In What Sense are Church Callings “Inspired”?

President G was not my favorite mission president. Little of his advice or influence has left any lasting impression on me over the years. But one particular Zone Conference speech of his stands out as one of the stronger memories of my mission, and in a good way. President G spoke about a certain sister in the mission who had been paired with a companion she didn’t like and who was vocally unhappy about it. Relations in the companionship deteriorated so severely that the exasperated sister finally accosted President G at a conference and let him have it:

President, you say you pick our companions based upon the “inspiration” of the Lord, but it’s obvious to me that I was not meant to be with my companion! Our companionship has been a disaster! You clearly were not inspired when you put the two of us together!

President G then shared with us his response to the sister. It came as something of a surprise to me. I had expected him to drone on and on about how we cannot always know the mind or will of the Lord, that He has plans for us that we wouldn’t necessarily choose ourselves but that are for our benefit, that the Lord gives us challenges that we are meant to overcome … yadda, yadda, yadda. But he didn’t. Instead, he said the following:

Sister, you’ve completely misunderstood what you’ve been taught. When I say that my companionship selection is “inspired,” this doesn’t mean that the Lord literally chose to put the two of you together. All it means is that the Lord has given me the authority to make the decision as to who to put together, and once I make the decision, He recognizes it as authoritative and gives it His stamp of approval.

This was an unexpected answer. So mission companion pairings were “inspired” only in the narrow sense that the Lord recognized the mission president as possessing the proper authority to extend callings, and He therefore effectively “rubber-stamped” the president’s choices as kosher. This was quite a different understanding of “inspiration” than I was used to. It seemingly reduced the meaning of “inspired” to something like “in compliance with proper procedural mechanisms” or “not inconsistent with the Lord’s general rules and regulations for His kingdom.” But to be honest, I actually really liked this explanation, and I still do. And I wonder how broadly this more restrictive notion of “inspiration” should be applied. My inclination is to apply it broadly. Indeed, I wonder whether it wouldn’t make sense to apply it to church callings generally, across the board, in many if not most cases.

I see at least two advantages to this modified understanding of “inspired callings”:

(a). Absolves God of Responsibility. Sometimes churchmembers called to positions of authority do very bad things in the exercise of their callings. This is unfortunate. And it is probably (hopefully) relatively uncommon. But when egregious wrongdoing does occur, many of us feel the need to explain how Horrible Incident X or Awful Decision Y could have happened given the Lord’s apparently direct hand in putting the wrongdoer in a position where he/she could do wrong (and, depending on your theological assumptions, where the Lord “knew” that he/she would do wrong). We might insist that the Lord’s ways are not our own, and that His purposes are opaque. We might construe something catastrophic as constructive, out of seeming necessity. We might be tempted to wrongly blame someone, anyone other than the church authority, out of a desire to avoid confronting the unpleasant consequences of having vested authority in a leader who used it for ill. I have seen all of these reactions, at one time or another.

President G’s revised notion of inspired callings makes all this unnecessary. Rather than having to rationalize the obviously foolish decisions of this or that Church leader as somehow being the literal will of the Lord, and rather than having to engage in the intellectual gymnastics required to portray boneheadedness as brilliance, this modified understanding of “inspired” callings allows us to jettison the whole project. No need to engage in armchair theologizing about the meaning or purpose behind what may be unfortunate, freak events or other people’s bad decisions, and no need to come up with crazy theories about God’s will, or to resign oneself to selective declarations of “It’s a mystery” when one can’t seem to figure out the meaning of it all.

(b). Respects Free Agency. When I was once called as Deacon’s Quorum President, I was asked to select two counselors, and to seek inspiration from the Lord in making my selections. I didn’t. I just picked two of my friends. Trust me, the Lord was not consulted in any way. Were my selections “inspired” by the Lord, even though I didn’t commune with Him, but made my choices based upon more selfish considerations instead? Of course not. But why were my choices as a deacon necessarily qualitatively different than those of other, adult church members who similarly extend callings, ostensibly under inspiration? Seems to me they’re not. And to argue otherwise is to insist that inspiration comes to the caller regardless whether he seeks it, raising the question of whether the caller retains any meaningful sense of agency as he carries out his responsibilities. Not a desirable state of affairs.

Of course, there are some perceived disadvantages to redefining “inspiration” in this way. I say “perceived” because personally, I don’t see the disadvantages, but others seem to:

(c). Some people apparently need to believe that the Lord’s hand is in everything little thing they do. This gives them a heightened sense of meaning. Companionships, church callings, you name it. The Lord has a plan for them, and every decision made, every calling extended, every human interaction resulting from that calling is fraught with potentially cosmic importance. By way of example, consider certain popular attitudes towards mission calls themselves. How many elders believe that they are somehow “meant” to be assigned to a certain mission, “meant” to meet certain investigators, and “meant” to baptize certain new members? I knew more than a few. But I personally never understood this attitude. My mission experiences do not become more meanginful to me when I think about them in this way. In like manner, I don’t need deity micromanaging my daily affairs to find meaning in them. Nor do I need to believe that my church calling is some sort of divinely-mandated “destiny” that only I can perform. I can still magnify my calling without having to believe that it is absolutely crucial to the Lord’s plans that I serve in a specific place, at a specific time.

