Comparative Advantage, or, Get Your Hands Off My Former Bishop

Many people assume that Father Adam was the author of the theory of comparative advantage, but this is incorrect; Smith was the driving force behind its predecessor–absolute advantage. It would be another 40 years or so before Torrens and Ricardo would demonstrate that, while Adam was a prophet, he was not infallible.

Suppose that you are a Bishop, and suppose that you have a calling to fill–perhaps that of Gospel Doctrine Instructor. As the saying goes, revelation/inspiration is at least partly information and perspiration, so how do you approach this decision? What information do you consider? Employment considerations? Family considerations? Professional or vocational background? Prior callings? As you pray for guidance and stare at the mass of names stuck to the wall with Velcro, who are you looking for? The answer, of course, is “the best person for the job.” What I want to talk about is what we might–or should–mean by “best.”

In economics, the theory of absolute advantage set forth by Father Adam suggests that society benefits from specialization: Everyone should do what they’re good at. In its essence, absolute advantage dictates that the individual who can perform a task with the lowest absolute cost—whoever is “the best”—should perform that task: Kristine Haglund should always involved with the music programs. Kevin Barney should always teach Gospel Doctrine. Unfortunately, this theory, if taken to its logical extensions, would result in 4-5 people doing everything, because they’re simply bigger/faster/stronger than everyone else. Folks like Aaron Brown would never have a calling.

In contrast, the theory of comparative advantage—while acknowledging the need for specialization—suggests that absolute cost is the wrong measure and need not benefit all parties in a community. Instead, the proper metric is relative cost, or opportunity cost: It doesn’t matter good Steve Evans is at peeling bananas if he’s the only one who knows how to wield the bannination stick, because any focus whatsoever on bananas will result in a blog overrun by trolls. Through comparative advantage, every single individual in a community can be the “low opportunity cost” (or low OC) provider of something.

Stake Auxiliaries

Consider all of the individuals that currently serve in one of the Stake Auxiliary presidencies in your stake. I am willing to be rebutted if evidence should be presented, but I’d be willing to wager a hefty sum that nearly all of them are people who—setting personal likes and dislikes aside—are generally considered highly faithful, highly capable, and highly experienced members of the stake. These callings are virtually all staffed with former Bishopric members, former leaders in ward Relief Societies, Sunday Schools, Elders Quorums, High Priest groups, and Youth programs. This form of staffing is perfectly in line with Father Adam and absolute advantage: because all of these callings require people with teaching, administrative, and leadership skills, calling individuals who have a proven track record of specialization in those areas will result in quality output.

But here’s the rub: These callings have almost no discernible responsibilities. At most, these stake auxiliary leaders are asked to speak in an occasional Sacrament meeting, teach an occasional ward-level auxiliary lesson, and carry out an annual activity or two. While I don’t mean to suggest that “bringing greetings from the Stake Presidency” or “supporting ward auxiliary leaders” or “meeting at least monthly as a presidency” aren’t important and worthy tasks, I suspect that there is not a soul among us who sincerely believes that fulfilling these obligations is even close to a full-time job, and doesn’t require even a fraction of the time the analogous ward-level auxiliary callings require.

By staffing according to absolute advantages and ignoring opportunity costs, this calling allocation under-utilizes high-performance individuals. While this is tragic in its own right, it is really only one side of a very ugly coin. By plucking the most capable fruit from the ward tree, wards are deprived of significant leadership, experience, knowledge, and talents. This distortion, in theory, can reverberate through every ward organization.[1]

What About Releases?

One of the difficulties in viewing calling allocations as a function of comparative advantage is that of rotation: If we are asked to serve in the callings in which we have the lowest respective opportunity costs, then wouldn’t releasing us decrease the total utility or efficiency of the organization? I think that there are at least a couple of possible explanations here.

First, supply generally exceeds demand. Although it can be the case that people are asked to serve in multiple callings, there are almost always members of a ward or stake without a calling. As such, rotation could be viewed in the same way it is viewed in little league baseball: everyone gets to play at least three innings, regardless of skill level. This possibly does decrease efficiency on one front, but it likely increases efficiency on other fronts such as retention (Just as guaranteeing some playing time increases the likelihood of lower-skilled players signing up for the team year after year[2]).

Second, opportunity costs are dynamic with experience and effort. As two individuals serve in different callings, they obtain and refine certain primary skills, while also growing in secondary skills. Additionally, other skills will likely wax rusty and stagnant. For example, as an adult Gospel Doctrine instructor, you would (hopefully) grow in your ability to understand the scriptures, explain the gospel to others, and relate to different people. Ceteris paribus, as this growth takes place, releasing you becomes increasingly costly to the ward. However, these skills are needed elsewhere in the Church—the Young Men/Young Women programs, seminary, ward mission, and in virtually all areas of leadership. While the individuals currently serving in all of those other callings are likely also experiencing growth, there is no reason to assume that the rates of growth are identical, because effort is not uniformly distributed. In other words, as long as there are different degrees of calling-magnification, comparative advantages will be constantly changing. This virtually guarantees that the low-opportunity-cost-provider in one calling will not remain such indefinitely.

Third, in a closed economy, comparative advantages are subject to changes in the population. As noted above, supply often exceeds demand: There may 10 low-OC instructors in a ward, but if there are only 8 teaching positions to be filled, two low-OC instructors will be distributed to the next-lowest-cost opportunity. However, anytime people move into or out of the ward, members go inactive or are reactivated, or if there are new converts, all comparative advantages must necessarily be reevaluated.[3] Given the nearly constant state of churn that exists in most LDS wards, it’s likely that the comparative advantages underlying our current callings are out of date almost as soon as we receive them.[4]

Lastly, there is appeal in the simple notion of novelty. As our productivity in callings is partly a function of effort, there almost always comes a time when our output will suffer simply because we’ve lost interest and need a change of scenery.

More Generally Speaking

While I used Stake callings above as an example, the situation plays out similarly for every calling in the Church: If a person serves in Calling A, that person cannot serve in Calling B. While information about members’ comparative advantages is certainly incomplete–in fact, our knowledge of our own comparative advantages is incomplete, the overarching point is that ward, stake, and even general leaders must consider opportunity costs when allocating callings.[5] Failure to do so needlessly risks decreasing the quality of all programs.
____________________

[1] The effects can be more or less disastrous, depending on the nature of the calling in question. For example, if the lowest OC instructors are sapped from a ward, this is compounded by the fact that we would then spend 2/3 of our meetings listening to bad teachers.

[2] This can actually backfire. True story: When I was in 7th grade, I played football. Because it was a public middle school, there were no tryouts, and consequently we ended up with about 800 kids on the sideline. Since playing time was given only to about 14 guys, we literally played a “5th Quarter” at the end of every game. It didn’t count in any way, but it served two purposes: a) it placated the parents who were still convinced that their child was a special athlete, and b) being forced onto the field during the Pity Period introduced most participants to a level of humiliation sufficient to ensure that only about 35 kids showed up for football in 8th grade.

[3] In addition to simple changes in population, changes in demographics are also extremely relevant. Some callings are structurally dependent on certain demographics like age and gender—youth leaders need to be adults, high priest leaders need to be men, Relief Society instructors need to be women, etc… Other callings require similar demographic considerations simply on the basis of credibility and ability to relate—it’s rare to see senior citizens serving in the youth programs, single young men teaching Marriage Improvement classes, etc…

[4] This continuous fluctuation, combined with the presence of transactions costs such as interviewing, setting-apart, training, and trust-building, suggests that rotation should be done based on long-term evaluation of comparative advantages and not on the basis of weekly spikes in productivity.

[5] Indeed, while some may view the heavily American and Caucasian demographics of the Church’s general leadership as purely a reflection of cultural sluggishness, comparative advantage provides a logical—though perhaps not entirely satisfactory—explanation: If General Authorities are pulled from the ranks of the culturally-diverse-but-ecclesiastically-weak-and-understaffed regions of the world, the cost to that region (through the loss of scarce leadership) is more devastating than the benefit gained by the entire Church from having an incrementally more diverse leadership body. To say it another way, it’s not that white folks from America are “chosen” at all—it’s that white folks from American can’t effectively replace local leadership in Africa, Asia, or South America.

Comments

  1. I’ve always believed that the 2nd counselor of any presidency or bishopric should be for a training position. Not only must a ward/stake/business look at short term needs, but also long term ones, if it wishes to not only survive, but thrive.

