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3 lessons I learned from serving with the prophet and apostles as Sunday School general president

Brother Osguthorpe is pictured with his wife, Lolly.
Courtesy of Brother Osguthorpe

While serving as Sunday School General President, I often interacted with those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. These exceptional leaders taught me how to 1) counsel together with care, 2) give and receive correction gladly, and 3) minister in the moment. I learned some of my most important lessons from these associations—not only about leadership but about life.

Lessson One: Counsel Together with Care

Imagine yourself sitting in council with two members of the Twelve, a member of the presiding bishopric, two seventies, and all five organization presidencies. The question to be addressed: Can we find another title for general board? The council chair explains, "the word board sounds too much like a business term. We want to find another term that better describes how board members serve in the organizations."

The council was large, but everyone contributed. It was a brainstorming session, and as organization leaders, we tried to help the presiding officers answer a question they wanted to resolve. The discussion was lively and productive. The council chair invited comments and then followed up masterfully as the comments flowed. No one was ignored. No one was left out. Did the council come up with a new term to replace general board? No. We seemed to make little progress, but that first meeting led to other meetings after I had been released, and the term they finally settled on was advisory council which better describes the role these leaders play in church governance.

What did I learn? Some might ask why we did not receive the inspiration we sought. Were we not open enough? Had we wasted our time? Far from it! The Spirit we felt in that meeting was real, and the comments were powerful. Counseling together is edifying even when resolution does not come. The Lord helps us move forward one step at a time in ward councils and in our family councils. The task at hand is not the most important thing. Our love and support for each other matter more than the problem or question that gave rise to the council. When that love and support are present, answers will eventually come.

Lesson Two: Give and Receive Correction Gladly

Let's switch to another scene—this time, I'm serving on a committee tasked with creating a new Sunday Meeting Schedule (the two-hour schedule). The committee has discussed how the new curriculum will need to focus on more individual and family study at home rather than relying only on gospel instruction during Sunday meetings. My role? Develop a PowerPoint presentation for the Twelve to review the following week. As one of the brethren viewed the presentation, he remarked on a slide I designed with a church building fading away as a picture of a home came to the foreground. "Brother Osguthorpe, you may have gone a little too far. Let's merge the church and home image on the slide to show that both are important." This moment helped lead to the term home-centered, church-supported curriculum. 

The correction I received was clear and caring. I knew what I needed to do to improve the presentation, but I also felt love from the one giving the correction. I learned that when we work toward the same inspired goal, we give clear and kind correction. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, "Correction can be an act of affection." His counsel applies in our family life, our work life, as well as in our church service.

Lesson Three: Minister in the Moment

While serving as an area seventy, I accompanied Elder Russell M. Nelson—then a member of the Twelve—to reorganize a stake. We began by interviewing approximately 30 brethren for 10-15 minutes each. Once the new stake presidency had been selected, 45 minutes remained before the afternoon leadership meeting began. While in the stake president's office with Elder Nelson, I began reviewing my notes for the training I was about to give. While preparing to train, I noticed that Elder Nelson was leafing through the biographical forms we used as we conducted the interviews. One by one, he picked up a form, looked at the brother's picture, and reviewed the information on the form. I wondered why he was still reviewing the forms after the new presidency had already been selected. But he continued looking at all the forms until the leadership meeting began.

When Elder Nelson stood to train, he would pose a question and say, "Bishop Anderson, perhaps you could respond to this question." Bishop Anderson stood and said, "Well, Elder Nelson, I'd be happy to respond, but I must say that you have quite a memory for names!" He called upon those he had interviewed that morning, calling them by name each time. I then realized that he had been studying their bio sheets so that he could call them by name in the leadership meeting.

After the stake conference, I kept reflecting on Elder Nelson's commitment to learning their names. He had never seen them before that day and might never see them again. But he studied their bio sheets to call them by name, even if only once. I could tell how much that meant to the brethren. Then I began asking myself: "Could I have memorized 30 names in 45 minutes?" As a professor, I memorized many students' names. But I knew I would see those students again during each class period. Elder Nelson would likely not encounter these brethren again, yet he still learned their names.

My lesson? Showing interest in people matters more than we think—even in a short-term relationship. Ministering, even for a few moments, means something. While the Savior was on the earth, he interacted with some only briefly, but while He was with them, He was fully present —focusing on each one. During my service, I learned that members of the Twelve and First Presidency made everyone they met feel better about themselves by giving deserved, specific praise. The brethren taught me the most by the way they served.

The lessons I learned by working side-by-side with prophets and apostles are neither complicated nor out of reach for us as members of the Church. We can all learn to counsel with care whether we are planning a vacation with our family, participating in a ward council, or conversing with our spouse or friend. When we give correction, we can be more clear and kind. We can give others correction with clarity, we can receive correction gladly. And like President Nelson, we can focus on others by learning their names and helping them feel recognized and included. We can all learn important lessons from our leaders, not only by heeding their words, but by observing how they live their lives.

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