“Bishop Kvetch” and busyness

Research on time-use has observed an increasingly powerful association between prestige and busyness among some social groups; this research is relevant to the Church’s repeated efforts to reduce the pressure on Bishops.

Jonathan Gershuny (a well respected researcher of time-use data) wrote an important paper in which he noted that whereas ‘Leisure’ had been a symbol of prestige in the late Victorian-age (cf. Veblen) ‘Busyness’ has superseded it as a badge of honour among the privileged.  Thus those with more education and who are employed in professional occupations have come to work more hours than those who work in manual occupations and who have received less education.  Further, this prestigious group is more likely to subjectively describe their busyness with greater intensity than those who are not in this group.  This phenomenon has been described by two researchers as “yuppie kvetch”.

This research has led me to reflect upon recent instruction regarding the Church handbook of instructions and, specifically, the effort to reduce the workload of Bishops.  Well-intentioned efforts to alleviate this pressure might falter because ‘busyness’ can serve as a badge of honour for Bishops who are busy are serving the people.  This assessment raises two associated problems.  First, Bishops may be reluctant to delegate work which reduces their ‘busyness’ in order to maintain their sense of being a good Bishop.  They may therefore rely consistently on only delegating those things they physically cannot do.  Second, it is also possible that, even if real strides are taken in relation to reducing the Bishop’s responsibilities, a form of “Bishop kvetch” will still persist because of a prior expectation.  I want to make two suggestions regarding how this problem might be combated.

Most (UK) Bishops I know spend most of their time speaking to members with various personal problems but which are not ‘Bishop only’ concerns[1].  This response is natural for an ecclesiology which focuses revelation in our leaders.  Admittedly this does not refer to everyone; but the group who accept this view is large enough to consume much of a Bishop’s time.  Merely suggesting that people go to their appropriate Priesthood leader first does not resolve the issue because this re-focuses their attention on the Priesthood line (which for most people leads to the Bishop, esp. if their HT/VT are not all that great) rather than the many other people in a ward who could respond to the challenges we all face.  If a Bishop could successfully create a localised ecclesiology which envisions revelation as a community-based process between fellow saints he could reduce the privileged position he holds.  Although E. Oaks’ recent talk helps move away this responsibility from Bishops, this model does not go far enough in establishing other forms of revelatory dialogue in settings outside the Bishop’s office.  A rhetorical shift in testimony meetings might aid this process.  The Bishopric, primarily because they often bear testimony first, can do a great deal to set the tone or focus of that meeting.  Well chosen testimony (using examples which downplay the Bishop) could help shift the way that revelation is perceived in a local community.

Second, part of the issue with “Bishop Kvetch” is a sacrificial double-speak.  Elder Holland gave a talk at GC in 2002 which illustrates part of this problem using an anecdote from the life of a busy-Bishop. Together, the Bishop and his wife decided to reserve a ‘date-night’ on an evening other than Monday.  On their first designated evening the phone rings; the faithful Bishop answers the phone and saves the marriage of a ward member.  E. Holland concludes this story with a caveat that he supports reducing the burden placed upon Bishops but is also grateful for those who respond faithfully to the many demands upon their time.  The challenge the leaders see, I suppose, is that they want people to serve more in general while alleviating the burden on those who serve too much.

The story used to illustrate this idea is central to the problem these leaders are facing.  Rarely would this type of phone call come at this exact moment.  More often they are calls about problems which can wait or that someone else could respond to.  Could this narrative be shifted slightly to highlight the genuine need of another, to which the Bishop responds by sharing that problem with a counsellor or auxiliary president, who, in turn, then offers the inspiration or comfort needed?  The focus in this second narrative is a Bishop who responds to both his wife’s need and the need of another.  There are such stories, of course, but the mixed message provides the space in which “Bishop kvetch” possibly emerges.  Bishops will not work to reduce their own workload (or the way they talk about that workload) until “busyness” is no longer a sign of faithful service.

Genuinely valuing Bishops who respond by sharing that responsibility and by shifting the rhetoric around revelation in a local community will be effective ways in which the pressure placed upon Bishops can be alleviated.


  1. By ‘Bishop only’ I am referring to those specific circumstances in which a Bishop alone is supposed to initially respond to a situation: i.e. tithing, confession and certain interviews.


  1. Peter Bridgwater says:

    I have not been able to serve as a bishop so I cannot really comment or provide feedback etc… I am a member who has a Bishop however (well, Branch President) and I already consider ‘community’ revelation viable and even preferrable. Regretfully, many of the comments I make about this kind of thing are interpreted by other members of the church as ‘apostate’ or at best ‘dodgy’. Usually I will quote Moses’ ‘Would to God that all the lords people were prophets…’ qualified by the mosiah 5 ‘were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things’ (All heavily paraphrased) I understand that this referencing is ‘painful’ but I am writing off the cuff & will look them up and provide them if specifically asked.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Aaron, thank you for this outstanding post. I think you are onto something important with your idea that revelation can come to a group instead of just an individual. That is also how I see an ideal ward council functioning. But we continually run into another problem with the expectation of confidentiality. While there are no doubt many people who can help provide solutions to a member’s problems, there is also no doubt that the member strongly prefers only the bishop to know about the problem. I’ve never been able to get around this dilemma.

  3. Peter, thanks for your comments. My concern with my own suggestion is that I wonder how realistic it is to expect local communities to function in this way. I wonder whether I am too idealistic?

