While this is an oft-quoted verse of scripture pertaining to using the power or influence of the priesthood it is also one of the many principles of leadership. Since, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have many opportunities to serve in leadership positions, it is important that each member, whether holding the priesthood or not, understand and learn good leadership skills. In fact, one of the reasons why God instituted a church organization is to teach and train us how to become future leaders in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.
The most fundamental position of leadership in the Church is that of a father presiding righteously over his family. For those who become exalted, the structure of the kingdom of God will consist of family units united and sealed together in an unbroken chain from Adam, the first father of mankind, to the last righteous father of mankind. Therefore, each worthy father will preside along with his wife over his posterity throughout all eternity. Because of this, learning leadership skills is an essential and important part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A leader is someone who has the responsibility to get a select group of people to accomplish a certain goal, perform a certain task, or behave in a certain way. The role of a leader is to bring together many people who have their own ideas, beliefs, and opinions and make them become united in thought and in action. While there are many ways to accomplish this task, the Lord has taught us the proper and most effective way. The word He used to describe this method is "persuasion."
Persuasion is something that causes someone to behave in a manner different than what they had originally intended. When used in a leadership role, it is the act of convincing others to do what you want rather than allowing them to do what they want. The act of persuasion can be intimidating and coercive, or inspiring and motivational or anything in-between. It can be direct and obvious or it can be subtle and unnoticed, but its ultimate purpose is always the same - to get people to follow the will of the person doing the persuading.
To some in the LDS Church, this may seem to violate a sacred principle of the gospel known as free agency which states that because of the atonement of Christ we have been redeemed from the fall and are therefore free forever to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon save it be by the punishment of the law (2 Nephi 2:26; 10:23). It has often been said that this principle is so sacred that not even God will violate it. As Latter-day Saints we believe that the war in heaven was fought over this very issue when Satan proposed to force everyone to behave a certain way rather than letting us have the agency to sin or not sin according to the desires of our own heart. Therefore, some in the Church feel that to persuade anyone to behave a certain way, no matter how it is done, is a violation of that person's agency to freely decide for themselves. In other words, if a person is somehow made to behave in a way that is different from what they want, then it is said that this is a violation of their right to decide for themselves.
We sometimes see this attitude in the way some parents raise their children. There are those who feel that they should not set hard rules in the home because it violates the child's right to decide for their self. As a result, such parents are permissive in what they allow their children to do. Then there are other parents who do set rules but allow their children to make their own decisions and then administer the prescribed punishment when the child breaks the rules.
This method is founded on the principle that while we are free to do whatever we want we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. However, this concept is not entirely correct. Although it is true that we cannot choose the consequences of our actions, it is not always true that we have the right to do whatever we want.
For example, in America we live in the freest country in the world. By that we mean that Americans have the freedom to do more things than people in any other nation. We further believe, as expressed in our founding document, that our freedom comes as an inalienable right from God. Yet, even so, we are not free to do anything we want. We are not free to rob someone of their possessions, we are not free to cause anyone bodily harm, nor are we free to lie and cheat. The very reason why we have laws is for the express purpose of telling us how we are to behave, thereby spelling out what we can and cannot do.
To say that laws simply tell us what our punishment will be if we do certain things while saying that we're still free to do whatever we want is double talk. The punishment is there precisely to persuade us to behave a certain way. Perhaps an example will help illustrate this point. Suppose someone is traveling down a road whose posted speed limit is 35 mph but the driver decides to go 50 mph. In that case they are doing what they want. But, when this same driver sees a police car up ahead, they slow down to 35 mph, not because they want to but because they feel they have to in order to keep from getting a speeding ticket. It might be argued by some that this person's free agency is being violated by the law because they are being coerced into slowing down when they don't want to. However, that is a false argument.
Or take the example of an assailant who points a gun at a person's head and demands all of their money. The victim has their free agency not to do as they are told but there are severe consequences to that action. Therefore, the victim chooses to give their money away rather than accept death. It can be argued that the victim has not lost any of their free agency because they voluntarily made the decision to do as they were told. Yet, without the coercive influence of the gun, they would not have made the same decision. Therefore, their decision was not made freely or voluntarily. In the same way when punishments are given to those who break the law it cannot be said that we are free to do whatever we want.
