Each life that touches ours (or not)

Last week in Relief Society we were talking about callings, and one of the sisters said she didn’t think all callings were necessarily inspired, that sometimes you were just a worker in the kingdom, and that was okay. Another sister disagreed, insisting that all callings were inspired, and she knew this was so because each of her callings had allowed her to touch at least one person’s life, and if you’ve touched one person’s life, that’s all that matters.

I am more inclined to agree with Sister Workerbee than Sister Inspiration. I’m happy for Sister Inspiration, and I believe she’s touched someone’s life in each of her callings, but I don’t think one can make generalizations based on her own blessed but limited experience. I am open to the idea that every calling is inspired, for whatever reason, but I don’t really care one way or the other because if you aren’t touching someone’s life–or don’t know that you’re touching someone’s life–you need some motivation to keep going, and “this calling was inspired” is not always going to cut the mustard, especially if all evidence points to the contrary.

I’ve never accepted a calling because I thought that God wanted me to be in that position. I accept callings because I know that the ward needs someone in that position, and it may as well be me. That’s very unromantic, but God needs unromantic people like me, who don’t require spiritual validation to do the drudge work of Zion–those callings that don’t particularly touch anyone’s life, except maybe one’s own (and even then, not always for good).

Not to demean the notion of spiritual validation–if you’ve got it, that’s awesome, but to expect it is, I think, foolish. Someone, somewhere, is bound to be disappointed.

Most wards need people who can play the piano; therefore, if you can play the piano, you are very, very likely to end up in a piano-playing calling–or at the very least, some other music-related calling, because the people who extend such callings usually don’t know anything about music and assume that if you play a musical instrument, you would also make a good choir director. I have spent the majority of my adult life in piano-playing callings, which I have not minded a bit. I don’t think I’ve particularly touched anyone’s life with music, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Primary without feeling responsible for any child’s salvation. That’s a pretty sweet gig. Question: Was it inspired? Answer: Who cares?

I can believe that my calling to the Relief Society presidency while I was in the singles ward was inspired. I grew a lot while I served in that position, and I developed relationships with people I would probably not have otherwise. I can believe that my calling to be Primary chorister was inspired because I learned whilst visiting the nursery to do singing time that nursery-age children are 1,000 times better than Primary-age children, and as a result I no longer dreaded the possibility of being called to the nursery (which change in attitude has, I think, drastically reduced my chances of ever being called to the nursery, so–score). By contrast, I can’t recall ever actually doing anything as the Young Women’s secretary, and moreover, I was never invited to any of the meetings, so, you know, not a lot of life-touching going on there. But whatever.

I’ve held two teaching positions. Each only lasted a few short months, after which time I would inevitably suffer a nervous breakdown and the president of the auxiliary would have to move me to some other position so that no one else would get hurt. Were those callings inspired, and did I just fail to live up to my potential? Entirely possible, but again, I don’t care; I was so relieved to be out of direct contact with the little hooligans that I never looked back. Did I touch anyone’s life? Considering my mental state at the time, I certainly hope not.

This is not to imply that either of those callings was a mistake, but even if they were both mistakes, it doesn’t matter. We learn from our mistakes. Hopefully we learn from others’ mistakes, too. I’m sure I’ve taught a lot of people how not to do something, especially where children or teenagers are involved. I’m really not a people person, which is how I ended up in the library.

I actually do think my calling as an assistant librarian was inspired because when they called me, the head librarian was streamlining the inventory and was in the middle of throwing out a bunch of materials, including old Relief Society magazines and issues of the Improvement Era, some dating back as far as 1947. She was just going to…recycle them. I know! One’s like inner Historian shudders. But I saved them. I took them home and now they’re sitting in my garage, gathering dust, just like God intended. Did I touch anyone’s life? No. But I preserved history, or something like unto it. That’s a valuable contribution.

Unfortunately, I made my one and only valuable contribution as a librarian within the first two weeks of accepting the call. The rest of the time I’ve just spent learning to be stingy with pencils.

(Incidentally, if any of you have ever wondered why church librarians don’t trust anyone, it’s because you’re all LIARS and THIEVES!)

I actually think that the librarian position is one that could benefit from a little worker-bee attitude on the part of those extending the call. In our building, the librarians have to take turns staffing the library on Wednesday evenings, when people can bring in their large copying jobs or, I dunno, borrow some random Friend magazines or church videos if they’re so inclined. When they called me to work in the library, I told them that I couldn’t work most Wednesdays because my tap class is on Wednesday. (Yes, it may sound like a lame excuse, but I am an artiste and the laws of consecration don’t apply to me.) They said that wouldn’t be a problem because there were so many other librarians to cover the Wednesday evenings.