    Mark Brown, I nearly included the issue of confidentiality in the post but I try to keep them quite short. It is certainly a valid concern and thank you for asking it, because it allows me to express some thoughts. Vulnerability and trust become key dynamics to consider in this setting. First, I fear that we are loathe to share out intimate problems because we want to maintain an unnecessary facade of righteousness. Correcting this mis-understanding of the way our community should function might help shift this problem. Second trust is a genuine concern in wards were we are encouraged to discuss other people (as a matter of concern, of course). This is a discursive challenge where effective demonstrations could be offered through WWL broadcasts.

  4. Peter Bridgwater says:

    I really need to be working right now, but I’m afraid that if I leave it until later, the points I wanted to raise will either be discussed, or lost in the progress of the thread.

    I think it is unreasonable to expect this to operate properly in a ward. ‘unnecessary facade of righteousness’ is one reason that people are not willing to be entirely open and honest with eachother. I think our self imposed reticence toward other members of the church reflects a deep desire to avoid being hurt. This self defensive desire is so fundamental, it is almost pathological.

    Being willing to get hurt for the interests of Zion (and lets be honest, you will get hurt if that is your goal) is directly proportional to our understanding of the atonement and appreciation of God’s love for us. I also feel that (most) people will not instinctively feel for the state of Zion, or accept it’s attendant ‘risks’ & have to have it demonstrated to them by another.

    How many of us really accept people for what they are? I don’t. I have many reservations; judgements that occur naturally, even when I’m aware of them and trying to improve.

    I feel that there is a perpetual & Oscillating conflict between feeling vulnerable because of our weakness, and feeling safe & secure because the atonement covers them. One of the mysteries of the ‘community’ revelation set up is just how to reconcile this conflict sufficiently to become part of a Zion like society.

    This always reminds me of Jeremiah. I can’t remember the reference, but essentially Jeremiah is treated badly by the people of Jerusalem and make something like an oath that he will ‘make no more mention of his[God’s] name’. He cannot sustain this oath and finds that (paraphrased) ‘The word of the lord was like a fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing and could not stay’. It is interesting to note that Jeremiah’s position was still pathological: he descended into attempts to isolate and alienate himself from God and others, but his attempts were not maintained for long.

    My current cycle is exactly the opposite of that. I make oaths to do the good, and get weary with it and revert to the natural, which is not always bad per se, but just irrelevant to the purpose of Zion. The similar cycle seems to be revealed by those who go less active, claiming that someone upset them etc: Who knows, if someone pressed my buttons in the right way, might I follow them?

    It seems that Jeremiah’s kind of personal state is required of those that want to become catalysts and facillitators for Zion.

  5. Right on. Bishops, of course, are not the only guilty parties–plenty of people in the Church and out brag about how busy they are to communicate their immense worth in the world. I have been guilty of this; it was only when I served with a woman who did it too that I realized how annoying it was. I like your tweak to the Bishop’s story, involving another member AND attending to his own family.

    Regarding confidentiality: I recently made a High Priest Group Leader cry. I didn’t mean to. He showed up at my house one night to talk to my husband–they one who moved out more than 2 years ago. The HPGL, I am sure, thought he was going to be there to fellowship/reactivate or something, and instead he found out that he was kind of clueless about my family and expressed to me his regret that “a woman in my position” had not received more help from the ward. The next Sunday, I received apologies from the ward clerk who wanted to straighten out our addresses–he alluded to confidentiality as the culprit in this little snafu (which didn’t bug me as much as it did the HPGL), saying that the Bishop could not share this information. Interestingly enough, that clerk had been EQ president when my husband left–had we had active home teachers, they would have known what was going on, as would this brother, who I am sure would have told the Bishop and everyone else at ward council. Similarly, my visiting teachers knew. My RS president knew. My friends knew. My book club knew. The ladies in the stake I served with knew. It was no secret–anyone who had set foot in my house in the previous 2 years knew. But none of those people happened to be men or in the priesthood chain.

    Sorry–that was a long way to say that HT and VT effectively deal with some confidentiality issues by making it impossible to have any confidentiality about some things.

  6. ByTheRules says:

    Every Bishop has similar fixed administrative duties, which should be accommodated in less than 20 hours per week. The variable seems to be individual member needs. In our Ward it is disproportionately welfare issues. The Relief Society President is critical to off-load “busyness” from the Bishop in our circumstances.

    The HT/VT programs would also be great resources for member needs, but is limited by the quality (dysfunction) of the individuals therein. Great structure, less than perfect outcomes. The spillover needs not being met by HT/VT does in some measure end up with the Bishop.

    A smart Bishop will lean heavily on his Executive Secretary to structure his time effectively, and efficiently. From that point, a Bishop needs personal education to manage individual members much the same way that a psychiatrist can manage severe needs in discreet appointment time frames.

    There will also be a measure of differences in Wards. Some will just simply require more time from the Bishops, but if the system is utilized correctly by all involved, it should be entirely tolerable.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Eric Samuelson’s movie Peculiarities interweaves something like six story lines. One is about a bishop and his wife, and the strains his calling is putting on his marriage. One evening they are about to go out, when the phone rings. He bails on his wife and goes to the church. But all he ends up doing is something sort of silly, like approving the table lay out for the RS President for some activity. He didn’t need to do it; he could have told the RS President to just use her best judgment, but he felt obligated somehow by his calling. All the while, his marriage was slipping further and further into the toilet.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Great post. President Uchtdorf addressed this somewhat in the last conference when he said

    Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list.

