Reflection on the Past Two Years: Simplification


Just over two years ago I was set apart as one of the 20,000+ bishops in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This has been the most challenging and one of the most rewarding callings I’ve had. If I was in charge, I’d choose to serve as a nursery leader or the ward organist. Primary pianist would be great too. I choose to serve where called even if it takes me out of my comfort zone.

These past two years have offered unique challenges. Two weeks after I was set apart, I had to deal with hurricane cleanup efforts. Last year I dealt with more. Thankfully damage was relatively minor within my ward boundaries but a lot of efforts were made coordinating cleanup within and without our boundaries.

There have been so many other experiences — many wonderful, some unpleasant. In order to protect confidences, I will not write about any of these without using broad generalities. There have been funerals, marriages, divorces, baptisms, ending of church membership, and the ministering of angels. The greatest joy comes from meeting with so many wonderful people who love Jesus Christ and who are striving with quiet faith to return to our Heavenly Father.

Shortly after President Monson died and President Nelson was sustained as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was talking with an elderly neighbor. He was impressed with our church having a new president who was more than 90 years old. He asked if there would be any big changes at church. I replied that it was always a possibility but we’d just have to wait and see. I thought there probably wouldn’t been many changes for at least some months. My neighbor’s question about changes stuck with me in light of all the changes we’ve seen in 2018.

It was an interesting experience to be serving as bishop during the time when the church (mostly) put all high priests into consolidated elder’s quorums. This simplified the organizational structure of the church and made the lives of bishops a little easier because it reduced the number vital of callings within the ward. This streamlining of church organization removed the imbalance between the Relief Society and the priesthood quorums. It also countered the general process within the world to add organizational complexity to support the growing numbers and complexities of modern society. At a time when most businesses expand and most governments expand, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simplified.

In concert with the streamlining of the elder’s quorum were policy changes to allow greater responsibilities for the Relief Society Presidency and Elder’s Quorum Presidency within each unit. Missionary work, temple and family history work, and many of the other adult-centric functions are now largely handled by the Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum. Bishops, of course, still have ultimate responsibility within the ward but these changes help bishops focus even more on the youth. This focus on the youth will be more realized as the church implements its simplified but more coordinated youth program in 2020. Cutting out the involvement with the Boy Scout organization simplifies ward organizations but also allows for greater parity between young women and young men and the U.S./Canada congregations and the rest of the world. There’s much we don’t yet know about those changes so I’ll leave that topic for now.

Yesterday at the Saturday morning session of conference additional changes were announced. Church was changing from a 3 hour block of meetings to a 2 hour block of meetings. This wasn’t a reduction in church services, just a reduction in formal church services. The hope is that families and individuals would use the additional time to study the gospel at home. Some people will not replace the extra hour with anything gospel-related but many will. It will be a great blessing to families and individuals. Church members will be given more opportunities to govern themselves after learning correct principles.

There will be additional streamlining. The hymnbook and primary songbook are being redone to remove some/many of the less frequently sung songs. The church also wants the same hymnbook and primary songbook in all languages. I do not know the timeframe for these changes but it follows the same process of simplifying. All this streamlining is done to increase faith in Jesus Christ and strengthen individuals and families.

Hastening the Work of Salvation: High Council


Members of the High Council have the responsibility to help strengthen and train leaders and members of the Elders quorum and High Priest group in the ward or branch in which they are assigned. Part of this responsibility lies in helping hasten the work of salvation by encouraging those who bear the priesthood to strengthen their brethren, particularly those who have left the gospel fold or become casual in their attendance and testimonies. The Church has a series of videos focused on how various church leaders play a role in hastening the work of salvation. Here is a brief video about the role that high councilors play.

Here’s the link to the video (I’d embed it but it kept auto-playing and until that is fixed, I’ll just link to the video).

The Church also has a short document describing the responsibilities high councilors over missionary work in a stake have regarding hastening the work of salvation. This is found here (as a PDF):

Church Organization: High Council


This post is in a series about the structure and organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In each stake of the LDS Church (a stake is a collection of 8-12 congregations) there is a High Council composed of 12 men who have been ordained as high priests. In modern times the first high council was organized on February 17, 1834 in Kirtland, Ohio.

“This day a general council of twenty-four high priests assembled at the house of Joseph Smith, Jun., by revelation, and proceeded to organize the high council of the church of Christ, which was to consist of twelve high priests, and one or three presidents as the case might require. The high council was appointed by revelation for the purpose of settling important difficulties which might arise in the church, which could not be settled by the church or the bishop’s council to the satisfaction of the parties.” (D&C 102:1-2).

