Teaching Lesson 6, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains” p.2

See part 1 here.

In this post I’ll highlight a few excerpts from chapter six, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains,”  and offer some suggested questions for discussion. As the manual’s introduction suggests, “You could also develop your own questions especially for those you are teaching” (vi). There’s plenty here and more to fill up the time. If your class is anything like mine much of the discussion will actually come from the seats in answers to good questions.

I’m interested to hear your feedback on how this lesson is structured and on the content itself. You’ll notice most of the questions lead into the next quote or talking point but I tried to keep the overall structure flexible enough to allow for skipping around if class members bring up points from later in the lesson. How did your teachers share this lesson? Also feel free to suggest your own favorite scriptures/anecdotes/quotes for use in this lesson. 


Teachers might begin with the opening section, “From the Life of George Albert Smith,” which quotes from Smith’s General Conference remarks of October 1945. He began his public ministry as prophet by calling attention to his weaknesses:

“I thank you for the confidence that has been manifested, my brothers and sisters, in hoping that I may succeed, and promising as some of you have, that you will help me to succeed, because I am only a man, one of the humblest among you, but I have been called to this service—and I would not be here if I did not know I had been called—by the authority of our Heavenly Father.”

“I will need the help of every man and every woman and every child, not for my blessing, but for your blessing, and for the blessing of the children of men wherever they may be. That is not my responsibility, that is our responsibility” (TPC:GAS, 57, emphasis in original).

Possible Discussion Questions, Scriptures, Sources:

p. 57: “I am only a man… (first paragraph)

  • What could a prophet mean by such a statement?
  • Acts 14:15. Joseph Smith quoted this verse on multiple occasions. For instance: “I was this morning introduced to a man from the east, after hearing my name he replied remarked that I was nothing but a man: indicating by this expression that he had supposed that a person <to> who<m> the Lord should see fit to reveal his will, must be something more than a man, he seems to have forgotten the saying that fell from the lips of St. James, that Elias was a man of like passions like unto us, yet he had such power with God…” (From the Joseph Smith Papers; Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds. Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839 [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008],85, or online with image here).
p. 63: “The Presidency of the Church…are the representatives of our Heavenly Father…are men with human frailties…” (third paragraph)
  • See also: “Although prophets are men with human frailties, they are called of God to teach and lead His people,” from Chapter 45: “Joseph Smith’s Feelings about His Prophetic Mission,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 517–27.
  • Point out that the next paragraph cautions against “words of criticism or of unkindness” against leaders. This could pertain to local leaders, as well.
  • Exodus 18:13-24. Moses receives counsel from his father-in-law. Was Jethro criticizing Moses in these verses? What does this account suggest in regards to how we might interact with our own leadership?

p. 57: “I will need the help of every…” (second paragraph)

  • What sorts of things does prophet need help with? How about GAS in particular?
  • Go to p. xxxvi, “Reflections on Life at Age 80.”
    Read: “In these eighty years…” to end of page. May be an appropriate time to briefly discuss some of the emotional difficulties Smith dealt with. What does this tell us about those in whom God places his trust, including local leaders? ourselves?

p. 57-8: “In 1946…carry your part of the work.” (last paragraph)

  • Any interesting stories about the physical ritual of sustaining General Authorities?
  • What insights do we gain by thinking about the actual way this ritual is carried out? (Over satellite, for instance.)
  • We also sustain the Relief Society presidency and other auxiliaries during Conference. Discuss sustaining of local women and men leadership in the ward and stake.

p. 59-60: “From the time…enrich mankind. (last paragraph on the page)

  • This quote pertains to the type of teachings we might expect from prophets.
  • instruction tending to happiness…” What sort of instructions would tend specifically to happiness?
  • ennoble and enrich mankind…” These are interesting descriptors. Examples of ennobling and enriching truths?
  • What are some recent examples of things our prophets have discussed in GC, any particular talks that have struck you, or that ennoble and enrich? Any examples from local leaders or sacrament meeting talks by other members?

p. 116: “I believe in you, my brothers and sisters…we live a godly life.” (last paragraph)

