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Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Read, Understand, and Follow": The New LDS Handbooks and the Worldwide Training Broadcast

Today I attended a worldwide satellite broadcast of a training session from the leadership of the Church to help local leaders understand the changes in the new General Handbook of Directions (volumes I and II) that guide the local operations of wards and branches in the Church. A very nicely done two-hour session that included an interesting role playing scenario with a model ward council (the bishop was terrific--sign him up for Hollywood!), a panel discussion, and some inspiring talks to give overviews and some important details.

The most important changes built into the new manuals are increased reliance on ward councils to carry out the mission of the Church. Welfare committee meetings are now eliminated, being built into the operation of the ward council (or branch council). The manuals aim to decrease the burden on bishops, to be more focused on the needs of individuals and families, and to add a little more flexibility in a few areas.

President Monson pointed out that so many of the problems the First Presidency has to deal with arise from mistakes made by local leaders who failed to follow the Handbook. He urged leaders to "read, understand, and follow."

President Monson also observed that failure to read, understand, and follow the directions from the Church has led to numerous unauthorized changes in practices and even ordinations in various units of the Church. This is in a time of easy communication, of political tolerance, and abundant living leaders touring the earth to keep the Church on course. Remove authorized apostles or break down communication between leaders and the units for a few decades, and one can only imagine how far things could drift, especially when strong-willed local leaders come up with their own preferred innovations. It's a good reminder of why the Restoration was needed to bring back true authority and authorized priesthood leaders to maintain unity and order in the Church.

I was really impressed by the vision of church councils being taught by our leaders. This is not about a leader bossing people around to make things happen his way. It's about a team of people with diverse skills and responsibilities working together in love, in confidence, and with inspiration, to bless the lives of families and individuals. There is a recognition that inspiration on how to help others and strengthen the church need not come from the bishop only, but can come from others on the council or beyond, though the bishop as the authorized leaders is the one who must recognize and affirm it. This points to a paradigm of Church leaders focused more on listening than in pushing.

As Sister Julie Beck pointed out in the panel discussion, the LDS concept of leadership through councils is counter-cultural, being contrary to prevailing cultures all over the world. Because it is contrary to the way we are trained by the world, Church leaders must expect to face a learning curve to develop the skills needed to make councils function properly. But we can gradually learn how to do it.

Time well spent, in my opinion. Well organized, nice mix of content, and a good way to help leaders in the Church learn how to improve they way they work in building Zion and following Christ in the work we are called to do in our roles in the Church.

10 comments:

Paul said...

I was intrigued that none of the counsel (except the changes in meeting focus) is really new. We've been instructed since 1999 to counsel with our councils.

Still, I agree: good training all around.

Rachel said...

There are things in the handbook a person wouldn't know unless they read the handbook. As a lifelong member, I didn't know there was an instruction on concealed weapons (permitted or otherwise), for example. :)
As a Saint in the US, where women have greater freedom to speak than many parts of the world, the instruction is almost for granted. But, Elder Holland and others stressed the need for all to be heard. I enjoyed Sis. Beck's point about counter-culture, and in some respects I think she may have been speaking to women, saying in church you have a voice you might not have outside this council (in your life outside of this space).

Papa D said...

Great training session. I was surprised at the organizational changes - and loved each of them.

I also was impressed by how explicitly the message was repeated that we need to have women be equal in the voice of the ward - and that the Ward Council is now more important than the PEC largely because it includes all leaders, particularly the women.

On a personal note, while it was "trivial" in most ways, I also enjoyed seeing Pres. Beck interrupt Elder Ballard at one point in the panel discussion to add a comment. Nobody on the panel batted and eye or looked surprised, and I got the distinct impression it wasn't the first time it had happened.

rob said...

And the ward activities committee is no more.

michelle said...

I LOVE the council system. I've long felt the power that can be found if they are used right, at all levels in the Church, starting at the marriage and family level.

I can't wait to hear more about this -- thanks for the summary. It's what I went to the 'nacle to hear more about tonite.

jeans said...

Agreed with all previous comments. I think this is very positive change & look forward to studying the new handbook & seeing it take on a life of its own in our ward & stake.

Anonymous said...

I thought the training and handbook are great. What I don't get, though, is why the Church doesn't post the handbook on its website. If 80% of the members' questions could be answered by understanding the handbook, as Elder Oaks said, why limit access? If we have to go ask the bishop questions that could be answered by checking the handbook, that adds to his load.

Quantumleap42 said...

I will have to watch the broadcast it sounds very good. To Anonymous, the full text of the handbook and the video of the broadcast are posted online. You can find them by going to lds.org. It's the first thing listed on the lds.org page.

It's very interesting to see how the Church deals the fact that it is spread over so many different cultures, countries, societies and circumstances. What may work very easily in the US may be very hard to implement in another country. I think the Church leaders are doing a very good job at addressing the issue by focusing on the core doctrines and organizations that are most effective in helping the members.

Matthew said...

I'm all for reducing the burden on bishops. Sounds like good stuff. :)

Anonymous said...

I am confused. How is this counter-cultural? Councils, boards of directors, teams at work?......

This is not new to the world is it?

Bishops that reign by being bullies will still do so.