    Yes, one has a few highly skilled people right now, but training must be such that the less skilled can also obtain skills through training and experience. Stake callings CAN be full time, IF the leaders are actively teaching the presidencies how to be more effective. Of course, if a ward is very effective already, it requires less focus.

    I am on the high council and a service missionary in our local Spanish branch, preparing it to become a ward. We have the people and tithes, but not the well-defined organization or skills required. It is a full time job for me to work with the branch, priesthood and auxiliary presidencies.

    To place the most skilled people in positions to train others, whether it is as a stake officer, as a president, or some other position, allows for experience to continue from one presidency to the next. One does not have to re-invent the wheel.

  2. Huh. Never having a calling sounds good. Where do I sign up?

  3. Easy peasy, Aaron. Carefully reveal a juicy heresy or two, and you’re good to go.

  4. It’s been my experience that a mighty force is running each and every ward unit… We may all call it by different names – here we use the term STP – short for Same Ten People. This force has an amazing ability to do all, be all, and be at all ward functions. And when the music stops and its time to shuffle the deck, you will most certainly find a member of the STP shifting from RS pres to YW pres, or from EQ to Bishopric, or from YM to EQ, or Primary to RS. It is a rare treat indeed when a back bencher is called in to the game. I find this a very unfortunate limitation of the spiritual growth potential of the members and also the unit as a whole. When I’ve seen an atypical pick occur, I’ve rejoiced inside that someone else will get that growth opportunity. The STP will always be there and are most often the ‘logical’ selections. Good for them – I’m glad they are so capable and faithful. For the rest of us, it’s nice to be trusted now and then that we won’t destroy the Primary or EQ or YM should we labor in those areas for a season.

    One variable in all of this is of course the individual’s agency to accept or decline the calling. So, yes, I agree with a lot of your reasoning, however there are plenty of people who will not accept a calling, or will only be released upon death (librarians typically). Your Stake callings argument is quite compelling – I wish that train of thought was more prevelant.

    And of course, the poor bishoprics who are weary from getting every calling exactly right, having it confirmed by the spirit, and then have the individual turn it down, or accept it and not do it. It’s no wonder that often they turn to the STP to get the job done.

  5. it’s rare to see [. . .] single young men teaching Marriage Improvement classes, etc…

    Rare . . . but awesome.

    On an unrelated note, anyone interested in attending my courses on child-rearing should contact me by email. For the low price of $50/couple/week I can train you on the most effective ways of raising your kids.

  6. It should be noted that my OC, for almost any calling, is very very high. Be warned bishoprics: I can’t be trusted.

    (I think my current bishop is well aware of this, hence my calling as building security supervisor . . . )

  7. Rameumptom (1),

    Stake callings CAN be full time, IF the leaders are actively teaching the presidencies how to be more effective. Of course, if a ward is very effective already, it requires less focus.

    That may be the case, but I assure you–it’s only because you’ve got some super eager beavers serving in the Stake, and not because the actual handbook-based responsibilities require or request it.

  8. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Good one, Scott. I love the econ approach. Just as market conditions are always dynamic, so too are ward conditions in a state of flux. And when I say “conditions,” I mean the human condition of a ward as you suggest above. I think each individual’s OC-value changes depending on the human conditions of his/her calling at any given time: As you say, we need a change of scenery (people/manner we serve) sometimes. Other times, we’re invigorated by the people/manner we serve. When the calling authority (RS Pres, Bishop, Teacher’s Q Pres.) sense that our OC-value has changed and can/maybe should be reallocated to the next low-OC person, then we get released and recalled.

    As a further thought, would you agree that the person/nation who grows bananas, based on these models, doesn’t become as incrementally “wealthy” as the one making microchips even though the whole world may experience some degree of higher utility as a result?

  9. This force has an amazing ability to do all, be all, and be at all ward functions. And when the music stops and its time to shuffle the deck, you will most certainly find a member of the STP

    Strangely enough, STP was also responsible for continuing the pop-grunge movement after Cobain killed himself, and Pearl Jam stepped away from the spotlight. What an amazing amount of responsibility these individuals take on!

  10. Eric (8)

    As a further thought, would you agree that the person/nation who grows bananas, based on these models, doesn’t become as incrementally “wealthy” as the one making microchips even though the whole world may experience some degree of higher utility as a result?

    I would argue that whether it’s true or not isn’t important, because what is true is that the banana-growing person/nation would be worse off if the microchip producer also decided to grow bananas.

  11. This force has an amazing ability to do all, be all, and be at all ward functions. And when the music stops and its time to shuffle the deck, you will most certainly find a member of the STP

    Strangely enough, STP was also responsible for continuing the pop-grunge movement after Cobain killed himself, and Pearl Jam stepped away from the spotlight. What an amazing amount of responsibility these individuals take on!

    While ALSO helping engines in today’s smaller cars guard against viscosity breakdown!

  12. re STP.. they always say the best way to get something done is to ask a busy person to do it. So besides the music and engines and steadying the ark, these are a busy bunch indeed.

  13. I recall reading Pres. Packer saying how a person becomes a bishop for x amount of time, then a counselor in a Stake Pres. then Stake Pres. and then potentially on up, Mission Pres. Area Authority. But in all that time, how many Gospel Doctrine classes have they attended? I have in on good authority that one of the now released General Authorities used to teach the newer General Authorities the scriptures because they really didn’t know them. Wait there is more. I also recall Pres. Packer writing his book about the Temple because the Brethren didn’t know much about it. I have seen that in my own stake with some exceptions. Most of the STP leaders here know diddly about the gospel. I used speak with a High Councilor who taught from the pulpit that the Pres. of the Church becomes such because of an application they make…um…no… So it seems that the best might be the best in terms of status in the community, friends of certain others, economics, but not necessarily Gospel understanding. Basically people are getting into callings who don’t know much and then that doesn’t generally improve and it continues as they go on up

  14. B. Russ #5,

    Does your parenting class include duct tape? If so, I’m in!

    The reality of all this is that the Church is long on talking about training, but short on actually accomplishing it. When a ward does set up a teacher’s course, for example, it is woefully attended by the few who are dragged to it.

    Few study the PH/RS manual lesson, or the Gospel Doctrine lesson. Fewer still know how to really study the scriptures. That said, the Church’s curriculum is not helpful in the least. High Priests do not need to be reading the Gospel Principle’s manual. And the 4 year cycle of GD class just does not work. One ends up briefly covering lots of topics, but not really discussing any in great depth.

    Instead, we need to go to a topical lesson format, and spend several weeks on a doctrine or principle. What good is 45 minutes on Faith in Christ, when one could spend several lessons discussing the various aspects of it. THEN you will have real gospel learning happening. THEN you will develop testimonies among the average members strong enough to help many more become part of the STP (from Same Ten People to Same Twenty or Thirty People, perhaps?)

  15. “Basically people are getting into callings who don’t know much and then that doesn’t generally improve and it continues as they go on up”

    Maybe the church is more corporate than any of us would really like and that we are all promoted to our highest level of incompetance. As long as you shave and wear a suit that is :)

  16. #13 – BS

  17. Wow.

  18. Scott, you said:

    “If we are asked to serve in the callings in which we have the lowest respective opportunity costs, then wouldn’t releasing us decrease the total utility or efficiency of the organization?”

    If total utility or efficiency of the organization were a prime motivator, most of us wouldn’t have the callings we have right now, as most of us can immediately point to two or three others who can do the calling better that we can. In fact, I’ve often done that in the meeting when the calling is being extended.

    About half the callings I’ve had, I have felt that I have been released just about the time that my personal OC has been lowest, ie I am doing the job better than I ever have before. The other half has been when I’ve been totally sucking swamp gas, and the release turned out to be a great relief to me and others.

    Cool economic model. My own take based on your previous discussions about economics here, is that we all aspire to be micro-economists, but ultimately find out that the calling really requires macro skills, which by definition are undefined and unknowable, dooming us to constant recycling, searching for that low opportunity cost and high utility, but never achieving it.

  19. There are two trains of thought or strategies in extending callings. The first is calling the best person for the job, i.e. which Priesthood Holder would make the best YM’s President. The other strategy is calling the person that would benefit most from holding x calling were they to do so faithfully and successfully.

    My Bishop favors the latter while I favor the former which causes some bit of conflict in our discussions.