  • Not only did George Albert Smith feel the need to be sustained by members of the Church, he also sought to sustain the membership of the Church, as this quote indicates. He taught that each member “is entitled to the same inspiration.”
  • 1 Nephi 16:20-25. Lehi murmurs; Nephi collaborates with him in seeking a solution.
  • p. 1, Read from Smith’s “Personal Creed”: “I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.” How does this relate to his view that everyone is entitled to their own inspiration? How might it affect the way we might act as local leaders, parents, friends?
Read excerpt from 1945 “Ward Teacher’s Message,” Improvement Era (June 1945), 354:
“NO Latter-day Saint is compelled to sustain the General Authorities of the Church. …However, there is the principle of honor involved in the member’s choice. When a person raises his hand to sustain Church leaders as “prophets, seers, and revelators,” it is the same as a promise and a covenant to follow their leadership and to abide by their counsel as the living oracles of God. …When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done” (Reprinted in “A 1945 Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19:1 (Spring 1986), 35-6.
Background: Dr. J. Raymond Cope was a leader of the First Unitarian Society in Salt Lake City at the time. He became concerned when this lesson was brought to his attention. He wrote a letter to President George Albert Smith, politely but firmly stating such a message was “doing inestimable harm to many who have no other reason to question the integrity of the Church leaders… this cannot be the position of the true leaders” (see his letter here, original citations in Dialogue). Within a month, President Smith responded.

Read and discuss President Smith’s response:

The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts” (see the full letter here, here, or in Dialogue).

p. 57, Return to opening excerpt, “I thank you for the confidence that has been manifested…”
  • Conclude: Sustaining is a group effort. We sustain leaders, they sustain us, we sustain one another.


One final point, just because I found it moving: As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin delivered his conference address in October 2007 he began to shake. His family attributed the shaking to his growing weakness due to age. At the 8 minute mark of the video Elder Russel M. Nelson joined him at his side to literally sustain Elder Wirthlin as he completed his address about the two great commandments, loving God and loving others. Years earlier, Elder Wirthlin had served as a counselor to Elder Nelson in a Stake Presidency. Probably one of the most touching GC moments of all time. (h/t oneclimb.com, and Sonny.)


  1. h/t to aquinas for suggesting the material from the intro and first chapter of the GAS manual.

    Let’s not turn this into a debate about whether use of the GAS letter in a church lesson offends the Lord, please. Add your fav stories, scriptures, references here!

  2. David M. Morris says:

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the lesson, I wish I had them last week. I have just watched the talk again, it really is a touching moment when Elder Nelson assists – the message is very apt and touching also.

  3. All I have to say is this looks like a fantastic lesson plan, and I would feel SO pleased to sustain you as a teacher in my ward.

  4. #3 – Amen to what Clean Cut said. Wonderful lesson outline. There is so much in that lesson that is easy to miss if the focus becomes the formulaic “never question leaders” tripe some promote.

    The talk by Elder Wirthlin is my favorite GC moment of my entire life. I loved his talk, but Elder Nelson’s quiet support moved me in a way that was indescribable. Truly, it was an example of the pure love of Christ in action. Thank you for reminding me of it again.

  5. We as humans in a society built on respect for authority find it hard if not impossable to question authority. I beleive this is because we do not want to take the drivers wheel on our own because we lack the knowledge or experience and courge. How we overcome this is what life is all about but taking the first step can be your salvation. God requires us to question and know for our own what is right and wrong. My first experience with this is when I was 30. My son had been taken to the hospital very sick with what turned out to be menengites. The doctor and hospital said it was the flu. Most people put in this situation in a rural area have there childern taken from them. I had taken premed in college and was aware of the hospitals reputation. I knew somthing was wrong and knew the signs of menegites. I got in there face and had him moved to a lager hospital and he survived with good doctors and a blessing or two. I have had the same challenges in the church where we are not incourged to question ATHORITY thus I have made errors on the behalf of other. I reminded that this site is by common concent. This was not just started in the D&C. The founding fathers when after writting the Constitution knew that they needed common concent to make it passable. They changed it and voted a number of times. They almost achived this but 3 did not sustain and it almost stopped the ratificatican. The idea of common concent was not invented with them, it has been a religious requirement from the beginning of time for the order in the Lords kingdom. We are ONE is acomplished in this way. If we do not abide by the prompting of the Holy Ghost and learn all we can and stand prepared instead of waisting our time then we leave ourselves open to being deceived or worse not aware or indefferent. Do not think the Lord to make things work for you if your not willing to be prepared by putting in the effort. If you do this you will surly understand common concent and will be aware of authority and who is leading on a TRUE course. Sustaining or not is the question. The Lord will make it known to you as he did for me and my wife what is true but being prepared was my responsibilty.

