Church Welfare Flowchart Example

One Bishop’s Example

Here is a flowchart I created for an upcoming article I wrote Leading Saints (I’ll link to that article after it’s published), illustrating one example of how a bishop might administer welfare.

I have never served as a bishop–this came from working as a bishop’s counselor and observing his philosophies, principles, and practices. This is NOT meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution; it is simply my mapping of ONE bishop’s approach. We did not use a called self-reliance or employment specialist, etc., so that is not represented in this chart. Your ward may have a great person serving in that capacity–if so, great! I would love for you to click the link below which I have set up for you to create your own copy of the flowchart, modify to illustrate how you do it, and send it my way. Instructions are below.

I am open to feedback.

(PS: The “Self-Reliance Plan” form referenced in the flowchart was formerly referred to as a “Needs and Resources Analysis” form. The bishop’s guide to this form is found here.)

Download .png here
Download .pdf here.

Create your own!

I want to see what you’re doing in your unit. To that end, I have created a non-editable copy of this flowchart that you can copy and modify to your heart’s content.

Note: I’m 99% sure that you will need a Google Account.

Step One: Click this link.

Step Two: Click the “Authorize” link to allow Google Drive to use the Draw.io service.

Step Three: Entering your Google Account credentials may be required.

Step Four: After signed in, you will be viewing the read-only copy of my flowchart. To create your own copy, click File> Make a Copy…

Step Five: Rename your file to whatever you would like it to be, and save it to whatever service you use; I use Google Drive. You are now on your own editable copy.

Step Six: Make your changes.

Step Seven: Sharing can be done by clicking the “Share” button, or clicking
(1) File> Share…
(2) File> Export as> (choose file type), or
(3) File> Publish

Step Eight: Send your file or link to me! (please): genkibrady [at] gmail [dot] com

Step Nine: When you send your file/link to me, please let me know if I can share this information online, either in a future Leading Saints article, here on my Genkibrady page, or on social media.

Councils Connect Us With Heaven

Blind Spot: Ineffective Councils

Over the years I have observed varying degrees of effectiveness by bishops in leading councils, specifically bishopric meeting and the ward council. Some are very effective in organizational behavior, while others are not. Like all of us, they have strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes those weaknesses exist in a blind spot, and I think that the skill of leading effective councils may be one of the most overlooked blind-spot weaknesses. Nobody is a great leader by accident, like nobody is a good parent by accident. Leading councils is a skill that needs to be consciously observed and improved.

The two councils (bishopric and ward council) could be so much more powerful than they currently are. I believe that much of this is due to a general lack of understanding of the purpose, function, and objective of these councils.

The Purpose of Councils

Councils exist for many reasons, including the following:

  • To help us as His children become unified as we seek His thoughts and His ways.
  • So that diverse experiences and backgrounds may influence decision-making by a group of leaders to undertake a course of action that will affect those whom they lead.

We have participated in councils since before we were born. We don’t remember one of our first council experiences, though we were all there. It was the Council In Heaven. Since then, Father has asked us to participate in both family councils and church councils.

Councils and the Temple

My first reading of Elder Ballard’s book “Counseling With Our Councils” coincided with my first experience serving in the bishopric organization as a ward clerk several years ago. As I studied the concepts Elder Ballard teaches, my mind was blown away by an experience I had in the temple around the same time.

To keep holy things in holy places, please allow me to speak esoterically for a moment. Here is what I observed during that endowment session: at one point in the ceremony, one individual leads a group of acolytes in a unified voice.

(Digression: We are taught the three grand keys of discerning true messengers in Doctrine and Covenants 129; an example of how this is to be done is also part of our temple experience. We learn in the Guide to the Scriptures of the Sign of the Dove, or the Holy Ghost, which is yet another part of our temple experience.)

What I observed that day in the temple in combination with Elder Ballard’s teachings was that in a council, the ideal is that all voices must be given equal opportunity to be heard, and through the process of receiving input from the combined decades of experience of the women and men on a ward council, at some point somebody will say something that just clicks. It will resonate with the group, and one could look around the room at the others, all nodding slowly while making deliberate eye contact with another, or quietly saying “ahhh….” to themselves. This will be the case because the proper procedure (allowing all the chance to be heard) will be honored by the Father as He sends the Holy Ghost to influence where the conversation will eventually determine a decision and/or course of action that settles in the hearts of all.

That moment will be sweet and precious, when everybody is “speaking with a unified voice” as directed by the Dove, i.e., the Holy Ghost. From that point, every comment or remark will build on the previous, and pretty soon the council will have their objectives and plans, all built on the Spirit.

The council will have become what it was intended to be: a “revelatory body”, as taught by Elder David A. Bednar on multiple occasions.

But there are criteria, including (though not limited to):

  • A vision, i.e., common objectives among all council members, the ultimate of which should be bringing others to Christ
  • No unkind feelings toward any member of the council, that the Holy Ghost can be unrestrained
  • The ability to recognize the Holy Ghost when his influence is present
  • A presiding authority who listens–who values and encourages all to participate
  • Humility, and the ability to walk away from one’s own idea when the correct one is eventually presented through another council member

Elder Ballard has obviously spent much time considering God’s purposes in governing by council. He has written multiple editions of the book mentioned above, and given multiple talks in General Conference on the subject:

The thought of any one individual regularly dominating the conversation in a council setting makes me uneasy. The concept is that ideas and thoughts are proffered by all until that moment when the Spirit settles in. The keyholder then has little more to do than to explicitly affirm the direction of the council, since it has already been internalized by all present, though he has the keys and may make changes or alterations as needed. The decisions will have traction because all council members take ownership due to the spiritual experience of the process.

Conclusion

It is an amazing feeling. I’ve experienced it on several occasions, and wish to have it happen more often. Not all decisions can be made in one 60-90 minute meeting. Sometimes God withholds the revelation because he is heuristic, and a council member (or twelve) may have something yet to learn or experience.

Part of God’s work and glory is to have us participate in the process of unifying ourselves to His great cause. Councils are a critical part of that process, be it a ward council, bishopric, mom and dad, family–all are designed to align our actions with what we are given by the spirit. It’s not so easy, but so very worth it.

Here is a companion article demonstrating how one bishop was extremely effective in making the ward council meetings revelatory experiences.

How One Bishop Used Councils to Establish and Carry Out a Successful Ward Vision

The Problems

In late 2010, Bishop A was a new bishop. He had never run a ward council meeting though he had attended years worth of them. But as the new person with the keys, he knew he had to internalize its purpose, objective, and learn how to change the traditional mindset of each council member. Specifically, he identified these as the main problems:

  1. Most council members were siloed, i.e., concerned only about their organization, and not the ward as a whole.
  2. Ward council meetings seemed aimless.
  3. The bishop’s voice dominated the meeting because he was typically the only person who contributed to the agenda.
  4. Unity? Yes, a novel idea, this “unity”.

The first several months were very bumpy.

As his clerk, then secretary, then counselor over those years, I was able to sit in bishopric meeting and discuss with and learn from this spiritually mature keyholder about what was wrong, what the meeting should look like, its purpose, and what we could do to turn it from its fragmented state into a powerful force for good.

Problems Solved!

In late 2015, Bishop B was a new bishop, replacing Bishop A. He had never run a ward council meeting, though he hardly needed to. He stepped in to an environment where council members were well trained, functioning at a high level, and all working with common purpose and vision.

I imagine that there were things Bishop B would do differently, but by and large Bishop A led a cultural and behavioral change that provided for council members to tune in and focus on the most important thing: helping ward members–our brothers and sisters–achieve a more satisfying relationship with their Savior and their Father, cultivating an environment where individuals were progressing and concurrently strengthening the ward.

  1. Council members’ focus shifted to the general ward welfare, rather than tuning out when another council member was addressing organization-specific items.
  2. Ward council had a clear and simple vision, from which all activities fed into, and moved the ward closer to realizing the vision.
  3. Council members understood that they needed to participate, and we all felt like peers.
  4. We were ONE.

