. I used to have my roommates try and see if they could get me to move or smile or laugh as practice for remaining composed while standing at attention. I learned a way to remain aware of my surroundings but not allow them to affect me. When you are at attention (and even “parade rest”) almost nothing should result in you moving your eyes or turning your head or smiling or moving at all. This was a learned skill. All of this was done as a matter of discipline.
Our exercising in the morning (early morning – 6:00 AM, which is really early in college) was intense. We ran, did pushups, did pullups, jumped, and performed other physical activities so that we would be in good condition. Some of the days were particularly difficult. I never threw up during or after any of my track and field workouts in high school but I threw up twice after ROTC workouts because of the physical strain. Was this healthy? Certainly more healthy than not exercising! I had this physical training twice a week. We trained intensely both mentally and physically so that we would have discipline under pressure. I also learned that when there were times that I thought I could not go farther, I did.
Not being content to just be part of ROTC, I joined the Honor Guard. We were a drill team that were ostensibly training as the elite of ROTC. We had special additions to our uniforms of a beret, a shoulder braid, an ascot, and taps on our shoes. This was so we would stand out in public performances. A group of 12-16 of us worked together to perfect our marching skills. In my journal from the time I wrote my first entry about Honor Guard: “Honor Guard practice was interesting. We are marching around and practicing our moves. We did some minor rifle work…. [Written at a later date] We just learned how to do some cool spin movements and a little toss thing [with our rifles]. We split into four-man teams…. We practice 5 days a week for one hour at a time. We do little throw [moves] and some other fancy moves we are learning.” It was sometimes daunting to have a 10 pound rifle flying and spinning through the air at you but we learned to trust our training and trust the other members of our team. I found a video (I’m not in it) of the type of stuff I did in Honor Guard.
Here’s another video of the AF Academy Honor Guard (ignore the heavy breathing and sniffling at the beginning of the video – it gets better; of course, by telling you to ignore those you’ll pay more attention to them. :)).
What is the point of all of this show? Is it just about doing something that looks cool? It does look cool but at it’s core, it’s an activity where you learn how to work together as a single unit. You learn trust and precision. You learn that by practicing over and over you can do things automatically. In my training I learned discipline. My group could move and think as one (well, we were at least working towards that). The things we can accomplish with discipline and unity are great.
This experience only lasted four months. After that, I felt that it wasn’t right for my life, even though making that decision was hard. I did not want to stop ROTC but I felt that I needed to. Now I’m not doing anything similar to ROTC but the experiences I had still affect my life in positive ways.
What are the spiritual parallels for all of this? Just as physical discipline can be and is learned, so is spiritual discipline. I worked for at least an hour five days a week for more than three months to learn how to march and carry and throw rifles with precision. I had other classes and practice sessions to increase my discipline. What effort do we put into training our spiritual discipline? Do we spend an hour a day studying the gospel, praying, meditating, talking about the gospel, or doing other things that can enhance our faith and faithfulness? Do we practice the gospel or do we merely attempt to go through the motions? Gaining spiritual strength occurs in the same way as gaining physical strength does – through exercise and dedication.
What about leadership? At Hill AFB the top commanders of the base took time to talk with me and ask and answer questions. If we are in positions of leadership in the church (or elsewhere), do we make time for the individual? Do we go out of our way to talk with others and let them know that we are interested in them? Are we really interested in them? Do we follow the Master and minister instead of just administer?
Discipline gives us strength when we are vulnerable. Discipline allows us to act appropriately without thinking when faced with temptation. Physical and spiritual discipline are interconnected. This is why physical commandments such as the Word of Wisdom are also spiritual. Also, principles we learn from obtaining physical discipline apply to spiritual discipline. Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated, “Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard.” (October 2009 General Conference). Why do we choose the right? What is the end goal of spiritual discipline? To become better disciples of Christ. Discipline is all about discipleship. If we have not chosen Christ and disciplined ourselves to Him, who have we chosen to follow instead? Whose disciples are we if we are not Christ’s?