God Himself has set down laws and has prescribed punishments therefore, to a large degree, our actions are determined by the fear we have of those punishments. If there was no fear then we would have no reason to obey God's laws, the same way a child disobeys its parents when they realize that no punishment is attached to their misbehavior. Therefore, it is the punishment of the law that persuades us to act in a way different than what we want.
As stated earlier, there are many different ways to persuade people, but the question we want to answer is, how does God want us to do that? To gain a clearer understanding of this principle it might first be helpful to understand the difference between buying and selling.
Nearly everyone likes to buy things but hardly anyone likes to be sold something. The reason for this is simple. Buying is the act of getting something you want. On the other hand, selling is the act of convincing someone they want something, especially when they don't know they want it. And the way salesmen do this is by persuading people to buy their product. But, there are many different ways to do this.
The most common impression of salesmen is that they employ what is known as the "high pressure" technique. This method is often pushy, argumentative, and bordering on being rude, obnoxious, and badgering the customer with the intent of wearing them down until they have agreed to buy what the salesman is selling. Whereas this method does result in initially gaining a few more sales than normal, it leaves the customer irritated and often, after the salesman has left, they call the company the next day and cancel the contract.
By way of contrast, the more experienced and professional salesmen use what is known as the "soft pressure" approach. While this method still applies pressure on the customer to buy, it's done in a subtle and indirect way so that often the customer is not even aware of it. The result of this technique is that the customer feels as though they have arrived at the decision to buy on their own rather than at the insistence of the salesman. However, in reality, they have made the very decision that the salesperson wanted them to make. This method of selling leaves the customer feeling pleased with both their purchase and with the salesman.
One example of this method of selling is seen on television, read in newspapers, and heard on radio. It's called advertisement. Over and over again we are repeatedly subjected to the same salesperson telling us how good their product is and why we should want to buy it. It doesn't matter how often we refuse to buy the advertized item, we keep hearing the same message, sometimes many times each day. And the reason why companies spend millions of dollars on these kinds of ads is because they are effective in convincing people to buy their products. However, the customer rarely, if ever, feels they have been pressured into buying the advertized product. Instead, they almost always feel as though they are buying the product because they want it.
Very often when we go to a store, there is usually a salesperson who is trying to convince us to buy a certain item. In most cases that salesperson is us. Unless someone knows exactly what they want, most people end up engaging in a debate with themselves, trying to decide whether or not they want to purchase a particular item. Eventually they end up persuading themselves either to buy or not buy the item
In all but a coercive sale, a customer is induced to buy something mostly because they have been convinced that they need what is being offered for sale. Furthermore, there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with this method of selling and it in no way takes away anyone's freedom to decide for themselves. In fact, nearly every product we buy is bought precisely because we've become convinced within ourselves that we either need it or want it. If this wasn't true, there were be little incentive for us to buy most of what we currently have.
This method of selling is based on the principle of persuasion. It is the act of presenting a product or an idea in such a way that the person hearing the presentation becomes convinced that they want to buy into whatever is being offered to them. However, persuasion is an art, not a science. By that we mean, rather than following an unchanging scientific formula that produces the same result every time it's used, persuasion is a skill that develops and improves through practice and experience.
Satan is the master persuader. Before the beginning of the earth's creation he managed to persuade one-third of our Father's children to join him in rebellion against God. Throughout the earth's history he has continued to use his great powers of persuasion to convince people to follow his ways. Some he stirs up to anger, others he pacifies, still others he lulls into carnal security, some he flatters, and others he beguiles, lies, and deceives (2 Nephi 28:20-22). But, no matter what technique he uses, the only way he can get us to follow him is through his powers of persuasion.
But God Himself is also a great persuader. In fact, one of the powers of the Holy Ghost is to cause a mighty change to come upon a person's heart, convincing them that Jesus is the Christ, convicting them of their sins, and influencing them to live a Christ-like life. During His mortal ministry, Jesus sought to convince people to repent of their sins, be baptized and to follow the commandments of God. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince both Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Each of the ancient apostles were given the charge to teach the gospel to the entire world and each of the epistles found in the New Testament was originally written to influence Christians to remain faithful to the gospel. To do each of these things requires persuading people to adopt a different lifestyle than the one they are currently pursuing.
When viewed in this light, we can say that LDS missionaries are essentially salesmen, seeking to convince people to not only become baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but to become faithful members. Rather than simply stating what we believe and then leaving it up to each investigator to decide for themselves if they want to belong to Christ's church, missionaries apply pressure to have people read the Book of Mormon, to pray about the truthfulness of their message, to come to church, to give up their vices and to do many other things that at first the investigator had no intention of doing.
