What they don’t tell you about Bishopric meetings

Except for a year off for good behavior to teach Primary, I have been participating in ward leadership meetings every Sunday morning for the past twenty-five years.  Sixteen of those years included Bishopric meetings, either as an Executive Secretary, a Ward Clerk, or a Bishop’s Counselor.  I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed but this experience has been a major part of my adult life.

Since Carol and I have lived in multiple wards and stakes over the years, I have sat in council with at least ten different bishops, sometimes as a High Council advisor.  Two of the wards have been young single adult wards.  I’ve got to tell you that there is something special about Bishops of YSA wards.  In one YSA ward, the Bishop and one counselor had both been Stake Presidents.

Love of the people

Not one of these bishops ran things exactly the same as others with whom I served.  Some were good administrators and some weren’t.  Some knew how to delegate and others had a tendency to do most of the work themselves.  Some were sticklers for following the handbook and some weren’t.  But all were focused on the people over the programs.  Without exception.  Every one.

If there is one thing that stands out among bishops with whom I have worked, and one thing that to me represents the mantle of a bishop, it is a love for the people whom they serve, especially the youth.  That love is the same thing that impressed me about the bishops of my youth.  I knew they all cared deeply about me and wanted to help me grow into a successful and faithful adult.

Desire to do God’s will

Now I know that not everybody has this experience with their bishops.  Yes, I have read some of the horror stories.  I am acquainted with the claims of spiritual abuse, but have not seen it with any of the bishops in my experience.  Some of the bishops would sometimes complain about the dumb things that members of the ward would do, but I never saw any unrighteous dominion.

I have sat in literally dozens of disciplinary councils over the years, both on the ward and stake level.  Even when the result was excommunication, I have never felt anything but profound love and concern for the individual and an intense desire to do the will of the Lord in the matter being considered.  That has always been the common desire of these bishops, who are imperfect men.

A tech savvy bishop

In today’s Internet age, I am grateful to serve with a Bishop today who understands and uses texting to keep in touch with his flock, in this case, all young single adults.  He is also savvy about the Internet and knows exactly what goes on out there.  He is aware of the LDS forums, both those that are uplifting and those that aren’t.  And yes, he has read Rough Stone Rolling.

I bring that up because it is indicative of a Bishop who is aware of what the young people are reading.  I am a church news junkie and am constantly amazed by how well informed this bishop is in comparison to some previous bishops.  Maybe it’s just that we are living in the day of the Internet, but it’s a delight to have conversations about items being discussed in the Bloggernacle.

Great Bishopric meetings

Because most bishops are usually counseling members during Sunday school, we take the first part of our Bishopric meeting for gospel study.  Sometimes we will spend a half hour discussing a scripture or a quote from the Brethren and how it applies to us and to the ward members.  Some of the bishops I served with preferred shorter meetings so we did not have lengthy gospel study.

I have long felt that a ward leadership meeting should never be more than an hour.  If you’re going to make it longer, that time should be well spent in understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in the scriptures in these latter days.  The majority of a Bishopric meeting is consumed with staffing the ward, which of course involves discussing the right calling for ward members.

Callings through inspiration

If you have never sat in a Bishopric meeting you may wonder how callings are determined.  Of course we always open our meetings with prayer, and usually sing a hymn first and then have a spiritual thought.  We review the list of recent converts to determine if they are progressing in the gospel.  As we are a transient ward, we are also constantly reviewing the new move-in list.

The Bishop usually ponders for a long time who the Lord would have fulfill a major calling like the head of an organization.  Those do not come up very often.  When they do, the Bishop will usually inform his counselors of who he has in mind, after which a discussion ensues of how that individual will fulfill that particular calling and how the needs of the ward members will be met.

Gift of discernment

The Bishop is very concerned that callings issued to ward members are ones that will bless them, that will help them to grow and that are the will of the Lord.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Bishops pray for the gift of discernment to know where the Lord would have certain individuals serve.  Serving in the church is a big deal and it helps us to grow and to love others.

Although it doesn’t always happen, I have been amazed at the number of times as a counselor I have issued a call to an individual to hear them say that they were praying for an opportunity to serve and that they knew that this particular call was coming.  It is rewarding to see that when we pray for inspiration to place people in callings that the inspiration is real and is from the Lord.

Accepting callings

I don’t know if my experience has been unique in issuing calls but I can only remember a couple of occasions on which I did not extend the call after we had agreed upon it in Bishopric meeting.  It became apparent after an interview in the home of the individual that the calling would not be in their best interest at that time.  It is usually because I learned of extenuating circumstances.