Well, yes, there were so many other librarians, and the only reason they wanted another one called was to spread the Wednesday night burden around some more. But whatever. Over the last three years, the other librarians in our ward who could work on Wednesdays were either released or moved away, which left me as the only librarian in my ward. When they asked me if I needed them to call another librarian to help me, I said, “Well, yes, but only because of the Wednesday evenings, because I can’t work Wednesday evenings.” So they called another librarian…who can’t work on Wednesday evenings. Was this calling inspired? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that when I spoke to the gentleman in charge of these matters, I was pretty clear about the Wednesday thing, but all he must have heard was, “Well, yes, blah blah blah [when will science find a cure for a woman’s mouth?]” Can we blame the Holy Ghost for that? I don’t know.

It does seem to me that it would be a whole lot easier to just go around asking people if they’d like to spend two Wednesdays a month in the library, working a copier and catching up on their reading. I’m sure I can’t be the only person on earth to whom that scenario appeals. (On the Wednesdays I don’t have to tap dance, I very much enjoy working a copier and catching up on my reading and otherwise not being at home with the children…whom I love very much, but…come on.) And yet such people continue to elude the inspired process of calling a ward librarian. It is a puzzlement.

Of course this brings me back to my original point, which was that callings aren’t necessarily inspired, but someone has to do it and it may as well be me. If I had a holier attitude, maybe I’d be willing to make more sacrifices to build up the kingdom, as it were. Perhaps I’ve been missing opportunities. If this were an Ensign article, I would give up my tap class, bitterly resent it for a period of time, and then one fateful evening some poor soul would wander into my library and ask, “Do you have Together Forever?” and I would say, “Yes, dear brother [or sister], here it is, watch it in good health,” and eventually I would come to find out that this person went on to do the temple work for all his or her ancestors, who otherwise would not have been saved if the library had not been open that evening. Or something. But this is not an Ensign article, and thus the blog ends in confusion and despair.

Brothers and sisters, the time is now yours to comment on the inspired-or-not nature of your callings, past or present.


  1. I agree that perhaps many callings aren’t particularly inspired, however, I believe that many are, too. I also believe that rarely should anyone turn down a calling. If there are health, or other reasons why one couldn’t fulfill a calling, it might be OK, but just because it’s something you don’t want to do, is a poor excuse. I admire you for giving every calling you’ve been given a try, and your honesty. There are things we can learn and ways we can grow from any calling, big or small, inspired or not.

  2. merrybits says:

    My elderly mom, after just being diagnosed with cancer and having to confront the upcoming surgery, chemo and radiation treatments, was called in one Sunday to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher. Inspired calling? No.

  3. Look, the bishopric aren’t miracle workers. If you can’t handle a calling, say so, and give them the chance to extend it to someone else.

  4. I think that this post was inspired.

  5. In my 5 years as a bishop, I found many times that the Lord wanted certain callings for certain individuals, and vice-versa.
    I also felt many times that He trusted my judgment and would validate my choices for other callings.
    I would suggest that all callings are inspired, whether the Bishop has specifically received a prompting for a member and their calling, or that the Lord trusts the judgment of the Bishop in certain situations.

  6. This is lovely.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Love this post. I fully agree and have had several discussions (er, arguments) with my Bishopric member husband over it. I’ve had experiences when I absolutely knew that the Lord wanted someone for a calling (like when I was YW Pres and felt inspired that this one woman needed to be my counselor – she ended up replacing me eventually). I’ve had many more where I really don’t think the Lord cared either way.

    However, from our perspective, I love your idea of being the worker bee. If you have the attitude that you can accomplish good and touch lives in any calling, you will. If you receive a calling and ask the Lord for inspiration in filling it, He isn’t going to leave you hanging. So, callings that just started out as someone willing to do the work and fill the position can end up being very “inspired” depending on our own attitudes.

  8. Peter LLC says:

    A recent experience with callings:

    Ward Member Q (to me): Hey, instead of asking me to substitute all the time, you should just call Ward Member X.

    Me: Sure, why not? I’m always open to suggestions.

    Two weeks later….

    Member of Bishopric A (to me): Hey, what do you think about calling Ward Member X?

    Me: Sure, let’s do it.

    A week later…

    Me (to Member of Bishopric B): So, how’s that calling coming along?

    Member of Bishopric B: Huh? What calling?

    Member of Bishopric C: Yeah, what are you talking about?

    Me: Um…

  9. Rebecca,
    Nice post, you’re thoughts are similar to my own. A couple years ago the folks at VSOM asked me to write a guest-post from the perspective of a bishopric member and this is what I wrote. Short version (though better articulated in the post), we work hard to be inspired when extending callings, which is nice when it happens, but not always necessary because people need to serve and people need to be served.

  10. A million years ago I was in a 5th Sunday combined RS/Priesthood meeting, and the bishop was having a Q&A, and one person asked, “What percentage of callings are inspired, and what percentage are ‘well, everyone else has said no, let’s ask this person’?” The bishop said that they would pray about extending a calling to an individual, and if they felt that that calling would be a blessing in that person’s life, they’d extend the call–but sometimes it just doesn’t work out, in which case it’s back to the drawing board, and it sometimes comes down to who is willing to do it (after all the other inspired calls have been shot down). The fact is, there’s a whole bunch of jobs to do and I think it’s impossible that every single one should be “inspired” on the order of Foreordained Before The World Inspired. Leaders get inspiration, but they’re not mind-readers. Callings often bless our lives and bless others’ lives, but other times they’re just jobs–and that’s okay, too.

