Sometimes It Really Is Desperation Rather Than Inspiration. But So What? A Guest Post by Rusty

October 21, 2007

by Rusty

You got us. You’re right. Not all the callings we in the bishopric extend to you are revealed to us directly from the mouth of God. In fact, they’re not even all revealed to us with warm fuzzies. Of course we always start our meetings in prayer asking for the Spirit to guide us in our decisions and we often pray about a specific person or specific calling, but like other aspects of our lives, just because we pray for something doesn’t mean we always get it.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are often led by the Spirit to specific people, sometimes more strongly than others. But if you’re picturing a Brother of Jared-style encounter with God’s fingers pointing to our lists of members and callings, then you’re mistaken, we aren’t organized enough to have lists. ZING! The reality is that your lives are complicated. Sometimes you are willing to serve; sometimes you aren’t worthy; sometimes you’re too busy; sometimes you have anxiety; and sometimes you’d prefer a different calling. Some of you are building your testimonies, some of you are losing yours. Some of you hate kids but love teaching; some of you fear public speaking but love the youth; some of you have talents you don’t even know about.

Now multiply this by 150 ward members.

The inherent complexity of administrating a ward full of real people with real issues requires many decisions. At any one of our weekly bishopric meetings we have to make between 15-50 decisions (that affect some aspect of the ward) and I still always feel like our heads are barely above water.

What do we base those decisions on? Prayer. Discussion. Personal insight. Brief interactions. Discussion. Anecdotes. Prayer. Meditation. Discussion. And hopefully we have the Spirit to guide us in all of this.

And then there’s desperation.

There are times when the Primary President is breathing down our neck and our first two choices for the position are unavailable for reasons stated above and now we’ve got to just fill the position and God isn’t indicating to us which one of the three people on our list we should call, so we have to just make a decision. So we do.

Now, there are two forces at work here, 1) God determining who would best fill a need and 2) the bishopric determining who would best fill a need. It’s nice to believe God called you because you can be assured that there is a profound reason behind it. I’ll let you in on a little secret, when the bishopric calls you out of desperation, there’s also a profound reason behind it, and it’s usually probably the same as Gods: there are people who need to be served.



  1. Makes sense to me!

  2. Thank you for the wonderful guest post, Rusty. Nice to see it stated so clearly, and without apology.

  3. January 2006. Moved to an apartment very close to the church. Called as Executive Secretary. October 2007. Moved to an apartment not so close to the church. Released as Executive Secretary. Coincidence?

  4. I think that’s how the Lord intends: The Bishop is called not only to receive revelation but also to make decisions based on what he feels is best. God sometimes allows us to practice our decision-making abilities.

    However, this brings up a question: how am I to reconcile this with the teaching (or is really an offical teaching?) that we should not reject callings or asked to be released? If I honestly don’t don’t feel it’s the right calling for me, should I accept it anyway?

  5. Yeah, but how do you know that of the three people left on your list the one you guys picked is the Lord’s pick?

    “…and it’s usually probably the same as Gods:” sounds like a pretty lame defense, to me. (No offense intended.)

  6. An example of a potential problem with bishoprics acting on anecdotes (I suppose you meant anecdotes that are heard from other members) is that many years ago I was someone who was (and often still am) often misunderstood due to my poor abilities to communicate. That and perhaps some just plain wrong information in the form of rumor-mongering got back to the bishopric. I was given a calling to work with someone I couldn’t stand. But they didn’t tell me ahead of time who I was going to work with. It wasn’t until I showed up for the calling that I realized who I was going to work with. And instead of just telling the bishopric I couldn’t stand that person, I went inactive over it. Well, that was the surface reason, or proximate cause. There were deeper reasons I went inactive, but that was what pushed me over the edge.

  7. OK, so here’s a question — isn’t it possible that in desperation you also have inspiration because the Lord could tell you if you were making a huge mistake. I spend a lot of my life doing my best without any clear inspiration per se, but I can look back and feel that the Lord was there in part because I could see that there were times when I got a NO and times when I moved forward giving things my best shot, I didn’t.

    I don’t believe every decision we ever make, either personally or in our callings, will always have a clear, divine stamp of approval. Sometimes a lack of a NO is as good as approval…He gives us space to do much good of our own free will; He doesn’t command in all things.

