"Why is it important to follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders?"
I wrote that title on the board and then wrote the following on the leftt side of the board, under the title:
1) Follow vs. Obey
2) Counsel vs. Command
3) Sustain & Support
4) Group vs. Individual
I asked everyone for the first thing that came into their minds when I read the lesson title - whether that was an answer to the question or any other thought or comment. The responses were all answers to the title question, and I was impressed by how thoughtful and, in a couple of cases, nuanced they were. Among the responses were:
"Because they are older than we are and have years of experience."
"Because they are good people who only want the best for us."
"Because there has to be order in the Church, not chaos."
"Because they usually try to know what God wants and share it with us."
"Because they care about us, and what they say usually is good."
I agreed with all of those reasons, and I asked them how they would react if I changed the title to the following:
"Why is it important to obey the commands given by priesthood leaders?"
All of them immediately got the difference and expressed concern over that wording, so we moved into a discussion of the numbered list above. I won't got through all of it here, but it was a very good conversation that lasted about 15 minutes. (It helped that we had covered revelation and Priesthood & priesthood extensively over the past couple of months.)
We then read and discussed the following scriptures, which all were in the official lesson outline:
1) Ephesians 4:11-14 - We talked about some of the "purposes" for the offices listed (most of them) were institutional, while a few ("perfecting of the saints", "coming to a knowledge of the son of God") relate to personal growth - just as the reasons they had given at the beginning of the class were split between institutional and personal reasons. We talked about why it's important to distinguish between those purposes when determining whether or not to "follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders" - and I mentioned again the example I used of a High Priests Group Leader and spheres of revelation and stewardship in the lesson about Priesthood vs. priesthood.
2) D&C 1:38 - I asked them what the standard, easy interpretation of that verse might be. They agreed among themselves that it seems to say that church leaders speak for God. I told them that I was about to share my personal opinion, as I always do when that happens, and I told them that this verse is a perfect example of why I read scriptures very carefully, word-by-word, to see what meaning seems most likely and "true" to me.
We went phrase by phrase:
"What I, the Lord, have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself;"
This means that the Lord doesn't rescind anything he has said - that he doesn't "make excuses" for things he's said in order to get out of responsibility for saying it. In other words, "I stand by whatever I've said."
"and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my words shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled,"
This means that everything God has said will happen, even if it is after this earth is gone.
"whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."
I asked them if they believe that everything a church leader says, even apostles and prophets, is the pure word of God. They all said no. We talked about things that have been taught in the past that we no longer teach or believe - like Paul's statements about women being silent in church and Brigham Young's Adam-God Theory. (They hadn't heard about that, so I gave them a very short, very simple summary.) I asked them if that makes Paul and Brigham disqualified as prophets, and they all said that it doesn't. I asked them if that was the case, what D&C 1:38 could mean.
That stumped them, so I broke down the last phrase and showed them that God's voice is singular - and so is the "voice" of (plural) servants. I told them that I read that verse to say that when something has been taught throughout our history by all of our prophets and apostles (when their "voice" is united), with no variation or disagreement, it's a very good bet that it is "what the Lord hath spoken". I told them that the list of those things is relatively small, like: there is a God, we are his children, love is important, Jesus is the Christ and our Savior and Redeemer, we need to repent, etc.
3) D&C 21:4-5 - We did the same reading exercise, and the students immediately recognized the importance of "as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me". We talked about those disclaimers, and I used the example, which I emphasized happens very, very rarely but does happen, of a Bishop whom they know is having an affair. That type of egregious sin invalidates the charge to "give heed to ALL his words" - even though we still ought to consider those words and give heed to those we can accept as coming from God while he serves in that office.
4) D&C 124:45-46 - They saw that the wording in this passage is phrased exactly like D&C 1:38 - with "voice" being singular.
I told them that we will be reading Elder Oaks' "Two Lines of Communication" and focusing again, like when we talked about institutional and personal revelation last month, on the need to balance both "lines of communication" Elder Oaks describes in that talk. I told them that 90+% of my time in the Church, I have been able to "follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders" - but that there have been quite a few times when I felt I had to speak up and express my disagreement with something or propose a different course. Whenever I felt that the final decision was not so damaging as to violate my core conscience, I have accepted that decision - especially when the decision was focused on the institution, not individuals. Whenever I felt the decision simply was something I couldn't do or support in good conscience, I said so and refused to "preach it", even if I still sustained and supported the leader whose decision it was. I also told them about the time I quit a job, with four kids and no job lined up, because I was asked to do something I couldn't do in good conscience.
I told them that I believe each of them, at least once in their life, will be in a situation where they have to make that type of decision, even if it might not be that extreme - and that I hope they are able to follow their own conscience in that situation.