Robert Mortensen has been serving as a bishop for two years in Meridian, Idaho. We previously interviewed Robert on the “How I Lead” segment of the podcast in Jan 2016 about Creating a Culture of Missionary Work. He also wrote an article for us: 3 Tips for Bishoprics that Lead to Better Sacrament Meeting Speakers. Robert is proud to be a Core Leader and also one of our moderators on the Leading Saints Helpers Facebook group.

Enter Robert…

When preparing to extend leadership callings, many leaders may struggle to balance between making an inspired calling to a faithful member with leadership experience and making an inspired calling to a faithful member with no leadership experience but who is longing to serve in this capacity.

Feelings of the Underutilized

“I’ve been in activity days for several years. I love these girls. I’m pretty good at this calling. I just haven’t been feeling stretched and don’t feel a lot of spiritual progress personally through this calling.”

“Ward and stake clerical callings seem to be my lot in life. I’ve been type-cast for sure. Having seen so many bishoprics and stake presidencies in action, I feel like I have a lot to contribute if I were just given the chance to be the leader instead of being pigeon-holed behind the scenes making the leaders look good.”

“I don’t fit the mold of Latter-day Saint leadership. My family will never look like President Johnson’s. The bishopric will never be able to see past our family challenges to call me to be in a presidency.”

“What is it about me that makes me unworthy to be called as a leader in my ward? Why do they always seem to call the same people over and over to be in presidencies? Do they even pray about who to call? Are they acting by inspiration? I just wish they’d give me a chance.”

“My spouse is a wonderful church leader. She/He is always on the leadership track while I languish in the rotation of less meaningful callings and don’t experience the growth that she/he is having. When can I have my chance to lead and let my spouse serve in other capacities?”

“Why am I overlooked for leadership callings in my ward and stake when I’m faithful to my covenants and fulfill my callings?”

Dear ward and stake leaders, there are dozens of members in your circle of influence experiencing anguish at these thoughts. The adversary is working hard on them making them feel less valued in the kingdom of God. You may also be unintentionally contributing to those dreadful feelings of declining self-worth. What can we do in our positions of responsibility to help them? Here are some insights to consider.

Give All Members Opportunities to Serve

Be mindful of faithful members that may get overlooked for presidency types of callings. Counsel about them. Pray about them when considering and recommending members for leadership positions.

“In some wards, leaders rely repeatedly on a small group of people to give service in priesthood and auxiliary organizations. This can overburden the faithful few, and it can also deprive others of experiences that could help them learn and grow. Effective leaders give all members opportunities to serve. “As presiding officers prayerfully consider members to fill leadership and teaching positions, they should remember that the Lord will qualify those He calls. Members do not need to be highly experienced before serving as teachers and leaders. They can learn from experience, by exercising faith and working diligently, and by receiving instruction and support from leaders.” HB 2 Chap 3.3.3

Intentionally look for Almas and Amuleks

Perhaps there are members that are currently living below their capacity and potential for whatever reasons. The Lord may have been preparing them to serve just as the Lord prepared Amulek to be Alma’s missionary companion. In the October 2016 General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

“In whatever position you currently serve—whether you are a deacons quorum president, a stake president, or an Area President—to be successful, you must find your Amuleks.

It may be someone who is unassuming or even invisible within your congregations. It may be someone who seems unwilling or unable to serve. Your Amuleks may be young or old, men or women, inexperienced, tired, or not active in the Church. But what may not be seen at first sight is that they are hoping to hear from you the words “The Lord needs you! I need you!”

Deep down, many want to serve their God. They want to be an instrument in His hands. They want to thrust in their sickle and strive with their might to prepare the earth for the return of our Savior. They want to build His Church. But they are reluctant to begin. Often they wait to be asked.

I invite you to think of those in your branches and wards, in your missions and stakes, who need to hear a call to action. The Lord has been working with them—preparing them, softening their hearts. Find them by seeing with your heart.”

