The needs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always been met through the leadership of inspired prophets and apostles, divinely appointed leaders who provide the stability needed to guide the Kingdom.
But growth, especially among varying cultures, ethnic backgrounds and languages, precludes the three members of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve from handling every detail of Church administration.Wisely, the Lord reveals organizational and procedural changes in His dynamic Church in a timely way, enabling the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to manage growth in all parts of the world and to keep the Church doctrinally sound.
One such change took place 25 years ago when the first regional representatives were called to assist the Council of the Twelve. On Sept. 29, 1967, the First Presidency announced that 69 seasoned Church leaders were being called to this new leadership role.
In announcing the call of regional representatives, the First Presidency said:
"As many of you will remember, in 1941, it became necessary for the First Presidency and the Twelve to provide for additional brethren to help with the work of overseeing and setting in order an ever-growing, worldwide Church. Thus in the general conference of April 1941, Assistants to the Twelve were named and sustained, `to be increased or otherwise from time to time as the necessity for carrying on the Lord's work seems to dictate.'
"Since then the worldwide demands of the Church have increased in ever-greater degree, and it is felt by the First Presidency and the Twelve that a further provision for guidance and direction is now needed.
"What, therefore, is now proposed is the calling of as many brethren as may be necessary, to be known as Regional Representatives of the Twelve, each, as assigned, to be responsible in some aspects of the work to carry counsel to and to conduct instructional meetings in groups of stakes or regions as may be designated from time to time." (Church News, Oct. 7, 1967, p. 3.)
The regional representatives have given great strength to the Church during this quarter-century of service. Since that initial group of 69 were called, some 963 brethren have served as regional representatives, with 220 currently serving.
As the Church continued to grow rapidly during the past three decades, there were greater needs for full-time General Authorities, and so in October 1976 the First Presidency reinstated the First Quorum of the Seventy. That was followed in April 1989 by the organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. These quorums allow the Brethren of the Seventy to serve in area presidencies, with the regional representatives as integral leaders in training and instructing the members in the 23 areas of the worldwide Church.
The current organizational structure can accommodate tremendous growth, but growth really represents people, who are the heart and soul of God's Kingdom.
It is interesting to recall the words of Elder Harold B. Lee when he represented the Brethren in introducing the first regional representatives. On Sept. 30, 1967, in the priesthood meeting of general conference he noted that when he had been called to the Twelve in 1941 there were 137 stakes in the Church. By 1967 that number had grown to 443, which brought about the organizational change he introduced. He said then that the Church expected to have 1,000 stakes by 1985. In actuality, there were 1,582 stakes at the end of 1985, and now in 1992 the 1,900th stake has just been organized.
Elder Lee wisely counseled:
"Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the `how' we must not lose sight of the `why' we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God's overarching purpose `. . . to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.' (Moses 1:39.)
"Both the revelations of God and the learning of man tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual's total life experience. . . . Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul." (Church News, Oct. 21, 1967, p. 11.)
This is God's Church, and His sons and daughters are at the heart of all we do. The organizational steps taken 25 years ago, and in the intervening years, keep the Church structure manageable, but the focus must always be on the individual member and his or her progress in the gospel toward the kind of life that God lives, which is eternal life.