(d). I know many churchmembers feel more motivated to accept a calling if they think the Lord literally picked it out for them personally. Priesthood leaders are taken more seriously, and greater respect is paid to their decisions and instructions, if members think God personally directs them to extend the invitations they extend. Modifying our notions of inspired callings might disrupt the smooth functioning of the system. But the problem of finding a way to similarly motivate churchmembers to accept callings doesn’t strike me as all that much of a problem. Wouldn’t President G’s notion of “inspiration”, if properly taught, understood and internalized, serve a motivating function just as well? Isn’t it enough to say that God recognizes the priesthood authority of Leader X, and we should therefore respect his decision to give us Calling Y? Do we really need the extra bells and whistles?

Having said all this, I recently got a bit of a reality check. Several months ago, my own Bishop spoke to one of our church classes about the process by which he seeks and receives inspiration for Church callings. I won’t spell out all the details, but suffice it to say he was claiming quite a bit more direct divine involvement than President G claimed for his mission companionship selection. This surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have. I had become so used to thinking about “inspired callings” in this revised manner, that I had forgotten we usually invoke “inspiration” much more literally.

So I’m left with a number of questions. Maybe you can help me answer them.

1. Can all instances of “inspired callings” in the Church be understood in the same way that President G understood his missionary companionship selection process? If not, in what contexts is it appropriate to apply President G’s understanding, and in what contexts is it not? Mission calls? Mission companionships? Church callings?

2. Does the answer ever “depend” on what the Church leader in question understands the “inspiration” process to be? In other words, if different Church leaders understand their “inspiration” differently, does that difference in understanding reflect an actual difference in what is going on in their respective cases, or does it merely reflect the different assumptions (some of which are must be erroneous) they hold about what the process entails?

3. Assuming there are many cases where we don’t want to adopt my watered-down definition of inspiration, wouldn’t it still be more accurate to say — rather than “Church callings are inspired” — something like “Church callings can be inspired in cases where the caller actually seeks inspiration and manages to interpret it correctly, and we hope they usually are inspired, but we really don’t know” or “Church callings might be inspired, or they might not, but we choose to treat them as if they are, since representing them as inspired improves calling-acceptance rates at the local level and thus keeps the Church running smoothly …” ?

I am not hostile to those who believe that callings (their own, or other peoples) may have been specifically selected by the Lord in this or that case. I can think of at least a couple instances in the lives of people close to me where the perfect calling came at just the right time, and did someone a world of good. There may have been literal divine involvement in those cases. I am, however, suspicious of the claim of literal “inspiration” when invoked as a general rule, across the board, and am a bit perplexed as to why so many of us find this belief so important. In my mind, the disadvantages of believing in it outweigh the advantages.

Comments

  1. I think what your mission president was trying to say was “God respects my authority,” rather than teaching the full nature of inspiration in church-callings. Then again, I wasn’t there.

    As for me personally, I believe that God does inspire church leaders on specific details of their callings, from time to time, and that that can include extending callings. I also believe that the spirit works in the same ways on all levels, so this isn’t something unique to the calling of missionaries or the work of the Prophet. I’ve had experiences in magnifying my own callings where the Lord gave me specific, clear direction, and I believe I can generalize that to other callings as well.

    Does that mean that God is the only one who does all the work in figuring out who gets what calling? No, I think he leaves a lot of it up to the leaders’ judgment, just like God won’t tell us what brand of soup to buy at the grocery store. It’s more like God is working with the leader, rather than dictating to the leader everything that he needs to do. Church leaders also need the opportunity to magnify their own callings, and they can’t do that if they’re just robots.

    That being said, I do think that “inspired” means a LOT more than just “by the handbook.” I see it as God and man working together to come to a decision. God might not be dictating who gets what calling, but, IMO, in an “inspired” calling, he’s doing a lot more than just sitting back and letting things just happen like something from Deism. Because of that, when I receive a calling, I do my best to realize that this is God’s will for me personally, not just a decision made by my ecclesiastical leaders.

  2. Sam Kitterman says:

    Experiences I and my wife have had as we have lived in various areas here in the U.S. have more often given us the impression that at times callings are more a result of perspiration than inspiration. I recall having been called to serve as a counselor in the elder’s quorum and after two months, a new EQ president was called and I learned of it when I was pulled out of SS class and told by our bishop 1) I was being released because the new EQ President had chosen different counselors and 2) the Bishop wanted me to be SS President. I accepted but the feeling after several months was that the new calling was more of an effort to pacify me about being rejected by the new EQ president. Again, I probably felt more that way since I had only been a counselor in the EQ for two months….
    On the other hand, I distinctly recall how I received “inspiration” I would be called to a Germanic speaking mission (and in fact, called to serve in the Germany Munich Mission). It was some months before I was to apply for my mission and was reading articles about the Church in Europe and when I came to the articles about Germany, Switzerland and Austria, felt this overpowering “still small voice” that I would be serving in one of those countres.
    So, my two cents — inspiration is still alive and well but given the humanity of our lay leadership, perspiration can more often play a role in deciding to extend callings….

  3. Thanks for the alternate way of looking at “inspired” callings. My take is that for people like President G, “inspiration” does work in his alternate way, and with other more traditionally-minded priesthood leaders it can and does come in a more literal fashion (though clearly not always, maybe not even most of the time). I like to think that God speaks to us in our own language, not just English or Spanish, but also in the ways we are willing/able to receive revelation. So are church callings inspired in the traditional sense or in your “watered down” sense? Perhaps it depends on who’s seeking the revelation.
    One thing that strikes me about the two different methods of getting revelation is that one can argue that the way you like does give a leader more opportunities to exercise agency and learn to make Godlike decisions thereby moving him/her one step closer to exaltation, or it can be argued that your way is more “prideful” if the leader never (or rarely) actively seeks God’s will and just does what he/she thinks best. So, to somewhat contradict my first paragraph, maybe God wants us to learn to do it the way other than the way we usually do it, just to keep us balanced just right. Hope that all makes sense, but again thanks for the post!

