Overview of the New Handbooks

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Dallin H. Oaks "Overview of the New Handbooks", 2010 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 2010


 

My dear brothers and sisters, we are grateful for President Monson’s keynote message. We accept his challenge to read, understand, and follow these handbooks to maintain the integrity of the policies, procedures, and programs of the Church. In doing so, we will fulfill his inspired declaration that these new handbooks will be a treasure and a blessing to each of us.

The publication of these new handbooks and this broadcast are the final steps of a three-year process. The two volumes of the 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, including the 2006 update of volume 1, have been reviewed line by line and revised as necessary to direct the work of general and local leaders and headquarters personnel to serve the members of a worldwide Church. This revision has focused on the salvation of the children of God and the strengthening of their families.

While handbooks do not have the same standing as the scriptures, they do represent the most current interpretations and procedural directions of the Church’s highest authorities. As President Monson just said, “They have been read and reread, corrected and reread.” Under the direction of the First Presidency, individual chapters were written, read, and approved by the Presiding Bishopric, by the general auxiliary officers, and by General Authorities assigned to the various Church departments. The proposed text was then reviewed and approved by the Quorum of the Twelve, assisted by the Presidency of the Seventy. Finally, the total text was read, modified, and approved by the First Presidency. Throughout this work we have been guided by a sweet spirit of inspiration. We know that these handbooks and their directions, as President Monson has said and as is stated in their introductions, “can facilitate revelation if they are used to provide an understanding of principles, policies, and procedures to apply while seeking the guidance of the Spirit” (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], v; Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], v).

This broadcast will concentrate on the main issues and overarching principles in the new handbooks. In February, a second presentation will focus in detail on additional issues, including the unique responsibilities of stake presidents and bishops, the work of quorums and auxiliaries, and the special challenges of units that lack sufficient members and leaders to carry out the full programs of the Church.

As we begin, I stress that almost all of you brothers and sisters in this worldwide audience of priesthood and auxiliary leaders should now have your own copy of the new handbooks in your own language for reference during this broadcast.

These new handbooks are primarily focused on wards and branches. Stakes and districts are secondary, and there is no information on area or general Church organizations or functions. These handbooks are reference works, arranged to assist a reader in finding specific information being sought. They have tabs to identify each chapter, and they are indexed by chapter and section number, which are the same in all of the various language editions. Their total word count is about 12 percent less than the current handbooks.

Our new handbooks consist of two volumes. Handbook 1 contains those matters administered by stake presidents, mission presidents, district presidents, bishops, and branch presidents. Only those officers and their counselors will have Handbook 1.

Most of the text of Handbook 1 is the same as the current 2006 update of the Church Handbook of Instructions. The most recent First Presidency letters are included. The chapters on “Duties of the Stake President” and “Duties of the Bishop” have been shortened and revised to provide a clearer statement of major responsibilities. Some of the text has been simplified or rearranged. For example, the material on name removal has been folded into the chapter on Church discipline.

Handbook 2, titled Administering the Church, contains all of the chapters necessary to administer the Church in the bishoprics, branch presidencies, quorums, and auxiliary organizations in the wards and branches. As you know, copies of this Handbook 2 are given to all members of the ward council. Thus, the Melchizedek Priesthood quorum leaders and the presidents of the Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, and Sunday School and their counselors will have all of the chapters that pertain to administering the Church in the wards and branches. In this way, each member of the ward council—women as well as men—stand together in knowing what each of the other members of the council is responsible to do in their organizations. This also gives all of these leaders access to the selected Church policies and guidelines that appear in chapter 21 of book 2. Please remember that these handbooks—and especially these policies—are not to be copied or shared beyond those authorized to have them.

The First Presidency directed that the contents of book 2 should “facilitate the desired balance between uniformity on doctrine and principles and flexibility to allow limited adaptation where required on some subjects” (First Presidency memos of January and May 2008). Following that direction, book 2 is principle-based. It seeks to reduce the complexity of Church programs. It allows some adaptation where needed, such as in newer units or geographically large units of the Church, but it does not sacrifice the uniformity of policies, procedures, and programs that President Monson has taught us is necessary in our worldwide Church. Truly, as he just said, “There is safety in the handbooks.” Elder Cook will say more about the principles that guide leaders in this important matter.

Another major theme in Handbooks 1 and 2 is to reduce the workload of the bishop. Partly this is done by allowing some flexibility in meetings. Just as important, Handbook 2 seeks to reduce the workload of the bishop by enhancing the role of the ward council and its members. They are to act not just as representatives of their quorums and auxiliary organizations but, with their counselors and organizations, to receive delegation to assist the bishop on matters of importance to the whole ward. Quorum and auxiliary leaders will also assist the bishop by helping in the rescue role of activation and retention of their members.