  6. Thank you for posting about this lesson, Blair. Great stuff.

    And also thank you for including the Elder Wirthlin talk. I just read on Wikipedia that Elder Wirthlin was a counselor to Elder Nelson in a stake presidency from 1964 to 1971. Their history of service together, and to each other, made it all the more touching.

  7. In teaching this lesson last week I referred to the Conspiracy of Nauvoo juxtaposing Dennison Harris and Robert Scott’s actions on behalf of the Prophet Joseph compared to the lack of support displayed by others who considered him a fallen prophet. Of great worth was the article in the Contributor, Vol. V. pp. 251-260, which also showed Joseph’s emotional response when he realized the kind of support he didn’t have within the church during the last spring of his life.

  8. Wow, Sonny, that’s an excellent additional tidbit!

  9. A little off the subject, but FYI. Elaine Pagels has written an excellent book on the book of Revelations in the NT, called Revelations. Basically it is a history of the early Church from about 50 AD through and beyond the Council at Nicaea. I am about half way through the book. She talks about the “prophets” and the “apostles” in opposition, the spirit driven and the organization driven parts of the early Church. It seems to inform the present day in the LDS Church.

  10. Relative to “sustaining” there have been times where I have declined to sustain people in ward/stake positions. I did not oppose (since I lack eternal perspective) but I could not do it for one reason or another. I suppose though that it is important to remember that sometimes people are given callings to improve themselves as much as to help improve others. I know this lesson is about something different, but I was reminded of this because there was a very large period of time where I was afraid to not sustain anyone. Then I realized they ask for a reason, and I will not lie, so I better just keep my hand down.

  11. Regarding “I am only a man” the following sermon by Joseph Smith is interesting and relevant. (May 21, 1843)

    Brethren I am not a very Pieus man. I do not wish to be a great deal better than any body else. If a Prophet was so much better that any body else was he would inherit a glory far beyond what any one else would inherit and behold he would be alone, for who would be his company in heaven. for If I should condescend to be so righteous as the brethren would wish me to be, lo I should be taken from your midst and be translated as was Elijah. Righteousness is not that which men esteem holiness. That which the world call righteousness I have not any regard for. To be righteous is to be just and merciful. If a man fails in kindness justice and mercy he will be damed for many will say in that day Lord, have we not prophecie in thy name and in thy name done many wonderful works but he will say unto them ye workers of iniquity &c

  12. Kristine says:

    “pieus” ftw

  13. I think he’s referring to the color. Doesn’t like it much, himself.

  14. The title of the lesson is interesting. “Sustaining those whom the Lord sustains”. The Lord does not “obey” the leaders he sustains. But he does support them. He helps them accomplish their purpose. “Sustaining” has almost nothing to do with obeying and a lot to do with doing all we can to assist in accomplishing the Lord’s purposes. Lessons which equate sustaining with obeying are missing the point.

  15. Great observation, Gary.

  16. #14 – Amen. Well said.

  17. Gary (#14), I appreciate that observation as well. Thanks..

  18. Two questions asked by the teacher last week left a bad taste in my mouth. I tried to diffuse and extinguish them quickly.

    Q. “What does it mean to “sustain” your leaders.”(OK, this question in and of itself isn’t the problem. With was other class members equating “sustain” with “obey mindlessly.”)
    A. “For me, to sustain my leaders means to 1.) pray for them, and 2.) prayerfully consider their words to see whether or not what they’re saying applies to my life or not. 3.) Trying very hard to see if any resistance I may have to what their saying comes from my own obstinance or because what they’re saying simply doesn’t apply to me.

    Q. “We all know that the minute someone disagrees with a church leader, or criticizes anything they might do, that they are beginning to apostatize. What do you in that instant, when those negative and criticizing thoughts enter your head or when you hear anyone else expressing the same?”
    A. “For me, it has been most helpful to have charity for church leaders who have a difficult job. I neither expect inerrancy from them, nor do I encourage others to do so either. Just like I make mistakes at church in my calling, and I hope others are charitable to me, I try and be charitable to my church leaders as they learn how to serve better as well.”

    Apparently, my comments caused quite a stir…

  19. #18, your teacher really said that the minute someone starts to question leaders they are essentially an apostate? That is absolutely ridiculous!

  20. Fwiw:

    “Living According to the Dictates of Our Own Consciences Is NOT Rebellion”


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