This post is from Ray Degraw. He runs his own blog called Things of My Soul, and has blogged at Mormon Matters and StayLDS. Everyone in the Bloggernacle knows him simply as ‘Ray’. Last week, he attended the worldwide training for the recently distributed Church Handbook of Instructions and wanted to share his impressions.

Leadership Training Nov 13, 2010

I am not a natural note taker, but I took extensive notes at the training today – at first, simply to be able to share highlights here with all of you, but then just because I was amazed and stunned and astounded and thrilled by so much of what I was hearing. I mean that sincerely. This was one of those times when I was SO glad I was Mormon and in a leadership position. “WOW!” doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction – and I had NO expectation of that type of reaction.

The following are the highlights of the training session for me:

1) Pres. Monson said something that sounded at first like a typical Stage 3 outlook. He said, “There is safety in the handbooks.” However, by the time he finished his brief introductory remarks, and especially by the end of the training, it ended up representing much more of a Stage 5-6 statement to me – and that REALLY surprised me. [the change in how I understood it, not that he would say something that represents Stage 5-6 thinking]

He talked about how much time the First Presidency spends correcting errors of local leaders – especially in regard to disciplinary councils. [I was struck by the thought that the handbooks partially are to free them up to do what they are called primarily to do. I honestly hadn’t thought of it in that way.]

2) Elder Oaks said that the CHI does NOT have the same standing as scripture, but that it represents the best understanding of our current leadership.  The current version has 12% fewer words than the last one – even with three new sections in this one. That is significant, imo. He also said explicitly that all women and men in leadership positions will have a FULL Handbook 2. It’s important for all leaders to know the responsibilities of each leader throughout the ward.

Leaders need to delegate extensively – and lessen things that are non-essential, like helping every member move.  The programs are less important than the people. Each individual member should not have more than ONE major calling – and that applies also to couples with minor children. They should not both have a major calling.  Official church policy is changed only by the FP – not by rumor or statements from individual leaders. [This one drew a laugh, but it’s instructive that he felt the need to say it.]

3) Elder Cook’s part blew me away. [Seriously, it almost left me speechless – and everyone knows how hard that is to do.]  PEC no longer is the top council at the local level. [Yeah, that’s right. Go ahead and re-read that if you have to in order to believe it.]  Ward Council is the primary ministering council now; PEC is to discuss anything that is not addressed in Ward Council and is to be “greatly reduced in length, perhaps to a few minutes prior to Ward Council”. [I totally didn’t see that one coming.] Welfare Committee is eliminated immediately, since those discussions now will occur in Ward Council. Everything that can be done outside of the actual Ward Council meeting (like calendaring and activity approval) should not be done in Ward Council. This change was done primarily to make sure that ALL local leaders have direct input into the decision-making process of the wards and branches, and it was stated forcefully that this means men AND women leaders acting as equals within a council.

Bishops were encouraged to solicit input from all council members and then reach decisions – NOT present their view and ask for input. (Later in the training, Elder Bednar said something like, “Sometimes Bishops express their opinions and then ask if anyone disagrees, which almost always is met with silence. Well, DUH!!” [That produced a laugh, but it was wonderful to hear it said openly.] ALL members of the Ward Council should be encouraged to speak “openly and honestly as equals through their own experiences and perspectives”. Bishops were told to value such open and honest input.  Each organization presidency has the authority to address issues that are internal to that organization – and have a voice in ward-wide issues.

Activities Committees are eliminated immediately. [another one I didn’t see coming] All ward-wide activities will be overseen by assignment from the Bishop, after input from the Ward Council. There should be an appropriate number of activities – enough, but not so many that families and members are over-whelmed.

Small units have the flexibility to adapt standard programs and policies to meet their needs, through inspiration from the councils in those units. In many cases, leaders may fill ONLY those callings that are essential. ALL service requires sacrifice, but excessive sacrifice should not be asked of anyone.  Young Single Adults can fill many positions to which they currently are not being called.

HT/VT may be adapted to meet local circumstances, if membership simply can’t visit every member each month. For example, some families may be removed from the visit list completely – or some families may be visited one month by HT and the next month by VT. Again, these decisions are to be made at the local level through inspired council discussion.

4) A model Ward Council was presented [and, as much as I usually dislike role-playing, I really liked this one].  It was stressed that it’s important to ask council members to ponder and pray about some issues or questions, then to come to the next meeting ready to discuss their impressions.

