How the Mormon Church is Run

Doctrine: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is run by the doctrines of Presidencies and Councils, as established by God and patterned after the Presidency and Council of the Godhead.

A lot of people wonder how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs. These wonderings are not exclusive to non-members. Many members of the Church often struggle to receive callings, accept them, and even more, to tackle the responsibility of trying to master such callings. Yet another struggle, often faced, is the struggle to allow others to receive, accept, and act in their callings. However, this struggle can be lessened if we understand the doctrines/truths that provide the foundation for godly presidencies and councils. For, “mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8).

Many members and non-members alike often dislike policies or church organization; or want policies and organization to be changed because they are unhappy with how it all runs-either in timing or outcomes. However, the Lord has established how His Church is to be run-by council (Doctrine & Covenants 90:16). And, He has established it in such a perfect way. Not only is the pattern of God’s Church set up as it was in the days of Christ’s ministry; it is set-up to ensure the Church moves forward despite human weaknesses; the pattern is set-up to help individuals become godly. This pattern of training us to be godly applies to those God calls whether the call is to to be the prophet all the way down to young primary children giving talks and prayers.

A few years back, my mother (the 1st Doctrine Lady…and the one I try to emulate) wrote this essay about Church Presidencies and Councils and, basically, how the Church does function. It also addresses some things each of us need to know as we wish to become godly in our individual service to God.

Why Presidencies and Councils?

The entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”) is governed by presidencies at all levels.  From the smallest Young Women classes and Aaronic Priesthood quorums, all auxiliaries (Primary, Young Women, Young Men, and Relief Society), all Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups at ward and stake levels, to Branch Presidencies, Bishoprics, Stake and Area Presidencies, the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and First Presidency.  Though the Quorum of the Twelve is not titled as a “presidency”, by virtue of the fact that they govern as a council, and all presidencies are councils, they are included in this category.

Higher than all of these listed above is the First Presidency of Heaven which we commonly call the Godhead.  It is, and should be, the prime example of what every presidency should be.  Though there is much we don’t know about how the Godhead functions, we do know some things.  So to begin, listing those things we do know is of primary importance.

  • First, we know that the Godhead is perfectly united in purpose.  That purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
  • Second, we know that though united in that purpose, the three members of the Godhead have different assignments.  In those assignments they complement one another.
  • Third, they counsel together, perfectly carry out their plans as they counseled, and then report back and determine their success (Abr. 5:1-5).
  • Along with these three main facts we also know much about their physical attributes and the perfectness of their characters.  But for our purposes here we will focus on how they function as a presidency.


The Godhead being united in purpose is our first example of how any presidency should function.  The main objective of the Church is to bring souls to Jesus Christ.  It is the one and only purpose of all the auxiliaries, quorums, programs, and buildings.  Sometimes that fact is forgotten or overlooked as we work to keep our percentages up, activities fun, and people organized.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this one goal:  to bring the souls over whom we preside to Christ so the Godhead can provide for their immortality and eternal life.  We are working for the Savior, feeding His sheep, seeking out His wandering lambs, and maintaining His pasture.  As soon as we think we are more than servants, caretakers, or stewards, we lose proper focus and we are not united with the Godhead in Their “work and glory.”council1

It is important that members of a presidency are united as a presiding council like the Godhead is.  But it is essential that a mortal presidency be united with the Godhead itself.  If all members of a presidency are united in God’s work with the Godhead itself, as well as with each other, there should be few problems to overcome in the work of accepting and fulfilling assignments and through counseling because each member will be on the proverbial “same page.”


The Godhead is united in purpose but each member has a different assignment.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost each has His own work to do in relation to the divine purpose and destiny of the Father’s sons and daughters.

  • Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had direct access to God the Father—the author of the Plan.  They walked and talked with Him in the Garden of Eden.  God the Father is the god we worship.
  • Since the Fall, God the Son has been the mediator between the Father and His children.  The Son, Jesus Christ, mediates through the power of the Atonement (D&C 45:3-5), a redemption which transcends the Fall and makes it possible for each of us to return to the Father’s presence again.
  • The Holy Ghost, not yet a personage of flesh but of spirit, is therefore able to do His work of testifying, sanctifying, purifying, and so forth, as the children of God seek for the truth and apply it.

All three Gods work to make the plan of salvation function perfectly.

Members of the Godhead often speak for each other by what we call “divine investiture of authority,” but they do not appear to interfere with each other’s particular assignment in the plan.  Each is perfect in character, knowledge, and power.  To know one is to know them all.  But each has His function and assignment and there is complete mutual trust between them that each will do his part.

As members of a mortal presidency, it is important to allow each member fulfill his or her assignments as agreed upon in council meeting.  Complete mutual trust is of extreme importance.  Presidents should choose counselors with the idea in mind that they will be allowed to fulfill their assignments and responsibilities without interference and report back in presidency meeting.  This concept overlaps into the third imperative, that once assignments have been completed, each member reports back in presidency meeting.


The idea of returning and reporting upon completion of an assignment is very important to the overall unity of the Godhead, and consequently a mortal presidency.  Often one of the others cannot complete his mission or assignment until another member has performed his duty or assignment.

Example:  Jesus had to ask His apostles the question, “But whom say ye that I am?” before the Holy Ghost could testify to Peter enabling him to answer, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16).

Example:  Jesus went to be baptized of John.  After the baptism both the Father and the Holy Ghost were able to do their parts; the Father voicing His acceptance of His Beloved Son, and the Holy Ghost lighting upon Jesus in the sign of the dove (Matt. 3:13-17).

The wording, reporting back, is not a scriptural phrase.  But there are other indicators that seem to suggest reporting back.  Two examples follow.

First, in John 20, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ sepulcher and was both astonished and worried about the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  After reporting the loss to Peter, and after he and John ran to check out her report for themselves, she was finally alone at the tomb and saw the resurrected Jesus.  Immediately she reached out to touch or hold Him.  Jesus said, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father…” (John 20:17).  I would like to suggest that Jesus may be referring to his need to return and report to His Father, having accomplished His redemptive mission, and receive further commandments on how to proceed from there.

Another example is in 3 Nephi.  Jesus, after having spent the day with the people of Nephi teaching all that He was commanded of the Father to speak (3 N3 17:2), announced that His “time is at hand” (3 Ne 17:1).  The footnote for verse 1a reads, “IE to return to the Father. See v.4.”  I am suggesting that this is reference to Him having to report back.  He then perceived that they could not understand all that He had so far taught them, so He commanded the people to ponder and pray to the Father in Jesus’ name for understanding.  This will then consequently open the door for the Holy Ghost to fulfill His assignment of preparing the people for further enlightenment.

The fact that each member of the Godhead perfectly performs His duties and responsibilities may seem unattainable to a mortal member of a mortal presidency.  But it is not impossible to do one’s best at all times.  That is what the Godhead does and that is what they expect from us.  Though the Godhead’s best is perfection, ours can be as perfect as possible within our spheres and callings.  Therefore, to return and report on an assignment completed is vital to finishing a task to the best of our ability.council2

To summarize all the above, then, we can say that the First Presidency of Heaven, the Godhead, is the perfect example of how presidencies in the Church should function.  We have mentioned three basic things they do to maintain unity and insure success:

  1. They are perfectly united in purpose.
  2. They each have specific duties to perform, and they don’t interfere with the others’ duties.
  3. They counsel together and carry out those plans within their areas of responsibilities and then report back.


The words council and counsel have been used a few times already.  Let’s look at the meanings of those words.

A council is an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice, or discussion, the sharing of information, and the accepting or reporting back on assignments.  All presidencies are councils.  Other Church councils are Ward and Stake councils or Priesthood Executive councils, consisting of the presidents of auxiliaries and quorums.

