People frequently ask me to identify and share some of the important lessons I have learned during my years of service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Because I am blessed to meet, serve with, and learn from faithful Church members all over the world, the lessons are many and wide-ranging. Over the years, however, the principle and spiritual pattern of one by one has blessed me and influenced my ministry in powerful ways.
I first became aware of and gained experience with the principle of one by one long before my call to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I recall with fondness the lessons I learned from my faithful mother. She was a model of ministering one by one. Aunts, uncles, and cousins selflessly served and were tremendous and tireless examples to me.
The devoted priesthood and auxiliary leaders, advisers, and teachers of my youth consistently reinforced the importance of helping and blessing individuals one by one. And opportunities to serve as a priesthood leader throughout my life enriched greatly my understanding of ministering one by one.
Examples of Serving One by One
The single greatest human exemplar of the principle of one by one with whom I am familiar is Susan Bednar, my wife. For many years, I have witnessed her individualized love and attention directed to me, to our children, to our growing family, to her parents and siblings, to the friends and associates of our children, to the sisters she serves as a visiting teacher, to the members of the wards we attend, to our neighbors, and to countless people around the world. Susan’s prayers provide a rich tutorial in the principle of one by one.
Since my call to the Twelve, however, a consistent pattern of simple and profound experiences has enriched my understanding of this principle and enables me to bear solemn and sure witness that the Lord knows us one by one. He knows each of us. He knows our names. He knows our concerns. He knows our apprehensions. He knows our potential and possibilities.
Significantly, the first word spoken by God the Eternal Father to man in the first vision in this latter-day dispensation was “Joseph.” The Father and the Son knew Joseph Smith as a one. Any call to serve the Savior in any capacity is an invitation to learn about the principle of one by one, because that was the pattern of His service. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer in June of 1829, the Savior identified the spiritual reason for the work of ministering to individuals:
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father. And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 15–16, emphasis added).
More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished, “We must look after the individual. Christ always spoke of individuals. He healed the sick, individually. He spoke in His parables of individuals. This Church is concerned with individuals, notwithstanding our numbers. Whether they be 6 or 10 or 12 or 50 million, we must never lose sight of the fact that the individual is the important thing” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley , 298).
A Pattern in All Things
One day I was repairing the roof on our home. Because I had run out of nails and other materials, I went to a local store to purchase the required items. I was wearing my customary work clothes—casual pants and shoes, a well-worn T-shirt, and a baseball hat. Wanting to quickly return home and complete my project, I hurriedly entered the store and began looking for the things I needed. A man approached me as I was selecting my supplies.
He observed, “Elder Bednar, the disguise is not working.” We laughed, and then he inquired, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
I responded, “Well, that is why I am here.”
He replied quizzically, “What do you mean?” I said, “You are the reason I am here. I am doing repair work at my home, and I need a few things to finish the task. But I am not in this store simply to buy roofing nails. I am here because God knew we were going to meet each other in this store and that you had something about which you wanted to ask. Please go ahead and share with me your question.”
We talked in the aisle for about 15 minutes, and I tried to help him find the answer to his question. Was it merely a coincidence that I encountered this good man at the local store? Or was this episode divinely orchestrated by a loving Savior who knew and responded to the concerns of a faithful man—a one?
I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. In a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in June of 1831, the Lord declared: “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:14).
Please consider a specific phrase in this verse, a pattern in all things. Interestingly, the Lord gave us a and not the pattern in all things. I do not believe the Lord is suggesting that He has only one pattern to be used in every situation. Rather, the Lord’s way includes a variety of patterns that can be employed to achieve different spiritual objectives.
Through the episodes I have related and many more—episodes that are frequent, always individualized, and too numerous to count—the fundamental pattern of one by one inherent in the Lord’s work has distilled upon my soul more completely and powerfully than ever before.
Apostles Ministering One by One
Acting under the direction of the First Presidency, the Twelve are “to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:33). Each member of the Twelve also has a personal ministry focused upon and directed to ones.
It is important to understand that the Savior does not send only general authorities, general auxiliary leaders, stake presidents, bishops, Relief Society presidents, and other auxiliary leaders to minister single-handedly to the needs of every member in all units of His restored Church. Rather, He invites all Latter-day Saints—wherever we may live and in whatever capacity or calling we may serve—to fulfill important responsibilities and roles in the great work of the ministry.
This is not to say that every interaction we have with others should be considered to be a specific errand from the Lord. It might be easy for some to become overzealous and step beyond the boundaries of their own stewardships in presuming to receive inspiration for others. But as the Spirit directs, we all have opportunities to serve in the Lord’s way.
This simple pattern of one by one influences everything I do, every day of my life and every place I go. For example, as I stand to speak in a meeting, I do not see a congregation of 100, 1,000, 2,000, or 20,000 people. Rather, with the Lord’s help I strive to see 100, 1,000, 2,000, or 20,000 ones.
I have learned there are no such things as large congregations; there are only large gatherings of ones. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “Sadly, in today’s world, a person’s importance is often judged by the size of the audience before which he or she performs. That is how media and sports programs are rated, how corporate prominence is sometimes determined, and often how governmental rank is obtained. That may be why roles such as father, mother, and missionary seldom receive standing ovations. Fathers, mothers, and missionaries ‘play’ before very small audiences. Yet, in the eyes of the Lord, there may be only one size of audience that is of lasting importance—and that is just one, each one, you and me, and each one of the children of God. The irony of the Atonement is that it is infinite and eternal, yet it is applied individually, one person at a time” (“The Atonement and the Value of One Soul,” Ensign, May 2004, emphasis added).
This excerpt originally appeared in the September/October 2017 edition of LDS Living.