The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is governed by a unique group of 15 men from diverse backgrounds who are united in their desire to serve God and to do His will—the First Presidency, which is comprised of the prophet and his two counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These 15 men are called from among the lay membership and dedicate the remainder of their lives to the full-time service of God. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said,
It is up front a calling to spend the rest of your life, full-time, in His service and to spend your life testifying of His plan and His authority and His Atonement and His Resurrection and to participate, as assigned, in the leadership of the Church.
Each man’s apostolic journey begins at his call and ends at his death (unless he is removed for reasons of unrighteousness). This longevity provides stability in the leadership of the Mormon Church and creates a unique bond of brotherhood among the quorum members. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said,
Some of the choicest blessings of my life have been the close friendships I have experienced over the years. Often, these friendships have been forged in the fires of shared experience. I think back with fondness on the football teams I played on…. Most recently, I think about the indescribable bond of brotherhood I have felt within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. …
Establishing a bond of brotherhood is critical. If those who serve with you feel this mutual love and trust, the work of the Lord will thrive and heaven will aid you in your efforts. … When we work together in a bond of brotherhood, when we love each other and are loyal and faithful to the great cause to which we have been called, the impossible becomes possible.
A Unique Calling
An Apostle’s journey begins when he is called. When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He chose and ordained 12 working men to cast aside their worldly labors and become fishers of men. It is the same for His Apostles today. Of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Boyd K. Packer said,
We come from a variety of occupations. We are scientists, lawyers, teachers. Elder Nelson was a pioneer heart surgeon. He performed thousands of surgical operations. He told me he gave every heart surgery patient a lifetime guarantee on his work. Several in this Quorum were military men—a sailor, marines, pilots. …
Almost to a man, the Twelve come from humble beginnings, as it was when He was here. The living Twelve are welded together in the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the call came, each has put down his nets, so to speak, and followed the Lord.
But putting down one’s nets sometimes takes a little time. President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Dallin H. Oaks were called and sustained as Apostles in the April 1984 General Conference. Of his call, President Nelson said,
It doesn’t seem like that long ago. It was April 6, 1984. I was doing my duty as a doctor at the hospital, making rounds that morning, and attending a meeting of the regional representatives at their seminar before conference. I was summoned to the telephone by Arthur Haycock (secretary to President Spencer W. Kimball), who said, “Can you come to the office of the First Presidency?” I said, “Of course, I’ll be happy to—but where is it?” I didn’t have any idea where it was. That was how green I was.
After being called, I said to President Gordon B. Hinckley, a counselor to President Kimball with whom I was conversing, “I’m planning to go to China as a professor of surgery in the month of May. What do you want me to do about that?” He asked, “Have you made a commitment?” I said I had. He said, “Be faithful to it.” So, as an ordained Apostle, I went to China.
Elder Oaks had a similar transitional period between service on the supreme court and service as an Apostle. He had to write opinions on cases that had been tried in his court before he could come aboard.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said of his experience of June 23, 1994,
In a rapid sequence of events that Thursday morning, President Hunter interviewed me at length, extended to me my call, formally introduced me to the First Presidency and the Twelve gathered in their temple meeting, gave me my apostolic charge and outline of duties, ordained me an Apostle, set me apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, added a magnificent and beautiful personal blessing of considerable length, then went on to conduct the sacred business of that first of my temple meetings, lasting another two or three hours!
The most recent Apostles were called and sustained during the October 2015 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ, filling the vacancies created by the deaths of three beloved Apostles. Each of the newly called Apostles describes what a humbling experience it is to receive this apostolic calling. Elder Gary E. Stevenson said,
This has been a rather knee buckling experience. I feel a duty to serve. I’m now humbled to be called into the Twelve with a great ecclesiastical duty. I offer my deep feelings of my heart in sustaining the First Presidency and President Thomas Monson in this calling.
Elder Dale G. Renlund said,
My call gives ample evidence to the truthfulness of the Lord’s statement early in this dispensation: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.” I am one of those weak and simple. Decades ago, when I was called to be the bishop of a ward in the eastern United States, my brother, slightly older and much wiser than I, called me on the phone. He said, “You need to know that the Lord hasn’t called you because of anything you have done. In your case, it is probably in spite of what you have done. The Lord has called you for what He needs to do through you, and that will happen only if you do it His way.” I recognize that this wisdom from an older brother applies even more today.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband said,
A few days ago I had the great privilege to meet with the First Presidency and receive this call from our dear prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I want to witness to all of you of the strength and love President Monson had as he said to me, “This call comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am overwhelmed and shaken to my very core to consider the import and significance of those words so tenderly spoken by our loving prophet.
A Smooth Transition
When new apostles enter the quorum, there is always a transition period. But the Lord’s system of redundancy provides for this. President Nelson said,
Throughout history the Lord has worked with imperfect people. He gives them the authority and responsibility to do His holy work. You have that irony of imperfect people doing the work of a perfect Lord. But the system is a wonderful system. Can you imagine an organization that might lose a chief financial officer or a chief executive officer, high-level positions, and lose them in a short period of time and still have the organization run as if nothing happened? That’s what you see here. The system of redundancy, backup, and training is such that the work of the Lord progresses regardless of who sits in the chairs. It’s a really inspiring thing. You look at a university or a big business where there’s a vacancy. A search committee works hard to find suitable successors. They do well, but it’s always a worry. Here, it is not a worry. You know the work of the Lord will be done by His servants. They are called by Him, and they will respond to His direction.
