The Lay in our (Church) Land

A friend of long standing is about to be ordained as an Episcopalian priest. She grew up Catholic and after study and training served as a chaplain at a hospital. She became increasingly frustrated that what she wanted to accomplish was denied her because of her sex, and made the decision to leave Catholicism and study for the priesthood as an Episcopalian. This has taken a long time (as she is also a wife and mother): the classes she took as a Catholic wouldn’t transfer for “credit”, she had to study out of state for a six-month period. There has been a long apprenticeship. She isn’t free to go anywhere she might be needed so has had to wait a long time for local opportunities. Her final examinations are in early January and will take four days. When I asked her would they would cover, she said that it could be anything: history, scripture, liturgy, pastoral care.

A different friend who was widowed as a young woman decided to become a Lutheran pastor. This involved moving with two children to Minnesota to study at a seminary. She once indicated obliquely what a bad idea it is that Mormon bishops counsel without any training.

You probably see where I am going with this. (Actually, maybe you don’t. This is not going to be about women and the priesthood.) The contrast between the training for the priesthood in these two examples and in our church is direct and strong. There are points to be made about both systems. I have always been grateful that in our church, while “living the gospel” is full-time work for everyone, the positions of executive responsibility are rotated among us, so that there is time to rest and recover. We are “called” to serve but don’t need to be “called” to a vocation. On the other hand, what any bishop knows about scripture and church history are a matter of personal choice and preference. That may also be true of “pastoral care” (I don’t know what goes on in Bishop’s Training Meeting.) As for liturgy, we don’t have to worry about that one.

In the last conference Boyd K. Packer spoke to this matter in his address on Saturday morning. (It’s called “The Weak and Simple of the Church”.) He makes the point that all testimonies are equal: his testimony as an apostle is not of more significance than the testimony of a deacon and the service given in wards is not less valuable than the service he gives. He says, “And so the Church moves on. It is carried upon the shoulders of worthy members living ordinary lives among ordinary families, guided by the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ, which is in them.” We have a democratic church rather than a hierarchical church in his view.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 4 says that “faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work,” in this case missionary work, but probably that extends to any job in the church. Do you think that is sufficient?

I asked my friend when I could hear her preach. She gave me some dates, and said composing sermons was an “art”, that the purpose was to “build community.” I would say that the purpose of talks in our Sacrament Meeting is to build testimony.

We would be a different church if we had a trained clergy. Do you think a slightly more trained clergy would be more effective? Do you think bishops have enough training to handle what comes across their desks in those interviews? Do you think the manuals of the church provide enough instruction for the running of the youth programs?


  1. I’ve been in wards along with seminary teachers and I must say I always loved it when they taught GD and Priesthood. I realize the growth that comes from giving the members chances to serve and teach but it is often much more enjoyable when the lesson comes from a paid professional.

    As for counseling – more training is getting more and more essential.

  2. I would say it depends on the purpose one attaches to the establishment of a church. If building a community is the only real objectives, the Protestant model might be best; if changing people (becoming) is the objective, I prefer the Mormon model – and it’s not close.

    I posted the following tonight on my personal blog, before I read this post:

    “It is one thing to discuss the power of the Gospel; it is quite another to discuss the power of the Church.

    Last week, our ward saw some major organizational changes. The Primary Presidency and the Relief Society Presidency were changed – with two new presidents who felt overwhelmed and inadequate. They received no detailed training, except for what they had observed in previous callings. They were given the keys that pertained to their callings (the ones that unlock physical doors and closets) and some printed materials to read, told to talk with the persons they were replacing and thrown into the deep end of the pool – with a command to swim. They weren’t given the option to sink; they simply were promised the ability to swim – even if they had never been taught to swim.

    The power of the Church does not reside in its prophets and apostles – although they are necessary to distill the authority under which the real power operates. The power of the Church does not lie in its Presiding Bishopric, its Quorums of the Seventy, its Stake Presidents or its Bishops and Branch Presidents – although the latter directly oversee and facilitate the exercise of that power. It is found in the hearts and spirits of all of the average, normal, unexceptional men and women who willingly shoulder burdens and responsibilities they can’t carry – and carry them anyway. It is found in the growth experienced by Sister P and Sister M – the same growth that Sister R and Sister L will recognize whenever they hand over their keys and handbooks to their replacements and pick up whatever burden the Lord has in store for them at that time.

    Church Headquarters provides vision and correlation and direction for the body of Christ, but the members of each ward and branch do the leg work that builds the muscles that drive the engine that powers the Church – and in that lies a significant portion of the glory and power of God.

  3. I think one of the main differences between the Mormon church and others is that every member is trained to become a leader. We don’t just sit and listen to others speak. From an early age we learn how to teach and how to lead. So I would say that while we don’t have much formal training, there is a whole lot of informal training involved before someone becomes a bishop or relief society president. It’s true that sometimes that informal training process leaves some holes in our knowledge whereas formal training would be more comprehensive, but maybe that’s why leadership positions come with 2 counselors.

  4. Having said that, the nature of the local lay ministry also is one of the weaknesses of the Church. I accept it, however, because of the hundreds of times I have seen the Lord make that weakness become strength.