  20. 19 – I strongly favor the former. I think its really unfortunate that sometimes people are called to teaching positions (for instance) that have zero ability to teach. Sure, maybe they eventually benefit . . . but at what cost to those who would like to learn from sunday school discussion, but are completely unable due to the dearth of talent in the teacher.

  21. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that this life is all about progression, but perhaps instead of an organizer progressing to become a teacher; an organizer should just progress to become a better organizer.

  22. Interesting thoughts. I really like these posts where you use economic theory to analyze church stuff.

  23. B Russ… “but at what cost… ” You nailed it.

    At what cost to those who would benefit from faithful service. IMO for adults, much of that is workable and we can tolerate less effort here or there, but youth programs IMO have a much smaller margin of error and once it is identified that someone isn’t going to do it, its time to make a change even if that means a little embarrasment here or there vs. a continued example of not being there for the youth for example.

  24. StillConfused says:

    I always get the most interesting callings. I will never again be asked to teach a primary class (tie one kid to a chair and people just freak out). Because I am so out-of-the-box, I am never given a calling of any religious significance. But I think they are afraid to leave me callingless, lest I fall into mischief.

    So for a while there, I was the librarian… which somehow morphed into librarian for all of the wards in my building as well as repairman for all of the equipment and purchasing agent for all of the supplies for the building. Now, in my new home, I am in charge of building cleaning which has since morphed into being in charge of building scheduling too. So there are callings for unreligious outspoken take charge types.

  25. kevinf (18),

    Re-read the whole paragraph you started quoting, and you’ll find that what I am saying is that the assertion you quoted is false. In other words, I’m saying that it only appears to decrease the utility (and you can define that however you like); in reality, there are several mitigating factors which prevent that, as I outlined in the subsequent paragraphs.

  26. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that this life is all about progression, but perhaps instead of an organizer progressing to become a teacher; an organizer should just progress to become a better organizer.

    He/she should, and should remain an organizer until population shocks or need-for-scenery-changes force his/her comparative advantage into some other calling.

  27. Tim J (19),
    What I’m saying is that both of those models are completely wrongheaded, unless by “best” we mean “lowest opportunity cost.”

  28. He/she should, and should remain an organizer until population shocks or need-for-scenery-changes force his/her comparative advantage into some other calling.

    fo sho’

  29. I like how this applies to GA demographics. Very insightful, S-man.

  30. We used to have similar discussions in the mission office: Who should be an AP to the mission pres? Should it be the best elder missionary, or should he be in the field harvesting? Should it be a temporary position so that the elder then goes back into field to apply what was learned under the pres, or should it be the best of the best who does it until he goes home?

    My mission pres seemed to pick best overall missionaries as his APs, and they’d die in office like apostles. This could be mistaken absolute advantage thinking.

    Thanks for the post Scott.

  31. #16, care to elaborate? I can only speak to what I have seen and obviously Pres. Packer has 49 years as a GA and I am just reporting what he said

  32. I would think that the talk by Elder Rasband in April 2010 conference might throw a little light on these economics. And comments.

    http://lds.org/liahona/2010/05/the-divine-call-of-a-missionary?lang=eng

  33. grego,
    How about instead of pasting a link and hoping we get what you’re driving at, you distill it for us and we’ll continue the conversation?

  34. “Kristine Haglund should always involved with the music programs”

    My preference would be that she chair the correlation committee.

  35. Scott, is this how you assign household chores to your kids, with talk of comparative advantage? A ward is akin to a family, and callings are akin to household chores. Does not “economics” itself mean the running of the household?

    Callings are an opportunity for growth, not accomplishment. Give to each what he or she is least able to do, so that old and young can both (and in equal measure) experience the humility and optimism of the novice. The rancher should learn to plow, the farmer to herd. This is best both for the individual and the (long-term) collective ability of the ward.

  36. “Give to each what he or she is least able to do, so that old and young can both (and in equal measure) experience the humility and optimism of the novice.”

    Hmmmmm, the Great Leap Forward on the ward level.

  37. #35, I think some people think of callings as rewards for something and then get into complacency, like I climbed the mountain, why go any further? I know a guy who has been in a few Bishoprics and is now on the High Council again who told me he doesn’t read the scriptures anymore because he knows all the stories…

  38. Generally, the stake presidencies involved in the youth programs are VERY utilized, just as their compatriots in the ward are much more busy than, say, the Sunday School presidency. Also generally, the YW presidency is more invested in their work than the YM presidency.

    I am going to have to think about this post. I was recently released from the stake YW presidency. During that time, my ward was split and reorganized and the bishop told me that every auxiliary had requested me, but that I was “off limits” because I was in the stake. It was flattering, and I sometimes felt badly, because I could see that some organizations were stretched thin. That said, since my stake calling was largely not a Sunday one, I became the go-to substitute teacher in my ward, and like to think that I was useful in that way.

    Also, we worked REALLY hard as a YW presidency, and (I think) accomplished much that positively affected the youth of out stake. Working in the stake certainly gave me a wider perspective of church work that will be useful when I am in ward leadership again. I am 35 and have served in 4 RS presidencies so far. I figure I have 40 more years of Church service, and so my relatively brief sojourn in the stake will likely not have much negative effect on my ward.

  39. Dan (35),

    Callings are an opportunity for growth, not accomplishment.

    I disagree, at least potentially. In my opinion, individual growth comes in a very distant second place. Callings are an opportunity to serve others, not to inflict our weakness upon them and force them to suffer our lack.

    Give to each what he or she is least able to do, so that old and young can both (and in equal measure) experience the humility and optimism of the novice.

    Again, we’re not talking about learning to mash potatoes or dig holes for fence posts. We’re talking about serving large groups of people who rely on you for spiritual instruction, marital counseling, repentance, and other services. You cannot simply call people who can’t read music to play the organ.

    [update:this came out kind of sharply, and while I know you well enough to know you’re not offended, I apologize anyway–I didn’t intend it to be.]

  40. C,

    Anecdotes do not tell us much. They are also less believable when you have so many. Ray is was on to something.

  41. esodhiambo (38),

    Generally, the stake presidencies involved in the youth programs are VERY utilized, just as their compatriots in the ward are much more busy than, say, the Sunday School presidency. Also generally, the YW presidency is more invested in their work than the YM presidency.

    See my response in #7.

  42. what's this? says:

    First, supply generally exceeds demand.

    To me, it seems that one of the fundamental assumptions underlying this theory is flawed. Though my evidence is only anecdotal, the sample size is probably approaching statistical significance:

    Convert of 27 years, 24 wards (7 wards in intermountain corridor), three branches, four countries, three continents – never once have I seen the supply exceed the demand.

  43. Chris H.,
    More specifically, anecdotes don’t tell us anything unless we have made some assumption about starting from a point of efficient equilibrium, where all callings have been allocated (through revelation) according to the theory of comparative advantage, or a point of disequilibrium where callings have been allocated less wisely.

    Since C hasn’t made that determination, we don’t know whether to say, “Yeah, looks like they got it right!” or “Yeah, looks like they got it wrong!”

  44. 42,
    Huh. I’ve seen it every single Sunday of my life. Although it’s not the point of this post, and I’m hesitant to mention it again for fear of threadjacking, the “STP” thing noted by #4 above exists pretty much everywhere: some folks have 2-3 callings (Scott B. and his wife both nod their heads) and some folks have zero callings.

  45. Scott,

    Everything sounds better when said in economics.

  46. what's this? says:

    42,
    Huh. I’ve seen it every single Sunday of my life. Although it’s not the point of this post, and I’m hesitant to mention it again for fear of threadjacking, the “STP” thing noted by #4 above exists pretty much everywhere: some folks have 2-3 callings (Scott B. and his wife both nod their heads) and some folks have zero callings.

    I agree that the STP concept appears ubiquitous. Maybe my disagreement is a question of labeling – when I say I have never seen the supply exceed the demand, I mean that I have never seen the number of people willing to serve exceed the number of roles where service is needed. Many of those “without a calling” simply are unwilling to serve; as such, I disagree with viewing them as a “supply” under the economic assessment framework you propose.

  47. 46,
    My response would be the same: I’ve seen pretty much every Sunday in every ward, with a couple of minor exceptions.

    Also, re labels…well, this is an economics post, so I used economics labels. Next week when I write something different, I’ll probably skip the econ jargon. Regardless, don’t let that get in your way.

