I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile, ever since someone I know tried to convince me that bishops are like politicians, trying to gain more power and prestige. I figure that other people probably don’t understand how things like that work in the Latter Day Saint church, so I thought this might be interesting to others who are curious.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as in any organization, different members have different responsibilities. In the LDS church, these responsibilities are called “callings.” Callings vary in level of responsibility and, I suppose, in prestige, from greeter (who greets people in the lobby), through bishop (pastor/minister/whatever you like to call them), and many more.
These callings work a bit differently than they do in other organizations.
We have a lay clergy, meaning people are not paid for their work in the church. I’ve taught classes, organized activities, and performed music, among other things, and have not been paid for any of it. The idea of being paid to teach Sunday School is very strange to me. We see church callings as a type of service, both to the other members of the congregation and to Heavenly Father.
We don’t volunteer for these positions. As I like to say it, we are “voluntold.” Someone in a leadership role will ask us to take on a calling. We can say no if we like, and sometimes people do, though it’s true that we are encouraged to always accept a calling. Those in charge of choosing who to call for a particular position are expected to pray to receive inspiration for who to call. Similarly, when extended a calling, we are to pray for confirmation that it is right.
The most qualified person isn’t always the one called. People who don’t have teenagers are called to be with the youth. People who have never been teachers get called to teach. People who have never been administrators get called to lead auxiliary organizations. You’ll hear a common refrain: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies,” said by President Monson. Moses was slow of speech. Noah didn’t know how to build an ark. Peter was a fisherman, not a priest. Similarly, God teaches us what we need to know in order for us to do what He asks us to do.
We don’t get promoted for doing a good job. Callings don’t work like your place of employment. People don’t move up to more prestigious positions by gaining seniority. We don’t strive for more “prestigious” positions. In fact, a joke you’ll sometimes hear when someone has been called to be a bishop or Relief Society (women’s organization) president is along the lines of, “Should I give you congratulations or condolences?”
Generally, people are called to positions of less responsibility in order to gain experience before being given a “big” calling, but not necessarily. It’s also frequent to go from being a bishop or president to being a teacher or having some other, smaller responsibility. It all comes down to the purpose of these callings, which is to serve. It’s not the bishop’s job to tell people what to do. The bishop’s job is to guide and serve.
That’s what it all boils down to: we fulfill responsibilities at church in order to serve.