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:
- Strength in Counsel, October 1993
- Counseling with Our Councils, April 1994
- Family Councils, April 2016
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.
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.