  4. I don’t think a pure reading of Pres. G’s definition really works. If his callings are authoritative because he has the priesthood authority, then his authority is based on the authority of the person who called him, etc. And so where does it end? Do I say that I need a testimony of the First Presidency, and then all of the other callings derive from the authority of callings passed down from there? It makes the role of the authority too autocratic, as if the authority to act is the only thing needed to act. At best, it would make lazy leaders; at worst, tyrannical.

    On the other hand, it does cover the kinds of callings that necessarily happen all the time: ‘Holy crap, we need a primary teacher next week. He’ll do.’ In those cases, when a calling is made to fulfill the caller’s responsibility to keep things moving, I think it is a valid explanation.

    No callings are pure inspiration; we think about people who could fill needs and hopefully pray about them to seek confirmation. Any calling has a balance between the human factor of availability, need, the judgments and prejudices of the caller on one hand, and spiritual confirmation on the other. To say it is all one or the other is oversimplification.

    Here’s my revised statement:

    ‘Church callings might be inspired to some degree, or they might not, but we generally assume they are so we can follow Christ’s admonition to be humble and to be unified as a Church.’

  5. Here’s what Elder Eyring recently had to say about this issue:

    And so, to everyone, man or woman, girl or boy, who has been called or who will yet be, I give you my counsel. There are a few things you must come to know are true. I will try to put them in words. Only the Lord through the Holy Ghost can put them deep in your heart. Here they are:

    First, you are called of God. The Lord knows you. He knows whom He would have serve in every position in His Church. He chose you. He has prepared a way so that He could issue your call. He restored the keys of the priesthood to Joseph Smith. Those keys have been passed down in an unbroken line to President Hinckley. Through those keys, other priesthood servants were given keys to preside in stakes and wards, in districts and branches. It was through those keys that the Lord called you. Those keys confer a right to revelation. And revelation comes in answer to prayer. The person who was inspired to recommend you for this call didn’t do it because they liked you or because they needed someone to do a particular task. They prayed and felt an answer that you were the one to be called.

    The person who called you did not issue the call simply because he learned by interviewing you that you were worthy and willing to serve. He prayed to know the Lord’s will for you. It was prayer and revelation to those authorized of the Lord which brought you here. Your call is an example of a source of power unique to the Lord’s Church. Men and women are called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands by those God has authorized.

    I wonder what he would have said to president G. Or to the sister missionary.

  6. Peter LLC says:

    #1:

    I think he leaves a lot of it up to the leaders’ judgment, just like God won’t tell us what brand of soup to buy at the grocery store.

    I suppose there are those who feel that callings merit weightier consideration than soup, but I nevertheless agree that leaders have wide latitude that may include calling the “wrong” person for the right reasons or the right person for the wrong reasons and sometimes for no particularly divine reason at all.

  7. Joshua A. says:

    No callings are pure inspiration

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Norbert. The first time that I served as a branch president I can tell you conclusively that the callings that I issued were inspired–I did indeed exert a good bit of time and effort to figure things out myself, but the end result was neither what I had planned nor anything I would have come up with on my own. And I believe that I was directed by God.

    On the other hand, during a period as a branch president in a different branch, I had an entirely different experience with callings. Suffice it to say that in the first instance, I believed strongly that the callings were the exact will of God, while in the second, I felt that the callings weren’t against God’s will.

    It’s kind of strange, now that I think about it. I’ll have to muse on it some more…

  8. On my mission, Pres. would have said “Go ask the APs, they are in charge of transfers.” for the elders, or “Go ask my wife, she is in charge of sister missionary transfers.” for the sisters.

    From personal experience I know that there is a group of people in the mission which it is very easy to be inspired about. Unfortuneately, there is also a group of people who are going to not do well anywhere on the mission and it is hard to receive inspiration for.

  9. Transfers went something like this with our Mission President:

    He’d do them all by himself and lay the list our before us. Then we would look it over and give our input, like:

    I don’t think they’d work well together.
    No way this Elder can be a trainer.
    I think this Elder would make a better DL.
    Or my favorite, these Elders have already been companions before.

    I would say probably at least a third of the transfers were altered. Interesting enough, on my Mission President’s last transfer, he did it perfectly–not one change was needed.

  10. There are some callings where the only “inspiration” consists of figuring out who can do it.

    For example, when we first moved to Albuquerque, the ward was doing all its music, including during Sacrament Meeting, by playing the Church-produced CDs. In between meetings, I told the bishop that I played piano and organ. My calling was issued on the spot. I’m not sure a whole lot of inspiration was required for that one.

    On the other hand, that same kind of thing really bothered my uncle. A bright, capable doctor and a real gospel scholar, he also was one of the few in his ward who could play piano or organ. To his dying day, he felt that he was unfairly limited in the callings he would ever receive because he was seen as “the organist,” and not as a potential teacher or leader.