  48. And of course, the poor bishoprics who are weary from getting every calling exactly right, having it confirmed by the spirit, and then have the individual turn it down

    Maybe they should actually do some persuading, and let members ponder the question for a bit and gain the same witness instead, rather than make a standard practice of heavy handed, arm twisting, power asymmetric, D&C 121 mocking member intimidation to fill callings.

    Leaders spend an enormous amount of time pondering and discussing assignments with everyone except the person who has to carry it out. That is backwards, and is a reason why no doubt many inactive members hold local priesthood leadership in contempt.

  49. Mark D, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Scott, this made me smile. We have a small ward with weird demographics, so there is a small pool of people who can really serve comfortably in the primary and nursery. Whenever the relief society or someone else chooses one of those people to do something that can be done by someone who cannot serve in the primary so easily, I am the bishopric member who hems and haws about it.

  50. Norbert, I am sure that members who are fully indoctrinated in the proper obedience due to priesthood leaders under any and all circumstances, regardless of personal situation – members who rarely have the slightest inclination to question any of the doctrines, policies, and procedures of the church and are perfectly happy with the status quo etc, are perfectly happy to surrender their will to any request that comes down the line.

    There is something admirable about that level of humility and obedience. But not all members have it, perhaps not even a majority of members, and perhaps promoting a culture of never saying no under any circumstances is an effective way to drive some of them into inactivity.

    The real measure of how “liberal” the church is, is whether there is any daylight or realm of respectability to decline a church calling for any reason at all. There is none. Leaders give GC talks instructing members not to, not under any circumstances. Nor to ask to be released from an assignment, under any circumstances. I happen to think that is probably counterproductive.

  51. Mark D., whether has your information of this process come from? The reason I ask is because your description of the process is a long way from what I have experienced. First, callings are discussed with individuals. Second, people always have the option to turn down callings, and they do regularly. Often they turn them down because of very important information which we did not previously have. Third, people are often released when they ask to be, and they do somtimes ask. Admittedly I am not very well read but I do not ever remember hearing that someone nust never ‘under any circumstances’ turn down a calling or ask to be released. If you could point me in the right direction that would be most helpful.

  52. Coffinberry says:

    Oh yes indeed there are places where supply seriously outweighs demand… My ward is like that. I suspect it’s like “the same fifty people” or something. We have even got so many organists and piano players that they can be spared from music callings. The problem I have seen is finding meaningful callings for everyone (which is the big issue right now with the activities committee having been disbanded).

  53. In my previous ward, we had two brethren join the church within six months of each other. This was roughly a year and a half ago. Within about three months, they were both called as counselors in the Stake SS presidency. About a year later, one of them was called to the high council, while the other was called to serve in the ward’s YM presidency.

    However, this is not typically the case. In our stake, we have had a change in seven of the bishoprics/branch presidencies within the past year. Four or five of the former bishops/branch presidents are now on the high council. Another one is actually serving as a branch primary chorister, which I think is pretty awesome.

    All of which is to say that, anecdotally, there are exceptions to the model proposed in the OP, but, by and large, it is true: those who serve in ward levels of leadership often get snatched up by the stake, where the type of leadership is often under-utilised. (My complaints about the reality of what stake leaders do and don’t do is for a different topic, though.)

    My dad taught me that a common business maxim is the 80/20 rule: 80% of the work will be done by 20% of the workers. I think this is often true in church as well as in business. I’ve been in wards where there were more people eligible for callings than callings available, yet there were always callings to be filled because there were many members who would not accept them. Sometimes they would just refuse to answer their phone when I called (I was the Exec Sec), or they wouldn’t email me back, or they’d refuse to make eye contact with the Bishop or his counselors, etc. I’m not sure how Father Adam would interpret this aspect of supply and demand. Maybe it is time that I finally read his works…

  54. Mark D. – I thank you for articulating what has been my experience as well. Too often it is only after someone has accepted a calling that anyone realizes that they will have difficulty in fulfilling it. Take for example a YM calling accepted, and then find out this good brother travels 4 weeks a month. IMO, that is a bishopric which didn’t take the time to find out if the individual could fulfill the calling before extending it and running out the door as fast as possible once anything remarking a ‘yes’ was uttered.

    IMO, the extension of a calling should not occur until after an open and heart-felt discussion takes place with the individual to find out if their schedule will permit their fulfilling of the assignment, and where it doesn’t, it’s not that they are a bad person unwilling to serve, but rather in their season of life right now, something else would be better suited for them.

    I was in an EQ presidency once where a new counselor was brought in – he was a new move-in, and it quickly became apparent that his work travel schedule would cramp his ability to meet in presidency meetings and such. Unfortunately this became a point of irritation for the EQP. Sad, whereas a brief conversation beforehand would have yielded that information and the proper expectations could have been relayed and all edified from this brother’s service in the capacity for which he was currently able to provide.

    Unfortunately we don’t all live in the Ensign Magazine First Ward.

  55. I love that our bishopric tells you about a calling, asks you to go home and think about it and come back with any information they night not know…then discuss and figure out if it will work given the new information.

    A far cry from the bishopric member who tossed me a scout calling in the hallway..no information, no invitation, no hesitation…and he said there wouldn’t be a setting apart either.

    the STP is rather real in every ward I’ve been in…

  56. Aaron R, admittedly my first comment was a bit of an exaggeration. This is a first order issue in ecclesiology, though.

    I don’t doubt that people can and do turn down callings and assignments, and ask to be released from time to time. My point is that to do so is more or less considered a sin, an action contrary to the teachings of the church. Much like disobeying orders, insubordination, etc.

    Now of course the church needs people to participate and the opportunity for such service is a great blessing. My claim is that the church is spiritually healthier when all individuals who accept callings do it without feeling pressured to do so.

    The pressure I speak of is largely cultural and indirect. The person issuing the calling isn’t going to do anything worse than look like he has seen a ghost if you decline, or ask for time to think it over. The effect is just the same.

    In ordinary matters of church teaching, a member has ample opportunity to gain his own testimony of the principle concerned, and generally speaking integrate it into his life as feels appropriate for his personal situation. Many church callings are far more demanding in time and personal resources, but the expectation is not that individuals serve because they feel that it is right, but that they serve because it is the law of the church never to decline.

    Even when individuals genuinely want to serve in nearly all cases, the lack of respected discretion to actually decline in some times and some circumstances can lead to resentment, as it places them in a radically inferior and asymmetric position in any discussion of a prospective calling or assignment.

  57. “Unfortunately we don’t all live in the Ensign Magazine First Ward.”

    Fortunately, I live in the BCC 6th ward. Okay, just in my head. It is the ward you go to when you take the purple pill.

  58. Mark D., thank you for articulating your position a little more clearly. I would still question whether refusing a calling is a sin though I am not naive enough to believe that this type of attitude does not exist. Certainly there is a cultural (I might say covenantal) pressure to accept and to serve in callings.

    You raise an interesting point about pressure. It is simplistic to argue that pressure is ever of only one type: that it is either external (i.e. from leaders) or internal (i.e. because of my own expectations). Power and influence are far more complex and multivalent, particularly if think about self-discipline and its relation to the capillaries of power. Personally I agree that additionally pressure (the type of pressure which breeds guilt) should never be intentionally placed upon members by their leaders. However, as someone who has had the opportunity to put that bit of counsel into practice it comes with another unique set of problems.

    I should add that my personal preference with regards to extending callings is to discuss the calling with the person (sometimes before anyone prays about it) and then to extend the calling formally. Approaching things in this way provides the space for people to express their concerns about their ability to fulfill certain responsibilities.

  59. is there a side bar link for the purple pill?

  60. Interesting post. It merges with some recent observations. This is the hypothesis:

    The Church organization has been designed to minimize the absolute and comparative costs of any calling. As such it does not much matter who you call to any particular calling. Even bad appointments have little organizational costs.

    The ward does not stop functioning when a poor bishop is appointed. It is my observation that 30% of the men in any ward could be called to be bishop and any one would succeed as long as they were minimally motivated to do the job and they had a testimony. Same goes for stake president. Our ward and stake in the recent past absolutely demonstrates this.

    This fact allows a general authority, for example, to come into a stake and reorganize it without knowing much about the leadership and feel quite confident that the reorganization will be successful.

    If minimizing the organizational costs does not matter about the heads of the organization, how little does it matter about Sunday School teachers?