  5. Great post, Kathleen. It seems to me that there is more and more outsourcing of counselling to profession services (e.g., LDS Family Services). The Bishop in this case acts in a liturgical role, receiving confession and of course can have access to spiritual insight in the process.

    I also think that in the last several decades that the centralized Church has worked to create policies that act as prophylaxis against legal and ethical mishaps.

    As for a paid clergy, we have that as well. The polished sermonizing of CES and BYU Religion Professors is really no different. It appears that it serves a valuable purpose in our Church.

  6. I think the argument can be made that CES is the wing of the Church that is approximately equivalent to a professionally-trained clergy. And it isn’t exactly an institution with rigid borders, since local leadership is often drawn from the ranks of CES and there is a tendency to see CES employment as a marker of qualification to serve in ecclesiastical leadership positions.

  7. Perhaps in Utah, Brad, but out here in Ohio that source is almost non-existent. There is one paid CES employee in our stake – which makes it an awfully small wing.

  8. I think the lay ministry is a great strength. When I was an investigator, and I kept encountering again and again these awesome LDS people, I knew it had to be because the church was doing something right. Having no paid clergy is genius. It’s one of the smartest best things we do as a church. We learn and grow so much more by doing than by listening or watching. If we paid people to do all the doing for us, then what would we do? We would not be nearly so alive in the gospel if we didn’t do all the church callings ourselves.

  9. Ray,
    I was actually thinking of cities with universities outside of Utah. I live in Ann Arbor and the man called by the Church to direct the local Institute (a career CES guy) was also called to preside over our married student ward. He’s a terrific bishop, so I can’t complain; and I suspect that his training has prepared him well for the duties.

    And yes, in Utah this is an exceptionally common phenomenon.

  10. I can see that, Brad. Our Institute Director is the HP Group Leader in his ward – so the general pattern at least fits.

  11. Name Withheld says:

    My bishop visited recently trying to reactivate me and my husband. I tried to explain to him some concerns I was having with church history and doctrine. He had no idea what I was talking about. A bishop with some knowledge of real church history would have been nice in our case. Instead, he left my home, I’m sure, feeling I was crazy and I was left feeling completely misunderstood by a man who should be more in the know. Frustrating.

  12. NW,
    That breaks my heart to hear. Good luck with your struggles (I hope calling it “struggles” doesn’t sound condescending).

    Perhaps you can find more responsive listeners/readers in the Bloggernaccle.

  13. Amen to what Brad said, NW. Welcome to this forum. We talk about that stuff enough to balance out the scales. *grin*

  14. I loved that talk. I think partly he was trying to say, “I’m human just like the rest of you.”

    I think there are probably trained preachers who are wonderfully insightful men, good speakers, and true ministers and others who suck.

    Just like with us.

  15. In order to keep the church democratic, I think we need to resist attempts to professionalize our clergy. There is something miraculous and mysterious about the calling and releasing of our bishops. One minute they have the mantle and the next minute it is transferred to their successor. The ideal is that these men go back to being regular members after their term of service is over. But we resist this in various ways. We are fond of saying that once a bishop, always a bishop. It is as if we imagine that the office is still with them, but it has simply gone dormant. The saddest part of this process, however, is how lonely bishops become after their release. They know the secrets of so many members that we are uncomfortable around them after their release. In this sense, we don’t allow them to return to normalcy, we continue to set them apart. It is almost like we treat them as Catholic priests who, because they hear people’s confessions, can never be the social equal of the members of their congregation. These are just a couple of the ways that we treat bishops like they are not really lay leaders. I think we should take Pres. Packer seriously and treat bishops like ordinary people who are temporarily called to do extraordinary things.

  16. Sterling,

    I’ve never noticed that any of my past bishops were lonely or that others were uncomfortable around them after their release etc. Several of these men were “friends” whom we socialized with before, during and after their callings and they didn’t seem to lack for a social life in or apart from the ward they served in. None of them were ever prone to share “secrets” about other members and they probably knew more about me and my life through our friendship/couples experiences than through their office as bishop.

    Of course we live in an area where there is a high turn over in congregation make up so soon the ward is full of people who didn’t know the last bishop when he was in office anyway etc.

    I had to chuckle when I read your last sentence because in a couple of instances, I’ve had no problem treating my “friends” who become bishops like ordinary people who are called to do extraordinary things. I remember sitting in the pew directly in front of one man in particular when they released the old bishop and called my friend to replace him. When they announced the new bishopric and he went to take his place on the stand I turned over my shoulder and whispered to his wife “Well there’s a faith shaker” and she laughed and said “Tell me about it!” When she relayed my words to him later in the hallway, he said “Now you have to be nice to me or I’ll call you to teach Primary”. I muttered something about unrighteous dominion and went to class.

  17. Jonathan K says:

    #8 – I agree that a constantly rotating responsibility wheel is one of the greatest strengths of the church.

