In view of the accelerating growth of the Church and the ever-faster unraveling of society’s moral and spiritual fabric throughout the world, as pointed out by President Thomas S. Monson (see “Looking Back and Moving Forward,” 90), it is increasingly imperative to empower leaders of stakes, wards, and homes to do whatever it takes, in harmony with gospel principles, to bring people to Christ. Every person and situation is unique in some way. While principles are universally applicable, practices are not. As every parent knows who has tried to rear the second child exactly like the first, what works in one situation may fail in another.
The central activity of leadership is teaching—first by example, second by precept. After that, leaders become a source of help as their empowered stewards assume the responsibility and exercise the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with the principles taught, to fulfill the shared vision.
The most advanced, universal, and practical leadership philosophy ever put forth was given in this simple statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach the people correct principles and they govern themselves” (quoted by John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 10:57–58). Area Presidencies are to teach stake presidencies the overall vision, direction, purpose, and correct principles of the Church, and then let stake presidencies govern or manage their stakes. A similar pattern applies to bishops and their wards and to parents and their families. “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (D&C 107:99).
This empowerment process requires leaders to exercise great patience while modeling Christlike behavior; building caring, trusting relationships; setting up clear role and goal expectations; identifying sources of help; and requiring accountability. 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. For example, after teaching the principle of daily family prayer, a father may ask, “How and when should our family hold family prayer?” The family may determine to hold family prayer just before the children go to school. This may become a family practice for many years. Later, the family may find it more practical to hold family prayer in conjunction with the evening meal or at bedtime. Practices may change, but fundamental principles and purposes do not change.