  11. I would suggest that all callings are inspired, whether the Bishop has specifically received a prompting for a member and their calling, or that the Lord trusts the judgment of the Bishop in certain situations.

    I would buy that.

  12. Good post – I think this is something we don’t hear brought up enough, but my husband has heard me repeat the thoughts in this post to him more than a few times. I think the majority of callings fall under the category of “she’s available and willing, so that’s a match”.

  13. I would totally take that two Wednesdays a month calling, Rebecca! It sounds exactly my speed. I’ve always wanted to be called into the library. Secretary jobs are okay too as long as they don’t expect me to make any phone calls. My ultimate preference would be a calling that doesn’t require me to talk to anyone (or at least not to teach, testify, or ask people to do things).

    The last time I was called into to see a bishopric member the ward webmaster had just moved away. My mother said “If they ask you to do the website I’ll believe callings are inspired.”

    I spent the next 3 years teaching Primary.

  14. Something my father says seems pertinent here: sometimes a calling is for the sheep, sometimes it is for the shepherd, and sometimes it is for the grass.

  15. What matters to me is to remember our callings come from God. Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

    We can wonder if God really intended for me to be in the nursery or to be the person who got sign-ups for blessing the sacrament every week.

    I like the approach that one of the Lord’s servants, acting in authority, for the Lord, extends a calling to you then it’s from the Lord.

    At least that’s how I view it.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    sam, I think that approach is great, but callings only come from God to the extent that He has told those servants what to do. I don’t think your approach will lead us to bad conclusions, but personally I want to know if some leader is just trying to fill slots and doesn’t invest those callings with some inspiration.

  17. Rebecca, I am going to submit a story to the Ensign about how you have touched my life with your wonderful posts.

  18. I see what you mean. My view is that the Lord does not command in all things.

    Sometimes, often, in fact, all times that I have extended a call I felt inspired in it.

    But I personally, also feel that if the Lord has given authority to someone I will except that calling as coming from the Lord. I don’t need to know how much revelation, per se, the Lord’s servant received before calling me specifically because I believe that person is the Lord’s representative here on Earth.

    Now please excuse me while I go jump off a bridge because the deacon’s quorum president asked me to :)

  19. I totally agree that it’s probably more about filling a slot than what God wants me to do. If you think about it, any calling is going to give us a new experience and therefore have the potential to teach us something or help us grow, sometimes in very painful ways. I also think God depends on us screwing up and our individual weakness to carry out his plan.

  20. Steve Evans,

    Just reflecting on your comment some more…

    “personally I want to know if some leader is…”

    Do you mind if I ask, what will you personally knowing help you with in regards to your call?

    Will you try harder if you know the leader received specific revelation regarding you? Now I’m not making the case that this is not what happens in all cases anyway… because as I stated when I thought about it, every calling I have ever made I really did feel the Lord was with me on it, sometimes names came right to my mind, others I had a few names I considered and knew any of them would be appropriate and that the Lord was pleased with all of them and all would be able to serve and in their own unique way magnify the calling to a positive (and unique) result for the ward. Kind of an anyway I decide, we’ll be ok feeling, but that the person I select will also help set the path in a way that perhaps the Lord would have me do. I don’t know if this is making much sense as I can clearly understand it in my mind, but I haven’t ever tried to put it in words until now.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    sam, it will instill in me some confidence when a leader has put time, thought and inspiration together in making a call.

  22. Great post. As always.

    “Incidentally, if any of you have ever wondered why church librarians don’t trust anyone, it’s because you’re all LIARS and THIEVES!”

    Amen. I spent more time tracking down chalk and erasers than I care to admit. I asked them to release me when I began having recovering library materials nightmares.

  23. I like that sentiment, and I think it’s good to feel that on a personal level as well.

    But for me, I always take comfort in knowing that a calling from authority comes from God. I think the way it is suppose to work, and the way it usually does work, is the leader who has authority is living righteously with real power in their authority to exercise God’s will regarding callings. In essence, the leader’s will and the God’s will are aligned. So the call does come from the authority of God, by the power of the righteous leader.

    But even skipping the question of whether or not there was real revelation (power in the context I’m using it) I’d still treat the call as coming from the Lord and would do my absolute best regardless.

    If the Lord’s servant was not living righteously enough or making decisions too rashly, it’s on their head. I’ll just try my best and trust in the Lord.

    Sorry for sounding so preachy though! I take the callings seriously because it seems very lonely to be in leadership positions sometimes and it’s always wonderful when someone really puts their heart and soul into a calling knowing that it comes from God.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    sam, if there’s no inspiration behind it, a calling does not come from God, that’s my point. I see no problem in asking a leader whether they have taken their idea before the Lord. If they haven’t, I’m not going to bother either.

