Somehow, I ended up watching the first few episodes of House over the last few days. The good doctor presents the tricky challenge many managers face from time to time: a supremely competent, possibly brilliant, employee who is grouchy and abrasive and often downright insulting to colleagues, clients, and customers. It’s a common device in television dramas, but it’s a real life thing, too. And here’s the rub: Competence is in such short supply in many fields that managers and coworkers will put up with a lot to keep a superstar happy and productive. Many fields, but not all. So let’s have a short discussion about competence in the Church. Where is it needed and where is it fairly optional? What does competence even mean in particular church callings?
Your Friendly Bishop. What does competence mean for a bishop? Relevant skills might include running a productive meeting, conducting an effective interview, providing meaningful pastoral counseling, exercising good judgment, being able to make right decisions, and knowledge of LDS doctrine and history. On the other hand, in practice these skills are more or less optional. Some bishops know almost nothing about LDS history and entertain some odd notions about LDS doctrine. Some bishops hold meandering meetings that don’t accomplish much. Some bishops are downright dangerous when it comes to pastoral counseling. Most bishops have fairly good judgment.
Strangely (and this is where the discussion gets interesting) I’m not sure any of those skills are particularly relevant to how bishops are selected. I think the primary requirements are unquestionable loyalty to the Church and a good income. Neither of those, to be blunt about it, are really skills. Either you’ve got loyalty and money, or you don’t. So, oddly, competence is not really relevant to the selection or performance of bishops. Some are better than others, but I’m not sure sending the bad ones to a one-week intensive “bishop’s training workshop” would make them better. Largely because any such workshop run by the Church would not focus on the skills I listed in the first paragraph, but on other things.
Proselyting Missionaries. What does competence mean for a missionary? Relevant skills might include familiarity with the Bible and LDS scriptures, a solid knowledge of LDS doctrine and history (which is, after all, what they are supposed to be teaching), some teaching and listening skills, and the ability to function as part of a team of two or three missionaries. Maybe some proficiency learning a language. Given the young age of LDS missionaries, you could scale back your expectations, but these still seem like relevant skills.
But again, it’s not like prospective missionaries have to take a test to get in. Pretty much no one willing to serve, in adequate health, and meeting LDS worthiness standards is turned away. Money is not an issue, as extended family or generous ward members often willingly kick in the few hundred bucks a month to support a young missionary. It’s nice if they have a testimony, but they are encouraged to go even if they don’t have much conviction, as long as they are willing to serve. A willingness to work hard is something like a skill and is certainly relevant to “being a good missionary.” That might be as close to competence as we’ll get for missionaries. But hard work is valued in many fields, and we don’t have much problem distinguishing between hard work and competence. There are diligent but mediocre workers. There are brilliant, unmotivated workers. So again, there is this odd result that competence doesn’t seem to have much connection to missionaries.
A quick disclaimer: I’m not trying to give bishops or missionaries a hard time. I’m just puzzling over this odd result. Administrators and staff put up with Dr. House because he was marvelously competent. Other doctors are good or average or even below average, but House was brilliant so everyone put up with him. Why doesn’t competence have much relevance for all the stuff that’s done in church? Or maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. Maybe LDS church is something you can succeed at even if you lack any relevant skill or competence. Church is not the place for elitist achievements, just for serving responsibly when called and enduring to the end. Okay, one last try.
Apostles. What does competence mean for an apostle? I suppose the same skills noted above for bishops apply to apostles, but in rather more elevated terms. But I’m not sure any of those skills are part of the hiring process. Instead of loyalty and a good income, the practical requirements (the boxes that must be checked to be a candidate) are super loyalty and quite a lot of money. And that’s not unreasonable: every institution wants senior leaders who are very dedicated to the success of the institution, and since you are serving full-time you need to have enough personal resources that you can focus on the work rather than on how to pay college tuition for the youngest kid, etc.
