Case Study of Leadership: King Benjamin

One of the most incredible things about the Book of Mormon for me personally is the way we can receive guidance and direction from this text for many areas in our lives. It does not just guide us in spiritual matters of developing a relationship with God or develop our testimony of the Saviour – it also provides practical guidance.

One such example of this is the excellent case study of leadership that we find nestled in between the small plates of Nephi and the abridgement of the large plates of Nephi by Mormon himself. He begins the narrative of his abridgement by detailing the workings of King Benjamin. King Benjamin was described as an almost perfect leader. The manner in which he served left a legacy and indeed a great example for the rest of us to study. It begins in Words of Mormon 1:10-18:

10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.

Here we find straight away the type of leader that King Benjamin was. He did not simply ‘watch over the shop’ until the next person came to carry the responsibility on. He proactively worked on his stewardship and was diligent in his duties. Not only this, but it highlights King Benjamin’s value that he placed on the word of God. These were clearly of great import to him and it shows he recognised where great power came from.

11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.

King Benjamin’s people were not perfect and neither did they have a perfect time. They had their trials as has pretty much every civilisation in the history of mankind. Therefore, King Benjamin must have been a leader who listened and supported his people. I make this presumption because when his people gathered in later chapters in the book of Mosiah they were ready to change, they were willing to listen to this man of God – as such they must have respected him as a leader.

13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.

There’s a number of things to pick out from this verse. When King Benjamin ‘gathered together his armies’ he clearly enabled his followers to feel empowered and enthused to gather under his call. They came forward in numbers determined to defend their families and their lands. Also, ‘he did stand against them’ implies that he did not just direct the forces and instruct them on their duties, but he stood with them. He worked alongside those he served with, not ‘above’ them. We learn of this hands-on approach again with the phrase ‘and he did fight with the strength of his own arm…’. King Benjamin used his strength in defence of his people. Once again, he decided to give all he could to support those who others may have called those his ‘people’. However, it is clear from this that King Benjamin sw them as those he served, something very different from the general view.

14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.

However, despite putting all his efforts into serving the Nephites, once again there is recognition by Mormon, and by extension King Benjamin, where the true strength came from. They were able to contend because of their trust and the resultant blessings of the Lord.

15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;

16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—

Interestingly, we then see another danger arise within the Nephite people, that of false prophets and false teachers. This time, King Benjamin again recognised the value of gathering and empowering the strength of others in his task. If he were to attempt to contend with the false truths being taught alone then he would have probably not been as successful. He was able to call upon help, delegating duties and tasks to those who could assist and therefore make the work more effective.

17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—

Not only did King Benjamin recognise where the source of true strength and power was but he also knew how to gain access to it – through righteousness and virtue. Because of this righteousness he developed, he was able to speak and teach with power and authority. How else could he deliver the sermon he gave towards the end of his life?

18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.

Finally, we see what I think sums up the 8 other points of a Model of a Leader well. King Benjamin laboured with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul. A true leader gives all for those he serves and ultimately, because of the attributes and skills developed as mentioned before, peace and prosperity reigned through the land.

If we want to see the evidence of King Benjamin’s leadership and the impact on his people, then you only have to look at the reaction to his call to the people to gather at the Temple to listen to his words. A great many people, so many that they could not be counted, gathered and their hearts were changed.

Advertisements

Filling Life with Light

As I was reading the Book of Mormon today there popped out a verse that seemed to have been put in there since I last read that section (that happens, right?)

It is found in Jacob 6:7 and it reads “For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?” This wonderful little verse identifies a key principle. As we go throughout life we have a days to live, hours to use the best we can. Life is a wonderful thing to live, however we need to make sure we use it wisely. How we fill our lives can have an impact on the decisions we make later on.

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes.” The more light we fill our lives with, the closer to the Saviour we will feel, the more we will feel of His Spirit and the more confident we will be when choices to sin arise to make the right choice. Not only this, but we will be able to avoid the cunning wiles of Satan, for they are not obvious or apparent at times. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained “Who is it that is deceived in this Church? Not the man who has been faithful in the discharge of duty; not the man who has made himself acquainted with the word of the Lord; not the man who has practiced the commandments given in these revelations; but the man who is not acquainted with the truth, the man who is in spiritual darkness, the man who does not comprehend and understand the principles of the Gospel.” We cannot allow ourselves to not study the word of the Lord for our lives will have an impact on it. It isn’t impossible but it is certainly more likely that we will try and do good around us if we study the words of the prophets – words that testify of Christ and His divine character; a character that we can try to pattern our lives after.

