Episode 36. October 2, 2016. Over the years I have been impressed by the number of lessons we can learn from the Book of Mormon about leadership. Today I want to talk about just 3 of these.
Lesson #1 – Example
This lesson is found in 1 Nephi 8:12 and reinforces the importance of leadership by example. “And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.” As patriarchs of our families or leaders of organizations, we must set the example of partaking of the fruit first and then we must show our families and those we lead the path to do the same. How is this done? We learn from that same chapter 8 in 1 Nephi that when Nephi asked to know the interpretation of the tree of life, he was shown the condescension of God starting with the birth of the Savior. When the angel asked if he now understood the meaning of the tree which his father saw, he said, “yea, it is the love of God which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all other things. “ How is this love manifest to all men? Through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The greatest gift of all. How do teach this to those we lead including our children? We have to partake of the tree of life ourselves. We do this by repenting of our sins, our mistakes, ours errors in judgment, by applying the strengthening and enabling power of the atonement . As we do so, others will understand how the love of God can be manifest in their own lives by partaking of that same fruit. We learn more about this from Enos’ experience of wanting to know for himself. If we want those we lead to know for themselves, then we must know for ourselves. It is called moral authority. We read about this in Enos verse 4: “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. 5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” Enos paid the price to receive forgiveness of his sins and to know for himself the blessings available through repentance and change.
We also know there is also dark side to the power of example. We see this in the experience of Alma’s son Corianton while he was serving as a missionary with his dad, his brother, 3 of the sons of Mosiah, Amulek and the recent lawyer turned convert, Zeezrom. “Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11). You can hear more about this whole topic of example in episode 11.
Lesson #2 – Accountability
Great leaders take responsibility for making things happen. They take responsibility for doing what they have been called to do. They take responsibility for knowing and delivering on expectations. They never make excuses. There are some great examples of this type of leadership in the Book of Mormon with men like Nephi, Jacob, King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma and Mormon to name just a few. Today, I just want to talk briefly about two of these. The firest is the story of Jacob and Joseph found in Jacob chapter 1. Here we read about the work of Jacob and Joseph in teaching the people about Christ and trying to persuade all men “not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ”. In this first chapter of Jacob, Nephi, the son of Lehi dies. This amazing and humble leader was now gone and another was appointed to be the new king, affectionately called 2 Nephi. Jacob and Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of the people by the hand of Nephi and wanted to fulfill responsibilities that came with the calling. This is what it says in verse 19: “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” Now that is what I call accountability. It is one thing to teach the word of the Lord to the people, it is another to take accountability for their sins if, as the teachers, they didn’t do it completely or do it well! Quite the incentive I think to know and then deliver the right message. In this case, we know that Jacob knew what the Lord expected of him because he had spent time on his knees praying to the Lord and receiving direction and answers about what was expected of him as he first obtained his errand from the Lord. (see Jacob 1:17)
The second example is the story of Nephi and his broken bow. When his brothers’ bows lost their spring and then Nephi’s broke completely, Lehi’s family was in a pickle. It got so bad that even Lehi murmured. Well Nephi could see that if they were going to get out of the mess they were in he would have to take responsibility to make something happen. So he did. Here is what it says in 1 Nephi 16: 23-24:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones.” And perhaps the greatest hallmark of Nephi’s leadership, he took accountability to help place his father back in the position of leadership of the family after he had murmured by going to his father and asking: “Whither shall I go to obtain food?” This caused Lehi to humble himself and to take the problem to the Lord. Verse 24 reports on Lehi’s response: “And it came to pass that he did inquire of the Lord, for they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul.” Now that is great leadership. As we know, Lehi received direction from the Lord as to where Nephi should go to find wild beasts to slay for food. Nephi went and successfully saved the family from hunger and starvation.
Lesson #3 – Unwearyingness
This is a word that doesn’t appear in many dictionaries, but it is used to explain my most favorite leadership experience in the book of Mormon. The event is described in the tenth chapter of Helaman in the Book of Mormon.
Nephi the son of Helaman had just been through quite an ordeal. He had been preaching the gospel in the land northward where “they did reject all his words insomuch that he could not stay among them.” The wickedness of the people throughout the land was appalling. Gadianton robbers were filling the judgment seats and they were condemning the righteous, letting the guilty go unpunished because of their money and committing adultery, stealing and killing and doing according to their own wills. The Nephites were in a terrible state of affairs. They were simply a mess! In fact this great iniquity that had “come upon the Nephites in the space of not many years” caused Nephi’s heart and soul to swell with sorrow even as prayed to God from the tower in his garden.
