Gunning For Callings

May 31, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 1:04 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Let’s face it. Sometimes people aspire to callings/positions/assignments in this church. And usually the more prestigious the calling the more people there are that aspire to it.

Admittedly it is not rare that someone will aspire to a humble calling just because they love it – primary teacher, chorister, scout master, youth Sunday School teacher, nursery worker, etc. In fact most of us have preferred ward callings. This is usually a function of what we do best – everyone likes an assignment they are good at after all. I doubt the Lord has any qualms with this sort of thing. But this post is about aspiring to prestigious assignments.

There are several motivations to gun for a prestigious calling and not all of them are particularly wicked. Here are a few starting from the most innocuous:

- A person desires to serve more people. They, along with Alma lament “Oh that I were and Angel” and wish to be more effective in crying repentance to people. They know Mormons are most likely to listen to those called to be their leaders so they aspire to be such.
- A person wants to serve God and feels that the prestige to the assignment they have in the Church is a direct measure of their standing before God. They think “If I get called to be the RS President or Bishop that means God is very pleased with me”. They aspire to the calling in order to feel assurance that they are in good standing with God.
- A person desires a calling because of the glory associated with it. People look up to and respect members of bishoprics or stake presidencies. Receiving such a calling carries a cache of honor and glory and some people seek that glory.

There are problems with all three of these motivations. Obviously the person gunning for earthly glory will have their reward in just that. The person seeking high callings as a measure of their standing before God will have serious self-doubt issues to deal with when the day of their release comes. The person who waits to get a calling to serve with all their time, talents and energy is wasting their precious probationary time in that waiting process.

This subject has something to do with us bloggers — especially those of us that use our real names. Whatever we write on a blog is suddenly our published opinion. Published opinions have come back and bitten many people in many fields over the course of human history. If a person aspires to be a bishop, or stake president, or stake RS president, or general auxilliary presidency member, or general authority some day, blogging (at least in one’s own name) may be a roadblock to that dubious goal. We talk about doctrines on blogs that no one talks about in Sunday school. Blogs are, by the very nature of the medium, prone to heterodoxy. Published heterodox opinions are probably counter-productive to those who are campaigning for high and holy offices in the church.

As you might have guessed, I think gunning for a prestigious calling is a bad idea. I think/hope that whatever aspirations for high callings in the church I have had over the years have left me now. I have decided that I will explore the truth of God in writing here and look under every nook and cranny until I find it. If that means I get passed over for certain callings in the future I am fine with that. I am not trying to impress my family or neighbors or ward members or stake members with my callings anymore. If I am going to impress them I want it to be with my love for them. I really am mostly interested in impressing God at this point. I trust him enough (as well as my leaders) to give me whatever assignment he wants me to do anyway.

In the meantime, I intend to aggressively seek the truth here. If it means we have some unorthodox discussions or that I come to some seemingly heterodox conclusions, so be it.

(I hope I don’t chicken out and start aspiring to the honors of men again in the future…)

65 Comments »

  1. Geoff,
    Nice post. And timely. I think my feelings run right along side yours. Another thing I find funny/disturbing is that when one recieves one of those “higher” callings people say “congratulations!” as if they WERE aspiring and they reached their goal. I asked a friend why he said that and he basically offered your second point. Very strange.

    Comment by Rusty — May 31, 2005 @ 5:22 am

  2. But this post is about aspiring to prestigious assignments.

    There probably are some people who aspire to hold certain callings. However, I disagree with the assertion that there are any “prestigious assignments” in the Church. It is misplaced aspiration to aspire to ANY calling, and all callings in the Church are the same no matter if Bishop, teacher, or ward greeter. President Hinckley has said that each of us have the same responsibility in our sphere as he does in his. There is no difference in prestige level between callings- each is a call to serve God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and each calling should be taken just as seriously as another. This means that the Bishop should take his calling just as seriously as the fastidious ward greeter, and the ward greeter his as seriously as the Bishop.