  61. I should add that my personal preference with regards to extending callings is to discuss the calling with the person (sometimes before anyone prays about it) and then to extend the calling formally.

    I think this is an excellent practice, one that resolves many of the problems with putting people on the spot. I also agree that any inspiration anyone receives on the subject of a particular calling is not likely to be complete until the person being considered has an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

  62. “Norbert, I am sure that members who are fully indoctrinated in the proper obedience due to priesthood leaders under any and all circumstances, regardless of personal situation – members who rarely have the slightest inclination to question any of the doctrines, policies, and procedures of the church and are perfectly happy with the status quo etc, are perfectly happy to surrender their will to any request that comes down the line.”

    Somehow I’ve missed this stark reality: that the only people faithfully serving–the STP if you will–are sheeple. They don’t think, they only obey.

  63. RW (60),

    While acknowledging that I may be misreading you, I think I disagree with nearly every sentence of your comment.

    -I think bad appointments have enormous organizational costs; this is one of the primary motivations behind the OP.

    -I think there is tremendous variation in the effect of calling one man to serve as Bishop vs. a different man. To say that “any one would succeed” depends critically on what you call success; since you say that only “minimal” motivation and a testimony are required, it seems that your definition of success is pretty broad–perhaps something like, “Didn’t cause widespread apostasy.” While that may well be one measure of success, I think it’s a horrible one, and that Bishops can, depending on their individual talents and styles, impact the spirituality, growth, unity, and stability of a ward in enormous ways. The difference between Man A and Man B can be–and very, very often is–night and day.

    -The analogy between organization heads and teachers is deeply flawed. In fact, in the context of this OP, I see virtually no relationship whatsoever between the influence of the two on the membership. Good leaders affect lives. Good teachers also affect lives. But they don’t affect lives in the same way–nor do they even attempt to do so in the same way.

  64. jimbob (62),
    a) I don’t think your statement follows logically from Mark D.’s quote.
    b) As a member of this so-called “STP” in every ward I’ve served in, I think your statement is utter crap; not only with respect to myself, but also with respect to the vast majority of those I’ve served with.

  65. In our ward, which I think is an unusual example but probably not unique, there are far more capable/worthy/willing people than there are callings. It is rare that someone holds more than one calling, but in such cases, the combined callings tend not to be burdensome because most callings are shared, even pianist/organist callings. For example, my husband is one of three ward organists. (There used to be four.) He is one of the few people in the ward who hold more than one calling, and none of his callings requires the priesthood. (He is also a Primary teacher [team-teaching with another priesthood holder] and the ward choir director [only one]). We could make two fully-staffed wards with our ward and still have people left over (to serve in stake callings).

    It’s neither here nor there. I just thought I’d mention it because it’s a little ridiculous (albeit convenient, if you want to avoid a calling because no one will notice if you don’t have one).

  66. I should point out, though, that people still refuse callings because they are too happy where they currently are.

  67. “The Church organization has been designed to minimize the absolute and comparative costs of any calling. As such it does not much matter who you call to any particular calling. Even bad appointments have little organizational costs.”

    On the contrary. Bad appointments lead directly to decreased activity, whether it is Sunday School, ward activities, PH/RS, or Sacrament meetings. Also, bad appointments in leadership lead to members refusing to meet with the leader. I had several experiences where a member would not meet with someone in the bishopric because that member didn’t particularly like that particular member of the bishopric. And he was a good man doing a very good job in his calling. I can only imagine what would have happened if he was not doing a good job.

    “The ward does not stop functioning when a poor bishop is appointed. It is my observation that 30% of the men in any ward could be called to be bishop and any one would succeed as long as they were minimally motivated to do the job and they had a testimony. Same goes for stake president. Our ward and stake in the recent past absolutely demonstrates this.”

    Like Scott said, it really depends on what you mean by success. If a poor bishop drives members away from activity, then no, he has not been a success in his calling. If a poor bishop does the bare minimum, and the unit continues to function, that isn’t a success, it is just a net neutral effect. Success is seem by growth, not getting by.

    “This fact allows a general authority, for example, to come into a stake and reorganize it without knowing much about the leadership and feel quite confident that the reorganization will be successful.”

    It is my understanding that GAs consult local leaders before reorgansing a stake. I haven’t been in too many stake reorganisations, but the stories I have heard are that the previous stake president and members of the high council, as well as bishops, at times, are all talked to before a calling is made. Please correct me if I am wrong on this account.

    “If minimizing the organizational costs does not matter about the heads of the organization, how little does it matter about Sunday School teachers?”

    Loss of testimony, loss of activity, lack of attendance, lack of desire to learn, lack of desire to participate, lack of growth. I just finished reading an anthology of articles published in The Instructor decades ago that points out that not everyone is a good teachers, and bad teachers can cause irreparable harm to the class and the individual. If anything, I would argue that the cost of poor teachers is even greater than the cost of poor leadership, though.

  68. C, chalk up my reaction to your initial comment to my decades of experience with leaders in the Church at all kinds of levels – and my mother’s experience working for Pres. McKay. As a stereotype, your statement is BS – in my opinion and according to my experience.

    Chalk it up also to the idea that you appear to know personally so many spiritual morons in “high callings” and so few truly intelligent people at that level – or that you have presented a few exceptions as the rule in your comments.

    If there is any degree of legitimacy to your Pres. Packer story, for example, it probably is a case where a new GA attended a training session run by Pres. Packer and commented to someone else, “Wow! He really knew the scriptures! I felt like I hadn’t even studied them – that I was a baby in comparison.” Pass that story down the line and it turns into, “GA’s are scriptural idiots. They are so ignorant that Elder Packer has to teach them the basics of the Gospel.”

    Yeah, that’s BS – in my opinion.

    Everyone else, there is one thing to consider with regard to Bishops being given stake callings when they are released. The best explanation I have heard is that it’s far too easy for someone who has just spent at least 5 years leading a ward to second guess and attempt to counsel the person who takes their place – especially when that person is quite different than they are, which happens a lot in the Church.

    I think there’s a lot of legitimacy to that approach.

  69. #67 – “the previous stake president and members of the high council, as well as bishops, at times, are all talked to before a calling is made. Please correct me if I am wrong on this account.”

    You are correct, generally speaking, although “talked to” doesn’t always mean “asked for advice and input as to whom should be called”. Sometimes, it’s just being interviewed as potential candidates for the position.

  70. Jimbob has persuaded me that I want to be a sheeple. Not because I have an inherently obedient bone in my body, but simply because it’s such a great word.

  71. “a) I don’t think your statement follows logically from Mark D.’s quote.
    b) As a member of this so-called “STP” in every ward I’ve served in, I think your statement is utter crap; not only with respect to myself, but also with respect to the vast majority of those I’ve served with.”

    (a) I do.

    (b) That’s the exact point I was making. I’m sorry if my sarcasm did not show through the writing.

  72. 63 – I was thinking the same thing.

  73. #68-Calm down. I never said it is a wide spread problem, I don’t know if it is. I got my Pres. Packer examples from his bio, page 205 and from a talk he gave to the Regional Reps. in 1984 maybe things have improved by then, don’t know. I got my info. about a friend of mine’s wife whose GA uncle had to teach scriptures classes to some brethren who didn’t know them that well. Have I ever said or do I beleive that all leaders everywhere don’t know diddly? Nope.

  74. Most of the STP leaders here know diddly about the gospel [. . .] Basically people are getting into callings who don’t know much and then that doesn’t generally improve and it continues as they go on up

    For fifty internet bucks, what commenter made these statements?

  75. jimbob (71),
    No, it doesn’t follow logically. He said:

    “I am sure that members who are fully indoctrinated in the proper obedience due to priesthood leaders under any and all circumstances, regardless of personal situation – members who rarely have the slightest inclination to question any of the doctrines, policies, and procedures of the church and are perfectly happy with the status quo etc, are perfectly happy to surrender their will to any request that comes down the line.”

    To which you replied:

    Somehow I’ve missed this stark reality: that the only people faithfully serving–the STP if you will–are sheeple. They don’t think, they only obey.

    This follows only if the group of people defined as “members who are fully indoctrinated in the proper obedience due to priesthood leaders under any and all circumstances…” is the same group of people as the STP. To me, that equation is clearly not true. While I would allow for the inclusion of a few such folks in the STP at any given moment, my experience is that the STP always includes numerous people who do not resemble such a definition in any way whatsoever.