In part, the high council is patterned after the organization of the children of Israel by Moses as suggested by his father in law Jethro (see Exodus 18). Members of the high council are called to assist others (stake presidency) in directing the work of the Lord’s church at a local (stake, ward, and branch) level. Members of a high council have no authority except that given them by a stake president – all responsibilities are supportive and administrative. High councilors never preside (except maybe in very rare circumstances where there is not a more senior person to preside). An overview of the core responsibilities of a member of a high council are found in the LDS Church’s administrative handbook in section 15.3.

Here are selections about the high council role of supporting the stake president because the stake presidency cannot be everywhere they could or need to be: “High councilors counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to ordain brethren to the offices of elder and high priest. The stake president may authorize high councilors to represent him when men are ordained to the offices of elder and high priest.

“High councilors also counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to issue callings to members. For some callings, the stake presidency may authorize high councilors to represent them in issuing the callings, presenting members to be sustained, and setting members apart as indicated in chapter 19.”

Each high councilor is also assigned to oversee a unit within a stake: “To assist them in overseeing the Melchizedek Priesthood, the stake presidency assigns a high councilor to represent them in each elders quorum, high priests group, ward, and branch in the stake.”

For this responsibility, high councilors typically visit their assigned unit at least monthly, attending as many general and leadership meetings within the unit as necessary.

High councilors also are assigned to speak regularly in units throughout the stake: “The stake presidency may assign high councilors to represent them by speaking in sacrament meetings and other settings.” These talks often occur monthly but there is leniency for talks to be given less often. There is a well-worn (and outdated) running joke in the church about how boring high councilors are as speakers. In listening to hundreds of high councilor talks over the years, I’ve found the majority of them quite enjoyable. In fact, the quality of the average high councilor talk has been higher than the quality of the average ward member talk (although I’ve had the opportunity to live in wards where church members generally give excellent talks). The joke or belief about boring high councilors might have had some truth in the past but has not been generally true for the various stakes I’ve lived in over the years.

Another responsibility members of a high council have is in church disciplinary councils. I’ve written about them in the past and will not expand more  at this point other than to state that those councils are meant to be as supportive to the member under disciplinary action as possible.

Members of high councils have other responsibilities too – service, meetings, committees. In the past, high council callings tended to be cushier – not particularly busy – but recently high councilors are being used more as the church expands. In order to reduce the load on individuals (e.g., stake presidencies) more tasks are delegated to help spread the work and reduce time away from families. At its core the high council is structured to support and edify families – for families are the core unit of the Church.

Church Organization: Overview


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized after the same manner as the church Christ organized during His mortal ministry. The head – or leader – of the LDS Church is the Savior, Jesus Christ. The core unit of the LDS Church is the family and all structures and organizations of the church are established to support and edify families. Watch this brief introduction to the organization of the LDS Church.

Stakes and Wards – An Infographic


The LDS Church’s Newsroom released an infographic recently that covers LDS Church structure and organization at the stake and ward level (groups of 1000 to 5000 and 150-500 church members, respectively). Their post covers the lay ministry of the Church well. I’ve always been interested in the organization of the Church, posting about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (that last one is about why Mormons are busy with church callings but it explains church organization from an “on the ground perspective”). Many of my discussions of church organization relate to its central organization, which is why this infographic by the LDS Church’s newsroom is a great complement to my posts.

Church Organization in The Book of Mormon


In Mosiah 18 and Mosiah 25 we learn much about the proper organization and role of Christ’s church. Let’s set the context. An off-shoot of the Nephites were under the reign of a wicked man named Noah. The king ordained priests who shared his love of wickedness. A righteous man, a prophet, Abinadi came among the people and testified of their wickedness. He fled for his life and then later came back in disguise to preach more. Abinadi was taken before King Noah and his priests. He testified against their wickedness boldly. He also taught the gospel of Christ in power and purity. Abinadi was killed for his beliefs but one of the wicked priests believed his teachings. This priest – Alma – fled for his life but began to teach the people in secret after he repented of his sins. So the setting for Mosiah 18 is a wooded area where there is a fountain of pure water (how very appropriate for a setting for Alma’s teachings about the Source of Living Water, even Jesus Christ).

What did Alma teach and what do we learn about the organization of Christ’s church? Alma started teaching “repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7). Those are the foundational principles of the gospel – faith in Christ and repentance (which is made efficacious through the reception of the Savior). In verses 8-10 we read about baptism and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“8 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;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?”