As a sort-of follow-up to my post about the recent Worldwide Leadership Training meeting where new Administering the Church handbooks were introduced, I wanted to include a portion of a post from the LDS Church Newsroom site.
From the article:
“A case in point: On Saturday, 13 November 2010, the Church distributed a new administrative handbook to hundreds of thousands of lay leaders around the world. The handbook provides guidelines for administering local Church programs, serving members and ensuring continuity of Church operations around the world.
“The previous evening, reporter Brian Mullahy of Salt Lake City’s CBS affiliate, KUTV 2, presented the station’s viewers with his interpretation of the significance of the handbook. From the nearly 200 pages of content, his report focused entirely on four short paragraphs included under the handbook heading ‘Homosexual Behavior and Same-Gender Attraction.’
This content was then adorned with footage from general conference and protesters around Temple Square, followed by comments from two gay activists. Mullahy says, ‘Now, more than a month later, this,’ implying that changes in the handbook were somehow linked to those events.”
In the context of a broader criticism of the slow death of critical thinking and true investigative journalism, the LDS Newsroom staff are objecting to KUTV making such a big fuss over a very short section of the handbook (especially when the handbook did not change existing policy). Of course KUTV can do whatever they want to do but what they did is shoddy journalism. It is sensationalism, which is unfortunately the norm for news media today. The Church Newsroom writers end with this:
“Were KUTV and other media justified in drawing attention to updated language in that one section? Of course. Was it presented in proper context and with the correct interpretation? Hardly. We all know that journalists will look for what they find ‘newsworthy,’ but highly selective and misleading reporting is a disservice to the readers and viewers of KUTV as much as it is to the subject being covered.”
This similar to what happened when Pres. Packer gave his conference address at the October 2010 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Context is key, especially with controversial issues. Does this mean you always have to give equal weight to conflicting sides of issues? Not always, but at the least you should include context. What is the context of the updated LDS Church leadership manuals? Reduced overhead (administration), increased flexibility, greater reliance on the Spirit, increased individual ministry. That’s the context. Pointing out just a section about homosexuality (found on pages 195-196) – maybe 150 words – is missing the point of the updated leadership handbook (if you want the point of the leadership handbook, read the first few chapters). Why this is important and why the LDS Newroom staff are making this an issue is because KUTV used the release of this updated leadership manual as an excuse to report about the LDS Church’s position on homosexuality. If KUTV wants to do that, that’s fine but it is poor reporting to have a story about the new handbook but focus mainly on what the Church believes about homosexuality. Make that a separate story. All KUTV did was sensationalism.
As someone who works with the young men, I thought the recent Worldwide Leadership Training meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was great (I’ll come back to that point). One thing the Church has been trying to work toward is a reduction in meetings and work load while increasing the efficacy and purpose of the meetings that are left. I liked Elder Bednar’s point that meetings should be opportunities for revelation. I’d add that if you are not receiving revelation during a church meeting, whether it is a Sacrament Meeting or a Ward Council, then either the meeting is not being run entirely appropriately or you are not completely prepared for the meeting. When we are engaged in the work of the Lord, we are entitled to receive revelation for ourselves, our family, and for our stewardships within the Church.
So why training meeting great for someone like me who works with the young men? Part of the changes to how wards function is to reduce the load on Bishops and their counselors. This means that they will be able to spend more time with the young men and the young single adults. A bishop is the president of the Priest quorum in the ward. He is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward as well. This means that if the Bishop is not in the quorum meeting with the Priests on Sunday, he is not where he is supposed to be. Bishops should be with their quorums. I know there are extenuating circumstances and other things that need to get done but the bishoprics are the primary leaders for the young men. When I was growing up my bishops were good about spending a lot of time with the young men. They came to our classes as often as possible and came on as many campouts as possible. They were great role models who led us as Christ would lead us, in love and righteousness.