  18. Jonathan K says:

    #11 – This is a valid concern that I think involves more than what individual Bishops may or may not know. To me, it involves the church really confronting its past in an honest and open way, and dealing with it in the open (like at sunday school, in manuals, etc.) In my opinion, nothing should be off limits, and all should be discussed, not only to educate ourselves in church history and doctrine, but also to help build faith and testimony in church rather than members stumbling on questionable issues and thinking the church is trying to hide it. Most missionaries don’t even know how to handle real issues of the church’s past because they haven’t heard of most of them. So this would involve change in the curriculum at a minimum to help get everyone up to speed.

  19. An interesting post from a friend addresses the above.

    Also, I think although it may be hard to be directed by those who may not be the best leaders, we can learn from that experience, and so do they. This life is about us all learning.. not about some people learning and the rest of us just listening.

  20. It seems I’ve had this conversation a lot recently. First, a Mormon friend has been hanging out a lot with the Catholics, and his take is that with people having more hectic lifestyles, the time required for the pastoral care of a population which is increasingly single and lonely isn’t there. I can see his point, but at the same time I always recommend he volunteer to provide some of that pastoral care himself.

    Another friend is a Lutheran priest who is fascinated by the amount of stuff we do for the church and the entire concept of a lay ministry. He pointed out that my home teaching route would be 40% of a full time employed priest. He helped me see the miracle of every Sunday: that it happens, even if sometimes it isn’t great.

  21. #11–I’m somewhat in the same boat that you are in. For me, it has been frustrating that the church that I have given so much to for many years has so little to give back when I really need it. The church claims to have many of the answers that other religions don’t have, but these answers don’t seem to exist.

    If you want answers on church history, your local bishop is likely to be clueless. You can go to various websites, but they offer theories–not official church positions. If you want official answers from the church, there is very little at ‘’ or ‘’. I think that ‘’ tells members to go talk to their local bishop if they have questions about things.

    Would it be too much to ask for the church to publish a history that discusses the issues that come up when you read ‘real’ church history? (Not the sanitized, ‘lets only talk about the positive things’ version of church history).

    Would it be too much to ask for the church to have someone that you could contact if you had questions about the church that you local leaders weren’t able to deal with?

  22. It’s not too much to ask, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about it.

  23. Kathleen, this is an excellent post, and you ask good questions.

    I wish your friends much success and happiness, but I see little reason to believe that professional training pays off in increased faith among congregants. For example, just about every church has trouble retaining members, and many churches with a trained clergy get even worse results than we LDS have. When it comes to pastoral care, I think professional training usually raises false hopes. Every ward and congregation has people who are lonely or depressed or scared, marriages breaking up, teenagers becoming delinquent, etc. It isn’t clear to me that a pastor with a PhD provides better care than most Mormon bishops.

  24. Jonathan K says:

    Another thought I had recently is about how most churches are open pretty much all day every day because the pastor or minister is there. This provides a place to come when someone is struggling. Many people go to a church during a lunch hour, or after work, or later in the evenings. I like to walk into other churches at random times to see inside, and often, there is someone playing hymns on the organ, etc. I enjoy taking a few minutes to sit and listen and ponder. In our church, the buildings are completely locked up on most days and times, since the leaders are all at home or work…

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Questions #21, while the Church itself does not have a service that responds to questions that are beyond the capacity of locals to handle, FAIR maintains such a service. E-mail your questions throught the website form here. It will automatically be e-mailed to a group of FAIR volunteers (about 110 of them), and typically one or two or three will respond to the particular question. I respond to many of them myself.

    (FAIR is totally independent and not sponsored by the Church.)

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting post, Kathleen. I think our lay leadership on balance is a great strength of the Church, but I certainly acknowledge that it also entails weaknesses. It is particularly effective at marshalling local resources for temporal needs (a la the EQ moving company); it is probably unrealistic to rely too much on it for either counseling (which certainly requires professional training and as J. rightly notes has in recent years been diverted to LDS Social Services) or expert knowledge on Church history, scripture or doctrine.

  27. A close friend of mine, a Baptist, gave me the scoop on how their congregation was selecting a new pastor after their much beloved one was retiring. The politics of it all was ugly and unsettling. It was the first time I was somewhat grateful to have an unpaid clergy.

    …That said… There are times that I really wished that we did have a fulltime ministry. It is really overwhelming to balance fulltime jobs, large families, life’s events + a demanding church calling. For many, it can be a real strain. I know when my dad was in the bishopric growing up, his time away from home doing church duties almost ended my parents’ marriage. As a kid, I was really annoyed sometimes at the amount of time dad was totally unavailable to us kids because Sister or Brother SoAndSo had another issue that they needed help with.

    Also, sometimes real training is sorely needed in psychological issues and in religious issues. Having someone with professional training who understood and was able to counsel on a professional level, who was an engaging public speaker who was able to speak on real meaty topics, and someone with a true understanding of theology (as much as is possible) and church history and doctrine would be priceless. I, too, often struggle with church history and doctrine and I have yet to find an official in the church who was willing or able to candidly answer or discuss those issues.

    … But on the otherhand… I really enjoy speaking in church and teaching and by volunteering, it keeps our members more personally engaged in church.

