The Mission and Ministry of the Savior: A Discussion with Elder Russell M. Nelson

Russell M. Nelson

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Russell M. Nelson

Photograph by Matthew Reier

Recently Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with a member of the Church magazines staff to discuss the calling of an Apostle and the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Here is a portion of their discussion.

Church Magazines: What is the difference between the office of Apostle and that of other General Authorities?

Elder Nelson: There are five offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood: elder, high priest, patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle. So, first of all, it’s an ordination to a different office. There is a quorum of the Apostles. There are also quorums of the Seventy. One responsibility that Seventies and Apostles have in common is that they are each called to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ in all the world. The best way to answer the question is to refer you to Doctrine and Covenants section 107, which says that the Twelve Apostles, or traveling high council, under the direction of the First Presidency, regulate the affairs of the Church in all the nations, and they call on the Seventy to assist them (see D&C 107:23–26). The Lord is pretty clear about the difference.

Church Magazines: In all the world—that must involve a great deal of travel.

Elder Nelson: That’s implicit in the name Apostle. It comes from the Greek apóstolos, meaning “one sent forth.” So the Lord called His special witnesses and asked them to go into all the world.

Church Magazines: What is the most difficult aspect of your calling?

Elder Nelson: As the Church grows—now in the vicinity of 12 million people—and with the turnover, with bishops in office less than five years on average, our great concern will always be imposed by the growth of the Church. How can we have our bishops well trained? How can we keep the doctrine pure? How can we keep apostasy from working into the traditions of different wards and branches? That’s our great concern.

Church Magazines: What is the most rewarding aspect of your calling?

Elder Nelson: Clearly the most rewarding aspect is on an individual plane. When you see what obedience to the principles of the gospel does in the lives of people, it is so thrilling. For example, in West Africa, where those dear Saints have lived for so many years without the hope of a temple, we now have a temple in Ghana. To see the difference in the lives of those people, the happiness in the families, the hope and light that come into their lives—there’s nothing quite like that.

Church Magazines: Many members struggle. What counsel would you give to people who wish they were more committed but find it difficult?

Elder Nelson: Those people need to have a little private time and ask themselves what they really want in life. Is it entertainment? Is it wealth? Is it fame? They need to decide what they really want to accomplish. No runner starting a race would ever start without knowing whether he’s doing a hundred-yard dash or a marathon. Many people, in and out of the Church, have not really framed their objectives, what they want to accomplish more than anything else. But once they have made the decision to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, to emulate His example, to live according to His precepts, then their commitment is secure. That has to be done individually. No leader can do it for anyone else.

Church Magazines: In the scriptures the Savior says, “Come unto me.” What does this invitation mean? How do we come unto Him?

Elder Nelson: “Come unto me,” the Savior said, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). So you come unto Christ to be yoked with Him and with His power, so that you’re not pulling life’s load alone. You’re pulling life’s load yoked with the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and suddenly your problems, no matter how serious they are, become lighter. That’s what we mean by coming unto Christ, being yoked to Him.

Church Magazines: What are some of the steps involved in that process?

Elder Nelson: Faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then enduring to the end. You never give up on yourself and those you love. You keep working. Many of our Saints don’t understand what repentance really is. Repentance is more than just undoing the wrongs you’ve done. It’s a whole change of your outlook on life. You want to think like the Lord. You want to talk like the Lord. You want to act like the Lord. You want to believe, you want to pray, you want to love the way the Lord does. And then you’re converted. Often you see people whose first interest is somewhere else. They will have conflicts, because as they try to serve the Lord they have one foot in the stirrup and one foot dragging on the ground.

Church Magazines: What would you say to members who feel they are praying worthily but feel their prayers are not being answered?

Elder Nelson: We’ve all had that experience. We’ve prayed for something to happen, and it didn’t happen. Farmers pray for moisture, but moisture is parceled out so partially. I think we need to learn a lesson from the Lord Himself who taught us how to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer He said: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9–10). If we can train ourselves to pray to God that we might conform to His will rather than have Him conform to our will, that problem will disappear. It’s a matter of learning who is the Father and who is the son or the daughter. You pray to be consonant with the will of God and to let your life be consonant with His will and direction for you. Maybe that means you have to suffer through a death or an illness in the family in order to get the growth and the experience that will be to your eternal advantage. Remember who you are when you pray and to whom you’re praying. Blessings are always granted upon obedience to the law upon which those blessings are predicated. I learned in doing surgery that all the prayers in the world could be undone by a single mistake because blessings are predicated upon obedience to laws. Therefore, if you really want a certain blessing, you’d better find out what the laws are that govern that blessing and then work on becoming obedient to those laws (see D&C 130:20–21).

Church Magazines: What would you want every member of the Church to know about the Savior?

Elder Nelson: As I go around to visit the members of the Church in stake conferences and regional conferences, often I ask them what they know about the life of the Savior. How can you describe what you know about the Savior in a word or two? And maybe I don’t phrase the question very well, but quite often their answers are rather nebulous. I’ve learned that generally people in the world do not understand who the Lord is, what His mission was, or what His ministry meant. The Lord’s mission in mortality was to accomplish the Atonement, which is a gift of immortality to every individual who has ever lived. That is an incredible gift. Part of that mission was to make eternal life a possibility for anyone who would qualify for it. That is a gift conditioned upon obedience to the laws and temple ordinances and covenants. What was His ministry? His ministry was everything else that He did—His miracles, His teachings, His love, His focus on ordinances, His teaching us how to pray. His mission—the Atonement—was uniquely His. Only one was required to do that. He did it once for all. On the other hand, His ministry was to be an example for us. There is no limit to the number of people who can learn to love as He loved, to serve, obey, pray, and endure to the end as He did. We can all emulate that example. We need to make a clear distinction between the things we can do that the Lord did and the things we need not worry about that the Lord did once for all. If we can understand that, then we can really emulate the Lord in our own lives and follow the example He set for us.

Church Magazines: Is there anything else you would like to say to the members of the Church?

Elder Nelson: Just to bear my testimony that this is the work of the Lord. We are engaged in His holy service. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, as is the New Testament, as is the Old Testament. But the Book of Mormon is a very special document that teaches us more about the life, the mission, and the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ than any other book. I’m so grateful for the Book of Mormon. And I’m very grateful to be led by a living prophet. To have a prophet at the helm of this Church is a wonderful privilege. It is my testimony that we are engaged in the work of the living God in His living Church, the only true and living church upon the face of the earth. And I leave that testimony with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[illustration] Not My Will, But Thine, Be Done, by Harry Anderson, © Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Pacific Press Publishing, may not be copied

[illustration] Come, Follow Me, by James T. Harwood, courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art

[photo] Photograph by Linda Leeper