  76. #74-I did and I stand by them. I am not saying everyone in my stake, but some and it seems I am not the only one to notice it as per Pres. Packer

  77. C (76),

    BKPKnowsDiddly

  78. haw…haw…haw… So what do you make of Pres. Packer’s comments then, because they are HIS observations coupled with what I have seen in MY own stake.

  79. Thomas Parkin says:

    Baaaa! baaaaaa! Bleeeeat! Baaa!

    (Stop me oh, ho ho, stop me …)

  80. C (75),

    Here you go

  81. C (78),
    My honest impression is this:
    President Packer’s opinion on what constitutes knowing diddly about the temple/scriptures/[other topic] is probably very, very different than my opinion on the same thing. In other words, the point I was trying to communicate with my LolGA is that relative to himself, I’m pretty sure that President Packer’s view is that most GAs do know fairly little about the temple/scriptures.

  82. Thanks B. Russ!

  83. My ward is similar to MadHousewifes. We are due for a new bishop here pretty soon. I think that there are probably 35 plus men who could be Bishop in our ward and another 35 plus women who could be RS President. So taking a few for stake callings in really no big deal. My oldest kids Webolos leaders are an MD and a MBA.

    Not all units around here are like this but I would say out of 9 units in our stake only 3 would really not be able to sustain taking more then a couple of people for Stake callings.

  84. But bbell, it’s not just a question of “Bishop vs. Stake” here–it’s “Bishop or [ANY other calling in the ward] vs. Stake,” since virtually every single ward level calling will have more influence on more people than any stake calling could ever dream of.

    btw, I’ve been the stake Sunday school president. It’s utterly worthless. I’m sorry if any of you are serving as one now, but it’s a fact. Your calling could (and should) be eliminated tomorrow, and the wards would continue functioning without a single ounce of notice or care. This is not to say that no stake auxiliary leader has ever done anything good, or valuable, but only that it’s all extra. It’s not mandated, it’s not necessary. It’s just more meetings.

  85. Mostly you are right about Stake callings Scott. My time spent in a stake YM’s presidency was probably my least productive in terms of actually doing anything that I found to be of value to the Lords Kingdom.

    What I am saying is it really depends on the ward. We under utilize people here in my ward for ward callings. Some wards cannot afford to lose any of its people to to stake callings

  86. I’m saying that no wards can afford to lose any of its people to stake callings, because no matter how little they happen to being doing in their wards, they are still doing more than they would be.

  87. 63, 67
    I agree with you in general, your points are accurate. Obviously I was not clear enough in my (60) post. The hypothesis was, that the Church offices have been designed (by what works) to mitigate the effects of poor choices in callings.

    What they say about the missionaries ruining the church if it were not true? Goes for every calling. If there is a poor bishop there are enough dedicated members to fill in. If a bishop offends someone, there may be others to help.

    Recently in our ward a choir leader was called who could not read music or sing. It sort of worked. Enough people came who knew music, there were enough pianists, that he pulled off a modestly good performance. He never led the music. Did he learn? Who knows. Did we learn? Of course: get leaders who know how to lead music, which seems elementary. To the point, however, what was the organizational cost of that appointment? Probably not much.

    Likewise a bishop with poor people skills will offend and drive some away. But this has always happened and the ward core will always remain regardless of the bishop. The Church is true, after all.

    Finally bishops and stake presidents are limited in their terms of office, limiting any damage a poor one can do. Likewise it limits the good the good ones can do. Apparently the down side is more important than the up side of this equation.

    I believe that the good that a good bishop can do is relatively modest, particularly seeing how he is limited to just 5 years. Likewise a bad bishop is limited to how bad he can be for any number of reasons. The calling has to be designed to limit the bad because a really bad bishop can be horrific if the calling were not designed to limit that damage. In limiting the bad, the good that can be done is also limited.

    Then there is the difference between organizational damage and damage to individuals, which seems to be relevant. A bishop with poor people skills but with good organizational skills can keep the ward moving while damaging people. Inversely, a bishop with good people skills and poor organizational skills can have people love him while the organization falls to ruin. The handbook has been created to assist poor organizational leaders. The handbook is also necessary to educate bishops who are in a constant state of ignorance for only being in office for 5 years.

    The hypothesis seems to have merit.

    If only celestial people were called to positions of leadership, you are right, we would be incredibly advanced. Poor choices lead to lost opportunity, which, in the Church, is hard to quantify.

  88. Scott,

    I think you’re being needlessly pedantic. I see Mark D.’s statement as inferring that if I am willing to take on a calling because I believe that calling comes from an inspired bishop, I am “fully indoctrinated in…proper obedience” and a relatively unthinking robot (“members who rarely have the slightest inclination to question any of the doctrines, policies, and procedures of the church”). I have a hard time seeing how that is anything but an insult to the majority of members I know who will generally take on almost any calling because they believe an inspired bishop spent time pondering and praying over their callings. I recognize that there are times when a member can and probably should say no to a calling, but I read Mark D.’s statement to say that if my inclination is to say yes, barring extraordinary circumstances, then I am a brainwashed member who is “perfectly happy to surrender their will to any request that comes down the line.”

    To the extent that in my goal of being pithy I failed to convey that message fully with my comments above, I apologize. To the extent you read Mark D. differently than I do, I believe we are an impasse.

  89. One note further, in the book “Darwin’s Cathedral” the point is made that in religion a great deal of care must be taken to insure that officers do not pervert their office to their private benefit. See pedophilia and the Catholic Church.

  90. Likewise a bishop with poor people skills will offend and drive some away. But this has always happened and the ward core will always remain regardless of the bishop. The Church is true, after all.

    My experience in Latin America would run contrary to this hypothesis.
    Often ex-branch presidents/bishops/and sometimes even stake presidents would go inactive after a changeover in leadership to someone they disagreed with.

    Likewise a bad bishop is limited to how bad he can be for any number of reasons.

    Only if a) anecdotes of bishops using their authority to persuade young women to sleep with them and older women to marry them as polygamists are completely fabricated and never true OR b) those experiences fit into your definition of a “limited bad”

    The Church is true, after all.

    Only inasmuch as we teach true principles. I don’t personally find D&C 1:30 to be a statement of the condition of the church at that time, not a promise that this would, without condition, always be the only true church. After all, the Jews were the promised people . . . . until their prophets were taken away and they were driven forth from nation to nation.
    I see calling the right people to the right job as part of continuing to be considered a “true” church. Get enough of the wrong people in the wrong positions doing the wrong things (I think we’re a long ways from this, I’m not trying to call people to repentance or anything), and I have no doubt that God would turn his back on our institution.

  91. “Likewise a bad bishop is limited to how bad he can be for any number of reasons.” was supposed to be blockquoted above . . .

  92. “I got my info. about a friend of mine’s wife whose GA uncle had to teach scriptures classes to some brethren who didn’t know them that well.”

    That is pretty awesome. Should have included a couple more steps of separation, like a grandmother or a fifth cousin’s nephew’s great-grandfather.

  93. #92-Well, I don’t know her that well but him I do and her uncle is a released GA and I have no reason to disbelieve him

  94. Oh, don’t let anybody give you grief, C. That’s an awesome provenance, and I can hardly wait to quote it myself.

  95. “My oldest kids [sic] Webolos [sic] leaders are an MD and a MBA.”

    Two quick thoughts came to mind.

    First: what the hell difference does that make?

    Second: I Samuel 16:7.

  96. #94- Thanks Ardis! I have an email stating as such from my friend but I won’t put it on here for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say some brethren aren’t that great in the scriptures so this relative had to teach them , good or bad, there it is! haha!

  97. It’s probably too late to avoid having made yet another online enemy, but I’ll try …

    I won’t be quoting the provenance you give, C. I’d have to begin it by saying “this anonymous person on the internet says that …” and it would go downhill from there. That’s the trouble with chains like this — you may very well know and trust your source, but nobody else can possibly rely on it, or on your having transmitted data accurately. That’s why we generally don’t make such claims in online discussions, and why people give you grief for having done so. I apologize for my part in the general nose-twisting.

  98. No enemies here Ardis! I know what you mean about provenances and such, my intention was never to say that every GA or local leader was inept and a scriptural screwup, I was just passing on what I have heard and read and to me what Pres. Packer and what my friend has said merge, for lack of a better word. No enemies from me, to anyone and everyone!