    I vote for a combo of the two (if it were up to me): Full time paid clergy for the really big callings (like bishop and SP) and non paid clergy for other callings, like teachers.

  28. I would note that an awful lot of professional clergy have fairly weak-to-mediocre training in things like theology and their respective church histories. I’ve heard more than a few significant theological errors over catholic pulpits in my time; a friend who majored in classics as an undergrad and as a grad student told me that the weakest latin and greek courses he’d ever had (and the worst students) were in the nationally recognized episcopal seminary attached to our college.

  29. I’ve had an idea for some time now:

    Each Stake (ideally each ward, but resources wouldn’t allow it) should have a paid temporal administrator. There’s a lot of admin that church leaders do that is purely bureaucratic. Leave that to a professional and leave the (well trained) bishop to get on with pastoral care.

  30. I would also echo Lulubelle about the horrible politics that can go on in those congregations that having hiring and firing powers (unlike the Catholic church, in which the diosece or in some cases the Order fills positions unilaterally). I have some freinds in protestant seminaries, and some who are PK’s (priest/pastor’s kids) who talk about the horrible situations that fired clergy can get into, the small things that often precipitate these firings, the fact that once a congregation fires once it’s likely to fire again, soon, etc. And the problems faced by small or dwindling congregations in finding and keeping pastors. It’s not uncommon for these smaller congregations to be effectively without pastors for long periods of time, relying instead on outside clergy who ‘cover the pulpit’ on a week-by-week basis.

  31. “Doctrine and Covenants Section 4 says that “faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work,” in this case missionary work, but probably that extends to any job in the church. Do you think that is sufficient?”

    I answer with an unqualified “yes.”

    “She gave me some dates, and said composing sermons was an “art”, that the purpose was to “build community.” I would say that the purpose of talks in our Sacrament Meeting is to build testimony.”

    I don’t like this dichotomy even a little bit. Why are these two goals exclusive?

  32. Hey Ronan,

    Back in the day up until the 1930’s if you check into it you will see that there was a part time paid admin in many of the stakes in the Corridor. There may have been other positions as well that involved some paid work if my memory serves me right.

    SWK was one of these part time paid stake clerks for his SP father.

    There are now “building admins” who are paid employees but they are few and far between and are not involved in the Eccl side of things. There are 2-3 here that help with the 10-15 stakes in the Dallas area.

  33. bbell, not only that but Stake Presidents, Bishops, their counselors, Temple Presidents and Temple workers were all paid positions.

  34. J.

    They called it a “stipend” and it was not much right?

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    Do we even need stakes? It seems as though a lot of what they do is duplicative with the wards themselves, and having to staff both a ward and a stake is a tremendous drain on local talent. I guess one of the main functions of the stake is to train the ward leaders, but does it really take that many bodies to do so efficiently and effectively? (If this is too much of a threadjack, feel free to ignore the questions.)

  36. a random John says:

    I don’t want to minimize the role of Bishop, but it seems to me that our Bishops have very different responsibilities than those in other religions that we often compare them to. They don’t preach weekly sermons, rather they call others to do so. They don’t teach Sunday School. They don’t organize activities such as holiday dinners or overnight campouts. However they do coordinate all of those things. Even if our Bishops did receive extensive theological training how would that be manifest? Would the talks you hear on Sunday be any different? The lessons in Sunday School?

    The LDS Church is set up such that such training would not matter. I do agree that there should be training on counseling and probably more referrals to professionals, but as far as the subjects that many here are discussing, the program of the Church is such that more training would have very little effect.

  37. bbell, in 1888 the SLC Stake President got $1,000 per annum and his counselors got $500.* Smaller stakes received less. $1,000 in 1888 is comparable to $21,640 today. If I am not mistaken, earlier, they were allowed to take a percentage of tithing receipts.

    *First Presidency, letter to James Jack, April 9, 1888.

  38. Kathleen,

    I found the comparisons you draw interesting and useful. Thanks.

    Your post makes me wonder whether other religions have different relationship dynamics between their local and their hierarchically higher-up leaders than we do. Does the fact that a bishop (and a stake president, for that matter) is not paid, is only a temporary position, and is only a part-time structurally affect the way that such leaders view themselves, their authority, their responsibility when they are interacting with those who are permanent, paid, and full-time?

  39. Random John (#36),
    I couldn’t agree more with you. As a M.Div student at a Stone/Campbell seminary, I’ve often wondered how bishops would benefit from training and equiping for ministry. I’ve came to the same conclusion that while it would benefit most bishops individually, the structure does not exist institutionally for them to contribute their training and gifts on a regular basis. This is most unfortunate IMO. Also, I don’t feel most bishops are prepared to respond adequately to spiritual crisis. No doubt attending seminary has biased my judgement.

  40. re: 35

    An excellent question. I posit that if ward conferences were done away with and high/dry council talks were also dispensed with, most people would not notice and things would proceed exactly as if nothing had happened. The same would happen if the number of stake conferences was halved, imo. Very little, if anything, would be missed by the general membership of the church. (Of course, high council talks are fertile ground for comedy material in places like the bloggernacle, so they might be missed.)

