Brent L. Top is a professor of Church History & Doctrine at Brigham Young University, but will be retiring in July after 45 years as a religious educator within the Church Educational System, the last 34 years at BYU. He served for several years as Dean of Religious Education, and prior to that as department chair and associate dean. He is the author of more than 20 books, primarily directed to the Latter-day Saint audience, and scores of articles and book chapters in both academic and church venues.
Brent has served in many capacities within the Church, including as bishop, counselor in a stake presidency, president of the Illinois Peoria Mission, and president of the Pleasant Grove Utah East Stake. He currently he serves as a sealer in the Mount Timpanogos Temple and as a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teacher in his ward. Brent is married to his high school sweetheart, the former Wendy Cope from Idaho Falls, Idaho, and they have four children, 24 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
In this podcast, Kurt and Brent discuss leadership within the context of callings such as Bishoprics, Stake Presidencies and Mission Presidencies. They relate the experiences of these callings to other leadership opportunities and discuss how to better prepare missionaries, serve in leadership capacities, and relate those experiences to living the gospel.
8:05 Leadership Experiences:
10:09 “As Leaders we need to remember who’s kingdom it is.”
- Serving is often overwhelming.
- “I had to remember it’s not about MY plans.”
- Sometimes what I thought wasn’t what was needed.
- I often heard the Lord tell me “These are my missionaries; this is my church I will not let you fail.”
14:37 I have had feelings about callings, names etc. and I pushed those away. They were uncomfortable. I found that often those times were the Lord preparing me. Tells story of being called to Stake President and needed to find his counselors within 15 minutes. The Lord had been preparing him to call those counselors by bringing people to his mind previously.
16:49 No matter how the call is received (by shock or with inspiration that it was coming) the Lord is giving us life experiences, insights, thoughts so that we don’t come into his kingdom to serve totally unprepared.
Expectations when called as a Bishop?
17:41 Two things I learned:
- No matter if you’re 30 or 60 when the keys are conferred upon you, you are changed. Things change.
- I began focused organizationally. The Lord wanted me to focus individually. He wanted me to Love.
Stake President vs Mission President
- Stake Presidents are “therapists” to many bishops. They have nowhere else to turn.
- As a Stake President I had a lot of people to support me in my calling. There were many who served well and lightened my load.
- As a Mission President I was literally in charge of making sure my 150-200 missionaries stayed alive! I was responsible for them at all times. That can feel overwhelming.
- Mission Presidents see non-stop action.
- Mission Presidents don’t have the supporting roles Stake Presidents do. It often feels lonely.
ADVICE for leading:
*The key in one-on-one leadership
22:57 I was often overwhelmed when I thought of all the moving pieces. Things are more manageable one on one.
- The church and therefore the kingdom of God is really no bigger than an individual or a family.
- The more complex the leadership the less effective: The more I focused on administration, the more I micromanaged. The more I did that, the less I represented the Lord.
- As a mission president my time with each individual was so small. I knew the time I did get really had to matter. Interviews really had to be used to connect to the individual, they needed to feel loved. Meeting had to have meaning. They needed to provide a way for individuals to connect with one another.
29:00 BEST PRACTICES for INTERVIEW (esp. EQ/RS Presidents)
- Your calling is a calling of Love. Charity is the greatest of all things.
- Follow this advice from Pres. Packer.
- Be an example of Discipleship. Demonstrate what Eternal Marriage looks like (when applicable)
- Teach the Doctrine.
- Love them ALL (This is most important)
- **This advice works in every calling.
30:56 Focus on what is essential in the Eternal Scheme of things.
32:37 What does principle 3 “Love Them All” look like from day to day?
- Sometimes you don’t always like them. Like parenting when you see a child (Child of God) struggling, that’s when you love them most.
- Try to see the Son/Daughter that was purchased with the blood of Christ.
ADVICE to Stake Presidents to help prepare missionaries?
- Worthiness issues are not the biggest problem. We need to stop being hyper-focused on worthiness and make sure our missionaries can talk to people. There are more emotional problems in missionaries than worthiness problems.
