The Ballard of Melvin Russell

Is it just me, or has Elder Ballard really been on a roll lately?

For instance, his 2004 talk, “O Be Wise“, contains some of the best advice about church service that we’ve heard in a long time. It covers topics like guilt and excessive focus on church callings or programs. Some of the key quotes include:

Occasionally we find some who become so energetic in their Church service that their lives become unbalanced. They start believing that the programs they administer are more important than the people they serve. They complicate their service with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy. They refuse to delegate or to allow others to grow in their respective responsibilities.

First, focus on people and principles—not on programs. One of the most important things we do through the gospel of Jesus Christ is to build people. Properly serving others requires effort to understand them as individuals—their personalities, their strengths, their concerns, their hopes and dreams—so that the correct help and support can be provided. Frankly, it’s much easier to just manage programs than it is to understand and truly serve people. The primary purpose of Church leadership meetings should be to discuss how to minister to people. Most routine information and coordination can now be handled through phone calls, e-mails, or regular mail so that agendas for council meetings and presidency meetings can focus on needs of the people.

Our goal should always be to use the programs of the Church as a means to lift, encourage, assist, teach, love, and perfect people. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). Programs are tools. Their management and staffing must not take priority over the needs of the people they are designed to bless and to serve.

Fourth, eliminate guilt. I hope it goes without saying that guilt is not a proper motivational technique for leaders and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must always motivate through love and sincere appreciation, not by creating guilt. I like the thought “Catch others doing something right.”

Still there are those who experience some feelings of guilt as a consequence of their service in the Church. These feelings can come when our time and attention are being torn between competing demands and priorities. As mortals, we simply cannot do everything at once. Therefore we must do all things “in wisdom and order” (Mosiah 4:27). Often that will mean temporarily postponing attention to one priority in order to take care of another. Sometimes family demands will require your full attention. Other times professional responsibilities will come first. And there will be times when Church callings will come first. Good balance comes in doing things in a timely way and in not procrastinating our preparation or waiting to fulfill our responsibilities until the last minute.

Fifth, we need to thoughtfully allocate our resources of time, income, and energy. I would like to let you in on a little secret. Some of you have already learned it. If you haven’t, it’s time you knew. No matter what your family needs are or your responsibilities in the Church, there is no such thing as “done.” There will always be more we can do. There is always another family matter that needs attention, another lesson to prepare, another interview to conduct, another meeting to attend. We just need to be wise in protecting our health and in following the counsel that President Hinckley has given often to just do the best that we can.

The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life.

I love it: Eliminate guilt. People, not programs. And the recognition that we should guard against excessive zeal.

Another recent talk, Daughters of God, is also a trove of great discussion.

There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. Many are able to be “full-time moms,” at least during the most formative years of their children’s lives, and many others would like to be. Some may have to work part-or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else.

We need to remember that the full commitment of motherhood and of putting children first can be difficult. Through my own four-generation experience in our family, and through discussions with mothers of young children throughout the Church, I know something of a mother’s emotions that accompany her commitment to be at home with young children. There are moments of great joy and incredible fulfillment, but there are also moments of a sense of inadequacy, monotony, and frustration. Mothers may feel they receive little or no appreciation for the choice they have made. Sometimes even husbands seem to have no idea of the demands upon their wives.

Sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.

What more can a husband do to support his wife, the mother of their children? First, show extra appreciation and give more validation for what your wife does every day. Notice things and say thank you—often. Schedule some evenings together, just the two of you. Second, have a regular time to talk with your wife about each child’s needs and what you can do to help. Third, give your wife a “day away” now and then. Just take over the household and give your wife a break from her daily responsibilities. Taking over for a while will greatly enhance your appreciation of what your wife does. You may do a lot of lifting, twisting, and bending! Fourth, come home from work and take an active role with your family. Don’t put work, friends, or sports ahead of listening to, playing with, and teaching your children.

There are many things the Church offers to mothers and families, but for my purpose today may I suggest that the bishopric and the ward council members be especially watchful and considerate of the time and resource demands on young mothers and their families. Know them and be wise in what you ask them to do at this time in their lives. Alma’s counsel to his son Helaman applies to us today: “Behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

Wow. There is no one right way to be a mom. Working moms are okay. Women should cultivate their own interests and talents. Husbands should help around the house, and should give wives days off. Church leaders should be careful not to demand too much from young moms. Excellent advice, again — advice which, if taken, would make day-to-day life happier and more bearable for many church members, particularly women.

I also really liked some of the discussion from Elder Ballard’s book, Counseling in our Councils. For instance, it encourages ward leaders to counsel with women in the ward, not just other male leaders.

