The Genius of Councils

Patrick Mason is one of our newest Dialogue guests. He may or may not be related to one of our permabloggers.

Priesthood organization isn’t a very sexy topic. I mean, who really gets excited about the reorganization of the Quorums of the Seventy? When BCC readers get all starry-eyed about Joseph Smith, it’s usually for his metaphysics, or his radical challenge to individualism and market capitalism, or something along those lines. The architecture of priesthood government? Yawn. Somebody wake me up with a little King Follett Discourse (or KFD, as the kids say).

Unsexy as it is, I’ve been thinking about the council system of the church. (I can hear Homer Simpson now: “Bor-ing.”) Although it doesn’t get the headlines of, say, God and Jesus being separate beings, I think it’s one of Joseph’s most important innovations. Joseph is usually seen as the mystic, the dreamer, the prophet, while Brigham is the practical, pragmatic implementer. But the council system of the church, which was established in roughly the same form we have today by 1835, has to be counted as one of Joseph’s enduring legacies, one of his most remarkable contributions, and one of the main reasons why the church has been so successful for nearly 200 years and will continue to be so indefinitely.

In my mind, the genius of councils is in the following:

1. Councils democratize revelation. As Richard Bushman says in Rough Stone Rolling, the central “conundrum of Joseph Smith’s Mormonism” is that “an authoritarian religion [could] distribute so much power to individual members.” The brilliance of Joseph’s vision of church government, organized in overlapping layers of priesthood councils (later extended to auxiliaries such as Relief Society and Primary presidencies), is that “individual priesthood holders were allowed a voice in church governance, giving them ownership of the kingdom to which they had subjected themselves.” Bushman argues that it’s no coincidence that immediately after Smith finalized the basic structure of church councils some five years after the church’s founding, “the frequency of canonical revelations dropped precipitously. . . . At the moment when Joseph’s own revelatory powers were at their peak, he divested himself of sole responsibility for revealing the will of God and invested that gift in the councils of the Church, making it a charismatic bureaucracy” (252, 257-58).

Rather than a single prophetic figure or a central governing body holding all the charismatic authority or receiving all the revelation for the entire group, the multiple layers of church councils mean that in today’s church literally tens of thousands of people are called and set apart to receive revelation through their participation in councils (actually, it extends to every member of the church–and beyond–if you count family councils). In this way, the most hierarchical structure this side of Rome paradoxically becomes the most democratic, with the ultimate power–the power to commune with God and speak and act on His behalf–given to more of “the people” in more significant ways than any other church would ever dream (or have nightmares) of.

2. Councils check individual personality without squelching individual voices. Except in the rare cases in which the presiding authority utters a “thus saith the Lord,” councils are designed for everyone to give their best, educated, faithful opinions, discuss the various options, and then seek the inspiration of the Lord in confirming the council’s deliberations. Ideally, individual quirks and idiosyncrasies are subsumed in the wisdom of the council and the desire to achieve the greater good, without silencing any individual voice, no matter how quixotic.

3. Councils prevent much (though not all) abuse of priesthood authority. Since I’ve been fortunate that my own interactions with priesthood councils have been, by and large, entirely benevolent, I hadn’t considered this very much until I read the most recent issue of Dialogue (40:1 / Spring 2007). In a fascinating article, author Marianne T. Watson recounts the origins of “placement marriage” within the Fundamentalist LDS Church (FLDS). It is an illuminating if poignant and sad narrative of communities and families being torn apart by the increasingly overbearing and arbitrary exercise of priesthood authority–the kind of thing that critics of Mormonism have always warned is possible when you actually think you get your marching orders from God. Watson shows how since the mid-20th century, the central leadership of the FLDS, and particularly Rulon and then Warren Jeffs, gradually concentrated their autocratic power by progressively undermining and eventually dismantling other priesthood councils that had previously acted as checks on the more authoritarian aspects of prophetic leadership. Hers is a cautionary tale of what happens when prophethood runs amok, but also a revealing glimpse into the importance of robust and functioning church councils on all levels. The absolutely essential nature of the council system of the church is in this case proven in its absence.

In the end, church government is a lot like baseball umpires — you only know they’re doing a good job if you don’t notice them. The fact that we don’t pay a lot of attention to church councils suggests that maybe there’s more to them than we usually think.


  1. …who really gets excited about the reorganization of the Quorums of the Seventy?

    Um, no kidding, I mean…that is, like, sooo boring. [strolls off, trying to look as disengaged as possible].

  2. Patrick,
    Great post. I think that Bushman is really on to something here. With today being the 14th anniversary of the Branch Davidian massacre, I did a little research and to my surprise found that David Koresh is seen by some (but not all) Davidians as a martyred prophet. I doubt that the Davidians will ever grow beyond a few hundred members, even with the powerful memory of a martyr. And why? A large part of the reason I think that JS’s movement has survived (aside from the obvious fact that it is the stone cut without hands) is because church councils developed leaders like BY, HCK, PPP, etc., and women such as ERS. Autocrats like Koresh that don’t leave organizations like JS did just don’t have the foundations for the movement to survive.
    It would be interesting to test Bushmans’s hypothesis against other world religions to see how it tests out.

