Let’s face it! The only people that are qualified to be bishop are those that have a PhD in human psychology, a masters in Family Relations, and an MBA from Stanford for good measure. The type of problems and crises church leaders face are sometimes staggering. Thankfully, each bishop holds the priesthood, is blessed with keys, and has awesome support (counselors, ward council, etc.). President Monson put it best, “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” Because of this, there are many bishops who are no more than trained plumbers, lawyers, salesmen, or even high school dropouts. Even though the Lord qualifies leaders to serve in their capacity doesn’t mean he qualifies them in the minds of those they lead.
I recently read a book called Permission Marketing. As I read the book there was a consistent thought that applied to church leadership—that is: to find more opportunities to ask those you lead for permission to be their leader. For example, just because you are the bishop does not mean members of your ward feel comfortable setting an appointment and sharing their deepest struggles with you. Many look at you as what you appear to be—just a plumber.
If Thou Be the [Relief Society President], Tell Us Plainly
Let’s take the perspective of the Relief Society. In the scriptures we learn followers of Christ know His voice and follow Him.
In John chapter 10 it states:
23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.
24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
When you are called to leadership you are given the title, but that doesn’t mean they “hear [your] voice…and follow [you].” Many in the Relief Society are subconsciously asking, “If thou be the [Relief Society president], tell us plainly.” Or in other words, “give us reason to follow you.”
Gaining Permission to Lead
Getting those in your group to cross the chasm of trust and give you permission to be their leader is not an easy task—nor is there a perfect solution for all cases. This is accomplished through prayer and asking the Lord for spiritual direction on how to approach each situation. More often than not, the opportunity to win their permission happens on a one-to-one level. Reaching out to them specifically validates them and lets them know that you care.
There may be times when you hear an individual is frustrated with your leadership style or a specific program you are pushing. These negative comments do not always mean that the person has a bad attitude and needs to repent. It simply means that you haven’t earned their permission to be their leader. Acknowledge that stage of the relationship and make plans to earn that permission through one-to-one contact.
Other individuals don’t even realize that they haven’t given you permission to lead them. For this reason, it is important you are constantly working to reach out to individuals and validate them. I can think of many experiences when I reached out to an individual through a letter, or a phone call, or simply tried to get to know them briefly in the church hallway. Many of those people have scheduled appointments with me to discuss specific struggles. They never would have sought me out if I didn’t first seek them out to “ask permission to be their bishop.”