Compare the job of apostles running the Church with other executive positions: CEO, head coach, president of a university, governor of a state. Some of these succeed marvelously, others get by, some fail rather miserably and get replaced. There is definitely some relevant competence that goes into leading a corporation, running a professinal team, directing a university, or governing a state. Bad coaches get fired. Bad governors can get recalled. But I’m having a hard time nailing down what a good apostle or bad apostle would be. Apart from having an affair with a secretary or neighbor, it’s hard to see how an apostle could actually fail.
Conclusion. It’s not like competence is completely irrelevant to LDS church life and governance. I’m sure you can point to a person you know and say, “Brother X was a great Young Mens President” or “Sister Y was an outstanding Relief Society President.” At upper levels, when competence in particular fields is required (building design, accounting, law) experts can be hired. It’s just the odd fact that in other similar large hierarchical organizations, competence is prized and often absolutely necessary for the organization to succeed or even continue as a going enterprise. But somehow it doesn’t seem that necessary at all for the LDS Church. Or maybe for any church? I don’t have a bottom line on this one. It’s just a puzzling topic.
Let me throw out a contrary observation or two. The LDS Helping Hands initiative is quite effective and does good work. The Church is admirably well organized for humanitarian aid and emergency supplies. The Seminary system has some flaws and we talk about those from time to time, but most other church look with envy on how involved LDS youth are in the Church and at LDS youth trekking off to early morning seminary five days a week and at how successful the LDS Church is at retaining youth. So the Church does do some things very well. And we have great and spacious parking lots. But again, these seem like system or organization traits. Competence seems to reside or be lacking in individuals. So the puzzle remains.
Interesting analysis. One area you failed to mention is politics, where incompetent people with difficult personalities often find success. Many of these people (I’m not naming names) manage to propel themselves into office and through subsequent re-elections precisely by flaunting (rather than downplaying) their brash personae, uncooperative natures, and lack of political or professional qualification. There are also strong movements of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. that undermine the value of competence in a variety of fields, even showing downright hostility to experts. The LDS Church, with an unprofessional lay ministry from the highest levels down to the lowest, is part of this problem.
I strongly recommend the book “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols, which sheds light on this phenomenon with a great deal more eloquence than I could.
I can speak to the issue of bishops, having been in the seat 3 times. In terms of selection, there is that old Mormon saw about inspiration, perspiration, or desperation. I am pretty sure I have also been on the far side of perspiration and most often deep into desperation. I am pretty much a native Spanish speaker and relatively well educated. So for big city inner-city wards–the SPs like have seen me as a viable option. But a regular suburban ward–was past desperation for any rational SP!
For me the main role of the bishop is to set the tone for the ward. Simple as that. Assuming you want a ward to feel embracing, where love is practiced, etc., what competences would you look for there? Or does the idea of competences make any sense if you look at it that way? Is there a humility meter you can point at someone, like our latest thermometers? How about tolerance? How about patience? Can you tell if someone has a broken heart? [a required “competence” in the BOM –see 2Nephi2).
This all gets back to the manager/leader business. I would say choose the humble spiritual type for the Bishop, and let the exec sec be the competence/management guy. And do the same thing for the RS pres. If you really want to set the tone for the ward–choose very carefully the RSP!
I think the same argument goes all the to the top.
As a devout apostate, I have little experience, and none recently, with the competence of leaders at the various levels. But I am also the son of a former bishop and stake patriarch. My dad has always taken great pride in the fact that church is largely managed by devout members contributing to the cause. He generally sees the local bishop as the salt-of-the-earth guy trying to serve his fellow human in a meaningful way. I’ve found his characterization compelling at times, particularly when I narrow my focus to my dad alone, who is salt of the earth and just wants to help make people’s lives better.