    Stake redundancy does come at a price in available talent to run and sustain a ward/branch. At the same time stake callings also provide more opportunities for service and, consequently, growth in those asked to serve, at least in theory. I’m not sure the trade off is always worth it. In my experience in large geographical stakes, there is a lot of time and travel by stake folks to do stuff that has little impact on the lives of individual members and if these things were all of a sudden stopped, they would not be missed by at least 80% of the general membership of the church, assuming the 80% even noticed that stake folks stopped coming around in the first place.

    Besides the CES and BYU employees, one would probably have to include LDS military Chaplains as unofficial paid LDS clergy. (I was once told by an LDS Army Chaplain that his full time mission was counted as a substitute for either a Masters degree or PhD-I can’t remember which-that was otherwise a requirement to be an Army Chaplain.)

  41. rb, don’t forget to include the general authorities on your paid professional list.

  42. Interesting post, and interesting comments as well. Having been a bishop, that first Sunday after you are sustained and set apart, the SP shakes your hands, and leaves you alone in the bishop’s office. That is a terribly lonely feeling. However, if you have been in church for a while, you have observed other bishops, and how a ward functions, and so you have some direction. You also have the handbook, which becomes your best friend in that first year.

    Kevin Barney, the Stake functions primarily to coordinate the wards in their jurisdiction, and a huge part of that is training. As a HC, I am assigned to a ward, and advise and train the MP quorum leaders, and also advise the bishop. As a new bishop, I learned to really rely on that HC. Another HC, with the members of the SP, conduct monthly bishopric training, usually on a weeknight. I also supervise the financial audits, coordinate on welfare issues such as the bishop’s storehouse, cannery, and DI. All of these are tasks that make the burden of the bishop a little less demanding. This is how the lay ministry works. I loved being a bishop, but it got tiring, and I would say that the typical 5 year calling is just about right to prevent burnout. I could feel it coming on the last year I served.

    There is something about requiring the balance between temporal and spiritual affairs that helps us be better at serving in the church, and also makes us better workers in the secular world as well. It’s an amazing organization, which allows “the weak things of the earth” to be able to do great things.

  43. rb, # 39, as a High Council member, I resemble that!

  44. Greenfrog,

    The GAs are official paid clergy. CES, BYU and LDS Chaplains are unofficial paid clergy; though, often incorrectly viewed by the general membership as official paid clergy instead of paid instructors with no ecclesiastical authority stemming from their paid position.


    If more high councilors were like you, then I say we keep the dry councilmen coming around. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments here and in other threads.

    Regarding the adminstrative assistance provided by the Stake, that could just as easily be done at the ward level. Call an extra clerk or two, including femal clerks. Regarding the training, I think most Bishops would still learn how to do their job, and pretty quickly, w/o a stake safety net, so to speak. Actually, if members weren’t so quick to run to the Bishop for advice or counsel on non-ecclesiastical matters, I think a Bishop’s burden/mantle would be a little lighter.

    I generally agree our lay ministry works very well and the people who are asked to serve do so very ably, with Divine assistance. What is less clear, however, are the costs borne by the family members of those lay members called to serve, particularly those in demanding, time-consuming positions. The opportunity costs for raising children while serving in a time consuming calling are staggering.

  45. “…and bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…” (Mosiah 18:8)

    I am a firm believer in the lay nature of Church service, even with (perhaps especially because of) the resulting trials and tribulations. Here are some of the risk and problems I see with a professional, paid clergy in the Church:

    — elitism: the lay clergy approach requires that we all be prepared to serve in callings ranging from the mundane (ward bulletin director) to the ethereal (stake patriarch). Once you introduce professional training for the ministry, not to mention payment, then you introduce arguments and issues whether someone is professionally qualified for a given position; you also introduce the issue of whether the person thinks the position is ‘beneath’ her- or himself and her/his training and qualifications.

    — priestcraft (“priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and the praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” – 2 Nephi 26:29): I had a friend with a PhD from Harvard who used to talk quite seriously about his “Church career” — he actively hustled to set up speaking engagement and firesides for himself, and he saw himself on a track to move up the ranks (bishop, stake president, etc.) to become a GA. None of that ever happened, which I suspect puzzles him to this day. And speaking of which…

    — careerism: do we really want Church service as a career, with all the attendant issues and complications? All you have to do is look at the scandals and issues that constantly rock evangelical and Protestant congregations to see where this could lead. For that matter, any of you who have worked at BYU (as I have) or had friends/family who work(ed) at BYU (as I have) know just what sticky and unfortunate issues can arise when employment and religion cohabit.

    — factionalism (both within a congregation and between congregations): we sometimes grumble about cliques in our wards, but as noted above in the comments, that hardly compares to Protestant and evangelical congregations. The build-in rotation of callings tends to break up such factions and to keep them from forming in the first place. We just had a change of bishopric and EQ presidency in our ward; in both cases, the new bishop, both of his counselors, and the new EQ president have all been in the ward less than 2 years.