When the Lord was revealing the need and scope of the First Presidency of the newly restored Church, He gave this command:  “And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs of this Church and kingdom (D&C 90:16, italics added).

From this scripture we learn a few things.  First, a president presides in council.  He is not a dictator or one who simply sets out his plan and hands out assignments.  He calls this council together, and after making sure that all the council members are all centered on the main purpose of the work, as a council they all then discuss, consult, and advise one another on ways to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.

The word counsel entails what happens during a council meeting.  Each member of the council counsels.  In other words, each member of the presidency (or other council) gives advice and helps deliberate on how to proceed in accomplishing the goal at hand.  It is the responsibility of each counselor to draw from his or her experience and knowledge and to frankly and honestly place these thoughts and ideas on the table for consideration.  It is imperative that the president does likewise, and allows, and even encourages, this free exchange.

Brigham Young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.416, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1977). 

To discourage any complete and thorough dialogue over any objective under consideration is to cut off revelation.  President Young also taught, “Be willing to receive truth, let it come from whom it may…” (ibid. p.11).  A council is an aid to revelation.  I relate two examples below.

EXAMPLE:  My husband was serving in a stake presidency some years ago.  He was a counselor to a stake president who had lived in our stake for over 25 years.  This president knew everyone and had been involved in the stake presidency as a counselor to another stake president for a decade previous to his own call as president.  My husband and the other counselor were relatively new in the stake and were mostly acquainted with members in their respective wards.

One night at their weekly presidency meeting the stake president brought up the plight of a particular individual, one he thought his counselors were not familiar with.  He also said up front that he had already made up his mind on how to handle the situation, but he just wanted to hear if the counselors had anything they wanted to say in regard to the person and matter.  By the time each counselor had finished his counsel the president, stunned, said, “What you have said has completely changed how I am going to handle this situation!”  The frank and honest discourse that came from the experience and knowledge of the two counselors revealed information the president didn’t have, and the Holy Ghost was able to confirm that information in the heart and mind of the president and help him save a soul according to the Lord’s will instead of the president’s.

EXAMPLE:  Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt following numerous and constant revelations and instructions, a large part of which he received from face-to-face encounters with Jehovah.  From the burning bush to the plagues, through the sea and providing water from a rock for God’s people, Moses received constant revelation from the Lord.  It would seem that Moses never lacked for divine counsel on how to proceed.

At one point, however, as Israel camped in the wilderness, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and the high priest of Midian, arrived at the camp bringing Moses’ wife and sons to join him.  It was a grand reunion, for Moses had lived with Jethro for 40 years and married his daughter Zipporah while living in Midian as a refugee from Egypt.  Jethro was the one who had ordained Moses to the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 84:6) during that time before his call from God to be a prophet.

Jethro stayed on a few days before returning to his own land and watched as Moses presided over the children of Israel.  He was astonished at what he saw.  Moses was presiding all alone and dealing with every problem that arose within the entire camp.  Jethro approached Moses and told him that to try and manage all the Israelites alone was pure folly and would ultimately do him in.  Jethro then encouraged Moses to divide the Israelites into groups and set wise men to preside over them to take care of the lesser problems.  He encouraged Moses to only take on the problems and issues that couldn’t be solved by these others.  He testified to Moses that this was the way to govern such a large people, and encouraged him to seek validation from the Lord.  And that’s exactly what Moses did (Ex. 18:13-26).

Why didn’t the Lord, who had been conversing with Moses face-to-face on every other situation that came upon His people, tell Moses to set up judges and wise men over the people?  The answer appears to be as Brigham Young suggested, “Revelation is only needed where experience fails.”  The Lord knew that Jethro had the knowledge and experience Moses needed.  All Moses needed from the Lord was confirmation on Jethro’s counsel.  And that’s exactly what happened.