    Thus, I disagree with your assertion about aspiring to “prestigious assignments” due to the fact that before God, there are no “prestigious” assignments. However, I agree with you fully to the extent that it applies to aspiring to ANY calling at all, since all callings are the same, requiring willings hands and hearts.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 5:28 am

  3. Rusty,

    I say “congratulations” to anyone who receives any calling, because I think it is admirable that the person accepts a call to serve in the Lord’s church.

    I hope that when I happen to say it to someone who accepts what you would see as a “high” calling that he/she does not think that I see the calling as “higher,” rather that he she feels congratulated for accepting a call from the Lord. If I remember,I say congratulations to the new nursery worker and to the new elder’s quorum instructor as readily as to any other call to serve. Each child of God who accepts and faithfully fills a call to serve deserves a heartfelt congratulations.

    I also say “congratulations” as an indication of my intent to sustain that person in his/her calling, whatever that calling may be.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 5:32 am

  4. (as a side note, I had never even considered one of the three reasons listed above as a reason to say “congratulations.” But now I guess I have to watch who I congratulate, as well as all the other little things I have to watch out for: saying the exact right words in a testimony, never having people turn to scriptures when they speak in church, not letting my kids bear their testimony, etc.)

    There are so many nit-picky little rules about church etiquette that I just never knew. Good thing I read them here in the bloggernacle.

    Randy, thanks for letting me know how people really feel when I congratulate them for accepting any calling in the Lord’s church.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 5:50 am

  5. I agree about gunning for callings. But is there a difference between gunning and making yourself available?

    What I mean to say is: I have a friend who is really into Adam-God. He has read nearly everything written on the subject (which is surprisingly a lot) and is familiar with it and related ideas forwards and backwards. I asked him if he planned to ever try to publish on the subject and he said he never would. People who publish books on stuff like that don’t get callings of accountability, he said. He doesn’t want to be labeled fringe or fundamentalist.

    I’m sympathetic to his position and imagine I’d probably do the same. There are a number of things you can say or publish to lose your membership. But there are also lots of things you can say or publish to lose your reputation as a faithful member. Where should we draw the line?

    Comment by Eric Russell — May 31, 2005 @ 6:05 am

  6. Jordan,

    If everyone congratulated everyone on callings the way you do it probably wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is that a newly called Relief Society president will gets dozens of congratulations while a new primary teacher often won’t be acknowledged by the membership. This kind of trend, I think, is only damaging to the principle of equality of callings.

    Comment by Eric Russell — May 31, 2005 @ 6:14 am

  7. Eric,

    I hadn’t noticed. If you say that’show it is, I will believe you.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 6:18 am

  8. Jordan,
    The reason I wrote that is because I have just recently been called to one of those callings and I’ve had many people say congratulations to me and I have to tell you it just feels weird. That’s all. I don’t think you should never do it, I was just trying to express that I thought it was awkward without revealing that it was me that I was talking about. It makes me uncomfortable. That’s all.

    I do agree with you about the nit-picky things in the Bloggernacle though, I feel very similarly. I’m sorry I’ve added to that list, that wasn’t my intention.

    Comment by Rusty — May 31, 2005 @ 8:02 am

  9. Gotcha. Sorry for the snarky-sounding reply.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 9:01 am

  10. Rusty: You are right — the more prestigious the calling the more compliments one will receive for getting it. It is like winning an election or something in the minds of a lot of saints. That is a symptom of the problem I am writing about here. Don’t worry about bringing that up though — Kim posted on that subject just a few weeks ago.

    Jordan: I think your #2 comment illustrates the ideal. That is in fact what I am pushing for in this post. However it is far from the reality for most church members right now.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 9:16 am

  11. Eric: Your example of your friend is a perfect illustration of the problem I am getting at. OK so your friend believes to one degree or another the doctrine that Adam is God as taught by Brigham Young. But he is afraid to talk to anyone about it because it will potentially hurt his social standing in the church in one way or another. The problems with this scenario are manifold.