    Again, your perspective of unquestioning obedience is doubtlessly one that works well for you and has brought you happiness, and I don’t fault you for it. But the notion that any calling from authority must be from God is simply erroneous, and in my view dangerous. We have a right as members to know whether our leaders are following God’s will or their own.

  25. I think callings for the Branch or Ward leadership level and above are inspired. I think other, subordinate callings, are a mix of inspiration and common sense. I think sometimes people try so hard to be inspired that they call the absolute worst person for the job just because they think it ‘feels’ right. I am a workerbee by nature and never really worry about why I am called to something. I just try to do the best I can in the position and sometimes it works and sometimes not.

  26. Steve (#21 and #24), the problem is that as a primary president I am ALWAYS thinking, praying, and pondering about primary I may not always have the time to wait for an angel to come down from heaven and tell me exactly which person should be teaching the sunbeams. They’ve got to have someone consistent and they need to have a teacher NOW.
    I do my very best to submit names by inspiration, but a combination of self-doubt (questioning myself if it’s truly inspiration or not) and being turned down by the bishopric does result in some names being submitted to give the kids what they need the most- consistency.
    On another note, I wish people didn’t feel like they needed to wait for inspiration to be released – or at least to initiate the possibility. I’d much rather have someone come to me and say, “you know, I’ve been in Primary a long time. I’m willing to keep going, but I feel like I could use a break. What do you think?” Then I can go home and pray about it. But if people don’t tell me where they are mentally, then I’m left guessing.

  27. And Librarian was my favorite calling ever!

  28. Steve I’m sorry you find it dangerous, I disagree and hold no ill feelings toward you or anyone who disagrees with me. I don’t have a problem being wrong in this regard and do not want to contend with you. I would just like to say my last word on the subject in this exchange since I think it’s a bit unfair to end with characterizing my view as “dangerous”.

    Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

    I take that literally. I will do what is asked of me by those called of God, because I believe their request comes by the authority of God himself.

    Danger has nothing to do with it. People can act dangerously if they feel the calling was inspired just as if they did not. What matters in the case of danger is if the person is relying on the what they know to be true, listening to the spirit, keeping inline with the scriptures and words of the prophets, etc.

    It’s a bit unfair to bust out the “danger” comment on me, but I’m not offended so don’t worry and I hope I didn’t step too closely on your toes.

  29. I agree with Sam’s line of reasoning. I’ve interacted with my bishop enough to know that he constantly prays for the members of my ward and tries to have the Spirit with him at all times. I believe that he is the person who the Lord wants leading my ward. I also believe that the Lord trusts our own judgment in some things. Thus, I don’t think that my bishop needs to be told by the Lord who needs to fill each and every calling (though I’m sure that he receives inspiration for many ward callings). So when the bishop asks me to do something or gives me advice, I take it as coming from the Lord and don’t need to know that my bishop prayed for it specifically. When/if I am ever under the authority of a bishop who I do not feel this way about, I will likely be more hesitant about accepting a calling from him.

    Also, I want to second all the good things people have been saying about the ward library. Best. Calling. Ever. I got to have a special key that no one else in the ward had, I went in there between meetings so I always got to skip the over-long Relief Society opening exercises, and I got to poke through all the old materials that have accumulated in our building over the last 40 years. Church statistical reports from the 1960s and volumes of illustrated Church history? Yes, please.

  30. L, So in a previous ward as an EQ pres, when they gave me a key to the Library I assume that was a violation of the special key trust? I never knew why they gave me one, I was happy to ask the Librarian for help… but I did use it a few times!


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

    Well, if you’re going to take it literally, you should take it grammatically, as well: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2004/04/my-least-favorite-prooftext/

  32. I’ve been on both ends of this discussion, and I loved this post. Thank you.

    I’ve asked a bishopric member to re-consider a calling in light of information they didn’t have at their disposal twice in my life. Once it still was extended, and I accepted it – serving as a place holder for a short time until someone else was available; once it was never mentioned again. Both decisions ultimately were inspired, imo.

    I’ve been part of the issuing of callings when it was crystal clear that God wanted a particular person to serve in that calling – and others where there was nobody qualified but one person – and others where the Lord’s chosen person declined and we had to go to Plan B – and once where I believe firmly that the person wasn’t the right person for the calling but needed to be slapped a bit and made to reconsider his life’s path (not accepting the calling but realizing that he needed to get his life in order to be able to accept the next one that was extended).

    End result:

    I believe in full disclosure and then acceptance, but I also believe that full disclosure means stating clearly one’s limitations and inability to “magnify” the calling if such limitations exist. If I can’t meet someone’s pre-existing expectations, I want to eliminate those unrealistic expectations up front – then do as well as I can with my limitations.

    Sometimes being a place holder is needed as much as being a worker bee.