  99. Researcher says:

    Oh, Ardis… teasing someone for introducing hearsay evidence?? What next?! Before we know it, you’ll be demanding that people claiming to have a daguerreotype of Joseph Smith show an actual chain of ownership back to the Joseph Smith family before you believe them! : )

  100. Actually, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in meetings with members of the first presidency or the 12–area training meetings, stake conference leadership meetings, etc. etc. And they seem to spend a lot of time teaching from the scriptures. And I’ve heard some of the members of the 70 or the 12 speak of being taught from the scriptures by members of the first presidency or senior members of the 12.

    That seems to be a pattern that is followed over and over again–the men who are called to lead spend much of their time teaching from the scriptures. So, why should we find it surprising that senior brethren among the 70 are asked to teach their junior brethren, or that they would use the scriptures in that teaching?

    I was in a meeting with Pres. Harold B. Lee on Monday, September 17, 1973, in the Assembly Room in the Salt Lake Temple, as he spoke there to all the new missionaries then in the missionary home. When he finished his prepared remarks, he allowed us to ask questions. For every question that he answered at any length at all (some answers were a quick “no”), he began by opening his scriptures and reading from them. Again, the same pattern obtained. That seems to be the way the church works. So why should we (or your attenuated former General Authority) infer from that that the newly called brethren are ignorant of the scriptures?

    And, Ardis, you can quote me on that. I was there. I just checked my calendar. It was September 17, 1973.

  101. jimbob (#62), A implies B does not imply that B implies A.

  102. #100-Again, for the 30th time! hee hee, it wasn’t all, but SOME! I have heard about those experiences from Pres. Lee and I was I had that!

  103. C – I will never argue that every single GA ever called is a scriptural giant. I didn’t say that in my responses to you.

    Fwiw, please go back and read your original comments with an effort to read slowly and understand why I and others read it as a sweeping condemnation of the spiritual acumen of our leadership. Let me explain precisely, so your re-reading will be more precise:

    I just re-read your #13 – just to make sure I wasn’t over-reacting. There are only TWO modifiers when it comes to the point in question – and those two BOTH are condemning of leaders generally (quite sweepingly, actually. One allows for “some exceptions” to the general rule that GA’s and above are deficient in their scriptural understanding, and the other one uses your own stake to state that “most” stake level leaders don’t know diddly about the Gospel. Add in a “Wait there is more” line that sounds condescending, to put it mildly – and I hope you understand why it was read as it was read.

    I apologize, sincerely, for my reaction IF you really meant that a few GA’s and stake leaders don’t really understand the scriptures and the Gospel all that well. However, that’s the exact opposite of what your words actually said.

  104. #103- “IF you really meant that a few GA’s and stake leaders don’t really understand the scriptures and the Gospel all that well. However, that’s the exact opposite of what your words actually said”-This what I meant! Now, FWIW I have never seen or know of any GA that doesn’t know his scriptures but I am just reporting what others have said or written

  105. C,
    You didn’t respond, but I still think my explanation in 81 of what Pres. Packer was saying is the most obvious and most correct–and not entirely just because it’s my explanation.

  106. 90 B russ,

    Again, I agree with you that there can be really bad bishops. Because of the temptation for evil, the Church had to put in place mechanisms to limit this badness. Councilors, first, and lots of supervision. Every bishop MUST live by the manual, no deviations, and it covers most cases. The bishop only serves 5 years to limit his ability to become comfortable and knowledgeable in the job. Just when he gets competent he is released. Therefore he can not manipulate the system with expert knowledge. Even with all of these checks the bad ones get through, even with inspiration. Imagine, if you will, what might happen without the checks and balances.

    These checks to keep bishops from going bad also limit the good bishops from getting better. Like the 5 year max and the strict adherence to the manual. Because of these constraints, for the most part (5 sigma limit), bad bishops are held in check and so are good ones. Therefore, to the point of the OP, the societal cost is reduced as well as the societal benefit by the constraints placed around the job of bishop. This makes it easier to call people to the job because the constraints allow all kinds of people to serve without too much damage (5 sigma limit).

    Scott B (63)

    -The analogy between organization heads and teachers is deeply flawed. In fact, in the context of this OP, I see virtually no relationship whatsoever between the influence of the two on the membership. Good leaders affect lives. Good teachers also affect lives. But they don’t affect lives in the same way–nor do they even attempt to do so in the same way.

    You are right. My DS is an excellent teacher and took me to task, likewise. The downside of a bad teacher is non-attendance, the upside is the remodeling of a student’s view of the universe for truth. I guess I was referring to the fact that it is hard to measure what a good teacher can do in the organization. The result is that the immediate absolute value to the organization of a good teacher may not be apparent.

    Give me a good teacher any day. Jesus was a terrible organizer but a fabulous teacher. His best organizing was done from heaven when he called Paul who did not sync up with the other apostles until much later. What major corporation would do that? Only a teacher would.

  107. John Fueston says:

    I almost got *blessed* with a calling this past summer. The Bishop called me into his office between Sunday school and priesthood. He was about to extend the calling when I told him to make it fast because I had to get home and mow my lawn. Disaster averted! Maybe I need to work on my attitude….

  108. “Relief Society instructors need to be women, etc…”

    Actually, I’ve known a wards that had a male (though not terribly masculine man) as one of the instructors.

  109. 107,
    We all aspire to your greatness.

    108,
    Although I can think of many reasons to have a male speak to RS on certain topics, the idea of a regularly called and set-apart male instructor for RS Sunday meetings seems very tragic to me.

  110. jimbob (88),

    I see Mark D.’s statement as inferring that if I am willing to take on a calling because I believe that calling comes from an inspired bishop, I am “fully indoctrinated in…proper obedience” and a relatively unthinking robot…

    I think it was just the other way around, that’s all: Sure, relatively unthinking robots are willing to take on a calling out of belief in inspired Bishops. However, that certainly doesn’t imply that everyone who shares a belief in inspired Bishops and accepts callings accordingly is a relatively unthinking robot. To me, the difference isn’t pedantic–it’s quite crucial in terms of how we see ourselves and others.

    To the extent that in my goal of being pithy I failed to convey that message fully with my comments above, I apologize. To the extent you read Mark D. differently than I do, I believe we are an impasse.

    It would seem the latter, then. Fair enough!

  111. John Mansfield says:

    I remember one of those talks by Elder Packer that C mentions. Elder Packer’s point was not that church leaders don’t know what they should about the gospel. It was that the must learn the gospel before they become leaders.

  112. John Mansfield says:

    Here’s the talk by Elder Packer about keeping an eye on principles instead of programs. It’s a good one.

    link

    To C’s credit it does include a bit dire sounding stuff. “Unless he knew the fundamental principles of the gospel before his call, he will scarcely have time to learn them along the way. Agendas, meetings, and budgets and buildings will take up his time. These things are not usually overlooked. But the principles are overlooked—the gospel is overlooked, the doctrine is overlooked. When that happens, we are in great danger! We see the evidence of it in the Church today.”

    To balance it also has its hopeful strains: “In stake leadership meetings, I frequently ask a young elders quorum president about the procedure of calling a new counselor. How would you call a new counselor? The following is, I am very happy to report, typical of what happens. [ . . . ] Just think of that! An ordinary young elders quorum president knows what revelation is and how to receive it. An ordinary young man knows how to approach the Lord through the veil and get revealed instruction.”

  113. John,
    I stand by the assertion that Pres. Packer’s feelings on this subject are to be taken with a grain of salt, because I think a) he’s just trying to make a point, and b) to the extent that he’s actually describing what he sees (and not just making a point), I don’t think that his opinion on what constitutes “overlooking the gospel” is a valid one for 99.9% of Latter-day Saints. The man who spends his entire life in full-time service in the church is virtually guaranteed to have a different opinion on what “thorough understanding of the gospel” means than you and I are likely to submit.

  114. Thanks John! I guess we have come full circle here how do leaders determine who is the best qualified and guage someone’s knowledge, and if it is always someone else then the others would never grow.

  115. 106 – Yeah, I think I see what you’re getting at. I didn’t really get that from your other comments.
    I’m not 100% in agreement. I think that in many cases more experience doesn’t necessarily equal better qualified. Many times I think the five year limit comes just in time to move a bishop that would otherwise become burned-out on the job. But to the extent that you want to see that as limiting on his ability to do evil, thats fine.