    1. He may keep it to himself to protect his chance to serve later in the church. If so he has one of the gunning for callings problems I list in this post.
    2. He may keep it to himself for fear of being seen as odd or weird or heterodox by other members as a separate issue from future callings. That is still a perspective problem where he is gunning for praise of men I think.
    3. Studying outlying doctrines in a vacuum is more sketchy than openly discussing them. If he found others to discuss and debate the ideas with he might find new interpretations and or holes etc. If the doctrine cannot stand the light of scrutiny among fellow saints then there are troubles. These things ought to be brought to light. The question should be are they true or not? If they are true the Spirit of Truth will support them. If they are false they will wither in the light. Keeping these big doctrinal questions obscured in the dark — especially ones that have been publicly preached and well documented — cannot be God’s plan (despite what some might imply).

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 9:32 am

  12. It will be interesting to see what effect blogs and their kind will have in the future. Even though I don’t particularly aspire to any calling (besides Sunday School Secretary), I do mourn any potential loss of opportunity not for myself, but for the rest of the good folk around.

    I do have the hope that none of this will particularly come into the equation. We’ll see.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 31, 2005 @ 9:58 am

  13. Geoff,

    I respectfully disagree that the idea that there are “no prestigious callings” is far from reality in the Church- it is not some far-fetched ideal, but this notion IS reality in the Church. How certain misguided members view the situation is of no consequence. If I claim the Earth is flat, it does not change the reality that the Earth is round. If I claim that being a Bishop is somehow more important than being a ward greeter, then that does not change the reality of the situation, it only shows my own devious, errant, and haughty views.

    But the reality of the Church, and not some far-fetched ideal, is that there are no prestigious callings. Period. Some people THINK there are, but they are clearly wrong. Shame on them.

    The way your post is worded, it actually makes the idea that there are some “prestigious callings” sound more real- it is false. Therefore, the FACT that all callings are equal IS reality for most church members,even right now. Whether they choose to accept this reality is another issue. (But I think most do, in my experience.)

    (note that even in my own family there are those who think this way. but that does not mean they’re right.)

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 9:59 am

  14. Eric Russell,

    I’d like to see that Adam-God report you’re friend has done or needs to do. He could post it anonymously on the web or something. I know how he feels however. I post under this “name” as I love to talk about the meat, but don’t want to be labeled negatively. Its important to talk out questions, and issues.

    Comment by Speaking Up — May 31, 2005 @ 10:00 am

  15. J: I expect in the short run openly discussing controversial subjects at blogs could preclude some of us from certain responsibilities in the church. I have decided to simply trust God on this sort of thing though. As long as I am convinced He is in favor of our activities here I won’t concern myself with temporal issues like that.

    Jordan: We are talking about perspectives here. I am saying people in the Church perceive leadership callings to be more prestigious. I agreee that God feels differently but that fact does not change the perceptions of the membership. “Prestige” is entirely a function of perception after all; so while there there may or may not be any prestigious callings from God’s perspective (that is even debatable — remember that He showed Abraham “noble and great ones” and said “these I will make my rulers”) there are certainly prestigious callings in the eyes of almost all members.

    If you doubt this in yourself then ask yourself this question: How would your behavior be different if you were to host an apostle at your house for a weekend vs. hosting some unknown primary teacher from out of state in town for the weekend at the request of your bishop? Perhaps you would treat both exactly the same, but if so I suspect you may be the only person in the church who would…

    I am not saying this is necessarily an abominable in the sight of God, but I do think it unwise to deny this reality.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 10:29 am

  16. Speaking Up,

    If you are interested in discussions on Adam-God go check out a few posts that Jeffrey Gilliam put up over at his blog. That guy is far more fearless (or is it reckless?) than I am.

    He goes for the idea more than I do, though I think there is enough evidence to entertain the idea that Adam was part of the pre-earth Godhead.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 10:34 am

  17. Perhaps you would treat both exactly the same, but if so I suspect you may be the only person in the church who would

    I think you are too uncharitable to other members of the Church. You can’t mean that with all of the good,sincere,and solid people I have met in this church. I think it is unwise to so judge so many good Latter-day Saints in one sweeping assertion.