  9. Peter, I appreciated your further comment. Your thoughts about unwillingness to open up to people is an interesting approach. Instead of wanting to become new creatures in Christ we pretend that we have already been re-created and blame others when that facade cracks.

    esodhiambo, thank you for sharing your story. It raises some interesting questions for me.

    Stephanie, I missed that quote but I really like it. Thanks for sharing.

    Also, if anyone has access to the film Kevin mentioned I would love to see it.

  10. Aaron, thanks for the links, I think Gershuny is right about modern culture valuing busyness. And I think your connecting this to the church is perceptive but by talking only of bishops you narrow the scope of the problem and diminish its negative effects on all of us. Trying to attenuate the ill effects at the bishop level is like whacking at the leaves of a weed instead of the roots. Bishops and all leaders in the church that are saddled with the ill effects of busyness are that way because they come from a church culture of busyness.

  11. What helps me as a bishop is what Elder Ballard talks about in his book Counseling with our Councils. He mentions that a Bishop who is doing everything is not a very effective Bishop. I think a Bishop who is doing everything is rather selfish much like a parent who does all of the work for their kids.

    I have found that using your ward council right and teaching your ward council to use the people in their organizations right helps to spread the work out to more and more people rather than just on “the same ten people”

    One thing that I have felt strongly since I was called 6 months ago is that we need to get as many people involved in doing the work as possible.

    In Zion everyone worked with one heart and one mind, also with everyone looking out for the interest of his neighbor.

    The culture of busyness is something that is learned from our culture in general not just in the church. As a teacher I had to overcome the feeling of guilt I felt for not doing paid work during the summer.

  12. My bishop saved my marriage at many inconvenient times. That’s probably a painful grammar issue, but you smart guys can figure it out.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    I’m glad to have read this. I’ll add a little story told to me by a friend who had been executive secretary to two consecutive bishops. With the first, more was delegated than the friend had seen anywhere. The bishop would pick up the phone for only three people: the executive secretary, one of his counselors, and the Relief Society president. The other counselor didn’t make the cut. If a member wanted to speak with the bishop, she had to contact the secretary and tell why. If the secretary couldn’t tell the bishop why the member wanted to meet, the bishop didn’t meet. The secretary wrote sacrament talks for the bishop when those were needed. The friend said this all worked very well with people attending to their own callings and lots of very important things becoming not so important when the bishop wasn’t always on call.

    The friend was held over by the next bishop, who did everything himself. The secretary would ask what the bishop wanted him to do and there wasn’t anything. The strain was tremendous on this bishop and his family, and to escape the calling, they moved after three years.

  14. Great post, Aaron. A lot to think about.

  15. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I agree with KLC and jtb, that there is a culture of busyness that comes from both inside and outside the Church. Along with it comes a hierarchy of busyness. So the bishop’s or stake president’s or CEO’s busyness is more important than someone’s who is lower in the hierarchal chain of command.
    This culture of busyness is so damaging to personal relationships. It is why I have very little contact with one of my brothers. Ironically, he is so caught up in his important busyness that he has no idea that I have cut off my relationship with him.
    This concept hits closest to home for me in my own marriage. My husband has spent 21 of the past 27 years as either a bishop or a member of a stake presidency. He will likely be released from his current position in just a few months, but his selfworth is so tied up in his busyness, I fear what will happen to him mentally and emotionally when the outward reason for the busyness is not there. Then there is the issue of our relationship. I love him and I don’t question his love for me. However, the only time we ever have time that is truly “ours” is when we’re driving somewhere outside of cell-phone range (we live in Montana). I can’t help but wonder how different our relationship would be (better, I hope) if every conversation (and intimate moment) was not in danger of interuption. (For awhile, when he was bishop, we did take the phone off the hook on Saturday mornings, but people would just come to the house in person instead.)
    I have never resented the truly needy, like the couple in Elder Holland’s story. But these are really a very small portion of what take’s a bishop’s or stake leader’s time. Most of the calls that come could be directed to someone else. Sometimes I think it’s just easier for people to pick up the phone and call the bishop, rather than think of who else might be able to serve their needs or answer the question they have. Church leaders themselves also have to be willing to not respond, either by sending the request to another person, by postponing it or by ignoring it.
    I don’t know what the answers are to this problem, but I appreciate the discussion of it. Just ackowledging that it exists is a step to finding answers.

  16. There are a couple of things I want to add to this issue. As has been pointed out, this is a much wider problem. While the Church does have responsibilities and opportunities to affect how this manifests, to a great degree this is an outside problem finding fertile ground in our lay / volunteer work force. While Bishops are one (the?) obvious calling, I’ve seen this affect RS Pres, YW & YM Leaders, and even an odd cub scout leader or activities committee member (purely as examples, I expect anyone in the Church dedicated to being ‘busy’ for the sake of being busy could find a way to do it). It’s hard to find that subtle shifting line between ‘magnifying your calling’ and ‘busyness as badge of honor’. I suppose much of it comes from how private versus public your service is. But even then, knowing that you are super-busy, even if most others don’t, can be it’s own ‘reward’.

    I’ve served as a Bishop. And I did better and worse at various times with regards to this. I unquestionably let family responsibilities slide. Sometime for great reasons. Sometimes for wastes. I can say that when I gave up myself and my family for truly important things, my family was cared for. I could tell a much longer version of this relation to my oldest son (who is autistic) and my entire service as Bishop. But the times I neglected my family for something that turned out to be less important, I and my family felt the consequences. I got better at this juggling as time went on (at least I felt so and my wife agreed). I learned that there is a certain percentage of each ward that is a sponge. They will take as much time and energy as you are willing to give. And they prefer the Bishop’s time and energy (if they can’t get a SP’s – and they will try).