On a broader scale, however, not all who lead are well intentioned or self aware. Most roles in Mormonism are basically on-the-job training. That becomes a problem when we’re talking about bishops as counselors–a role for which they generally have little if any preparation. Online forums are chockablock with the negative experiences members have had with their local leadership (leadership roulette). There is also the more serious issue of bishops dealing with serious physical and sexual abuse. The case that emerged in Bisbee, AZ, last year is as horrific as it gets, and local reporting makes pretty clear that a Mormon bishop could have stopped abuse that ultimately continued and progressed. I would be surprised if the church doesn’t also get dragged into the mountain of litigation the BSA is now facing.
Ultimately, unless the church wants to keep paying Kirton McConkie fat fees, they may want to invest in different policies and improved competence for local leaders.
There are some critical points here. While a bishop and other leaders must be more than just managers, they must have management skills or a ward and stake will suffer.
For instance, a bishop who holds unproductive meandering meetings ends up holding the ward council hostage in a wasteful endeavor. Far too many meetings include aimlessly going around a circle for unprepared, unmeaningful comments.
Too many lack the basic management skills to realize that magnifying a calling means working smarter, not longer. We are not blessed merely for putting in the hours. No blessings come from wasting time.
I was a big fan of the TV show House when it was in it’s initial run. I was fascinated by the idea that someone could be so highly valued for his expertise that he could escape the consequences of being a colossal jerk and a rule-breaker on a daily basis. Around the same time, Stanford professor Robert Sutton published the book “The No A**hole Rule”, which detailed the problems of toxic people in real-life workplaces, and explained that many companies and organizations were increasingly making intentional efforts to get rid of (or screen out from hiring) these kinds of people, as they come to realize that no one’s technical brilliance is so valuable that they should get a free pass to treat others like dirt. Nowadays, many organizations understand that if you look hard enough and in the right places, you can find people who are competent AND pleasant to work with. A real-life Dr. House would not stay employed in the current environment for many reasons, not the least of which is his flagrant sexual harassment (especially in the Me Too era).
Another one of the running themes of the show was that Dr. House’s medical brilliance was *because* of his difficult personality–that his single-minded focus on solving the patient’s mystery illness at the expense of his bedside manner is what made him great at his job, but not great at dealing with people. Perhaps such a personality type is more of a Hollywood myth than one grounded in reality; even so, the series also regularly shows us that House is a deeply broken person, and he occasionally does get his comeuppance.
With the Church, their “hiring process” for local and general leadership positions is opaque and entirely by inspiration–which is code for nepotism, cronyism, percieved net worth, name recognition, organizational loyalty and a number of other qualifiers that do not necessarily favor competence in theology, organizational leadership, social justice or other desirable skills for a religious leader. Also, the Church doesn’t have clearly defined effective mechanisms for removing leaders who are incompetent or difficult. We aren’t allowed to criticize leaders even if the criticism is true (DHO). In most cases, members are expected to put up with bad leaders, and blame themselves if they disagree.
Wonderful post, and one that literally screams for comments. I am currently reading “An Army at Dawn.” This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the US Army’s 1942-1943 campaign to liberate North Africa from the Axis. Eisenhower was bedeviled by incompetent generals, and had a steep learning curve, himself. He finally realized that he had to fire the deadwood (Fredendall), and replaced him with Patton—an abusive megalomaniac, but someone who got the job done. When Patton got to be too toxic, Ike would sideline him, until Patton’s radioactivity cooled off that Ike dared to use him again.
As for the Church: my favorite managerial Bishop was a man who was ruthless in Ward Council. He would tell each participant how much time he or she was allotted, and CUT THEM OFF when they went over their allotted time:
But he was not the best pastoral Bishop I had. The honor there goes to a man who had no concept of time, and who was administratively weak.
We can’t expect too much of people. The maxim I like to invoke is what my late wife was taught, her first day of Nursing School in college: first, do no harm.
