Episode 40: President M. Russell Ballard and three other Apostles on why and how the Church is governed by councils

This July the Church News is taking readers “Inside Church headquarters” in a series of articles highlighting the council system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These councils include the Council of the First Presidency and the Council of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as well as executive councils that oversee the work of temples and family history, missionary and priesthood and family. The series explores how revelation guides Church councils and how the principles discovered there can be applied to stakes, wards, families and individual members around the world.

In this episode of the Church News podcast, the first in a two-part series, Church News reporter Sydney Walker discusses the series and shares quotes from Church News interviews featuring President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They explain why the Church is governed by councils and what it is like to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and on some of the Church’s executive councils. 

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Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.” 

This July 2021, the Church News is taking readers “Inside Church headquarters” in a series of articles highlighting the council system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These councils include the Council of the First Presidency and the Council of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as well as executive councils that oversee the work of Temples and Family History, Missionary, and Priesthood and Family. The series explores how revelation guides Church councils and how the principles discovered there can be applied to stakes, to wards, to families and individual members around the world. And this podcast is actually the first in a two-part series on the council system. Next week’s podcast will feature interviews with President Camille N. Johnson, Primary general president; with President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; and with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president. It’s inspiring for all of us to hear these women talk about serving on the Church’s executive councils, and what it means to actually be a woman participating in council systems at a general Church level. 

In this episode of the Church News podcast, Sydney Walker, Church News reporter and digital editor, joins us to talk about the series. We will feature quotes of Church News interviews from President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Quentin L. Cook, all of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They explain why the Church is governed by councils and what it’s like to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and on some of the Church’s executive councils. Sydney, let’s start today and talk about this series and what we were hoping to accomplish as we undertook this venture.

Sydney Walker: I am so excited about this Church News series. And I think what I hope readers take away from this is that they can see what our Church leaders do every day on a general level as they meet, you know, in the Quorum of the Twelve, or with the Missionary Executive Council or even in a presidency. Those principles that they follow, we can apply in our wards, stakes and families. And I also hope that we can learn a little bit more about the process of revelation that happens in councils, and see that even our wards, stakes and families can be revelatory experiences, just like these general meetings.

03:01

Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the first interviews we did for this Church News council series was with President M. Russell Ballard. So much of President Ballard’s ministry as an Apostle of Jesus Christ has been spent talking about and promoting the council system. And in this first interview, he actually explained to us how the Church is governed by councils. Let’s listen to that right now.

President M. Russell Ballard: You ought to really ask the question, “Why did God and Christ gather together in a council to determine whether or not to create the earth?” We read that first real council story in the Pearl of Great Price and they call the term “councils.” The council system is very, very critical in the Church. And the Church is organized in the Melchizedek Priesthood leadership councils with the Council of the First Presidency. We call it that. We call it the Quorum of the Twelve, but it is also the Council of the Twelve. Even the Seventies when they are meeting now and the seven presidents, they are in council. And interestingly, if you see the big picture, when we are in general conference, we are in council. Council is a time when people gather to try to understand and come to an agreement and set goals and objectives that will make a difference in their organization. This council system works in industry, it works in homes, it works everywhere. It’s not just the Church where the council system is a reality.

Read more: Inside Church headquarters: Why the Church is governed by councils

04:48

Sydney Walker: I love how President Ballard said in that quote that the council system is very, very critical in the Church. We can see that President Ballard is a huge advocate of the council system as one who has spoken about councils in general conference and most recently about family councils.

President M. Russell Ballard: I’m an advocate of the council system. I wrote a book on it. I have preached it. I gave two general conference talks on it, trying to get the Church membership to understand it.

05:15

Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the things that I think is so interesting for people to remember as they look at the organization of the Church, is that at every level it is governed by councils. We have the Council of the First Presidency, we have the Quorum of the Twelve. And we have the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. And Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf actually talked about what happens when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve meet together.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: It is a beautiful feeling of brotherhood. It is a feeling of unity, and still cherishing the differences in personality and experiences. We don’t represent countries, or nationalities or professions. We represent the Lord Jesus Christ and His work. This unique approach with different personalities helps to be united in council. Because when you are in the Quorum of the Twelve, and you started as a new member, you feel, of course, pretty humble, sitting there with other members of the Twelve who have been there for 20, 30, 40 years, right? But you learned very quickly, that whenever you are part of this, you are part of it. You are on an equal level of ability and authority.

