Power in a calling comes from Christlike leadership, says Elder Johnson

‘Our ability to follow the Savior’s model makes all the difference in our ability to fulfill our callings,’ said Elder Paul V. Johnson in new mission leaders seminar

PROVO, Utah — After being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Dallin H. Oaks asked himself, “Will you be a judge and lawyer who has been called to be an Apostle, or will you be an Apostle who used to be a lawyer and a judge?”

He responded to his question with the following: “I decided that I would focus my efforts on what I had been called to do, not on what I was qualified to do. I determined that instead of trying to shape my calling to my credentials, I would try to shape myself to my calling.”

Elder Paul V. Johnson, of the Presidency of the Seventy and a member of the Missionary Executive Council, shared this story of Elder Oaks — now first counselor in the First Presidency — in at the 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders at the Provo Missionary Training Center 

“Mission leaders can make the same determination to shape themselves to the calling, even if it means loosening our grip on things most familiar and comfortable to us,” said Elder Johnson, explaining that power in a calling comes from Christlike leadership.

The powers of heaven

Illustrating where power comes from, Elder Johnson read Doctrine and Covenants 121:36: “The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and ... the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”

He shared Lorenzo Snow’s experience of struggling with a leader as a 26-year-old missionary. The leader, though hardworking, had a spirit of self-exaltation in his work. Instead of rejoicing for someone being brought to baptism, he rejoiced that it was done under his leadership.

Because of this leader’s self-exaltation, he “lost the power to properly move the work forward,” Elder Johnson said.

He explained that a similar case of pride happened when Lucifer offered to redeem mankind: “I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). In contrast, the Savior’s plea was, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2).

Elder Johnson said, “Our ability to follow the Savior’s model makes all the difference in our ability to fulfill our callings, to become like Him and to help our missionaries become like Him. ... Whatever spirit or motivation drives our thoughts and actions determines what grows out of that motivation.”

The world’s view on power

Priesthood authority, as explained in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41, should be held “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”

The world, however, doesn’t look on these traits as attributes of power, said Elder Johnson. Words like “dominion,” “compulsion” and “control” are instead associated with power.

Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy, speaks at the 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders at the Provo MTC on June 24. | Cody Bell | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Even if a leader with these traits is seen as a powerful leader, “they don’t have God’s power,” said Elder Johnson. “... These can produce compliance, but they don’t promote conversion. If there is any real progress in conversion, it is in spite of any compulsion, not because of it.”

He continued, “Fear, force, manipulation and unrighteous dominion will not affect the real changes the Lord wants to see in His missionaries.”

Power from Christlike leadership

With God’s plan, in contrast, “it isn’t just behavior that needs to change, it is a person’s heart,” said Elder Johnson. “You don’t change a heart with a fist. The Lord changes hearts when people willingly come to Him. That is a manifestation of His power.”

Elder Johnson said that “unrighteous dominion doesn’t yield real spiritual growth, because that only comes when a person chooses to do what is right, not when he or she is forced or coerced to some behavior.” This force, he said, “can actually foster resistance and rebellion and can lead to a loss of faith.”

The Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah during the 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders June 24. | Cody Bell | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Even when missionaries need to be reproved, this can be done in a loving way. A former mission president told Elder Johnson, “If those reprimands are followed by an increase of love, with time they will recognize you were genuinely trying to help them and appreciate your difficult discussions.”

When leaders are motivated by charity and Christlike love, he said, the fruits of their efforts are sweet.

“We have been ‘endowed with power from on high’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:32),” said Elder Johnson to the new mission leaders, “and need to live so that power remains with us. Our missionaries have been endowed with the same power, and as we receive this power from on high, they will be more likely to live so they can also have it in their lives.”

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed