The Church needs great leaders. With the rate of growth in the Church across the Pacific and across the world, the Church needs great leaders; men and women, young and old, who are willing and able to respond to the call to serve. Leadership can be taught and developed, but all great leaders are also great learners. Therefore, in order to develop great leaders in the Church, present and future, we must first develop great learners, men and women with a thirst for knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
In the early days of the church, the Lord helped Joseph Smith understand this important principle as he established the School of Prophets in late December of 1832 in Kirtland, Ohio. At the time, the Church was young and very thin on leadership talent and strength. The Quorum of the Twelve would not be called until 1835, nor would the Presidency of the Seventy. And so, the faithful few who had been gathered thus far, assembled each evening after a long hard day’s work on the second floor of the Whitney school to learn. There they were taught by Joseph and by one another. “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”1 The Church would never develop leaders until it first developed learners.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had very little formal education. Emma Smith recorded that Joseph was hardly capable of constructing a sentence when he began translating the Book of Mormon. He struggled to even pronounce the name Sariah, the name of Lehi’s wife. Yet, the Lord would send angelic tutors beginning with Himself and His beloved Son Jesus Christ to teach Joseph, and to help him prepare and develop into the great prophet-leader of the Last Dispensation of Times. Joseph is a prime example of what President Monson often teaches; “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” In time, Joseph Smith would become one of the most knowledgeable and learned men of his time, as the Lord poured out revelation upon revelation on through the prophet. With the Holy Ghost as his near- constant companion, Joseph’s ability to learn was quickened and expanded well beyond his innate ability. He became a great learner and a great leader.
In the Church of Jesus Christ, all leaders are teachers. Effective teaching inspires people to strengthen their relationship with God and live according to gospel principles. Great teachers are great learners. Effective leaders prepare themselves spiritually as they keep the commandments, study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, pray, fast, and humble themselves before the Lord.2 Great learners appoint the Holy Ghost to be their teacher, and prayerfully “seek learning even by study and also by faith.” Leaders’ most powerful teaching comes from sharing their personal example. Leaders also teach by sharing their testimonies and conducting doctrinally based discussions in leadership meetings, classes, and activities.3
As the Lord continues to ‘hasten his work in its time’ a strong case can be made for greater urgency in strengthening and expanding priesthood and auxiliary leadership within the Church. That means greater urgency in personal spiritual preparation and learning among all members of the Church. Consider the following recent prophetic announcements:
1. The recent change in the age of eligibility for full-time missionary service. Missionaries must now be prepared earlier. The home is the new Mission Training Center. The responsibility to teach our children the doctrine and to prepare them to teach others is the parents. Learning must take place in the home.
2. The new youth curriculum. Parents, teachers, advisers and leaders of youth are called by the Lord to help the youth learn the gospel by their own study and faith, and to discover the truthfulness of the gospel for themselves, and to strengthen their families and others by sharing their experiences, insights, and testimony. This will require parents, teachers and leaders to first become more effective learners; establishing a daily pattern of personal prayer, scripture study and obedience to have the Holy Ghost be their appointed teacher.
3. The Church Handbook of Instructions Book 2 and the recent worldwide leadership training video: Strengthening the Family and the Church through the Priesthood are materials which emphasize what the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles are teaching priesthood and auxiliary leaders about the preeminent role of the family and the priesthood.
Since “true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behaviours”4 perhaps the following doctrinal principles will help each of us become better learners and by so doing become better leaders and teachers.
1. Learning is the very purpose of the Plan of Salvation. We are here to learn obedience, to live by faith and to become like the Saviour.5 The purpose of learning is not just to know, but to become.
2. Agency is the cornerstone to the Plan of Salvation and to learning. Learning requires that we exercise our agency and act. To “seek learning even by study, and by faith”, is an act of agency.6 We get what we focus on consistently. What level of learning are you choosing?
3. Learning will continue long after mortality.7 So, will the personal habits and desires we have for learning. A thirst for knowledge is a key characteristic of discipleship.
4. Spiritual learning requires prayerful and diligent study, but also faith and experience based on obedience.8 Learning is not a spectator sport. It requires our active participation. No generation has had greater access to the scriptures and the inspired words of living prophets. How diligent are we in our gospel study? With online study aids available through lds.org, Preach My Gospel, and the scriptures themselves, we have little excuse for not being students of the gospel. Experience is a great teacher and a fundamental part of our mortal experience. Learning requires experience and it is often the application of knowledge that leads to wisdom. It is acting in faith and applying principles of obedience that allow us to experience blessings.
5. The Holy Ghost is the ultimate teacher of all spiritual truths.9 As we faithfully keep our covenants and humbly call upon the Father in the name of the Son; we are promised the Father will send the Holy Ghost to us. An essential part of “seeking learning, even by study, and by faith”, is recognizing our constant need to have the Holy Ghost be our teacher.
6. Learning our true relationship to God is the most important thing we can learn.10 Understanding our true relationship with God is the beginning point for all spiritual learning and the foundation of a personal testimony.
7. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the enabling power for all learning. Obedience to God is the basis for obtaining and developing faith in the Saviour. The Atonement provides the power and ‘means unto men’ to change, to repent, and to qualify for the Holy Ghost and the spiritual gift and power to learn.11 Without the Atonement, we could not learn from experience without being condemned by the very experiences we need to grow.
If we are to save the rising generation, prepare a generation of powerful missionary teachers, strengthen future fathers, mothers, priesthood and auxiliary leaders and establish the Church, indeed if we are to save our own souls and prepare to meet the Saviour, then we need to hasten the work of learning. We need a generation of learners who “seek learning even by study and by faith.” We need leaders who are diligent learners and powerful teachers.
1 (D&C 88:118)
2 (Handbook 2 3.2.1)
3 (Handbook 2 3.2.4)
4 President Boyd K. Packer
5 (Abraham 3:25)
6 (2 Nephi 2:16, 26)
7 (D&C 130:18-19)
8 (D&C 88:118; 122:7)
9 (D&C 8:2-3; John 14:26; Moroni 10:5)
10 (John 17:3; Bible Dictionary, Prayer p. 753)
11 (Alma 34:15)