Relief Society Lesson 24: Leading in the Lord's Way

by mraynes

This lesson contains one of the most famous and oft-quoted sayings of Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”  While this is an important and somewhat revolutionary idea, it receives a lot of attention in our pedagogy.  I think an interesting and more original aspect of this lesson is the idea of spiritual leadership.  This concept might be difficult to teach in Relief Society due to the incredibly gender specific language in the lesson manual and some women’s insecurity in their leadership abilities.  One would have to be careful not to turn this lesson into a discussion of priesthood leadership.  I think if you maneuver around the language, however, you could have a very important discussion about the place and importance of spiritual leadership.

I would start by asking the class where they are leaders?  In the home, in their church callings, at work, in the community…the answers, I’m sure, will be varied and will go to show the many different areas women are leaders.  I would then ask how the women show spiritual leadership in their lives?  At this point, I would move into the lesson manual and talk about the different aspects of spiritual leadership.

Leaders receive the wisdom they need from the Spirit and acknowledge the Lord’s blessings to them.  (Words in italics are quotes from Joseph Smith.)

You could talk about how leadership has long-lasting spiritual implications and that we should not attempt to lead anyone anywhere unless we have the gift of the spirit and have a vision of God’s eternal plan.

“A man (woman) of God should be endowed with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, in order to teach and lead the people of God.” 

“I realize in some measure my responsibility, and the need I have of support from above, and the wisdom from on high, that I may be able to teach this people, which have now become a great people, the principles of righteousness, and lead them agreeable to the will of Heaven; so that they may be perfected, and prepared to meet the Lord Jesus Christ when He shall appear in great glory.”

Joseph Smith talked about some of the requirements to lead successfully when he wrote to the missionaries in Great Britain.  “I can say, that as far as I have been made acquainted with your movements, I am perfectly satisfied that they have been in wisdom, and I have no doubt, but that the Spirit of Lord has directed you; and this proves to my mind that you have been humble, and your desires have been for the salvation of your fellow man, and not for your own aggrandizement, and selfish interests.  As long as the Saints manifest such a disposition, their counsels will be approved of, and their exertions crowned with success.

Ask the importance of being led by the spirit in order to be a successful leader?

Leaders in the Lord’s kingdom love those they serve.

I would ask why was Joseph Smith was such an effective leader and then have class members read the next two quotes.

“Sectarian priests cry out concerning me, and as, ‘Why is it this babbler gains so many followers, and retains them?’ I answer, It is because I” possess the principle of love.  All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand.”

A few days before he went to Carthage Jail, the Prophet expressed his love for the Saints: “God has tried you.  You are a good people; therefore I love you with all my heart.  Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends.  You have stood by me in the hour of trouble, and I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation.”

Discuss the necessity for leaders to genuinely love their followers.

Read the next quote about Joseph Smith’s willingness to share in the joy and the hardships of his people, then discuss why this makes for an especially good leader.

“Did the Prophet Cease his anxiety for the welfare of the camp?  Did he turn to be their enemy because he had spoken hard things against them?  No! His heart was melted with sympathy–his bosom glowed with love, compassion and kindness; and with a zeal and fidelity that became a devoted friend in the hour of peril, he personally ministered to the sick and dying: and aided in buryingthe dead.  Every act of his during that severe trial gave additional assurances to the camp that with all their faults, he loved them still.”

Leaders teach correct priniciples and help those they lead learn to govern themselves.

If you have time, you could then talk about the importance of “teach[ing] correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

Ask why this approach to leading works so well?  What is the result if leaders “exercise compulsion” over their followers?  Why is it important to give our followers the liberty to choose for themselves?

Read Matthew 20: 25-28:

“(25) But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye Know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  (26) But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; (27) And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (28) Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

In order to lead in the Lord’s way, we must follow the leadership example of not only Joseph Smith, but of Jesus Christ.   End with testimony.