    Many have hit on the important ways to resolve it, effective Ward Councils, HT & VT. I did want to add one thing to the whole confidentiality issue. Obviously, the Bishop has to be a trusted safe place to function as counselor and confidant. But I always encouraged people who were in my office to work to a place where they would tell those important to them (and maybe others) of their struggles. If you are still clinging to a secret, it still has power over you. It’s not the Bishop’s place to *tell* people when they should speak to others, but I do think it is appropriate for a Bishop to encourage it.

    My two cents.

  17. The secretary wrote sacrament talks for the bishop when those were needed.

    Now that’s above and beyond.

  18. Okay, a few random thoughts from my years having been a bishop’s wife and RS president.

    One very positive thing is that although we live far from Utah, in the last five years the church has greatly expanded the LDS social services available in our area. This is hugely important because it means more counseling is being done by trained professionals, which is probably more effective as well as lifting a bishop’s burden. I hope that will continue. I don’t know if this is worldwide?

    Next, I would like to say that a great deal of time spent on welfare issues would disappear if we lived in France or Taiwan because it is health care related, and having to make hard decisions about whether fast offering dollars should be used to pay for needed medication for a member, etc.

    Also, wedding and funerals are a major time sink. So if you people would please stop dying and getting hitched, that would be a big help. And non-member relatives don’t understand why a bishop wants to beg off on the rehearsal dinner, etc. and get offended. While weddings are a legal issue that cannot be delegated, theoretically the bishop could delegate the funeral to a counselor, but people will get offended.

    And there are a lot of welfare-related phone calls from non-members, and from members from other congregations who find themselves at our local hospital, homeless shelter or jail. The bishop’s phone number is the only one that they find, and while he will likely delegate the action, he still has to conduct the initial triage. And yes, the phone often rings at the most inconvenient times.

    It is hard being a bishop’s wife, because we can be a big help coming along when visiting grieving widows, etc., and that is an opportunity for us to be together. (But at the same time we risk being viewed as a meddlesome bitch by many ward members.)

    From the first moment a bishop is sustained, he should be training his replacement, so delegating is important not just for relieving his own burden but for getting the next person ready. However, delegating carries its own costs, including time–it is NOT always a time-saver. For example, a bishop may spend more time than was saved listening to complaints about the timing of a youth temple trip that his counselor set up, all the while smiling and thanking for the concern, and not letting on that the counselor did it.

    While the first bishop described in John Mansfield’s #15 sounds efficient, it also sounds cold and perhaps inappropriate. Tell the exec why I want to talk to the bishop? Well, broad categories perhaps, but no way in hell am I going to share my private concerns with a clerk. How much of the time savings was effective use of time and how much at the cost of members who did not have their needs met during his tenure?

    My husband never, ever got into the busyness thing. I think that is more of a process-oriented “SJ” personality in the Myers-Briggs typology. My husband is an NT bottom-liner. And like most sane people, he never desired to be bishop.

  19. Great post. The supposition that the busier you are in a leadership calling, the more valiant you must be serving is carried over into RS, YW, YM, etc.
    My own experience and observaton is that when Bishops or auxiliary presidents do everything, then presidencies and Bishopbrics function less effectively. The counselors end up wondering why they were called at all as they are most often given orders instead of asked for counsel.

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

    I’m glad I’m an adult member in a post-franklin-covey-ginormous-black-folder-sharpen-tool-snake-oil-perfection-kit-toting era.

    I’ve always admired my current bishop. He is a model of delegating so he can focus on spiritual ministration and listening. What is even better is that he has managed to do it in a way that does not alienate the congregation and community.

  21. I think there are a couple of things at play here. Yes, there are some who value the status of “busyness”, both as a personal status symbol, and from those who attach a higher status to the busy people that they see.

    But from my experience, being a bishop should knock any of that nonsense out of you in a hurry. When I served as bishop, I had some good counsel about organizing and delegating, which helped a lot. I did better at delegating at some times than others, but I tried to organize my time so that Friday nights was date night with my wife, Monday night was family night, and interviews were on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I relied very heavily on RS presidents, and PH leaders as much as I could. My counselors were responsible for lining up all the sacrament meeting speakers.

    But there is one more issue that I haven’t seen discussed here, which is that running a ward or even more so a stake as stake president, requires some administrative skills, and a bishop or SP who doesn’t have those will flounder. Part of the inspiration in these callings I’m sure doesn’t just take into account our spiritual readiness, but our other, more worldly skills, as well. You’ve got to be able to understand how the organization works, be able to delegate, and train and trust your subordinates to follow through on their responsibilities. In my case, I’d grown up in the church where my father served as a bishop’s counselor twice and stake clerk, I had been an executive secretary, HP group leader, and spent one year as a bishop’s councilor before being called as bishop. I had a good understanding of how things worked which made up for some of my mediocre management skills. It’s a bigger issue for stake presidents, who really have to rely on councilors, a high council, several clerks, and an array of really strong auxiliary leaders at the stake level, as well as managing the work of the bishops in each ward.

    Having a strong background in handling “busyness” makes it easier to function in these callings. The challenge is helping to change the expectations of ward members, and the vision of PH and auxiliary leaders at the ward level. I think that was the focus of the recent handbook changes and the worldwide training that accompanied it.