Most people are not naturally inclined to give one-tenth of their money to a church, nor are they inclined to fast for twenty-four hours once each month, attend church services for three hours each Sunday, refrain from worldly activities all day on Sunday, or accept challenging callings that requires time, effort, and sometimes sacrifice. To do all of these things and many more requires each of us to become persuaded through the influence of others that it is desirable for us to engage in these kinds of behavior.
One of the qualities of a leader involves knowing the art of persuading people to follow them rather than deciding what should be done by seeking a consensus opinion. Instead of doing the will of the majority, a leader gets the majority to agree with their position. Yet, a leader is not a dictator who issues orders and gives demands, expecting others to do his bidding without any hesitation, complaining, or disagreement. That method is no different than a salesman using high pressure tactics to make a sale. Such a tactic only produces temporary, short-term success at best. On the other hand, a true leader is someone who knows what should be done and is able to persuade others of the correctness of their position. That way people follow his direction because they want to, not because they feel forced into do his bidding.
If one of the purposes of Christ's church is to teach us how to be leaders then it must, of necessity, also teach us how to effectively persuade people to give up a worldly, sinful lifestyle and willing accept to live by a higher, holier standard. The question is, how do we properly do that without becoming dictatorial in our behavior? The Lord has given us the answer when He said that our powers of persuasion should be used in the spirit of "long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."
A successful salesman doesn't call it quits the first time a customer says they're not interested in what they're selling. Instead, they are long-suffering. They don't give up. They keep trying various ways to convince a customer that it's in their best interest to make the decision he wants them to make. A successful salesman doesn't use high pressure. Instead, they are gentle and humble in the way they deal with a customer who doesn't see the necessity of buying what the salesman is offering. Yet, at the same time, if they are convinced in the value of their product they feel the necessity to do all in their power to convince the customer that they do indeed need what he's offering them.
There is a saying in the sales profession that the customer doesn't care what you know until they know that you care. The greatest power of persuasion comes when people know that you truly care about them. There is another saying in sales that when you chase after the money it will flee from you but when you do what is best for your customers the money will automatically come to you. The Lord described this attitude as having "love unfeigned." Dictators don't care about the people they're giving orders to but leaders are deeply concerned about the people to whom they are giving direction. While a leader must get people to follow them, they also are aware of the needs and concerns of each of their followers.
During the bitter winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, General George Washington was in command of an army of soldiers who were extremely low on food, clothing, shelter, and ammunition. Their spirits had been broken from a string of military defeats and their prospect for future victory seemed almost non-existent. Because of this, many of them wanted to desert and go back home. During this encampment many of the officers were allowed to go home on leave for short periods of time but General Washington never left. Instead, he stayed with his men the entire time and did all in his power to give them as much aid and encouragement as he could. It became evident to all under his command that he truly cared about them. Such compassion is one of the qualities of a great leader.
Jesus Christ showed this same kind of compassion during His earthly ministry, often taking time from His preaching to heal the sick, comfort the weeping, and showing mercy on the sinner. The apostle Paul taught, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Galatians 5:14). Mormon taught his people that a man "must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing.. [and] charity is [defined as] the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever" (Moroni 7:44,47). A leader who doesn't love his followers is like a salesman who is only interested in making money.
Every father is a leader in his home. His family looks to him for guidance and direction and he is expected, by God, to lead his family in righteousness. His responsibility is to insure that each member of his family is living the principles of the gospel but he fulfills his duty, not by giving demanding orders, but through the gentle art of persuasion, working tirelessly in an attitude of love and concern to help convince each member of his household to follow his counsel and direction.
Because the priesthood is the governing authority in the kingdom of God, every priesthood holder, regardless of their calling, is a leader in one way or another. As home teachers they have the responsibility to watch over and care for the families assigned to them and as active members of the Church they have a duty to help perfect the saints. To fulfill these assignments often requires helping others to change their lifestyle in order to become better followers of Christ. That is the same purpose for the talks given at General Conference by our church leaders. Since no one can be made to do something they don't want, the goal of persuasion is to convince someone that they want what is being offered.
As stated earlier, learning how to persuade others is a skill that is learned and developed through practice and experience. As members of the Church we are given continual opportunities to improve that skill and the better we become at persuading others the more successful we become at leading people to Christ.