Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Church Training--George's Post


1.    Church Training[1]

(a)  Formal Training

Much of the formal training done in the Church is conducted through Church sponsored training programs.   These programs are organized by, or under the direction of, presiding Church leaders serving at each of the organizational levels of Church hierarchy: the Twelve Apostles; the General Authorities; Area and Regional Authorities; Stake and District Presidencies; and Branch Presidencies.   Sometimes the programs are designed to permit leaders at one level of the Church’s hierarchy to instruct leaders at the next or another level of the hierarchy, with the expectation that those trained will in turn train those over whom they have direct supervision.   Hence the General Authorities train the Seventies, and the Seventies train mission, stake and district leaders.  The General Authorities train Mission Presidents, and the Mission Presidents train their missionaries and the leaders under their supervision.    The Church also holds regular world-wide priesthood and women’s training sessions so that the General Authorities can give direct instructions to lay priesthood and auxiliary leaders.   This pattern of instruction is repeated over and over again in the Church, from one level to the next.   The instruction is disseminated through special or worldwide broadcasts; regional, stake, district, ward and branch conferences; and, specialized training programs.  In some cases, the Church sponsors specialized training programs directed at those who have assignments requiring special skills or working in unique areas of responsibility, where there are few in an area or district having the same responsibility, such as programs developed help with public affairs, physical facilities, welfare services, and Church audits and finances.    The Church has been forward looking, using modern communication channels to disseminate its training.  While we have been in Malawi, we have listened to live training through the Internet and webcasts, as well as listening to DVDs and attending meetings and conferences.     
As “MLS” missionaries, we have done a little formal training, but probably far less than you might imagine.   The reasons for this is quite simple.   MLS senior missionaries play a role in such training programs only when requested by priesthood leaders, such as the Mission, District and Branch Presidents, since those presiding authorities are the ones charged with handling the training for those under their jurisdiction.   We have found the presiding priesthood leaders in Malawi, though still new in the Church, anxious to be independent and to do their own training.  They have not felt the need to ask for much help.    Generally speaking, this speaks well of the Church’s development in Malawi.[2]  It shows that they are confident, understand the guidelines in the Church Handbooks, feel adequately trained by their presiding officers, and have a clear vision of how the Church should operate.
Some senior missionaries, however, spend much, maybe even most, of their time training local leaders.   This they do because they have specialized assignments to help promote particular programs in the Church that are not easily operated at the unit level, and often require more world-wide support for effective operations.    Examples include senior missionaries called to work with public affairs, self-reliance, and seminary and institute (“CES”).   Those senior missionaries frequently travel extensively throughout the areas in which they labor (i.e., the Mission or parts of the Area), helping local leaders understand these programs and how to administer them through local representatives within their jurisdictions. 

(b)  Shadow Leadership

The primary way in which MLS senior missionaries are involved in training is through “shadow leadership.”   Given the significance of that assignment to what we do, I will touch upon that topic separately under “Principles of Shadow Leadership” below.   However, when thinking of shadow leadership, it is important to keep in mind that its “purpose” is to train others in the Church—whether they be local leaders or just regular members holding down one of the multitude of positions to which one may be called in the Church.   Shadow leadership is not leadership by accident.

(c)   Modelling Behavior; Being a Good Example

As Carole and I have experienced both our minor successes and failures, one other principle related to training comes to mind, equal in importance to the others.     Often the most effective training occurs through the examples we set for others—not because we are trying to teach them anything, but only because we are trying to do good.     The power stems from the acts of goodness.   Example is usually the most powerful tool for modelling the behavior of others.   Others watch and learn, without being told, instructed or guided and without being criticized, reprimanded or admonished.   Such training does not come out of a formal training program or the giving of informal advice or counsel.    Instead, the training in question is the natural outgrowth of the senior missionary’s behavior.    Without doubt, senior missionaries should always try to do their best--in being reliable; in studying the scriptures; in showing charity and compassion; in participating in classes; in helping out when members are in need; in showing an interest in the lives of members.  
Without question, one thing we can count on is that local leaders and members are ever mindful of what we do and say.   Sometimes, we may question this, since many members are often very circumspect around senior missionaries and seem to pay little attention to senior missionaries.   This is certainly the case in Malawi.   We have found the members (including local leaders) to keep their own counsel.   They do not share much about their personal lives, and often give short answers to questions.   They are not effusive with their praise, do not talk much about how they feel, and, at least with foreigners, can be quite closed and reticent.   Rarely do they comment on what we have done or said.   Only on rare occasions do they talk about prior senior missionaries.
But, just as you and I pick up on clues about others, fashioning lasting impressions about them—their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and intents—they do the same about us, even when we are largely oblivious to the our potential impact upon them.      Of this I am certain—we have significant impact upon them—what is less certain is precisely how we impact them.   Why am I so confident of this?   It is because we know how much of an impact they have upon us, quite unbeknownst to them.   We should never underestimate the importance of example.
In this regard, I am reminded of Christ’s statements that He did not do anything of himself, but did only that which He had seen the Father do.   “Then answered Jesus and said unto them,  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.  For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.”[3]   Of course, it would be shamelessly presumptive to compare oneself to the Father, but I think the scripture does illustrate an enduring principle of agency and instruction—it is through the example of the righteous that we learn to be righteous; through the example of the faithful that we learn to be faithful; through the example of the charitable that we learn to be charitable.


[1] Apart from formal training, we learn much about our duties in the Church by reading on our own the scriptures, Church handbooks and other publications.   The focus of this section, however, is upon the formal and informal training programs instituted by the Church to educate its local leaders and members.   The scriptures, handbooks and other publications are frequently used as the source materials in the training programs.
[2] This is a bad development only when local leaders deceive themselves, and need assistance, but refuse to ask for and accept the help out of pride or arrogance.
[3] John 5: 19-20.