Well, you know the rest of the story. A crowd gathered around Nephi’s tower, and he began to tell them of their iniquity. He preached a mighty sermon and near the end of his preaching he told them of the murder of their chief judge. Well the judges sent five men to see if what Nephi had said was true and when they came to the judgment seat and saw the chief judge dead as Nephi has prophesied, they were overcome with astonishment and fell to the ground. As people began to gather, they found the five and threw them in prison, believing them to be the murderers. But the next day, the judges who had been at Nephi’s tower asked about the five who had been sent and in the end brought them forth from prison, set them free and then blamed Nephi for the murder of the chief judge. They took Nephi, bound him and questioned him, even bribing him with money to try and get him to admit to being confederate with another to commit the crime. But Nephi was fearless calling them fools, uncircumcised of heart and a stiffnecked people. He then showed them another sign by revealing that the murderer was Seantum, the brother of the chief judge and prophesying how the conversation with him would go, even to the questions they should ask and the responses Seantum would give, ultimately confessing his own guilt and admitting that Nephi knew nothing of the plot.
At this point, Nephi is freed and the people begin to argue about whether Nephi was really a prophet and verse 1 in Chapter 10 says “there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways leaving Nephi alone as he was standing in the midst of them.” I find that to amazing that not a single person stayed to speak with Nephi and be taught of him. It must have surprised Nephi as well because he decides to just head home. As he begins the walk back home, Nephi begins to ponder on all the things the Lord had shown unto him in regards to the chief judge and the wickedness of the people. As he was pondering…and the record says he was “much cast down because of the wickedness of the people” a voice came unto him saying:
“Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.”
I want to break that verse down into the 6 reasons why the Lord told Nephi he was blessed:
- For the things he had already done
- For declaring the word the Lord gave him with unwearyingness
- For not fearing the people to whom he was preaching
- Because he had not sought his own life – in other words he layed everything on the altar. He was not doing what he did to be seen of men.
- Because he sought the Lord’s will
- Because he had been keeping the commandments
But it is really verse 5 that makes me love this experience. Despite all of these great attributes that Nephi had exercised, the one that the Lord mentions as unlocking great blessings for Nephi is his unwearyingness. Here is what it says in verse 5: “And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.”
I find this to be so enlightening. When we have given all that it seems we can give, when we are tired to the bone, even discouraged because others don’t seem to appreciate the service we are offering, when we just want to sit down and rest and because we don’t think we can do it anymore….if we will just keep going, keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other, listen to the spirit of the Lord and continue to take action until the spirit says to stop, then, yes then, great blessings from Heaven are poured out upon us.
In verses 7-9 of chapter 10, we learn more about this blessing given to Nephi. Here is what it says: “Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be lossed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done. And if ye shall say unto this mount, Be though cast down and become smooth, it shall be done. And behold if ye shall say that god shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.”
And in verse 12 we read Nephi’s response: he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes were scattered about the upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him….” Impressive!
In speaking about this experience, Elder Eyring said this in the October 2009 General Conference: “That faith (referencing Nephi’s faith) did not come in the moment when Nephi needed it, nor did God’s trust in Nephi. He earned that great faith and God’s confidence by courageous and sustained labor in the Lord’s service.
What an amazing example of tireless, devoted, committed and inspiring priesthood leadership! And what an amazing response from the Lord to bless Nephi with the sealing power of the priesthood.
These three principles of leadership: Example, Accountability and Unwearyingness are the hallmarks of great priesthood leaders. They are also the hallmarks of great parents. I have been blessed in my life to be taught by similarly great men. They are men in my priesthood hall of fame. My first bishop John Whitaker, one of my best friend’s dad, Karl Loveland. My mission presidents Kenneth Meyers and Elder F. Enzio Busche. A bishop at BYU with whom I served as his ward clerk, Ford Stevenson. A bishop in Houston with whom I served as a counselor, Russ Parker. Two stake presidents, Robert Matthews and Brent Rawson. And friends like Kevin Ball and Terry Keller who love the Lord and have laid everything on the altar. There are others as well, but of these I make special mention. I hope each of you also have men and women in your hall of fame from whom you learn and are worth of your emulation. May we each take the example of others, recognize where we can improve and then commit to do so – with of course the Lord’s help.