Jake Carlson, MBA/JD, is a leadership development expert and host of the Modern Leadership Podcast. He created the Elite Achiever Academy to encourage leadership through the CIA of Influence (Conviction, Irresistibility & Accountability). He holds a JD in taxation from California Western School of Law, an MBA in Finance from San Diego State University and a BA from Brigham Young University. Additionally, he is the former Chief Operating Officer of the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Area Council, BSA and Associate Regional Director of the National BSA Foundation. Jake has been a Young Men leader, a Sunday School teacher, and Sunday School president. His passion is leadership, influence, and helping others discover their zone of genius. After a year abroad, Jake, Kari, and their three children settled (for the time being) in Gilbert, Arizona.

Recently, Jake and his family returned from spending nearly a year traveling to twelve countries around the world experiencing the cultures and how the church functions. The Carlson family began their journey in the Philippines, where Brother Carlson served his mission, before traveling to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Czech republic, Italy, Scotland, England, France, and Wells before returning home to the United States. In the podcast episode, Brother Carlson shares his experiences about the uniqueness of the church in different parts of the world and lessons that he learned as he had opportunities to serve far from home.

Enter Jake…

In the last year, as a family, we traveled through 12 countries in Asia and Europe, attending 11 different wards, eight branches, one group, and even worshipping in Mandalay, Myanmar, where the Church doesn’t have a presence (yet). Every Sunday provided unique experiences, new friends, and even a few universals (who is teaching Elder’s Quorum this week… anyone?) The Church is awesome wherever you travel; regardless of culture, language, or the poverty within the local geography.

We learned a lot, grew closer as a family and saw things our journals will memorialize for generations. We love the Church and found a warm, welcoming church family in every house of worship we attended. The Lord knows the experiences we need and continues to provide opportunities for us to learn.

One opportunity in particular changed my understanding of leadership as we passed through Prague, Czech Republic. What started as a two-week stop to see the world-famous Christmas markets turned into 75 days of fun, fellowship, and service. It was there that I learned, really learned, about Sunday School lesson preparation.

It happened when a Sunday School teacher asked if I could fill in for her by preparing a Gospel Principles lesson on the Creation for the following week. I agreed.

The Czech Republic ocated in Central Europe, east of Germany and north of Austria and has a population over 10 million,  2,500 of which are church members. Formed following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the people have endured many difficult years, including German occupation during World War II and subsequently becoming a one-party communist state.

The Church likewise struggled, but the Saints grew strong. For over 40 years, public activity of the Church was prohibited, but members quietly kept their faith, at times sneaking copies of The Book of Mormon into the country with false covers to avoid confiscation. Finally, in 1990, through the efforts of President Monson, the church was granted recognition; there were 345 members. In 2016, President Uchtdorf organized the first stake in the Czech Republic, headquartered in the capital city, Prague. Leadership in the Prague Ward is incredible and missionary work is gathering momentum.

Each Sunday, about one quarter of the Prague ward attendance consists of visitors. Sacrament meeting is in Czech, but guests can borrow headphones to listen while the full-time missionaries translate. An English-only Sunday School class was also created to meet the needs of the guests—the curriculum was the Gospel Principles manual. Recently, there has been a push to switch the curriculum to Gospel Doctrine since most attendees have a foundation in church doctrine.

It Was During This Transition That I Was Asked to Teach About the Creation

I happily agreed and began my preparation. Knowing most attendees would have the basics mastered, my goal was to prepare a lesson that would appeal to everyone. I spent hours immersed in the study manuals and complementary texts on LDS.org. I was ready.

The following Sunday, I approached the front of the room and found myself sharing the lectern with a senior missionary asked to prepare a Gospel Doctrine Lesson. We surveyed the attendees, determined Gospel Doctrine was more appropriate, and I headed back to my seat,  admittedly disappointed. Why did I spend the time preparing? What was the point?

In Lesson Preparation, the Lord Knows What He Needs

In the back of the chapel, the full-time sister missionaries asked if I was prepared to lead a Gospel Principles discussion. “Absolutely!” An immigrant investigator from Ghana, who spoke no Czech, had wandered into the church and wanted to know about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. What followed was a spiritually sweet experience as the missionaries, with my participation, bore testimony of the first vision and presented this visitor with a Book of Mormon.

As I reflect, I am starting to better understand. Sometimes we are asked to prepare a lesson for our class members, sometimes for ourselves, and sometimes, the Lord wants us to witness a new member receive their first flicker of testimony. By accepting an invitation to prepare a lesson you may never give, you might find yourself placed in a spiritual situation.

I don’t know if my new friend and brother, Destin, will ultimately accept the baptismal invitation, but I know my testimony was strengthened as I bore testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love. If I hadn’t prepared a Gospel Principles lesson I would never give, I would have missed an experience I will never forget.

In life, we often have assignments, promptings, and experiences that are designed to place us on paths we wouldn’t normally take, but for the opportunity we may have to personally grow or to bless the lives of others. The Lord knows what He needs.

Podcast Episode Highlights:

  • (18:00) Natural born leaders and those who aren’t natural born leaders – the Lord calls and qualifies who He needs to lead his church, regardless of location.
  • (20:00) Sometimes we are asked to prepare for something (for example, a lesson), so that we can deliver it to those we’re assigned to lead. Other times we are to prepare because it’s the only way Heavenly Father can set us on the path to let us do something He needs us to do that couldn’t happen any other way.
  • (26:45) Characteristics of the church in each country, as experienced by Brother Carlson and his family.
  • (32:30) Engagement of the LDS youth in countries around the world.
  • (34:30) Families can have these kind of experiences without traveling internationally.
  • (36:35) Recommended books to become better leaders

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