What is good leadership? How did Joseph Smith envision church leadership? How does that differ from the church today and how is it the same? Today’s lesson is from the Joseph Smith manual #24, Leading in the Lord’s Way.
Once again, Joe Spencer provides an excellent recap of the lesson here. He specifically makes a great point that the correlators of the lesson manual seem to fundamentally misunderstand Joseph’s point about governing ourselves. To quote Joe regarding the section entitled Leaders teach correct principles and help those they lead learn to govern themselves:
“I think it important to point out how the title of this first section completely misunderstands and so ultimately misrepresents Joseph’s teachings within the section. Joseph indeed teaches that leaders teach correct principles, but he does not teach that leaders also help those they lead learn to govern themselves.”
I’m sure the mistake was well-intentioned, but it does cut to the heart of what many members find irritating in the church today, the administrative or corporate quality that the church has developed. We have sacrificed leading for managing in some cases.
One wonders what Joseph Smith would say if he time traveled to a modern ward. He might not fit local leadership’s perceptions of what would qualify him for some callings. After all, he was only ever a member of the church for 14 years (before his death). He might be considered a relative newcomer with little experience in some circles within the church. He died young enough that many wards would not consider him old enough to be a High Priest.
What are the qualities of leadership, according to Joseph? Here are the ones mentioned in the lesson:
- Leaders teach correct principles. “I told him I obtained power on the principles of truth and virtue, which would last when I was dead and gone.” (1844) How does teaching incorrect principles result in loss of power? Do those incorrect principles die when the teacher is dead and gone?
- Those they lead govern themselves. JS: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” (quoted by John Taylor in 1851) “I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days . . . and the principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.” (quoted by Brigham Young in 1870). How does this differ from managing and being the decision maker for others in our stewardship? What are the pitfalls of this kind of free-for-all leadership style?
- Leaders receive the wisdom they need from the Spirit. “A man of God should be endowed with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, in order to teach and lead the people of God.” (1843) How does a foolish leader differ from a wise one? Are leaders always teachers first and foremost in the church? “There are many things of much importance, on which you ask counsel, but which I think you will be perfectly able to decide upon, as you are more conversant with the peculiar circumstances than I am; and I feel great confidence in your united wisdom.” (1840) JS routinely deferred all decisions to the lowest level possible. The recent statement by TSM similarly referred members to go to local leadership rather than writing to church HQ for every matter. Why is this good counsel? Are there exceptions?
- Leaders acknowledge the Lord’s blessings to them. Weird. There isn’t really a matching quote for this in the lesson, but the lesson quotes do talk about the need to pray for our leaders.
- Leaders in the Lord’s kingdom love those they serve. “I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand” (1843)
- Leaders teach through their love and example. The example given here is Zion’s Camp, which always seems like a really bad camping trip gone awry that is then parlayed into a “character-building” lesson.
How do you think we generally stack up as a church today, from the lowest levels of leadership to the highest? Are there some of these that are more of a watch-out for us than others? Are there some that tend to be harder at different levels than others? Are there other principles of leadership that should be mentioned here but aren’t?