  3. When they originally expanded the number of quorums of the Seventy, I thought it was pretty exciting. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that with less quorums of the Seventy, it was somewhat easier to become acquainted with the names of the leadership. Now there are so many Seventies, I really don’t try to keep track of the names. They have become, to a great extent, anonymous – a list of many names on a page.

    There are a few exceptions, some names that have been around a long time.

    This past week in a Gospel Essentials class, we were asked to define the priesthood. As usual, the words “authority” and “power” came up. It occurred to me that the word “organization” is another word that should be used.

    I like how this post describes the way that organization works through councils and what it means as far as revelation being spread throughout the church and its councils.

  4. Outstanding, Patrick.

    The principles of consent and unanimity in councils really are safeguards against the loose cannon style of leadership.

    Another advantage is that if offers women greater participation in the decisions that are made. I have been in wards where the RS president conducted ward council meeting, setting the agenda, taking action reports, making assignments, etc.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Insightful observations about councils. And I agree with you about the negative example recounted in that fascinating recent Dialogue article. That’s enough to send shivers down your spine.

    I remember once our local elders got the bright idea to cook the biggest pancake ever, supposedly, as a way of attracting people to our church. The logisitics of how they were actually going to cook all that batter into one coherent pancake were not at all well thought through. But even worse, the flyers they had made up didn’t even mention the Church, but some sort of charitable organization name, which, upon examination, it turns out they had just made up.

    When this was announced in priesthood, everyone was smiling and nodding their heads about what a clever and creative proselyting idea this was. So I raised my hand and ripped it to shreds as perhaps one of the stupidest ideas ever concocted in the name of missionary work (but I said it nicer than that). And in fact, the event was then cancelled.

    I wasn’t even in a leadership position at the time, but by simply expressing my opinion in a priesthood context I was able to have a substantial effect on the workings of our local ward.

    I love that sense of ownership of the church that you talk about. It is one of the best thing about being Mormon. I call it “do-it-yourself” church.

  6. I’ve been reading Elder Ballards “Counseling with our Councils” after reading RSR late last year. One of the things that struck me is that Elder Ballard continually in the opening chapters rebukes PH leadership for ignoring the sisters who sit in such councils, and reminds us that they are there to be heard, to give input, to be part of the leadership process. I guess I was happily surprised to see that be a point of emphasis.

    I would also agree with the concept of councils somewhat limiting the potential for priesthood abuses. In my experience, the more autocratic the bishop, the more likely he is to offend people, which may lend to perceptions (or actual) abuse or misconduct by leadership.

    As we’ve seen on the national stage over the last few years, when there is less use of councils to discuss and provide alternate ideas and opposition, the likelihood of bad decisions goes up.

  7. Patrick Mason says:

    Hilarious story, Kevin. Somebody needs to compile a “100 Craziest Missionary Ideas” book (although that should be the subject of another BCC post…I’m not trying to threadjack my own).

    Thanks much for your comment, Mark. Some (many/most?) wards are still fairly patriarchal, but at least the council system opens doors for genuine female leadership–certainly within Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women, and ideally within the ward as a whole. And recent General Conference addresses (can’t remember exactly who/when off the top of my head) have emphasized the need to include women more rigorously in ward leadership.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Kevinf, I always hated it when I was involved in PEC meetings to which the RSP was not invited (being limited to Ward Council and Welfare). To me, that was ridiculous.

  9. Kev, I think the trick is to limit to PEC to what it is supposed to be – a 15 minute rundown of what’s up with the scouts and changes to hometeaching assignments. Wide-ranging discussions about the ward in general should only take place in meetings where RS, Primary, and YW are represented.

    The best bishop I ever served with sometimes held PEC while standing up, just to convey the message that he wanted the meeting to be short and sweet, and maybe not even sweet.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Mark IV. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who ran the Church as a whole for many years, was famous for his 20-minute meetings. I’ve often thought that if I were a bishop (horribile dictu!) I would like to run extremely efficient meetings.

    The chatty hour and a half ones fill a kind of social void, I suppose, but it is completely unnecessary to take that much of people’s precious time, in my view.

  11. a 15 minute rundown of what’s up with the scouts and changes to hometeaching assignments.

    Interesting, where is that written? Or, is that just your interpretation of what a priesthood executive meeting should be?

  12. Kristine says:

    Ooooh, I just love it when a bunch of guys talk about how great it is to include women!

    I wish we knew more about the councils Joseph tried to establish that had a more even balance of the sexes. I’ve rarely been in Ward Councils (whether it’s because I’m too opinionated or because I can play the piano, I’m not quite sure), but my limited experience suggests that even the women who are invited are often intimidated by the predominantly male setting.

  13. Outstanding, Patrick. Wonderful and thought provoking. I think the more we understand about the power of councils, the more powerful they can become (or the more conducive to revelation). One question, where are you coming up with the councils being established by 1835? From specific D&C sections, or History of the Church? I’m asking because I may want to use this sometime and don’t want my source to be “a guy on the internet said.”