  22. I’ve got a partial solution! I’ve said it before on FMH, but I’ll say it again here. Another way for the church to spread responsibilities would be for RS/YW ward and stake presidents to conduct the YW and women’s chastity-related, personal progress and temple recommend interviews. There are several discussions over at FMH expanding the doctrinal, legal, and emotional implications relating to this proposition. It would accomplish more than just alieviating the busy-bishop problem.

  23. Would LDS ever consider adapting the parish nurse model for a ward/stake? Other faiths rely upon parish nurses (medical professionals of all sorts) as a frontline and time-saver for the minsiter. Parish nurses run the gammut from simply dispensing proactive consumer health info to actually practicing medicine, but are key in coordinating the church’s resources and services during a parishiners’ illness. It’s just a thought.

  24. J.AT, the parish nurse idea is interesting from the concept of dispensing proactive consumer health, but the second part, coordinating the church’s resources and services during a member’s illness is the primary responsibility of PH quorum leaders and RS presidencies. Nothing in the handbooks or in actual practice that I’m aware of is it required that the bishop be the prime coordinator of those efforts.

    We do too often lean on the RS for these kinds of things, but the priesthood quorums should be equally involved in these efforts.

  25. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the middle-class busyness kvetch (from another perspective) in her book ‘Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy’, citing the industrial revolution as a time when the middle-class was needed to work, not flit away profits in time-draining celebrations and frivolity. Therefore, the culture began supressing communal expressions of joy (holidays, festivals, carnivals, community celebrations, etc.) and valuing the ‘busyness kvetch’ of a good worker bee. The drastic changes in the past century have erased millinia old traditions and celebrations in western culture as well as immigrant cultures. And, we’re globalizing our whitewashing!

    Even in the church is part of it. In the past 40 years we have:
    *Slashed local arts programs (roadshows, music and dance teams, theater, quilting bees, etc.)
    *Cut pagents
    *Simplified the music
    *Toned down unique LDS celebrations. The 24th isn’t even celebrated in some wards outside the mormon corridor. Christmas is compartmentalized into usually only PART of the meetings at the end of December in lieu of the last chapter of Malachi (ie business).
    *Cut RS enrichment nights from weekly activities (in Nauvoo) to quarterly activities today- which are institutionally focused.
    *Cut doctrinal dinner groups
    *Significantly downsized ward parties and socials for adults and primary children especially.
    *We actually used to build LDS dancing halls! Can you believe doing that today? We barely use our cultural halls now except for YM basketball.
    *We stopped using our kitchens for “insurance purposes”, neglecting the fact that community and culture revolves around FOOD!
    *People under the age of 40ish don’t even remember that wards used to have fairs and carnivals! They don’t recall a time when the ward met together mid-week for primary and mutual or that you might see the members again on Saturday working together at the ward welfare farm.

    In essence, we’re all work, no play. The problem is, our culture, our essence is best expressed in ‘play’. The work of God- the work of Zion is based on the people growing together in a community, not the projects or paper-pushing, and yet we keep cutting social opportunities! 2 Ne 2:25 isn’t just adminision, but an essential element in Zion!

    Most LDS blogs are replete with complaints from the membership about all the time constraints of active membership. The church has been responsive to our whining and moaning ‘busyness kvetch’. They have resultantly squashed a lot of social and arts programs at the local level to help ‘simplify’. The RS enrichment night has been a flag waving at the mercy of these winds for quite some time now. Couldn’t a lot of the time moaning about our church obligations be less reflective of our resentment for the time it takes to care for a friend during a funeral or enjoying playing music together and instead just be whining to sound important? I know, there is a fine line between running more than we are able and the pride the spurrs the “busy” complaints. However, I’m afraid prideful kvetching is squashing aspects of Zion that need to be valued more.

    I’d be interested in somehow sampling wards with especially large problems with ‘busyness kvetch’ and seeing whether those leaders are consumed with meetings and more liturgical-type duties as opposed to attending social functions in the ward that aren’t difficult to pull together, but are just about having fun and celebrating. According to Ehrenreich’s theory, the churches with high busyness kvetch will have the least ‘fun’ together.

  26. #18 Naismith, great comment! And great understanding of the way things are in many wards, particularly as it relates to memebers’ expectations of their bishops. Perhaps that is part of the intent of the OP, to question those expectations.

    I doubt most bishops seek busyness (after the first few weeks, anyway), but sometimes our members seem to require it.

    I think there are cultural differences, too. My first time as bishop was in a ward in Venezuela with many new members who were accustomed to a parrish priest. Their first thought was to come to the bishop, and they had to learn over time to go to a home teacher instead. But the bishop (me, in this case) had to listen carefully to the spirit to help them learn, yet also minister in the way they needed at the time.

    Later when I served as a bishop in a midwestern suburban ward, I enjoyed remarkably strong ward council, RS and priesthood quorums. I spent very little of my time administering, leaving that to my capable counselors, but lots of time ministering.

    As for #15 JM’s comment — I remember when I served the first time as an executive secretary to a bishop, the first call I received for an appointment, I asked why he wanted to see the bishop. Silence on the other end, and I knew I’d asked a question he didn’t know how to answer without embarassment. Those were the days of bishops-only temple recommend interviews, so I suggested temple recommend and the caller accepted it. I don’t know how an executive secretary asks those questions without stepping where he shouldn’t. And have the secretary write the bishop’s talks? That just seems weird to me.

  27. Paul, I doubt most members seek busyness either. We prefer synonyms like magnify your calling and being valiant. But as many in this thread have admitted and as any active member knows, many of the things that we absolutely must do in the church are really not that important. In the corporate world it’s called face time but it’s the same thing.