    That said, I probably would show more deference to an apostle, but that is not because I see it as some way of kissing up, and it certainly has nothing to do with aspiring to a calling. It is because I suppose that the calling to be a “prophet, seer, and revelator” is quite special in a way that other callings are not. It is not more prestigious in the worldly way, but I think it is more of a sacred calling than other church callings.

    But note that this does not prove your point- you were talking about callings that people actually can (and I suppose to some extent, though much more limited than you claim, DO) aspire to. Being a “prophet, seer,and revelator” is certainly not a calling anybody could seriously think they could aspire to, any more than they could aspire to walk on water or to, like Simon, give the Holy Ghost with no authority. All impossible feats, and all pretty much unanimously (at least in my experience) acknowledged as such.

    I would not treat an apostle differently than some primary teacher on a personal/service level (they would each get all the amenities of life with the Fowles), but I may pay more deference to the absolute sacredness of that special calling, which has nothing to do with mortal notions of “prestige” or with the personal righteousness of the individual who carries the mantle of “apostle”.

    I say that the reality is that Church members, by and large, do not engage in the activity you claim they do. The reality is that no calling is more prestigious than another calling. And most people recognize this, despite your claims to the contrary. Thank heavens, because I would hate to be a member of the church you describe,where office politics are transported into the sacred halls of our meetinghouses. In the church I belong to, this does not happen on any grand scale, give or take a few prideful people,many of whom freely acknowledge their vain ambitions and are sincerely trying to rid themselves of the same.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 10:56 am

  18. I think you are too uncharitable

    I suspect you are reading too much into my statement that certain calling are indeed more prestigious than others. Why is that uncharitable? How is this unwise judgment of others? It is simply the truth.

    That said, I probably would show more deference to an apostle

    This is my only point with that last comment. We do show more deference to higher callings in the church. There is a prestige hierarchy in our minds with President Hinckley at the top. I am not condemning this as an outright evil or anything. In fact I think God is not displeased with this reality in most cases. I am simply responding to your previous (apparent) denial of this fact.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 11:24 am

  19. More thoughts on the subject of our aspiring to callings…

    Perhaps the place where gunning for callings is most readily apprarent is in the mission field. Almost every elder secretly or openly wants to move up the ranks of the hierachy. Greenie, then senior companion, maybe trainer, then district leader, and a few even get to be zone leader. Most prestigious of all is the AP. Parents and family back home are thrilled at the news that young Jake is now a DL. While this is probably an unhealthy reality I don’t condemn church memebers for feeling this way. We are trained to compete in such ways from birth in our society today. I secretly felt that way on my mission and afterward. Such competitiveness can have positive effects too. But there can be negatives.

    If we are being honest with ourselves we will look at this reality in the face and perhaps do something about it. I see nothing uncharitable about honestly examining ourselves.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 11:31 am

  20. We do show more deference to higher callings in the church. There is a prestige hierarchy in our minds with President Hinckley at the top. I am not condemning this as an outright evil or anything. In fact I think God is not displeased with this reality in most cases. I am simply responding to your previous (apparent) denial of this fact.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. The only such calling is that of “prophet, seer, and revelator”. That has nothing to do with any imagined “prestige hierarchy.”

    As far as the mission field goes, there are those who claim that people “gunned” for callings. I never saw it. I always thought people were making it up to find still more reasons to condemn their fellow missionaries. Nobody would be stupid enought to WANT to be “zone leader” or “AP”, just like nobody could be stupid enough to want to be a Bishop or even an Apostle. I admit that I have met a few members who were that stupid- but they are most definitely the exception and not the rule, as you seem to think they are. Maybe you read too much into other people’s actions.