    Pres. Faust said there isn’t any administrative business in the church that can’t be conducted in a one hour meeting or less. But I like the 15 minute idea even better.

    Our previous bishop started inviting the RS President to every PEC meeting, and we’ve just kept that tradition going. Our ward has greatly benefited from it.

    Mark, Kevin, or anyone…it seems keeping meetings short is easier said than done. How have you seen it accomplished? Our meetings are 60 to 90 minutes, mostly of calendar stuff and “This is what’ my organization is doing…” I’ve always felt that if I were Bishop, I’d require all that stuff to be done by email before Sunday, so it could be skipped. Of course, then, we may not even need a meeting. But I’d love to hear real world experience with this.

  14. I get excited about changes in church organisation.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Joe B., no I’ve never seen it actually done that way, but mostly because I’ve never seen anyone actually try to do it. Bishops have invariably sat in on PEC meetings before, and they just conduct them the way they’ve seen them conducted previously, in my experience.

    I personally don’t enjoy wasting an hour and a half attending an obviously bloated meeting. Thankfully my current calling doesn’t involve Sunday leadership meetings.

  16. Patrick Mason says:

    Kristine is absolutely right — I’ve been struck, in this very unscientific sample, at the number of male vs. female respondents to this post. Men in the church are probably more interesting in church government because, quite frankly, women are usually on the margins of it, and leverage their power and influence in other ways and places. You are quite right that it is one thing to invite women to the meetings, quite another to really give them an equal place at the table. For instance, even when you invite the RS Pres, she is outnumbered by the bishopric, exec sec, ward clerk, EQ pres, and HP group leader. Of course, having her there is better than not, but we still need to recognize the imbalance. Plus, her voice can be marginalized as the “token” female voice, rather than just as valuable as any male voice. Even in ward councils when you bring in more women (YW, Primary, Activities, etc.), they are in positions of “lesser” authority — after all, they are “auxiliaries” to the priesthood. Even in the most inclusive of councils, then, women’s voices are in almost every case a less powerful minority.

    This is one of the reasons why it is wonderful that the council system gives women their own spheres in which they can receive revelation. Rather than a male priesthood making all the decisions for the entire ward, women have their own organizations and settings in which they have pretty much complete autonomy. Of course, they can be overruled by the male bishop, but in most cases they’re allowed to do pretty much what they want, according to the inspiration that their all-female councils receive.

    To Joe B. – for quick and dirty evidence, look at the chronological table of contents of the D&C, in which you notice that the revelations slow down significantly around 1835. This is after all the major priesthood offices, quorums, and councils have been instituted, the last of which is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835. See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, esp. chap 13, for actual sources, dates, etc.

  17. I used to find that going to a PEC meeting, and then going to ward council or ward welfare meeting on the same day was a waste of time, as we ended up discussing the exact same things, only with the sisters in the room. So when I had some input, we dropped PEC meetings on the days we had WC and Welfare meetings, as it was an obvious waste of time.

    I also had a bishop friend (he currently is in our SP) that kept a 3 minute egg timer on his desk as bishop, and told people that they had 3 minutes to give their reports, and then cut them off when the timer ran out. His meetings got to be much more productive, and I believe also shorter.

    Currently, though, my experience is that ward mission efforts are taking up the biggest chunk of time in the meetings I attend, over 50% in many cases.

    And Kristine, Ballard’s book is the first time I have seen in print one of the GA’s saying that we needed more inclusiveness of women in our leadership councils! I thought it was hugely significant, especially since my wife once served as YW president, and frequently the bishop in a former ward wouldn’t even call on the sisters in the meeting to see if they had anything to discuss! It’s getting better….I hope.

  18. One other note, since only the RS is invited to welfare meeting, the Handbook states that all 3 members of the RS presidency should attend. I can only assume that is so the RS president doesn’t feel outnumbered…..I hope.

  19. Having attended PEC and ward council meetings every week for quite a few years now, I will offer a couple of observations:

    1. I have never seen the women in those meetings marginalized. They always seem to have opinions, they voice them and those opinions are invariably respected.
    2. I think the value of most councils is highly overrated. Very few important decisions are made in Stake council, PEC or ward council. Those decisions are almost always made in presidency meetings. Those councils are useful primarily as a means to share information and to coordinate programs and activities.

  20. Kevin, I’m in the situation you describe. Through a fluke of random callings that have required me to attend PEC, I’ve been attending my ward’s PEC and Ward Councils for almost 8 years, through 3 Bishops. Other members of the council have come and gone and even come back again in different callings. The meetings are always the same, long and not as productive as they should be. And the Bishop’s all complain about wanting to fix it, but nobody ever does. I’d really like to see a well-run meeting as a template for what to aim for.

