When a friend of mine became president of a junior college, he moved with his wife and three children to the president’s home near the college campus. Without a mortgage payment, he decided that the family could afford to purchase a new car. But instead of engaging himself in the normal process of test-driving cars, negotiating with dealers, and purchasing the car, he elected to use a family council to make the decision.
“He introduced the idea to our family in a home evening,” one of his sons recalls. “The three children, all of whom were in elementary school, as well as our mother, were asked for opinions, advice, preferences, and ideas. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t have enough information to make a good decision, so we began the process of gathering information about new cars, which we could review together.”
My friend brought home brochures, pictures, and even slides of new cars. The children visited the library, combed through magazine and newspaper advertisements, and talked to friends about car preferences. In another home evening, the family shared the information they had gleaned and began to narrow their focus on the model of car they would consider. Then the family took several trips together to dealerships, where they all piled in for test drives.
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Eventually, the family settled on a make and model. But that was only the beginning of the decision-making process. There were still colors and options to consider. And so each family member was given an opportunity to explain preferences as to features, and votes were taken regarding colors and options.
“As it turned out,” one son explained, “the majority opinion fell upon a metallic pink car with a powder blue interior. Mom got to pick the type of fabric for the seats, but I think she was outvoted on the color scheme.”
Because few auto dealers carry pink cars with powder blue interiors, a special order was placed with the automobile manufacturer in Detroit. While they awaited the arrival of their new car, the family continued to counsel with each other as they planned the vacation they would take to inaugurate their beautiful new pink-and-blue family member. Following the same pattern of gathering information, expressing preferences, and counseling as a family council, they decided on a trip through Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons.
“It was a great car and a great trip,” one of the children said. “I don’t think any of us will ever forget them—or how they came to be.”
The fact that these events occurred in 1957 and are still remembered so fondly attests to the potential power of the family council in strengthening family bonds, building family unity, and creating wonderful memories.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the family council meeting is an ideal setting to teach children “how to prepare for their roles as family members and prospective parents.” In family councils, he said, mothers and fathers can provide training in such topics as “temple preparation, missionary preparation, home management, family finances, career development, education, community involvement, cultural improvement, acquisition and care of real and personal property, family planning calendars, use of leisure time, and work assignments.” He also suggested that before family members come together to discuss matters as a council, parents could profit by holding “a family executive committee meeting to plan family strategy. The executive committee, composed of a husband and wife, would meet together to fully communicate, discuss, plan, and prepare for their leadership role in the family organization” (“For Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap,” 9).
Like other councils, the family council can be a positive, causative force in the lives of Church members. It can help bring order to the home, provide a forum for soothing hurt feelings, give parents an important tool with which to combat outside influences, and create an opportunity to teach profound gospel truths. But like other councils, the family council will be effective only to the extent that it is properly formed and implemented. Indeed, the principles that govern family councils are basically the same as the principles that govern other Church councils. Their overall objective is identical. We want for our families the same thing Heavenly Father desires for His family: “immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39). We want to develop loving relationships that will extend beyond this life.
Some time ago, I found myself surprisingly short of breath after climbing a small hill. Concerned, I visited my doctor, and before I knew it I was lying in a bed in the LDS Hospital. My doctor informed me that it would be necessary for me to have open-heart bypass surgery. The surgeon came into my room at 11:00 a.m. and explained what would be involved. As he left my room he said, “Gather your family around you before the operation.”
I didn’t pay as much attention to that instruction as I should have. When he came back at 2:00 p.m. to see me again, he asked, “Have you arranged to have your family here with you?”
“Well, no,” I said. “I haven’t.”
He looked at me as only a surgeon who understood what I was facing could look at me and repeated his earlier admonition: “Gather your family around you.”
It wasn’t until that moment that I began to understand that this surgery might be a little more complex than I anticipated. So I called for my family to come and be with me for a special family council, where a very interesting thing occurred. When they were all standing around my hospital bed, I felt an overwhelming desire to give instruction to the children in the event that something should happen to me. The main thing that was on my mind was that they should take care of their mother, and the second was that they should take care of each other. Nothing in our lives is more important than each other, and we must look for and capture opportunities to counsel together. Because of the wise counsel I received from my friend and surgeon, my family and I shared a binding moment in life that will live as a precious memory for all of us throughout eternity. Regardless of how difficult some challenges may be, we need to work through them with each other.
We read in the revelations, “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). Further, the Lord instructed His 19th-century followers to “organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119). Although these scriptural verses refer specifically to God’s holy temples, the same principles can and should be applied within the walls of our own homes. Family councils, led by righteous, loving parents who are striving to teach their children to love and respect each other, can make a difference in creating a sense of discipline, order, and loving cooperation in the home.
So teaches Elder M. Russell Ballard, who has long been a champion of the divinely inspired council system. In this newly revised edition of his classic Counseling with Our Councils, which has been updated to reflect the increasing emphasis placed recently on councils in the Church and family, he shows how to plan and conduct a truly effective council meeting; how to make better us of the combined inspiration, wisdom, and experience of all council members, including the unique perspectives of women; and how to utilize the resources of a family, ward, or stake council to help bring people to Christ.