The Divine Design of Imperfect Church Leaders

by | Jan 3, 2021

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Highlights for D&C 1

The year is 1831; the Church is 1 1/2 years old and now has 680 members. During an Elders conference, Joseph Smith receives Section 1, a revelation full of robust declarations and prophecies. The Lord (Jesus Christ) himself says this section is the preface or the beginning section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

How many elders were present during this conference about publishing the Doctrine and Covenants? Only ten! And Christ says extraordinary things about this early group of men. They have watched the prophet experience revelation after vision after miracle, sometimes in close company. Jesus refers to these men six times as “servants.”


Verse 6 is the first one to call out those elders as servants:

Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth. (D&C 1:6)

Jesus also calls Joseph Smith his servant in verse 17

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; (D&C 1:17)

The word “servants” is mentioned four other times, all were about the early leaders prepping the Doctrine and Covenants for its publication in 1833.

Leaders Are a Work in Progress

Perhaps my favorite verses are 24-28. Why? Because the Lord knew all His church leaders would be a work in progress. He shares His divine design of how to keep the Church functioning despite all of our imperfections. Let’s go through each of these verses with some short commentary:

24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

The Lord works with each of us line upon line, precept upon precept. He stresses it is essential to talk and teach people at the level they understand.

25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;

I love how the Lord isn’t ruffled about the mistakes people make; instead, he outlines the process of how to upgrade and move forward. Church leaders made and will make errors – we all make errors – it is part of our human experience.

26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;

To me, it’s kind of like the Savior is saying, “I know you’re a work in progress and that you will make mistakes. However, if you try to improve and be better, I’ll help you find how to do it.

27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;

The cycle of mistakes, remorse and repentance is essential to every one of us.

28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

Which leaders get revelation? The humble ones, and even then, it is “from time to time.” In other words, no one is a precise robot live-streaming instructions from above every hour or even every week. For instance, Joseph Smith was faced with the tremendous task of finding funds for the first publication of the Book of Mormon. He decided to go east and hunt for buried treasure. Even well-intentioned, the trip produced nothing. Is that a bad thing or an embarrassment? I don’t think so. An important part of our mortal journey is to solve problems and hike up our learning curves. The Lord wants us to think through challenges, try stuff out and grow from the refinement of dead ends and hard knocks. However, when something needs to be directed, He will directly communicate.

Cart Before the Horse

Which brings us to verse 38. It may be one of the most important, yet misinterpreted verses of modern Church culture:

38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D&C 1:38)

This verse says if the Lord gives a revelation or a vision to one of his servants and that servant relays the message to us – it is as legitimate as if the Lord gave it to us directly. Basically, the Lord speaks through his prophets, which has been a repeating pattern forever. Unfortunately, this verse has been extrapolated, taught, and represented to say WHATEVER a prophet or any other church leader says at any given time, becomes the Lord’s words as if they are commissioned to originate thoughts and mandates for the Lord. I have even heard it said they constitute scripture.

Not so!

Elder Christofferson clarified this when he said, “At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.” (The Doctrine of Christ ~ April 2012)

A prophet is a prophet when he relays direct revelation or a vision from the Lord and tells you it’s a vision or a revelation. The rest of the time, he speaks as a man. Yes, he is inspired, chosen, our leader, and his understanding is ahead of the curve. Nonetheless, mistakes happen, and they get worked through and learned from. Line upon line ~ precept upon precept is not only an individual process; it is also a collective process for the whole Church.


We are headed in the right direction; we’ve always been headed in the right direction. Just like every other decade during the last 200 years, we continuously have more to learn and more to perfect. The Lord didn’t promise us a perfectly run, ideal church, but He did promise all the elements needed for perfecting uniquely you are found there.

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  1. Rodrigo Lopez

    marvellous postcast

    • Shawnie

      Awww…thanks! I enjoyed doing it.

  2. Heather-Marie Steele

    This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot, and throughout 2020 I’ve had to be vocal. Speaking of, I’d love to be able to log in through my MeWe account and share your blog on there.



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