Sure, I’ve had my concerns in the past with some of Elder Ballard’s talks. But recently, I’m finding that I’m looking forward to his talks more and more with each conference. (The internet talk in this month’s Ensign is another good one; the gospel-sharing home talk was also very good, and so on.)

About the only complaint I have left is that, unlike the rest of the General Authorities, Elder Ballard isn’t a lawyer.

But hey, I guess nobody’s perfect.


  1. I love the ideas in the first talk – balance and knowing yourself. Those are such key principles to understanding the gospel and having a sense of peace.

    Thanks for the reminders.

  2. It’s interesting how some of this counsel plays out in real life. For example, mothers of children still living at home in our temple district are not permitted to be ordinance workers. There is no such restriction on the fathers of the same children. I realize there is a much greater need for men to be temple workers (what with the p-word and all) but this strikes me as odd. For many faithful women, serving in this kind of capacity could be very rejuvenating. Yet somehow “be careful of what you ask of young mothers” gets turned into “young mothers are not permitted to…”

  3. Cynthia L. says:

    This is great, thanks. You’ve helped me recall how uplifted and validated I felt after hearing each of these talks.

    The first was so sustaining for me in terms of my calling. I’ve always had a stereotypically male approach to callings–no frills. I was feeling a bit down about my service in my current calling, Activity Days, after a stake training where my counterparts in the other wards went on and on about all these elaborate things they do. One sewed a “Brownie”-like vest for each girl, which she then accessorized with beads and crafty items to recognize each Faith in God goal completed. And so on, for each leader. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I know that I’m being very careful to tailor things to what they want and need (they come right after school and they want to burn off some energy and just be with each other–so I literally let them run several laps around the building each day before we begin–they love it, why would I force them to sit down and do fine motor skill stuff??). It was so nice to get Elder Ballard’s reassurance that frills != quality.

    And his talk about mothers was like reaching out from the TV and giving me a big hug. Much needed. Loved it.

  4. Elder Ballard is attending our stake conference next month. I’m really looking forward to it.

  5. Both these talks hit on very important, often overlooked topics. The first one really struck a chord with me. My grandpa is one of 9 children. His parents were very active, overly so it seems. They were so busy with callings that the kids were often overlooked. My grandpa could disappear in the mountains for days at a time with no notice. When he had his own family, he made a point to put family, not church first, since in his experience, church came between families. He was never active as an adult and it took me a long time to discover the reason. Recently a short “life history” written by his mother was found. It was 3 typed pages. The first spoke of her childhood and the calling in the church her parents had. There was a short paragraph naming each child. The remaining 2 pages gave every single church calling she had ever had and named every councilor or president she had ever served with.
    Many things became clear to me. The balance Elder Ballard talks about was sorely lacking in their family. She felt it more important, in writing her life story, to speak of playing piano in primary than experiences she had with her family. This has made me think hard about service and callings and how they fit in with taking care of your family. And it makes sense to me why my grandpa, a very spiritual but not church going man, felt it so important to spend that extra energy focused on his family. The excerpts from this talk spoke of it perfectly, how a balance can and should be reached. Sometimes we just need to step back and make sure our own world is taken care of. God will understand I think. Thanks for a great post!

  6. I’ve always had a stereotypically male approach to callings–no frills.

    Cynthia, me too. Your description of the Brownie vest with beads and crafts for each goal brought back exasperating memories of Relief Society teachers who brought multiple kinds of homemade cookies to lessons–or even, in the most over-the-top case, hand-embroidered samplers of scriptures for each attendee.

    I served in the nursery for a long time, and it was always fascinating to watch new couples come and go. The women in particular often felt a need to prove they were magnifying their callings by throwing themselves into overturning much of what the previous woman had done, especially in terms of re-doing the bulletin board, introducing complicated crafts, making lots of doo-hickeys. Bleach.

  7. “The women in particular often felt a need to prove they were magnifying their callings by throwing themselves into overturning much of what the previous woman had done, especially in terms of re-doing the bulletin board, introducing complicated crafts, making lots of doo-hickeys. Bleach.”

    I agree, Eve. The best response to such silly craftiness is to douse all of those silly crafty projects with bleach.


  8. Wow, SSA. That life story is terrible — it’s a great illustration of what not to do.

  9. Mark B. says:

    As all readers of Mad Magazine would know, that word should be BLECCH.

  10. Cynthia L. says:

    I should add that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a frilly approach. If the sister at the Activity Day training felt that the vests and whatnot were really what her girls needed, fine. Elder Ballard’s talk just helped reassure me that my approach wasn’t necessarily wrong, either.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    From the Daughters Of God talk given in April conference, we read the following:

    One mother told me of a time that her children had 29 scheduled commitments every week: music lessons, Scouts,…

    Does anybody know of any mother who has cut back on scouts or music lessons?