  11. Julie M. Smith says:

    Can we say that there’s a range from “you’re literally the only one who can play the organ in this ward” to “I never in a million years would have thought of you for ___ but it came to me like a bolt out of the blue”?

  12. Thomas Parkin says:

    First, let me say that I think your MPs notion, if he actually said exactly what you remember him saying, is wrong. ‘The rights of the Priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.’ No power’s of heaven, no rights. I don’t mean that a leader has no authority to act the executive in his office unless he is ‘inspired’ in every decision he makes. Only that in his position he is placed to seek inspiration and act on it, not to make arbitrary decisions and assume and enforce the assumption of a heavenly rubber-stamp on his every decision. So, if your question is does my former MPs model work – I think I’m on the side of resounding no. It smacks of a parent saying ‘because I said so.’ My other uncle the giraffe spanked me for my insatiable curiosity. To my mind, a person enforcing authority in that way hasn’t understood the Priesthood … pretty much just plain hasn’t understood it.

    Second, in my own callings, I’ve been constantly inspired – in so far as I was seeking to know and follow the Lord’s will, and to make sure that my own ego was kept as close to the vest as possible. It can never be about me, I find. As soon as it is about me, the Spirit is silent. I never gave an EQ lesson where I didn’t receive some measure of inspiration. Not once. That doesn’t mean everything I might have said or done was inspired. Quite often we’re just winging it, doing our best, hoping inspiration comes but acting according to our best judgment when it doesn’t, and I don’t see anything wrong with that, or admitting to that. After all, we aren’t puppets to the Holy Ghost. In my current calling as Ward Mission Leader I make delegations and assignments a few times a week. Sometimes I’m certain of the revelation, sometimes mostly certain, sometimes I think it may be revelation, and sometimes I know that there are things to be done and here are some people to do them but there is no specific direction. What I want in every case is not only inspiration, but also as much good input as I have at my disposal – just in case there is no revelation.

    *shrug*

    ~

  13. Nick Literski says:

    My mission president made a point of telling missionaries that he sought the confirmation of the Holy Ghost, but “did his homework first.” Basically, he reasoned out the companionships and assignments, and then prayed to know whether it was approved by deity.

    This was all well and good. Then came the day that he privately told me how he had put Elder Snow with Elder White for laughs. He also told me that he put me with another elder who’s last name ended in a “ski” sound, also because he thought it was funny (oh..and that elder was so hard to live with that his trainer threatened to go home if the president didn’t transfer him—that’s how I ended up with him!)

  14. “whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

    If we’re gods-in-training we can’t be led by the hand all the time. Oftentimes I think a best effort is made and we ask the Lord to bless our decision. If it’s not too far out of whack, I believe he does.

    Sometimes I think we don’t really understand how far the Lord is willing to go to respect our agency. Obvious example: wars, etc. Less obvious: Missteps and stumbling of the church (succession after Joseph Smith, calling of apostles that later left the church, etc). If the Lord really wanted things to run smoothly, he’d be there at every step to show us the way. Oh, wait. That was Satan’s plan.

  15. Latter-day Guy says:

    Working in the MTC, I saw a companionship made up of elders Kesler and Green. That’s got to be inspired.

  16. Nick, in my mission we had Elder Brigham assigned as the companion of Elder Young.

    Just a thought, but could there be a difference between callings, which require some measure of inspiration, and assignments, which might not? For example, a missionary is called by inspiration, but assigned to a particular mission–or city–or companion–according to more mundane considerations?

  17. I think Julie’s # 11 is accurate. Sometimes not much inspiration is needed because there is literally only one choice. Sometimes inspiration boils down to finding the one person who won’t say “No” to the calling. And sometimes a name or an idea comes to us from so far out in left field that it’s hard to believe we would have ever thought of it on our own.

    Here’s something else to think about. We presume that missionary calls are inspired. With approximately 55,000 missionaries serving, that means that about 500 missionaries per week are called. The missionary committee meets on Wednesdays to make assignments, and even if they worked for a full eight hours, that still leaves less than one minute to consider each of the 500 missionary applications.

  18. As a Bishop and as a counselor in a Stake Presidency, and even as an AP on my mission, I have literally been involved with issuing HUNDREDS of calls. Some I think have gone well, some poorly, some right, some wrong. For what it is worth, here are some observations:

    1) In the Lord’s church there is work to be done, and somebody has to do it. President Hinckley has emphasized that all of us need a responsibility in the Church. If I am to get anything meaningful out of your MP’s statement, it is that SOMETIMES, the Lord blesses us with inspiration as we follow the proper process. For example, it seems a bit presumptuous to assume that as a leader I could look at a call and simply decree, “Send Person Y”, with no thought, no prayer, no consideration of the need or hte person. I decree it because I can. That may happen, but it sure doesn’t seem right. It seems that there is a scriptural process that acknowledges agency, values experiences and respects the need for the all to learn and grow. The proper process, the one I have felt the most success using, begins with me understanding the need that exists — what does the call entail? are there special circumstances or people that need to be touched or considered? This is the first place that I hope inspiration will come to enlighten my understanding of the need. Second, I look at the resources available — who are the people that could accept such a call. Certain people in any ward/branch mission/stake can do anything! The are faithful, capable, willing — easy to be inspired to call them to anything. This is the second time inspiration is necessary. As a leader, I need to know the needs of the people to be called? Are there any who have special gifts that could be utilized? are there any who have the need to grow by stretching to perform a new assignment or work with a certain group? are there any who are young and need preparation for future leadership? Once the list is put together, each one is considered in turn. This is real work — “perspiration”. Hopefully counsel is sought — from counselors, AP’s, committee — whatever is appropriate. The next opportunity for inspiration comes in the confirmation of the choice. Humility is required to listen so that if the Lord has information not available to us previously, we can move in a different direction. If the Lord confirms the decision, we don’t necessarily know why — is it because that person is absolutely the only person who could possibly fill that position at that time? Or is that person just fine to do the work that must be done? It doesn’t matter. We can take confidence that a process was followed properly to render a good decision, by proper authority and with the confirmation through the Spirit that the decision is good.