The roles of elders quorum presidents and high priests group leaders are significantly enhanced in the new handbooks. These leaders and their counselors have increased responsibilities to help individual quorum or group members, both spiritually and temporally. Handbook 2 directs them to “encourage quorum and group members to fulfill their priesthood duties, especially their duties as husbands and fathers” (7.3.2). They are also directed to work with their “counselors and with home teachers … and others in reaching out and ministering to those in their organizations and others who need assistance” (4.5.1) In order to accomplish these vital ecclesiastical responsibilities, these priesthood leaders will have to delegate extensively and may need to reduce some temporal service demands, such as helping members move.

Handbook 2 instructs bishops to assign each prospective elder either to the elders quorum or to the high priests group, depending on individual needs. When prospective elders are so assigned, these leaders are responsible for their retention, activation, home teaching, and other needs.

An elders quorum president is called and released by the stake president after consultation with the bishop. He is trained by high councilors, under the direction of the stake president. In his responsibilities in the ward, the elders quorum president is directed by the presiding high priest in the ward, the bishop. High priest group leaders are called, released, and directed in a similar way.

Book 2 begins with three short chapters that provide the doctrinal framework for administering the Church:

  1. 1.

    Families and the Church in God’s Plan

  2. 2.

    Priesthood Principles

  3. 3.

    Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ

Everyone who is receiving this broadcast should carefully read these three new chapters. They are doctrinally based on the scriptures. They are extremely important.

For example, chapter 2 describes the overall purpose of the Church, an important subject that has been described in different ways at different times. In 1981, the First Presidency made its first reference to a “threefold mission” of the Church—proclaiming, perfecting, and redeeming. At that time, the First Presidency declared that these three applications are “part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in Their grand and glorious mission ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39)” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 3; or Ensign, May 1981, 5). However, since 1981, some have given excessive attention to definitions and boundaries among these three applications of the Lord’s work, at times overlooking their common doctrinal foundation and excluding other essential elements, such as caring for the poor.

This new handbook restores the original emphasis on one foundation of spiritual doctrine to describe the Church’s overall “purpose.” Book 2, section 2.2, reaffirms the 1981 language: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by God to assist in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children.” On this basic doctrinal foundation, section 2.2 goes on to say that “in fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities.”

Those responsibilities are then described to include the following:

  • “Helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

  • “Gathering Israel through missionary work.”

  • “Caring for the poor and needy.”

  • “Enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”

The general principle, stated in section 2.2, is that “the programs and activities of the Church [are intended to] support and strengthen individuals and families.” Following that principle, we suggest that in issuing callings, bishops and branch presidents remember that their native urge to have all positions filled and all programs carried out is less important than the well-being of the families involved. We consider it desirable that members have no more than one major calling, especially where both parents of minor children have a major calling.

In contrast to the doctrinally uniform and permanent principles stated in the first three short chapters, most of book 2 consists of inspired programs and policies that can be changed in the future by appropriate authority. For most of the handbook, including its stated policies and principles, the only authority authorized to make changes is the First Presidency. We need to remember that policy directions are approved and announced only by the First Presidency. They are not introduced through rumor from one leader or member to another. Further, if you have questions, you should discuss them with your presiding priesthood leader. Only the most senior priesthood leaders should be checking with the Office of the First Presidency. As an exception, as Elder Cook will explain in a moment, a limited number of programs can be modified by local authorities where needed by local conditions or where necessary to serve the members.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 focus on the ward council, the work of salvation in the ward, and welfare principles. All ward council members should study and apply these chapters in their participation in the ward council and in their work in their priesthood and auxiliary organizations.

Book 2 continues with 6 chapters on the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Aaronic Priesthood, and the four auxiliaries. Though their titles are the same as in the current handbook, these chapters have some important simplifications in content and format.

It will now be our pleasure to hear a discussion of handbook principles and content from Elder Quentin L. Cook. By appointment of the First Presidency, he and I and Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy have been responsible to coordinate the work on the new handbook. We have received particularly valuable assistance from the Priesthood Department of the Church, from other General Authorities, and from the Correlation Department and their skilled editors. All of this has, of course, been under the direction and subject to the approval of the First Presidency. I have felt privileged to work in this inspired effort and testify that it will further the work of Him whose servants we are, even the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name I testify, amen.