  33. Slight tangent regarding the calling of ward librarian — Rebecca, thanks for rescuing those old publications. By permanently borrowing two books from our ward library, I just rescued any unsuspecting ward members from ever being able to check out ETB’s “The Red Carpet” or Andelin’s “Fascinating Womanhood.” Also, I just gave our ward librarian a copy of this quote from Michael Moore. She loved it!

    I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.

  34. #24: “If there’s no inspiration behind it, a calling does not come from God.”

    So, if the deputy sheriff has not consulted with the sheriff himself, then the ticket he gives you doesn’t come from the authority of the sheriff? I don’t think you should try that one in court.

    If priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God, then when someone with priesthood asks me to do something, he has done so in the name of God, i.e., with God’s authority. He better be sure that he is using that authority properly, but I’m bound to obey (unless, of course, he has exceeded that authority is some obvious way).

  35. Jim
    I echo your point and thank you for saying it so succinctly.
    I think that also extends that to women in callings wherever they are, as the RS, YW, Primary, etc. function under the authority of the priesthood of God.

  36. Mark Brown says:

    I was once told by the bishop that I was the ninth (9th) choice for scoutmaster, and the previous eight men had turned him down.

    He told me that his previous 8 attempts at getting prayerful confirmation and then getting burned had left him a little cynical about the whole process, so his prayer finally became something like “The ward needs a scoutmaster. Who will not say No to the calling?” And then he thought of me.

    I leave it up to you to decide whether it is good to have the reputation of being a worker bee, but there is no doubt that every ward needs people who are willing to do what is needed without getting a revelation.

    I also think we need to be careful about what we expect of bishops. Between all the different auxiliaries and various parts of a ward organization AND all the different interviews he conducts every week, he needs to make probably 30 or 40 decisions, every week. We can certainly hope that he is more or less inspired in a general way, but I think we are asking way, way too much if we expect him to get a personal answer to prayer to every single decision.

  37. As a missionary I engaged in a few discussions about how inspired missionary callings are. After all, we had to admit that decisions were made, in part, by the fact that they needed two more elders in the Paris France mission and 1 sister in the San Diego South mission. Those numbers probably determined, to a degree, where we each were called to serve. But someone how we became convinced that the Lord knew in advance that the need would exist for someone to go to that mission and our name would be available at that time for a calling, and His will would be done because we would be called to serve exactly where the Lord wanted us to serve. Same kind of logical was perfectly applicable to those who were called to serve in Brazil but because of visa problems wound up serving in Texas or Boston. These problems were not indications of no inspiration because the Lord knew the problems would exist, that they would perhaps try our faith, and in the end His will would be done. Our Father knows the end from the beginning. He knows what little insignificant callings in the First Ward Primary will need to be filled just as we move into the ward or are released from working in the Scouting program and that the calling will be extended to us. Just because it is common sense doesn’t mean that the hand of the Divine isn’t involved. Sometime I think we will be quite surprised — when we gain knowledge in all things — with how involved Heavenly Father and Christ are in even the little and mundane things in our lives. Just because it seems insignificant to us doesn’t mean it is to Them.

  38. Rebbeca your call to the BCC was obviously inspired. Yup, I always accept my callings. I was challenged once when a bishop called me to be a scout master. But I was magnificent. I took all the boys to scout camp but since the merit badge classes were worthless (I mean the environmental science teacher knew nothing about the subject), we fished, turned over rocks, collected insects, caught and released bats, learned the stars, learned how to care for the Earth, explored how things evolved from simple beginnings and learned the effect of humans on the changing climate. We also had a number of spiritual experiences around the fire. When I got back the scout committee was outraged that the boys had earned no merit badges (none of the parents of the boys were upset because they knew all the boys hated scouting–they were very appreciative of my efforts). One woman in particular was liviid. I explained patiently to the committee that nothing real was being taught in the classes and felt obligated to abandon the merit badge classes because they were without real content as any rational person would. Well, long story short, all but one of those boys served missions despite not an Eagle among them and I feel like I did a bit of good that direction by teaching them that you can be a good member even if you don’t like scouting–of which I was a fine example. The bishop was inspired to call me to that calling, just for those boys I believe, despite my anti-scouting stance and scientific ways–and good was done. Shortest Scout master stint ever however, because shortly after that, the bishop was inspired to call me to be the ward mission leader to work on the three non-members within our ward boundaries. I was inspired mostly to quit hassling them.

  39. Ha ha Mark I was typing while you were posting and did not see your comment. We would have made great tag-team scoutmasters.

  40. I also think in some cases the calling can be “inspired” by how we respond to it. The bishopric might not have been hit over the head spiritually to issue a calling (as I have learned first hand)…there are practical realities to staffing a ward at times that feel awfully mundane. That said, there is always something to learn and something to contribute in any calling. Whether issued by inspiration or not, a calling can become inspired if we magnify it to that end.