    After our RS Pres was attending every PEC meeting for several months, I heard the Bishop actually ponder “uninviting” her because she came to the meetings so prepared, and was so productive, that he felt it allowed the rest of the men to slack off to much. He never asked her to stop coming, though. It’s purely anecdotal, but I think there is truth to the theory that if the women had the priesthood, the men wouldn’t do anything.

    Kevinf, we have ward mission meetings before PEC in which a member of HP and EQ pres attend with missionaries and WML. While in theory an EQ Counselor could attend that and then the EQ Pres to PEC, because it’s so early in the morning, usually the same person attends both. So finally these guys revolted because they’d go to the WM meeting and listen for 45 minutes and then go to PEC and hear the same meeting repeated so the Bishop could hear.

  21. I’ve rarely been in Ward Councils (whether it’s because I’m too opinionated or because I can play the piano, I’m not quite sure), but my limited experience suggests that even the women who are invited are often intimidated by the predominantly male setting.

    Actually, ward council is one of my favorite meetings. :)

    Men in the church are probably more interesting[I am sure you meant interested, but the typo is kind of ironic (even comical) to me, since we want to assume a gender-based divide on this topic] in church government

    I must be weird, because actually, I prefer this kind of post over the mystical musings about Joseph Smith. :) And I love, love, love discussing and musing about church organization and administration. Really.

    And I think we ought not assume anything from a post that only has 20 comments. :)

  22. Patrick Mason says:

    Gary – I count all presidencies, bishoprics, etc., as part of the council system. They’re treated that way in Elder Ballard’s book, and I think this has been the general consensus since JS’s time.

    m&m – Yes, I certainly meant “interested,” not “interesting” – good catch! Most people, men or women, aren’t very interesting or interested in church council meetings. I think it’s important to talk about church government & organization (hence the post), but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Unfortunately, I also think–and this is purely a guess, and meant to be descriptive, not normative–that more men than women are interested in the nuances of it.

  23. Ballard’s book is really interesting, and the connection you make to Bushman gave me some things to think about. It’s good to remember that they are councils set up through inspiration, not ‘committees.’
    The doctrine of councils has helped me understand how to be the ‘head of the family,’ a concept I’ve always cringed at. But if I think of it as presiding over a family council (of my wife and I) and I apply the principles in the same way, I don’t become as isolated in the patriarchy of my family role.

  24. Sterling says:

    These are good examples of councils in action at the ward and stake level. What role do councils play at the regional level?

  25. Our previous bishop started inviting the RS President to every PEC meeting, and we’ve just kept that tradition going.


    Another bishop who doesn’t understand what the “P” in PEC stands for.

    Tradition indeed! No doubt a foolish tradition that will go on for years and years…

    Let me know when you start ordaining the Young Women to the Aaronic priesthood. I’d love to be in one of your sacrament meetings when the behives are passing the sacrament.

  26. I’m like jm – When the RS pres is added to PEC, that meeting turns into a welfare committee meeting – but one without the RS counselors, who are such an important part of the welfare committee (yes, women are still outnumbered, but not nearly so much!). In our stake, ward councils meet briefly every week. And PEC generally follows ward council, so it can just deal with the quorum-related questions (like home teaching assignments) that don’t require the sisters’ time.

  27. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    The Relief Society President can join the PRIESTHOOD executive committee as the leader of the most important auxilliary to the Priesthood that there is in the ward. If I am not mistaken, the Bishop is expressly allowed to invite whomever he wants to PEC. Inviting the Relief Society President, who presides over half of the adult members of the ward and knows a lot about what is going on in the ward (with females and their male spouses, children, parents), seems like good idea to me.

  28. Patrick Mason says:

    I agree fully with Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Elder Ballard has warned how problematic it is to leave sisters (esp. the RS President) out of deliberations. To me, jm’s comments seem a tad reactionary, although I wouldn’t mind hearing a somewhat less panicky and more reasoned argument for why the RS President shouldn’t be included in PEC. The name of the meeting doesn’t seem sufficient to me — does it stop being an elders quorum meeting when a deacon sits in?

    I should also note that much of my thinking about councils, particularly the democratizing of revelation that occurs because of them, originated from an insight Mark had several years back when we were doing a summer Smith Institute fellowship together. I could be wrong, but I think that’s where the seed of Richard Bushman’s argument was planted as well.

  29. Space Chick says:

    I have attended ward council as a RS president, and also as the Young Single Adult rep (2 different wards). I never felt like a token female, and always felt like my opinion was just as important to the bishop and any man’s. Maybe I just intimidated them into listening–YMMV…

  30. I fully agree with Elder Ballard:

    “First is the priesthood executive committee. It consists of the bishopric, high priests group leader, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, Young Men president, ward executive secretary, and ward clerk. This committee meets weekly under the direction of the bishop to consider ward priesthood programs, including temple and family history, missionary, welfare, home teaching, and member activation.”

    It meets to discuss WARD PRIESTHOOD PROGRAMS.

    There are meeting for the Relief Society to be represented, the PEC isn’t one of them.

    Is that a less panicky and more reasoned arguement? Or perhaps you know something the brethren don’t?