Additional Things To Consider

There are habits and traditions that may sneak in as we look for the “easy” solution for finding the member the Lord is looking for in a specific leadership calling. However, here are a few “outside of the box” thoughts to consider:

• Consider calling the other spouse to leadership positions when both are worthy and capable. Maybe it’s time for one strong spouse to have a break from a presidency role while the other serves in leadership. Perhaps both spouses could serve at the same time in presidencies.

• Be open to listening to a courageous member expressing a desire to be stretched through church service.

• How about asking the congregation to share their desires to serve with the auxiliary leaders and the bishopric.

• When you discover someone that may be overlooked or that expresses the desire to serve in new ways if you don’t feel they’re ready to preside over an organization, consider them for callings in which they can be developed and trained. Perhaps a presidency counselor or secretary calling would be just the right position to expose them and inspire them by a greater vision of the work being done in the ward.

• Be willing to consider individuals whose perspectives are different than your own. Having “yes-men” in a council is debilitating. As we work through the dissonance with well-intentioned others, we gain greater insight and discover truths.

• Know thoroughly and use the Chart of Callings in chapter 19 of Handbook 2. Be aware of who is supposed to recommend callings and who approves callings. Bishoprics dictating callings to auxiliary presidencies is often an egregious error that demoralizes and diminishes the other ward leaders. Empower the auxiliary leaders to recommend people for callings. They will likely know more individuals in the ward at deeper levels than bishopric members. We may get more diversity in presidency callings if bishoprics will simply follow the handbook prescribed process.

• Pray for the gift of revelation to penetrate our natural veil of biases so that we can discover those longing for more opportunities to contribute within the church.

• Follow the General Guidelines for Callings in the Church from the Handbook.

Areas To Tread Cautiously

Here are some additional thoughts of things “not to do” when considering members for leadership callings:

  • Add additional restrictions to the handbook of instructions. For example, the general guidelines in the handbook (19.1.1) suggest the following: Leaders “consider the worthiness that may be required for the calling”.  Not all callings require the same level of worthiness. A calling might just be the motivating factor for a member to rise to the occasion and be more worthy than they had in the past.  Leaders “consider the member’s personal and family circumstances. Each calling should benefit the people who are served, the member, and the member’s family. Although service in Church callings requires sacrifice, it should not compromise a member’s ability to fulfill family and work responsibilities.” Let it be known that just because one spouse serves in a presidency, it doesn’t automatically disqualify the other spouse from serving in another presidency. Surely it is an important consideration as we wouldn’t want church service to overly burden a family. We have witnessed strong couples serve simultaneously and successfully and it was a blessing to their children.
  • Tell struggling members that all callings are of equal importance and value. While that principle may be true, our culture of putting presidents on pedestals hardly allows us to believe it. Also, because you’re in a position of leadership, these words from your mouth come across as patronizing. We all recognize that some callings are more demanding of time and are more visible in our congregations. Serving in presidencies undeniably exposes individuals to experiences that they wouldn’t likely otherwise have.
  • Casually dismiss individuals when considering them for leadership assignments. Their family and marital status may not seem to fit the ideal in your mind, but they’re not automatically disqualified from serving in church leadership unless there are matters of worthiness.
  • Dismiss the introvert.
  • Tell a member that their desire to serve in more influential ways is the sin of aspiring. Discover for yourself true principles by reconciling the apparent dissonance between 1 Timothy 3:1, Doctrine & Covenants 4:3 and D&C 121:35.
  • Be afraid to call someone because they might fail. They might also succeed! They may need more training and long-term mentoring but every individual has eternal potential. Let’s avoid fixed mindsets about individuals.

Counsel for Those Feeling Underutilized and Longing for Leadership

If you have consistently been underutilized in general or overlooked for leadership positions, please think about the following negative behaviors/thoughts that may impact your view.

