Here is a crazy scenario for you: What would you do if your husband, just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job, was suddenly asked to be the minister of your church? How would you feel about that? How would it affect the relationship with your neighbors and friends? Would they treat you differently? Would people start to expect more of your family? How would you feel, being married to the minister?
Most people don’t have to worry about this scenario. But Mormons do.
What is a bishop?
A bishop is the Mormon version of a pastor or a minister. He is called to serve and preside over a congregation (ward) of about 300-400 people. I asked my husband what the official duties of a bishop are and he said, “There’s like . . . a thousand of them.” So I looked it up and the bishop’s duties are mainly six:
1. He is the spiritual leader of the congregation
2. He presides over the Sunday services in the church
3. He leads the youth and teaches them about their priesthood responsibilities
4. He helps people who have committed serious sins and encourages them to repent
5. He manages tithes and organizes financial assistance to members of the ward who are in need
6. Organizes and manages other organizations in the ward (Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women, and Primary)
See, Scotty? The bishop doesn’t do that much.
How is a bishop selected?
In our church you don’t “run” for bishop. You don’t campaign for it, you don’t petition for it, you don’t apply for it, and you don’t ask for it. Because “aspiring to the honors of men” is the opposite of what the priesthood is about.
All assignments in our church, including the bishop are given by revelation. Although a bishop is selected by the stake president, the calling must be confirmed in the stake president’s mind by the still small voice. There are many qualified people who could serve as the bishop of a ward, but it all comes down to the Spirit. We believe that in the end, it is God who selects the bishop.
How is a new bishop trained?
The new bishop usually has very little warning that he is going to be bishop– no time to go to a divinity school or seminary. There is no training period. Everything is learned on the job. One day he is sitting with his family in the congregation, the next day he is whisked up to the stand, leaving his wife and children on the bench to weep like orphans. Then he stays behind the podium for five to six YEARS until it is time for someone else to have a turn. Sometimes a man will serve as one of the two bishop’s counselors for a while before becoming a bishop (as in Scott’s case; has been a counselor for the past 3 years) and that is helpful, but it is not a prerequisite.
How much does he get paid?
Zero. Every calling in Mormondom is pro bono. And that is why it works so well.
All of my past bishops worked in other professions. For example, I had one bishop who was a painter of fine art. One owned a golf course. One sold motorcycles and atvs. One was a computer programmer, one sold real estate, one was a plant manager, one was a biostatistician.
Now our ward will have a tax professor.
When you consider that Mormon bishops are not trained clergymen, and are unpaid for all of their time, you should also come to the conclusion that Mormon bishops have a learning curve. The bishop (like the rest of us) deserves forgiveness. In advance. His over-supportive, enthusiastic, blogger wife? Even more forgiveness. Which leads me to my next topic:
The bishop’s wife
I found it interesting that when the stake president called Scott to serve as bishop he met with us both. He spoke to both him and me. He told us it was our calling (plural) not his calling. There will be much of Scott’s calling that I will not know about because he will be helping people work through the process of repentance and he will be helping people with welfare needs–both are confidential matters not to be discussed with anyone, even (and probably especially) a wife. But there will be many ways I can help him. Also, I will have to do more at home without him since I will have to share his free time with the rest of the ward. And, when he is overwhelmed with responsibilities and concerns it will be my job to make him laugh and recuperate. But if Scott has a burden to carry, I will not let him carry it by himself. I mean really, look how strong my arms are. That man needs me.
There is a quote by C.S. Lewis, the most famous non-Mormon to be quoted constantly by Mormons, that says,
The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only–and that is to support the ultimate career.
Scott’s main job as bishop is going to be to strengthen families by bringing them to Christ. But that is what I do for our family every day. minute. second. Some people might say that I will be supporting my husband in this calling. That I am his sidekick. That I am his cornerman. But you could also look at it the other way around, that his calling is supporting me, and that, by being a bishop, he is my sidekick and my cornerman.
We are partners with the same vision that, if everything goes as planned, will result in the same destiny. We are two parts of a whole. His contribution is like the bones of the body, giving it structure and definition. My contribution is like the muscles of the body, keeping things moving and strong. A body cannot function without both.
One of my good friends is married to a bishop in another ward. One day I emailed her to ask her how she was doing. This was her reply. I found it very beautiful and insightful, and her words stayed with me for many months.
We are doing well, thanks for asking. We do our best to help our ward. Of course, there is only so much I can do but I do try to support my husband. There is so much we cannot talk about but there are some things I can help him with or at least give my opinion. I truly believe that this is not a male-dominated church. My testimony of that has grown so much. You may not see the faces of the women as much but they are there and their influence is among us whether we know it or not. I think it must work like that with Heavenly Father too.
What it means to be a leader
Some people get the idea that the bishop (and his family) are selected because they are better at keeping the commandments, or they “have it all together” or they have less problems than everyone else.
Excuse me while I laugh and wipe the tears out of my eyes.
Just because you have been called as bishop does not mean you are extra special or that you have “arrived.” Being the bishop does not mean you are most likable or popular person in the ward. It doesn’t even mean that you are the most righteous person in the ward. (Although sometimes, as in Scott’s case, it might mean that you are the best-looking.) It means that you are the person that God wants to be the leader for a while.
And what is God’s definition of a leader?
It is this:
I am honored to have a husband who is worthy and willing to be called to serve the wonderful people in our ward. I realize I am probably naive, and that this will be much harder and more of a sacrifice than I am expecting. I’m sure the “coolness” factor will wear off pretty fast. But I know from experience that in our family we would much rather serve than be served.
So let the work begin. Wish us luck. And a prayer or two wouldn’t hurt, either.