  31. “Inviting the Relief Society President, who presides over half of the adult members of the ward and knows a lot about what is going on in the ward (with females and their male spouses, children, parents), seems like good idea to me.”

    Hmmmm… if only there was a council specifically for talking about what’s going on in the ward. They could call it “Ward Council” or something… what a wonderful idea! They could invite not only the RS president, but perhaps even the primary president, and others who lead aux. in the ward!

  32. We only follow what the Brethren suggest. And they say the Bishop may invite anyone else he feels should be there. You’re welcome to make an argument against it in a civil manner.

    I assume if the missionaries came to the meeting, it’d be another bishop who doesn’t know what the “E” in PEC means, right?

    We’re having a interesting discussion on the power of revelation in councils. A bishop is inspired to follow the handbook and invite a RS President to attend a meeting and you mock it?

  33. JrL, what time do your councils meet? It would not be a popular decision in my ward to pull in the entire ward council every week early in the morning, only to dismiss them to wait around in an empty chapel or drive all the way home and back again while the PEC continues. How is this handled? Our Ward Council meets monthly in place of the PEC meeting.

  34. Patrick Mason says:

    jm, Thanks for the Ballard quote. There’s probably a middle ground here that we can find, in that the different councils/meetings (PEC, welfare meeting, ward council) do serve different functions and generally involve different people. But if a bishop feels inspired to include the RS Pres in PEC, I won’t be the one to tell him he’s wrong, and personally, I think he’s on to something. But if you’re a bishop and feel strongly that the PEC should be all men, more power to you. In that case, we just need to go out of our way to make sure that women’s voices are heard and respected. And I apologize for my less than charitable remark about your earlier comment.

  35. re: 30 & 31

    First, relax.

    As a veteran of years of continuous PEC meetings, there is not a thing wrong with having the RS president at every PEC, notwithstanding what Elder Ballard wrote. You seem to overlook what Elder Ballard also said at a recent GC, paraphrasing here, “we serve people not programs.” People in the ward as whole are much better served with accurate information being dicussed during PEC. I defy you to show us in a real world setting-not a book describing an ideal, but nonexistent ward-who has more accurate, real time information about members’ needs than a RS president. The only other person might be a Bishop, but that is debatable.

    In the real world, PEC and Ward Council are redundant. One of those meetings, imo, could be eliminated and a ward would continue to function without a hitch. Several years ago our ward building was being renovated and we had to meet at another chapel that was some distance away. Consequently, we did not hold any PEC/Ward Council/Welfare meetings for about six weeks. Guess what? The ward continued to function; people’s needs were met; and, best of all, my family and I were able to go to church together every Sunday. I wish my current chapel would undergo the same type of renovation and that it would last about a year or so. I would gladly drive 30 miles one way to church if it meant no more PEC/Ward Council/Welfare etc and I could go to church w/ my family. Remember, it’s people not programs.

  36. For the regional committee I’m on, we recieved a document written by our area authority with instruction on how to properly run a councils. He said that most councils are ineffective because they aren’t administered properly. Things really a lot better since we started following his scripture based advice.

  37. The different councils outlined in the Church Handbook of Instructions serve different purposes.

    Any arguement that one is redundant serves as evidence that the presiding priesthood authority at those councils does not fully understand the purpose of the council which he presides over.

    The purpose of the Priesthood Executive Committee is not to discuss the entire ward or know everything about what is going on in the ward. It is not do determine or discuss the needs of the auxiliary organizations. It is to discuss, as Elder Ballard mentioned, ward priesthood programs.

    Doctrinaly, the priesthood is a distinct organizational unit within the church. As such, it should have a distinct and separate meeting where it can disucss it’s own programs and needs separate from other needs of the ward. By combining the general needs of the ward, you dilute the substance of the priesthood meeting by discussing things that are meant as topic for a different time and place with different people involved.

    On a recent blog, someone mentioned words that come to mind when the word priesthood is mentioned. One of the responses was ‘organization’. This should be true, but too many local presiding priesthood authorities misunderstand the central governing importance of the priesthood offices in which they officiate.

    The bishop wears two priesthood hats. One as the president of the Aaronic priesthood in his ward. Wearing this hat, he takes care of the temporal needs of the members under his stewardship. He also presides as a common judge in Israel over the non-priesthood, and Aaronic priesthood holders in the ward. Wearing this hat, he presides over the Ward Council, Ward Mission, and Welfare Committee.

    The other hat he wears is the hat of presiding high priest over the ward. This allows him to preside over all Melchezidek priesthood matters within the ward in proxy for the Stake President who is President over all Melchizedek priesthood in the Stake. Wearing this hat, the Bishop presides over the Priesthood Executive Committee, where all things priesthood related are discussed.

    Even though he acts as the presiding high priest in the ward, the ward Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups have no direct accountability to him. The priesthood leader of the Elders Quorum president and High Priest group leader is the Stake President. But as Presiding High Priest, he is responsible for how those quorums and groups interact with his ward. The PEC allows all priesthood to work together and coordinate to accomplish the missions of the church in the ward.