    — sloth: with a full-time professional clergy, far too many of us would simply say, “let the bishop do it — that’s what he’s paid for.” With an unpaid, volunteer bishop who usually has to support his family besides fulfill his calling, most of us willingly serve (a) to help ease his load and (b) out of embarrassment over how little is asked of us compared to how much is asked of him.

    I’m sure I could add more, but this is a bit too long already. :-) I’ll also note for the record that while I have never been a bishop (knock wood), I have twice served as a counselor in a bishopric, besides also serving as ward clerk and executive secretary. ..bruce..

  46. rb,

    Yeah, well, you haven’t heard me speak. :)

    I have to tell a story from a stake of about 20 years ago, regarding our “unofficial paid clergy”. Living on the Wasatch front at the time, our ward was divided, and just by the way the lines were drawn, we ended up with all 7 of the seminary teachers that lived in our ward were across the line in the other ward, while all 7 of the single sisters (it was a very young ward) ended up in our half. One of the members of the other ward, noting that we had no seminary teachers, and they had no single sisters, asked me how that happened.

    Without thinking, I blurted out “We got first choice!” My wife gave me one of those looks, so I made sure I was smiling like it was a joke. It was a joke, wasn’t it?

  47. rb (#39),
    Just FYI- the mission counts as a substitute for the required 2 years of post M.Div pastoral ministry, not for education. Because LDS cannot fulfill this without joining another church the DoD accepts our missions instead.

    (#36) I couldn’t agree more. As a seminary student in a Stone Campbell seminary, I’ve often wondered how bishops would benefit from the training and equiping for ministry that occurs here. I’ve concluded that while most would benefit individually, the structure just doesn’t exist institutionally for bishops to express their talents, training. and gifts. This is unfortunate imo.

  48. I’ve wondered about these questions too. But the lack of training can sometimes be a benefit as well. With training, a leader may be inclined to resort only to that material that he/she has been trained with. Without training, a leader can draw upon the ultimate training material- the Spirit.

    I would say that in many cases a leadership position in the church entails a large learning curve. The leader may not feel adequate in the roll for quite some time. I think this gives the leader and the congregation an opportunity to learn and grow together and to develop qualities such as faith, forgiveness, tolerance, and patience. In my opinion, a formal training with degrees, etc. separates a leader from the congregation and makes the leader less approachable.

  49. I’m going to speak up in defense of stakes. When I’ve lived in stakes that had strong leaders at the stake level, the wards all benefited from the improved training, activities, and oversight.

    The stake I’m in now seems to leave more of the “talent” in the wards, and I think we suffer for it. The stake activities are generally poor and the leadership training meetings are abysmal.

  50. Steve Evans says:

    Kathleen, I think the consensus is that you’ve asked some great questions!

    Clearly we all have an individual duty to learn our callings and train ourselves — those who feel particularly inspired in this respect already seek out extra resources.

    What are your answers to these questions?

  51. Well, to be honest, sometimes we’re all the victims of the someone as they try to “figure it all out.” I’m not saying the church should be one endless source of fantastical entertainment but haven’t we all sat through some of the most mind numbing talks or lessons wishing we were anywhere else but there? How many members have been given some really terrible advice by a layperson who had no training to give such advice? I think it’s a fine line. I can see the positives of both and the negatitves of both. But I do think that the bigger jobs would be nice to pay someone fulltime to do. At least they would have the ability to spend (somewhat guilt-free) oodles of hours concentrating on their flock.

  52. Lulubelle,

    Granted, problems exist, but LDS Family Services is tocked with professional counselors, dealing with everything and anything, including depression, marriage, addictions, etc. Not even the best full time religious leader ought to be expected to do that.

    I also think you overlook the possibility of widening the gap between the congregation and the leader with a professional paid clergy. Every member lives in fear of being called as a bishop, and every bishop is humbled to get that call. I loved how Pres. Eyring, in the press conference after the morning session of conference said that when we went to Pres. Faust for advice as a newly called apostle, Elder Faust pointed to the sky, and said “Take it up with Him.”

    That inspiration that is available at all levels is the “magic potion” in how the church organization works. I’ve seen it work countless times, and relied upon it myself. A professional is no more likely to be able to do this than you and I, so I still think the lay ministry works well.

  53. # 50 should read “LDS Family Services is stocked with…”.

  54. Hey, I am not saying all professionals give perfect advice– not even close. However, I think too many rely on being “guided by the spirit” to offer sometimes really flawed advice rather than turning that person over to professionals who are better equipped to help that person through problems.

    Secondly, I sort of like lay ministry. And then I sort of don’t. I have to admit that I love listening to a really great speaker who engages most of those in the congregation. And for those that are really poor speakers? Well, maybe it’s a learning experience for them but at the cost of others in the congregation. Also, I find many (not all) of our meetings really incredibly bland and lacking in substance. The last RS class I attended, the big question of the day was: “What is prayer?” My gosh, I’m not two years old and I wouldn’t mind being mentally challenged from time to time. And there is a very real toll on families and individuals who simply don’t have the time to serve so many very demanding masters– parenthood, fulltime employments, church, hobbies, grocery shopping, and the list is endless. If someone were paid, then they could at least take “full time employment” off their “to do” list.