    When people refuse to address “controversial” issues in the name of searching for truth, does that fact alone make them “gunners” in your eyes? If so, maybe that is the problem, and there is no truth to the blanket assertion that so many of your fellow Latter-day Saints are “gunners.” There certainly is no truth to the idea that some callings are somehow “prestigious” callings. No calling offers worldly prestige. Everyone knows that, as far as I can tell. Your comments to the contrary are mistaken, and far from being some statement of truth are blanket criticisms of many Latter-day Saints who you probably know nothing about.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 11:40 am

  21. Err-that is to say, I have never observed what you are talking about. So from my point of view, you are quite mistaken.

    (after reading in the bloggernacle, I always come away thinking that I must belong to a different Church than others who post here, because I don’t see half the crap you people always complain about…)

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 11:42 am

  22. I didn’t aspire to be ZL, but once I became one I was glad to be. It gave me a freedom to go on splits with whoever I wanted and on P-days we could go to the cool areas and hang out with whoever we wanted. Plus, when my friend became AP we could do the fun things they did with them on P-days. Lots of perks. Very few disadvantages.

    My new calling, however, has none of these perks. *frown*

    Comment by Rusty — May 31, 2005 @ 11:44 am

  23. (and that post sounded much harsher than I meant it…)

    I think my underlying frustration stems from the negative implications of your post that if we are unwilling to address the “controversies” in our search for “truth,” then we must be gunners, because only a gunner would do that.

    I also dispute any acknowledgement that gives the ring of truth to the idea that any calling is “prestigious.” I think there may be some “offices” that are more sacred and require more trust from the Lord than others, but that has nothing to do with anything even resembling what we would consider prestige.

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 11:47 am

  24. Having heard “congratulations” too many times after being sustained to one calling or another, I join with Rusty in that uneasy feeling. “Congratulations” sounds suspiciously like the “honors of men,” and even if Rusty or I or anybody else didn’t in fact aspire to those honors, receiving them makes me (and Rusty, I take it) uneasy.

    And, different bases for the congratulations still doesn’t change the underlying problem–one is being given praise where it is undeserved, and which, in our theology, is not to be sought after.

    Some better possibilities:

    “I’m so glad you’re our new nursery leader. Let me know what I can do to support you.”

    “I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job.”

    “May God have mercy on your soul.”

    Comment by Mark B. — May 31, 2005 @ 11:59 am

  25. My congratulations is meant to mean each of those things at once, in the hall, while being pulled along by a four year old in search of a six year old while holding a crying one year old. What else could a congratulations to someone who has just been called into young men’s mean, other than a pledge of support?

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 12:03 pm

  26. Jordan: I don’t see half the crap you people always complain about…

    Whoowheee Jordan! I hope you aren’t always this uptight and grouchy. What “you people” are you referring to? I can only assume you mean faithful and devoted Latter Day Saints because that is who “we people” are. Mellow out bro. No one here is attacking God or Mormonism. You seem to be in the mood for a fight and the rest of us just want to talk.

    If you almost never observe anyone aspiring to callings in the church I’m happy for you. I observe it regularly and it appears most other commenters here do too in one degree or another. I confess that I did assume that it was so obvious that you must intentionally be putting your head in the sand on this subject. If you are among the people who never secretly hoped they would be chosen to be in the new EQ presidency or RS presidency or to be a ZL then I’m happy for you. I am guessing that you are in a minority though.

    All: What do you think? Is secretly aspiring to prestigious callings common in the church or not?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 12:36 pm

  27. Some better possibilities: “May God have mercy on your soul.”

    Classic Mark!

    My new calling, however, has none of these perks. frown

    Like I mentioned earlier Rusty, someone once told me that bishopric counselor has a high glory-to-work ratio. The bishop bears most of the real burden… You can at least comfort yourself with that ;-)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

  28. Like I said, that sounded grouchier than I am.

    Why would I want to do any of the things people in those callings do? I have served in certain callings that you have mentioned, and done so willingly, but I would never wish it on myseld or anyone I know and love.

    I will admit that there have been times when certain entities have been reorganized that I have felt a stirring in my heart that I would be placed in the reorganization. But, though I dismissed the thoughts as vain ambition at the moment they entered my head, it turned out that I was to be part of the reorganization- this has happened to me several times. Are my premonitions a vain ambition, or are they signs from a loving God?