Things will have to get pretty dire in the Church, for the Church to get rid of bad leaders. I sometimes fantasize about automatically excommunicating 25 percent of all Bishops, and 50 percent of Stake Presidents, just to shake things up and get us out of our rut, but I am sure that would make things much worse, beside being unfair to many good men:
In my 40 years in the Defense Department, I got to be very good at my job. I would sometimes tell managers, please leave me alone to do my job. My best manager was someone who said, “I get much more out of (Taiwan Missionary) when I just let him be himself. “ One of the common failings of managers (few people are good managers, myself included) is that they want to improve things in the worst possible way, and often mess things up—which makes it even harder to change things when that is necessary:
I think what can be more important than competence or incompetence is self-awareness. Someone who is aware they are not competent is so much less dangerous than someone incompetent who assumes he or she is competent. I think the issue with bishops-as-counselors is that we seem to believe that the calling of a bishop will somehow imbue the bishop with counseling skills. In reality, while I don’t doubt they can sometimes be inspired, they need training (and better yet they need to not counsel about certain things at all). Failing to train *and* suggesting that people are competent simply by virtue of a setting apart is a recipe for disaster.
I try to remember that different people have different skills and sometimes someone really is in a calling for a particular reason even if they do a poor job at a lot of it. But my last ward was very (priesthood) leadership-thin because of the demographics. The counselors in the bishopric were really nice and humble men, but they weren’t great leaders and they were, honestly, terrible at planning and conducting sacrament meeting to the point that meetings were awkward, disorganized, unprepared, etc most every week. That was frustrating because I was surrounded by competent women who would have done a better job but were disqualified because they had two X chromosomes.
Great post. I know so many people who had a terrible time on their missions. Is it cruel that we expect everyone to excel at and enjoy a job with such a narrow focus and stringent lifestyle requirements that requires a skill set that doesn’t come naturally to most of us?
Similarly, there are certain church jobs everyone is expected to participate in (like ministering) that might come naturally to extroverts but might be hell for those who have difficulty talking to strangers. How many of us live under a cloud of perpetual guilt (during non-pandemic times at least) about ministering when some of us just naturally suck at it and that’s ok?
Or how about something as simple as blessing the sacrament? We expect every worthy young man to just be ok with public recitation of archaic language. Wouldn’t it make sense to reserve those jobs for those who have the interest and proclivity for them?
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Buddhist: “This all gets back to the manager/leader business. I would say choose the humble spiritual type for the Bishop, and let the exec sec be the competence/management guy. And do the same thing for the RS pres.” Yes, a bishop can cover a lot of blindspots or weaknessese by calling the right counselors, ward clerk, executive sec, EQP, and RSP. Sometimes the right people are available, sometimes not.
jaredsbrother: “[the Church] may want to invest in different policies and improved competence for local leaders.” Yes, but the devil is in the details. What policies, what content for better training, and what sort of competence should be sought for, in candidate bishops? It seems like we don’t really have a good handle on all that. And what you might call an objective description of those needs might be 180 degrees away from what senior leadership thinks the skill set and temperament of a candidate bishop should be.
Taiwan Missionary: “I am currently reading “An Army at Dawn.”” Yes, I read the whole trilogy a few years ago, very well done. North Africa doesn’t get a lot of attention in most one-volume WW2 histories. The Americans really got their butts kicked by the Germans in their first big encounter. If Hitler had sent Rommel a few more divisions early on instead of messing around in Greece and hoarding most of the German troops for an ill-advised attack on Russia, it all could have turned out differently.
Elisa: “I think what can be more important than competence or incompetence is self-awareness.” Yes, maybe we should scrap the bizarre self-reliance class they are currently pushing in the wards, and instead offer a class on self-awareness. Most Mormons are remarkably un-self-aware.
Thanks, Dave B.
With regard to policy, I feel that the church should voluntarily report incidences of abuse even in states where the law permits them not to if that information is divulged as part of a “confession.” In some instances, the church is using those laws as protection, which they can do legally but not, IMHO, morally.
