In Praise of the Administrative Function of the Prophet

When I was just off my mission, President Hinckley announced that, in answer to a question about how to provide temples to smaller LDS communities, he had been inspired to construct smaller temples. There was a palpable sense of excitement at BYU, as we saw the prophet make what we regarded as a prophetic announcement. And, as a result of this revelatory change, we waited with baited breath for other announcements of revelatory changes.

Occasionally I run across complaints about the bureaucracization of the leadership of the Church. The complaints seem to suggest that that’s not the role of a prophet/apostle and that administrative duties detract from prophetic ones.

I want to argue that neither complaint is correct. The prophet’s role isn’t to hold our MTV-addled (or video-game addled, or ADHD’d, or whatever) attention. As much fun as it was to have things change, they shouldn’t have to. What’s more, the argument that the prophetic role is solely to receive revelation is myopic and, frankly, wrong. Administration has, historically, been a role of the prophet. Though Jethro encouraged Moses quit mediating all of Israel’s issues, some still fell to him to administer. Samuel found the king. Alma the Younger worked to make sure that the church was in harmony. The ancient apostles debated whether gentile converts had to be circumcised (which is, frankly, an administrative, not a revelatory, discussion, though it’s worth noting that Peter appears to have received revelation on that administrative point). Brigham Young took the Saints west. A large part of what a prophet does is administer the governance of the body of Christ.

Moreover, as much as we hope to avoid it before we start working, no job is without its administrative aspects. Doctors and dentists spend time working on their charts and doing paperwork; it isn’t time they spend treating patients, but it is integral to their patients’ care. Attorneys don’t just research, negotiate, and argue in court: they also record their billing time, write memos to files and to clients, and lay out closing papers. I spend some amount of my time going to faculty meetings, committee meetings, and other necessary administrative duties. Heck, the members of Van Halen don’t spend all of their time rocking: they also go through their contract riders. The administrative duties are, generally speaking, not the sexy part of a job. And I have to assume that prophets would rather spend their time being conduits of revelation, not administering the temporal aspects of the Church. But the fact that they likely spend a large portion of their time administering in no way prevents them from being able to receive revelation; rather, it allows the Church to run smoothly so that, when revelation comes, it can be instituted among a body of millions.

That’s not, of course, to say that the administrative role is the sole role of our prophets. But we certainly shouldn’t be disdainful of the fact that, by virtue of their callings, they need to spend some percentage of their time fulfilling administrative duties.

29 comments for “In Praise of the Administrative Function of the Prophet

  1. “The complaints seem to suggest that that’s not the role of a prophet/apostle and that administrative duties detract from prophetic ones.”

    My complaint isn’t that they do administrative duties, it is that is ALL they do. And if a prophet is just equal to a good administrator, why do we even have a prophet? The small temples is a good example. It seems to me any CEO of a fortune 500 company would be able to divine that to get better market penetration we need more temples in more areas and those temples have to be less expensive than what we were building.

  2. Sam – just curious though, in any of the examples that you cited of administration, do you not see the need for the revelatory guidance of the spirit?

    The small temples program could have been a disaster, akin to Starbucks losing 97% of its profits as a result of overexpansion. Think of the real impact on the church, from either temples closing doors or members having to sacrifice more time and finances to cover them. Not to mention the disaster that would have happened if Brigham Young chose to settle the main body of the Saints in Mexico, California or (gasp Canada)! Actually, Canada might have worked out pretty well…

  3. Brigham Young took the Saints west Hmmm administrative is the management of a government or large institution and you don’t normally think of them as nomadic. I suspect Prophets become diluted and distracted by administration.

  4. I attended a presentation three years ago by Henry J. Eyring, an administrator at BYU-Idaho, who described the way President Hinckley made major decisions about converting Ricks College into a four year university, including administrative decisions like making all three semesters equal in student size and curriculum in order to maximize the number of students who can attend. The message was that these were decisions that were administrative in nature, and could have been made on any number of grounds, but in this instance they were inspired decisions made with pondering and prayer.

    There is probably no more quintessential administrative decision than the choice of people to staff positions, yet it is also one that we LDS regard as most crucially dependent on inspiration, from calling members of the Twelve down to bishoprics and Primary presidencies.
    And once we accept callings, we are often in over our heads, heavily dependent on inspiration to help us make decisions despite inadequate information.

    Having worked in the military for 20 years, where huge investments are made in training people for their jobs (such as my two graduate degrees), including sending officers off for a full year at a time to prepare them for senior rank responsibilities, the contrast with the Church, where almost everything is done by people with almost no formal training, and often limited experience, leads me to suspect that this is evidence that inspiration is playing a vital role in keeping the whole enterprise from collapsing from its own complexity.

  5. While I agree somewhat with the premise of the OP, I disagree with #2’s assessment that administration is all that the Twelve & First Presidency do, and also that “any CEO of a Fortune 500 company would divine . . .,” etc.

    First, I think a disproportionate amount of the Apostles’ time is taken meeting with the true exceptions of the Church–those whose circumstances or problems or doctrinal disagreements can’t/haven’t been solved at the stake (or even Area Authority) level. While that may qualify as “administrative,” there’s a lot that goes on at that level that has real bearing on revelation and our understanding of doctrine. There’s a reason why Spencer W. Kimball was praying about race for years prior to 1978, and it wasn’t just because MLK was in the news.

    Second, I’d argue that a lot of what we’d consider administrative duties require the kind of revelation that we’re talking about here. I’m going to undercut my point here a bit, but: When I was at BYU back in the mid-90s, I overheard a conversation between two (I’m guessing) freshmen who’d just returned from their missions. This was just after the Church had instituted both the “equal pay for missions” program and the centralized ward budget program (based on attendance). They had heard that the 12 and FP had had a 24-hour meeting in the SL Temple, and had come up with both of those programs. Well, I had to go home and tell my roommate, whose uncle (Richard Edgley, at the time just a member of the Finance Committee, now in the Pres. Bishopric) had been working on pilot programs for both of those innovations for YEARS. Do I believe that the 12 and FP met in the temple to approve those programs? Yes. Do I believe that revelation played a part, not just in the final approval, but all through the development of those programs? Yes again.

    Last, I don’t think it’s as easy as #2 thinks it is to run the Church, especially if you’re discounting revelation. In the era of big-box retailing and megachurches, why would it be “easy to divine” that smaller temples to more areas would be the way to go? In a church that likes to tell stories of the sacrifices everyone has made from the pioneers to modern-day third-world members who scrimp for years to go to the temple once, why would bringing the temple to the members be a no-brainer? I think there was substantial risk in what President Hinckley came up with, and I think every member of the 12 and FP took that risk seriously and all came to a unanimous conclusion that that was the way the Church would go.

    I think we all look for the big announcement, the official declarations, that mark a major course correction as evidence for divine revelation, but I think it’s just as much, if not more so, a modern miracle that a myriad of small revelations keep the Church going in the direction it should.

  6. Mark, given my success in the marriage market at BYU, probably not Altoids.

    chris, I see no reason why the prophet and other General Authorities couldn’t receive revelatory guidance in the course of their administrative functions. So there isn’t necessarily a black line separating administrative from prophetic.

    mormon metamucil, I see you treating the administrative function of the prophet as somehow unprophetic. And my contention is that the administrative function is a prophetic function, in the same way that future-telling is. I believe that my position has scriptural and historic backing.

    And Howard, no, administration is the banal-but-necessary part of everybody’s life. I have to pay bills, organize documents, etc., and I’m far from a government or large institution. Moreover, while administration could distract from other prophetic duties, why would it? If you were prophet and a revelatory experience started, wouldn’t you drop whatever administrative thing you were doing in favor of the revelation? Is there any reason to believe President Monson wouldn’t do the same thing?