  12. re: #2 In both temple districts where my wife and I have worked in the temple, neither men nor women with children under 18 are allowed to serve. I think the most important place to give young moms a pass is nursery callings–get the dads and the older women in there, no one should have to deal with toddlers seven days a week.

  13. Kaimi, I’ve found both bleach and blecch very useful in purifying the daughters of Levi, that they may offer a (non-frilly) offering unto the Lord in righteousness. ;)

  14. molly bennion says:

    Fonda AlaMode, are you out there? I think my favorite of your lesson spoofs was the RS teacher who painted the room a color to match the mood of her lesson.

  15. “Does anybody know of any mother who has cut back on scouts or music lessons?”

    My wife and I did, dramatically – and it’s been one of the best things we ever did.

  16. Just out of curiosity, what is the concern with Elder Ballard’s talk in 1999? I only browsed it as my 1 year old is climbing over me (giving wife the day off).

  17. Hans, given the nature of discussions that bring up the “concern” about that talk, it probably is better to not risk derailing this thread and turning into another slugfest. If you’ve followed recent discussions, read it more slowly and I’m sure you’ll see what the “concern” is for some people. Hopefully, this thread can stay focused on the other talks.

  18. Researcher says:

    We skipped putting four kids in baseball, t-ball, or softball this year and don’t know how we ever found the time for it in previous years. Of course, we added piano lessons but (for now) we have a wonderful teacher who comes to our home since it’s four lessons in a row.

    We are doing swimming lessons (I should say “I” since I’m the mother and doing all the driving). That was not something I was willing to cut out since knowing how to swim could save your life, while knowing how to play baseball might not have the same impact in an emergency.

    You’ve got to pick your battles.

  19. The only problem I have with the “O Be Wise” talk is that it can be construed as permission to pretty much ignore your calling and just concetrate on yourself and your family. Mark Brown’s question is important: does anyone cut down on the social extra curricular activities as well or just church related ones? We use to have the BP and counselors, YM, YW, FHC, Scouts/Activity Days and SA on Wenesdays in our branch. Now I am the only one there most of the time in my calling in the FHC. Many of the youth come from strong homes and can probably get by without YM/YW Mutual, but some are the only members or active members in their home and need that extra support. I know it is not my place to judge those leaders but my heart breaks for those who fall away because no one cares enough to make an effort to keep them.

  20. Jennifer in GA says:

    Mark Brown’s question is important: does anyone cut down on the social extra curricular activities as well or just church related ones?

    Several years ago, I worked with a friend in several different capacities; we were co-workers, and also in an auxilary presidency together. She was the type of person who *always* had ten irons in the fire at any given time.

    Her family was going through a rough patch for about a year and half. After awhile she started missing a lot of stuff- coming in late to work, calling on Sunday morning saying she wouldn’t be there, missing Wednesday night activities, etc.

    Eventually, I had to say something, because I was shouldering her share of the work in addition to my own. Since we were also good friends, I felt comfortable pointing out that she and her family had so many obligations that anyone would be stressed out and tired all the time. She told me that she was missing so much because she was putting her family first, and isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

    Her excuse was that she wanted her three kids to develop their talents and explore their interests, and she could *never* take them out of soccer, swimming, baseball, chorus, drama club, or band. Nor could she deny them the chance to be with their friends at birthday parties, sleepovers, etc. She also said that she just couldn’t give up her book club, work, volunteering at a women’s shelter, or Girl’s Night Out.

    But I always found it odd that she had no problem letting them sleep in Sunday mornings, and skip primary, scouts, Activity Night, and YW.

  21. I needed to be reminded of Elder Ballard’s talks – thanks!

    I went to book club earlier this week and discussed cliques/labels/etc as part of the book we had read. It turned into a “what’s wrong with working mothers” discussion (apparently we’re insecure, defensive, quick to take offense and a small minority in my ward.) It wasn’t fun to listen to – and I was surprised that the women who were supposed to be supportive RS sisters were spouting off very archaic attitudes. (and I was surprised it was largely the new mothers in their young 20’s doing the most of the talking).

    I was starting to feel like an anomaly who needed to keep my mouth shut. I don’t think I need to keep my mouth shut after all!!

