Sunday, May 17, 2009

Should LDS Church Callings Promote Maximum Efficiency Or Maximum Opportunity? Mormon Times Writer Kristine Frederickson Thinks The Latter

During a visit to the Bloggernacle, I discovered a post by Kim Siever on Our Thoughts which had an intriguing title, "Callings in the church". Imagine my disappointment when I found that Siever had merely posted a link to a Mormon Times article, without any introductory or motivational commentary whatsoever. Fortunately, I set aside my prejudice against such posts, clicked on the link, and found one of the better essays on LDS Church callings I've ever read. The essay explores the two distinctive schools of thought within the LDS community on Church callings; elitism vs. populism.

The elitist view is that Church callings should promote maximum efficiency within a program by calling only those with specific talents to function in a program requiring those specific talents. The populist view is that Church callings should be extended to provide maximum opportunity to the greatest number of worthy members, and trust in other members and in the Holy Ghost to help maximize the efficiency of the calling. A few callings, such as ward organist, may require specialized talent, but most don't.

Since this post, I have found some other information that those who are unfamiliar with the LDS Church might find useful. From the He Said/She Said blog, here's a description of the functional areas of a typical ward in which one will receive a calling: Bishopric (administration/leadership), Priesthood, Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, Primary, Ward Mission, Family History, and Sunday School. A member may also receive a calling at the stake level, in one of the following functional areas: Stake Presidency, High Council, Stake Relief Society Presidency, Stake Young Men's Presidency, Stake Young Women's Presidency, Stake Primary Presidency, Stake Family History Coordinator, and Stake Sunday School Presidency. Rachel Wood's Organization of the LDS Church provides even more background on this subject.

In the aforementioned Mormon Times article, entitled "Callings in the church", Kristine Frederickson promotes the populist view. She believes that Church callings should provide maximum opportunity rather than maximum efficiency. Her premise is that Church callings should be geared primarily to help people grow spiritually, increase their talents, and develop gifts of the spirit as they pursue their callings.

In addition, Frederickson suggests that when one person receives a calling, others in the ward may have a part in that call. Since callings involve ministration to and interaction with others, others can affect the viability of the calling. Consider a Sunday School teacher who is slow of speech and a poor organizer. The class members can choose to either kick against the pricks and complain, or they can participate constructively in the class to help the teacher overcome the deficiencies. In turn, they grow spiritually by learning greater tolerance, and may even uncover hidden talents of their own.

Callings can indeed help uncover and activate hidden talents. For example, an elder may dread being called to be a youth leader. Instead, he tentatively exercises faith, accepts the call, and six months later, those kids become his best friends. A hidden talent was uncovered, and one or two teens who may have otherwise drifted off into inactivity or even delinquency instead may have acquired the one mentor necessary to keep them active in the Church.

Finally, callings increase the overall group expertise within the greater LDS community. The more priesthood leaders with bishopric experience, the better the Church can respond during times of crisis. As each individual member of a Mormon ward or stake pursues callings, the quality of the entire community is improved.

One issue that Kristine Frederickson doesn't explore is one of the "third rails" of Mormonism: Is a calling from the bishop a calling from the Lord? Latter-day Saints are taught to believe that this is so. We're taught that bishops are entitled to the power of discernment. In reality, a small number of callings extended by bishops are probably not inspired. Yet it is not our place to assume the burden of trying to independently "verify" through our limited human perspective whether or not a bishop is "inspired". Instead, the smart Mormon simply assumes the bishop to be inspired and proceeds to more important and pertinent tasks.

That's because we retain free agency. We can choose not to accept a calling from the bishop, without in any way jeopardizing our membership. Of course, there are consequences to such a refusal. First, we deny ourselves the blessings and experiences we could derive from such a calling. And second, we may cut ourselves off from other such opportunities in the future as the bishop may be reluctant to extend other opportunities to one who has turned him down once. This does not mean we must immediately accept a calling; we can ask for time to pray about it personally, and if we are married, we absolutely, positively must bring our spouses on board before accepting a calling, because the spouses will be affected. Case in point: A man who accepts a calling to be a bishop will spend at least 20 hours per week on his duties, not to mention his phone ringing off the hook. His wife will be impacted. If he wants to keep his wife "sweet", he will get her support before accepting the call.

In any event, Kristine Frederickson has rendered a valuable service by reminding us of some of the less tangible but longer-term benefits of Church callings.


Anonymous said...

You stated that calls are from God, with only a few not being inspired. Then you mentioned that one of the consequences of not accepting a calling would be the Bishops reluctancy to call you again. How could that possibly be the case, if calls are inspired. It has been my experience that most calls are from necessity based on maximum efficiency. My wife has a handicap that she has chosen not to disclose because it has caused embarassment in the church. She is regularly called to positions that are impossible for her to do physically. Recently during one such calling, the bishop told her that her physical problem was due to her lack of faith, because he knew the calling was inspired.

Jack Mormon said...

The general principle which is put forth is that all calls are inspired from God. That's what we're taught. But if one develops a track record of not accepting calls, then the Lord, through the bishop, will be less likely to extend calls to that person.

Too many in authority like to fall back on that "lacking in faith" argument. Don't let it discourage you; the next bishop may be more sympathetic towards your wife's handicap.

Kim Siever said...

For the record, that is one of our sideblog posts. We don't generally provide accompanying commentary on our sideblog posts.