At one point, the Bishop said to one of his counselors, “Talk with them, then extend the invitation – if it feels right.” “Invitation” was used multiple times; “challenge” wasn’t used at all. [I wanted to stand up and cheer about that one.]

The YW Personal Progress and YM Duty to God were talked about as equal in importance.  The YM Pres. was talking about taking the YM to a member’s car shop to learn about some basic car maintenance, and the YW Pres. said, “Don’t forget the YW just because the activity is about fixing cars. They need to know how to do that, also.” Later, the YW Pres. was talking about the YW helping a recent widow clean her house, and the YM Pres. said, “Don’t forget the YM just because the activity is about cleaning houses. They need to know how to do that, also.” [I really like that they made that point explicitly.]  The Bishop said, “Sister _______ has given me permission to talk about her needs.” [I LOVE that principle.]

5) There was a panel discussion with Pres. Beck, Elder Ballard, Elder Holland, Elder Bednar and Elder Gonzales. [It seemed to be a combination of scripted and unscripted, and I enjoyed it immensely.]  Pres. Beck quoted the D&C passage about when ALL have spoken, ALL may be edified together. Elder Holland and Elder Bednar both emphasized that the focus was on families and parents and people, not programs. Elder Gonzales stressed assignment and follow-up.

The following were the highlight quotes for me:

  • The Bishop listened more than he talked. It’s important to direct, not dominate.
  • The presentation seemed perfect, but the patterns are important despite the imperfections in the actual units.
  • ALL presidencies are councils. They ALL should counsel as this one did.
  • Nobody knows all the answers to all the questions. That’s why councils are so critical.
  • “Counseling” is “counter-cultural” almost everywhere. It can be seen as a spiritual gift, in a way – and we all should seek that gift.
  • The Bishop needs to acknowledge and affirm revelation from all sources and levels. He shouldn’t expect to receive all of it.
  • The women in the council were engaged in the conversation. We haven’t always encouraged that as we should. (Elder Holland)
  • Take care of in presidencies what can be done in presidencies. “You are a RS President. You have authority as a President for MUCH. Tell the Bishop, ‘This is what we found. This is what we’ve done.'” (Pres. Beck)
  • We can be too quick to do too much. (Elder Bednar – addressing allowing others to do for themselves what they are able to do)
  • International areas don’t have models for how to run the Church. The CHI generally is the only “model” they have. (Elder Gonzales)

On a personal note, I found it interesting that Pres. Beck interrupted Elder Ballard at one point to add her own comment about something he was saying – and not one of the men on the panel batted an eye or seemed surprised or upset in any way. It was obvious that it had happened previously. That seems like such a little thing, but it impressed me.

The summaries from each participant were enlightening and quite powerful. I will summarize Pres. Beck’s last, since it was the second strongest highlight of the training for me:

  • Elder Holland – We need to teach, first and foremost. We can’t motivate like the world motivates, especially by using negativity and threats. We need to teach.
  • Elder Bednar – My fondest wish is that we could remove the word “meeting” from our vocabulary – as in, “We are going to a meeting.” I wish we could view them as “revelatory experiences” – and that won’t happen unless we strive to make them such experiences and quit viewing them just as meetings.
  • Elder Gonzales – We need to seek the will of the Lord.
  • Elder Ballard – There is great power in group synergy – when WE decide we will act together. Women are just as important as men in everything we do.
  • Pres. Beck – We have to decide what counts. The Savior didn’t count statistics and numbers. What counted to him was caring, love, service, ministering, blessing, etc. We need to make a new beginning in the Church and count as He counts.” [I still get choked up when I remember the way I felt when she said that. It was incredibly powerful for me – and I noticed a visible reaction from MANY of the people in the chapel.]

6) Elder Packer finished with a short statement, and it was the absolute highlight of the training for me. It reminded me of why I sustain him as a prophet and apostle. I mean that sincerely. It was astounding, and if he dies before the next General Conference, it will be the memory of him that stays with me.  Among the things he said, in my own summarized words (except where I use quotation marks), were:

  • This CHI is meant to provide “simplification and flexibility”. “Let me underline that.”
  • Pres. Clark once said that too much regimentation can remove revelation. We are in danger of that happening in the Church.
  • ALL meetings should be conducted by the Spirit. It is time for our young men and young women to prophecy and for our old men and women to dream dreams.
  • There is a danger of establishing the Church and not the Gospel. Planting the Gospel in our hearts MUST accompany having the Church in our lives. Busy-ness can’t replace testimony.
  • Families are not tools to staff the Church; the Church is a tool to serve families. Don’t over-burden families!