For a president at any level of Church government to presuppose that all the revelation for business regarding his or her stewardship will only come through himself is pure folly.  It has never been so.  The council of a presidency is an aid to revelation.  The Lord regards it as such and operates through that council.  When a president chooses to ignore or neglect the counsel of his or her counselors, he is setting himself up as a light (see 2 Ne 26:31).  When serving the Lord and His purposes we must do it His way, which in this case is “to preside in council” (D&C 90:16).

Human beings come into this world with five senses with which to communicate: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.  If we lose one of these five senses, or one doesn’t work that well, we are considered handicapped.  Each sense helps us give and receive information in this mortal world.  When a president purposely chooses to try to function without counsel, it is the same as purposely choosing to go without one of his or her senses.  No one would purposely choose to be blind, or deaf, or single out only one sense with which to communicate and cast the others away.  Yet, choosing to ignore or not even ask for the counsel of one’s counselors, who the Lord has provided to ensure proper lines of revelation, is as foolish as choosing to go without one or more senses.  To do so is to neglect the very purpose of the calling of a presidency.  Always remember, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses…” (D&C 6:28)


So, if all presidencies are, at their core, a council, why have a president at all?  Why not a council of three counselors?

In the restored Church there is a president in every council.  Remember “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9).  We are patterned after the Godhead.

The role of a president is to:

  1. Conduct council meetings,
  2. Receive assignments from higher councils,
  3. Report to higher councils, and
  4. Be responsible for the decisions of his or her own council.

A president presides over and conducts the meetings of his or her own presidency, or assigns another to do so in his absence.  He/She is always responsible for the decisions of the council and, in fact, is the final and authorized voice once the decision is made.  He or she is to preside with charity, meekness, and lowliness of heart just as the Savior does over the Church.  He/She encourages and listens to all ideas, thoughts, experiences and counsel that his counselors have to offer, knowing that revelation and inspiration from God come in this way.

A president assures that all decisions are supported in unity by his counselors.  When the president voices the final decision after receiving counsel, the counselors should then support it whole-heartedly.  No practices or program should go forth until the entire presidency is unified in purpose, each understands his duties and assignments pertaining thereto, and knows when to report back.

A president reports to higher councils from which he or she receives assignments and duties.  A president participates in larger councils (such as ward or stake councils) representing his or her presidency, auxiliary, quorum, or class.

A president upholds his or her counselors in their duties and assignments.  Once assignments are accepted he does not interfere.  If he is invited by a counselor to assist in his duty, then it would be appropriate to only do that which he is invited to do.  But never should a president reach over into his counselor’s predetermined task because he would do it differently, more quickly, or better.  There should be mutual trust, respect, love, and faith in working as servants of the Master.

Deborah Kent Updated June 1, 2015

Just a Few More Thoughts!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this. My mother is an amazing woman. She knows her stuff. Thanks, Mom!

But, I’d like to add that this viewpoint is also how the Church views the marriage relationship. God is the president of a marriage. In establishing marriage, God’s purpose was to provide a framework identical to His own (for He is an Eternal Father and Husband). Then, the husband and wife (like Christ and the Holy Spirit) have roles that support God’s purpose: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. This viewpoint removes the competition between the sexes and instead places more importance on each’s unique, inherent capabilities, and talents. It re-establishes order in the home and in society.

If Husbands and wives everywhere saw their relationship, talents, gender strengths, and other unique individual gifts and powers as tools to use in exalting their children (who are also God’s spirit children), then it would be much easier for couples to find balance, support, and guidance. It would never be about one person dictating to the other, but all decisions and tasks would come down from the God of Heaven. It would never be about who was right, but about what was right from this eternal perspective. Each husband and wife would always report back to each other AND God for confirmation of success and guidance for continued unity, love, service, and success.

And, I might add, marriage wouldn’t be entered into except by those whose desire it was to become “like God.” But, that’s a topic that runs deep and is a doctrine for another day!


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