Very recently, President Thomas S. Monson, current President of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a very simple but powerful promise. He said “If you are not reading the Book of Mormon each day, please do so. If you will read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth to you…I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day.” The definition of the word ‘implore’ is “beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something” – the prophet of the Lord is begging us – all of us – to read the Book of Mormon everyday. There are many reasons for this but one of them is clear – to fill our life with more light. Please read the Book of Mormon for yourself everyday, it will fill your life with more light also.

Independent Spiritual Learning

Today in sacrament meeting there was a focus on self-reliance, particularly on spiritual self-reliance. A few thoughts came to mind as I listened to the various messages and principles.

This story was shared from the June 2017 Ensign about seagulls who became dependent on being provided with their nourishment. It says:

“Years ago the seagulls in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, were starving. For generations the gulls had learned to depend on the shrimp fleets to feed them scraps from their nets. The shrimpers eventually moved from the area. The seagulls had not learned how to fish for themselves; nor did they teach their young how to fish. Consequently, the big, beautiful birds were dying even while there was plenty of fish all around them in the water.2

We cannot afford to become like the seagulls; nor can we let our children go through life dependent on us, or others, for their knowledge of the Lord. “Our efforts,” said President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, “must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.”3 When we become self-reliant gospel learners, we know how to feed ourselves spiritually and strengthen our relationship with God.”

We have to become self-reliant in developing our spiritual centre and also help our children and those we minister to become self-reliant in searching for their answers also. If the answers are always provided, or the things to study are only provided in a structured programme, then they will never learn to seek for answers and guidance to their own problems.

Spiritual self-reliance is something we can all aim for. It is a goal completely within our own choices and influence. Obviously it can be made more difficult from other factors but we have direct influence over whether we can strengthen our spiritual self-reliance or weaken it. It says in John 7:37-38 “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” We can come unto the Lord at any time to drink from living water through studying the scriptures, praying or many other ways – but the problem is that we need to do it as often as we can, rather than have ourselves thirst.

Of course, self-reliance doesn’t just include spiritual self-reliance, but other areas of our lives too. Elder L. Tom Perry gave an experience in the October 1991 of when he was younger and how his parents taught him a valuable lesson. Interestingly before he shared this experience he said this: “Never before in my life has the doctrine of self-reliance been more needed to be preached and encouraged for the benefit of the Saints. We live in a time of rapid change. Governments are rising and falling. Industries are blooming and then all too soon becoming obsolete. New discoveries in science are soon overshadowed by new findings. Unless we are continuously expanding our understanding and vision, we, too, will become out-of-date. Research tells us that individuals entering the labor market today will be forced to find three to five different career paths during their productive years.” This was 26 years ago! How much more relevant is this now! I heard a fact recently that of my generation (20-30 year olds), a third of us when we reach the age of 60 will still be renting accommodation rather than own our own home. Whilst this is not a direct indicator of “self-reliance”, it highlights the more and more challenging financial circumstances of the world we live in.

Anyway, Elder Perry shared this:

“My parents established a family tradition in our home which was fun for me in my early years and has become even more meaningful as I reflect back on it as the years have passed. On the first birthday of each child the family would gather in the living room. In the center of the living room floor, our parents would place articles for the one-year-old child to select. The selection to be made might indicate an interest the child would pursue in life. The articles were the Bible, a child’s bottle filled with milk, a toy, and a savings bank, filled with coins. The child was placed on one side of the room and the family on the other side. Family members would encourage the child to crawl toward the objects and make a selection. This was all in fun, of course…

Now I propose to you that in this entertaining family activity we can find the most fundamental principles of self-reliance. First, the scriptures represent our need for spiritual nourishment…

Second, the bottle filled with milk symbolizes the physical body’s need for nourishment…

Third, the toy I mentioned earlier represents the acquisition of things of the world…

Finally, the fourth item, the bank. It is a symbol of our financial well-being.”

As we consider how we can ensure we become more self-reliant, it is important that we think about these four areas. Are there any steps we can take to help us become more self-reliant in any of these areas? Some may be more challenging than others but we can make small steps in many ways.

Changes to Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings

On Friday 25th August 2017, the Church issued the news that it was to change it’s schedule and resources for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. This is the opening statement on lds.org “The Church has announced changes for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Sunday meetings in 2018 that affect not only what materials adults will study but also how they use the time they meet together to accomplish the Lord’s work.” This is quite significant news for Latter-day Saints who will find the content of a third of their Sabbath activities changed in 2018. It is also especially significant for people of my generation who have developed through these auxiliaries and quorums with the same format for the whole time they’ve been in it – the ‘Teachings of the Presidents of the Church’ curriculum has been used since 1998!

