President Russell M. Nelson spoke Thursday at the leadership session of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, and shared some of the lessons he has learned in three years as church president.

After the first two years of his administration were marked by global ministering on six continents, the pandemic provided a new perspective, he said, according to a news release.

“We learned that we do not have to get on airplanes for our testimonies to encircle the globe,” he told about 300 general authorities, general officers and Area Seventies in a broadcast originating from the Church Office Building auditorium.

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He said church leaders’ words “reached an unprecedented number of people in the year 2020. Our general conferences last year had a greater global reach than ever before.”

That viewership growth is expected to continue on Saturday and Sunday as networks in another 20 nations will broadcast sessions of conference this weekend.

On Thursday, April 1, 2021, some 300 general authorities, general officers and Area Seventies heard messages from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The gathering was in person at the Church Office Building for those at church headquarters and digitally for the rest of the world. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Nelson also said he learned that his emphasis on a home-centered, church-supported curriculum is taking root because of parents who “have stepped up and have taken steps to shape their homes as their primary sanctuaries of faith.”

“The strength of the Church lies in the solid and ever-growing testimonies of its members. And the home is where those kinds of testimonies are best cultivated,” he said.

General conference typically begins with leadership sessions held on the Wednesday and Thursday before the five weekend public sessions. Instruction and training is provided by the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and general officers of the Relief Society, Primary, Sunday School, Young Women and Young Men organizations of the church.

Last year, the church canceled the leadership sessions before both general conferences due to COVID-19 health restrictions on travel and gathering.

Other speakers on Thursday included senior leaders like Presidents Dallin H. Oaks, Henry B. Eyring and M. Russell Ballard.

  • President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, taught about leadership from a 1977 talk by late church President Spencer W. Kimball titled “Jesus: The Perfect Leader” and the church’s updated General Handbook, according to the news release.

“Because (Jesus) loved others with a perfect love, he listened (to them) without being condescending,” President Oaks said, quoting President Kimball. “… Because Jesus loved his followers, he was able to level with them, to be candid and forthright with them. … This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual.”

He encouraged other church leaders to trust church members in their callings to help them develop as leaders.

About 300 general authorities, general officers and Area Seventies heard messages from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a broadcast from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, April 1, 2021. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • President Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, instructed leaders to seek personal revelation for their assignments, the release said.

“As servants of the Lord in his church, we have a great trust,” he said. “It is that we will live worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and have faith to follow the prophet. Then we can know by inspiration how to encourage those we lead to apply his counsel.”

He also said his prayer is that the church’s leaders will lift others through their inspiration to follow the prophet.

  • President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave direction about the church’s announcement Wednesday that single adult men under 30 in young single adult wards and stakes now may serve as counselors in stake presidencies as well as bishoprics, on high councils and as stake Sunday School presidents and counselors. Single adult women in YSA wards and stakes can serve as Stake Relief Society presidents and counselors.

More than half of adult Latter-day Saints are widowed, divorced or have never married, he said.

“Marital status has nothing to do with one’s capacity to serve and bless the lives of others,” he said. “The Lord honors those who wait upon him in patience and faith. We can do better at providing opportunities for our single members to serve. I am not talking about creating service projects, although those are important. I am talking about giving them significant callings, including leadership callings. Single members are just as capable as married members. There are only a few callings, such as stake president and bishop, that are specified only for married members. The restriction of having only married men serve as counselors in bishoprics and stake presidencies in young single adult wards and stakes has been removed.”

“Don’t worry about their age either,” he added. “I am 92. I am glad I was not released from my calling as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because of my age or at the death of my wife. I love my Savior Jesus Christ, and I love helping to build up His Church. Most members feel the same way. This gives us hope in Christ and a feeling of belonging.”

President Ballard shared five doctrinal assurances church leaders can use to help single adults in their midst:

“The scriptures and declarations of latter-day prophets confirm that every person who is faithful in the gospel covenant will have the opportunity for exaltation.”

“The precise times and manner in which the blessings of exaltation are bestowed upon every faithful person have not all been revealed, but they are nonetheless assured.”

“Waiting upon the Lord implies continued obedience and spiritual progress.”

“God offers eternal life to all of his children.”

“Our confidence in these assurances is rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ by whose grace all things pertaining to mortality are set right.”

President Joy D. Jones of the Primary general presidency, middle, gathers with other general authorities, general officers and Area Seventies at the Church Office Building to hear messages from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Thursday, April 1, 2021, | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In 2019, the church made major news with announcements at the leadership sessions in both April, when leaders updated separate church policies on apostasy and on baptism for LGBTQ children, and October, when President Russell M. Nelson changed a policy to allow women as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings and children and youth to do so for all baptisms.

The general sessions of this weekend’s conference will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. MDT. The annual priesthood session will begin Saturday at 6 p.m. MDT. Conference adjourns after the final two sessions on Sunday.