    2) I have also been in a position to fill a need immediately and have reached out to those I knew were capable or thought would be willing. There was no real process, I just needed to fill a spot. I have no assurance that the Lord wanted someone specific — if He did, I didn’t take the time to ask. I have been honest with people in that instance and told them, I just need something done. While I can’t vouch for the Lord’s confirmation, I am certain they were blessed for filling the need. (In one case the result was a disaster and I vowed to be more willing to do the work I described above!)

    3) As one who has received many calls, I have always felt that it didn’t matter to me one way or another what process the leader went through to call me. That was their responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is to be prepared to serve wherever I am called. I have, on occasion, counseled with a leader when I have been called about certain circumstances that they may not know and asked if that information would make a difference to them in issuing the call. Sometimes it has, and sometimes it hasn’t. That is their call. People have done the same to me when I have issued calls and I always appreciate it and respect their candor.

    I guess the bottom line to me is — inspiration is available throughout this process. How it is accessed depends on the spirituality, maturity, experience and personality of the people involved. Those who are in a position to issue calls will find opportunities for great growth and learnings they follow a proper process. Those receiving calls will find success when they seek their own inspiration, counsel openly regarding any concerns, and then finally — get to work!

  19. Having been, like Neal, in the position of having to extend callings, I’ve found there are three types that I have experienced.

    First, there are those that really are the result of inspiration. When I was called to be bishop, the SP called me at work and asked me to come see him over my lunch hour with my wife. I knew that our bishop was being released, but I had not had any specific feelings regarding the call, so on my way to pick up my wife, I tried not to think about it. However, I found my mind started running through the ward directory alphabetically. I kept trying to push it out of my mind, but on about the third time it started up, it stopped at the letter C, and a name popped out very clearly, with the knowledge that he was to be my first counselor. Definitely not the sort of thing that President G described.

    On the other hand, quite often when we discussed callings, we would look at lists, get several names, talk about them as a bishopric, and then choose one, and ask for confirmation. If we then felt okay, we would extend the calling. This is more what the mission president was describing, where multiple individuals could have filled a calling, and our choice was “confirmed” or approved by the Lord, accepting our authority and agency.

    Then there are sometimes callings extended to someone because they need a calling, and probably aren’t qualified for many, or a situation has been difficult to fill, and you literally take whoever you can get. That’s desperation, but my experience is that it happens often enough that it is not uncommon in the church.

    I had difficulty with one or two ward members who constantly demanded to know that the calling that was being extended to them was inspired as in the first category that I described, feeling that they couldn’t serve unless there was that kind of inspiration. It made it difficult to deal with them, as they often challenged the level of inspiration involved. It would serve no useful purpose to try and explain that the calling was of the second variety, because then this individual would generally turn down the calling as not being “inspired enough”. That problem, with one individual and their spouse, persisted throughout my time as bishop, and I felt to some extent that I had failed them. They obviously were expecting the first kind of calling, and I could never give that to them.

    Most people were open to accepting callings without that kind of challenge, and I had the first kind of inspiration often enough to feel good about the second category that we used in probably two thirds of the callings extended.

  20. Struwelpeter says:

    My mission president spent hours on his knees with the APs seeking God’s will regarding transfers. When he called to let you know about transfers, he would say something akin to “Elder Schnickelgruber, the Lord has called you to serve in Bumblyburg.” There was no doubt in my mind then, nor is there any now, that the Lord had told him who was to serve where, and with whom. I defy anyone who would claim otherwise.

    Having said that, I am confident that there are those who take different approaches to callings than he did.

  21. I think it is interesting the variety of ways callings are filled. I already mentioned my being called (in more than one ward or branch) as the organist because nobody else could play. In one branch, both my wife and I received callings because the person who needed a counselor got our name stuck in his/her head that we were the ones for the job.

    I also remember being in a branch presidency where we would start talking about a calling with someone in mind, but were led to fill it with somebody else. Often that meant that the person we originally discussed went without a calling for a long time until we felt we found the right fit.

  22. What kevinf said (#19) – both about issuing callings and being frustrated by people’s expectations. I have known a woman in one of my wards who complained constantly about the Bishop not caring enough about sisters in her situation to give them callings – who turned down every calling she was offered.

    My only “unique” contribution: I don’t know how many times I have had to counsel auxiliary leaders about how to request people for callings. Everyone wants to have an undeniable confirmation, and many want to be told, “This is who needs to be called.” The difficulty arises when a leader feels like s/he has received an answer to prayer, gives a name to the Bishopric and then is told to reconsider. Sometimes, the Lord can say, “This is the person who would fulfill this calling the best,” without saying, “This is who should fill this calling.”

