What does it really mean to sustain Church leaders? Here's what the Apostles say

In the challenging days after flooding inundated much of southeast Texas late last summer, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traveled to affected communities and worshipped with local Latter-day Saints.

He was on a mission of ministering. The veteran Apostle comforted flood-weary members in their meetinghouses and at the edges of water-logged homes. He thanked people for offering relief service under the heat of an unforgiving sun.

And wherever he went members — along with many others — came forward to shake his hand. It was a gesture of appreciation. They thanked the Apostle for his support. But for members of the Church, each handshake also communicated a common sentiment of sustaining:

“I pray for you. I support you. I follow you. I trust you.”

It’s a scene replicated whenever members of the Twelve are with those whom they rely upon to sustain them in their apostolic duties.

In a religion of a more than 16 million members, relatively few Church members will ever speak face to face with an Apostle. Many others will never shake an Apostle’s hand. But every member — through his or her formal sustaining vote and daily sustaining actions — makes personal connections with the Twelve, along with the First Presidency and other general Church leaders:

“I pray for you. I support you. I follow you. I trust you.”

As a concluding element of the Church News series about the Apostleship, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of what it means to be sustained by their fellow Church members.

A commitment to common consent

When Elder Jeffrey R. Holland calls a new stake presidency, he often takes a few moments during stake conference to discuss why members are asked to sustain their leaders, including the Apostles.

“Membership in the Church is a very personal matter. Every individual counts. That is why we function on the principle of common consent,” he said. “We want everyone to have an opinion, to express him or herself, and to be united in going forward.”

Calling for a sustaining vote in general and local conferences, he added, is a reminder that “we are all in the Church together and no one seeks for position; no one politics for an assignment.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife Patricia wave as they leave the stand following the Sunday aft
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife Patricia wave as they leave the stand following the Sunday afternoon session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 inside the Conference Center. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Like men and women across the Church, the Apostles are called to serve the Lord, His Church and His people. “I love the imagery of arms to the square and the meaning behind that,” said Elder Holland. “No one has to serve alone in the Church, whatever our calling.”

For the Apostles, being sustained by the members of the Church is spiritually akin to receiving life-giving food, he added. “Every voice counts and every helping hand looked to.”

A solemn assembly

Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares will never forget March 31, 2018. For the first time, the worldwide membership, gathered together in solemn assembly, raised their hands to sustain them as “prophets, seers and revelators.”

That recent event brought the act of sustaining the Apostles into immediate focus for the two men.

“We sustain with our raised arm, but also with our hearts and our actions,” said Elder Gong. “We sustain Church leaders in the same way we sustain each other. We know we are bound by covenant.”

Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visi
Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Faith precedes the sustaining, added Elder Soares.

“By sustaining (the Apostles), you are helping the Savior accomplish His work. Your faith helps the Lord accomplish what He communicates through His prophets and revelators.”

Sustaining is far more than casting an affirmative “vote.” It also signals one’s desire to keep the commandments and minister to others, said Elder Gong.

Praying for the Apostles remains a priceless element of sustaining, said Elder Soares. “We are regular people, and the Lord has called us to something above our capacity. But we feel we can reach that capacity because people are praying for us.”

We seek with all our hearts to be a unified voice.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf learned firsthand the essential link between sustaining and praying for the Apostles in the days leading up to the October 2004 general conference.

While enjoying a walk with his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, Elder Uchtdorf, then a General Authority Seventy, reflected upon the calling of the Apostle. Two giants of Church leadership — Elder David B. Haight and Elder Neal A. Maxwell — had died a few months earlier, leaving a pair of vacancies in the Twelve.

The Uchtdorfs’ thoughts turned to the two yet-to-be-called men who would fill those empty seats. Those servants would be accepting an overwhelming, lifelong assignment. They would require the sustaining support of Church members everywhere.

“We came home and we prayed for them,” he said. The couple asked God to sustain the two future Apostles — and for the members of the Church to sustain their new leaders.

Days later, Elder Uchtdorf, along with Elder David A. Bednar, was called to the Twelve.

Elder David Bednar and Elder Dieter Uchtdorf after being named apostles during the Saturday morning
Elder David Bednar and Elder Dieter Uchtdorf after being named apostles during the Saturday morning opening session of LDS Conference on Oct. 2, 2004. | Tom Smart, Deseret News, Deseret News

Strength and confidence filled the humbled new Apostle as he witnessed tens of thousands of members lift sustaining hands on behalf of him and Elder Bednar.

“It was wonderful support.”

Sustaining one — sustaining all

Elder Quentin L. Cook said he and his associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with the First Presidency, ask for guidance from the Lord as a singular unit.

“We seek with all our hearts to be a unified voice,” he said. “As a Quorum and First Presidency, we try with all our hearts to teach and to find those things that the Lord would want taught at this time to build faith.”

In that same spirit, Latter-day Saints who give their sustaining vote to an individual Apostle are simultaneously sustaining the consolidated Quorum.

That sacred vote lifts and blesses the Apostles — but it also lifts the sustainers, added Elder Cook. “It empowers them and blesses them and gives them guidance.”

Conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain Church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session
Conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain Church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, Deseret News

A vote of confidence, faith and forgiveness

When accepting the call to the Apostleship, members of the Twelve “are constrained” to follow the Lord’s will, said Elder Dale G. Renlund. By choosing to sustain the Twelve, members demonstrate their confidence in each Apostle’s pledge of obedience to the Savior.

Sustaining the Apostles also means “acting in faith” and following the direction of the Apostles because one believes the Twelve are communicating the counsel of God.

Sustaining the Apostles can sometimes mean defending them from unfair attacks or false statements, he added. But be wise and remain civil. If the cost of, say, winning a Twitter battle causes more harm than good, “it would have been better to just leave it alone and let it go.”

“Another thing that the members can do to sustain me as one of the Twelve is to forgive me for not being perfect,” said Elder Renlund with a smile.

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