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.
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.