    I know there are plenty of cases where there really is someone who would be perfect for a specific calling but who is unavailable for that calling because there is another calling for which s/he also would be perfect – or needed because there is no one else available. Auxiliary leaders are given the responsibility to help ease the Bishop’s or SP’s burden by recommending people for callings; the Bp or SP is the one who is given the responsibility to ascertain the will of the Lord – or make the final decision when there is no clear-cut, obvious will.

  23. My first mission president was similar in opinion to yours. My second was the opposite… he’d have each of the AP’s pray about companionships and come up with separate lists, and then the 3 would compare lists. The ones where all 3 matched were “keepers”, then they went back and prayed about the rest, again reconvening to look for “matches”. This pattern continued until all were filled.

    But they’d never discuss it, because what’s the point of discussing when God’s doing the deciding.

    I’m inclined to prefer the methodology of my first mission president.

  24. Who says all the inspiration has to go to the person issuing the calling? Maybe CS Eric in comment #10 was inspired to move to the new area, so they would have an organist. I don’t think my mission call was especially inspired. I asked all the missionaries in my district and the ones going to the same country as we, who all arrived on the same day in the MTC, and it turns out that we all got our calls on the same day too, and our calls were mailed on the same day, with one exception. There were about 40 of us.

    It would seem that the people doing the calls were filling a specific need that day, and they sent everyone who had turned in their papers recently to the same area. I have no problem with this theory, since revelation works in so many different ways, and maybe all of us were inspired to turn our papers in on the same day. And we were all good picks, so there was no reason to send us anywhere else.

    On the other hand, there are certainly instances where one person needs to go to one specific place, and that’s where the specific revelations come in. But in general, as people above have said, the Lord trusts those to whom he has given authority to act in his name, without necessarily having to pray over every single decision separately.

    As for me, I got a degree in organ playing so that I could always get called as the organist.

  25. I find your alternative explanation of inspiration very compelling as a lens through which to look at some (if not all) of the callings that we give. Surely, many callings are pragmatic. However, what are the consequences if bishops or other leaders are not always transparent about the fact that the some inspiration is, well, not? Does it potentially lead to an abuse or authority or tricky situations in which members feel inspired to disagree with their leader (or maybe even not to accept a calling) if leaders are not more open about how we should take their leadership? I would appreciate if all bishops were, like your mission leader, a bit more transparent about what their inspiration means.

  26. a spectator says:

    I knew of a YW presidency that prayed about new class presidents and, on submitting the names, were told that two of them would not be called because their older sister was a bad example and informed the YW presidency of who WOULD be called, including an 11 year old girl, still in Primary, for Beehive president. Inspired? Probably not.

    I was in a branch for 7 months with no calling and finally dropped a heavy hint to the missionaries (no HTers) that I would love something to do. The next Sunday, the BP called me into his office to tell me he had been inspired to call me to teach youth SS, and I accepted. Then he asked me what my name was. Maybe it was a visual inspiration….

    I do believe some callings are inspired by God and some are pragmatic. I think it becomes problematic when someone suffers through a calling because they believe it to be God’s will and really, it was just their turn in the Nursery. (I know, some people LOVE the Nursery, but I have known MANY women called to it when it caused them physical (bad knees)or emotional (fertility issues of their own or a need to be with adults for 3 hours a week) hardship). I would love for the extender of callings to be honest–“we really need someone reliable” or “I was prompted to consider you.”

  27. My question to Thomas Parkin…If Pres. G was wrong, was the First Presidency unispired in calling him as mission president?

    I’ve taught RS off and on for years. I don’t pray, don’t read the scriptures other than what’s needed for my lessons, I’m not a trained teacher, yet, every month several women thank me for my lesson, for bringing the spirit into the room, and for hitting the nail right on the head. I know I help women in my ward yet, I don’t do any of the things I’m told I need to do to have the spirit. I also know they’re not just saying that; teachers have been released for being boring and unispiring. My lessons are quoted at other times as well. I teach the GC talks and always follow my gut.

  28. LeIsle Jacobson says:

    Cathy,

    There have been many times that I have taught R.S. and gospel doctrine lessons without the proper study and prayer. I am also not a trained teacher, but I have a good memory, an organized mind, and a reasonably engaging manner of presentation – so my lessons go over pretty well, with or without preparation. Nevertheless…

    I am reminded of the story of Alma the Younger, when the angel appeared and struck Alma dumb. It is interesting to note that the angel says, in short — he’s not there because Alma is righteous, but because “…the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people and also the prayers of his servant Alma, who is thy father.” (Mosiah 14: 27)

    I know that my lack of proper preparation doesn’t mean that the class members in my ward are unable to partake of the spirit that the Lord sees fit to share with them. In such cases, the spirit will be there, not because of me, but because the Lord has heard the prayers of those class members.

    I’m also reminded of the story of Samson. Samson was called by the Lord to help free the Israelites from the Philistines. He was given some very special gifts to help him accomplish his mission, and he kept these gifts, despite some pretty blatant disobedience to God’s commandments. In fact, it was not until Samson had broken every Nazarite vow that God finally withdrew Samson’s strength. Neverthless, despite Samson’s disobedience, God was able to accomplish the purpose for which Samson was born. Still, you wonder, how much more could Samson have accomplished if he had been obedient? What blessings did Samson lose?

    I know my lessons are good, because God gave me talents in this respect, and He is capable of fulfilling His purposes with whatever meager portion of my talents I allow him to use – but none of my “talented lessons” are ever as good as the ones that I give when I combine my talents with my obedience. And regardless of what my students may experience, the way I feel during a lesson when I’m properly prepared and the way I feel when I am not is vastly different.