  22. Don’t forget Elder Ballard’s April 2007 talk on the Bible. My husband and I distributed copies at a “Mormon Answers” night in response to a Godmakers showing. This conference talk shows people of all faith (including LDS!) how much we (should) love the Bible. I think Elder Ballard implied that we may have misstepped in emphasizing the Book of Mormon so much: “We tend to love the scriptures that we spend time with. We may need to balance our study in order to love and understand all scripture.”

  23. Great talks! Good to read them again. Balance is hard to achieve. It’s nice to hear that there are so many ways to do it right.

  24. You’re exactly right, Kaimi. These, along with most of Elder Oaks’ “Good, Better, Best” talk last October were gems….funny how they were probably some of the most practical, too.

  25. “O Be Wise“ is my favourite ever conference talk. I downloaded it and listened to it 12 times on my morning commute. I used it for training in our presidency meeting. The great thing about that talk is that many of the things he mentioned we had started doing already. It felt validating. We had even been discussing many of his points on Our Thoughts in the weeks before he gave it.

  26. decline 2 state says:

    @2 – don’t look this gift horse in the mouth!

    imagine if there was no restriction. (bishoprics are also prohibited from serving as ordinance workers.) they would be calling you and me and asking us to shuffle our kids off somewhere so we could fullfil our 6-hour temple shifts (plus travel time, it’s a whole day!!). they would be asking our husbands to take time off work or otherwise “support us in this important duty.” and a double helping of guilt for teh working moms.

    i know this bcuz it’s happening with the volunteer temple cafeteria helpers where we live. full-time workers dont’ want to take a day off , so it falls to us SAHMs. and the retirees.

    so, count your blessings sweetie. if it were just a “don’t ask the young mothers to do too much” guideline it would be forgotten as quickly as the Word of Wisdom guideline to eat meat sparingly. what’s the last veggie dish you had at a ward party?

  27. Kaimi,

    With no offense meant, and at the risk of oversimplification, isn’t your post unintentional proof that most of us are only willing to follow prophetic counsel we already believe, and ignore or get angry at the prophetic counsel that runs counter to what we already believe? Given this formulation, could Ballard ever tell us something we didn’t already know/believe?

  28. “most of us are only willing to follow prophetic counsel we already believe, and ignore or get angry at the prophetic counsel that runs counter to what we already believe”

    That sounds accurate enough to me. Or, as Simon and Garfunkel put it, A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

    So yep, I completely agree with that sentence. And I’m paying no attention at all to the rest of your comment. :)

  29. Matt Rasmussen says:

    I lover Elder Ballard’s talks and books. “O Be Wise” should be included in the beginning of all manuals.

  30. Our family life got over scheduled and this mama started hiding in her bedroom and crying. It was amazing how quickly life improved after we cut out karate for the boys and a singing group I was in. I think our Mormon culture has gotten to a place where accomplished kids = a righteous family.

  31. “I think our Mormon culture has gotten to a place where accomplished kids = a righteous family.”

    I think that’s the outside society in which we live – and not succumbing (or cutting back) is one aspect of living in the world but not of the world.

  32. hawkgrrrl says:

    Thanks for these recaps. This is a great reminder. I’m ready to join the Ballard fan club (plus he’s the one encouraging us to blog). Are there tee shirts and membership dues?

  33. Elder Ballard on caffeine

    I thought this was an interesting exchange between
    Elder Ballard and Mike Schneider of Bloomberg TV
    (Night Watch/18 April, 2008)

    = = = = =

    Mike Schneider: Some of the church teachings which are fairly well-known: no alcohol?

    Elder Ballard: Mm..hmm.

    Mike Schneider: No caffeine – is that correct?

    Elder Ballard: Well . . . uh . . . not . . . I don’t . . . caffeine’s not mentioned in what we call the Word of Wisdom.

    Mike Schneider: Is it discouraged?

    Elder Ballard: Well, what the principle is, Mike, is don’t take anything into your body that has a tendency to hurt it.

    = = = = =

    (You know – like high fructose corn syrup, etc. )

  34. Aaron Brown says:

    “Just take over the household and give your wife a break from her daily responsibilities.”

    I don’t recall Elder Ballard saying “Thus saith the Lord” before this statement, so I see no reason to accept it as God’s will. And has Elder Ballard’s talk been canonized? No? Well, then it obviously is not binding. Lest my comments are unclear, let me reiterate that Elder Ballard’s statement here is NOT DOCTRINAL!!! Elder Ballard is not infallible. He is only a prophet when acting as such. And he clearly can’t be acting as one if a literal application of his words will cut down on my X-Box time.

    I encourage you all to pray for spiritual confirmation that Elder Ballard’s words here are not to be heeded.


  35. AB,

    I know of no reason to believe that taking over the household and playing X-Box are mutually exclusive activities.

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