But now, the Church is putting more emphasis on simplifying handbooks (when Elder Oaks stated that they had cut about 12% from the Stake Presidents’ and Bishops’ manual, I thought of Steve Jobs introducing a new Apple product that is now “thinner and lighter”). When you can simplify the bureaucracy by cutting administrative overhead, you have more time for ministrative service. This comes when all fulfill their responsibilities and help each other. Alma taught: “And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). Part of being members of the Church is being willing to bear one another’s burdens. This is specifically the role of the Ward Council – to lighten the load on the Bishop by diffusing the weight. The old adage that many hands might light work is true.
As the Church procedures are simplified and streamlined, there is more time for the individual. This has been repeated many times but I can never state it enough – the people, not the programs of the Church are what are important. This is what the Apostles are reemphasizing with the changes to the leadership handbooks for the Church.
The new Duty to God program is an example of the Lord “raising the bar” for our youth. With this renovation of the program young men are provided opportunities to act more as agents for themselves unto the Lord rather than be acted upon as passive participants in and partakers of the gospel. What do I mean by this?
When I was a young man the Duty to God program was this: go to church, go to seminary, give talks on occasion, be involved in your quorums, and be a worthy bearer of the priesthood. Those are all wonderful duties but there was little choice in the program – either you did it or you didn’t. In an interview just after I turned 18 my Bishop said, “You did everything for Duty to God” and I received the award. I really didn’t have to go out of my way to earn it. Because there was little choice in the program, it was what I call a GPS Duty to God program – do this, turn here, drive 6 years, merge right, and arrive at your destination. You didn’t really have to think or act for yourself; you in some ways were acted upon. Then the Duty to God program changed. There were checklists and projects and “choose 8 of the following 13” activities to do. The program was very involved and, frankly, sometimes overwhelming – manageable, but overwhelming. It was inspired and taught the young men a lot of good skills and traits but it was still basically a GPS Duty to God program – you drive along and turn when the pleasant voice tells you to turn. There were a few more choices but the program was largely set and scripted.
Now we have the new program. The new Duty to God program takes away the step-by-step directions and leaves much of the decision-making to the young men as they follow the Spirit and seek input from parents and leaders. The destination is known and there are guideposts but the GPS is turned off; it is up to the young men to create their own paths. With the new program the preparing, planning, and travelling of the journey are as important as arriving at the destination. It doesn’t matter if you drive a Porsche or a Pinto or if you take a freeway or a scenic byway as long as you drive the Lord’s way. The goal is to build righteous men who are independent agents and who know and serve the Lord.
The new Duty to God program is founded upon the Lord’s principles of learn, (plan and) act, and share. You learn something, do something about what you learned, and then return and report. That’s like life – I don’t just mean our mortal life. In the pre-earth life we learned, in this life we are doing, and in the next life all of us will return and report on our activities of mortal life. That is the Lord’s pattern of growth.
Now that we’ve learned, let’s move on to action, or at least plans for action. Quorum meetings and mutual activities are a great time to help young men learn and fulfill their duties to God. Ideally, what we talk about in quorum meeting on Sunday will be reinforced in some way during mutual. This is not always possible but with planning ahead the young men should be able to fulfill a Duty to God activity: learning, acting, or reporting about their actions. We need not make the Duty to God program the entire focus of mutual but we can easily devote at least one activity per month to it.
How can we accomplish this? First, I’d like to borrow a question from Elder Bednar about planning mutual activities. When planning we should ask: “What are the things that should happen to the [young men] as a result of this activity?”1 In other words, what is our goal – our desired outcome – for the activity? Even more than that – what is our goal for the young men? This is where the Duty to God program enters in – it provides such goals as: serve others, live the Word of Wisdom, learn about careers, learn about missionary work, and so forth. But in order to answer Elder Bednar’s question we phrase the goals differently. For example, if we want to have an activity focused on the Word of Wisdom, the goal for the activity could be to have the young men make a strong commitment to live the Word of Wisdom. Now we have our desired outcome. With the destination in mind, it should be easier to think of ideas for activities. Here’s one quick idea: the young men could play basketball or some other game but with modifications. The “smokers” can only play on their knees; the “drinkers” have one arm tied behind their backs; the “fruits and vegetables” get an extra point for every basket they make; and so on. This might be slightly cheesy but my point is that with a goal in mind a fun activity can also be memorable, educational, and even converting if it invites the Spirit. Leaders need to be “clear about the ultimate objective and the target and the mission”1 so that the young men can better plan and plan better mutual activities.