  8. I realize I sorta repeated what Mike said, but oh well…was kind of reading and sending at more or less the same time….

  9. Oh boo fricken hoo,

    Being in the bishopric is hard… waaaa…. I want my mommy… people aren’t making it easy… well then , why don’t we just give up and do it the easy way.

    Give me a break!!!

    When Laban turned down Nephi the first time, he didn’t go find some different plates to bring back to Lehi, he did the hard thing to do what the Lord wanted.

    Here’s an idea…. quit trying to do more than your ward is capable of!!!! I believe there was one of those world wide leadership meetings a few years back that said just that!! News flash… your ward has serious capability problems if people are saying “no”. Capability problems aren’t limited to just third world countries where the church is new. If people are saying “no” and you can’t staff a ward, then you have bigger problems than just filling that position. If you are ignoring those bigger issues, then all you are is a leadership janitor, cleaning up little messes, never making any progress.

    Remember, your success isn’t determined on if people say yes to a calling. Only by you offering the call. That’s where your power to affect change ends. The only other thing you can do is teach doctrine to help invite the spirit into your ward members lives.

    Get on your knees you lazy bishopric!!!! Figure out the person who the Lord wants in the position. Oh… but we have to fill the position by next week or the whiney primary president will cry another river!!! Who the heck cares… figure it out until you know who it is suppose to be.

    “But she said NO!!!” Well isn’t that just one of the dangers of freedom of choice? So what! If she says no, don’t fill the position with an alternate unless the Lord tells you to do so! Leave it empty. Let the ward suffer. It’s not your fault she said no. If the PP asks why nobody has been called, say, because the Lords choice turned it down. I seem to recall President Kimball relating a similar story where he had to learn how to extend callings. When he met with opposition, he didn’t just give up and call someone else. Maybe you need to learn from that.

    Your ward may not end up being fully staffed. You may have to cut back on some key programs. So what! Maybe it’s a lesson that your ward needs to learn.

    Maybe they need to see the hardship of that Valiant 8 teacher having to combine three other classes with hers because a few people said “no”. And don’t leave her in the dark. Tell her why her work load is heavier (without naming names).

    Maybe the primary presidency will need to take on extra work and fill in.

    And then maybe in a month, you can get up and give a very pointed, direct, doctrinally based talk on the effects of not serving and how it affects wards, families, individuals.

    And then maybe you’ll let the spirit work on people in your ward.

    And then maybe they will start to have a real conversion experience.

    And then maybe that sister who said no will come back to you in a few months time in a repentant state, wanting to serve the Lord as her heart and spirit have been tearing at her all this time.

    And then maybe things will finally go the Lord’s way in your ward.

    And then maybe you’ll realize your job is more than just filling a position with an available body.

    And then maybe you’ll have a conversion experience yourself.

    And then maybe your ward will finally get back on track.

  10. CJ – October 2007 – “Moved to an apartment very close to the church”….AND….embarked on killer last year of time consuming design school education. Coincidence or God and the Bishop just looking out for you?

  11. Rusty: Excellent. We have the same issues and have come to the same conclusion. I do think it’s only fair to be honest with people, though, and not to claim that the call came from God all the time, and say, ‘We really need a nursery worker. Would you be willing to do it?’ And if it’s definitely inspired, say so.

    JM: As someone who serves in a similar capacity and faces similar struggles I deeply resent your tone. If you have had some experience in a bishopric that did things differently, share. If you are presenting an ideal of how these issues ought to be handled, I think the point that Rusty is making is that it just doesn’t work that way. But the name calling is just obnoxious.

  12. Norbert,

    You struggle because you wander from the perscribed program.

    You’re offended because you are afraid to try.

    In my experience, the plan of action I described works. You won’t have everyone saying yes, even when it is a call from the Lord because we let people exercise agency. But that doesn’t change the call unless the Lord changes it. I should note that it is also met with a lot of opposition from the stake president and your priesthood and auxiliary leaders in your ward will want to see immediate results.

    If you can’t issue the call from the Lord, then don’t issue the call. You will be causing yourself a bigger problem in the long run.