  7. @chris: ” Not to mention the disaster that would have happened if Brigham Young chose to…”
    When he made the roads wide in Salt Lake City__he was a Prophet. When it came time to pave them through taxes__ he became a…….

  8. Bob (8), BY in Utah is a tough example: from 1851-1858, he served both as governor and prophet. Of course, at the time, there wasn’t necessarily any differentiation between secular and church government in the Saints’ minds, a thought process that was also clearly scriptural and modern (Joseph Smith served the same dual roles at times).

  9. Sam in 5 RTS wrote: …these were decisions that were administrative in nature, and could have been made on any number of grounds, but in this instance they were inspired decisions made with pondering and prayer. Inspiration is apparently what is needed for church administration but inspiration is *not* revelation and a Prophet is more about revelation than inspiration. What has been revealed since the D&C was published? OD1 and OD2, what else? Nothing that we know of unless you count inspiration. wouldn’t you drop whatever administrative thing you were doing in favor of the revelation Well sure but that’s not how we got OD1 and OD2 God was pursued not the other way around. Is He being pursued today?

  10. Howard, how is “inspiration” not “revelation”? In any event, if you feel strongly that there is a qualitative difference, feel free to substitute one for the other in my comment.

  11. Which one includes more of man and less of God and by how much Sam? Where would we be today if Joseph was merely inspired?

  12. @ Sam: BY may have been Governor, but his road plans were for “Zion”. Same as they were for JS.
    I agree the Prophet can administer in his calling. But the “head Prophet”, is but one 80 or 90 year old man, so he uses a HUGH administive team to back him up.

  13. As I understand it, with some exceptions (such as Moses and Joshua), there seemed to be a distinction between administrative roles in the Israelite religion (the priests) and prophets. That is, some priests may have also been prophets, but not all prophets seemed to have administrative roles in the religion. I defer, though, to scholars of the Hebrew Bible period.

  14. Sam,
    For much of the Old Testament, the religious admin and the prophets are separated. That’s why you have Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah (amongst others) railing against the establishment. I don’t know how this is relevant, but I felt like pointing it out. There you go.

  15. I don’t think it would do harm to refer to President Monson more often as the President of the Church. Presiding is closely related to deciding and delegating, both of which take inspiration to do well. A prophet’s function is to communicate the Lord’s teachings. A President decides and delegates.

  16. DavidH and John C., thanks. It certainly is relevant, given that I appeal to scriptural practice. And I certainly don’t want to overstate my case and say that the prophet MUST fulfill administrative duties in order to be a prophet. I merely want to assert the much-more-modest position that administrative responsibilities are not antithetical to other prophetic responsibilities and that, if the prophet is administrating, that in no way means he’s acting in an unprophetic manner.

  17. Howard, that’s a nice assertion. But what do you base that assertion on? Because it is not self-evident, and, as best as I can tell, the scriptures don’t limit a prophet’s role to one doing only one thing.

    See, e.g., Mosiah 8:16, where Ammon basically says a seer is a revelator is a prophet. And Revelation 19:10’s assertion that the testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy. And, for that matter, D&C 107:65-67 and 91-92, laying out duties of the president of the church.

    Which is to say, receiving and revealing the Word of the Lord (or revelation, or whatever terminology you prefer) is clearly a function of prophets. But it is just as clearly not the sole function of prophets.

  18. It certainly seems like a quibble over semantics, but really: If the will of the Lord is that His servants organize the Moscow Russia Stake in 2011, how is their planning it, announcing it, and then doing it, not prophecy? Given the scriptures we have from the beginning of the Restoration (about studying it out in our minds, among others), how is it that we still believe that President Monson sits at his desk, or kneels by his bed, and writes down, “Thus sayeth the Lord: The Moscow Russia Stake shall be organized on [X date], 2011,” and then it just happens, thousands of miles away and without any coordination or consultation with the Twelve, or with the local Church leaders in Moscow?