    To have the Priesthood in a ward meet separately is not without precedence. The Stake Priesthood Executive Committee meets without stake Auxiliaries present. The Quorum of the Twelve meet separate from other quorums and committees to discuss their own matters as does the first presidency.

    Next, I address the issue of having the RS President in attendance because she knows the most about what is going on in the ward. While this may be true, it is indeed very sad.

    This is a symptom of lazy priesthood leadership. It has become so commonplace that we unofficially accept it as part of our LDS culture. When we evaluate the reasons why she knows so much, we will typically find out that her knowledge is a result of her doing, and magnifying her calling. If priesthood leaders did the same, they would not only know the same things, but more. You may ask “How would they know more?”. Simple, because they are called, and set apart to receive inspiration and revelation for all those under their stewardship and they are entitled to that knowledge, revelation, and inspiration because of that calling. If they’re not getting it, if they’re not in the know, they have buried their talent in the sand.

    Second, the Bishop has two counselors who are asked to preside over many of the auxiliaries (and in case you have forgotten, the auxiliarys are an auxiliary to… The Priesthood!). Any information that would need to come forth from the auliliarys to the PEC should be reported on by the counselor that presides over that auxiliary. If the RS president is there, we then have a counselor who is alleviated from a portion of his priesthood responsibilities… just what we need, less involved priesthood in the ward. Just think to the endowment ceremony. Think of how information is reported to God. God doesn’t ‘cut out the middle man’ to receive a report. He accepts it from the one who he delegated the responsibility to. This is the pattern of the priesthood. We have no authority to change it, yet our bishops are ‘inspired’ to do it all the time!!!

    (This is the same reason I hate having the Full Time missionaries show up at PEC, it gives the ward mission leader nothing to do. When it comes time for the WML to report, all he does is turns to the elders and says “Elders, do you have anything to report?”. What use is the WML? Anyway, that’s a different topic.)

    Finally, your argument that the bishop can be ‘inspired’ to have anyone he wants at the meeting. If a bishop truly understood the organization and structure of the priesthood, he wouldn’t be ‘inspired’ to call anyone else to the meeting. He would be inspired to challenge the priesthood brenthren present to go do their calling and be accountable for their stewardships. He would use the truly inspired organizational structure presented by the brethren, and use it well. There would be no need to deviate or to improvise. Any bishop, or EQP or HPGL or stake president who feels the need to alter the inspired program, in my opinion, is NOT inspired. It is nothing more that a lack of management skills brought on by a lazy approach to priesthood leadership and orgainzation, and the sooner they get released, the better!

  38. re:35

    I overlooked nothing. The ward committee meetings are not programs, they are the way priesthood offices and the ward are managed and run. The advice given that we serve people, not programs is intended for those attending these meetings, so they don’t come up with usless, time wasting programs for the members to participate in.

    As a veteran of years of continuous PEC meetings, it seems you’ve been doing it wrong.

  39. Steve Evans says:

    jm, as a veteran of years of blogging, it seems you’ve been doing it wrong. Try not to talk down to us. You are not the ultimate authority in interpreting the CHI, and many of us have experience that rivals and -gasp- surpasses your own. If you can’t manage to settle down a little and prepare to be taught as well as teach, maybe you’d be happier somewhere else.

  40. Melanie,
    Would you care to elaborate? I agree 100% with your Area Authority’s assessment. But nobody I’ve served with seems to know how to administrate it properly, so we have no role model to follow.

    My experience is that most meetings end up spending the majority of the time on either describing all the work that’s going into an activity and deciding which organization will do what, or talking about the same half dozen people year after year who might possibly come to church if we devote major resources to helping them. We’ve had leaders serve in one capacity, get released, come back in a different position a couple years later and say “Wow, we’re still talking about them?”

  41. jm, aside from your tone, I appreciate your comments in #37. (Though if the Brethren really didn’t want others in the meeting, they wouldn’t have instructed the Bishops to invite others as necessary.) However, I agree with you in theory that if we (the priesthood) did our duties correctly, the RS Pres wouldn’t need to attend every council meeting.

    The problem in practice is that we’re not starting a ward from scratch with a group of leaders who come with no past leadership experience but have all memorized your above post. This is the obstacle, and I’d love to hear from you or anyone else who has ideas on how to overcome it.

    As I’ve talked with my father and other “veteran” leaders with much more experience than I have, they’ve all described something like you put, and then add “That’s how it should be, if a Bishop ever had the courage to change it.”

    I’ve always took that to mean that we’re afraid that if we run meetings as we should and people didn’t get brought to our attention, at the end of our stewardship, the excuse to the Savior of “Well, I needed to run the meeting properly” wouldn’t carry much water. Obviously, if you could do this and perservere, eventually it would be very beneficial, but not many want, or know how to accomplish this.

  42. jm,

    I remember sitting in a regional PH leadership session where President Faust advised us that we shouldn’t let the Handbook of Instructions keep us from the inspiration due us in our callings.