As a carryover counselor from Bishop A, I was able to aid in the transition and provide some continuity.

The Solution

Here is some of what Bishop A did, most of which was executed after discussion with his counselors:

Laying the Groundwork

1. Fasted and prayed

I observed that Bishop A’s ascent to the mountaintop started well below sea level, meaning he had a steep learning curve despite his years of experience as a bishop’s counselor. No one could show him the way, or help him with the burden, other than the Lord. There is no other option of “where” to start than here. He worked harder than any of us to purify himself and seek revelation.

2. Counseled with his bishopric council

If he wanted an amazing and engaged ward council, he’d learn how to do it first at the bishopric council level. We would practice the art of running councils first in bishopric meeting. As we would test and determine which practices had a positive effect on our bishopric meetings, we’d introduce them to ward council.

Furthermore, improving ward council was a frequent topic in bishopric meeting. Bishop recognized that his ideas and experiences alone were insufficient, so he engaged the other four of us (two counselors, clerk, executive secretary) regularly and without ego.

Councils are led by the voice of the Spirit through each member of the body–not by the bishop exerting his will. As we discussed, the Spirit would guide our conversation as to why, what, and how we should proceed.

Improving Ward Council

3. Received a ward vision from the Lord

Meetings, callings, the church itself: are all pointless unless there is a vision. The oft-used Cheshire Cat quotation comes to mind:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

More succinctly, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “it is direction first, then velocity!”

Once a ward vision was received by Bishop, discussed, refined, augmented, and finally solidified by the spirit in discussion with bishopric council, it was ready to be taken to the ward council for their input and augmentations.

When the vision is set by the keyholder then discussed and molded by the council, each contributing member of that council feels a sense of ownership, and their downstream activities will stem from the vision they helped create.

4. Worked with council members “one-by-one”

Each member of the council can improve in some way. Bishop would meet individually with those who needed the most attention, helping them catch the vision, and maybe see how their behaviors and attitudes were in conflict with the mission of the meeting. Over time, participation and behavior gradually improved. The up-front cost in time and effort was outweighed by the long-term benefit of well-trained leaders who were on board and all-in.

5. Assembled the council

We learn in the temple that the Spirit can be restrained in its effectiveness if the would-be “unified body” isn’t truly unified.

Those who were unwilling to align themselves with the vision and culture (after being given multiple chances) were eventually changed out of their callings. This is a last-case action, but provides for the keyholder to train the new council member in the rules of engagement, helping them learn to participate and operate in the desired paradigm.

Warning: This is not a step to take if a member simply expresses a dissenting idea! We valued both diversity and unity, but releasing a member should never be done in a spirit of spite or “punishment”. True leaders will continue to work with the member, but when it is clear that unity cannot be achieved so that the council might act as a single revelatory body, the bishop might be wise to weigh the needs of the ward and consider replacing that individual.

6. Restructured the agenda format

Priesthood and auxiliary leaders attend ward council meetings in two capacities: (1) as ward council members who help the bishop address needs and concerns in the ward and find solutions and (2) as representatives of their organizations.
–Handbook 2:4.6.1

Since each council member was focused on their particular organization, we were not a cohesive unit at first. To help stress the principle taught in 4.6.1¶1 (see quoted paragraph above), the agenda structure removed all references to separate organizations and instead listed the missions of the church:

  • Proclaim the Gospel
  • Perfect the Saints
  • Redeem the Dead
  • Service (renamed from “Care for the Poor and Needy” in case a printed copy was discovered by a member whose name was listed there)

We also created a Google Sheet format of the New and Returning Member Progress form and referred to it throughout nearly every council meeting.

All assignments were noted in the minutes, immediately emailed to all council members, then followed-up on in the next council meeting by the ward clerk.

7. Began councils with an interactive devotional

Beginning each meeting with a spiritual thought–typically out of the scriptures or a general conference talk–followed by a very brief discussion (2-3 comments tops) simply invited the Spirit, set the tone, and started us thinking with a spiritual mindset. This was patterned off of bishopric trainings given by our stake presidency at the time.

8. Kept agenda items relevant to the entire council

This forced council members to communicate midweek as much as possible over email, text, etc. Too many items were being discussed that did not apply to the entire council, or were seeking input where an email or text would have done the trick.

9. Deprioritized the calendar

Calendaring items were mentioned, but otherwise hardly discussed. The exception became ward activity planning: we needed to know whom to invite, what activities, games, meals, etc., would appeal to a broad audience, or to a target audience.

10. Instituted a ward blitz

Once a month, all ward council members and their counselors and secretaries would gather at the church. Participants would pair (or triple) up and the ward clerk would hand out names of 2-4 individuals/families in our ward. Each companionship would be asked to extend an invitation or challenge and be prepared to report at the next ward council. Sometimes the invitation would be decided by the ward council, but all were encouraged to follow the Spirit with regard to what invitation or challenge to present.

We only did this for 12 or so months, but this was the year our ward saw 20 baptisms and were strengthened by a dozen returning members. Yet in some ways, this idea wasn’t the success Bishop had hoped for. Organizations had not been doing regular visits, despite repeated requests, invitations, etc., so he decided to own it at the ward council level, while believing that it should have been owned by each organization. After we experienced a great deal of success in baptisms and returning members, it was decided to move this activity back to the organization level, where it sputtered and died.

Not all wards need to do this, but if a ward needs to do blitzes, it should do blitzes.

11. Delegated conducting duties

Bishop presided, but shifted conducting duties to his counselors, who would lead all discussion and trainings. Awkward at first, his counselors quickly found their legs.

The effect was that we learned that while Bishop had final say in our decisions, we stopped looking for him to do all of the talking and thinking for us. He didn’t just tell us what to do, but stressed a council mentality and discussion. Removing his voice as the main (dominant) voice of the meeting had the additional effect of people listening more to one another and to the Spirit.

It had the ancillary outcome of training his counselors, and giving them the experience that he wished he’d gotten.

12. Train, train, train

From:

Note: trainings were not lecture style, but discussions conducted by the counselors. God is nothing if not a heuristic teacher, and nothing invites the Spirit like causing members to think and consider and wonder.

13. Polled council members for feedback

In time, Bishop asked his counselors to have one-on-one discussions with the leaders in our purview, to receive their candid feedback on the ward council meeting, specifically:

  • How can we do better?
  • How would you like to spend council time?
  • What are the most important things we can discuss?

100% of responses were right in line with what he had hoped for: by this time, they really wanted to spend meeting time discussing the progress of individuals and families. They had caught the vision! The trainings, discussions, visits, and experiences with the Spirit had led each council member to individually conclude that our most important work is helping ward members–our brothers and sisters–achieve that more satisfying relationship with their Savior and their Father.

14. Constantly sought improvement

After each council meeting, the bishopric would convene for just a few minutes to discuss how things went, what went well, and what could be improved upon. If a meeting lacked the Spirit, we all knew it, and it helped the one conducting learn where he could improve where applicable.

From the time Bishop A was called to the time we hit our stride was about 3.5 years.

Other Items to Consider

  • Metrics (quarterly reports and key indicators) were touched on; perhaps we could have done more of that.
  • While we worked to renew temple recommends, reactivate, baptize, etc., our focus was to help members cultivate that relationship with God. When that relationship is there and improved upon, the recommends, baptisms, etc., will come organically.
  • The primary work of the ward council takes place in living rooms where tears are shared and dried, and testimony is born. It comes when a youth leader has a candid conversation with a young man who trusts him. It comes via one-by-one ministry.
  • Fighting against tradition and helping members to open their minds may have been the most difficult step. But once a person is teachable, a Spirit-wielding teacher can do wonders in the heart. At times, moving mountains is easier than moving mindsets.