Below of the monthly schedule:

Week

Topic

Led by

First Sunday

Counseling together about local needs

Presidency or group leadership

Second and Third Sundays

Recent general conference message

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fourth Sunday

Special topic chosen by general Church leaders (announced in May and November issues of the Liahona and Ensign magazines)

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fifth Sunday

Topic chosen by the bishopric

Bishopric or someone they assign

There are some significant changes here which I have noticed.

1. Change from ‘Teachings’ to General Conference talks

This is probably one of the more significant changes. Instead of studying the words of presidents of the Church from the past, members will be studying more from the recent General Conference addresses. This has been usually done on the 4th Sunday of the month but has now doubled to the 2nd and 3rd Sundays. There has been a clear reason for this. Elder LeGrand R Curtis who serves as a General Authority Seventy said ““One of the reasons for the new approach is to give increased emphasis to the words of the living prophets. We’re going to not just devote more time to the messages given by the senior leadership of the Church at general conference, but we are also going to provide some teaching tools to help the instruction and discussion of those messages be all the more rich and meaningful for the members of the Church.” This will provide more opportunities for a deeper discussion on more addresses from the recent General Conference and I for one am looking forward to this.

Another aspect of this change is that local Church leaders are to determine the talks that quorums and auxiliaries will focus on and not only this, Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society do not have to study the same message. Again, this provides another opportunity to personalise content for the individuals in the wards and stakes that this curriculum is meant to support.

2. Counseling together about local needs

A number of members may see this 1st Sunday content as virtually the same as previously. Before 2018, the 1st Sunday of the month was put aside for Instruction planned for by the quorum and auxiliary presidencies. Whilst it will be a discussion focused on local needs still, it seems to be more towards ministering to others rather than general instruction. Elder LeGrand R Curtis explained ““We want to extend the power that exists in counseling together—not just to the ward councils and presidencies but also into the Relief Societies and quorums of the Church,” We know that quorums and auxiliaries are potentially powerful groups when united and these 1st Sunday discussions can be a vital part of helping this happen.

3. Continuous revelation to guide the Church

Then, to finish all the changes, the 4th Sunday of the month (previously used for a message from the recent General Conference) is now set aside for a topic which is chosen specially from the general leaders of the Church. This I find particularly exciting. Once a month, we will have the opportunity to study and discuss topics which have been considered of vital importance by the Lord’s chosen servants. An example would be recent focuses on family history, Sabbath day observance and studying the Book of Mormon.

I’m very excited about these changes and it indicates a change to focusing on the words of the living prophets and personalised support for local units.

Sword vs Word

As we consider how to strengthen ourselves and those around us, the best way to strengthen and encourage others to follow Christ can be debated and is in the scriptures. In Alma we learn of two ways how we can encourage others to turn to Christ – however, as with most things, one is a better choice.

In Alma 31, we learn that a whole community of the Nephites had left the Gospel of Christ and, as a result, the high priest, Alma, considered how best to reach out to those lost souls. In Alma 31:5 we read “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” The sword, mentioned here, is symbolic of fear or coercion – other factors not quite forcing but influencing greatly through threat to make people change. Alma believed that the word of God, teaching and testifying with the Spirit, would have a greater impact on the people of Zoram than any other means, including the sword.

As time went on in the experience, Alma went with a group of missionaries to the city to try and reach out to the Zoramites. He met with a number of people who had fallen on difficult times, not having much money and being cast out of the synagogues because of their exceeding poverty. Alma was grateful for the listening ears however recognised the reason why they were ready to receive. He said “And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved. And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.” (Alma 32 13-15) These words are clear – it is good to be converted through being compelled to be humble (by the sword) however it is better to be converted by your own choice (through the word).

However, I noticed a small distinction in the wording for those that are compelled to be humble and those that truly humble themselves. It says for those that are compelled that they ‘shall be saved’. For those that truly humble themselves it says that the same ‘shall be blessed’. There is a reason for the different wording. Could probably go into another post into what the differences between ‘saved’ and ‘blessed’ could mean – however, presuming that blessed is a greater version of ‘being saved’, this highlights how we need to make sure we are humble. Even if there is an event which compels us, we should ensure we are able to stay humble when the event has happened. Otherwise, we may find that we lose our way without other occurrences to keep us humble.