What’s important is in these verse we learn the covenant that those who are baptized make. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ (or at least are willing to and Christ puts His name upon them in their worthiness). Then we read of the responsibilities of the baptized members of Christ’s church:

  1. Bear one another’s burdens
  2. Mourn with those who mourn
  3. Comfort those who need comfort
  4. Testify of God in all things and times (particularly through the example of their lives)

Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35).

As we continue through Mosiah 18 we understand more about the true nature of Christ’s church. Before Alma performed an ordinance (baptism), he prayed for the Lord’s Spirit to be with him (verse 12). Then Alma baptized a man – Helam – “having authority from the Almighty God.” (verse 13). He did not receive authority of himself, it was given to him by God (either his ordination to the priesthood under the direction of Noah was valid or he was ordained and given authority by a heavenly messenger after that time {I believe that the former is true though, which could lead to an interesting discussion about the priesthood}). The priesthood authority is something you cannot receive but from God (“And no man taketh this honor [ordination to the priesthood] unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews 5:4).

Then Alma baptized Helam who was then filled with the Spirit (Alma also baptized himself, which is done only in this special circumstance; normally, it is not possible to baptize oneself; UPDATE: a statement by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith was brought to my attention; Pres. Smith stated that the self-baptism was merely symbolic {}. This brings up a whole point I did not initially bring up about where Alma’s priethood authority came from. Was his ordination as one of Noah’s priests valid (my guess is yes, it was)? Was he ordained secretly under the hands of Abinadi before Abinadi’s death? Did he already have the priesthood before being raised to the level of one of King Noah’s priests? Was he ordained by an angel? These are all unanswered questions and not entirely pertinent to this post, which is why I did not bring them up initially. However, if Alma’s baptism was symbolic, it means he was previously baptized by the proper authority). As Alma baptized more people, he did not go under the water again – one baptism is enough. These verses show that entrance to Christ’s church is dependent upon baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit: “And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.” (Mosiah 18:17).

Next, to get the church set up further, Alma ordained priests over the people (initially about 4 – one for every 50 church members; there were 204 individuals baptized at that time). What did these priests do? Teach the people “nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets. Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.” (Mosiah 18:19-20). They were commanded to teach only the basics of the gospel as taught by the prophets.

The people of the Lord were then commanded to be unified and without contention (verse 21). The church members were also commanded to preach (to one another and to others) – they were to be missionaries (verse 22). They were also commanded to keep the sabbath day holy and thank the Lord in all things (verse 23). Related to this, the church members were to meet together one day a week for church services but also meet together as often as they could.

Next we get to something important – Christ’s church had a lay ministry (“he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support” – verse 24). This was also important in the context of King Noah and his priests who were supported by taxes of their people. Alma did command church members to be free with their substance, to give freely to support those in need; the needy could be the priesthood leaders but they were not otherwise supported: “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.” (verse 28). The lack of coercion is important – the giving needs to be freely done. This support was both temporal and spiritual (verse 29).

Doesn’t this sound like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today? I think there are great reminders for us in Mosiah 18 about our responsibilities and duties as members of Christ’s church.

In Mosiah 25 we learn a little more about the nature of Christ’s church. It was divided into multiple congregations (we call these wards today):

“And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto the people repentance and faith on the Lord…And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma. And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” (Mosiah 25:15,19-22).

Alma was given authority by King Mosiah (who was also the prophet). Mosiah held the priesthood keys, he authorized Alma to direct and organize the different congregations. Alma essentially acted as an apostle under the keys of Mosiah. He traveled to the different conjugations to teach them the gospel. Even though there were different congregations, they were all one church. This is just like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wherever you go in the world, there is likely to be a congregation (there are many places the LDS Church is not but it is spreading). All of these different congregations are part of Christ’s church. They are different bodies of people but all are one.

While this church structure as found in the Book of Mormon is not novel to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. It served as an important guideline in conjunction with revelation for Joseph Smith to use to set up Christ’s restored church.

Nephi’s Commentary on Church Organization


Anyone who doubts the centrality of Jesus Christ to Mormonism (if we ignore the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) needs only to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi 1:9 we read: “And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.”

It took just a few verses to reference the Savior. The context is Lehi, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, had a vision where he saw God sitting on His throne, surrounded by many angels. Then he saw “One descending out of the midst of heaven” who was followed by “twelve others” (1 Ne. 1:10). These twelve had similarly bright radiances. So here we are with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and His twelve Apostles. Who were these Apostles? The twelve He called while on earth.