  28. #27: I question whether bishops seek that face time. But I don’t doubt that members expect to see their bishops.

  29. John Mansfield says:

    What a coincidence. A bishop of my midwestern suburban ward was named Paul, and he had previously been a bishop in Venezuela. Well, more than a coincidence. Hi, Paul.

  30. I have had a unique perspective on the office of Bishop without ever having been one. My father was Bishop of our ward two different terms when I was growing up, back in the 1960s and 70s when church activity was a nearly every day commitment. As an adult, I have served as a counselor to two different bishops, and as executive secretary to another. Although there has been a huge de-emphasis in social and cultural programs in the church across my lifetime, I still see the office of Bishop to be one of never-ending demands. It is part of our Mormon culture, whether Bishops seek to be busy or not. Members have very high expectations on what the Bishop should be doing for them. As far as the central church administration’s efforts to shift some of the work of individual pastoring over to quorum leaders, I’ve never seen it work, and it’s mostly lip-service. If you don’t provide office space at church to an Elder’s quorum president to meet personally with members of his quorum and their families, it’s not likely to happen. People still want to go to the Bishop, and the church administration still expects Bishops to be the visible face of the ward in nearly every capacity.

  31. BTW, I’ve been reading in D&C about the office of Bishop lately. Has anyone ever personally seen someone who served as a Bishop in the capacity of Aaronic Priesthood because they were deemed to be a literal descendent of Aaron? It’s noted prominently in two or three D&C sections, but I’ve never seen it or even heard of it actually happening.

  32. Great stuff, Aaron. As you sort of point out, there is frustration on both ends. Interview off-load has taken place, but tradition in ward members and stake and higher leaders puts some pressure on bishops to “be busy.” Confidentiality is an issue that needs to be examined carefully.

  33. 29: Well, I’ve wondered for some time if you were THAT John Mansfield! Hi, yourself!!

  34. #30 Ken, I remember when I was EQP in a ward years ago. I had a member of my quorum with trouble in his marriage. Both he and his wife confided in me and I met with them a number of times. When my bishop learned of it, he was nearly furious with me for taking this on myself. I pointed out that I had not taken it upon myself, but that a member of my quorum had come to me and I responded. I also pointed out that I had some keys as EQP, and I felt as if I was operating within my stewardship. There were (as far as I knew) no issues of worthiness (none that had been reported to me, anyway). But I also invited him to take over if he wanted (and he did). Sadly the family moved away, then quickly divorced. I dont’ think there’s anything the bishop or I could have done about it. It’s the only experience I’ve had, though, where a quorum member was content with the EQP instead of the bishop for such a matter.

  35. Ken, in our family history (kirtland/nauvoo era) we had one ancestor with that curse/blessing. He was a Cohen, which is a European name linking back to judaic levitical ancestry. The 17th-19th c graves in the Jewish cemetary in Prague mark cohens (and other levites) by a symbol of two handprints- representing blessing hands and Aaron’s priesthood. So, various families have these types of very old traditions, however it is nearly impossible to be levitical according to Jewish law, which requires an unbroken heritage *from Aaron* on

  36. Past from father to son, with an unbroken Jewish line of mothers (no converts). As you can imagine, this is quite rare. My ancestor like many other cohens was christian, although his patriarchal blessing referenced his levitical side. He became inactive rather early on so we never were able to see how he would have operated in the developing church. I am female, but have been a r.s. president in every ward (even family wards) I’ve been in since I was 19. I burned out at about 26 and am inactive, but still have a strong testimony. I just cant carry the responsibility all the time, whether or not my heritage is a factor or not.

  37. Paul’s experience (#34) as an EQP trying to fulfill his stewardship by counseling with a quorum member and spouse is a perfect example of why Bishop’s continue to carry an almost unworkable load. I’ve been to priesthood leadership trainings with G.A.’s stressing that we need to reduce the load on the bishop and that quorum leaders can/should be doing some or even much of what the Bishop’s currently do (i.e. those things that do not require judgment/confession), but it goes against our cultural expectations, and quorum leaders are usually not publicly empowered in any way to do this, nor are they trained. I was at a stake priesthood training led by Elder Holland about four years ago where he said that the average length of service of Bishops in the church was less than 3 years. His take was that the stress involved in the calling caused many Bishops to actively seek or entertain employment, education, or other lifestyle changes that would take them out of their ward and thus out of the weight of the calling.

  38. Ken, this is right on the money. I’ve run into this many times and it’s a very high hurdle. The right combination of people can make headway, but it often comes down to turf unfortunately.

  39. In my opinion (based on personal successes and failures!) the of the art of delegation involves four things:

    1. Delegating responsibility to competent persons.
    2. Delegating authority to those persons.
    3. Periodic follow-up/counselling with delegates to make sure everyone is on the same page.
    4. Periodic communication with those affected.

    For a Bishop to successfully reduce his workload, he has to surround himself with competent people to whom he can confidently delegate both the responsibility for a given assignment and the authority to deal with people/problems/etc. related to that assignment. Then the Bishop deeds to periodically check in with that person to make sure it’s getting done. Finally, the Bishop (or his delegate) needs to let the people in the Ward know who is in charge of that particular assignment and that the person in charge of it has authority to deal with it. Then the announcement needs to be made again the following week, then again the following month, etc. until people finally get it!