    Your assertion that a properly inspired bishop would have everything running perfectly in his ward totally ignores the reality that people aren’t perfect, and we all struggle to do our best.

    I’ve seen the results of sitting in a ward council, and seeing the inspiration come to all members in helping to solve a problem for individuals that none of us could manage on our own. There is genius in Joseph Smith’s granting authority to councils, and we are still working to perfect it.

    Unfortunately, the church is not made up of thousands of cookie cutter wards, that can all run the same way. We constantly have to adapt, change, and make things work for us to suit our local circumstances. As an example, the creation of family wards in urban Seattle, so that all families with teenagers attend the same ward(s) in the stake, multiple singles wards, etc.

    Having had to look at ward organization while I served in leadership positions, I know the challenges that you run up against. As others and I have noted here, the Handbook is getting shorter in each new iteration, along with the supporting manuals. There are doctrines, principles, and then finally policies that come out of them. They are not absolute blueprints, or we would never have pilot programs to try out new organizations and concepts.

    Or, to misquote Galileo, “The Handbook of Instructions tells us how to go to Heaven, not how Heaven goes”.

  43. Joe B,

    Good point, although I’m not sure I would agree that

    “That’s how it should be, if a Bishop ever had the courage to change it.”


    I don’t think it’s so much courage, but the reality that as hard as we all try, we all aren’t perfect, and the more heads thinking about a problem, the better. Or as my wonderful wife put it when I was YM Pres trying to plan activities, “Was there a mother involved in the planning?”

    Or upon hearing that the Bishop and I would be at an activity with the youth, “Will there be an adult there?”

  44. re 37

    Your version of meetings and councils sounds depressing. Where is the time for other more important things like a family or actually doing service?

    And, I have to wonder what in the world is there for the “priesthood” to really discuss or meet about on a weekly basis that is so different or unique that the meeting wouldn’t benefit from a RS president’s presence. In my experience there is nothing, but after reading your response, I now realize I have been doing it all wrong.

    To the larger point, councils work best when they have accurate, real time information and people willing to accept assignments. Councils exist to serve other members and nonmembers in one form or another. What’s the problem with bringing in fresh voices and different perspectives? Holding the priesthood does not mean we are the exlcusive agents of service or wisdom for a ward’s needs. One thing we don’t need are additional meetings/councils that take time away from families and opportunities to go out and provide service.

  45. Kevinf,
    I don’t think the courage applies to solving problems with everyone’s input. I think courage comes into play with the following: (This is only my idea of how leadership should be in an imperfect world and having never seen a good meeting)

    There are people in a ward that come to church once or twice a month. Maybe they struggle with some a commandment or two, but mostly try to live the gospel. Maybe we call them luke warm. Following the organization of the priesthood, what we should do is give a specific assignment to their home teachers. Then the big step, which is almost always missing…return and report. I’ve tried this on my own, (not through a council) and it sometimes takes several follow-ups before the person does something. But when this happens in a council, it goes to the EQ Pres to assign to the HTers. Then the next week, we follow up with the EQ Pres, who says “I told them to do it, I haven’t heard back.” The issue then gets dropped and the council forgets about it. Then we move on to the neediest members because they make themselves known and the leaders can talk about them with no preparation, or we talk about activities, because who can’t provide input on an activity?

    What I think should happen is we get serious about the return and report. And if the leaders come unprepared to do that, the meeting is over. But usually we let them off the hook by talking about other things. And if the family we’re concerned about is really in need, the Bishop takes care of it himself and the council and the HTers are by-passed. So I think the courage is to let things NOT happen until people learn what it takes to make things happen.

    I know there are great people that do a lot of things and this doesn’t happen all the time. But it seems to be the pattern most recognizable in the councils I’ve served on.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to write so much on this topic, but I’d really like to get others input. It seems from other comments mine is not a unique case. But some of you seem to have better success.

  46. Ugly Mahana says:

    One quick aside on the term ‘auxiliary’. What does this word mean? Does it mean second place, tool, or is it akin to the words “help meet”? I have often heard leaders I respect explain that “help meet” means something like necessary partner not anything demeaning. I think the word auxiliary is the same. The auxiliaries are not useless appendages to the Priesthood. They are the very vehicles of Priesthood to those they serve. And Priesthood is the power of God, the ordinances thereof being the way that godliness is manifest, NOT some fancy divine boy’s club. So, if the purpose of the auxiliaries is to act in God’s name for those whom they serve, and the purpose of the priesthood is to act in God’s name for all whom they serve, why should there be an exclusive, boy’s only meeting?

  47. Kristine says:

    As Laurel Ulrich has pointed out, the priesthood quorums are “appendages” to have strikingly similar meanings.

  48. Kristine says:

    oops–that should have been “quorums are “appendages’ and ‘appendage’ and ‘auxiliary’ have strikingly similar meanings.”

  49. re: 46

    As a member of the fancy divine boy’s club, I could not agree more with your comments. Besides, the boy’s club meetings are too often boring and accomplish little w/o “auxillary” input and follow through. Boy’s club councils give rise to the old joke: What is a camel? A horse designed by a committee/council.