  41. Activities committee member is NObody’s inspired nothin’ ! AND I truly believe nursery and primary callings are 1st choice for the childless. I am only ever called to these jobs and it hasn’t worked for me yet ! :) I had 1 primary job I enjoyed. I did it for weeks (while all other Primary leaders were absent) waiting to be set apart and they never did, so I told them to forget it. And this from a (my former) branch who had far more people turn down ANY calling than people who would accept. Same 4 or so families did everything.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Jim, that’s a nice analogy but of course it fails. We’re not dealing with the type of authority that is ever exercisable without the sanction of the giver. If God is the Sheriff, He is always there, and the Deputy is, in fact, always to check with Him before doing something in His name.

  43. Aaron Brown says:

    “We have a right as members to know whether our leaders are following God’s will or their own.”

    Steve, what makes you think that if you ask the Bishop whether he sought inspiration in extending a calling to you, and he answers your question sincerely and honestly in the affirmative, that you actually know the correct answer to your question?

    In my view, if you’re going to stew about whether God is actively behind a particular calling extended to you, you’re basically doomed to stew about it indefinitely. That’s because I have such a low opinion of human beings’ (Bishops or otherwise) abilities to distinguish between actual spiritual confirmation and their own preferences.

    Basically, I think I’m with Jim. Best just to recognize that God wants his church to run smoothly, it runs smoothly if most of us accept callings extended to us by priesthood authority, and so best to please God and do the right thing by accepting callings extended to us (subject to liberal exceptions, since we may have our reasons for not being able to accept that our fallible Bishops may not have discerned). The end.

    Seriously, I’ve always found this whole subject rather strange. I think back to heated arguments in the MTC and mission field about whether individual mission calls were “inspired” in a strong sense, that is, whether God had some detailed plan about where each elder would go, and who he would meet, and whose life he would touch. Clearly, lots of elders were heavily invested in a certain view of the matter. Me, I just don’t get it. Who cares? I had a number of meaningful experiences in the mission field. Big whoop. They don’t become more meaningful by my thinking about them as literally micromanaged by God. If I had served elsewhere, I would have had meaningful experiences there too. And the elders who believe they were meant to serve in one and only one place? Yeah, they would have had meaningful experiences elsewhere as well. And would have solemnly and piously proclaimed that they were meant to serve in that mission and only that mission too, don’t you know. Sigh.

    I see almost no upside in clinging to strong versions of God’s intervention in our church callings, and plenty of potential downside. Just letting the whole preoccupation with this question go, on the other hand, is all upside and no downside, at least from where I’m standing.


  44. #37 I take the opposite view. I don’t think the Lord cares so much about the little details. He cares more about the how and the why than the what. I do believe in some instances and especially in leadership positions, he has prepared individuals for those positions, however the vast majority of them could be done by anybody and what matters is how the person doing them does them regardless of the calling.

  45. This post has really helped me understand my role in my ward. Truly, I am a LIAR and a THIEF.

  46. If you ever want to get jaded with callings, go to a BYU ward. I was lucky enough to have callings that felt meaningful, but my wife has served mostly in the illustrious positions of ward greeter and “the girl who passes out the Ensigns to everyone’s doorstep once a month.”

    Serving callings faithfully, no matter how small, can teach us great lessons on diligence, and I’m sure there’s some great sacrament meeting talk about “small and simple things” and all that somewhere in the experience, which my wife appreciates. She never had overly spiritual experiences passing out Ensigns, but it had to be done, and she did her duty (lest the ward members miss out on their free monthly church magazines). But tell her that in yonder lofty heavens before the earth was, during the Grand Council she was foreordained to verily pass out Ensigns in the last dispensation to her ward members once a month, thus saith the Lord, and she will most definitely roll her eyes.

  47. I’m going with the Doc Brown (from “Back To The Future”) thesis: the future isn’t written in stone, it’s what you make of it. Any given calling may or may not be inspired, but it’s up to the person who accepts the calling to do what it takes to make it look like the calling was inspired, when it may not have been inspired at all. In a way, the Bishop gets the credit when the callee performs well in the calling, regardless of the level of inspiration in the call. In actual fact, it may be that there was 0% inspiration on the part of the Bishop, but the person accepting the call got 100% inspired and made the calling a success, and then everyone says, “Wow, what a wise, inspired Bishop we have!”

  48. Steve,
    I still don’t understand why you need to know if there is inspiration behind your calling or not. What’s the difference between God saying, “the ward needs Steve to be Gospel Doctrine teacher” and the bishop saying, “the ward needs Steve to be Gospel Doctrine teacher.”?

  49. It’s easy to assume that our current calling is where God wants our service focused, especially when we think a specific revelation put us there. As a result, we probably spend less time than we should seeking inspiration on how we can be useful in building the kingdom in other self-motivated ways. I certainly fall into that trap, but have a brother who has done great things for the church/community in his area that had nothing to do with his calling. I admire him very much for it.

  50. Loved this. My favorite line was “If this were an Ensign article…”

  51. In an IM discussion, Steve Evans, bless his soul, called me to repentance. So I publicly confess my failure here: the sheriff analogy is a weak one; the servant analogy is much better. The fact that we are called on to have the Holy Ghost as our constant companion makes the sheriff analogy not work well. But (if I recall our conversation well after a good night’s sleep) I think that Steve and I still disagree about whether, in most cases, I ought to accept the call without questioning its inspiration. I think it should be rare that I would question; he doesn’t.