  • Do not be intimidated by those serving in leadership positions. Being unduly intimidated by church leaders often causes members to remain emotionally and physically distant. This cool distance never allows for a warm friendliness to develop with ward and stake leaders. Without a sense of warm friendliness (you don’t have to be buddy-buddy) with current leaders, it is difficult to establish a relationship of trust that would naturally lead to being recommended to serve in future presidency callings.
  • Avoid assigning responsibility for how you feel about your value in the church to another mortal being. You are in charge of your feelings. You can act and not just be acted upon.
  • Recognized the negative impact it may have if you are judgmental and critical of people serving as leaders, but rather give them the benefit of the doubt. If you recognize within yourself that you are progressive, unorthodox, or ultra-orthodox, self-righteous and intolerant, you may come across as a prickly personality. You may unwittingly come across as unpleasant in your communication with others, thus hindering your ability to have a relationship of trust with members in presidencies.
  • Other hindrances to warm friendliness might include members with low self-esteem, members with worthiness issues and members weighed down with family struggles. If you can’t establish a warm friendliness with others, your ability to positively influence others as a leader will be diminished.

You can absolutely hold onto perspectives that are different, and if you can also be pleasant and helpful, wise leaders will value your uniqueness.

Positive Actions To Consider

If you feel underutilized and/or stuck in a calling rut, here are a few things that may help move your thoughts and actions to a more positive focus.

  • Let your light so shine. In Matthew 5:16 we read: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Some members show up consistently and fulfill their callings, but they don’t shine. The auxiliary presidencies and the ward leadership never get exposed to their good works. We certainly don’t want to shine for the praise and adulation of other people, but people that shine and bring others to Christ do tend to get noticed. People that don’t just fulfill the basic responsibilities of a calling, but go the extra mile in meaningful and uplifting ways tend to naturally be of “good report” and “praiseworthy”.
  • Show up to meetings and activities. Be helpful in setting up and cleaning up and while doing so, interact with your brothers and sisters in the church. Strive to arrive early to sacrament meeting where you can associate with the bishopric a minute or two as you work to establish that warm friendliness we’ve been talking about. You will get noticed!
  • Consider your motives for seeking positional leadership. Is it to be seen and recognized of men in a misguided effort to validate your sense of worth and worthiness, or is to participate in Heavenly Father’s work and glory? Are you in it for His glory or your own?
  • Make your desires known to ward leaders. This is most effectively done in private interviews where one can convey their sincere desire to contribute and consecrate themselves more fully to Zion. Face-to-face conversations allow both sides to feel more accurately one another’s desires and not misconstrue them.
  • Be anxiously engaged in good causes and “lift where you stand” no matter your calling or lack thereof.

“Be a leader, not a calling.” If we feel that we need a presidency title to be a leader and have influence, then there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of leadership.

I know of a Sunbeam teacher that had a smoking habit. His shame of hiding his cigarettes from the primary children was the motivating factor to quit smoking. He visited the homes of all the kids in his class including those that didn’t attend regularly. He, a lowly sunbeam teacher, was able to reactive other families through his ministry. That is leadership!

Conclusion

Perhaps there are those for whom their Abrahamic challenge in mortality is to be forever denied the opportunity of serving in titled leadership positions. But, it seems unlikely, especially in our modern day church structure. Members in leadership positions can do more to diversify and include more members in presidency positions.

One consistent attribute I’ve observed that drives people to be called to church leadership positions, whether the individual is introverted or extroverted, is enthusiasm for gospel living, excitement, and enjoyment of church programs and even for church culture.

Now, there are plenty of things wrong with our “Mormon” culture, many of which are being addressed by the abundance of changes occurring in the Church right now. However, those that tend to be called as leaders are happy to be at church and to be a part of the Church. People that have joy in gospel living, in spite of life’s challenges, they shine, and others see their light. They sincerely smile when they shake hands and their hugs are genuinely warm. They give and receive love.

For those longing for leadership and struggling to feel recognized by church leaders, and thus feel like God is not recognizing them, I hope that your leaders will be able to see through whatever natural biases we all have and that they might see your great worth and potential as a leader. I pray that your light will shine bright and that because of your light others will be attracted to the light of Christ.

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