Selected Principles from the New Handbooks

Elder Quentin L. Cook

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Quentin L. Cook "Selected Principles from the New Handbooks", 2010 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 2010


It is an exciting and inspiring occasion to have the leadership of the Church from across the world gather together for this satellite broadcast. We express our love and appreciation to you for your commitment and devotion. We admire who you are and what you do.

It will not be possible to fully cover all the chapters of Handbooks 1 and 2 in this broadcast. We will therefore concentrate on those principles, areas of emphasis, and responsibilities that will be most effective to bless the Saints and enhance the work of salvation. When leaders of the Church know their duties and follow established procedures, they invite the Holy Ghost to inspire them and the people they are serving.

I reemphasize Elder Oaks’s request that you read and ponder the first three chapters of Handbook 2. They are foundational to the administration of the Church and must undergird everything you do.

Handbook 2 provides instruction on how bishops and leaders can minister to the needs of members. The bishop, as the presiding high priest, works through three related councils: the bishopric, the priesthood executive committee, and the ward council. Chapter 4 provides an explanation of each of these.

The bishopric will function mostly as it has in the past. As always, it is important for the bishop to have discussions with his counselors and, when appropriate, the ward council before making decisions.

The priesthood executive committee (PEC) meets regularly to consider priesthood matters but need not consider matters that will be discussed by the ward council. In practical terms, PEC meetings in most areas will probably be decreased in length of time. For convenience, this committee could meet just before the ward council.

The PEC and the ward council will perform all of the functions that were previously performed in a separate welfare committee meeting. Accordingly, the welfare meeting will no longer be held.

The Relief Society president, as needed, may be invited to attend PEC meetings to discuss confidential welfare matters and to coordinate home teaching and visiting teaching assignments. Handbooks 1 and 2 reduce other leadership and training meetings and give additional flexibility on how often they are held.

The Church is governed through councils at the general, area, stake, and ward levels. The new handbooks significantly enhance the role of councils in the Church. Chapter 4 relates to the ward council. Please turn to section 4.1. The second paragraph reads: “Under the keys of priesthood leadership at each level, leaders counsel together for the benefit of individuals and families. Council members also plan the work of the Church pertaining to their assignments. Effective councils invite full expression from council members and unify their efforts in responding to individual, family, and organizational needs.”

The new handbook elevates the role of the ward council in administering the ward under the keys of the bishop. The ward council spends minimal time on calendaring, activity planning, and other administrative business. Its meetings should focus on matters that will strengthen individuals and families. The focus should be directed to identifying both general issues, such as strengthening youth or improving reverence, and specific issues, such as assisting and blessing individual members in need of spiritual progress or who face special challenges.

An effective ward council will assist overworked bishops in their efforts to delegate. At the ward level, bishops will now be encouraged to delegate to members of the ward council so that both the auxiliaries and the priesthood quorums will exercise their authority and power.

The principles in the handbook provide the means for priesthood quorums and other members of the ward council to assume this increased responsibility. First, all members of the ward council have a general responsibility for the well-being of all ward members. Second, section 4.4 contains the following language, which magnifies their responsibilities through their respective organizations. The last sentence in the middle paragraph reads, “Priesthood and auxiliary leaders also have a specific responsibility to watch over and strengthen each member in their organization.”

Accordingly, “members of the ward council do most of their work outside of ward council meetings. They work with their counselors and with home teachers, visiting teachers, and others in reaching out and ministering to those in their organizations and others who need assistance” (Handbook 2, 4.5.1). Therefore, concerns that can be resolved through a priesthood quorum or an auxiliary organization should be addressed in that organization, not by the entire ward council.

The primary effort of the ward council is the work of salvation in the ward. Please turn to chapter 5. The statement at the beginning of chapter 5 reads: “Members of the Church of Jesus Christ are sent forth ‘to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men’ (D&C 138:56). This work of salvation includes member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel. The bishopric directs this work in the ward, assisted by other members of the ward council.”

Three points need to be stressed about ward councils:

  1. 1.

    This meeting should be held regularly—and probably more often than in the past. It usually lasts no longer than 60 to 90 minutes.

  2. 2.

    Council members, both men and women, are encouraged to speak honestly on any issue, both from their personal experience and from their positions as organization leaders. All should feel that their comments are valued as full participants.

  3. 3.

    Council members must faithfully protect the confidentiality of private or sensitive information about members, families, and subjects discussed. Council members should respect individual and family privacy and recognize that only the bishop deals with matters of personal worthiness.

Many issues now come directly to the bishop. Hopefully this will change as bishops delegate more matters in ward council meetings or privately to individuals, including such items as welfare, retention, activation, etc.

The bishop alone deals with problems that require a common judge in Israel, especially worthiness issues. However, with the consent of the member seeking repentance, the bishop can delegate to others the extensive counseling that may be necessary to assist those members recovering from addictions or needing help with financial issues, interfamily matters, and other problems. Where available, the bishop can also encourage members to seek help from LDS Family Services.

A major goal of the increased responsibility of ward councils is to allow the bishopric, as presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood, to spend additional time with the youth and the young single adults to strengthen them and help them avoid future problems.

Chapter 16 of Handbook 2 instructs priesthood and Relief Society leaders to give increased attention to the needs of young single adults. In general, stake presidents and bishops have a particular mandate to identify, locate, and shepherd all young single adults. Remember that they can serve in responsible Church callings. The Ward and Stake Quarterly Reports contain two new lines that will help them do this. Each unit will now report the number of young single adults and the number who attend priesthood and Relief Society meetings. This report assumes that local leaders will make a list of all young single adults by name and then keep track of their attendance—all as part of the effort to identify them and shepherd their individual spiritual progress.