- Missionaries have got to be able to teach the gospel in their own words. They need to understand the WHY’s of the gospel not just the WHAT. Avoid asking missionaries yes or no questions. If you want to know if they have a testimony, ask them an open-ended question that applies the doctrine.
44:04 IDEAS on how to help youth become more comfortable with talking to people.
Have Impact Activities. These activities happen on a rolling schedule. Every youth should have at least one in their 12-18 years. These activities can be TREK type activities that focus on sharing the gospel, feeling the spirit, and articulating those experiences. It isn’t enough to have one sacrament on them where a few kids bear testimony. These experiences should be used throughout their youth to help articulate the gospel, relate it personally, help youth to teach from example and build on those life experiences. Leaders should be giving assignments that make them think.
48:00 Teach the youth ways to deal with depression, anxiety, perfectionism, etc. that they can access on their missions! Too many are used to supports or systems that are outside those of missionaries.
49:07 Principle 2 Teach the Doctrine:
Sometimes it’s hard to nail down what exactly the doctrine is. Go to www.churchofjesuschrist.org. search “Basic Doctrine of Church”, there is a document that lays out all the basics.
We need to focus on the central doctrine, that that is salvational.
52:30 Religious Malpractice = when we go to a religious class and expect to participate (especially a lot) without studying or pondering what’s being taught.
- Come Follow Me and Preach my Gospel have value in that they help us avoid religious malpractice.
- There are no score cards for comments in Sunday School.
58:00 When you teach the doctrine, you connect the dots. Doctrine is the WHY of the gospel. It helps the gospel be something more than a list of rules you shouldn’t violate.
- Doctrine inspires and motivates gospel living.
- It’s no good to memorize a scripture if you don’t know what it means.
Is Meekness avoiding pride? Does it sometimes cause us to shrink in our callings?
- Understand the scriptural meaning of meekness not the thesaurus version. Meekness is NOT weakness. It is D&C 121. It is gentleness, kindness and love unfeigned. It is being willing to submit to God’s will.
66:00 Feelings leading up to a calling…. Address aspiring to callings:
D&C 121 Many are called, few are chosen. Sometimes we have those feelings to know that we are that caliber of person.
Sometimes we mistakenly equate position with righteousness.
68:35 In every calling I have had the one thing that has always manifest is the “goodness of people.”
69:00 Give me the missionary who can serve with any companion or serve in any area. I don’t care if they’ve been a zone leader or district leader or assistant to the president. I want a missionary who will serve. I would choose that type of person over any other kind in any calling.
72:00 Do I serve to make my own legacy grand, or do I serve to do my best for the Lord? Sometimes we need to check our own hearts. If you ask HIM, he will let you know, am I meek enough, or what lack I yet? I can humbly say I aspire to serve the Lord. Not that I aspire to be a Stake President.
75:25 Sometimes when you are released from something “BIG” to nothing, you lose a sense of purpose…any advice?
If it is so much of a culture shock to be released, maybe there is a misplace of priorities. If it’s hard to be home, maybe I wasn’t home enough. Or if I don’t feel connected, then maybe I wasn’t present enough, or maybe I was too focused on admin rather that individuals. Maybe I missed the point? Although a shock to your schedule is normal.
82:17 If I’m not having spiritual experiences regardless of calling, and rely on past spiritual experiences, then maybe I was aspiring to the praise of men. Maybe I need to repent and move forward?
84:00 What if instead of us wearing figurative badges like RS President, EQ President Bishop etc. what if we wore the name of Christ, Disciple of Christ as our badge? How would we be different?
How has being a leader helped you become a better follower of Christ?
1:26:00 It taught me to be a better minister to people. I made the biggest difference by being in people’s homes. The pandemic has hurt us in regard to being in other peoples homes. We need to be back with the saints. Additionally as a leader I have become more compassionate. I have seen that every family, every home, every person there are heart aches. I now understand people better than I did before my leadership experiences. I can now better bear another’s burdens.
Brent Top’s Deseret Book page
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