And the seasoned apostles are always willing to help those coming in. President Nelson, reflecting on his relationship with Elder Bruce R. McConkie, said,
Occasionally, I would have an idea I wanted to discuss or had a question. I would knock on his door, and he was always gracious, always warmly welcoming. When I could see this was an opportunity to learn from him, I would ask him to put his remarks on pause for a minute while I called Elder Oaks and asked him to come up so we could converse with Elder McConkie together. That was a rare privilege.
Of course, all the other Apostles were equally compassionate and willing to share. We learned from one another. That continues. Even now, as I’m sitting in the quorum president’s chair, I go to my meetings early so I can learn from my Brethren. It’s not a matter of seniority. It’s a matter of spirit-to-spirit communication. It’s a glorious fringe benefit of this call to have the companionship of fellow Apostles and be taught by them.
Dedicated Servants, Working in Unity
Each decision made by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency must be made in unity. Thus, each member strives to work together in humility. President Packer explained,
Each week we meet together in the temple. We open the meeting by kneeling in prayer, and we close with prayer. Every prayer is offered in the spirit of submission and obedience to Him who called us and whose servants and witnesses we are.
The Lord requires that “every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same” and that “the decisions of these quorums … are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity.” This we earnestly strive to do.
Of this process, President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
… During the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the nearly thirteen years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing—the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord’s work.
I know of no other governing body of any kind of which this might be said.
President Packer said,
The present Twelve are very ordinary people. They are not, as the original Twelve were not, spectacular individually, but collectively the Twelve are a power.
The longevity of these callings provides stability in the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ. But some outside the Church wonder if it also becomes a burden. President James E. Faust said,
When Mike Wallace interviewed President Hinckley some years ago for the television program 60 Minutes, he said, “[People will say] this is a church run by old men.” To this, President Hinckley replied, “Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head—a man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?”2 So if any of you think the present leadership is too old to lead the Church, President Hinckley may need to give you some further counsel about the wisdom that comes with age!
Although both of those Apostles are now deceased, their words are still true today. President Nelson said,
The ways of the Lord are different from the ways of man. Man’s ways remove people from office or business when they grow old or become disabled. But man’s ways are not and never will be the Lord’s ways.
Elder Holland said,
Not often but over the years some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times.
The reality, however, is the exact opposite. Elder M. Russell Ballard said,
I have heard that some people think the Church leaders live in a “bubble.” What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business, and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.
Elder Holland said,
… Never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live.
The age and experience of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are great blessings. Elder David A. Bednar explained,
The limitations that are the natural consequence of advancing age can in fact become remarkable sources of spiritual learning and insight. The very factors many may believe limit the effectiveness of these servants can become some of their greatest strengths. Physical restrictions can expand vision. Limited stamina can clarify priorities. Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.
Some people have suggested younger, more vigorous leaders are needed in the Church to address effectively the serious challenges of our modern world. But the Lord does not use contemporary philosophies and practices of leadership to accomplish His purposes (see Isaiah 55:8–9). We can expect the President and other senior leaders of the Church will be older and spiritually seasoned men.
Staying in Touch with the World
This spiritual seasoning is the result of experience, service and study. Even though many members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are advanced in age, they are continually working diligently to stay in touch with those whom they serve. Elder Donald L. Hallstrom—who, as a member of the Seventy, works closely with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—said,
We’re with them every day. There is continual learning from throughout the world. In their meetings, experts from various fields come in and make presentations and have discussions with them, so they are continually learning about government and societal issues, culture and circumstances. …
Travel is one of the ways to stay educated about what’s happening in the world and among our people. They’re just constantly out among not just the local leaders of the church around the world, but the people of the church. …
The Quorum of the Twelve meets several times a week as a quorum. The presidency of the Seventy joins them on several of those occasions. They report on their trips and discuss matters, issues and concerns raised by what they’ve seen.
Travel and meetings are supplemented by qualified research. Elder Hallstrom said,
There is a research division that assists the leadership of the church to gain information. That’s not a secret. It’s all part of not being in a bubble. Whether it be information about young single adults in the church, the workload of bishops, whatever the subject, they’ll go out and gather the necessary information.
Revelation is assisted by good information. In the process of gaining the revelation necessary to lead the Lord’s church, all the things we’ve talked about helps leaders in councils to get the information to move forward.
It is important to remember that this is the Lord’s Church, and He is the one directing it. President Thomas S. Monson said,
Despite any health challenges that may come to us, despite any weakness in body or mind, we serve to the best of our ability. I assure you that the Church is in good hands. The system set up for the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles] assures [us] that it will always be in good hands and that, come what may, there is no need to worry or to fear. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we follow, whom we worship, and whom we serve, is ever at the helm. [“Message from President Thomas S. Monson,” Church News, Feb. 3, 2013, 9.]