  52. It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong!

  53. I think that Steve and I still disagree about whether, in most cases, I ought to accept the call without questioning its inspiration. I think it should be rare that I would question; he doesn’t.

    Jim F,
    Never attribute to doctrinal disagreement that which should properly be attributed to laziness.

  54. I’d recharacterize Jim’s description of my position. It’s not that I want to question the inspiration behind the call – rather, I want to understand it and gain a testimony of it myself. This is more difficult to do if in fact there is no inspiration behind a call.

  55. Steve,
    I don’t understand what you’re talking about. When do you hope to get that testimony? And is your acceptance contingent upon its level of inspiration? And assuming you do gain a testimony, what is the substance of that testimony? That God willed it or that people benefitted?

  56. Rusty, it is not given to all to know the mind of Steve.

  57. Some callings are inspired, but I sure wish the Bishop would admit when they aren’t so I wouldn’t feel so awful when I have to say no.

    “Look, the bishopric aren’t miracle workers. If you can’t handle a calling, say so, and give them the chance to extend it to someone else.”
    Bishop calls me as a Scout leader, telling me the Scout meetings are at 4 pm on Tuesday. I explain to him that my work schedule won’t allow me to make it to that meeting. He says he was inspired to call me and that I would find a way. So I talk to my boss who tells me “no way” then go back to my Bishop. He tells me there are no other options in the lords mind and to please try again. I go to my boss again, this time suggesting I come in early on Tuesdays, or even stay late other nights to make up what I’m missing. He looks at me like I’m crazy and says no and to please not bring the burden f my religion into his workplace. I go back to the Bishop and tell him what my boss say, this time asking if we can move Scouts to a different time. He tells me no, saying this is the time that is best for the boys. Then he calls me as the Scout leader anyway, releasing me three weeks later after I haven’t made it to a single Scout meeting.

    That was enough for me. Maybe some callings are inspired, but there is no way every one of them are.

  58. Jjohnson,
    I don’t think anyone is claiming that all callings are inspired. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, many here are saying that it doesn’t matter if they are inspired, what matters is that we’re called. Your example is more about an unreasonable bishop than a lack of inspiration.

  59. StillConfused says:

    I was a librarian. I think it is the only calling they felt comfortable putting me in. I loved it. Reorganized the place, modernized it, instituted suggestive sales (Would you like a felt story board with that?). Rarely did I enforce the sign out rule — I would tell them that if they were stealing from a church that I was the least of their worries. The stuff always came back when I made that statement. I would cover all three wards (so I wouldn’t have to go to class). Great times!

  60. Tanya Spackman says:

    I have no doubt that some callings are inspired. I also have no doubt that some callings are matters of necessity or convenience. Worker bees are very important!

    Actually, even if the person being asked can’t do the calling for whatever reason, sometimes it’s still inspired. My last bishop told me once that, when he was trying to fill a position, he felt inspired to call someone. She couldn’t do the calling for some reason and said no (health reasons the bishop didn’t know about, I think). However, she also broke down crying because she had felt unworthy for some reason and that the Lord had abandoned her, and just being offered the calling was something she really, really needed. It was like it showed her that she was worthy, even if she couldn’t do it right then.

    I’m actually kind of amused by the pragmatic approach of my bishop that led to my current calling. On the first Sunday I attended my new ward after moving, the RS presidency person conducting was trying to get someone to lead the music. She asked a couple people who said no, they didn’t know how, and came to me and said, “I know you’re new, but could you do it?” I shrugged and said sure. For the next 6 months they asked me every Sunday to lead the music, and every Sunday (if I was there, of course) I did. Actually, I kept wanting them to just make it a calling so we could all avoid the asking step.

    Finally, at tithing settlement, the bishop said, “So, do you have a calling?”


    “You’re leading the music every week in Relief Society every week, right?”


    “Do you mind if we just make that a calling.”

    “Don’t mind at all. That would be good.”

    “Okay, let me know when you get sick of it and we’ll give you something else.”

    “Will do.”

    Yes, I do like the practical approach sometimes.

  61. Tanya’s story reminds me of my father’s mission call. He traveled from Southern California, where he was in school, to Salt Lake City, for the interview with a general authority, required of all prospective missionaries in the 1940s. He ended up speaking with Elder Benson. Elder Benson had been in my grandparents’ home when visiting for stake conference (my grandfather was the stake president), so the talk quickly turned to all sorts of things other than just a standard interview. Then Elder Benson asked my dad where he’d like to serve, and Dad mentioned England–our family came from England in the mid-19th centurn and that’s also where his older brother had served. Elder Benson said there was a group of missionaries at the mission home right then who were on their way to England, and he could join them if he were ready. Dad said he’d like to go down to Arizona and see his parents, since he hadn’t seen them since Christmastime, so Elder Benson asked whether Canada would be ok. Dad said yes, and a few weeks later he got his mission call from Pres. George Albert Smith, calling him as a missionary in the Canadian Mission.