Finally, here is how I’d categorize some of the steps above:

  • Most imperative: 1, 2, 3
  • Most difficult: 4, 5, 8
  • Most time-consuming: 4, 12
  • Lowest-hanging: 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14
  • Most gratifying: 13

Additional Materials

I would strongly recommend that everybody read the revised edition of President M. Russell Ballard’s excellent book “Counseling With Our Councils”:

Here is a companion article addressing the purposes of councils.

Idaho 2019 Area Plan

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Chubbuck 8th Ward:

In last Sunday’s combined Relief Society/elders quorum meeting during third hour, the bishopric provided instruction and presented on the 2019 Area Plan for the Idaho Area.

As we had only 45 minutes to cover four topics, we are providing the presentation used, along with this .pdf file, which details the Area Vision, four points of the Area Plan, and distribution plan.


As mentioned last Sunday, and as you can see on page two of the .pdf, it is the desire of the Area, the stake, and the bishopric that all families please discuss the Area Plan in your Family Home Evening, specifically how your family will work to participate in:

  1. Member Missionary Service
  2. Temple and Family History
  3. Ministering One-by-One
  4. Sabbath Day Observance

The bishopric and ward council will continue to discuss our own goals, plan to implement, and follow-up.


We promise you in the name of Jesus Christ that as you make a prayerful and inspired effort to participate–and lead your families to participate–in these four priorities, you will become more like our Savior, and experience greater joy in your Gospel journey.

We are grateful for who you are and who you continue to become through your active participation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We love you all!


Links:

http://www.everydaymissionaries.org/

https://deseretbook.com/bookshelf

 

 

#ShareGoodness

In November 2014 I was in a Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference. The main speaker was Natalie Judd (née Williams), a sister from an adjoining stake, and her presentation was entitled “Using the Internet to Hasten the Work”.

To let you know a little about Sister Judd, she is the Natalie Williams mentioned by Clayton M. Christensen in his book The Power of Everyday Missionaries, chapter 6: “Questions and Answers on the Internet”. Among others, she was at ground-zero for the Church’s research of the Internet and learning how it could be used as a tool in the Hastening, even before it was known as “the Hastening”.

The message she shared at that conference session was relevant and inspiring, and I was fortunate enough to connect with her afterward and obtain the PowerPoint presentation she used. When she shared it with me, it was with the stipulation that I not share it to a wide audience or make changes to her work without her permission. My response was that I was really looking to use the prophetic quotes that she included in what she had compiled, but I would give her credit if ever needful.

So building on her hard work, I have taken the quotes and a couple of informational slides and incorporated them into a presentation where I added some framing questions and other things to think about.

Thank you, Natalie!

Here is the presentation I put together when I was a ward mission leader:

Here is an adapted version of the same thing, but geared toward parents of the youth we called specifically as “digital” ward missionaries:


Based on Sister Judd’s presentation in 2014, our ward mission leader at the time led our ward council in the creation of our ward mission plan, which included a major focus on digital missionary work.

He presented this video in ward council, and we were all brought to tears, to see the impact that could be had if we follow the counsel given by Elder Bednar, as seen at the end of this video:


I invite you to please check out this article on LeadingLDS, which goes hand-in-hand with the principles promoted in the above presentation: https://leadinglds.org/digital-disciples-social-media-tips-for-latter-day-saints/

Finally, here is the the excellent presentation given by Elder Bednar on sharing goodness online: https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/to-sweep-the-earth-as-with-a-flood?lang=eng

Upward Harmonization and the Atonement of Jesus Christ

The remission of sins is only the basic mission of the Atonement. There are higher, transformative properties. Receiving forgiveness is not the end-all; it is the beginning. Faith, repentance, and baptism are entry-level actions with entry-level results.

–Elder David A. Bednar

The Story

One morning I was meeting with a husband and wife who were in need of renewing their temple recommends. My wife and I are good friends with this couple, and we have established a fun rapport over the years. I share this story with permission, but will not use names.

While the husband waited outside the interview room, I first met with the wife. Whenever I meet with members in a formal capacity, e.g., recommend renewals, extending callings, &c., I always have three objectives:

  • Objective 1: Help members recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost during the meeting
  • Objective 2: Deepen my personal relationship with the member (if Objective 1 is accomplished, so is Objective 2)
  • Objective 3: Accomplish the task at hand (in this case, renew the temple recommend of the member)

To deepen the relationship, I first spend a few moments visiting with members (Objective 2) before proceeding into the recommend interview questions (Objective 3). Since the recommend renewal process can be mechanical and rote, typically with only “yes” or “no” responses, I like to include one or two questions that get them thinking.  The right question can invite the Holy Ghost (Objective 1) and help them recall–and even relive, to a degree–sacred spiritual milestones in their lives.

On this particular morning, I asked my friend the prescribed question on if she has a testimony of the Atonement of Christ. “Yes” was her one-word response. I followed this up with, “Now, this isn’t one of the interview questions, but would you mind sharing with me how you received your testimony of Christ’s Atonement?”

It was a serious question. I don’t ask it every time, but when I do it always makes the person sit back and think about it. In those moments, they recall an experience they had with the Spirit, whether it was a trial they were carried through, or some other special moment where they received a spiritual witness.

I hoped to be strengthened through the answer of my friend, a spiritually powerful woman. However, to my very serious question she decided to give a very playful response. With a smile that I will describe as mischievously witty, she replied, “through sinning! aaand then repenting.” 😀

I smiled with her, getting the joke, and we shared a moment of levity. Then we paused to acknowledge the truthfulness of her remark: yes, forgiveness of sin through our repentance is a part of what Christ’s Atonement does for us. Therefore what she perhaps intended to be a light-hearted comment ended up being true for all of us who seek improvement in our lives, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

After mutually agreeing to the veracity of her initially snarky response, I recalled a thought that I had written in my journal from a few years prior when Elder David A. Bednar had spoken at the Institute of Religion adjacent to Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho–the same words you read at the top of these current writings:

The remission of sins is only the basic mission of the Atonement. There are higher, transformative properties. Receiving forgiveness is not the end-all; it is the beginning. Faith, repentance, and baptism are entry-level actions with entry-level results.

I shared this with her, and again we experienced mutual agreement, this time with the teachings of an ordained Apostle. As we considered what Elder Bednar was expressing, we both felt the Holy Ghost permeate the room, testifying first of Elder Bednar’s words, and ultimately of the Atonement of Christ, which, in case you’ve forgotten, was the basis of the original question. Any time the Spirit is present is a sacred time, and in this spiritual setting my friend then graciously shared some experiences that strengthened her faith. The interview continued in this spirit, and no further sass was expressed by either of us.

The “A-Ha!” Moment

When Elder Bednar said these words to a group of 18-30 year-olds, he was in the middle of diplomatically expressing one of his greatest concerns with the general body of the Church, namely that we are not partaking of the higher blessings made available to us by virtue of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. While I cannot repeat his other words verbatim like I have done with the foundational quote of this article, he also explained that so many Latter-day Saints are living only the most basic laws and commandments, i.e., trying their best but falling short, praying for forgiveness, then coming to church on Sunday and partaking of the sacrament. Then repeat, week after week.

Yes, it is both a solemn and joyous experience to understand through spiritual feelings that where I was once at odds with God, I am now square with Him, through Christ’s Atonement. I myself continuously learn this first hand “through sinning, and then repenting”, as my friend put it, and then receiving forgiveness.

But Elder Bednar taught that this sin/repent cycle is an “entry-level” action with an “entry-level” result of being forgiven, and he expressed sorrow in the fact that so many of us stop there, stuck in that cycle and failing to attain “higher-level” blessings.

He taught of “higher, transformative properties” that could be applied to our lives. To what, exactly, was he referring? Are we to transform into something other than what we currently are?

Yes.

He essentially classified the first principles and ordinances of the gospel (see Articles of Faith 1:4) as “entry-level” actions, and the receiving of forgiveness, i.e., the remission of sins, as an “entry-level” result. Does that perhaps imply that there exist “mid-level” actions with “mid-level” results?

Yes.

If those are the “first principles and ordinances”, does that also imply that there are additional principles and ordinances?

Yes.

