I believe the difference between ward and stake disciplinary councils is reflective of the role differences between the Bishop and Stake President. In other words, the Bishop's primary focus is much more on the individual (minister), and that makes him play a different role in most disciplinary councils than the Stake President, whose primary focus is on the organization (administrator).
Likewise, I believe this explains why most of the decisions that make waves are reached at the stake level (or higher) - because they are taken to "protect the organization" rather than to "help the transgressor". The opportunity to "help the transgressor repent" generally is confined to the ward level, while the responsibility to "protect the organization" generally is held by those above that level.
Fwiw, most of the truly angry and loudly condemnatory statements I have heard from those who have been excommunicated have come from those whose decisions were reached at the stake level or beyond, while I am aware of quite a few ward level decisions that didn't cause a stir at all - or were very positive experiences. That fascinates me.
On a more individual, non-disciplinary level, I agree completely with the need to "administer to the one". I believe in that fully. It struck me, however, as I was reading multiple threads here across the Bloggernacle that some people are upset that their own individual takes on certain practices aren’t being validated by their leaders - that uniformity of the group was overriding individual wishes. That actually is what got me started thinking about this post and its relation to disciplinary councils.
The most obvious examples for me are discussions about the Word of Wisdom (for example, where some members feel like they could handle moderation in some areas and feel like the communal prohibitions are not necessary for them - and, by extension, for many) and discussions of sexual practices (again, where the communal standards for all exclude a minority of members whose individual standards are outside of the communal standards), but I don’t want to narrow the discussion to only those topics. This post isn’t meant to be about any one topic; it’s more the meta perspective that struck me as I was reading about multiple topics.
I have thought for a long time that the central tension in the Church is about defining the line between community and individual, and I also have believed for a long time that there is a real difference between the type of focus that (I believe) must distinguish leadership at “lower” (local) and “upper” (area and global) level leadership. This post is the result of all of that percolating in my head.
One more thing:I see a big difference in the kind of individualized messages we get in a ward setting, the slightly less individualized message in a stake setting and the much more universal messages we get in General Conference. At the ward level, there can be nuance and personally unique applications, but at the global level the messages can appear to be black and white directives that don’t allow for individual nuance - even when the speakers include multiple disclaimers. The tension inherent in many members who hear the globally standardized directive but not the disclaimers fascinates me.