  62. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    My observation is that the higher the status of the calling (yes, I am suggesting that some have more status than others), the greater the likelihood that the calling will be perceived as having been inspired. Relief Society President=inspired, Enrichment Decorating Committee=not so much; Bishopric member=inspired, Temple Service Coordinator=I hope not. Unfortunately, the reverse is often the case. Perhaps the only one who is inspired in the exchange is the one who answers “yes” – wait, too many people say “yes” without thinking. Nevermind.

  63. What happens if your inspiration is different from the person who called you? What happens if you say “no” because of that inspiration?

    No details but this is not a moot point, BTW.

  64. anon for now says:

    Re: #63: I am so glad someone else brought this up! What if the Spirit tells you to say no? What if the Lord has other plans for you and the calling is not inspired? What if the bishop has not taken the time to pray over the calling, but just accepted the request coming from downline? What if you take the time to explain to the bishop that you were directed by the Spirit to say no and he becomes angry with you? Should a bishop feel good about his anger in a situation like this?

    These situations are not hypothetical. The above really happened. Could the Lord use such situations as a red flag to get the Bishop’s attention to seek the Spirit more in his calling? Could it be possible that even bishops need repentance in areas of their lives from time to time and they might be quenching the Spirit in their lives? Example: a bishop is engaging in viewing pornography or is off track in other areas of his life but doesn’t want to give it up and so is not in confessing to his priesthood leaders, but continues to carry out his calling.

  65. I’d rejoice more over an uninspired calling: if a calling is uninspired I would expect to be /more/ blessed for fulfilling it. :) It’s like extra credit: it isn’t required by the course outline so you get bonus points for doing it.

  66. “Could it be possible that even bishops need repentance in areas of their lives from time to time and they might be quenching the Spirit in their lives? Example: a bishop is engaging in viewing pornography or is off track in other areas of his life but doesn’t want to give it up and so is not in confessing to his priesthood leaders, but continues to carry out his calling.”

    The problem I see with this line of reasoning is could become a convenient excuse to rationalize away just about anything. If the bishop is indeed unrighteous, and asks you to do a righteous thing (serve in primary, be in charge of the ward bulletin, home teach, serve in YM, etc) why do you think the Lord would be pleased if you elected not to do something righteous as a way of teaching the Bishop a lesson in humility/repentance?

    But even if I grant you this possibility, it would really have to be the exception and not the rule, and in that case I wonder why it would be necessary to point out what might happen in the 0.05% of the time as a reason for not doing what we should the other 99.05% of the time. Unless you suggesting that most bishops look at pornography or are otherwise living unrighteously and -that is of course- the reason why you’re not magnifying (or accepting) your calling.

  67. esodhiambo says:

    Worker Bees of the Church unite! I loved this post.

    I think I am with Steve: there are times (as amply illustrated on this thread) when callings are extended without full knowledge of individual circumstances: health, depression, new baby on the way, impending divorce, etc.

    If I am in the middle of, for example, a major health crisis, and I got called to be the Relief Society President, it would make a BIG difference to me if that calling was inspired by God or if I just seemed like a logical fit. You thought I might make a good RS president? Thanks–maybe in a couple years I’ll be in a better position. God thought I needed to be an RS President right now? Totally different story.

    I have 2 funny calling stories:

    1– For years my Church records indicated that I had served my mission in Spain. I served in Japan, but have often wondered how Spain got on my records.

    2–I was extended a calling to serve as a Sunday School teacher by the bishop. He specifically said that he had been inspired to extend the calling (I would have accepted regardless), and after I accepted, he asked me what my name was.

  68. When I went into the MTC they told us in no uncertain terms that our companships in the MTC had been made by computer (alphabetically as it turns out) and therefore we might have problems getting along etc. When it was time to leave, many of the elders in my district bore their testimonies that the companionships had been inspired, and if I recall correctly, perhaps even predestined.

  69. Stephanie says:

    esodhiambo, I think you nailed it. If I know a calling is from the Lord, then I know that He will give me the strength to do it. I am likely to sacrifice a lot more because I know this is His will, and He will make up for it. But, if I am just a good fit, I don’t know that the Lord will strengthen me as much.

    Then again, there is a lot to be said for obedience. Maybe the Lord will strengthen us the same just for accepting a calling from our leaders. But, I agree that it matters to me to know for big callings that demand a lot of sacrifice. Or even that I just hate. DH and I went back and forth for months when the Primary President wanted me as a cub scout leader. I knew she wanted me in that calling, but I didn’t know that the Lord did. I didn’t particularly want to suck it up and do something I hate for her. But, I would do it for the Lord. In the end, I accepted the calling (and she got released a week later). But, I admit that it has been a good fit, and I’ve had impressions telling me that the Lord wants me doing this for a few different reasons.