  116. “burned-out on the job”

    That would hit around the 12-18 month mark and be around to some degree until the eventual and glorified day of release.

  117. 116- totally. Let me rephrase to “too burned out to even function anymore”

  118. Many bishops now serve 5-7 years, although stake presidents typically stay close to the 10 year mark. Bishops in young single adult wards, though, are usually in office for 3 years. At least in my stake. The specific time frame almost certainly varies from area to area.

    If bishops were burned out after 5 years, it would seem odd to put them to work almost immediately in another leadership calling, yet that is exactly what happens when newly-released bishops are given stake leadership callings. Sure, the work is different, but there is still a lot of behind-the-scenes work that keeps them busy.

  119. Jimbob, I think you are imagining things. “Fully indoctrinated” is inflammatory to be sure, it just happens to be a technical description of what the Church does in this matter. It teaches members that it is church doctrine and/or divine truth never to refuse callings. The pressure that some members feel is because they have a personal disconnect between what they believe to be the case about the merits of accepting any and all callings on the spot and what the doctrine of the church is in the matter.

    The people who feel no pressure are two fold, either they
    (1) are willing to take any calling under any circumstance because they have been taught what the doctrine is and have faith in the correctness of that doctrine (2) are willing to take any calling under any circumstance because they are personally convinced that it is the right thing to do.

    I asserted that situation (1) implies pressure free acceptance. I did not assert that pressure free acceptance (let alone acceptance as such) rules out all other situations. Language is not cargo cult science. Correlation is not causation. Implications do not flow backwards.

    Very many people clearly accept callings all the time, and do a good job, that don’t necessarily agree that the world is a better place when each and every member unconditionally accepts each and every calling, and are taught to do so. So don’t put words in my mouth just because I am extremely skeptical about the wisdom of so teaching.

  120. I love this post, Scott! Fascinating analysis, particularly of the stake callings.

    You mentioned in a comment having been the stake SS president and how unneeded a calling it is. I’ve been my ward’s SS president for a while, and as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s approximately the same (probably the one case where there’s not a dramatic difference between the calling at the stake and ward levels).

  121. Ziff,
    They are both limited in responsibilty, yes. However, the ward Sunday school president at least has the obligation to ensure that classes are functioning properly, runs training, provides new manuals, and in most cases provides significant input to bishops re new teachers being called. For the stake, none of that exists. Anything a stake Sunday school president does is 100% his own perogative and does not stem from a handbook mandate.

  122. My BYU bishop told us that one of the stated purposes of BYU singles wards is to train future leadership. That’s an interesting factor that should be considered for callings, too.

  123. I’m not sure what you mean, Nathan. Are you saying that, if I am in the position of needing to fill a position in my ward, then I should consider eligible candidates’ possible future candidacy for future callings?

  124. Scott, in the CHI training session last month, it was stated directly that there are lots of callings single adults can fill that aren’t being extended to them very often currently.

    I think that counsel is two-fold: 1) we simply are missing a large group of people who could serve but aren’t – whose perspectives are critical, imo; 2) those people are missing good opportunities to lead.

    They don’t serve = we miss the opportunity to learn from them and end up listening to the same voices over and over again in different callings – hearing only the piccolos, to use Elder Wirthlin’s analogy; they don’t serve = they miss the opportunity to lead and learn from us – and often end up feeling devalued and leaving.

    Yeah, I think those who extend callings should consider candidacy for future callings – not in a “who would make a good Bishop or RS Pres down the road” way but rather in a “who needs a chance to learn to lead and counsel now as preparation for other callings in the future” way. I think the list of people who fit that category and aren’t given “leadership” callings (which I think includes callings as counselors) is far more extensive that many people realize – and I think those who could serve as counselors and learn to be good presidents in the future also is far more extensive than most people realize.

    Of course, the extent to which that will be a good thing depends greatly on the quality of the example they get from their organization president – and that also relates to the heart of your post, I think.

  125. Ray,
    I’m far more comfortable with considering “the need for a person to learn to lead simply because learning to lead is important in life” than I am with considering “the need for a person to learn to lead for future callings.” One is good counsel for anyone and everyone; the other is (my gut reaction anyway) putting the cart a considerable distance before the horse.

  126. Scott, I agree with that completely.

    I’m not saying that “future callings” should be the primary reason for extending callings now (and I certainly don’t think individuals should be excluded from callings now because a leader doesn’t see “future callings” for them) – but I do believe many future callings (opportunities for service and growth) might not happen if current callings aren’t extended.

    In the corporate world, it’s hard to know how to be a successful Director if someone has never been either an Assistant or Associate Director first. It’s possible, but it’s hard. In the Church, it is really hard for many people to understand how to be a “successful” auxiliary president, Bishop, Stake President, etc. if they’ve never been a counselor or part of a council (even if they’ve had corporate leadership experience) – especially since so much of leadership in the Church is supposed to be about leading councils. I have seen SO many people make incredible strides and grow in almost unbelievable ways that made them ready to fill another calling to dismiss the idea that there is a component of “preparing for future callings” in the fulfillment of current callings – but I also agree that extending a current calling based primarily on one’s perception of ability to perform future callings can be very problematic. I don’t want that to be the default standard.

    That’s a very, very fine line – and I’m not sure I can draw it properly as anything but a conceptual generality. In practice, I think our natural tendency is to look at certain callings as stepping-stones to future callings – and I don’t think either extreme (an automatic calling path or no perceivable pattern) is good, when it comes right down to it.

    A Bishop is a VERY different calling than a Stake President, and someone can be a wonderful choice for one while being a not-so-wonderful choice for the other. However, I also think every Bishop (and most former Bishops) ought to be considered when a Stake President is released. So, as is the case with many of these discussions, I’m sitting in the middle without any clear-cut, universal, easy answer.

  127. Great post Scott! I did put off reading until after the honeymoon as you suggested:) I’ll read through the comments before I add to the discussion.

  128. Ray,
    I think I like every sentence of 126.

    Sam,
    Cheers! Hope you and E had a good one.

  129. Scott (#123), Ray kind of explained it. I just meant that if we’re weighing factors, we should keep in mind that sometimes the Lord might prompt us to pick someone that we might not otherwise have considered, and that “gaining experience for future callings” might be one reason he prompts us to pick that person.

  130. I just got one of those stake callings – right after explaining to a stake leader that I am frustrated that the parents of our cub scouts keep getting poached by auxiliary presidencies so that we have to call non-parents to cubs (and who really wants to be in cubs who doesn’t have a cub scout?). So now I will need to give up at least one of my ward cub callings so I can fulfill this stake calling, meaning that another non-cub parent will need to be called to take my place. It is frustrating. And even worse is that this stake calling is a BSA position. Yuck. When are we going to sever ties again?

  131. Simply, President Eyring seems to use a very different method. Love, service, blessings, revelation, stuff like that.

    C, thanks for sharing!

  132. grego,
    Would you like to point out where I suggested that we don’t use Love, service, blessings, revelation, stuff like that? Indeed, I’m fairly certain that this post states in the very beginning that it’s an inquiry into how to go about seeking the very revelation you so smugly propose we seek.

  133. One more thing, grego:
    It’s obnoxious beyond measure to watch you waltz into this thread and (twice!) make smug comments insinuating that this post, or any of the comments in it, are talking about anything that is in any way contrary to the spirit of Elder Rasband’s message. Both President Eyring and a Bishop have calls to fill. They gather information, they pray, and they seek revelation. All we’re talking about here is what information might help lubricate the revelatory engine.

    You abuse and make a mockery of the inspiring account of Elder Rasband’s experiences with President Eyring by twisting my words and Elder Rasband’s words into contradicting positions. You know (or should know) that there is substantial information–medical, educational, familial, and other information–that plays a role in determining whether or not elders and sisters can or should serve in different areas of the world. Surely you grasp the fact that, despite the lack of details on the subject given in a General Conference address, the stack of names President Eyring and Elder Rasband were pulling names from was far from randomly selected.

  134. Grego, even the brother of Jared had to gather the stones before God would illuminate them. Revelation is not an effortless flow of information. We are commanded to study things out for ourselves because, after all, “it is not meet that [God] 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.”

    If anything, Scott is trying to provide a methodology through which a leader could/should study things out in their mind before they go to the Lord for confirmation. Insinuating more or less than this shows both a lack of reading comprehension as well as confusion about how the revelatory process works.

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