A few weeks ago a good friend of ours was called to be relief society president in her ward. I was genuinely flattered when she asked for advice from my perspective as a bishop. I thought about it for a few days in hopes of providing a worthy and response, then I passed on seven things that I think are worth remembering in any church calling, so I thought I’d share them here.
1. Act for yourself. Be ready and willing to take direction, but take ownership of the calling and the revelation you have a right to receive. You will have many of promptings regarding what ought to happen. Follow them. A wise bishop (or whoever directly oversees your calling) would rather "pull your reins" than prod you along, meaning they’d rather slow you down and make corrections if necessary than always tell you what to do.
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
2. Learn your duty. It’s a shame that we are often poor at training each other in the Church when we get new callings, but we have the power and responsibility to learn our duty and do it. Too often people spend years in callings without ever really learning what they’re supposed to do. Between the scriptures, the handbooks, and vast online resources, there is no excuse for not knowing what’s expected.
D&C 107:99 Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
3. Be creative. We have a tendency with callings to do what has always been done. The handbook is your safety net, know it well and follow it. But you have a ton of room to be creative. I’m consistently impressed but the amount of autonomy the Lord provides in our callings. I’m not sure who said it first, but I believe it: If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. Consider the creativity of the Brother of Jared as he prepared to make his journey to the promised land (Ether 2-3).
4. Take problems to their source. If you have needs or concerns with your relationship with the bishop (or whoever directly oversees your calling), tell him or her. It doesn’t help to complain to other people about problems that your leader has direct control over. If any president in the ward has a concern with something I am (or not) doing, I expect them to come to me quickly and directly so we can resolve the issue. Same thing applies if you have concerns with someone you oversee. Take problems to the source.
D&C 42:88-89 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone.
5. Focus on serving individuals. The gospel is ultimately about the salvation of individuals. Ministering will bless you and your associates with the spiritual experiences that keep you motivated during other tedious responsibilities. Review any portion of the Savior’s ministry in the New Testament or Third Nephi to see how fundamental it is to focus on helping individuals and families.
6. Measure success by your best effort, not by the choices others make. We have to respect their agency and can’t take their decisions upon ourselves. I love the following excerpt from Preach my Gospel and I think it applies generally to all callings:
Avoid comparing yourself to other missionaries and measuring the outward results of your efforts against theirs. Remember that people have agency to choose whether to accept your message. Your responsibility is to teach clearly and powerfully so they can make a correct choice. Some may not accept your message even when they have received a spiritual witness that it is true. You will be saddened because you love them and desire their salvation. You should not, however, become discouraged; discouragement will weaken your faith. If you lower your expectations, your effectiveness will decrease, your desire will weaken, and you will have greater difficulty following the Spirit.
You can know you have been a successful missionary when you:
- Feel the Spirit testify to people through you.
- Love people and desire their salvation.
- Obey with exactness.
- Live so that you can receive and know how to follow the Spirit, who will show you where to go, what to do, and what to say.
- Develop Christlike attributes.
- Work effectively every day, do your very best to bring souls to Christ, and seek earnestly to learn and improve.
- Help build up the Church (the ward) wherever you are assigned to work.
- Warn people of the consequences of sin. Invite them to make and keep commitments.
- Teach and serve other missionaries.
- Go about doing good and serving people at every opportunity, whether or not they accept your message.
When you have done your very best, you may still experience disappointments, but you will not be disappointed in yourself. You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you.
7. Enjoy it. Show your family your willingness to serve and the joy your service brings. For example, I never say “I have to go to a meeting.” I always say, “I’m going to learn” or “I’m going to help people.” It helps me remember what I’m really doing, and helps my children see what I’m really doing and that I’m glad to be doing it. Don’t complain about being in the service of the Lord. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said it well, "Nothing is so bad that complaining about it won’t make it worse."
What advice would you add to the list? Share in the comments!