    And finally: In my fist comment, I recognized the politicking that goes into many professional ministries and it is awful and I’m glad we mostly don’t have those issues to deal with.

  55. Child Bishop says:

    I was a young, very inexperienced bishop when I encountered my first counseling session. I was 29 and had just been set apart a few hours earlier. I had no training. I have had a relatively happy life, and have not personally known abuse, molestation, paralyzing challenges of faith, failing marriage… or just about any of the other tough issues often brought across the transom of the bishop’s office.

    My first session was with a couple who brought me the strangest set of circumstances I have ever heard as a bishop. I kept listening, nodding, encouraging. But I panicked! I had nothing to offer them. I finally turned my thoughts to the Lord and prayed saying “Lord, I have nothing to offer these people. If you supply the words, I’ll speak them.” And that was the beginning of everything. I realized my role. I really matters very little what I think. I only need to speak inspiration, and call out specifically what is opinion and what is not.

    As for outsourcing humanist counseling needs, every bishop should do this. He needs a ready list of counselors who he knows, has spoken to, and can prayerfully recommend. Throwing a hail Mary to LDS Family Services is not the way to go.

    So, no. I don’t think we need a professional clergy. They are trained counselors either, just hybrid jacks of all trades. They’re better trained than us, but that’s the point! As long as we try to do our role and seek inspiration, and not pretend that we are temporal counselors, then we will be better.

    I’m a better bishop when I assume I have nothing to offer, and simply ask what I’m supposed to tell a person.

  56. Lulubelle, it is not always easy to keep personal biases from coming into play, which is why Bishops have SP and HC folks around to use as a sounding board, and for the SP to occasionally to open a can of….excuse me, lovingly reprove and direct the bishop.

    One of my great admirations for the megachurch model is also my biggest fear. They are much better entertainers than we are. Rock bands on the rostrum? No problem. Great gospel choir? I really love those. Showmanship over spirituality? Well, maybe not so much.

    It’s a slippery slope. And when you start paying professional clergy, then the folks sho bring in the most parishioners, tithing, and fast offerings are going to want to be rewarded, whereas the congregations that Amri is now familiar with in Central America can’t afford that level.

    Ultimately, imagine the church trying to pay 10,000 to 15,000 professional clergy a living wage throughout the world. Megabucks.

    No, service rendered with no thought of financial gain is a good thing. I will admit that there is a wide difference in the quality of some bishops over others, but there is also a wide difference in quality of the congregations, as well.

  57. Here is an interesting point.

    My dad is currently a Bishop. He says that the current advice in his stake from the SP is not to counsel to much with ward members on really serious hard issues. The Bishops in his stake have been instructed to refer people to LDS Social Services or outside professionals and to help foot the bill if needed.

  58. #21


    Sometimes the situation is just that the “Church” doesn’t have an “official stand” on everything, and I doubt it ever will. Unless your bishop is a historian by nature or likes to read historical books, he probably will be clueless about Church history.

    There are many excellent compilations of Church history by various writers-

    Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (6 volumes) by B.H. Roberts

    Church History and Modern Revelation (4 volumes) by Joseph Fielding Smith

    Encyclopedia of Latter Day Saint History -Cannon, Cowen and Garr

    FAIR (as Kevin said) is a great source and you can also subscribe inexpensively (monthly, 6 months or a year at a time) to and read thousands of books on any LDS topic you can imagine including the scriptures and general conference. You can also search by topic, author or alphabetically and make notes and save your searches too.

  59. #39 – rb, three months ago I had a funny conversation following my talk. A sister came up to me with a bigsmile on her face and thanked me for “not giving the longest, most boring talk ever.” When I looked at her with a quizzical expression, she told me, “When I looked at the program and saw that the entire meeting was two youth speakers and a High Councilor, I just knew that your talk would be the longest, most boring talk ever. When the youth speakers each took less than 5 minutes, I almost cried. As you were ending, I wondered what the Bishop would do to fill the remaining time – then realized that you had ended exactly on time and I simply had not noticed the time going by. So, thanks for not giving the longest, most boring talk ever.”

    Frankly, that’s one I will treasure ’til the day I die.

  60. On the other hand…

    OK, having left my long posting in favor of a lay clergy, I will say that I miss the original “Teacher Development Training” course that the Church had back in the late 60s/early 70s. It was a 12-week course that you were called to take. I was called to take it while a senior in high school; my former bishop was the teacher, and he accepted no excuses for missing any of the classes (which included a few weeks of actual teaching in other classes). I then went off to college, where I was promptly called as the Teacher Development Director in my student ward. In those two years, I learned a tremendous amount about teaching, which remains my favorite calling in the Church. (I’ve also taught professionally — two years at BYU.)

    Now, Teacher Development takes place maybe once or twice a year, and that’s just not enough (IMHO) to really teach how to teach. And…it makes it hard for me to sit through other people’s Sunday School classes, particularly if the teacher isn’t all that great. For some reason, I have less problem in priesthood quorum meetings, probably because it’s easier to start up an interesting discussion. :-) I’ve had the joy of teaching Gospel Doctrine for the last 2+ years, but I don’t know how much longer that will last. Sigh. ..bruce..