And this is where both the self-awareness and the competence come in. Some bishops believe in their ability to use their priesthood to counsel members and help them change behaviors. We don’t really know when this goes well because those incidents are not divulged. We do know when it goes badly because the member continues to offend and the details leak to law enforcement and the press. The church can afford training for lay leaders in how to recognize the signs of emotional and sexual abuse. It would also be helpful to maybe not lean so heavily on the idea of received wisdom and priesthood authority, which I can see convincing some local leaders of abilities they don’t really have.
How did the upper echelons not foresee or understand the impact of the Internet, especially in disseminating far & wide information contrary to LDS dogma – for instance that the BoM is incontrovertibly ahistorical; that homosexuality is a natural & biological variation; that racism in all its forms is odious and will shortly be regarded as such; that wealth hoarding is unseemly for a religious body; that by&large females are more competent than males across a broad spectrum of endeavor.
A comment was made a week or 2 ago that if the 12 worked for a corporation they would have been sacked long ago for their failure to predict & adjust to the future. Not sure what I think about that since the institution plays by a very different set of rules, but it’s an interesting comment re: Seers.
Been a bishop once, a counselor twice, and a high councilor – IMO the only criteria is that the prospective bishop impress the stake presidency in place at the time. My Stake President told me he really liked a talk I gave and knew I’d be the next bishop. Like everyone else here, I’ve had dozens of bishops throughout my life, most are fine, some really terrible ones and a couple of great ones. They are all very different. Farmers, lawyers, doctors, elementary teachers, engineers, businessmen, even one unemployed at time of calling. Leadership and organizational skills all over the map. Approachability and kindness highly variable. I say this not sarcastically, the two common factors are that the stake presidency chose them and they are male. Level of wealth is probably loosely correlated with local leadership.
I imagine it’s the similar at the Q15 level, maybe more emphasis placed on professional success before being a GA. The prophet chooses the new apostle with input from his counselors who then more or less gets rubber stamped by the others.
Objective competence has little to do with it at the local level. At the higher level there is probably some subjective feeling for financial competence.
As has been suggested earlier, LDS culture expects lay bishops to be skilled social workers/case managers, and that is a problem. This is an area of expertise that requires years of specialized professional education and licensure, but somehow being ordained with priesthood keys is an acceptable substitute for that, right? The Church has been working to undermine expertise in welfare administration and mental health care for years.
For example, a few years ago I served as a ward clerk under a bishop who’s best advice to those seeking financial assistance was little more than “pay your tithing and blessings will follow!”. He was a dentist who’s net income was well north of $100K. He was a decent guy and he meant well, but he was in no way qualified to give meaningful financial advice to people struggling with chronic multi-generational poverty. And week after week, month after month, year after year, the same handful of people came to the bishop’s office to prostrate themselves before the bishop and ask to have their rent or utilities paid, and it was usually granted. Though I didn’t mind providing the funds to those in need, I felt like we could have been doing so much more to help these people, if only we could connect them with expert social workers, case managers and community resources to get them on track to better employment, better money management, better living situations, etc. But we just kept handing out money while pretending we were experts at helping the needy.
Another example: about 11 years ago, when I was unemployed, I sought help from a Church employment assistance program. I was put in touch with a volunteer senior missionary who wanted to “fix” my resume, then help me embark on a job search. He clearly hadn’t been on a job search of his own in this century, and had almost no idea how to use computers or the internet. His version of my resume was almost unreadable and strongly deemphasized my education and technical skills (my greatest marketable assets at the time). He then gave me some condescending advice about looking through the newspaper “want-ads” with a red pencil. He was kind, grandfatherly and meant well, but he was so out of his depth. I later went to a VA job seekers workshop (run by professionals) and had a great experience, started getting callbacks, then interviews, and got a new job within months. I was baffled as to why I couldn’t get that kind of assistance from the Church when I needed it most.