Then can we further suppose that there are “high-level” actions with “high-level” results, too? And essentially an entire continuum of results-based actions, behaviors, and states-of-being? And that the “highest-level” actions would result in the “highest-level” results?

Yes. Yes. Yes!

If any reading this can think of a result higher than Eternal Life, i.e., Exaltation, please let me know–and be sure to cite your source. This article will operate under the assumption that Exaltation is the ultimate result.

And now, if this concept is new to you, I earnestly hope that you are experiencing a genuine “a-ha!” moment, and are excited to learn what and how and where to begin elevating beyond the “entry-level” cycle and pattern which Elder Bednar–and ultimately Heavenly Father–hopes we will break out of.

The Progression

“Milk before meat,” as the old saying goes. That is, babies first consume milk. As they grow, different foods are introduced into a diet which progresses to more complex foods until they are eventually are able to consume and digest meat. But you can’t start out feeding prime rib to a newborn, right?

The Old Testament teaches this principle this way in Isaiah 28:9-10:

9 ¶ Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

We understand that even Jesus Christ Himself followed this natural order of growth and progression, as taught in the Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-14:

12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;

13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;

14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

The Term

One of my final classes in my undergraduate studies focused on intercultural and international business and marketing. I retained only one thing from that course: the term “upward harmonization”.

This terms describes the process through which a country becomes eligible to join the European Union (EU). To be brief, an applying country will be scrutinized against standards that include economic stability, existence and enforcement of human rights laws, acceptable governmental structure, and so on. If the applicant fails to meet the criteria, e.g., the country does not have enough laws to protect the rights of minorities, it is not allowed to join.

However, if the country makes the needed changes, it may later become eligible if the admitting bodies are satisfied that the country has fully adopted the higher values of the EU. I.e., there is an “upward” movement and general improvement that is in “harmony” with the values and identities of the other EU member nations.

While the principle of upward harmonization is the basis and the objective of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, consider how difficult it would be to change the laws of a country. To be truly effective, long-held world views, behaviors, and basically the heart of each citizen would need to be changed. Otherwise, enforcement would quickly fail. Change management strategies would be the key to success here, organically leading the citizens to want to adopt the legislation, rather than simply be subjected to the requirements. Here also, we see the necessity of the “milk-before-meat”, “line-upon-line” approach.

Likewise, Christ seeks the result of the heart of each child of God to be changed, that our standards will continue grow upward until they are in perfect harmony with Celestial being and doing.

The Application

The line-upon-line principle is in full effect in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, we can observe a gradual progression in the expected standard of living as we progress through the covenants we make with God, demarcated into the milestones of the saving ordinances. Consider how you have already participated in this process.

As you read on, please note that words like “behavior” or”action”, refer to doing something, like abstaining from drugs, saying daily prayers, or providing meaningful service. Yet the progressive nature of these ordinances is to help us matriculate from immature gospel novices to Exalted gospel masters. Where a newly-baptized eight-year-old child might simply be doing what s/he has been taught to do, the seasoned disciple of Christ has actually become a Christlike woman or man. To quote Elder Lynn G. Robbins:

“While He recognized the importance of do, the Savior identified be as a ‘weightier matter.’

“Because be begets do and is the motive behind do, teaching be will improve behavior more effectively than focusing on do will improve behavior.”

And yet, we start with do, because the more we do, the greater the opportunity we have to catch the spirit behind our actions, and we slowly be-come more like Christ as a result.

That said, let’s review the saving ordinances:

Baptism and Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost

Before a person can enter into this first covenant, the candidate must satisfy a “gatekeeper” (bishops for eight-year-olds, mission presidents for converts, but typically delegated to youth missionary leaders) that he or she (1) has received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Church and its teachings, i.e., has a testimony, and (2) is willing and worthy to live in accordance to a basic required standard of living. This includes abstention from tobacco, drugs, alcohol; paying tithes; living a chaste life; participating in church meetings and activities; and so on.

When the candidate demonstrates a faith-based pattern of compliance to these expected behaviors, making needed changes where necessary, they have satisfied the first “entry-level” principles of the gospel.

At this stage, you might expect a great deal of doing, with perhaps less of being. But this all depends on the maturity level of the baptismal candidate. In essence, this milestone is the first instance of upward harmonization connected to making a covenant with God.

Priesthood Conferral

The male counterpart and complement to motherhood is the conferral of the priesthood. Obtaining the priesthood is required for the “highest-level” result of Exaltation, and Heavenly Father makes an oath and covenant with those who enter into this priesthood and again improve both their doing and being, primarily focusing on serving and blessing the lives of others.

Even within the offices priesthood we witness the line-upon-line principle at work, starting with the Aaronic priesthood offices of deacon, teacher, and priest, followed by ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood office of elder.

The wording of this oath and covenant also reveals another progression in the promised blessings, likewise eventually culminating in Exaltation.

Here again, we must satisfy gatekeepers who help us determine whether or not we meet the standard of both testimony and behavior, and thus qualify to receive the ordinances and associated blessings.

Again: as we do more, what have we become in the process? Here is another instance of upward harmonization connected to making a covenant with God.

Temple Endowment and Sealing

The next ordinances are available to men and women. These are the temple ordinances of washing, anointing, and endowment, and of course the sealing ordinance which requires one of each sex. I feel the need to separate this out into three sections, because we must first be living standard of behavior to even enter the temple, then while in the temple, we agree and covenant to abide by an even higher standard of behavior–both doing and being. Then after we make the covenants, have they made any difference in what we do and who we are?

Pre-Temple

Gatekeepers will again ask us testimony- and behavior-related questions. However, the standard of living and behavior is more than was required at the time of baptism–we’ve been weaned from the milk for a while by now. In other words, to be baptized one must agree to continue to live laws a, b, and c. To enter the temple, one must be living laws a, b, and c, but also d, e, and f–upward harmonization! As the bar continues to rise, a more Christlike person is the expected result. As laws a through f are observed, we are technically “worthy” to enter the temple, where we will agree to live by yet more laws.

In-Temple

Built into the temple ordinances are further covenants to which we agree to abide. These describe an even higher and holier mode of thinking and behaving. They enable us for a future time when we will encounter yet more gatekeepers, where we will be required again to prove ourselves.

Post-Temple

Once we’ve received all saving ordinances, many make the mistake that they are complete, that their fruits are sufficiently ripe, and they are shoo-ins for Exaltation.

Wrong! Temple ordinances are designed to make us more accountable from there-on-out. We should see an increase in our level of commitment and discipleship, not less! You see, gospel knowledge and a life full of righteous actions will not suffice. Even if we can satisfy the Heavenly gatekeepers with our knowledge of things we learn in the temple, mere recitation cannot exalt us. The time for doing without being has long-since passed. A lifetime of 100% home teaching will “fail” (Moroni 7:46) if the doing of home teaching was not the expression of a heart filled with charity, i.e., Heavenly Father’s goal of how He would like us to be.

The standard that allows us to enter the temple will NOT exalt us. Speaking of “‘honorable’ members who are skimming over the surface instead of deepening their discipleship and who are casually engaged rather than ‘anxiously engaged,'” Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that “[t]hey may even pass through our holy temples, but, alas, they do not let the holy temples pass through them.”

I repeat: The standard that allows us to enter the temple will NOT exalt us.

The Lesson

The purpose of the gospel is … to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.

–David O. McKay

The Book of Mormon prophet and king Benjamin gave one of the most seminal sermons recorded in our canon. Philosophies taught by Benjamin (Mosiah 2-5) are found in sermons given by prophets through to the end of The Book of Mormon, culminating in Moroni 7:44-47.

