The Stagecoach Story: A Parable On Priesthood Leadership


Many years ago I found myself seated on the last row of pews for my 9am Sacrament Meeting. I was watching over and trying to control my four sons, the oldest of which was nine. My wife had just had our fifth child that week and was home for the day. It so happened that this particular Sunday was our ward conference. Since I was serving as the Ward Young Men’s President at the time, I had been required to be at early morning meetings. I had made the necessary arrangements for the boys to get to church so that I could be at them. As I sat in the pews during Sacrament Meeting,  I wondered how anyone could get anything out of a church meeting while watching four little boys. I found out later in life that it would be a common lament from young mothers in priesthood interviews that I held. On this particular Sunday I recall a talk being given on going to the temple by one of speakers. He admonished us to be temple “worshipers” not just temple “goers.” I remember thinking that at that time in my life my wife and I were lucky to just be temple “goers” let alone temple “junkies”!

In an earlier meeting that day,  I had the privilege of reporting about the young men’s program to the stake. In a private interview with my priesthood leader,  I was asked about each and every boy in the program. By the time I was through reporting I felt like a failure. I am sure the priesthood leader interviewing me didn’t mean for me to feel that way, but that’s how I felt after the interview. Prior to that day I had, in my mind, served faithfully in my calling. Our ward boundaries were very large and the distances between the homes of the young men were pretty daunting.  I had spent several years in that calling and had spent untold hours in attempting to run a functioning program.  After the three-hour meeting block, I met with another leader who was over the young men’s program for the stake. In that interview he began to question me regarding my call and wanted an accounting of each boy and what we were doing to reactive those that weren’t coming, what we were doing to bless the lives of those who were coming, and what I personally was doing to lead the young men’s presidency. Maybe it was just one of those days for me, but the longer the interview went on, the more discouraged I felt. The whole day of meetings seemed to scream out to me that I wasn’t good enough! That I wasn’t doing enough, and that I wasn’t faithful enough. In a moment of frustration, I blurted out:

“You know, you are like a stagecoach driver who is perched up on top with a whip. There are six horses in the harness. The closest two in the harness represent  less active members of the church. They have long since stopped living the principles of the gospel and are spiritually “dead”, but they are still in the harness. The two horses in the middle are those members who have become very comfortable with where they are in life. They trot along, but never run. Their hides have been so tanned from the whip that no matter how hard you hit them,  they no longer will respond to the sting and they will not run any faster. Then you have the two horses up front. They are frothing at the mouth, sweating profusely, and are running as fast as their legs can go. They are pulling the entire stagecoach. As the Stagecoach driver you know that whipping a dead horse is of no value, and whipping the tanned hides of the middle horses will also do no good. So what do you do? You continue to whip as hard as you can those front horses so that you can keep that stagecoach moving! Listen, sometimes you have to stop the stagecoach, get down from the perch, and give the front horses a drink of water, an apple to eat and some love!”

Perhaps I felt more comfortable saying this to my leader because he happened to be a friend. He looked at me and smiled. “Yea”, he said, “Sometimes I feel the same way!” Maybe it wasn’t the right thing for me to have said. But, I believe that sometimes the Lord inspires us to say things at unusual times. Later when I was called as a Bishop, I referred to this as “The Stagecoach Story.” I repeated it often. I diligently tried to remember how I felt that day and sought to always try to feed the lead horses of the ward instead of whipping them. Later on when I served in the presidency of my stake, I repeated this experience over and over ad nauseam in training meetings. I did so with the intent to teach the leaders that they needed to encourage members, not discourage them by chastisement. I repeated the message so often that after a while I stopped giving the message and just passed around a picture of a stagecoach being pulled by six horses with a stagecoach driver brandishing a whip at the perch. There were no written words on the picture, just the image as a reminder. Since leaders often change, I would then say with a smile, “If you don’t know what this means, ask the person next to you.” Somewhat humorously, one of the long-time leaders once said to me, “The other day I was walking the streets of the city on a windy day. A piece of paper blew up against my leg. I picked it up and it was one of your stagecoach pictures!” I laughed! He was jokingly telling me that so many of those pictures had been passed out over the years that the city was flooded with the image.

I often think of our General Conferences and how I feel when I leave those meetings. It is never discouraged! I always feel uplifted by their messages and that I want to do better. They inspire me to improve! I think it is the Lord’s way. Let us always remember that this is the Lord’s church we are building, not ours. We are all servants in the work. Let us be mindful of how we lead. Let us be patient, kind and benevolent in how we treat our fellow saints. Sometimes the Lord will have us at the “driver’s box,” but most often we will be a horse in the harness. When you’re pulling all that weight as a lead horse, it sure feels good when your leader stops the coach, comes down from the perch and gives you an apple and a cool drink of water.  All of us do better when we are treated to an apple instead of the sting of the whip!


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