  40. Having leaned on bishops and other leaders at some difficult times in my life, I look back and think that maybe some of those times, I could have done more on my own or found someone else to lean on, and could have done better leaning on God. I think we as members have to be brutally honest with ourselves before asking for help from the bishop, and I’m not sure we always do that as we should. I know there are truly times when he is the right person, but I imagine there are many times when there really are other approaches we can take.

    p.s. Even the issue of busyness to me is an indicator of a general lack of individual spiritual health at some level. Isn’t it often really about an an attempt to fill a hole, the need for a feeling of worth that should be coming from God?

    Really thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  41. Maybe there needs to be two bishops__ each during different tasks___ no counselors.

  42. Jim Donaldson says:

    When I was the bishop I used to do interviews on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons. I also took kids to seminary every morning at 6:00 a.m. and hung out in the church office doing paperwork or reading. If someone said they needed to see me immediately, I always offered the next morning at 6:00. It was surprising how convenient Wednesday or Sunday then became. Those who really needed to see me immediately were gladly there at 6:00.

    I also was told early on that ‘the bishop should only do things that only the bishop can do’ as a organizing principle. There were exceptions of course but it was a great place to start in deciding whether to do it or delegate it. I had excellent counselors, all of whom have subsequently served as bishops.

    I never missed my own kids’ activities or family event because I was the bishop. And have never been much moved by anybody’s complaints about their busy-ness.

  43. Jim,
    You’re a beacon of hope and an example to us all. May we never again be moved much by others’ complaints of busyness!

  44. Steve Evans says:

    No offense Jim, but if I told my bishop that I needed to speak with him immediately and he tried to foist 6AM the next day on me, I would think that bishop wasn’t taking me seriously and was frankly a bit of an ass. I’m glad that your organizing principles were so efficient.

  45. Scott, Steve,

    First, here’s the bull’s-eye, right on my forehead, since I’m sure one or the other of you will want to blast away.

    Jim did say there were exceptions, and if someone genuinely needed to see the bishop immediately, why would you think he wouldn’t make that exception? But you also have to realize — I can’t believe you don’t — that the lion’s share of calls on a bishop’s time (or the time of a RS president) aren’t emergencies and probably don’t reall require a third party’s attention anyway. I’ve known people who called the bishop in the middle of the night to demand that he get dressed, come over, and deal with a teenager who had broken curfew. A friend who is a RS president says she’s been called at dinnertime with demands that she go buy some ingredient that a ward member receiving welfare wants to make for dinner.

    People are unreasonable, very often. Why shouldn’t a leader be allowed the discretion not to “take you seriously” at all hours and under all circumstances, especially if the demand really isn’t urgent? You don’t get in to see your doctor that fast, except under emergency conditions. You don’t allow one client to burst in on your meeting with another client. Why must a bishop arrange his life differently than you arrange yours, except under the exceptional circumstances Jim has already said he allowed for?

  46. I worked with one bishop who had an interesting approach. He tried to listen carefully to the spirit as he observed people in the ward. Some he had an impression he needed to see, and he’d invite his executive secretary (me) to make an appointment as soon as possible. Others he’d have an impression he needed to see right away. Those he did on his own, often immediately following a meeting.

    When a bishop gets that “immediate” request, he has little chance but to listen carefully to the promptings of the spirit promised him to discern whether he can redefine “immediate” or not, just as in the case Elder Holland cited in his talk. Others may have an immediate need, but are shy about sharing that need; those might have been captured by my former bishop’s promptings.

  47. Ardis,
    The paragraph where he mentioned exceptions had nothing to do with the paragraphs that annoyed Steve (the first) or me (the last).

  48. “I never missed my own kids’ activities or family event because I was the bishop. And have never been much moved by anybody’s complaints about their busy-ness.”

    I think this tends to deny the reality that wards vary in their (very real) needs. While my husband was serving as bishop, there was a major redistricting, which meant that 80% of the ward was new after, and 60% of the old ward was gone. It turned out that the composition of the ward was not the same before and after. One had many, many, many more serious spiritual and welfare needs.

    This taught me that “being a bishop” is not the same in every setting.

  49. I actually kind of liked the 6a.m. idea. That is actually pretty “immediate” for a call that comes in the night before. I think I would do that for people I know need to be put on a little bit of a throttle as far as their demands on the bishop’s time.

    Like Ardis said, bishops do get called for stupid, stupid crap. I kid you not someone called my uncle on a Sunday morning because they couldn’t figure out how to get their cable working on the TV (had to put it on channel 3 or change the input or whatever).

    All that said, Jim’s comment does come off as distastefully self-congratulatory. And also rudely dismissive of the very real, very necessary sacrifices that many of the Bishops in Zion make. It’s like in RS when one lady tells tearfully of her struggles with a wayward child, or drug addicted child. And then some other lady pops right up for the next comment to go on about how all 8 of her kids went on missions and got married in the temple and never talked back and never fought with each other, and never once cried even as newborns, and it’s because of her great, great mothering skills. Whatevs.

  50. Jim Donaldson says:

    I never said I didn’t make sacrifices, I was just (mostly) successful in not having my children pay the price of it. And even though, as Scott B correctly noted, I didn’t mention exceptions to the 6:00 a.m. offer, but there were some. Occasionally, somebody called in the middle of the night who actually had a reason to. I went. It wasn’t that difficult to tell the difference.

    Sorry to be distasteful and rude. I didn’t for a second presume (or state) that others’ experience might not be different. Or that what worked for me was guaranteed to work for everybody else in every situation. Or that there is one correct way to be the bishop. Just that it could be done.

    I was, I admit, a bit self-congratulatory. It did take some finesse and creativity to get to those kids activities. But I did want to teach my kids that they weren’t in a competition with the church where the kids would automatically lose.

