Some years ago I was assigned to attend a stake conference in Europe. When I arrived at the stake center, I met the stake Relief Society president, who was busy preparing some refreshments for the stake presidency and me. I took occasion to visit with her privately to thank her for her faithful service. While we were talking, I asked her how she was feeling about her calling in the Church.
“Elder Ballard,” she said, her voice edged with exasperation, “will the brethren in leadership positions ever understand that the sisters want to make a contribution to the real issues facing the Church and its members?”
As you might expect, I was a little surprised at her answer and the palpable frustration that clearly had prompted it. So I asked her to elaborate.
“Sometimes I feel like the hired help at the council table,” she said. “I’m there to serve, but not to contribute. When they talk about ways to accomplish the mission of the Church, my opinion is never sought. And when they refer to the decisions of stake leaders, they never acknowledge me as a leader who can make a contribution to the spiritual growth and development of stake members. Sometimes they even talk about ways to meet the needs of the sisters in our stake without even inviting me to participate. I’m given assignments, and I do what I’m told. But I never feel that I am asked to counsel. And I was wondering: Is that the way it’s supposed to work?”
My first thought was: “How can this be? She is a member of the stake council and the leader of the Relief Society in her stake. How can she feel that she is not a part of things?” I assured her that it was not the Lord’s program to ignore the magnificent spiritual capabilities of those who have been called through inspiration to preside over stake and ward Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations. Indeed, God has inspired the creation of a council system that is intended to harness the insight and experience of all who have been called to serve in key leadership positions in the ward and stake. But my conversation with this good sister made me wonder: How many of our Relief Society presidents feel that way? How many Primary presidents? How many Young Women presidents? How many of our elders quorum presidents, high priests group leaders, high councilors, and other organizational leaders feel unrepresented around the council table or within the ward or stake community they serve? How well do we understand the council system? Do we appreciate the power, vitality, and strength it can add to our respective ministries among God’s children in these latter days?
This experience and others like it prompted me to address the subject in general conference. For two consecutive general conferences I stood at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square and spoke about the importance of the council system in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I attempted to teach about the great spiritual power and inspired direction that come from properly conducted family, ward, and stake councils. I promised parents that their families will be greatly blessed if they will counsel with one another. I also promised ward and stake leaders that their service will be more effective if they will learn to harness the collective input, experience, faith, and testimony of all of the members of Church councils.