Years ago as I served as bishop I was meeting with the primary president in my office. She was striving so hard to really do her calling well and make it a wonderful experience for the children of our ward. I was grateful for her dedication but was also seeing her take-charge attitude diminishing those leaders around her—specifically in her presidency. The primary president was taking it all on and was leaving no room for anyone else to make a mistake because she felt like the “buck stopped with her” and if success was going to happen in the primary she needed to guarantee it with her own efforts. I see this approach in many other leadership styles. They are afraid to delegate because those around them can only do it 80% as good as they can and what if that 20% deficit is needed to really touch the hearts of those that participate?
As the primary president and I continued to chat in my office, we were discussing a recent primary activity that hadn’t gone as well as she had hoped. She tried to let others in her presidency participate through delegation and that is what she felt lowered the quality of the activity. She was frustrated the children didn’t enjoy it as much as she hoped. In an effort to step back from the context of the conversation (the primary activity) and focus on the issue of reaching the highest success, I simply asked her a series of questions that at first caused her to wonder what I was doing but soon ended with a strong lesson:
Bishop: “Sister, why are you afraid of an activity that isn’t successful?”
Primary President: “Because if the kids don’t enjoy the primary activity they might not enjoy primary at all.”
Bishop: “Why are you afraid of the children not enjoying primary?”
Primary President: “Because then they won’t want to come to church.”
Bishop: “Why are you afraid of them not coming to church?”
Primary President: “Because then they won’t grow up in the gospel.”
Bishop: “Why are you afraid of them not growing up in the gospel?”
Primary President: “Because then they won’t make covenants, gain deep testimonies, and stay true to the gospel.”
Bishop: “What are you afraid of if they don’t stay true to the gospel?”
Primary President: “Because then they won’t return to their Heavenly Father and be exalted.”
And then the lesson…
Bishop: “Since when was it your job to get them to return to Heavenly Father and be exalted?”
As Christ asked the Pharisees, “for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?” (Matthew 23:17) We sometimes worry too much about the gold (the activities, the 100% visit teaching, the administration of the gospel) and lose sight of that which sanctifies the gold (the Atonement of Jesus Christ). In our leadership we must continually remind ourselves what our role is and what Christ’s role is. A large part of Christ’s role was to save and to make the Atonement available for justification, sanctification, and exaltation. His role isn’t made more possible by our really good primary activity, or the perfect sacrament meeting talk. We can’t charm them into accepting the plan of salvation. They generally find it on their own, through their own journey. Of course, those activities, talks, lessons, and individual interactions play a role in that process, but not in a way we could ever speculate. If an activity would have gone a little bit better maybe it could have reached more people and turned their hearts towards Christ, but I assure you that your mediocre activity did not disappoint the plan of our Heavenly Father. The Atonement of His son will make up for that loss as well and capture their hearts at another opportunity.
So the next time you are administering as a leader or planning the next activity, don’t hesitate to delegate the responsibilities even if you can do it better. “This thing is too heavy for [you].” [You] are not able to perform it [yourself] alone (Exodus 18:18).” Give those around you the opportunity to grow as leaders and they will learn in their own right. With good intention in your heart you do not have power to lose the souls you lead; just as much as you do not have the power to save the souls you lead. That saving has been done.