  61. chaplain's wife says:

    rb, #39: My husband is a new LDS chaplain in the National Guard, and his mission definitely did not substitute for a degree. (Maybe it was different in the past.) He had to get a master’s degree in Bible and Ministry, as well as a couple extra LDS-oriented classes, before he qualified as a chaplain. (And all this for a “part-time” job that is about to take him to the Middle East full time for a year … crazy!)

  62. Kathleen Petty says:

    This blogging business is amazing. I posted this late last night, went to work in the morning, worked on bamboo eradication in the afternoon, went to choir practice, and low, 59 comments, all of them interesting and too numerous to respond to. But as Steve E. asked for my answers to my own questions. . .I have thought often about what it would feel like to decide to enter the clergy. I honestly can’t conceive of it. That I am Mormon born and bred may account for it, but the idea of one leader for a congregation, one person who speaks for God, in a sense, for that group, seems almost egotistical. Who would want that responsibility, who could carry that burden for a whole lifetime? What would you do when you went through a spiritually dry patch? I really do like the idea that each of us gets a turn to experience being tossed into the deep end and learning to spiritually swim. If the teaching in the auxiliaries were better, then we would all be better leaders. Those Sunday School lessons aren’t exactly scriptural study in my mind. We can do that on our own but to be encouraged to do it as a group would be so valuable. What if we spent more than one year on a book of scripture so we could do more than the sort of scriptural top ten that we do now? But I digress. This discussion has been helpful to my thinking.

  63. re: 57

    You could have just as easily given that same talk as a member of your home ward. Only then, your family and those who know you better would have had the same experience as the sister you mentioned: dread followed by relief. But, as a lay ward member you would not have included the standard HC boilerplate-“Brother and Sisters I bring you the love of the Stake Presidency and testify they are concerned about you and pray for you …” thus, leaving more time for the actual message.

    I must confess to sharing the same reservations as the sister you described as I’ve seen similar speakers lists in programs. Sometimes the lone HC speaker works out very well and and sometimes he doesn’t. For those times he’s a dreadful bore, it sure pays to have wireless access via a crackberry or I-phone. But that is probably a subject for another post.

  64. #58 bfwebster, We have ample opportunities for faithful, enthusiastic teachers in our branch. (Not that we don’t have them, we just don’t have enough teachers to go around.) Whatever your profession, you could get a job in our area and move in right away! Just drop me a note. =)

    Having a lay clergy (both unit and auxiliary leaders) is both a strength and a weakness of the Church. For the most part, people do their callings better because and when they’re committed to the gospel, not just because it’s a job. I also recognize the weakness in that there just isn’t time and resources enough to give everyone all the training they need on demand when a new calling is issued.

    I see the Church using training on the internet as a great help to local leaders and teachers. I hope they do a lot more. They could get specialized training for every calling online or on DVD.

    As a Branch President, I wish some things were spelled out more clearly in the CHI and our training so SP’s and Bishops or BP’s had more consistency in leading our units and the decisions we make in various matters. This would be helpful for a range of things, from the simple things like the SP requiring a priesthood holder to say the closing prayer in sacrament meeting to the tough decisions when someone’s standing is in question. Of course, then you get into the slippery slope of needing a rule for everything and the next thing you know we’re the Sadducees and Pharisees. However, being inspired in our decisions for the auxiliary or person in question is clearly the best for all involved. I’ve had my mind made up one way and inspired to do something different countless times.

  65. You know, when someone is struggling with something and needs consolation or encouragement, we often overlook the “lay clergy” that is our home teachers, visiting teachers, Elders Quorum Presidency and Relief Society Presidency. These people care enough about the lost sheep as much as the Bishop. There are times when only the Bishop can help, specifically for the need of fast offerings, repentance, etc. Without downplaying the Bishop’s role, unit leaders can console, empathize, teach, encourage and boost someone’s spirits as well as the Bishop the majority of the time. That’s where the beauty of the lay clergy comes in: you have an expanded number of people who can help someone more often than the sole Bishop.

  66. #11 Name Withheld, I’m sorry every time I hear of someone struggling with their faith. I wish you all the best in your pursuit. While your Bishop may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Church or the gospel, the fact that he came to visit with you and your husband shows that he cares about you and is willing to help. Just because he had no idea what you were talking about, I doubt he thinks you’re crazy.

    Tell him you don’t want to be labeled a nutcase. ;) Ask him to help you understand. Give him your study material to borrow, if necessary, and then give him some time to learn about the issue. There’s no guarantee this can be resolved quickly but I think he will do the best he’s capable of to find answers for you.

  67. Here is an interesting article from today’s New York Times about young Jews who are moving away from traditional professional clergy led synagogues to lay-led groups:

  68. #61 – “For those times he’s a dreadful bore, it sure pays to have wireless access via a crackberry or I-phone.”

    I definitely got a chuckle out of that- and, yes, that is a discussion for a different thread.

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