Last example: my former Bishop (the dentist from before) was at least smart enough to refer mental health cases out to a licensed professional. But the only therapist in his Rolodex was a member of the Church from another stake who had built a small empire for himself by being the “go-to guy” for all things mental health for every LDS bishop within 100 miles. From what I gather, as a therapist he is mediocre at best, and his self-professed area of expertise is counseling those with pornography/sex addictions (which are not in the DSM and are not recognized by the legitimate mental health community). There are dozens of other qualified family counselors and MFTs in the area, but they aren’t members of the Church, so leaders avoid them.
Sometimes, I think the culture of the LDS Church naturally abhors competence.
The rest of the allies in Africa, Britain, India, Australia, NZ, and South Africa, are a little bit sensative about America winning the war narratives. An uncle was a desert rat. Just so you know.
Description from Wikipedia
Operation Torch in November 1942 was a compromise operation that met the British objective of securing victory in North Africa while allowing American armed forces the opportunity to engage in the fight against Nazi Germany on a limited scale.
Would be interesting to know how many of each nationality there and for how long.
@Jack Hughes – especially over the last year or so I’ve realized how much our culture is scared of “experts” who might dispute or disprove our own beliefs. So while on the one hand I think we encourage secular education (to a much greater extent than a lot of other conservative religions), there is still an undercurrent of distrust for expertise and “the world”, *especially* in the fields of mental health. See, e.g., Dallin Oaks’ “Truth and the Plan”.
So yes, it may be that our culture naturally abhors competence, at least in some areas.
@Toad, yes, so strange our our Church’s highest ministry is composed of businessmen not ministers. Very corporate. We need the corporate folks, but I don’t know that we need them to be the apostles and prophets.
Having served as a Bishop myself, I recognize that never once were my qualifications considered in issuing me the calling. I had a temple recommend, steady above-average income, and no facial hair. I should have known when the Stake President told me “we need more good looking families to be ward leaders”. My meetings were brief and to-the-point, our home teaching and reactivation efforts always lagged the Stake Goals, but the ward became a warm and sweet place to be a member. The SP soured on our focus, as a ward – and he made it very clear to me I was not focusing on the right measures. He was still the SP when I was released after 5 years. My replacement: a hard nosed numbers man. Our home teaching numbers became among the best in the Stake. Now THAT was a competent Bishop.
Yes, Geoff-Aus, British and French troops figure prominently in the book I am reading. The French started out as Vichy French allied with the Germans, then a series of events converged to align them with the Allies. The author, Rick Atkinson, is quite candid about the antipathy that existed between British and American allies. Only Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and Brooke fare well in Atkinson’s analysis, and Atkinson is blunt about the egomania of Patton and Montgomery. Eisenhower had a lot to learn, and it was in the North Africa campaign that he got the mistakes out of his system. Eisenhower was in overall command. Australians don’t figure yet in my reading of the book yet, because they were under Montgomery pushing west from Libya to hook up with the British and Americans pushing east from Algeria, and I haven’t got to that point yet. Atkinson is blunt about the fact that most of the Allied troops, British and American, were generally poorly led, pun unintended. The Germans were much better led by Arnim and Rommel.
Elisa: to buttress your excellent point (Amen!), try, as I have, to quote in Church from DC 93 (the glory of God is intelligence) and DC 88 (84?) (read from the best books), and see the hostile reaction you get from several Ward members, who feel that you are espousing dangerous ideas. I once met a Church member in a restaurant, who found me reading (because I was alone) a book by Benedict XVI, “Values in a Time of Upheaval.” The Church member was scandalized, even when I explained that I was reading the book because it had some good things to say:
I don’t have much to add here, but wanted to thank all of you for sharing your real life examples. It certainly is interesting to learn about all the different types of bishops you have all had.
