Should The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do more to train their lay leaders?
As an Executive Director of Leading Saints, a nonprofit organization focused on leadership in the Latter-day Saint context, this is the question I hear often.
I have also heard it debated in other online platforms as well.
Training is often framed as the answer to most problems.
If something goes wrong in our faith community involving a leader, it is easy to demand MORE TRAINING.
So, do church lay leaders need more training?
Should the official Church provide this training?
(Side note: I do believe the Church should provide some official training related to specific issues of abuse and individual safety. For example, I fully support trainings like the Protecting Children and Youth Training.)
Here are 3 reasons why more formal training wouldn’t necessarily work coming from the Church:
1. In the Church we have this habit of making things a thing.
Or in other words, we too easily formalize efforts into programs, initiatives, and traditions.
When efforts become formalized, curriculum is created, manuals are printed, and the “right way” is put forward.
So, even if the Church created a leadership training program, I’m afraid it would quickly turn into a rigid merit badge effort where check boxes are marked once the training is complete but little training is absorbed.
2. The gravity of authority stunts exploration.
There is so much nuance in leadership development.
Sure, there are solid principles that most leaders should consider, but the application of those principles varies.
If the Church created formal training for lay leaders, it would be natural to reference that resource as something close to scripture or an extension of the Handbook.
If the training said it, it must be done.
End of discussion.
We have a strong tradition of exact obedience to all resources put out by the Church and this would make it difficult to explore diverse approaches and opinions.
3. Official training would perpetuate the “unwritten order of things.”
This is closely related to #2, but we have this negative habit related to leadership called “the unwritten order of things.”
For background, Elder Boyd K. Packer gave a talk called “The Unwritten Order of Things” at BYU in 1996. It has now become a thing (see point #1) where individual leaders will claim a leadership policy that is not in the General Handbook, falls under “the unwritten order of things,” and should be followed as if it were in the General Handbook. You can find this talk online but interestingly not on the BYU Speeches website.
It would be best and cause much less confusion if we only push policies that are actually written down.
You have probably seen this happen before.
It usually starts when someone says something like, “I was in a regional meeting with Elder [general authority last name], and he said [insert leadership opinion]….”
What follows is typically good advice, but then it is treated as if it is written in the Doctrine & Covenants.
It further influences our culture in ways that the paraphrased general authority never meant or only intended for a specific audience or situation.
In short, the more the Church attempts to create leadership training resources, the more “unwritten policies” are unintentionally created, which cause confusion and negatively impact our culture.
Now, let’s go back to where I started.
The Church shouldn’t create formal leadership training, BUT…
…that doesn’t mean lay leaders don’t need some type of training or leadership principle exploration.
So what should lay leadership training look like in our faith tradition?
More on that in my next newsletter.
In the meantime, what do you think?
Should there be official lay leadership training coming from the Church?
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