A key verse describing the mindset of a Christian disciple who is well down the continuum approaching “highest-level” is found in Mosiah 5:2. Benjamin has concluded the teaching of his people, and they respond in this manner:

2 And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Read that last bit again, specifically that the Holy Ghost “has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Modern-day prophets have simplified these humble words into the phrase “change of nature”. In other words, they teach us that the Atonement of Christ has the ability to change our natures. Here are a few places where this concept is taught:

This change of nature is mercifully designed to occur gradually over time. Milk before meat. Line upon line. Start out with faith in Christ and repentance. Get baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Then the priesthood for some. Proceed to the temple standard. After that, further uplwardly harmonize your being and doing as your trajectory hopefully continues in the same direction, ever becoming incrementally more and more like Jesus Christ.

The Test

First, please think of how you were 1 year ago. 5 years ago. 20 years ago.

Then internalize these words of caution, and apply to yourself:

Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.

–Plato

“Especially yourself.” –I added that last part myself.

Finally, with those merciful words of wisdom in mind, please consider, “In the past X years,”:

  • Has my nature been changed through the Atonement of Christ?
  • Have my behaviors and state of being been on a path of upward harmonization, approaching (however slowly or quickly) the nature of Heavenly Father, Himself?
  • Am I exposing my own spirit to holy words as found in the scriptures and other prophetic pronouncements?
  • Do I spend time in introspective thought and meditation, allowing the Holy Ghost to teach my what my next step is?
  • Do I merely obey the commandments without seeking to understand why they are important?
  • Am I stuck in the cycle of sin/repent/obtain-forgiveness? or am I actively considering “higher-level” actions?
  • Have I developed meaningful interdependent relationships with my family members, friends, ward members, &c.?

Please be kind to yourself. Father is less concerned with velocity than he is with direction. Another teaching from Elder Maxwell: “direction first, then velocity!”

The Analogy

I must conclude with the statement of fact that no matter how hard we try to become like our Savior, we can never accomplish the feat on our own.

These are the final concepts we need to consider. Here is where I preach about Charity.

Even if I can tick all the check boxes of the saving ordinances, even if I can claim 100% home or visiting teaching, even if I have served as an elders quorum or relief society president, even if I die with a current temple recommend, none of those actions will help me gain exaltation when I approach those final gatekeepers. Let’s revisit Moroni 7:46-47:

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Home teaching stats won’t help me. Being “possessed of [charity]” is the only thing that will exalt me, “for all things must fail” except for charity. The temple ordinances I have completed–including sealing to spouse–will be meaningless. They will fail, unless I am possessed of charity. Any service I was conscripted to render will fail unless I am possessed of charity.

The Lord will consider less where in the church you served than how you served: were you possessed of charity?

More importantly, how were your interpersonal relationships, particularly as a spouse, parent, sibling, son, or daughter? Did you honor, respect, love, forgive in your family life? In this most ultimate area of your life, were you possessed of charity?

But what does being possessed of charity have to do with my earlier statement, of not being able to accomplish this feat on our own?

I will (finally!) conclude with two quotes. The first comes again from Elder Bednar:

Let me suggest that you and I must be praying and yearning and striving and working to cultivate a Christlike character if we hope to receive the spiritual gift of charity–the pure love of Christ. Charity is not a trait or characteristic we acquire exclusively through our own purposive persistence and determination. Indeed we must honor our covenants and live worthily and do all that we can do to qualify for the gift; but ultimately the gift of charity possesses us–we do not posses it (see Moroni 7:47). The Lord determines if and when we receive all spiritual gifts, but we must do all in our power to desire and yearn and invite and qualify for such gifts. As we increasingly act in a manner congruent with the character of Christ, then perhaps we are indicating to heaven in a most powerful manner our desire for the supernal spiritual gift of charity. And clearly we are being blessed with this marvelous gift as we increasingly reach outward when the natural man or woman in us would typically turn inward.

Here is an analogy which I love, taken from the final two paragraphs of chapter 3 of James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ:

Such then is the need of a Redeemer, for without Him mankind would forever remain in a fallen state, and as to hope of eternal progression would be inevitably lost. The mortal probation is provided as an opportunity for advancement; but so great are the difficulties and the dangers, so strong is the influence of evil in the world, and so weak is man in resistance thereto, that without the aid of a power above that of humanity no soul would find its way back to God from whom it came. The need of a Redeemer lies in the inability of man to raise himself from the temporal to the spiritual plane, from the lower kingdom to the higher. In this conception we are not without analogies in the natural world. We recognize a fundamental distinction between inanimate and living matter, between the inorganic and the organic, between the lifeless mineral on the one hand and the living plant or animal on the other. Within the limitations of its order the dead mineral grows by accretion of substance, and may attain a relatively perfect condition of structure and form as is seen in the crystal. But mineral matter, though acted upon favorably by the forces of nature—light, heat, electric energy and others—can never become a living organism; nor can the dead elements, through any process of chemical combination dissociated from life, enter into the tissues of the plant as essential parts thereof. But the plant, which is of a higher order, sends its rootlets into the earth, spreads its leaves in the atmosphere, and through these organs absorbs the solutions of the soil, inspires the gases of the air, and from such lifeless materials weaves the tissue of its wondrous structure. No mineral particle, no dead chemical substance has ever been made a constituent of organic tissue except through the agency of life. We may, perhaps with profit, carry the analogy a step farther. The plant is unable to advance its own tissue to the animal plane. Though it be the recognized order of nature that the “animal kingdom” is dependent upon the “vegetable kingdom” for its sustenance, the substance of the plant may become part of the animal organism only as the latter reaches down from its higher plane and by its own vital action incorporates the vegetable compounds with itself. In turn, animal matter can never become, even transitorily, part of a human body, except as the living man assimilates it, and by the vital processes of his own existence lifts, for the time being, the substance of the animal that supplied him food to the higher plane of his own existence. The comparison herein employed is admittedly defective if carried beyond reasonable limits of application; for the raising of mineral matter to the plane of the plant, vegetable tissue to the level of the animal, and the elevation of either to the human plane, is but a temporary change; with the dissolution of the higher tissues the material thereof falls again to the level of the inanimate and the dead. But, as a means of illustration the analogy may not be wholly without value.

So, for the advancement of man from his present fallen and relatively degenerate state to the higher condition of spiritual life, a power above his own must cooperate. Through the operation of the laws obtaining in the higher kingdom man may be reached and lifted; himself he cannot save by his own unaided effort. A Redeemer and Savior of mankind is beyond all question essential to the realization of the plan of the Eternal Father, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”; and that Redeemer and Savior is Jesus the Christ, beside whom there is and can be none other.

It is my hope and prayer that we seek the Holy Ghost. He will teach us our next step–our “higher-level” step–and will do it with love and patience. He will be less critical than we will be of ourselves, but he will also provide us of an idea of our eventual goal. He will motivate and inspire us. He will help us become possessed of charity. He will help us upwardly harmonize. He will change our natures. He will transform us into a higher form of life. He will help cause the holy temple to pass through us as we pass through it. He will teach us the direction to go, then assist us in our velocity, as we put our own skin into the game.

He will help elevate us from our sin/repent/obtain-forgiveness cycle which my friend referred to that morning, and into the stream of thought and action, doing and being, that leads to Exaltation. But nobody is exalted by accident–it requires our involvement as we upwardly harmonize our philosophies, being, and doing, until ultimately the Ultimate Being will mercifully change our natures through His Atonement, and assimilate us into His kingdom as exalted beings, one with Him.

Doubting vs. Questioning vs. Asking Questions

I put this simple presentation together some years ago for a BYD held in my home.

The graphics and presentation are dated, to be sure, but the content is still relevant.

I have had multiple youth who were there that night inform me of the impact it had in their lives. There were a few who in intervening years struggled mightily with the church–one even left it–but they have all since returned and have been to the temple. Credit to the prophets quoted herein, and to David A. Edwards, whose article I leaned on heavily.


