When is it proper to refuse a church calling?  In a strictly voluntary church (well, nearly so – wink, wink), is it ever proper to decline to accept a calling?  What does it mean to magnify your calling?  Are there other things that prevent people from fulfilling their callings (aside from being a slacker)?

In the 2002 October General Conference, Dallin Oaks said:

“I often hear about members who refuse Church callings or accept callings and fail to fulfill their responsibilities. Some are not committed and faithful. It has always been so. But this is not without consequence . . . My brothers and sisters, if you are delinquent in commitment, please consider who it is you are refusing or neglecting to serve when you decline a calling or when you accept, promise, and fail to fulfill.”

*Note that E. Oaks said “SOME” are not committed and faithful, and doubtless this does apply to some.  The talk was ostensibly about commitment, so his not listing other reasons to decline callings or fail to perform doesn’t constitute a lack of awareness that they exist.

Personally, I think lack of commitment or faithfulness is probably more linked to failure to perform an accepted calling that refusal to take on a calling.  Here are some other reasons I can think of that people turn down callings:

  1. Pride.  The calling is not sexy or grand enough.  They want something they like better or nothing at all.  The calling is an insult to their superior gifts.  They could “do so much more.”  Some people like to shop or barter for the callings they want.
  2. Humility or Perfectionism.  The calling is intimidating.  They believe they will not be adequate to the task.  They perceive their limitations, and feel it’s a disservice to accept the calling.  Often the response is to trust that the calling is inspired (therefore the Lord will make up for the lack of talent or other limitations) or that the limitations are not of concern to the leader extending the calling and to “do your best.”
  3. Exhaustion, Stress, Personal Circumstances.   This should be obvious.  A calling shouldn’t endanger your health, marriage or family relationships.

When it comes to failing to “magnify,” as I think about my own or others’ poor performance in some callings, I can think of several reasons for that (I’ll add Oaks’ 2 reasons here):

  1. Lack of commitment.  OK, so some people are slackers.  Let’s be honest.  People say they will do things and don’t.  People forget.  Teachers blow off their assignments and don’t get a substitute.  This happens a lot, especially in callings that require weekly or frequent commitments.  And home & visiting teaching, too, obviously.  Let he among us who has not slacked cast the first stone.
  2. Lack of faithfulness.  Rather than pointing to lack of faith in general (which could exist also), I think this often relates more to lack of faith in that calling’s importance.  For example, some HT and VTers don’t believe in the program or dislike being visited, and therefore assume others will, too.
  3. People pleasers / lack of courage.  It’s easier to slack off later than it is to look someone in the eye and say no.  Saying no is more courageous than saying yes without meaning it.
  4. Interpersonal conflicts.  Well-intentioned people might disagree about how to get things done.  If they can’t work things out, personality clashes can cause committees to fail or status quo to prevail (I sound like Jesse Jackson!)  People can check out or deliberately not get behind an idea they don’t like to prove the other person wrong when the idea fails (which it will without buy in!)
  5. Ward level bureaucracy / poor leadership.  Some callings are frankly nebulous with little instruction.  Some wards get bogged down in bureaucracy and require all decisions to be made by the bishop. Sometimes people are not given resources or budget to do the calling properly.  Ward goals may not exist.  People with no clue might be given a calling they don’t understand and not given any instructions.
  6. Lack of resources.  I know I mentioned it, but lack of resources are not always due to leadership or bureaucracy.  There are some callings more people feel free to turn down.  When I was nursery leader, it look a long time to fill our open nursery worker positions, and absenteeism was also higher because workers couldn’t come in if they were sick.  And something about being in the nursery contributed to the perceived or actual sick rate of our helpers.
  7. Personal circumstances.  There may be conflicts due to work or family commitments.  People might have crumbling marriages, difficult parenting situations, mental issues, or any other number of hidden problems that emerge while trying to fulfill a calling.  People might be asked to teach under circumstances they find impossible (for example, teach something they don’t believe or dealing with a class size or age group that is particularly challenging for them).

Given that those who do callings are 100% voluntary, I think we could also do a better job motivating people, maybe even some additions to the CHI to make these more common practice.  Here are some of the best things I’ve seen done:

  1. Up front time limits.  This is generally true for bishops (5 years), and often a rule of thumb for auxilliary heads (2 years is common).  Many wards want to move people in and out of callings annually, or even every six months!  Some let people languish in a calling for what feels like an eternity.  When I accepted the nursery leader calling I was told one year.  It ended up being just north of that, but close; it felt like an eternity, though.
  2. More frequent praise.  I know we aren’t doing what we’re doing to be “seen of men,” but knowing that you are on the right track is better than toiling in the dark.  Often, it feels like once you accept a calling, you never hear from them again unless they want to release you or correct you.
  3. Track time to fill callings.  I’ve never seen a ward do this, but I think it’s an interesting idea for the church as a whole.  Some callings are hard to fill because of the type of calling they are, and some bishops have a hard time getting people to accept because they make it impossible to feel appreciated or effective.  And some wards have more people who don’t want to volunteer.  But it would be interesting to track!  Mostly I just like stats.
  4. Training.  Teach leaders how to set goals, manage a ward budget, use committees to make decisions, and basically how to lead volunteers.  I know we emphasize the inspiration/revelation part of callings with leaders, which is great, but there’s a human aspect to leading people who are unpaid and doing these things out of the goodness of their hearts that I think is very relevant.  Without it, leaders are left to rely on guilt trips to motivate.  Also, the controlling behaviors of some leaders can make it impossible to be successful in some callings.  Magnifying your calling implies making it your own as well, not just being someone’s puppet.
  5. Continue to winnow down the callings.  OK, they often start out as a great idea, but some callings are tough to justify based on any actual meaningful contribution.  I guess keep the peripheral callings that are easy to fill, but get rid of the ones that hog resources and are tough to fill (like activities and enrichment committees – I know some will disagree with me on this one).  I think the church is aware of this and working to remedy it.

What do you think?  Do you ever turn down callings, and if so, for what reasons?  If you failed to “magnify” a calling, why did that happen?  What suggestions above do you like?  What other suggestions would you add?  What times limits do you think should apply to callings?  Discuss.