Additional Resources:

Joan Chittister’s “Leading the Way: To Go Where There is No Road and Leave a Path.”  This address talks about the importance and difficulty of spiritual leadership.  She shares some fantastic ways to show spiritual leadership. 

“Jesus: The Perfect Leader” by Spencer W. Kimball

“Spiritual Power” by Elder Devere Harris.


  1. That Joan Chittister essay is so good that I thought I’d highlight some of her points about spiritual leadership. There’s a lot more good stuff there, but here’s a start:
    Leadership is the ability to see the vision beyond the reality and make a road where no road has been.

    “Spiritual leadership is the ability to question the present in order to show the way to the greater good — whether it is popular to pursue that good or not.

    The questions of leadership are organizational ones, of course, but they are spiritual ones, too. They have something to do with the structures of a society, yes, but they have more to do with the spirit of that society and the compass of its soul.

    Spiritual leadership is, as the psalmist says, the ability “to be a light in the darkness for the upright.”

    And it is often a lonely, lonely task. Knowing where to go is one thing; breaking the path to it is another. And it is breaking the path that is of the essence of leadership.

    It is the spiritual leader who enables us to tell one type of leadership from another, the life-giving from the death-dealing the eternally significant from the culturally correct.

    Spiritual leadership is not an exercise in social isolation. Spirituality and spiritual leadership have something to do with critiquing the present, envisioning a better future and asking the right questions as we go.

    But, fortunate for us, we are a tradition rich with such people:

    We are, in fact, a veritable roll call of courageous figures, who in the face of the Jesus who assessed his own reality and, then, contrary to its claims, envisioned fullness of life for lepers, humanity for women, freedom for those possessed by demons, and the responsibility to question, question, question authority after authority from his first Passover in the temple to his journey to the tomb so that the reign of god might come — they committed their lives to doing the same.”

  2. Very good lesson material. I attend an ultra-small branch with just ten active sisters, thus, all of us serve in some sort of leadership capacity in the branch. Spiritual leadership is definitely something each of can relate to and strive to ehance in our families, callings and careers in and outside of the home. I believe when each of us is set apart in a calling we receive the specific gift(s) from the Spirit–our responsibility as leaders is to acknowledge these gifts and use them in accordance with the Lord’s teachings. It is definitely easier said than done thanks to good old human nature and the pricks and stings from the adversary. When I serve in a leadership capacity, I strive to live and conduct myself according to the vision, the virtues and truth taught in the 13th Article of Faith. Does this not correlate with Joan Chittister’s article and define our roles as sister leaders in the church?

  3. I taught this lesson in my very conservative Texas ward two Sundays ago and I think that people loved it. We got a really good discussion going, and for the first time as a teacher, I felt like I engaged some of the groups of sisters (ie, not the horde of young SAHMs) that don’t tend to get involved in the conversation. Thanks so much for your work mraynes! You made my job so much easier and I really think our sisters benefited from the way you tailored the material to apply to our lives as women in the church.

  4. I’m looking forward to reading RS Lesson 25: “Truths from the Savior’s Parables in Matthew 13″. Thank you for your post. I love reading it.

  5. Our stake is a lesson behind, so I’ll be giving this lesson Jan. 11. I will be using a lot of your ideas on how to make it especially relevant to women, and am grateful for your insights!

    Gender specific language has never made me personally feel excluded. However, I do think that women often need extra encouragement to realize their potential as spiritual leaders, by word and by example, whether or not they formally hold a position of leadership at church, at work, on in the community.

  6. Any chance Lesson 25 will be up this week? I’m afraid I was planning on leaning on it for support this Sunday…your blog was so helpful to me last month!

  7. It is always wonderful to have the extra help, and have it not stear away from the lesson itself. Thanks for the extra thoughts, I will be excited to use them in my lesson.

  8. I am new to this calling and your site has been so helpful! Thank you to all the women who work so hard to help others! Hopefully this calling gets a little easier!

  9. It’s my first time teaching in Relief Society and I am scared to death. I’m teaching lesson 29 and would love any teaching helps or ideas.

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