Elder Hales said, “Church leaders regularly plan priesthood activities and Scouting pow wows and encampments—but do those activities always accomplish their most important purpose? I have learned that what makes a priesthood or Scout activity most meaningful to a boy is not just getting a merit badge but having the opportunity to sit and talk with a leader who is interested in him and his life.”2 Are we focusing on what’s important?
The Duty to God program is about effecting change in the lives of the young men. After all, nothing in the Church is about the programs – it is about the people. A stake priesthood meeting, for example, is not done so the stake presidency can check an item off their to-do list; that meeting is held so all can learn their duties as priesthood holders. People, not programs, are the Church. The Duty to God program was made for the young men; they were not made for it.
The Lord said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100). So we must all learn and act and I will add, share in order to be found worthy to stand.
The Aaronic Priesthood holders here in this room will be among the future leaders of the Church. How can they lead if no one teaches them? Elder Ballard recently said this to church leaders: “We try to teach every leader that one of your primary responsibilities is to raise up those that’ll be…better leaders than you ever were”3. This is where the Aaronic Priesthood and the new Duty to God program come in. Just as 40 years in the wilderness prepared the Israelites for the fruits of Canaan, just as the Mosaic Law prepared the Lord’s people for the coming of the Messiah, just as John the Baptist cried as a lone voice in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Savior, the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is the forerunner – the schoolmaster – that helps train young men to be faithful followers of Christ. The Duty to God program is designed to help prepare young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood and the blessings of the temple because these things lead them to Christ. I pray that we take the things we learn in this meeting and from the Spirit and share them with others in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
The call to arise from the dust is a call to repentance. We should stand up when we fall. “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8). This is one of my favorite scriptures. I love the determination and the faith. I can picture a person sitting, huddled and afraid – lost in the darkness but praying for the Lord to illuminate the way. Then a bright light shines in the darkness, dispelling the encroaching blackness. As the light shines, the person comprehends it and is comforted by its presence. She stands up, ready to continue on her journey, strengthened by the light of the Lord.
“Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” (D&C; 115:5). Again the call to arise comes from the Lord. This time we are commanded to let our lights shine forth, like a lighthouse providing light to ships in stormy seas. Our lights can become standards for the nations. A standard has multiple meanings. One meaning is that of a guide, specifically a flag. In a military group the standard is the unit’s flag. The standard bearer is an important member of the unit (although, this was true more in the past than than currently). In a battle, troops rallied to the standard bearer who had the flag. He guided them to their destination. A standard can also be something against which other things are measured. For example, a particular set of expectations for performance or behavior can be a standard, or guide for other people. When we are commanded to arise and shine forth, we are called to be guides unto others; we receive a call to service and sacrifice and selflessness.
Elsewhere in the scriptures, arising from the dust is used to describe the resurrection: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). We can arise from the dust of death – spiritual and physical – and awaken into a new life.
This theme of arising from the dust is important enough that the Book of Mormon opens and closes with it. To be precise, most of the references pleading with people to arise from the dust are found in the book of 2nd Nephi, which is not the first book in the Book of Mormon but it is very near the beginning. At the very end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni brings back the theme as he wraps up his writing. “Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O Daughter of Zion” (Moroni 10:31). It’s interesting how often arising from the dust and putting on beautiful garments go together. We shouldn’t just clean off the dust – we need to put on beautiful and clean clothing. The beautiful clothes we should put on are temple clothes, which among other things represent purity and holiness.