    I also worry, during those times when I have not been obedient, and I’m following my gut instead of the spirit – that there may be someone in the class who is similarly unprepared, but who might have shared in my spirit had I had any to share.

    I daresay, foolish virgins do not make ideal teachers, regardless of how well they sing and dance.

    LeIsle

  29. Cathy,

    To be as blunt as I can be, what’s your point? If it is that you’re an exception to the rule, congratulations. I mean that completely. If so, please keep it to yourself. Nobody needs to be encouraged to avoid preparing to teach a lesson just because it works for you. Nobody needs to be encouraged to disregard general counsel just because you feel you don’t need to do so. Nobody needs to be encouraged to be disobedient and proud just because you feel justified in your own disobedience and pride.

    If I need to apologize for saying what I just said – if that wasn’t your point and really doesn’t describe you, I apologize. Sincerely. That’s just how it sounded.

  30. Being new to LDS websites, I apologize for posting on the wrong one. Although the topic was interesting and I thought some folks wanted to actually discuss how much inspiration goes on in the church, I realize I was wrong. Won’t hear from me again.

  31. Thomas Parkin says:

    Cathy,

    I said I thought he was wrong if he said exaclty what Aaron remembers him saying. I feel pretty strongly about it, but that’s all there is to it. I’m not sure what his being wrong has to do with his call being inspired. I imagine many of us are called to positions and then say wrong things.

    As to the rest … I’m not positive how it relates. I wing it a lot, too. You might have a specific constellation of gits that allows you to get away with it. Most people won’t.

    ~

  32. Cathy,

    I understand there are those who do not need to prepare as carefully for talks and lessons as others. I have performed in public since I was six. I started my professional career as a classroom teacher. I love sharing talks and leading discussions and teaching lessons. I’m good at it; it’s a talent I have been given, and I am grateful for it.

    My point is that there is a way to share that information that is uplifting and will not encourage others who do not have that talent to procrastinate preparation or wing it. It is quite easy to say, for example, “I understand the general counsel given to the Church as a body, but there are those who are naturally gifted teachers who do not need to prepare as much as others to be able to teach with the Spirit.” I still share the concerns that Lelsle expressed about running the risk of missing someone who might have needed to hear something that could have been made known by the Spirit through prayerful preparation, but I would not have reacted as strongly as I did to something that appeared to say, “Don’t worry about the counsel. You can teach just as well without following the counsel of the Brethren.”

    I hope you don’t leave this blog over this. I really do. I hope you understand the reaction your comment generated and continue to give your input.

  33. I don’t have much time this morning. Thanks Ray for inviting me to stay. I don’t know that I will, you are all much more believing and literal than me but I wanted to clear something up. I dont mean to imply that I wing my lessons. I prepare very carefully. I started teaching RS over 30 years ago and back then we prepared for weeks for an 60 minute plus lesson–RS was 90 minutes back then–doing props etc. While I don’t spend the time I did when I was in my twenties, I still read the GC talk two to three weeks ahead of time and keep it on my mind throughout that period. I will stop here because I don’t want to go into my spiritual life. I will probably refrain to participate further because our experiences are so obviously different. But I do it without animosity now. Thanks again.

  34. Cathy,

    Thanks for the additional info. It certainly changes the tone and helps flesh out the comment.

    I would classify myself as intensely believing, but “literal” – not so much. I am much more “liberal” in many of my perspectives (religious and political) than many people assume. FWIW, I really do value different perspectives, and they have altered my view on many occasions. Given your last comment, especially, I think you are well within the bounds of the community that regularly comments here.

    Most of us, at some point, type something too quickly to give a full picture of our views. I think that’s all that happened here. You typed a bit too quickly, and we over-reacted to it. That happens more than rarely, but we ususally work through it. Sometimes Steve pulls out his man-purse and lets his dog loose on someone, but it doesn’t happen regularly. :-)

    Frankly, I think there are MANY people who read this blog who are chuckling at the very least over a description of this blog as “too literal”. Personally, I think it would be a shame if you stopped participating based on this thread. Knowing what we know now, I hope we can avoid over-reaction and value your input for what it is meant to add.

  35. This is a very interesting post, and it brings to mind my mission call. I was called to serve in Chile, and at the time, I wasn’t too excited about going to South America at all. When I called my best friend to tell her where I was going, all she could say was “I’m so sorry…” At that time, I really NEEDED to believe that the Lord called me to that mission for a specific purpose because it was hard for me to want to go to that area. My mission was full of challenges, but also many blessings, and I’m grateful I was called there. I am a descendant of Parley P. Pratt, and my last area was in Valparaiso, Chile, where he had served one of his missions. I was able to visit the grave of his son Omner, who died while Parley was there. It was very meaningful to me to think that I walked the same streets that he walked so many years ago.

    All that being said, and after reading this post, I wonder if it was inspiration, or just a happy coincidence. I really doubt that the leaders of the church took a look at my last name, realized that I was related to Parley, and sent me to Chile because of it. Maybe it was inspiration that I sent my papers in at the time that I did so that I would be in with the group being called to Chile that month — who knows? I do agree that in some instances there is inspiration for callings, but not necessarily every calling.