  50. Regarding #12, I appreciate your comments. May I just share that for me the numbers have nothing to do with being equally heard and respected. In certain groups of men I would be assured I would be heard equally and respected even if I was the only woman there. I have seen my fair share of outright intimidating and controlling behaviors in some locations, it didn’t seem to matter how many women were there.
    I’ve had several wonderful experiences participating in counsels but I have also seen some situations that were deeply concerning. Thought I would share some specific examples of just 3 of my experiences.
    I hope by sharing it is productive b/c it encourages insights and stimulating dialogue, increased awareness of differing perspectives, with a goal to encourage improvements.
    #1 My first experience
    with a council meeting was as a young,very shy, mom with a medical background. I initially didn’t know why I was asked to participate but later found out it was because of alerting a ward member in a private conversation to some lethal dangers I had researched (and colleagues had researched and published) regarding a popular medical drug.

    (It bothered me that I was not told this but left to figure it out.) I was the ward RS secreetary. There were 8-9 men there and the RSP and one RS counselor. The women were sitting in the back corner of the room. I felt very uncomfortable hearing about families personal problems the whole thing was so foreign to me, no one I knew had ever given me any insight into what these meetings were like or what their purpose was.

    Then in a powerful and intimidating way the bishop stood and read a long letter from a doctor who extolled supposed benefit after benefit of these drugs including “saving marriages”. You know when you are being dealt with in a “We’re putting you in your place” kind of tone and no additional comments are welcome. At the end of the meeting there is some hand shaking and patting on the back kind of attitude, but just among the men.

    Finally drug insert warnings have vindicated my original cautions. I have forgiven the situation. I apparently was put on a ‘no-prayer, no public speaking’ suspension (without being told) and the whole Presidency was released a short time later and all were asked to talk but me.

    However being cursed/or blessed with being ahead of my time (the incident occured in the 80’s) I have since felt it necessary to either remain silent and/or jump through a lot of hoops to get along.

    Second Experience:

    I have been in a ward situation where many unusual things went on. My husband and I were Activities Committee Co-chair’s. The invitation to attend ward council was always given just to him only. I have to say that during the first 8 months or so I didn’t really give it a second thought, I was just glad to have the extra time to get things done at home.
    About the 8 month point it was my turn to present an activity idea, I started asking my husband about attending ward council, he said several times, “I think it is best you don’t come.” I believe he was being protective of me (he was sure the bishop didn’t want me there) in a location/situation where many atypical practices (women rarely bore testimonies, Christ wasn’t mentioned much) occurred in a surprisingly young, but very well-to-do ward.
    I definetly saw overbearing, social controlling, and arbitrary use of power going on in this ward and the checks and balances ‘counsel members’ seemed to be either participating in a popularity contest, sucked in by misinformation, silent (intimidated?)women, or were asleep at the wheel.

    Third experience:
    I have since been invited 3-4 times to attend stake council meetings and felt that this atmosphere was very respectful of women and productive (my calling was a regional one, which reported to the stake).

    Another hope is that my experience will open up the eyes of any young women out there who are as green as I once was, as to what kind of things can go on.

  51. I am currently serving as an RS pres. I am invited to PEC but not “obligated” to come. PEC is on weeks without welfare/ward coucil. This is my only experience, so I am curious to hear how other councils are run and what the exclusively “priesthood” business is.

    Is my being there helpful/is this meeting helpful to me? We do the following:

    –Review new move ins/outs (same as at all the other meetings). Yes, that’s helpful so I know who to visit/welcom/assigned VTers. I suppose the bishop could hold this until ward council, but it is info I need as much as anyone.

    –Missionary report (same as at other meetings). Yep, that is helpful. We usually talk about less active/part member families the missionaries are working with. We have a fairly transient ward, so the EQ and HP and I all make requests that the ward/full time missionaries verify various addresses, etc. and it is useful for me to be there during this “return and report”

    –Home teaching discussion. Our bishop has turned this into a hometeaching-visiting teaching discussion. We often talk about families that are not really “needy” in a welfare sense but haven’t been getting visits or are on the margins. I often bring names of people to ask the HP leader who has been in the ward for forever about. I feel less comfortable bringing that up at ward council lest it sound “gossipy.”

    –I have never been at a PEC where they talk about scouting. Maybe they do that on the Sundays I can’t make it :)

    So I am curious to hear very specifically about what the things that other wards talk about in PEC where I wouldn’t need the info or where I couldn’t be helpful.

    “This committee meets weekly under the direction of the bishop to consider ward priesthood programs, including temple and family history, missionary, welfare, home teaching, and member activation”

    Most of the things listed here are things that our ward tends to discuss in ward coucil (e.g., temple work and missionary work have both been specific focus topics). arily think only involve preisthood members. I don’t find that inappropriate. Obviously, welfare issues are ones discussed with the RS was well. So home teaching is it–and as I said, we usually talk about that in conjunction with VTing. So I’m at a loss for how this is “lazy priesthood leadership.”


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