    Staffing a ward isn’t ever an easy thing to do and it won’t always work out the way you intend it to. Your success doesn’t come from having the best ward org chart. It comes from teaching people the gospel and providing spiritual experiences. So what if you can’t have a full program! Scale back to what you can do, work WITH the Lord, and go from there. Be patient. Be prepared to take a couple of years to make it work. Get your ward council in on the plan. Help them to understand. Work with the ward. Help them understand.

  13. I think a bishopric’s functionality depends, in large part, upon the talents, abilities, and insights of the bishopric members themselves. Inspiration may certainly come into play, but many good decisions can be made without specific revelations. It’s perfectly fine (and probably unavoidable) that they make some decisions out of practicality or even desperation, and not necessarily inspiration.

    My bishop made no representation that my present calling (in the nursery, for the second time in two years) came through revelation.In extending the call, he said that the ward needed another couple in the nursery, and the Primary President was wondering if we’d be willing to serve. She probably thought we were ideal because we don’t have kids of our own. And I was fine with that rationale.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most General Authorities made administrative decisions in a similar manner.

    So not every decision comes directly from the mouth of God. Is that a bad thing? Give them a break.

  14. I think Mike (#5) is right. The Lord calls people into positions because they are capable of making good decisions, not just because they are good conduits. And to answer your question Mike, it’s not an official teaching of the Church (to never turn down a calling), but there is certainly social/cultural pressure to never do so. I don’t think it’s the end of the world if someone rejects a calling. Depending on the situation there’s a chance that s/he’s missing out on potential blessings but there’s also the chance that s/he is saving their sanity. How about this: let’s all do everything we can to have the Spirit in our lives and be willing to follow it. That usually works.

    LDS Anarchist,
    You don’t, but that’s kinda the point of this post. The Lord called the bishopric, they’re also capable of making good decisions. I said “usually probably” because there are often times the Lord’s reasons are more than just “because someone needs to be served.” Otherwise I would have said “always”.

    I hope we don’t act on anecdotes. They are just little bits of information. I was trying to make it clear that (if they existed) those would only be a part of the entire process of making a decision, not the basis for it. I’m sorry you had that experience but you perfectly illustrate part of the difficulty of making a decision because you withheld information that could have been useful in making a better decision.

    I think you’re right. In our culture we tend to think of things as either right or wrong, but that just simply isn’t the case. Oftentimes there’s right and right and right. Any one of a handful of people would be right for a calling, any one of them would benefit, any one of them would have a positive effect on others. Why do we always think that it can only be One True Person?

    I can’t quite tell if your hyperbole is for the purpose of sarcasm and trying to make a joke or if you’re serious. If it’s the former then I don’t really get the joke, I don’t know what you’re trying to say. If it’s the latter then all I can really say is that I think you’re wrong. Your accusations are silly and your conclusions are bogus. I guess that’s why I think you’re just making a (trollish) joke.


  15. Rusty – This post certainly has sparked a lively discussion. Thanks for writing it. As a former bishop and bishop’s counselor I can identify with everything you have written. JM is either totally insensative to your plight or has never served in a demanding calling (like the bishopric OR the primary president) or both. In either case I hope s/he gets over it..

    I remember one experience I had in choosing a counselor to serve with me. My second counselor was moving away and we needed to replace him. I submitted a name to the Stake Presidency for his replacement. The person whose name I submitted had been occupied with personal issues for some time and had not been able to serve in a full time calling. We had discussed this issue together. But I felt strongly about giving him the chance to serve. At the same time, I feared that he would feel it necessary to turn down the calling and that by extending it he might feel conflict in his life – something I desperately wanted to avoid. But I went a head anyway. A couple of days later the Stake President called me to say that he had accepted the calling. I really can’t describe the joy I felt when I heard the news. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal on the surface but in that case I really felt that I had followed the promptings of the Lord and my firend was doing the same. Later he confided in me that just a few weeks before the calling he had privately prayed to the Lord telling him that he felt he was ready to accept a calling. He had no idea what was coming his way!

    For every experience like that there were dozens of other decisions that may have been made in desparation. As you stated, we prayed about the issue but sometimes you just need a body and hope the Lord leads you in the right direction. It’s the best you can do.

