I mentioned I was impressed with how the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles interacted with each other. As they entered the room where we held the series of meetings, they always greeted each other warmly. They smiled and shook hands or sometimes gently embraced one another. This was surprising to me as I knew they must have met together just hours before. I was witnessing a clear effort on their part to be respectful of each other and a sincere desire to express warmth and affection.
When one of them would teach, he would sometimes pause and ask his brothers of the Twelve if any of them had anything to add or any correction to offer. Occasionally, one of the apostles would stand and say, “I have nothing to add as a correction to what has been said, but I would like to offer a few comments in support of what has been beautifully taught.” When he would return to his seat, whispers of encouragement or a pat on the knee was sometimes offered.
This effort to invite unity and respect left a distinct impression on me. This was indeed a learning opportunity for me. I witnessed men of varying backgrounds, who sometimes may have different views on certain subjects, really work at preserving unity and true brotherhood.
When President Henry B. Eyring was called to the First Presidency, he was asked about how his educational background as a Harvard MBA and Ph.D. would influence his work in the First Presidency. President Eyring emotionally related what he observed about decision-making at the top levels of Church leadership.
In 1971, he was sitting in his first meeting with the Church Board of Education. He had been recently inaugurated as the new president of what was then Ricks College (now BYU–Idaho). Having a research background in group decision-making, he observed the board’s discussion as “the strangest encounter.”
“Here you have the prophets of God, and they are disagreeing in a way you never see in business,” when group members often defer to the chairperson. “I thought revelation would come to them all and they would all see things in the same way. It was not like anything I had ever seen in studying small groups in business.”
After some time, the board members began to agree on certain points, and President Eyring thought he’d seen a “miracle in unity” take place. However, as he waited for then-Church President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) to announce a consensus had been reached, he was surprised to hear the discussion tabled. President Lee sensed there was someone in the room who felt uneasy.
Afterward, President Eyring observed one of the Apostles approach President Lee and thank him. President Eyring said he remembers thinking, “This [Church] is what it claims to be, the true Church of Jesus Christ. Revelation is real here, even in what you call the business side” of the Church’s operations.
“President Lee taught me a great lesson, that we can be open, direct and talk about differences in a way you can’t anywhere else. No one is trying to win or make our arguments dominate. We just want to do and to say what is right.” (Carrie Moore and Nicole Warburton, “Elder Eyring Named New Second Counselor; Elder Quentin L. Cook is New Apostle,” Deseret Morning News, Oct. 6, 2007)
Upon learning about President Eyring’s experience, a question came to my mind: Has the Lord revealed specific instructions to us of how to function within a council? I discovered that the scriptures reveal a few gems.
Speaking of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorums of the Seventy as presiding quorums, the Lord said: “The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:30)
I had read this verse before, but it had never struck me as it did when I read it this time. In the next verse, a significant blessing to this marvelous counsel is given by revelation from the Lord: “Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:31)
A Special Code
I took a blank piece of paper and wrote down the virtues stated in Doctrine and Covenants 107:30. As I observed the words from this verse, a significant discovery stood out to me.
I noticed a special code, a code of conduct. This code of conduct is crucial, both inside and outside of our council meetings. Whenever we come together, we must come prepared to conduct ourselves in the manner the Lord has taught.
After reviewing items of a proposed agenda for a council, one must decide before the meeting how to present clear and concise ideas, how to conduct oneself if someone suggests a different direction, and how to respond if someone does not speak or act according to the code of conduct.
Abiding by this special code of conduct allows us to merit the Savior’s presence and guidance.
I remember an experience in which each time one member of our high council raised his hand to offer a comment, others would sometimes display an unmistakable body language. They would start moving papers in front of them and re-orient their attention to other unimportant tasks. This good brother had not yet mastered the ability to express his views in a way so that others would easily listen.
As I thought about him one day, a feeling of love and compassion came to me. I saw this brother was always present and eager to participate in the administration of the gospel. I realized that this special code of conduct applied not only to those who spoke but also to those who listened.
When I personally applied this code, I found this brother’s contributions in our meetings were very useful. He would clarify anything needing clarity and introduce valid solutions to challenges. The stake presidency would try to listen to his sincere feelings and then restate his comments, refraining from expressing any frustrations or defensive or negative remarks. He would then agree with our summary and the rest of the group would then join in the conversation.
This brother eventually learned how to express his views in a way that benefited us all. More importantly, our application of this code of conduct helped us value each participant as the Lord Himself sees us.
Expressing the Feelings of Our Hearts
I love what our General Authorities remind us about the principle of revelation. Elder Neil L. Andersen once explained that President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced to him a phrase that he’s never forgotten: “Revelation is scattered among us.” (Leadership Enrichment Series, “Align with the Brethren,” Elder Neil L. Andersen, August 15, 2012.)
Elder Anthony D. Perkins of the First Quorum of the Seventy also heard President Packer often using the same phrase. Elder Perkins adds his encouragement that as we realize revelation is scattered among us, we can each receive inspired ideas and then apply our “best thinking.” (Leadership Enrichment Series, “A Conversation on Inspired Leadership,” Elder Anthony D. Perkins, August 22, 2013). In other words, each council member’s contribution of ideas is important if we want to bring about desired revelation.
I once had the privilege of serving in a stake presidency. What a marvelous, enriching experience! As we were beginning our ministry, my counselors and I quickly became aware of a very difficult challenge in our stake. I did not know how to address this challenge. My counselors were very independent thinkers with strong personalities. However, I cannot emphasize enough that these two brothers were helpful and kind in their approach.
At one of our first meetings, I explained the challenge as I saw it and invited them to do the same. To make sure they would feel their input was valued, I told them, “There is no president and no counselors here. We are three priesthood holders with equal input in the matter. Please share the feelings of your heart on this issue.” We needed to find the will of the Lord on the matter.
We then began a discussion that took a few months to become fruitful. Each of us would explore and explain different ideas and the reasons why we were providing these ideas. Sometimes questions were raised as we tried to understand what was presented or as we assessed the consequences of going in a specific direction. If the responses did not provide assurance and comfort, we would sometimes abandon the proposed idea and change our position to rally the thoughts of one another. After a few months of discussion, a solution finally became clear and acceptable to all. We then took our place as president and counselors and presented our decision to the Lord. (See Doctrine and Covenants 42:3)
What is Best for the Kingdom of God
The purpose of coming together in councils is not so that one person can dominate others with his or her ideas or become the one with the magical solution. Our purpose of uniting in councils is to find together what is best for the Kingdom of God. Having this purpose firmly in our hearts will invite us to remember and apply this marvelous code of conduct.
The Lord further counsels us, “Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27)
May the Lord always bless us as we strive to build and preserve unity and respect in our family, church and work councils.