You may wonder why we weren’t inspired that the call wasn’t right before we went to extend it.  Remember, we had prayed for inspiration and felt united as a Bishopric that it was the right thing to do at that time.  All I can tell you is that this has rarely happened and that it just may be a part of the inspiration process to visit the home before the spirit can confirm that it is OK to proceed.

Confirmation of the spirit

Perhaps a description of the process we go through when we deliberate in a disciplinary council will help explain the process of inspiration a little better.  After hearing the facts of the matter, we excuse the individual and discuss the options outlined in the church handbook.  The primary concern is always how the action we take will affect the individual and help them to repent.

We make a decision an then present it to the Lord in prayer.  We each kneel and the Bishop asks one of those present to offer the prayer.  We tell the Lord what we have decided and ask that we may know through a confirming witness of the spirit that the decision is right.  We then conclude the prayer and the Bishop usually asks each member of the council if they are still in agreement.

Knowledge revealed from God

Sometimes the will of the Lord is obvious to all present.  There is an unspoken communication that takes place between us.  We each just know that the decision is correct.  We know by the same process that individual members receive a testimony – by knowledge from the Holy Ghost.  That is one of the blessings of serving in a Bishopric.  You come to know how revelation works.

That’s what most people don’t know about Bishopric meetings – the amazing experience that we have each week with revelation.  It is one of the best training grounds for understanding how the Lord communicates his will to the mind of man.  I can tell you from many years of rich and deep experience that this process of revelation has always been present and it is a sacred experience.

Summary and conclusion

You may know former bishops or bishopric counselors who have said that there is a lot of small administrative detail that goes on in priesthood leadership meetings.  You may even be a former bishop yourself.  Yes, I agree that it can be tedious week after week to address some of the same issues over and over as callings need to be filled.  It takes effort to ensure that God is involved.

Bishopric meetings can be a most amazing and rewarding experience as humble yet imperfect men unite in prayer to seek the mind and will of the Lord on behalf of the people that they serve.  But to me, the most gratifying part of serving in a Bishopric is to be tutored by the Holy Ghost in how revelation works.  It is a real thing and it is used constantly to further the work of the Lord.

15 comments for “What they don’t tell you about Bishopric meetings

  1. June 15, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I was trying to get to your site earlier to pass along this link to a Times Magazine article you might want to tackle. If not you, then one of your buddies should address this one.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1904146-1,00.html

  2. JrL
    June 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    “You may wonder why we weren’t inspired that the call wasn’t right before we went to extend it.”

    At some point in my own leadership experience, I realized that sometimes it is extending the call, not ultimately that the person serve, that matters. Why? Perhaps the person needed a vote of confidence. Perhaps they needed to communicate something to the bishopric and the call opened the door. There could be any number of reasons.

  3. Closet Doubter
    June 15, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Tim,

    I to have sat in many Bishopric meetings. I counted them up and I figure I have been in 440 bishopric meetings over my life. I did the YSA ward bishopric and really enjoyed it. I too have worked with all types of Bishops. All were great men trying to do their best. I also know some Bishops who I thank the Lord every day that I don’t live in their ward boundaries. One in particular would send me into inactivity in a second. (you might even know him!)

    I’m glad the current bishop of the YSA with who you serve is so informed. I also know him and really like him (his time is getting short as bishop if I remember right).

    I remember the first time I was called as 2nd counselor in a bishopric. The thing that most surprised me was that the bishop was a regular guy just like me! He told dumb jokes, had arguments with his wife, and had problems with his kids just like the common member. More members need to see their bishop like this. But he also had the finial say in the meetings, and was good at getting things done.

    Closet Doubter

  4. June 15, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Euripides: I’m having second thoughts about the reliability of Dotster as a hosting environment. My Latter-day Commentary domain has been down three times in the last three days for an hour each time. Maybe they toasted a server and had to replace it with a temporary and then a permanent solution this morning. I’m making excuses for them and I hope LDC doesn’t go AWOL again.

    I read the article the other day when it had a different name: “The Storm over the Mormons.” I got so tired of all the negative comments every time I wrote about a Prop 8 issue that I have dropped it from my radar lately. I see you and several others are keeping the focus on the issue. That’s why I read your blog and your Facebook posts and follow you on Twitter. Keep up the good work!

  5. June 15, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    JrL: Excellent observation. You identified something about how the spirit works that only those who have served in a Bishopric would really understand. There have been times when I have been sitting next to the Bishop on the stand when he will lean over to me and say, “I need to talk to so and so.” Obviously the spirit has prompted him of a need there.

    Perhaps the same thing works in inspiration for callings. If it brings the Bishop or a counselor into the home and something is discovered that would not have been known in any other way, then the inspiration could have been the Lord’s way of helping his shepherds tend the flock. Thanks for pointing that out.