  16. JM,
    We have a legacy of being an inviting, safe place for discussion here. Please don’t ruin it.

  17. I think the biggest problem is that in any ward there’s a handful of really good (either because of temperment or circumstance) people. Then some who will do a reasonably good job. Then a big load of people for whom most callings will be difficult and, in terms of service to others, probably not that great. (i.e. the teacher who isn’t a great teacher) The problem is that everyone wants those from that first category. But the Bishop has to be inspired (hopefully) not just in terms of who would be good for any particular calling but where the best calling for those most capable people is.

    Unfortunately sometimes the RS and EQ (or worse the stake) end up with those people. That’s not a bad thing. But I think that sometimes other callings get neglected. Typically putting them in leadership at the top levels actually is ideal (despite my negative tone). But I think far too many do that instinctively.

    I don’t want to get into a situation where I think how we phrase our questions to God determines everything. That just makes God too tempermental and too superficial. I think God is much more flexible in personal revelation. (Thankfully so since I often find myself weak in how I ask – I get caught up in my limited perspective of what my priorities are rather than what they ought ideally be) But I do think that we tend to get caught up in some assumptions about how we prioritize things. This sometimes means that folks who might be weak in a leadership position but learn mightily from it aren’t called. And worst of all it seems like leadership callings go to the “usual suspects” while new members (either by conversion or move-ins) get neglected.

    But I really feel for you. Leadership is the one calling I pray I never get. Bishop or SP is just one calling I constantly pray never to have.

    One thing to keep in mind though is that sometimes circumstance really does make it hard. For instance this last year I’ve been ridiculously busy with a new business and on top of that a lot of illness and surprised events in my family. Had I a time-intensive calling on top of that I don’t think I could have coped. I don’t know how I would have responded had the call come. By personality I just don’t turn down callings. But it would have been a challenge to say the least. (And, I think my ability to perform the calling would have been very, very limited)

  18. I have extended, accepted, and “rejected” callings. My rejection of a calling wasn’t really a rejection though. And, points out that sometimes decisions and/or revelation is based on the available information. I moved into a new Ward and was called to be the Activities Cmtte Chair. I explained that I would be attended a Master’s program fulltime during the day and working fulltime at night and I still needed to be a husband and a father of 5 children. If that was the kind of Activity Chair they wanted, I was their man. They said, based on that info, they would re-consider. I was called to be a SS teacher.
    I’ve had people decline callings I felt were inspired. I have extended callings that I didn’t feel inspired about, but that have proven to be exactly what the individual called needed or what the individual(s) served needed (even when the person called did the call out of a sense of duty).
    I love the scripture that says the gospel net gathers of all kinds. I think callings in the Church are of all kinds, too. Sometimes we are instructed where to fish and our cath is overflowing. Sometimes we have to “throw away” that portion of the catch that is not useful.

  19. One of the saddest things on my mission was when we would be doing transfers (I’ve never called anyone, so doing transfers is as close as I get) We’d pray and have flashes of insights about where to put the best of the best, and about what to do wth the good ones, but when you get to the bad ones, then the problem comes up.The Bad ones are going to be bad most places. It is harder to receive inspiration for them (Lord, who needs a trial?) The best I could do was inquire for what areas lacked attractive women, so that the problem missionaries would have less problems.

    I assume it can be that way as a Bishop as well. It is easy to put a great man in any calling and feel inspiration about it, it is a lot harder to feel inspired when you know they guy is a slacker.

  20. oftentimes there’s right and right and right.

    My dad would say this even when I was in dating/courting stage. I believe sometimes there could be a Right Answer, but sometimes, there are options. And sometimes, a Right could be disrupted by someone’s agency.

  21. I think the Lord does the best he can with what and who he has available to work with.

    “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; …”

  22. Bookslinger-
    That reminds me of a discussion I had with some friends about “..many are called, but few are chosen.” How awful would it be to find out we were called, but not chosen? I sometimes wonder if I fall into that category.

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  26. […] what is almost always much more perspiration than inspiration. I blogged about this in more detail here, but the short version is that I believe the Lord calls people because there are those who need to […]

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