Since the time he presided over the Canada Toronto Mission four decades ago, Elder M. Russell Ballard has visited hundreds of missions across the globe. His travels have helped him understand key principles essential to strengthening and lifting a mission.
Elder Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, focused on three such principles during his June 25 address at the 2014 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.
“First, I would focus earlier in listening and counseling with my missionary leaders. Second, I would focus even more on building a strong mission leadership. Finally, I would emphasize the simple and clear message of the doctrine of Christ and help my missionaries keep their eyes on the living prophets and apostles.”
Mission councils, he declared, can play a pivotal role in missionary work.
“I have learned that mission leaders respond and lead better when they have the opportunity to discover and solve problems in counsel with the mission president and his wife.”
It is vital that missionary leaders are taught to lead, he added. Resist the urge to micromanage the mission and allow the missionary leaders to do their job.
“In other words, empower them — let them lead and let them take ownership or stewardship in their assigned areas,” he said. “If you empower your missionary leaders, you will bless them. If you do not empower them, you will be overwhelmed, as you simply cannot be everywhere at once in the mission.”
Some of the most important gatherings a new mission president will hold at the beginning of his mission are the mission leadership council and the zone conferences.
Elder Ballard offered five suggestions to best utilize mission leadership councils.
First, don’t preach. "Instead, implement the Lord’s council system.”
Second, provide a vision. “An effective mission president has a vision. And it doesn’t have to include every detail in the beginning of what you want to do.”
Third, encourage free expression. “Have your mission leaders discuss and suggest how to accomplish the vision you present according to the scriptures, prophetic teachings of modern prophets and apostles, Preach My Gospel and the current guidelines and directions from the Missionary Department.”
Fourth, empower sister training leaders by listening to them and encouraging their participation. “Please unlock one of the most important resources you will have in the mission — your sister training leaders.”
And fifth, practice until the council system is deeply rooted into the mission culture. “Develop a team spirit that will jointly bring about success.”
Elder Ballard defined the term “mission culture” as “an expression that defines what happens when you are not present.”
Presiding over a mission demands patience, he said. Missionaries come and go every six weeks, so the mission president and his wife must teach and practice the council system again and again throughout their mission.
Elder Ballard then offered some additional suggestions for new mission presidents:
• Emphasize that to train a new missionary is the most important leadership assignment. “Point out that among the leadership assignments in the mission, training is the one that requires the most trust from you and the blessing of the Lord.”
• Identify missionaries who desire to find, teach and baptize. “Your leaders must be young men and women who desire to find people to teach. Finding is the key to missionary work.”
• Identify missionaries who desire to observe missionary standards and guidelines. “This means you need to foster an environment in which your leaders are admired, not envied. Your leaders must be obedient, faithful, hard workers.”
• Identify missionaries who motivate their companions using gospel principles. “An effective leader serves others with love. Mission leaders who are friendly, effective and hard working are able to inspire, train, counsel and help the other missionaries to succeed.”
Elder Ballard then read a poem penned by his grandfather Elder Melvin J. Ballard during the years he presided over the Northwestern States Mission. The timeless poem taught of the powerful role the Spirit can play in day-to-day missionary work.
The apostle concluded his remarks by counseling the new mission presidents and their wives to not be troubled by negative news stories and reports about the Church that undoubtedly arise from time to time.
“I have learned that today’s sensational headlines eventually become tomorrow’s historical footnotes,” he said. “Always remember the gospel, or ‘good news,’ we proclaim will continue to be the most important news to the world your missionaries will teach in clear and simple terms.”
Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church, he added. “Teach [the missionaries] to never follow those who think they know more about how to administer the affairs of the Church than our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ do.”