  6. June 16, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I have had some horrible experiences with bishops. I had one bishop who kept me on probation, because I admitted to him that once I was married, I planned on having sex with my wife in every possible way we could imagine, including the type of sex which he most abhorred, which was oral sex. He did not believe oral sex was natural, even though just about every animal in nature engages in it, and he believed it was a sin to even think about having oral sex one day. I refused to change the way I thought, and he refused to release me from probation. Another bishop convinced my wife that he received inspiration to give her a calling, and 3 weeks later, he rescinded the calling to give it to a more politically prominent member, who expressed interest in having that calling.

    That being said, I enjoyed reading this blog post because it reminded me of times when I’ve been involved in Ward Councils or leadership positions, wherein I felt like I was able to receive inspiration. I realized that I miss the feelings I get when I believe I am receiving communication from God. It feels good to have those experiences, and those experiences seem to happen more often when I am in a position to serve other people. You gave me a reason to want to be an active member again.

  7. Closet doubter
    June 16, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Crusty,

    The problem with church leadership is “you get what you pay for”, and we don’t pay anything! While I would not advocate a paid clergy at the local level (we already have a paid clearage at the GA level), there could be a more uniform training method for bishops. Right now this is nothing other than a monthly PPI with the SP. Your training is being a counselor for 3-4 years.

    So, with the current method of selecting bishops, you’re going to get Bishops who’s personal views on Oral Sex, the WofW, and a host of other things influence their thinking. And I don’t believe that one will be blessed for following their leaders even when the leaders are wrong. God gave us a brain to think for our selves, and when a leader goes off the deep end (which I have seen) the members need to let him know. I’ve seen Stake Presidents over rule bishops on WofW issues (asking about drinking Coke in TR interviews) and I’ve seen a bishop released after only 3 years because members of his ward were voting with their feet, and the ward was coming apart. But these types of Bishops are few and far between. Most are genuine caring men who want the best for their ward.

    Closet Doubter

  8. June 16, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Hi there Crusty,

    Your bishop was probably relying on a directive from the First Presidency back in 1982 that addresses worthiness interviews. In it we find this verbiage: “The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure or unholy practice.” I think you recognize the significance of that phrase. This wording is not found in the current church handbook.

    Instead, we find a much more positive approach to marital sex with this wording: “Married couples should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.”

    That’s too bad about the way you described the calling being rescinded from your wife. I assume she had already accepted. Carol was once called by a bishop to a leadership position in the ward with these words, “You weren’t my first choice or even my second or third choice but I guess the Lord wanted you in this position.”

    That hurt and is not the recommended way to issue a call. Although she did a great job, she still smarts about that because she has brought it up several times when we have discussed callings and how they are issued. We are a church led by imperfect men, from the bottom to the top. Bishops do make mistakes.

    I like that you’re focusing on memories of being guided by the spirit of inspiration in your calling and of contributing something positive to your ward or stake through that calling. I feel the same way with my callings. I do my best to help serve the bishop as the ward clerk. Sometimes it can feel very rewarding.

  9. June 16, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Closet doubter: I have read several directives over the years from the First Presidency asking that we not add questions to the Temple Recommend interview. Asking about drinking coke is not one of the questions. When I served on the High Council in a previous stake I got to know the Stake President fairly well over the two or three years I served before we moved to Camarillo.

    He had a large family and no, they were not all faithful believers setting the perfect example for the rest of the stake. But he did not let that stop him from holding up the ideal as something we should strive for. Children exercise their agency no matter what their parentage. When he set me apart he was aware that my own son is a non-believer and promised things that I still believe will happen.

    It is good to get to know priesthood leaders as regular people trying to live the gospel in their homes and families. Although I serve in the singles ward, I love the bishop of our family ward who invites ward members over to his home on a regular basis for social events around holidays and birthdays. Bishops are just like you and me, striving to exercise faith and to be humble and obedient.

    He is also a fellow blogger and has written hundreds of essays about doctrines, practices and just living in the modern world. He is a quiet, humble man who continuously seeks to learn and grow. I also served as his counselor for a while and came to appreciate how he relied on others around him to help run the ward. But there are some things that only the Bishop can do because of the calling.

    So although I can say that I have had twenty-five years of leadership training, I have never held the keys or the office of a bishop and so I can’t say exactly how that mantle is supposed to work. I’ve seen the spirit work on each of these bishops and have heard them express themselves beyond their natural ability. It must be tough to be a bishop and to feel the responsibility of leading a ward.

  10. Closet doubter
    June 17, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Tim, thank you for the time you take answering everybody’s post. Most unusual for most bloggers. There is more I’d like to share with you, but not quite sure how you would react, or what the consequences would be. It is best I just stay in the closet for now. You would probably be very surprised to know who I am.