Here are the articles and talks referenced in the slideshow:

  1. What to Do When You Have Questions, David A. Edwards,
    https://www.lds.org/youth/article/when-you-have-questions?lang=eng
  2. “Lord, I Believe”, April 2013, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng
  3. You Know Enough, October 2008, Elder Neil L. Andersen,
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/you-know-enough?lang=eng
  4. Come, Join With Us, October 2013, President Henry B. Eyring,
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng
  5. Follow the Doctrine and Gospel of Christ, November 2010, Elder M. Russell Ballard,
    https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/follow-the-doctrine-and-gospel-of-christ?lang=eng

Here is the YouTube clip featuring then Elder Ballard, queued to begin at the story used in the BYD:

Image credit to Greg Olsen, “The Sacred Grove”

The Abinadi Effect

Remember that God’s work and glory is not simply to run an effective organization; it is ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ . . .Our progress is His work!
–President Henry B. Eyring

The Problem: Discouragement in Leadership

Have you ever followed a spiritual prompting only to complete your God-given task and then observe that no tangible effect had taken place?

I have. Perhaps one of the following scenarios seems familiar to you.

Scenario 1

While driving, you feel prompted to check in on a friend. But this isn’t just any old feeling; it continues to grow in your mind until you can’t think of anything else, like when you are sitting in testimony meeting and are putting off the persistent spiritual nudges to go to the pulpit.

So you finally pull over and send a text message asking how he and his family are doing, and get a response stating that everything is fine.

Everything is fine? You’re glad to hear it, but why was that prompting so strong and distracting?

Scenario 2

You are preparing a lesson on a certain topic and feel inspired to take the discussion in a specific direction, perhaps even to share a particular scripture or personal story. You spend a good amount of time planning things out and feel spiritually-assured in your preparations.

Then during the class, a member takes the conversation in a completely different direction and you’re unable to gracefully segue back to the topic you felt inspired to discuss. Or maybe the class stays on topic just fine, but when you share that special experience from your life, you don’t feel the same “oomph” of spiritual power that you did during your preparation, and it falls flat.

Scenario 3

You and your ward council (or presidency) receive clear inspiration regarding certain objectives you should work to accomplish; in this case let’s say it is organizing a large-scale activity that will require a massive effort. As you counsel together on the course you should take, you feel the influence of the Spirit, that guidance which you have come to recognize and appreciate throughout your many years of service. Perhaps the Spirit even provides names of certain families or individuals to involve, either in executing the plan or to be the benefactors thereof.

At each step along the way as you pray and counsel, you consistently receive spiritual guidance, reinforcing in your mind that you are on on the Lord’s errand. Your spirit—along with the spirits of those working beside you—practically vibrates with confidence.

Then on the day of the big event your main helper falls ill, you experience hiccup after hiccup, and worst of all, hardly anybody shows up. All of that work seemingly for nothing!


If any of those (or comparable) situations have happened to you, and to this day remind you of the discouragement you continue to associate with what you perceive as a failed effort, allow me to present a couple more scenarios. While the three scenarios presented above are autobiographical, the following are scriptural.

Scenario 4

You and your brothers are missionaries. A few of you have already spent time imprisoned for your preaching, and you are no strangers to persecution. Eventually one of your brothers experiences a breakthrough which opens doors for the rest of you.

Much of your effort to this point has been trying to work with a couple groups of people who used to belong to the church but have since apostatized. Perhaps you know some of them personally and it pains you that those who once lived in the light and followed their Savior are now living in darkness. Before moving on to your next assignment, you try one last time to touch their hearts. Sadly, among your target audience of thousands, only one person feels the Spirit and returns to the faith. (See Alma 21-23, specifically Alma 23:14)

Scenario 5

You are called as a prophet to help bring others unto Christ, but you soon become targeted by the wicked king as a troublemaker, and he seeks to slay you. You make yourself scarce for a couple of years before the Lord reminds you of your sacred duty. So you sneak back into the land in order to deliver your message.

You are eventually bound and taken before the king and his wicked priests, who mock everything about you. Then they again seek your life, but you are protected and empowered by God long enough to deliver a very powerful sermon. Just when the king seems convinced, his priests step in and sway him back the other way, and you, having delivered your message, become a martyr by being burned alive. This is the story of The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi and his experience with wicked King Noah, as told in Mosiah 11-17.


While scenarios 4 and 5 are not presented here in chronological order from The Book of Mormon, scenario 4 depicts a similar situation to the previous three scenarios: that a massive effort resulted in minimal outcome; in this case, only one person coming to Christ. However, our focus will be on scenario 5, which illustrates how only one person coming to Christ can make a world of difference.

The Principle: “My Ways are Higher Than Your Ways”

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

This scripture has become my “stalwart friend” as Elder Richard G Scott has put it. But how is this principle applicable to the scenarios above? What can we unpack here not only to dispel the feelings of discouragement and failure, but also help us experience an increase of faith so that we will continue to heed the promptings of the Spirit–especially when they call for massive effort or put us out of our comfort zone?

Now we get to what I call “The Abinadi Effect”. So far as we read in the scriptures, Abinadi’s sermon directly affected only Alma, one wicked man of presumably dozens of other wicked people in King Noah’s court. We cannot say if Abinadi knew before his martyrdom that he had inspired Alma to be converted and repent. These many centuries later, all who read the story may feel sorry for Abinadi as he died possibly feeling as though he had failed in his prophetic mission.

But that single convert in Alma went on to accomplish so much:

  • Baptized hundreds of King Noah’s subjects (Mosiah 18) and founded the church among them (Mosiah 23:16)
  • Ordained priests and teachers (Mosiah 23:17)
  • Under King Mosiah’s authorization, organized and regulated the church among the much larger kingdom of the Mulekites and Nephites (Mosiah 26:34-39)
  • Gave us such seminal stories and images as “the Waters of Mormon” (Mosiah 18:30) and “ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter” (Mosiah 24:13-14)

In short, he became a very powerful and influential prophet.

Of all his accomplishments, one of my favorites is that he was father to Alma the Younger, another key prophet in The Book of Mormon. Some significant accomplishments of Alma the Younger include:

  • Was appointed chief judge and high priest (Mosiah 29:42)
  • Led the Nephite Army (Alma 2:16)
  • Baptized many (including former apostates) (Alma 15)
  • Confounded Korihor the Antichrist (Alma 30)
  • Provided sermon after sermon which have brought to us the clear doctrines now restored to the Church (and to the world) as part of The Book of Mormon

Without Abinadi’s powerful witness given in the unfavorable setting of Noah’s court, we would have no Alma, no Alma the Younger, and most of the content in the books of Mosiah and Alma would not exist. Without Abinadi, who knows how history would have changed among the Nephites? Who knows how my life–or your life–would be different?

The Application

The initial Abinadi Effect originated in the heart of Alma, one wicked man who felt the Spirit. From there we witness endless effects of strengthened faith, and families and individuals coming unto Christ–and all traced back to Abinadi.

Though the scriptures do not mention whether or not Abinadi experienced feelings of discouragement or failure, my personal journal records times when I did. Maybe yours does, too. But the lesson can still be learned that when we follow Abinadi’s example and respond to the promptings of the Spirit, and put our heart and soul into being obedient to those promptings, whether we witness a tangible result or not, we must remember that the Abinadi Effect will be real in our lives, too. We will never fail when we follow the Spirit.

But there are some pitfalls along the way that we must be aware of. The adversary would like us to feel discouraged when we don’t see the results we expect. He would like that discouragement to lead to us to ignore future spiritual promptings by adopting the mindset “I tried this before, and nothing came of it. I’m not going to make that mistake and waste my time in that way again.”

Yes, Satan would like us to believe that following the Spirit is a mistake!

Yet, while seeing results can bolster our faith, our future actions without knowing past results is evidence of the faith that is within us. It is evidence that we recognize the Spirit when He prompts us.

Breaking It Down

Let’s look at the first scenario above, where I received an undeniable and increasingly urgent prompting to check in on my friend. The immediate result was that he told me that everything is fine. I might be tempted think to that it wasn’t actually a prompting, and begin to doubt my ability to feel divine guidance.

Just as I started to be perplexed in that situation, my friend (who is also my stake president) sent the following text, and wiped that doubt away: “Thanks for checking on me. Maybe it was Heavenly Father’s way of seeing if you would act on a prompting.”