How to Minister – Nephi and Lehi

Helaman 5:12, 35-47 – prison

As always in the Church, we are encouraged to serve. It is a service Church. Every person is called to the work in some capacity or another. Without the efforts of diligent saints who try to serve others then the work of the Lord would not got very far to have an effect in the lives of God’s children. We know this. However, it is very often something that is not done well. One only needs to look at the number of home teaching visits done by brethren of the Church as just an example. We are always asking this question: how can we encourage more to minister? However, I think there is another question we should be asking as well: how can we get more to minister more effectively?

To consider this I want to look briefly at an experience related in Helaman, focusing on Nephi and Lehi. First, we need to ensure we are firm on a foundation built on Christ as they were. The well-known verse reads “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12) As we continue through our mortal lives, we do not know the challenges we will face but if we build our lives on Christ He will guide us through. If we can do this, then we will be in a much better position to support others and minister to them.

We can then learn about the importance of ministering when we look at an experience found after this important verse. Moving on, after this wise counsel, Nephi and Lehi found themselves imprisoned for their beliefs and sentenced to death. However, the Lamanite who were going to carry out the sentence came across a life-changing scene. The Nephite prisoners were indeed there but encircled, seemingly, by fire and unharmed. Whilst they were trying to take in this inexplicable scene, the Lamanites then experienced more bewilderment as they were covered by an impenetrable mist which they could not see beyond.

As the situation grew ever more bleak, one member of their group, an ex-Nephite called Aminadab remembered what he had been taught:

“35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.” (Helaman 5:35-36)

This previous member of the Church saw examples shining through the darkness of ministers who had their focus heavenward. As we consider how to reach out to those around us, we should never underestimate the Spirit which emanates from those who live the Gospel and try to be the best they can be – aiming towards their Heavenly Father. What will happen, if we do this well to those who are ready to change their lives, is that they will remember feelings and promises (covenants) they have made in the past which would enable them to feel the security and comfort they see from those who are living those covenants. Aminadab felt this as the experience continues:

“37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.” (Helaman 5:37)

He, the lost soul, then reached out to others around him and encouraged others to look toward the ministers. They then used their agency to turn and look. We must remember as we minister to encourage all to ‘turn and look’. We can’t hope to inspire others to change if we do not invite them to do so. The experience continues:

“38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.” (Helaman 5:38-39)

Naturally, questions came – as we support, teach and minister we must equip those we teach to be ready to answer questions about their faith. We can teach them and help them to feel the Spirit all we want but they must be taught how the Gospel is relevant to their lives and that people will also want to find out more. In this experience, Aminadab knew the answer but we must prepare those we teach to know that sometimes they may not know the answer – and that’s ok.

“40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.” (Helaman 5:40-45)

As the Lamanites followed the advice of the convert-turned lost sheep-turned minister, they also felt the converting power of the Lord’s embrace.

Roots and Covenants 

As we chose to come to this Earth to progress, our Heavenly Father did not want to leave us without any guidance. Part of why we had to come here was so that we could choose to follow our Saviour Jesus Christ. We make promises to follow Him and try to live a life of His disciple. In return we are promised blessings which will help us to become more like our Heavenly Father and receive eternal life – the ultimate blessing of coming to Earth as part of this plan.

These promises (or covenants) make up a significant part of our life following Jesus Christ. They enable us to receive the strength to complete any challenges or overcome any trials that may come in our way. In 1 Nephi 17:3 we read “And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.” Often we can look at Lehi and his family’s journeyings through the wilderness as a parallel to our sojourn in mortality and in the same way we can receive strength from keeping our covenants.

Covenants as Foundations

In the same way, we can compare our covenants to foundations for our life. A well-known verse from Helaman 5:12 helps us to begin to make this link. It says “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” As was mentioned before, our covenants (if they are kept) provide us with a strong foundation which can help us continue through this life.

Roots as Foundations

However, it is important to recognise that we have other examples of covenants in the scriptures. In Jacob 5 we read of an extended parable of olive trees. These trees all had roots which we read relate to the covenants found in the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. An examples is found in verse 36 where it reads ” Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.” The roots of the Gospel, the covenants which channel the sustaining life of our Saviour, bring sustenance.

Lesson

However, something is important in considering these parables of covenants. Both of them highlight the life-giving elements of our covenants. On the other hand, they also teach us another valuable principle to those to minister to others in the Gospel – the strength of our covenants (of how much we are keeping them) are not visible to others. We can very easily go about our daily lives not strengthening our covenants and those around us may not notice. That it is why it is so important to look to support and strengthen as many as we can – not just those that ask for support or help. So reach out and ask for guidance for who to send that message to or ask how their day is, because you never know when that reaching out may make their day, whoever they are.