06:42

Sydney Walker: I think it’s so interesting that Elder Uchtdorf points out that when they sit on this council, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, they don’t represent the different countries they come from, or their professional backgrounds that they had, they each represent the Savior. Elder David A. Bednar gives us a little bit more insight into what it is like to sit on this council.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather for their weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather for their weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder David A. Bednar: What it is like, is indescribable, but I’ll do my best. Try to imagine a setting where you don’t have to worry about how something you’re saying will be taken. No one is trying to figure out: “What is the agenda here? What is the hidden message? What is he really trying to say?” You can say what needs to be said for the benefit of the work. And no one is going to wonder about all of the things you would normally consider in other secular kinds of settings. The only objective is to try to discern and apply the Lord’s will and His timing, on the things that are discussed, and the things that are decided

07:44

Sydney Walker: To illustrate what he’s talking about here, Elder Bednar shared a personal example of a time when he had a reservation about something that was being discussed in a council meeting.

Elder David A. Bednar: With one of the Brethren when I was really very new, something was presented, and I agreed with the concept, but I didn’t think the timing made sense. And so I just said, “You know, I have a concern about the timing.” Now, this was presented by a very senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who could have looked at me and said, “Who do you think you are bringing that up at this point?” But the response was remarkable, he says, “What is it about the timing that concerns you?” And I expressed my point of view. And he paused for a moment and he said, “Dave, I haven’t fully considered the timing in the light that you have just suggested. Let us take this back. And we will bring it back.” Now, in that spirit, no one’s going to talk just to hear themselves. They will bring up an issue and it’s trying to help this matter that we are considering be fully understood, fully vetted, fully considered. But it’s remarkable to be able to interact in that way. With men you honor, men you admire, men you love and who have that same regard for you.

What President Oaks and President Eyring have learned about revelation in councils

09:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: I was touched that as so many people that we interviewed for this series talked about the experiences they had in councils, they seemed to all reflect that sentiment that Elder Bednar shared, that councils are a safe place, that every voice is wanted, every voice is looked to, every voice is needed. Elder Cook, when he was speaking about councils, said there’s spiritual power that comes in those discussions.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: But it is so incredible how as there is a council discussion, and as people bring things forth, then there is a focus and a spiritual power that comes into being and suddenly everything from our history to our doctrine, the needs of the Saints, our being out in the world and meeting with the Saints all the time, comes into being. And the Holy Ghost blesses us with incredibly strong impressions, and united. And then often in prayer and other times, we have additional, very strong spiritual experiences that are just very powerful and bless the effort.

10:15

Sydney Walker: Another thing Elder Cook talked about in his interview with us is why we have executive councils in the Church and what some of those executive councils are. So he talks about the Missionary Executive Council, the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Executive Council. These are three executive councils that work under the Quorum of the Twelve. And Elder Cook gives us a little bit of background on these.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: They do get the Kirtland Temple built, and the Kirtland Temple is dedicated in the 109th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. And it’s very interesting, [Joseph Smith] prays that the house at Kirtland will be acceptable to the Lord. And then we have the 110th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and April 3, 1836, it happens to be Easter. I don’t think that’s accidental. It’s during Passover, I don’t think that’s accidental. You have Oliver and Joseph praying, and then a vision was opened unto them, and the Savior appeared, and the description of the Savior is just magnificent. And then he does accept the temple. And he says: “Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice. And let the hearts of all my people rejoice who have with their might built this house to my name. For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here. And I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.” So, just incredible. And then we have three ancient prophets come in vision, one at a time. We have Moses appear first, and he’s committing the keys of the gathering of Israel. Then you have Elias appear, less well known than Moses, but Elias appears, and committed the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham. And finally, you have Elijah appear, and he brings the keys for the sealing power for temple work. And so you have these three keys that are restored. They are apostolic keys given to the leaders of the Church. Because those are based on keys that are given, it’s not just what’s best for us today or tomorrow. Those are directed by the Lord, and they are principles that we need to follow and continue on with.

The Church is organized with three executive councils that are based on those three keys that were restored in the 110th section. You have the Missionary Executive Council, which is sharing the gospel with the world. Then you have Elias, who has returned the keys, the Abrahamic, and it refers also in a sense to the Abrahamic Covenant. I’ve loved the fact that President Nelson has always referred to those keys as “preparing the Saints to meet God.” That really is the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. And then you have Elijah appear, and that’s the Temple and Family History Executive Council. So, Missionary Executive Council, Priesthood and Family Executive Council and Temple and Family History Executive Council. So you have all three of the executive councils. And the Quorum of the Twelve is the quorum that really is responsible for all three.

Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder D. Todd Christofferson greet prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles' weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder D. Todd Christofferson greet prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

13:39

Sarah Jane Weaver: Sydney, I actually think it’s so interesting that those councils are chaired by someone of great experience in the Church. But, you know, as you think about each of those important works of the Church, and the mission of the Church, Elder Uchtdorf explains that the purpose of councils is just to further one great work.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: I think it is important to know that these councils, their purpose is really one work. We all work under the global Church concept that the gospel is being brought to all people of the world, to all tongues, to all countries, to all nations, irrespective of the geographic or political situation. And we do this through members and through missionaries. And the councils help to make the Church operational, wherever they are. And to move forward the work in a very simple and straightforward way, according to the doctrine we received through scriptures, through revelation. And that’s what it is.

14:54

Sydney Walker: Elder Uchtdorf also gives us some insight into the Missionary Executive Council, some examples of topics that they have discussed and how that council works.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: We meet on a weekly basis. Often the decisions are brought about by experiences we have in the field, in the Church, in branches, wards, stakes. And they’re being brought up as needs where they are. And then, by this, we learn what the challenges are, or what the needs are, and then counsel together in the Mission Executive Council. And again, I see one work with the other councils together. And then find ways how to bless the work, how to bless the people, and how to move the work forward. So, for instance, when we establish new missions, when we go to India, when we go to Russia to certain areas, when we go into Africa to create a new mission, or a simpler decision in technology. Just till recently, only 50% of our missionaries had smartphones. Then we realized the missionaries need smartphones, to be able to communicate with the people around them. So now 95% of them have smartphones. Or when you think about the impact on phone calls home by missionaries. It is a long-standing tradition that missionaries could only call once or twice a year home. And we learned this caused a lot of challenges. And we counseled about it because long-standing traditions sometimes are hard to change. So it takes counseling together. It takes the influence of the Spirit to say: “Let’s move forward. Are we all united in this? Yes, we are.” And then we move forward. It’s between the councils. These are small, little things, but there are more deep things like whom we call as mission president and companion, how many missionaries we sent into a country, so many of those similar decisions which are being made. And also by teaching, you know, when you think about it, we used to have a way to teach the gospel with rote-memory presentations. And then “Preach My Gospel” came, a process which was a pure revelatory process. But the revelations do not come as a strike of lightning. They come by counseling together. It is by learning: “Information brings inspiration.” You have to collect information. And then you are in the position to receive revelation when you connect to the Spirit.

17:41

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I actually love that Elder Bednar actually discussed topics that have also been discussed in the Temple and Family History Executive Council. Let’s listen to those.

Elder David A. Bednar: As we’re having temples constructed now, all over the world, and especially small temples, many of the processes, many of the patterns in the temple, that work very well in a large temple like Salt Lake, or Los Angeles, cannot operate in some of the smaller temples. So without altering any of the covenants and the ordinances, and the sacred matters that occur in the temple, how they are presented, the work that is done, and how it is done, has to be adjusted in an ever-more-global Church. So those who have been to the temple before the pandemic have noticed operational changes in the temple. Those are examples of things that had to be identified, brought forward to the presiding councils for review and consideration in council and ultimately were approved to be incorporated into the operations of the temples.

18:49

Sydney Walker: And Elder Cook gave us some insight into the Priesthood and Family Executive Council and some topics they discuss.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: The purpose is to prepare people to meet God; it is to perfect the Saints. And, so, under this council, you have all five of the organizations, you have the Relief Society and the Young Women, and the Primary, you have the Young Men and the Sunday School — all five of them, those presidencies and their boards that are working under that which has responsibility for much that is going on in the Church. It also is responsible for the curriculum that is undertaken and many of the other responsibilities. And I’m not trying to make it sound too grand. But if it isn’t missionary work and isn’t temple and family history work, it is Priesthood and Family. So there is just a multitude of incredible people working on various things from curriculum to hymns. The Scripture Committee comes under Priesthood and Family, and so the scriptures that are being developed and translated for new countries and new languages all over the world. And so it’s a little bit hard to say exactly what it does. That’s why I like President Nelson saying, “It is preparing people to meet God.” So you have got missionary work, you have got temple work, and Priesthood is “preparing people to meet God.”

