First Presidency releases new general handbook for Church leaders, members

A new, universally-available administrative handbook for all Latter-day Saint leaders and members has replaced Handbook 1 and Handbook 2, which the Church has now labeled “obsolete.”

The new principle-based handbook for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, titled “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” was released Wednesday, Feb. 19.

The First Presidency announced the release of the handbook in a letter to general and local leaders. A key element of the new handbook is the continued emphasis of the Church on helping all come to Christ, according to the letter. Additionally, the handbook content has been organized “around Heavenly Father’s work of salvation and exaltation.”

The handbook is available to the public. “Church leaders feel there is value in allowing those who are not members to be able to see how the Church of Jesus Christ operates in the latter days,” according to frequently asked questions that accompanied the First Presidency letter.

The manual is written to help local leaders direct a global Church with members living in many circumstances. Now available in English on ChurchofJesusChrist.org and the Gospel Library app, the handbook is being translated into 51 languages.

The new handbook focuses on the essential programs for every unit in the Church and provides adaptation options based on local needs and available resources, according to the questions.

“Many Church units around the world lack the resources to operate some Church programs that are found in larger Church units,” according to the questions. “Previous handbooks were written with larger units as a primary audience, often causing challenges for leaders of units with fewer resources.”

Another example of global adaptability is making the General Handbook more principle based. “As we connect leaders to the Savior and to true principles, they will be able to serve in the best way to meet local needs.”

Read more: Here are some of the changes in the new handbook

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced the new handbook to General Authorities and General Officers in January, explaining how it was part of the ongoing Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and reflects God’s love for His children.

“This Restoration has been and will continue to be a process of learning how to minister as Jesus would to a richly diverse world,” Elder Christofferson said during the Jan. 30 training. “We pray this new handbook will help Church leaders use their God-given gifts to continue to bless lives in their ministry. We know there is room in this Church for everyone.”

A screenshot of Gospel Library shows Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 are now obsolete.
A screenshot of Gospel Library shows Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 are now obsolete. Credit: Screenshot Gospel Library

The new handbook will be digital only. Content will be updated regularly to help leaders around the world adapt the Church’s programs, policies and procedures to their local circumstances. The handbook will also provide flexibility to simplify Church programs, according to the First Presidency letter.

Nearly 80% of the content will be transferred from Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other organization leaders) and reordered in a new accessible structure.

The handbook is divided into four sections — Doctrinal Foundation, Church Organization, Work of Salvation and Exaltation, and Church Administration.

The handbook will contain 38 chapters. Nine chapters have been updated so far to reflect the new approach, and the remaining 29 chapters will be updated during 2020-2021.

The development of the new handbook has been several years in the making. In 2016, the First Presidency approved the development of a “simplified handbook” for small units. In 2017, the First Presidency directed that global research be conducted on how an updated handbook could better meet the needs of the worldwide Church. In 2018, the First Presidency gave direction to unify and simplify the handbooks into one volume that would serve the entire Church, according to the frequently asked questions.

Information from updated chapters

Church leaders say the new chapters of the handbook are shorter and more readable and include important changes to content — including some clarifying content on moral issues. The handbook includes clarifications about priesthood authority and a new section on transgender individuals, for example.  

Information in chapter 1, “God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation,” is new. It explains the relationship between (1) God’s plan of happiness for His children, (2) our opportunity to participate in His work of salvation and exaltation, and (3) the purposes of the Church. Past handbooks have referred to the “threefold mission of the Church” and “divinely appointed responsibilities.” This chapter builds on those principles to outline the four aspects of God’s work with more clarity and detail:

  • Living the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Caring for those in need
  • Inviting all to receive the gospel
  • Uniting families for eternity

In Chapter 3, “Priesthood Principles,” the handbook teaches fundamental truths about the priesthood and incorporates recent teachings from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about how both women and men can exercise delegated priesthood authority in their callings and assignments.

“Chapter 3 emphasizes that although men have the priesthood conferred on them and are ordained to priesthood offices, both men and women who are set apart or assigned to serve in the Church exercise delegated authority as they accomplish God’s work,” according to the questions. “It is important for Church members to understand that regardless of gender or calling, those who are set apart or assigned are given divine authority and responsibility to act in their callings and assignments.”

Chapter 18 highlights “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings” and includes links and instructional videos that show how to perform ordinances and blessings. More videos will be added soon.

And Chapter 32, “Repentance and Church Membership Councils,” is a significant revision of the “Church Discipline” chapter from Handbook 1The chapter uses a more ministerial approach and voice. For example, “disciplinary councils” are now “Church membership councils.” “Disfellowshipment” is now “formal membership restrictions.” “Excommunication” is now “withdrawal of membership.” Instructions are given to bishops and stake presidents about how to compassionately help members as they repent of serious sins.

The other 29 chapters will be updated over the next two years. The original plan was to wait to publish the new General Handbook when it was completely finished.

“But as those first chapters came out, the First Presidency and (Quorum of the) Twelve felt that the updates were important enough to release as soon as possible,” said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Correlation Department. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.”

It is important “for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”