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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Advise, Counsel, or Inspiration? » Advise, Counsel, or Inspiration?

Advise, Counsel, or Inspiration?

Don - April 24, 2010

I just re-read a long post I just completed about two experiences with “advise”, “counsel” from two different Stake Presidents. The interviews were separated by 15 years but the topic was closely related. The “advise”, “counsel” was very different.

I won’t comment on whether I feel either or both were right or wrong, or whether what they told me worked out well for me.

My question is how much can we or should we rely on such “advise”, “counsel” – is it inspired?

If we can’t rely on it, then why go and ask for their help? If they don’t feel inspired should they tell us – should there be a caviet? Should they preface their remarks with “This is just my advice.”? Or should we ask them if their counsel was inspired?

If we believe or don’t their advice is inspired then should be pray about it ourselve to get a confirmation? If we have to pray about it ourselves to get a confirmation, then why go to them in the first place, why not just go to the source and skip the middleman?

Bottomline, where does “advice” and “counsel” merge into “inspiration”, how do we tell which is which and what is what?


  1. Good questions. I think some people go to Bishops and other leaders for counsel as a way of avoiding taking personal responsibility for making their own decisions. They want someone to tell them exactly what to do because it is scary for them to study it out themselves and do what seems best to them. We all need to remember that only we are responsible for the choices we make. It’s fine to seek advice from friends, family members, and church leaders, but it does not remove our own responsibility for the decision we make. It also does not make anyone else responsible for the outcome of our choices if we ask for their advice and then follow it, and that includes the Bishop. Your question about whether a leader’s advice is reliable as “inspiration”, to me, seems to be trying to make someone else responsible for what is the responsibility of the individual.

    Comment by E — April 24, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

  2. I concur with E. I believe the current CHI “advises” priesthood leaders that the best solutions to problems are often devised by the congregant himself or herself, with inspiration from God and support from others. I think it is in the same section where the CHI advises leaders not to give advice about whether to marry or divorce–that these decisions must arise with and be made by the person, not the leader. That is not to say that inspired advice or counsel sometimes comes from leaders in response to our questions–but only through the confirming power of the spirit can we know if it was inspired, and ultimately we are responsible and answer for our own decisions.

    Comment by DavidH — April 25, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  3. I think one must be considered to be more than a little out of touch with the Spirit to be in a situation where third party inspiration pertaining to one’s own personal situation is likely to be more reliable than the inspiration one receives directly. The bishop is not the Holy Ghost.

    Advice yes, counsel yes. Inspiration on your behalf? That is certainly not in the proper order of things.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 25, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Speaking of which, I find it enormously amusing to hear of people who were subject to church discipline for disregarding the “counsel” of church leaders.

    Anything one might be subject to ecclesiastical discipline for disregarding is by no means “counsel”, but something much closer to an divine commandment or ecclesiastical dictate. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is not some sort of counsel or suggestion. It is a commandment.

    Likewise, “we instruct you to quit publishing books critical of church leadership (on pain of your standing or membership in the church)” isn’t “counsel” either. It is an ecclesiastical dictate.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 25, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  5. So is it ok to go to a priesthood leader for “counsel”, if so when? If not….boy would a lot of Bishops like the if not answer!

    Comment by Don — April 25, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  6. Don, i think it’s ok, even recommended, to go to leaders for counsel whenever we find ourselves unable to find answers on our own. But the question of when leaders are just giving their opinion and when they are speaking by inspiration seems akin to asking when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and when he is just giving his own opinion: ultimately, we must answer those questions ourselves through the guidance of the spirit.

    This does not mean that we can necessarily always “cut out the middleman” and just go it alone. Sometimes we are unable to get the right information ourselves and need either prophetic counsel or counsel from an inspired leader to set us on the right track. The responsiblity is then ours to seek spiritual confirmation and act according to the confirmation we receive.

