Counseling With Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family by Elder M. Russell Ballard is one of the great Church books I’ve read. Though it’s not directly related to mission prep, I wanted to share my thoughts about it with you anyway.
Leadership and Problem Solving Pattern
One of the most important things I learned from the book were principles of leadership and problem solving. As I analyzed several of the stories in the book, I discovered what appeared to be an effective pattern of problem solving advocated by Elder Ballard for use by Church councils (and elsewhere). To be clear, this pattern is not explicitly outlined in the book. This is my personal interpretation based on examples throughout the book. The steps in the pattern are:
- Problem Awareness: A feeling, data, or other symptoms of a problem are revealed.
- Problem Escalation: An event occurs (could be a superior telling you to do something or it could be realization of consequences) that drives you to address the problem.
- Problem Assignment: The appropriate people are assigned to investigate the problem.
- Problem Discussion: Open and honest conversation is held to get ideas out. Questions are asked, facts and opinions are considered.
- Problem Definition: The root problem is clearly articulated and outlined.
- Solution Alternatives: Brainstorm potential solutions that are specific and measurable. Discuss them. Evaluate them. Focus on desired results.
- Solution Determination: Decide on the best solution. Communicate the decision to and get buy in from people who will have to implement the solution.
- Solution Implementation: Do it.
- Results Analyzed: Return and report. Make sure the solution is solving the problem.
I have turned these steps into a PowerPoint presentation called Effective Problem Solving through Councils and posted it on SlideShare. Please go there to view or download it. Additionally below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
How the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Counsel Together
“During discussion, they do not push their own ideas but try to determine from the discussion what would be best for the kingdom.”
“They always work from an agenda. The agenda is distributed to each member of the Twelve the night before the meeting so that they have an opportunity to read, ponder, and consider each item in preparation for the meeting.” (p. 47)
“They are men of strong character, men from different backgrounds–they are certainly not “yes” men. They speak as they are moved by the Spirit.”
“When the President of the Twleve senses a unity taking place concerning the item on the agenda,he may ask for a recommendation …[which] summarizes the feelings of the total Council.” (p. 48)
Local Presiding Councils
“Generally, Church leaders teach principles, not practices. Inspired stake, ward, and family council members learn to convert principles into appropriate practices through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.” (p. 59)
“Functioning successfully as a council doesn’t mean making group decisions. It simply means the council leader draws from the various abilities, insights, experiences, and inspiration of council members to help make good decisions under the influence of the Spirit. While we seek unanimity, the final decision is always up to the council leader.” (p. 68)
“One young bishop I know was taught this important concept…We had lots of great activities, and our meetings were always well planned and executed…but we didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything of real, lasting significance in the lives of the members of our ward. We were so busy being busy.” (p. 71)
“The principle thing that should matter most to all Church councils:bringing souls to Christ and securing them with spiritual witness and testimony.” (p. 75)
“Councils are for counsel and the exchange of ideas, not just reports and lectures. Free and open discussion is critical…Leaders should work to establish a climate conducive to such openness where every person and group is important and every opinion is valuable.” (p. 112)
Women’s Involvement in Councils
“A wise stake president or bishop will see his auxiliary presidents as spiritual leaders rather than as organizers and party planners. Too many women leaders are underutilized and unappreciated, at times because priesthood leaders don’t have a clear understanding or an enlightened view of the significant contribution the sisters can make.” (p. 92)
“In one such meeting when we were talking about the worthiness of youth to serve missions, President Elaine Jack, then serving as the Relief Society general president, said, ‘You know, Elder Ballard, the sisters of the Church may have some good suggestions on how to better prepare the youth for missions if they were just asked. After all, you know, we are their mothers!'” (p. 94)
Specific Measurable Outcomes
In Elder Ballard’s section on holding effective meetings and he talked about the need to focus on “specific, measurable” outcomes. He said, “ when an assignment is delegated, it should normally be communicated in terms of ‘what’ rather than ‘how’; that is, the person receiving it should be accountable for the result to be achieved rather than the specific methods used. This allows him or her to seek inspiration and to exercise creativity…in accomplishing the task that has been delegated.” P. 125
“Family rules and procedures are more likely to be accepted and followed if all family members have been given the opportunity to participate in the discussions and agree to the rules” (p. 155)
In “the family council, the things that really matter are loving motivations, an atmosphere that encourages free and open discussion, and a willingness to listen to the honest input of all council members–as well as to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as it comes to confirm truth and direction.” (p. 157)
“Governance through councils is more than just a good idea; it is God’s plan.” (p. 169)