  36. Many times, callings are filled based on a present need. It’s very possible that President G. stuck those two sisters togeter because, in general, there are fewer sisters in a mission and the logistics of mission transfers probably dictated they serve together for a time. That happened quite often in my mission: Sister A is training Sister B, so that leaves Sister C and Sister D.

    As an aside, there were those in my mission who believed the prophet personally signed each mission call. I think he’d have a good case of carpel-tunnel by now.

  37. Joshua A. says:

    And don’t forget that the President of the church also personally reads each letter of acceptance of each mission call :).

    And yes, Ray, I WAS getting a good chuckle out of many postings/posters on this blog being labeled “more believing and literal…” Thanks for ruining it. As a side note, I probably don’t read the scriptures/pray as often as I ought to…But I don’t pretend that that’s okay or that I can do just fine without it. I haven’t reached that level of cognitive dissonance yet.

  38. See, Joshua, there are areas where we are very much alike. Both of us are slackers when it comes to reading scriptures and praying.

    I gave a talk once where I mentioned how hard it is for me to remember to pray vocally and read scriptures on a daily basis, and, given my calling at the time, it got some surprised reactions. I know some of the areas where I still fall flat on my face, but I also prefer the pain of frequent falls to the relaxation of being face down on the pavement.

  39. NorthboundZax says:

    Sorry to be terse here but… Absolves God of responsibility?!!?

    A deific CYA policy seems to go against everything that would make it worthwhile to be part of God’s church.

    God: “Sure it’s my organization, but don’t hold me responsible anything that happens in it. I outsourced the decision making process.”

    The free agency aspect is a good one, but is the ability to exercise free agency in a way that absolves God of responsibility really any better than what the Unitarians (or whoever else) have to offer?

  40. When I’ve been inspired to ask for someone in a calling, it’s usually because I’ve known them for twenty years and I know if they’ll do a good job or not. Of course, I’ve never been in a high calling to feel inspired or not, but I don’t put much stock in that because I’ve been privy to the discussions.

    It usually goes, “who do you think would be good for . . .?”

    And somebody throws out a name. And somebody else says, “no, her husband won’t let her do it.”

    “Darn. She’d be awesome. Who else?”

    They throw out a couple of names. Maybe one is needed in the young womens where she’s already serving. Maybe another is having health problems. Then, “hey, what about so and so?”

    Everybody, “hey, I didn’t think of her. She’d be great! Let’s give her name to the bishop.”

    I don’t see a lot of inspiration. Nor desperation. Just people knowing people, for the most part. Although our Relief Society secretary at the moment is serving reluctantly and churlishly and scantly because she didn’t even want the calling, she hates Relief Society and she’s gone all the time. The president acknowledges she just did it to activate her.

    That just sucks, I think.

    Personally, I go for my friends who I know I can count on. Were I in a higher calling, like prophet or something, I’d pray about it more.

  41. PS, my former best friend, who is the YW president, used to consult with me on who she should call when we went on morning walks. I recall suggesting one woman and she said, “I want a temple recommend holder.”

    I said, “well, hell, then put in Sister Jones.”

    She laughed and said, “No, I don’t want her.” The woman is a menace to our ward, but she does have a recommend.

    Later, after we weren’t speaking, she put in the name of the woman I’d originally suggested and she is kicking butt in that calling.

    That’s sort of how it works in our ward, everybody takes me on a walk and we discuss it. LOL

  42. A man in our stake whom I admire very much shared the following yesterday:

    When he was the 1st Councilor in the Stake Presidency quite a few years ago, the SP moved out of state with a new job assignment. This man was the logical choice to replace him, but it was made clear to him that he would not be chosen – that the Lord was grateful for his service, but that he was done with his stake service at that time. He prayed earnestly to know whom the Lord would choose to make up the new presidency and received very clear impressions for all three.

    He told us he kept his impressions to himself, sharing only the names in his own interview, and after the visiting GA spoke with everyone and got their recommendations the new presidency was exactly whom he had suggested. He told us he needed that type of confirmation at that point in his life, since it was so hard for him to let go of his calling.

  43. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    Who’s to say that “sudden strokes of ideas” aren’t inspiration? Who’s to say that our own reasoning process isn’t assisted by God? It sounds to me like most commenters are making sharp distinctions between reasoning and inspiration. I’m not sure the distinction is so clear. Nor am I convinced that the distinction is very important.

    I also don’t like the idea that President G.’s approach (which I think has merit) absolves God of responsibility. I don’t think we can claim that God can give someone authority to make decisions that have the stamp of divine approval and then wash his hands of bad decisions made by that person. Rather, I think God is willing to work together with all of us, flawed as we are, and deal with the consequences, together with us.

    Finally, I think the idea that authority equals inspiration can be a pragmatically useful one. After all, why are claims to inspiration important? It seems that it is precisely because the claim of inspiration makes a decision more authoritative. We are already equating the two to some extent, so this seems to fit. Of course, bad authoritative decisions call into question how completely the two should be equated, but in my experience, the assumption works most of the time, as Norbert implies in comment #4.

  44. Grasshopper! Good to see you, man!

  45. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    Thanks, Steve. I’m de-lurking, hopefully kind of warming back up to blogging again in the not-too-distant future… :-)

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    Hi, Grasshopper! It was good to see you at Sunstone.

  47. I’ve thought a lot over the years about the nature of callings, and how that ties in with the nature of individuality and freewill. I thought to just comment, but I ended up blogging about it over at moboy. Thanks for the inspiration!

    MRKH

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