  51. living in zion says:

    We once lived in a ward with a Bishop who had a terrible habit of doing everything himself. He didn’t confide in his counselors or the RS pres. about anything. He created a culture where everything went through him. It became a problem when a highly needy, both parents mentally ill with 5 kids living in poverty moved into the ward. He took this family on as his pet project. He counseled the couple, he took them grocery shopping, he gave them his work cell phone number to call anytime. He even stopped driving his own children to school because he picked up these children and took them to school everyday. This family called his house everyday needing the Bishop. It got so bad the Bishop’s wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t quit putting this family before his own. It was awful to watch. Everyone in leadership within the ward was frustrated because the Bishop wouldn’t delegate anything to anyone. After a year of this nonsense, with his physical health and marriage in the crapper, the vampire family suddenly moved out the ward. The Bishops family remained shaky for a while afterward, lots of hurt feelings from the kids and spouse.
    I learned a lot from watching the situation.

  52. I was once the counselor to a RS president who was a master delegator. She was called when she was the mother of six children 6months – 16 years old, with a husband employed full time, in the bishopric, and in the middle of an executive MBA program. She was stunned to receive the call, but the bishop was very, very sure she was the one. She called a third counselor to take care of welfare needs and relied on her VT coordinator almost like a 4th counselor to take care of visiting new sisters. She micromanaged nothing. It was a large ward full of very active, competent people wtih relatively few needs. When she was released three or four years later she said her calling had always been a blessing and never a burden, and she just wasn’t worn out like so many RS presidents. It was amazing to see. Given her circumstances and the needs of the ward it seemed to work really well for her, and she never apologized for how she ran things.

  53. During the early years of our membership in the church, I had a period of time when so many things were going wrong in my life that I lost count. One night, at my wits end, I sat down by the phone with a desperate need to ask for help. As I reached for the receiver, the phone rang and my RS President was there to listen and comfort me. The Lord didn’t inspire the Bishop to call me, He inspired the person who could understand the best and for that I will always be grateful.

  54. I had the blessing of serving as Executive Secretary to a Bishop who used it as an opportunity to train me. He also had very competent Counselors who did the same. There were two lessons that have stuck with me ever since, one taught my the Bishop, the other by his First Counselor:

    When first called, the Bishop had established the practice of carrying a little black book in his pocket in which he kept all the information about members he was helping or counseling, so it would be available at any time. Over time, he found that the little book became a great burden for him, until he resolved to keep all confidential information locked in a folder in the credenza in his office at the church. If he needed to refer to it, he went to his office and dealt with the matter there – but then left it there when done, and did not take it home with him.

    When the Bishop and his Counselors were called, the two Counselors met before their first meeting with the Bishop. They went through the Handbook and identified all the responsibilities of the Bishopric, and determined which were exclusive to the Bishop (non-delegable). At their first Bishopric meeting, the Counselors presented the Bishop a list of his non-delegable responsibilities, and a second list on which they had divided all the other responsibilities between the two of them. The Bishop made a few adjustments, but more or less accepted the Counselors’ proposal as the way they would operate as a Bishopric.

    Serving as Executive Secretary to that Bishopric was a graduate course in both ministering and administration. I only hope that I will remember those lessons should I ever be called to serve in that capacity.

  55. The dynamics of a ward can be so different, but an image of hurding cats comes to mind a busy bishop who is unwilling or unable to delegate will only lead to fruststion for him and his family.

    I guess their are some leaders who are reluctant to give up control, and will seek to micromanage the situation until all the i’s are crossed and the T’s are dotted.

    I like the idea of focusing on building Zion and a sense of community, feeling free to share concerns, hopes and personal feelings withone another without judgement but support and love from your ward. Getting to this level of trust would be difficult to generate because if a number of reasons generally speaking:
    We seek to portray an idealistic image,
    Naturally we are judgmental and finding faults in our leaders affects the confidence we have in them.
    Change makes regulating the flow of sensitive information difficult, people moving wards, change in h/t-v/t.
    We place Bishops on a pedestal (but to be fair, they have often earned their stripes)
    Culture plays a huge role, I’m from the UK and we don’t cause a fuss, we don’t burden others with our problems ( unless it’s Jeremy Kiall) we generally keep a stiff upper lip, this culture was forged during the Blizt.
    Feeling free to “share” within our community is a supreme ideal, but there are many obstacles to overcome.
    Great post, I love it.

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  57. While bishop I traveled a lot with my work. I was good most weeks out of town. Only The RS pres and my counselors had my cell phone number. If somebody called my house with a problem, my wife would run triage and send them to the RS Pres or their respective quorum leader. The ward soon learned that they would only get to talk with me during the week if it was “really important”, as defined by the RS pres of my counselors. They didn’t get to decide.
    This worked great, I got along great with the members, and I met each Sunday with the truly needy.

  58. DannyZ, I sure hope that you gave your wife the serious props that she deserved for doing part of your calling.

  59. My best friend was installed as bishop of his ward last summer, and when I read this posts and the many wonderful comments, I forwarded it to him. This was his response:

    “Great thoughts.

    I was the very fortunate inheritor of a Ward Council which functions very well without the need for a constant guiding hand of the bishop, but rather operates wonderfully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I think the key was the reduction in the number of meetings. This challenged the thinking that said ‘I’m important so I’m in a meeting’. The best place for a bishop (or EQ or RS President etc) to be is either in their own home or in the home of a member.”

    That last part nailed it for me: The best place for a bishop (or EQ or RS President etc) to be is either in their own home or in the home of a member.

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