Now we continue to see the organization of God’s kingdom. “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.” (1 Nephi 1:11). The first in the verse might refer to the Savior but that does not make as much sense as it referring to the first of the Apostles; in other words, the chief apostle. Who is this? Peter.

Here we have the Father sitting on His throne, His Son descending to earth, and Peter (and the rest of the apostles) doing some of the specific work. That is the order of God’s kingdom, His authority and His priesthood. Heavenly Father sends His Son to act in His stead in some situations (actually, in most circumstances of which we have record). Jesus then delegates some of the work to His apostles, namely to Peter (and James and John). This is what we read in the first part of the Book of Mormon. It’s quite a rich commentary on the nature of God’s work, including how He accomplishes some of the work – through Priesthood delegation.

So there we have not only Christ taking an early and central role in the Book of Mormon, we have reference to the Father as well as Christ’s Twelve Apostles; there are other Apostles, including 15 alive at present – the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plus the 12 Apostles – but the original Apostles had and have (although I can probably safely say that Judas Iscariot is not currently acting in the role of Apostle) a special calling. They have been involved in directing and teaching the work of the Lord since the beginning of the earth and since Adam’s time upon the earth.

It did not take long in the Book of Mormon to reveal the centrality of Christ and the centrality of the organization of the Church. This is one of the reasons that I really enjoy the writings of Nephi. He teaches so much in such a compact space. The 1st chapter of 1 Nephi is rich with doctrine.

The Twelve and the Seventy – Part Two


I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer, Part 1Organization of LDS Church, Part 2Chart of LDS General AuthoritiesHow Many Children do the Seventy Have?

The LDS Church posted the second part of a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of the Seventies. This is from an interview with Pres. Packer (video embedded at the end of the post).

The interview is interesting but I think that what is equally interesting is the timeline of the Seventy. I’ll highlight a few dates and points that I found particularly interesting.

1835 – First Quorum of the Seventy organized

1846 – At the time of the exodus from Nauvoo, the number of seventies quorums had increased to about 35.

1904 – Number of seventies quorums reaches 146.

1953 – Seventies quorums or units are organized in each stake.

1961 – First Council of Seventy ordained high priests.

1961 – Members of the First Council of the Seventy authorized to organize or reorganize stake presidencies and to call stake presidents on assignment. [This step is particularly important because it allowed members of the First Council of Seventy to bestow keys to Stake Presidents. Seventies were given authority to use the keys of the Apostles (which is still the case) as needed].

1974 – Stake presidents authorized to ordain seventies in stakes.

1984 – Tenure of appointment to be fewer years for some Seventy (3–5 years): “However, tenure of appointment is not important insofar as the work is concerned. … After much prayerful consideration, we have called six men, mature and tested through long years of service, to become members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, to serve for periods of three to five years. … They will be General Authorities with every right, power, and authority necessary to function” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 4).

1986 – Seventies quorums in stakes discontinued.

1989 – Organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

1995 – Area Authorities called.

1997 – First and Second Quorum of Seventy are General Authorities.

1997 – Area Authorities are ordained Seventies; Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2005 – Area Authority Seventy title changed to Area Seventy.

2005 – Seventh and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2009 – Area Seventies replaced by General Authorities in all Area Presidencies.

It is interesting to watch how the organization of the Seventies has changed to provide the authority and training and overview necessary to meet the needs of a growing church.

The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer


I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: Organization of LDS Church, Part 2; Chart of LDS General Authorities; How Many Children do the Seventy Have?
I’ve been fascinated by the leadership and organization of the Church for many years. I enjoy watching the Church grow and seeing how the structure of the general church leadership changes to meet the needs of a growing church. What is interesting is how the changes made always fit within the pattern Christ established when on the earth as well as the pattern revealed to Joseph Smith. In other words, the pattern of church leadership established in ancient and modern scripture is sufficient for meeting the needs of any size church. I was thus pleased to see that the Church posted an interview between Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Seventy) and Pres. Boyd K. Packer.

At one point in the interview Pres. Packer commented about the foresight of Joseph Smith (the foresight was not his own but rather was from God). “President Packer said it is marvelous that Joseph Smith could have anticipated an organization that would expand to meet the needs of the Church worldwide. ‘The revelations came when he was a very young man,’ President Packer said. ‘How he knew what he knew, I was going to say it was incredible. It is not, because he did not have to know much. All he had to do is follow the patterns of revelation.'”

Here’s the video of the interview with Pres. Packer. It’s a nice video that shows the hand of the Lord as He directs the work of His church.

Worldwide Leadership Training


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.