    Closet Doubter

  11. June 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Closet doubter:

    Well, if you look at my stats, you’ll see that I don’t have a lot of readers. I’m more into in-depth discussion with a few selected individuals who share similar interests. One of my interests has always been observing and reflecting on how the world sees the Latter-day Saints. That has recently translated into the long ongoing saga of how the intellectual community within the church has struggled.

    I don’t put myself on the same level as those whose lives I have studied such as Lowell Bennion, Leonard Arrington, Gene England, T. Edgar Lyon, Michael Quinn, Lavina Anderson, Richard Bushman and many other extremely smart LDS people. For some, the intellectual approach seems to have turned into dissent. It doesn’t have to be that way. I believe we can be well informed and still faithful.

    I’ve been pondering your suggestion to address the all or nothing, black or white, true or false paradigm that seems to be so difficult to understand and accept. If things are quiet with work-related issues tomorrow, I hope to put those thoughts into words and post a new essay on the subject. I’m blessed to be able to work from home and set my own hours during most of the week. I appreciate that.

    Perhaps we can continue our dialog in the comments of that post when it comes out. Or if you prefer, you could email me some of the things you would like to share and discuss. I believe in honesty and openness and can’t imagine that there would be any negative consequences of an honest dialog. I only delete comments of stupid people who don’t know how to express themselves without swearing or resorting to personal attacks. I know you. You’re not like that.

  12. June 18, 2009 at 9:44 am

    “The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure or unholy practice.”??? I can’t believe they said that! Were they referring to marital relations or pre-marital relations (or both)? It’s amazing how church directives change with the culture (black priesthood, garment length/usage, polygamy, WofW, and apparently, sexual relations with your wife). I’m glad they have since recognized that it’s wrong to tell married couples how they can or can’t have sex.

    It’s kind of like Rachel Esplin (and Closet Doubter) said…the church leaders are definitely not perfect…including the leaders at the very highest level. I agree with Closet Doubter, members definitely need to consider directives from church leaders as suggestions only. In fact, church leaders need to do less interpretation of God’s will and more encouragement to find out God’s will for oneself.

    I think members, in general, should think of the church leaders as leaders of the CHURCH, not of individual members. Each individual member is his own leader in his quest for spirituality. The goal of each member should be spirituality, not religiosity (they are not synonymous); and a person can achieve spirituality with or with the church and its leaders. In fact, I believe people are more likely to achieve higher levels of spirituality when they consider themselves to be people who are seeking spirituality who happen to go to a particular church, rather than members of a church who happen to be seeking some spirituality. In other words, be IN the church, but not OF the church.

    Don’t get me wrong…I think the church is a great organization. It’s better than most, if not all, other religious organizations. It’s a great place to discuss ideas with other people, make connections with people with common interests, refocus your attention on seeking spirituality, and find opportunities to serve other people. I just think more people would benefit by thinking of the church as a tool used to achieve something, rather than thinking of religiosity, within the church, as the ultimate goal. In other words it’s one (of many) means to an end, rather than being an end, in and of itself. Instead of identifying oneself as a “Mormon,” members should identify themselves as disciples of God, who happen to go to the Mormon church.

    I also don’t believe you will be blessed for following misguided directives. In fact, I think you will miss out on some blessings by blindly following church leaders’ directives, or waiting for church leaders to issue directives, rather than finding out God’s will for yourself and only following that which you have verified to be God’s will.

    Tim, how’s that for an ear-full of dissenter’s perspective?

    Closet Doubter, you sound like me, before I became inactive 9 years ago. You also sound like my brother, who has remained active, but has shifted his perspective to value spirituality over religiosity. He just considers the Mormon religion as a nice tool to help him achieve spirituality, rather than his ultimate goal or identity. He takes leaders’ directives as suggestions, rather than commandments. He seems pretty happy with his relationship with the church. I don’t think you would catch my brother saying, “I know this church is true” (what does that mean anyway?). He would say something more like, “I know this church is great place for me and my family to learn about God, make friends, and serve other people.”

    You also would probably not hear him say something like, “This church is either true, or it’s the greatest hoax perpetrated on humanity.” The religions of Islam, Catholicism, Judaism, Budhism, Taoism, & Hinduism could also either be true or be the greatest hoax ever. Why can’t your relationship with God be true, and everything else is just a tool to improve your relationship with God?

  13. June 18, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Crusty: I don’t think you’re as much of a dissenter as you claim. I agree with about 90% of what you wrote. If you want to read the full text of the directive, you can find it online here and here for side two of the letter. I’m not too keen on the site where this came from but it’s the only place I have found it online. J. Stapley wrote up and led a much more detailed conversation of LDS sexual intimacy here on BCC back in 2006. Good stuff.

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