Viewpoint: Councils Are the Lord’s System

Contributed By the Church News

  • 1 January 2017

Adam and Eve counsel with their children. The overall objective of a council is to obtain for our families what Heavenly Father wants for our families: eternal life.

Article Highlights

  • The purpose of a council is to do good and to solve problems.
  • Councils are every bit as applicable in the family as they are in a stake or ward.
  • Councils can bring order, repair hurt feelings, and give parents the tools they need.

“Effective councils invite full expression from council members and unify their efforts in responding to individual, family, and organizational needs.” —Handbook 2: Administering the Church

Three years prior to the death of Adam, he called his righteous posterity into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, where he bestowed upon them his last blessing (see D&C 107:53).

It was a momentous occasion indeed. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the gathering and administered comfort to Adam, saying to him, “I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.”

We read further that Adam, filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesied what would happen to his posterity down to the latest generation.

Among other things, this occasion is an example of administration by council, a principle that has existed among the people of God—and among the Godhead itself—from before the creation of the earth. As reflected in chapter 4 of the book of Abraham, a divine council organized the heavens and the earth.

The purpose of councils

“It’s a great system; it’s the Lord’s system,” declared Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as quoted in the December 28 issue of the Church News.

“The Lord’s Church is governed through councils at the general, area, stake, and ward levels,” states the Church’s Handbook 2. “These councils are fundamental to the order of the Church.

“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.”

And as Elder Ballard has made clear, the council principle is every bit as applicable in the family as it is in a stake or ward.

“Like other councils, the family council can be a positive, causative force in the lives of Church members,” he wrote in his book Counseling with Our Councils (p. 157).

“It can help bring order to the home, provide a forum for soothing hurt feelings, give parents an important tool with which to combat outside influences, and create an opportunity to teach profound gospel truths.”

The principles that govern family councils are basically the same as those that govern other Church councils, he wrote.

“Their overall objective is identical. We want for our families the same thing Heavenly Father desires for His family: ‘immortality and eternal life’ (Moses 1:39). We want to develop loving relationships that will extend beyond this life.”

According to Elder Ballard, the principles that govern family councils are basically the same as those that govern other Church councils: eternal life for families.

In the book, Elder Ballard shared a sacred experience involving a family council. He was about to receive open-heart surgery, and his surgeon urged him to gather his family around him.

With his family standing around his hospital bed in a family council, he felt an overwhelming desire to instruct them in the event something should happen to him: they should take care of their mother and of each other.

“Because of the wise counsel I received from my friend and surgeon, my family and I shared a binding moment in life that will live as a precious memory for all of us throughout eternity,” he reflected. “Regardless of how difficult some challenges may be, we need to work through them with each other.”

The role of each council member

Consider the collective power there is in a group of good, prayerful people, each attuned to receiving the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in accomplishing good and in solving problems.

In a council setting properly administered, each member is invited and encouraged to express his or her true sentiments and to give free rein to ideas. As recounted by Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith in an upcoming article in the Church News, the Prophet Joseph Smith admonished the Nauvoo Council of Fifty that he did not want to be forever surrounded by a set of “dough heads” or yes men; he wanted them to speak their minds freely.

In the initial stages of such a discussion, there may well be disagreement, even sharp disagreement. But there need not be rancor; a spirit of love and constructive cooperation should prevail over pride and stubbornness.

As a discussion proceeds in such a setting, kernels of wisdom and prudence will emerge in the form of council consensus as the chaff of unworkable ideas is blown away.

Latter-day Saints have long been taught the process by which one receives personal revelation, as explained by the Lord to Oliver Cowdery in these words:

“Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong” (D&C 9:8–9).

In summation, then, revelation generally flows from a period of fact finding, study, and pondering, followed by prayerful seeking of the Lord’s guidance. He will ratify that which is right by a spiritual manifestation or, conversely, will bring a “stupor of thought,” causing us to forget that which is wrong.

The process applies in a collective way to the work of a council. The free discussion among council members constitutes fact finding and study. Guided individually by the Holy Ghost, council members eventually reach divinely inspired agreement on a course of action, while unfeasible or imprudent ideas fade in a collective “stupor of thought” as discussion proceeds.

As we begin this new year, let us renew our determination to apply the council system—“the Lord’s system”—in our homes and in our Church callings and responsibilities. We may be surprised at how readily we arrive at solutions to even the most vexing problems.


In the coming week, watch for several additional articles about councils to be published on news.lds.org.