I have given so much thought to that concept. I have taken it to heart. Even though his family was perfectly fine, in the future when I get a similar nudge to check in on a friend, I won’t ignore it.

Sister Camilla E. Kimball, wife to President Spencer W. Kimball, once taught “never suppress a generous thought.” This is a simplified expression of acting on the principle we learn in Moroni 7:13:

“…that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

Just because you can’t see the effects of your efforts as a leader does not mean that you should retard those efforts, nor does it mean you should hesitate to follow future promptings, especially when they would require great effort and sacrifice on your part.

Like Abinadi, you may have an extremely far-reaching effect on somebody, maybe even just one person, yet never know about it. For example, we don’t know who the “one” mentioned in Alma 23:14 turned out to be. Maybe nobody of historical consequence, but his or her conversion likely affected generations of God’s children and hopefully led to many of them making and keeping sacred covenants. “Historical consequence” does not even compare to “eternal consequence”.

To further illustrate this point, I’ll conclude by sharing two more personal experiences. At first blush, both experiences might appear to be complete failures and utter wastes of both time and effort. But you will read how one affected the other, and how I learned that my Christian efforts are never in vain.

Experience One

A couple of years ago the sister missionaries serving in my ward were inspired to organize an open house/building tour for our unit. They presented the idea in a monthly council consisting of ward mission leaders from each ward in the stake, and it was enthusiastically approved. We planned and organized, gave and received assignments, and after months of preparation, the day arrived. During the appointed four-hour time frame, only two families showed up for the tour.

Two families.

In four hours.

Dozens of members and missionaries were ready and waiting with presentations and refreshments. Can you imagine the feelings of the sister missionaries who spearheaded the activity?

Later that week those wonderful sisters were sitting in my front room and expressed no small amount of discouragement and disappointment.

I naturally felt sorry for them, but this situation set the table perfectly for me to share another experience from my past, through which I learned that the Lord’s thoughts are higher than ours. His ways and His objectives and how He accomplishes them are all higher than anything we mortals could conceive.

Experience Two

Here is the story I shared with the missionaries that evening:

Several years ago I was part of a thirteen-person ward council who in November or so was putting together a ward mission plan for the following year.

The revelatory experience of that day was amazing. That ward council meeting reminded me of one point in the endowment ceremony, where several individuals come together and speak with one voice, as directed by the Spirit. During the conversation of that council, one idea led to another and to another, the plan took clear shape, and each one of us had received a strong personal witness that what we had decided upon was the mind and will of the Lord. It was truly awesome.

The main objective of our ward mission plan was to put on a family history fair in our ward building near the end of the following year. To gear up for it, we would call and (re)train family history workers, we would use them alongside ward and full-time missionaries and ourselves as ward council members, to distribute flyers, work with adjoining wards and stakes, maybe even the city, to invite, inform, and inspire. By the end of the meeting, we were all energized. With the inspiration we felt the entire meeting, we could not fail!

The first step was to ensure that we as the ward council were conversant in family history–you know, lead by example, right? So come January we had scheduled some training meetings for ourselves and the family history consultants to become familiar with the website www.familysearch.org. We all brought our laptops and tablets to the church one night and spent 90 minutes or so learning, discussing, trying, clicking, reserving, and so on.

Possibly the least technologically-literate sister in the ward was in attendance, as she was our ward Primary president; I’ll call her Sister Y. What she lacked in technical literacy, she made up for in so many different Christlike attributes–and in spades! She was the most kind and loving person you’ll ever meet: patient, great with kids, soft but strong, and well-organized. I could go on and on. My kids love her! And there she was, battling the laptop, learning about the impossible “double-click” and the confusing difference between “username” and “password”.

After a couple of these trainings, the sands shifted under our collective feet. Family after family moved out of our already small and understaffed ward. We scrambled to fill callings, train leaders, and as the priorities changed, mounted, then changed again, the family history fair became lost. A few months later we tried to address it again. We had lost precious time to ramp up, and needed to adjust our expectations and efforts. We did not want to drop this ball, considering the strong guidance we had received during its conception.

And then… more people moved out! We simply couldn’t keep up! Yet we knew what we had experienced through the Spirit those months earlier and felt guilty for not being able to follow through–but there was only so much we could do.

From time to time, Bishop and I would discuss it and wonder to each other why we had felt so strongly to focus on family history, and then not be supported by the Lord in our efforts (so it seemed). We were frustrated and very busy. More months passed.

Late in the year, the ward mission plan long-since deprioritized, we were in fast and testimony meeting, and up to the pulpit walked Sister Y. She always gave good testimonies and talks, so I settled in my pew to await her words, which I will do my best to paraphrase here:

Brothers and sisters, as most of you know I am a convert to the church, and so I don’t have the luxury of having my genealogy or temple work done back to Adam, like some of you seem to. Converted in my teens and learning about genealogy over the years, I have had decades and decades to learn how to do it, and to take the names of my relatives and ancestors to the temple. I have heard countless talks, read countless Ensign articles, the same ones you’ve heard and read, and have felt over and over the pull to get started.

But for decades and decades, I have flatly refused to begin. I have been so angry with my parents and grandparents for the abuse my siblings and I were subjected to, that I did not want them to be happy. I did not want them to receive the blessings of the gospel, and I certainly DID NOT want to be with them in eternity.

This had become a very raw, vulnerable moment for all of us in attendance. The chapel was utterly silent as she continued:

I have known all these years that I have this responsibility, and that I have been holding on to this anger and pain to my own detriment. I have known that I will be held accountable for not doing what I could for their salvation, but the scars have been deep and the anger has been strong.

Then about a year ago in ward council as we discussed hosting a family history fair, all of us in that room felt a strong surge of spiritual guidance. As each of us committed to each other and to the Lord to learn how to do family history ourselves, I went home and prayed and prayed for the strength to overcome my anger. I did not want to be the Achan (the weak link and demise) of the plans of that inspired ward council. It was so hard, but I knew that it was time.

So I became trained on the FamilySearch website and with reluctance more extreme than the technical learning curve, (deep breath) …I began working on my family tree. Then a strange thing happened. As time went by, the family history fair idea died on the vine, losing out to the other struggles of our ward. It would have been so easy for me to quit, to stop helping these people whom I didn’t want to help anyway. But by that time, a miracle had taken place. I realized that I did want to help them. I began feeling the Spirit of Elijah, and eventually… the spirit of forgiveness. The anger I have held inside for decades is now gone. The pain is gone, replaced with only love and forgiveness, and now my regret is that I did not do this sooner.

She wept openly. So did I. Most were.

She went on to testify of how the Atonement of Christ can change our very natures. It was sweet and powerful. Sister Y was transformed by Christ.

From my seat in the congregation, through my tears I looked up and met eyes with an also-weeping bishop. We nodded at one another in acknowledgement as that humble sister closed her remarks and again took her seat.

Later that day I met up with the bishop. We discussed how the Lord ministers to the one, and in this case, that “one” was our beloved Sister Y. We speculated that perhaps the Lord’s endgame was never the family history fair: it was her.

It was always her.

We remembered the overpowering spiritual feelings of our planning meetings, and recognized that the Lord was orchestrating the perfect situation to help this one daughter progress beyond the destructive feelings that were holding her back from happiness. I am humbled to have been an observer to that great miracle, and to know of her transformation. Simply knowing that my hero and friend experienced the peace and joy that comes with forgiveness, I would do it all again, despite the time and effort put into a family history fair that never happened.

Conclusion

Likewise, if prompted by the Spirit, I would help the sister missionaries organize another building tour and open house, even though the last one appears to have been a waste. No, Satan, I am not buying into that lie. It wasn’t a waste to the two families who showed up, nor was it a waste to the dozens of people who showed their love for the Lord by sacrificing their time and effort.