    Comment by MCQ — April 25, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  7. MCQ,

    Why wouldn’t the leader giving the counsel have a clear responsibility to tell the one he or she is counseling as to whether the counsel is from God or is just personal opinion? Why would you let them off the hook for something so important? If they cannot tell the difference should they be in a position to counsel?

    And I would disagree with your statement that we cannot cut out the middleman. We are commanded to become fully versed in communing with the Spirit and in receiving personal revelation. As long as we do not get deceived by unorthodox teachings or by seeking revelation outside our areas of responsibility, it is incumbent upon us to do so.

    Comment by Michael — April 27, 2010 @ 4:43 am

  8. I blogged on this subject here:

    I think most bishops and stake president make themselves available to members who seek counsel. And I think most men who sit in those chairs recognize the responsibility that comes with such a position.

    I also think that many members honor the position of bishop and stake president enough to seek counsel of the one who sits in that chair. In some cases, we’re advised to do it, and in other cases, a member may just want the advice of a spiritual adviser.

    That said, we should remember that our lay leaders are not trained counselors, so we should accept their counsel with that in mind. Further, we can seek our own confirmation of the wisdom and correctness of their counsel. (And I’ve generally been advised by them to do just that.) Finally, those men should not be shy about telling their interviewees when they are speaking “from the corner” and offering their own advice, compared with clarifying policy.

    All members can, of course, look to the scriptures and the writings of church leaders, and can go to their Father in prayer.

    When we receive conflicting counsel, it’s probably not a bad idea to discuss that. When I was in a position to counsel members, I welcomed any information they could bring to the discussion. And when I’ve received counsel, the answer was often that I should expect to resolve the question myself.

    Comment by Paul — April 27, 2010 @ 6:55 am

  9. Michael, I’m not letting anyone off the hook. Leaders should tell us when they are just expressing a personal opinion, and in my experience, they often do. But they don’t disclose that 100% of the time, and even when they think their counsel is inspired, they are not correct 100% of the time. They’re human, and thus they sometimes are mistaken. That doesn’t make them bad leaders, it just means we have to use the spirit ourselves, to confirm their counsel. There’s nothing new or controversial about that.

    If you want to cut out the middleman, and never seek counsel from leaders or the prophet, good luck to you. I think that’s moronic. We have leaders for a reason. One of those reasons is that we can’t always get the knowledge or wisdom we need directly from God ourselves, for a variety of reasons. We sometimes need to counsel with our local leaders or get guidance from prophets and apostles. This doesn’t mean we should follow what they say blindly, but it does mean we can and should seek their counsel and guidance when we need it and confirm the soundness of their counsel through the Spirit.

    Comment by MCQ — April 27, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  10. MCQ,

    It sounds as if our understanding of the Restored Gospel, the workings of the Holy Ghost, receipt of personal revelation, and the expectations from local leadership differ significantly.

    As concerns counsel from the Lord’s prophets, seers and revelators, it has been my experience that a witness is provided by the Spirit as they are speaking. A confirming experience separate from the witness borne with the actual communication is usually not necessary.

    Comment by Michael — April 27, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  11. Michael I’m glad you’re living so close to the Spirit. For us mortals, we sometimes need to work at the confirmation thing. Good luck with that archangel gig.

    Comment by MCQ — April 27, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  12. #10 Michael, I guess I also will not likely get a witness while Joseph Smith is speaking.

    And it may be precisely when I DON’T feel that witness when one of the brethren speaks in conference that I might feel a need to speak to my bishop or stake president.

    One principle time when people come to their leaders for counsel is in times of transgression, when the member may not be able to receive his own witness.

    Another time may be when a member is advised to counsel with the bishop, as in the case of a woman contemplating abortion for a pregnancy that came as a result of rape or incest.

    There are lots of times when members will counsel with their “file” leaders.

    As for being “commanded” to become fully versed in receiving personal revelation, I think the Prophet Joseph lamented that not everyone could do that (of course I wasn’t present, so I didn’t get an instant ratification…), and therefore he (the prophet) had to share what he knew.

    Comment by Paul — April 27, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

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