I’m a SP and have called at least a dozen bishops. Never has the income of the potential bishop been a consideration, although professionals with higher incomes tend to have more control of their work schedules and time to allow them to serve. So there is a selection bias in the years before a call that may be perceived as greater faithfulness.
It’s not so much loyalty to the Church as a willingness to serve. There also has to be some level of orthodoxy. A potential bishop in my view can have some nuanced views but has to believe in the basic goodness of the Church and its mission and be willing to be part of that.
@AJ: Thanks for the insight. I’m curious about this: ” [A]lthough professionals with higher incomes tend to have more control of their work schedules and time to allow them to serve.”
Really? A lot of my friends who are bishops / former bishops are lawyers, public accountants, investment bankers, etc., and I would say they are extremely busy and often seem among the busier people in the ward (even excluding the calling). They serve faithfully in their callings, but at the expense of time with their families given their busy professional lives.
I never in a million years would think that a stake president cares about *income*, but I do think there may be (implicit) bias towards well-educated professionals because they are seen as successful, competent leaders and fit the LDS leadership mold (the percentage of those kinds of professionals in the Q15 and quorums of the 70 is pretty high).
@Elisa: I guess by professionals with control over their schedules I’m contrasting with someone working hourly shifts in industry that requires Sunday shifts, etc.
I think most everyone is busy these days. I’ve had one bishop who didn’t work (his wife did) who had plenty of time to serve!
Personally I don’t care about the successful professional model, but often those are the ones who have the capacity and willingness to serve.
I’ve also not selected some who otherwise checked the boxes because they didn’t seem to have the right temperament for the pastoral counseling piece. I was worried they wouldn’t do well working with youth struggling with serious challenges, etc.
As I started to respond to this, I recognized some unresolved resentment from many aspects of when my husband was bishop. He is very good with people of all ages, and served sincerely. It was a time of employment scarcity, and economic uncertainty. He cared about the people of our ward (working class demographics – many were affected). He is competent.
But he was not a bishop in a vacuum, his service affected our kids, it affected me. The stake president delayed the calling a cycle while I completed school. Our kids were all in school. There are some family health needs that would likely fall one to two standard deviations below the norm (if I knew how to measure them). Like an iceberg, parts are visible, much is private. It ranges from tedious to exhausting. A charismatic RS president berated me for not accepting a visiting teaching assignment – at church with others present (I found reasons to not attend RS). Before the bishop calling, we had been paying down our mortgage with my added income. With the calling, I worked minimally so I could meet the daily needs of our kids, with little backup from my husband. We met our health insurance out-of-pocket annually. We got down to one car that hit 200,000 miles. The family member with serious illness spent much time in hospitals, some of it scheduled, a couple emergent, life or death illnesses (one requiring life flight).
We are one family. I have observed with other bishops some of the family fallout that comes from being bishop.
Maybe the church can limit the bishop choices to kindly, faithful, retired members, hopefully good with youth.
And…I really appreciate the people who went out of their way, specifically to be kind.
Former Stake President here: in my 9+ years a persons income was never figured into the calling of Bishop. We had men of all professions in the 35 or so we called in my time. We looked first at humility and integrity. We told them all to be realists and recognize they were called to be servants and to try and lead a ward to the best of their ability. We told them not to try and solve problems you aren’t trained for and just treat people with respect and dignity and do the best you can with the skills you have been give. Some overstepped and we reeled them in when so, but most tried their best to do their best.
AJ and Mac, I completely believe that financial issues are not a criteria for being called as a bishop. But as someone who fits the “this person should be called to demanding leadership positions” mold, I think we are fooling ourselves when we claim that it never figures into the decision. It doesn’t figure directly, but I would be very surprised if it doesn’t figure indirectly through one of the proxy characteristics. We generally prefer to work with people who look and think like us, so that tends toward calling a certain type of person. We want to call competent, hardworking people who will do a good job, and career success is an easily visible proxy. The statement that professionals have more control over their schedules is a huge assumption that is not warranted in the case of any of the professionals I know who typically work 50-60+ hours per work. The statement that successful professionals are the ones with the capacity and willingness to serve is an assumption that might honestly come because you value the characteristics they have more than other characteristics such as humility, empathy, or openness to spiritual promptings. While I believe you when you say you never consciously consider financial circumstances, I think your statements make it fairly clear that you do prefer financially and professionally successful people.
