Please, help me understand the meaning and importance of personal priesthood interviews.
I don’t know if you are a quorum president giving these interviews or a quorum member participating so I’ll try to address both sides. Simply put, the personal priesthood interview provides a quorum member with the opportunity to report on his stewardship. It also provides an opportunity for the president to provide counsel in the discharge of priesthood duties. Both the president and the priesthood holder get to know each other better and increase in love, trust, and confidence through this experience.
The Church Handbook of Instruction says quorum leaders “visit or interview quorum or group members at least once a year” where possible. During these interviews, “they encourage quorum and group members to fulfill their priesthood duties, especially their duties as husbands and fathers” (2:7.3.2). This gives the president a wide latitude in what can be discussed during the interview. He can ask about the father’s stewardship over his children and the husband’s stewardship over his wife. He can ask about the principles of provident living (after all, the president “plan[s] ways to address welfare needs in the quorum”). He can also ask about the member’s calling and other church obligations. The president can also take this time to discuss the home teaching stewardship, but that usually is covered by a home teaching interview (a subset of the personal priesthood interview that focuses on the assigned families). If at any time the interview wanders into worthiness issues (such as tithing, the word of wisdom, or the law of chastity), such discussion should be tabled and discussed with the Bishop instead.
Admittedly, some of these questions may be uncomfortable. The president should keep that in mind and work to build and keep the trust necessary to interview with confidence and receive whatever answer is given. The president has a spiritual and temporal stewardship over quorum members that is best met when he knows exactly where they stand. If a quorum member is uncomfortable answering some questions (and he should feel free to say as much), he shouldn’t be pressured to be more forthcoming (as that isn’t how priesthood governance works). Rather, the president should see in that a message that the quorum needs strengthening.
The particular principle demonstrated via the personal priesthood interview is sometimes referred to as “return and report”. You see it in the scriptures (particularly the parable of the talents), you see it in quorum meetings (when Deacons report on campouts and other activities), you’ll even see it when you finally stand at the judgment bar of God (I’ve been asked about this before). And yet, this report is only one part of the principle of stewardship.
Elder Russell M. Nelson has provided us with a map of the stewardship landscape and a key to understanding reporting in The Five A’s of Stewardship (the principles shared are his, the explanations are mine).
1. “Acknowledge that God … is our creator and provider”.
2. Recognize “the Lord as the author of this principle”. If a quorum member is struggling with his duties, these two principles would be a good place to start. The priesthood holder can pray for understanding. The president can testify of the spirit that moves him to make assignments. Assignment can even be included as another ‘A’ worth discussing and clarifying as needed.
3. “Accomplishment of effective stewardship may be done in the Lord’s own way”. This is another good place for the priesthood holder to counsel with his leader if he is struggling with one of his duties. Discuss together on what is “the Lord’s own way” for that task at this time.
4. “Accountability… We read: ‘for it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.’ (D&C 72:3)” This is where the personal priesthood interview and other forms of reporting fits in.
5. “Approbation or reward for faithful stewardship.” I don’t think any interview is complete without a sincere assessment of the value the priesthood holder brings to the quorum. Presidents should take the time to express this. Where something is lacking, provide the proper counsel and direction (as mentioned in the other principles).
You can find these principles in the examples I listed above (especially the parable of the talents). Even if your priesthood leader does not call you in for an interview, you can still experience this in your secret prayers when you give an accounting of your day and week and feel your Father’s approbation and counsel.