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.
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.