In general, bishops will be most effective when they do the following:

  1. 1.

    Rely on the Spirit and the discernment to which they are entitled.

  2. 2.

    Utilize the ward council not only to solve problems but also as a means of prevention. President Harold B. Lee taught, “It is better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than it is to station an ambulance at the bottom.” A significant responsibility of the ward council is to identify how the work of salvation can reduce future problems. Discuss solutions without using names or specific moral concerns.

  3. 3.

    Bishops and ward council members establish priority for those being counseled or assisted. This requires a little elaboration. In determining how to prioritize and when to delegate, a medical analogy may be helpful. When a person is involved in a serious accident and is brought to the emergency room, an untrained observer looking at the patient might identify a severely broken arm or leg as the principal problem needing immediate attention. But the trained emergency room physician will check life-threatening vital signs first. Is the patient obtaining oxygen, and is the circulatory system functioning properly? Only then would the physician turn to the broken arm or leg. Bishops and ward council members will need to use discernment to determine priorities and which matters the bishop must deal with and which ones can be delegated.

Please turn to chapter 13, on activities. “Activities at the ward, stake, and multistake levels bring Church members together as ‘fellowcitizens with the saints’ (Ephesians 2:19). In addition to providing fun and entertainment, activities should build testimonies, strengthen families, and foster unity and personal growth.

“… Activities should also help members see how living the gospel brings … joy” (Handbook 2, 13.1).

This chapter provides a new approach for planning and implementing activities. There is no longer a permanent activities committee at the ward level. Section 13.2.1, in the middle of the second paragraph, reads: “When an activity is for the entire ward, the bishop may assign responsibility for it to one or more organizations represented on the ward council. He may also assign responsibility … to other individuals or to a committee.” Normally these assignments are for a specific activity or event only.

This chapter also provides instructions for planning activities and contains general guidelines for stake, multistake, and area activities. An appropriate number of such activities is strongly encouraged by President Monson. These activities, particularly for youth and young adults, strengthen them and give them a vision of a united righteous generation that can withstand worldly temptations.

Please turn to chapter 17, “Uniformity and Adaptation.” This new chapter has particular significance to branches and wards whose insufficient membership causes them to struggle to carry out the full program of the Church. The section headings from 17.1.1 through 17.1.10 set forth clearly which matters must be uniform everywhere in the Church.

These include such subjects as:

  • Scriptures.

  • Commandments and standards.

  • Purity of doctrine.

  • Sacrament meetings and the Sunday meeting schedule.

  • Other subjects of similar importance.

Uniformity in these areas will bring the influence of the Holy Ghost into the lives of leaders and members. Most of these uniform principles, policies, and procedures are based on pure doctrine.

In contrast, some matters allow local adaptation. Section 17.2 contains exceedingly important principles setting forth the conditions that may permit this local adaptation. It states:

“Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents have discretion to make simple adaptations to certain Church programs. Where needed, such adaptations may be made as follows:

  1. 1.

    In the staffing and programs of the auxiliaries

  2. 2.

    In the format and frequency of leadership meetings

  3. 3.

    In the format and frequency of activities

“When considering what adaptations may be appropriate, … leaders should always seek the guidance of the Spirit” and counsel with their immediate presiding authority.

The headings in this section describe some of the circumstances to be considered in making local adaptations:

  • Family circumstances

  • Transportation and communication

  • Small quorum or class size

  • Leadership resources (such as not enough members)

  • Security

As an example, let’s review specifically section 17.2.1, titled “Family Circumstances”:

“When extending callings, scheduling leadership meetings, and planning activities, leaders consider the family circumstances of members. Church service and participation always entail a measure of sacrifice. However, strong families are vital to the Church, and members should not be asked to make excessive family sacrifices to serve or to support programs or activities.”

Some circumstances to consider are: (1) too many Church callings in one family, especially major callings, and (2) the demands members face in supporting their families, including employment schedules that leave little time for family and Church service. These are legitimate considerations for leaders to weigh in extending callings, scheduling leadership meetings, and planning activities.

Where there are not yet enough qualified members to fill all leadership positions, the presiding officers may fill only those that are most essential. Additional guidance on this is provided in section 17.2.4.

Elder Oaks has said that these handbooks focus on the salvation of the children of God and the strengthening of their families. Under that focus, I call attention to some important changes that affect fathers performing priesthood ordinances and blessings. Please turn to chapter 20, section 20.1.2, which sets forth the general principle. It reads:

“Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the Church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a Church calling.”

Now note carefully the next two paragraphs:

“As guided by the Spirit and the instructions in the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

“A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice.”

Note the two important principles at work in these sections: First, recognition of the eternally significant role of fathers, and second, the discernment that must be righteously exercised by bishops and stake presidents.

Handbook 2 also contains important changes in home teaching and visiting teaching. Please turn back to section 7.4.3, titled “Adapting Home Teaching to Local Needs”:

“In some locations, visiting every home each month may not be possible for a time because of insufficient numbers of active priesthood holders or other challenges. In these circumstances, leaders give priority to visiting new members, less-active members who are most likely to respond to invitations to return to Church activity, and members with serious needs.”

Further: “With approval from the bishop, [leaders] may temporarily assign only home teachers or only visiting teachers to certain families. … [They also] may assign home teachers to visit a family one month and assign visiting teachers to visit Relief Society members in that family the next month.”

Please note that these adaptations are appropriate only where there are insufficient priesthood holders or other challenges exist.

There is, of course, much more of great importance contained in these two handbooks. I assure you that as the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have worked on these handbooks, we have experienced continuing inspiration. I also testify that the Lord will guide all who work in this important effort, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.