If you feel discouraged due to experiences like “the one” Amalekite convert, or the failed building tour, I give you the experiences of Abinadi and Sister Y to look to. Abinadi started a movement that has changed the world. Sister Y has altered her own spiritual trajectory and is affecting those of her departed family.

I also give you this experience, as told by President Harold B. Lee:

You’ll remember [Elder Charles A. Callis] told us about one time going up into Montana to visit a man who had filled a mission over in Ireland. After searching for this man, who was now an old, old man, he introduced himself and said, ‘Are you the missionary who labored in Ireland some years ago?’ And the man said yes. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘are you the man who when giving your farewell address in the mission field declared that you guessed you had been a failure for the three years that you had been over there because you had only been able to baptize one dirty little Irish kid? Did you say that?’ ‘Yes, I remember that I did say that.’ Brother Callis said, ‘Well, I would like to introduce myself. I’m Charles A. Callis of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m that dirty little Irish kid that you baptized while you were a missionary in Ireland.’ One soul who became an apostle of the Church and Kingdom of God.

The effects of your efforts as a leader cannot be measured or quantified. When you seek to know His thoughts and His ways, when you follow spiritual promptings, your efforts are never in vain.

As President Henry B. Eyring has said:

. . .[A]s you walk with Him in . . .service, you may find that sometimes what seems like the most efficient solution is not the Lord’s preferred solution because it does not allow people to grow. If you listen, He will teach you His ways. Remember that God’s work and glory is not simply to run an effective organization; it is ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’. This is, after all, why He gives His priesthood authority to flawed mortals like you and me and invites us to participate in His work. Our progress is His work!

I repeat: your efforts are never in vain.

Watch Your Words

Watch your words.

Here is a follow-up to my post yesterday about adaptive ministering approaches. This is an example of a poor decision I made as a leader in an interaction with a congregant.

There was a young man in the ward (we’ll call him David–not his real name–whose permission I received before sharing this story) who was always the brightest star of the bunch, so to speak. He was a leader among his peer group, including the youth in our ward. When he and his friends were in the 16-17 year-old age group, President Monson announced the age change for missionaries, which suddenly had several of these boys potentially leaving on their missions in less than a year. This was something of a shock to many (if not all) of them.

As a bishopric, we observed David very closely, believing that since he was highly influential, if he would decide to serve a mission, that might help inspire the others to follow his lead. I don’t know if anybody explained to them that leaving at 18 was not required–it was simply the soonest they could be eligible.

In the following months we witnessed David waiver in his commitment. Something clearly happened inside of him, and his dedication to the gospel took a sudden nosedive. Objectively speaking, this is actually exactly what you want: for the individual to experience that process of pressing against the constructs of his life, handed to him by parents, teachers, church leaders, etc., and come through with their own conclusions and philosophies leading into adulthood. Understanding this, my experience as his leader and his friend had me hoping and praying that his conclusions would align with what we believed would be in his best interest, i.e., remaining true to the gospel and serving a mission for the church, and beyond.

That fall, rather than opening his mission papers, David opted to go to college at a Church school and we hoped and prayed that his new environment would assist him in his spiritual journey. As the holiday break approached, we looked forward to his visit home.

When we saw him in the congregation his first Sunday back, the bishop and I noticed a change in his countenance. He appeared to be much sadder than before. His hair was unkempt, he was unshaven, and his general appearance could only be described as slovenly. He seemed lost, and his demeanor was dark.

I bumped into him in the hallway just prior to priesthood meeting, and here is where my regrettable faux pas takes place. Considering (1) his probable state of mind and (2) my calling at the time, whatever I said would carry weight.

“Hey man!” I said. “Looking a little shaggy up top!” He responded with something like “yeah….haha”–and that was about it.

I didn’t give a second thought to what I had said until a couple weeks later when I was meeting with his mother in a church capacity. When our church business concluded, I asked about David and how he enjoyed being home for the holidays.

Let’s pause for a second so that I can explain how much I love this good sister. She has been an example and influence for good in so many ways, to so many people. She is *literally* a hero of mine and my observations of her discipleship has influenced me for years–not unlike the affect her son had on his peers.

Back to the story, I asked how his Christmas break was. She sat silently for a moment, bit her bottom lip, looked down, and nodded. “He made a comment to me,” she began, “that he was really looking forward to coming home. He’s struggled so much these past months and really needed the respite of this trip. He wanted to be surrounded by familiar people whom he knows and loves. But sadly he said that all he heard at church were comments on his appearance. That’s why he only came that first Sunday and stayed home the next two.”

I swallowed hard and bowed my head. I should have known what he needed, as a decade earlier I had gone through my own experience of defining what my dogmas would be. I had gone through turmoil and questioning, and what I had hoped to receive from leaders was a loving embrace, encouragement, and the message of “we’re so glad you’re here.”

I knew that David wanted to hear “Hey, we missed you! I’m so glad you’re here. Tell me about school!”

And best yet: “I love you, my friend.”

Instead he got “Hey man! Looking a little shaggy up top!”–negative commentary on the outward expression of his inner turmoil. No validation of his struggle. No embrace, literal or otherwise. I slapped his hand.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about those moments: my comment to him, and his mom’s comment to me. I have asked for and received forgiveness. I have (hopefully) retained the lesson to help guide my future interactions.

Watch your words.


Epilogue: At his mission farewell talk in sacrament meeting several months later, David explained a couple of key relationships he had forged that helped him through his struggles. In spite of my judgmental and hurtful remark, he had made the decision to serve that mission after all. And as we had hoped, so did most of his friends, those other young men in the ward. I’m not saying that David’s example was the only, or even biggest, factor among those boys, but when he stopped participating in the gospel, so did they. Then when he changed course–so did they.

Adaptive Ministering

This article points out something I have encountered in candid conversations with my friends who have overtly left the church (as opposed to simply becoming less involved/active).

The article presents the delicate situation where one spouse leaves the church (in this case, the husband), and the other remains dedicated (the wife).
A stand-out quotation from the article:

It wasn’t until we started to become more open about his changes in beliefs with those around us that I realized I wasn’t the only one suffering. My husband was having a very hard time with this transition too. Though they might have had good intentions, he felt that people were more interested in fixing him and not so much in understanding him. While there are times to have faith-promoting conversations, there are also times, I believe, that are better served by just listening and trying to understand.

With regard to ministering to individuals like the husband in this account, a couple things come to mind:

First, Kurt Francom‘s podcast with his friend and bishopric counselor who left the church. If you haven’t yet, go give a listen.

Second, a conversation I had with a good friend of mine who was describing the approaches of two bishops we both know and love:

“Bishop A was the kind of bishop–is the kind of person–who, when he sees somebody in need of help, will sit in the gutter beside that person and cry with them. He will put his arm around them and listen, and when they’re ready, he’ll help them up and walk with them. That’s how he shows his love.

“Bishop B, on the other hand, shows his love by throwing a rope to the person, but intentionally leaves it a foot short, forcing them to stretch, proving to themselves that they can do hard things, and making them participate in the process.

“Both approaches (and hybrids and variations) are appropriate depending on the situation.”

I’ve spent hours thinking and studying about what my friend said, and have tried to evolve my own responses to others as I love and parent and lead. At times I have been successful, and at other times I have not handled things very well.

I guess a third thing that comes to mind is a quotation from Steven R. Covey in a recorded presentation I have listened to a few times–I suspect it’s in his 7 Habits book, but the gist is: “In most conversations, we are either saying something, or preparing in our minds what we’re going to say next. Where is the listening?”

We need to truly observe, discern, listen–both to the person we’re loving AND to the Spirit–and then counsel together with that person. There is no one-size-fits-all. The scriptures are full of diverse situations and equally diverse responses running the gamut from extreme justice to extreme mercy. As parents and leaders, we need to be adaptable. We need to have many tools in our box, many scriptures to reference (or even memorize), and practice the skill of giving the response required by the situation and the needs of the person, learning through the Holy Ghost what is best said or done for them (which is sometimes ‘nothing’), rather than giving rote responses like “say your prayers and read your scriptures.”