    I suppose you could modify assumptions a little and say that the thousands of day-to-day decisions that the 12 and FP make under the guidance of the Holy Ghost are “inspiration” and that anything larger is “revelation,” or that “inspiration” is anything that only requires the concurring vote of the presiding quorums of the Church, and that “revelation” requires common consent of the entire Church. But even then, I think you’d be downplaying something that is entirely unique, and to my mind, revelatory: If revelation is even just only being able to predict the future more accurately than 50% of the time, much of what we consider administrative is certainly revelatory.

  19. I guess maybe we need to use “THE PROFILE OF A PROPHET” by Hugh B Brown (1955) as some kind definition (?) Was he wrong then, or is it just out-of-date now? At the time, it was the standard of the Church.

  20. 22 – Or just describing one side of things that hadn’t be adequately explored on a theoretical level, but in principle and often in practice pretty much function similar as it always had depending on the various changes and needs of that particular generation. What does it have to be wrong or out of date or even incomplete? It wasn’t trying to be any of those things other than one snapshot of the truth, but never claiming to be the whole truth and the final word.

  21. I don’t think the difference between inspiration and revelation is a quibble over semantics inspiration is an impression and revelation is clear direction often literally the words of God. Study it out in your mind was given to Oliver (and us) but not to Joseph.

  22. I suppose it is all semantics.

    I think Steve Jobs has been inspired to come up with many of the projects that Apple sells. (DISCLAIMER: I’m a Windows guy). Various subgroups do pilot projects, try different things, etc. Ultimately, he is inspired to come up with good ideas for things that work well, that are easy to use, and that reinvented the company. It was inspired to use the iPod to drive iTunes to drive iPhone to drive Macs and iCloud. These are all great ideas.

    So, inspired – yes. Revelation? Probably not.

    In a similar fashion, there are a lot of things the Church has also done on an administrative level that have been good ideas. There was a need for more numerous smaller temples. Check. There was a need to help fund the education of people in third world countries. Perpetual Education Fund. Etc. Are these inspired, responses to actual needs, policy changes, adminstrative reemphasis, or revelation? I suppose it becomes semantics at that point.

    For me, Revelation should be something different from what we see in all types of organizations – religious, commercial, non-profit, etc. It should be something that is a direct message from God to His people. It should be revelation of new truths. It should be more.

    Perhaps I’m wrong – but that’s what I would like to see.

  23. #23: Were you there then Chris? I was. We taught it and had it as handouts as missionaries. How/when has it been ” adequately explored on a theoretical level” since then? And by whom?
    Where, other than by Brown, can I read how a Prophet receives and gives a revelation for the Church.

  24. We all want to see the big ‘Thus saith the Lord’ announcements and the ‘parting of the seas’ type of thing, but let’s be honest: We’re still not doing very good with the commandments we’ve got. God bless the ‘administrative’ types that keep the ship steady until the rest of us catch up. Maybe we finish the milk, we will get the meat.

  25. There was a comment in a thread over on BCC a little while ago about the Church’s most recent statement about immigration law that said, essentially:

    “I won’t accept a statement on as the words of the prophets and apostles. If it isn’t said over the pulpit at General Conference, it isn’t official.”

    There is a parallel between that statement and one that says revelation and prophecy have to be thunderous and clearly cited and obvious to be revelation – that, lacking such pronouncement pattern, they’re “merely” inspiration.

    Prophecy is defined throughout our scriptures as expressing the word and/or will of God as to matters yet to come, no matter the form or manner of transmission. Revelation is defined as revealing things that are hidden to most. In that light, I have no doubt whatsoever that our modern apostles and prophets actually do prophesy and give revelation – and I myself have been part of the pronouncemnet of revelation and prophecy on at least a couple of occasions, as have many, many other members. It happens far more often than many believe, imo.

    I want good administrators at the head of the Church, and I want apostles and prophets who can administer, reveal and prophesy. I think, by and large, we have that currently.

  26. Ray thank you for bearing your testimony. In a similar Wheat & Tares Apostles vs. Prophets thread you were asked for some examples but there was no response would you mind sharing them here?

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