Sorry–all the professionals in my family and circle of friends work 50-60+ hours per WEEK.
I loved my bishop 2013-15 but his wife was less than Christlike towards my wife and daughter.
@PWS amen + I would add to that prosperity gospel philosophy, which creates implicit bias in us towards successful people (associating professional and financial success with personal righteousness).
I don’t think anyone is saying that leaders *intentionally* look at financial success or even that they intentionally pick people who look and act like them. But I think statistics (if we had them) would bear out that this is happening. That’s how implicit bias works. And calling someone biased isn’t pejorative, it’s descriptive. We are *all* biased. It’s how our brains function. It’s pretty well-established that unless organizations make a concerted effort to identify and control against bias, they will continue to hire and promote people who look like those already in the organization. Church leadership is no different – except, and this goes back to self-awareness – we think they are, so take no measures to mitigate that bias.
PWS and Elisa. I respect what you are saying and believe in some places that is true. I can’t say that it is not from what you have seen. And I understand implicit bias and I agree it is in all of us. But, I was pretty much considered a liberal, unorthodox SP. I voted for Obama twice and did not vote for Trump. I have never made more than $100k in my 61 years and the first Bishop we called was a Geography teacher at a middle school. The. 2nd one was a mechanic and we had farmers, factory workers, lawyers and doctors as Bishops. I don’t know, I am pretty simple minded and I am also in the Deep South, so that may be what makes up my world view. As mentioned before we looked for integrity and humility. I would add we wanted some one who would lift people up, not tear them down with guilt. Everybody is on their journey.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the things talked about on this site drive me just as crazy as it does everybody else. The reason I love this site is because it is not always the Church party line of thought. Diversity of thought is a good thing and in my opinion very necessary. Reading this site makes me happy that I am not the only one who does not always agree with everything the Church does. I love the Church, but it is far, far, far from perfect.
@Mac, I love hearing your experience. I suspect that your experience is heavily influenced by geography. That’s what I loved about living outside the Mormon corridor. When I have lived in less heavily-Mormon areas of the country I found much more diversity in leadership than I find now. It sounds like your stake is lucky to have you.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
In particular, thanks to current and former bishops and stake presidents who have weighed in with observations. The fact that so many local leaders do a good job speaks to how many good and decent LDS men there are in most wards. In the wards I have been in, when that fifth year is approaching and people start to speculate about the next bishop, there are almost always four or five good candidates. It’s what I call the deep Mormon bench.
On the other hand, I went to bishopric “training meetings” for two or three years as a counselor, and frankly there isn’t much training or learning that goes on. If Mormon bishops are often effective or competent, it’s not because of any particular training they get or the Church gives. It’s on the job training and using one’s own skills and personal experience, that’s about all you have to work with. And the system isn’t very good at identifying or removing the bad ones (and there are some bad ones). Somehow, it’s never the bishop’s fault.
About jobs and professions. In general terms, being a bishop is a white collar management job: meetings, interviews, budgets, dealing with people problems, more meetings. So it’s natural that professionals who do these sorts of things every day are a good fit for the bishop calling. There’s really nothing wrong with that. That’s not some sort of unwritten rule, of course. A great bishop when I was a kid happened to be the janitor (well, he did mechanical stuff with the boilers, too) at the local high school. The next bishop was an engineer. Recently, my bishops have been a general contractor, a high school principal, an insurance agent, a dentist, and a doctor. No accountants. No lawyers. So maybe we fall into the idea that most bishops are lawyers and accountants and corporate executives too easily.