20:09

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Sydney, you made reference to this earlier, but I found it fascinating that every time we learned something about councils, it seemed to be something that could be applied to me, to my personal life, to my responsibilities in the Church and to my family. And, you know, as we move through the things that we learned in this series of articles, one of the most important was how the principles of the council system apply to wards and stakes and families. And Elder Uchtdorf actually told us that works because the Savior is at the center of it all.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder David A. Bednar greet prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles' weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder David A. Bednar greet prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: You know, our work is to fulfill what our Heavenly Father has said, that His work and goal is to bring to pass immortality and eternal life. And for whom? For us. And He provided, as a way, the plan of salvation. He provided for us a path with the two great commandments. And then He provided a way to make this all possible, under the direction of the Savior, Jesus Christ, because He sacrificed for us and made possible that the plan of salvation could function that repentance is possible, that I as an imperfect person can become perfect, that I can listen and learn and use the great sacrifice He has given to improve myself. Now, the Savior, Jesus Christ is at the center of this work; the plan of salvation is the center of this gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. He established it when He was on the earth, and He reestablished it now, and we are in the middle of it. So the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were with the Savior. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles today are with the Savior. So the Savior is at the center. His mission is, for the Church, important. And the beauty is, He is at the center and has the importance for each and every individual. Whether they are, whatever age it is, married, single, child, adult, young adult, for everyone, the Savior’s in the center. And that is true for the organization of the Church. It has to be the Savior. Jesus Christ has to be in all our efforts, has to be at the center, not our own ego, or our own thinking of organizational structure. The Savior. What would He want us to do? How can we accomplish His purpose, His mission, His work, His glory? That’s what He gave us. And that’s what we need to do.

23:06

Sydney Walker: One thing that Elder Bednar really emphasizes is that the power of counseling and council is revelation. So let’s hear what he has to say about that.

Elder David A. Bednar: The power of counseling in council is revelation. In worldly or secular organizations, much is made about participative decision making. And the rationale is, “Well, we get a diversity of opinions and then people are more invested in the conclusions or the decisions when they’re made.” This is not a secular pattern. Counseling in councils is about inviting, receiving and recognizing revelation. So, for example, in the Temple and Family History Executive Council, revelation is scattered among the various members of the council. As an issue comes forward and we invite and hear counsel from everyone, each contributes in a distinctive way. All of that is done under the presiding authority and the keys that are present in the room. But all of the revelation doesn’t come through the one person who may hold the keys or have the assignment to direct the council. So whether it is in a family setting, a family council is a revelatory setting; in a ward council, it is not about planning activities, although that is done, it’s a revelatory experience. And then the presiding councils of the Church, the councils are settings for receiving revelation that will affect the members of the Church all over the earth.

24:41

Sarah Weaver: Well, and then Elder Cook taught us all that it’s important for whoever is at the head of each of these councils, who is presiding at these councils, to invite the input from everyone that is in the council.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Counseling is incredible. President Ballard may be the best person to lead councils of anybody that I have ever seen. Different people have different gifts, but he is so warm, and he’s gracious, and he lets everybody speak. And everybody feels like that their nuggets that they come up with are at least appreciated and understood. It may not be the direction it goes. But they are appreciated. And that builds unity in a council. A council is a place to build unity.

25:25

Sydney Walker: And President Ballard reminded us of the overall purpose of councils. Whether it is the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, whether it’s a ward council or a family council, the ultimate purpose is to help us come closer to the Savior.

Sarah Weaver: And as we end this Church News podcast, I want to continue a tradition that we have in all of our Church News podcasts, which is to give our guests the last word. And so today, it seems appropriate that we end with President Ballard, who has dedicated so much of his life to this topic. And he can answer the most important question for us, which is, “What do I know now?” And so we’re going to close with President Ballard talking to all of us about what he has learned about how the council system actually is part of salvation and exaltation of Latter-day Saints.

26:13

President M. Russell Ballard: Well, that’s simple for me. If I were teaching about ward councils, I would say, look, the ward council primarily exists for us to think through how we can draw the ward members to Jesus Christ. How can we get their hearts connected to His? How do we do that for the little children? How do we do that for the youngsters? How do we do that for the young adults? And how do we do that for the aged? The active and the less active? And the nonmember? How do we do it? Because that is our mission. The mission of the Church and the mission of the ward, the mission of a bishopric, the mission of a stake presidency, of a mission president, of Apostles, is to bring souls unto Christ, help prepare them to receive the ordinances and the covenants that are essential for eternal salvation. And so we are all in this, doing the same thing. And trying to take our Father’s children from wherever they are, and helping them on the journey, on the path. And President Nelson has been using the term “the covenant path.” And that’s a good one, so that they will be able to qualify for all of the blessings the Lord has for His children in the temple. They can be endowed. They can be sealed. They can receive all the ordinances that are available on this side of the veil, that are also efficacious on the other side of the veil.

President M. Russell Ballard and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland chat prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles' weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
President M. Russell Ballard and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland chat prior to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ weekly meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

28:14

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com