As a leader in the local ward, I had the opportunity to attend the meeting where the new LDS Church Handbook of Instructions was released. I also have a copy of the book.
I don’t understand people that think there are any great secrets in these books. They are simply policy manuals, not unlike the employee manuals you have at your job. They are only distributed to leaders because only those leaders need to know about the policies that affect them.
Not unlike our temple ceremonies, there are no great secrets. If you go to our temple expecting to see some great secret revealed, you will be sorely disappointed. If you miss out on the spirit of the ordinances, what you have is dead and worthless, pearls before swine.
The principles and policies in the new manuals are very basic and plain, and only a few minor differences are noteworthy. Do you really care how an Elders Quorum President is supposed to organize home teaching? Likewise, if you are not on the Ward Council, do you concern yourself with how the Ward Council is supposed to conduct its council meetings and what matters are to be discussed? Such knowledge would be trivia to those who don’t need it.
Yes, this leads to a sort of stratification in the church. There are, roughly, three levels. You have the members who show up and fulfill their callings faithfully. Then you have the leaders who sit in presidencies and councils who run the affairs of the local wards and stakes. Then you have the leaders who are general authorities who run the affairs of the whole church.
This stratification is not only necessary but natural. I don’t really care what the general authorities do or what their specific responsibilities and policies are. All I care about is the corner of the kingdom I am called to watch over. If I weren’t assigned to lead a group, then I would only concern myself with my own calling, whether it be a teacher or clerk, relying on the instructions from my leaders.
Throughout the meeting, it was emphasized that policies are policies—decisions that have been made about how people are supposed to behave. These policies do not affect how regular, non-leader members behave or what they do. Those policies are laid out quite well in our scriptures, publications, and lesson manuals. These policies only affect how we behave ourselves as leaders in the church. If we understand the policies, and if we live by them, then the vast majority of breakdowns at the local level will disappear.
As Elder Holland said, he has never seen an issue at the local level that was not already addressed, clearly, in the Church Handbook of Instructions. Had the local leaders simply referred to that resource, the problems would have disappeared.
An especially important emphasis was put on the “magical” aspect of being LDS: revelation. First, that the priesthood is the power whereby the church is run, and we should rely on it as we fulfill our callings. This power is the power of service and love, of standing to represent Christ. We must be keenly aware of this huge burden and all it requires of us. Second, that the priesthood entitles those who have responsibility to revelation. We should not only seek it out as we are entitled to it, but carefully heed it. President Packer’s remarks at the end relied heavily on a scripture that emphasizes this point.
Is this any different than the advice that missionaries give to people learning about our church, or the advice that the First Presidency gives to the Council of the Twelve? Of course not.
The move the church is experiencing is designed to help members of the church run the church more through spiritual promptings and not so much as a heartless machine, as some may have done in the past. We are in the business of saving souls, and that means we have to be inspired with God’s love for each soul and God’s insight into how each soul can be properly helped. Like the new missionary manual, the emphasis I felt was on spirituality, tempered with clear teachings based on sound doctrine.