    I never said that people don’t aspire to callings, only that it is far less people than you claim here. I personally know someone very closely who openly aspires to be a Bishop- an ridiculous aspiration I always try to shake from him.

    And even though this is for the sake of discussion, I still don’t appreciate the implication that those who are unwilling to discuss controversy are necessarily “chickening out and aspiring to the honors of men.”

    Does that mean that if I don’t desire to participate in a discussion on Adam-God, then I am nothing more than a hopeless gunner?

    (Note: why does what I say always sound grouchy? I’m not grouchy as I type, just taciturn. I am not in a bad mood, just hurried. Sorry I come across differently. You should understand that, Mr. self-professed Bull-in-the-China-room…)

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 12:48 pm

  29. by the way, what do you consider to be “prestigious” callings?

    Comment by Jordan — May 31, 2005 @ 12:55 pm

  30. Why does what I say always sound grouchy? … You should understand that, Mr. self-professed Bull-in-the-China-room…

    Ha! Excellent reference my man. I have more problems in person than in writing. When I blog I get to think twice or three times about the tone before I hit submit. In person one is not allowed that review time before speaking.

    And even though this is for the sake of discussion, I still don’t appreciate the implication that those who are unwilling to discuss controversy are necessarily “chickening out and aspiring to the honors of men.” Does that mean that if I don’t desire to participate in a discussion on Adam-God, then I am nothing more than a hopeless gunner?

    Ah, I understand your comments a little better. The answer to your question is no. I am not saying anyone should discuss any topic they are not interested in. I am also not advocating discussing any topic simply because it is “controversial”. I am saying that there are important doctrinal and theological questions that many of us have and that if I am afraid to investigate or talk about them for fear of hurting my chances at callings later, then perhaps that is a problem. It is motivations for discussions or refraining from discussions that I am talking about in that part of the post.

    by the way, what do you consider to be “prestigious” callings?

    I would say for men that anything from Bishop and above is almost universally perceived to be prestigious. But other callings could be prestigious depending on age and situation. As I said, prestige is entirely a function of perception after all.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  31. I can sympathize with Eric’s friend. I too have thought a lot about doctrines which most would consider strange and heterodox to say the least, and was affraid to publically discuss them. I was affraid that it would disqualify me from becoming a ‘higher’ authority. I eventually came to the conclusion, however, that being thus disqualified isn’t a bad thing, not for me at least. This is partially what my Shepherds and Hirelings paper is about. With this in mind I presented a paper on the difference between Inspiration and Revelation at the most recent Sunstone symposium officially disqualifying myself from the “G.A. runnings”. I realized that I can receive just as much, if not more, of the revelation I want without a leadership calling, and the only real reason I wanted a leadership calling was to have my voice heard in things that I can talk about at sunstone or the bloggernacle anyways.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — May 31, 2005 @ 1:40 pm

  32. I understand both side of this issue- now that I’ve been EQ pres. I wouldn’t want to wish it on anyone but my worst enemies. And only on them to humble them enough so I can stick my tongue out at them and say neener neener. On the flip-side, I went from being EQP to Sunday School president. And I honestly felt a loss. As much as I hated it, I really liked being EQP I joke but not really joke that this new calling is another name for bell-ringer. I liked being in touch with what was going on in the ward, knowing not necesarily who was getting food orders or anything, but organizing activity plans, seeing new people moving in, that kind of thing. Knowing that I could be counted on to get something done.
    So maybe the new calling is to teach me that exact lesson- that I should treat each calling as important. And I am slowly getting there. My testimony is strong enough that I stay active, but sometimes I wish I had a “more important” calling. I know the arguments- others need a chance to serve too, etc. It’s just something that I think most people will go through and need to work on- after all, we could all use a little more humility, a more Christ-like attitude, a more eternal perspective.

    Comment by Bryan — May 31, 2005 @ 1:47 pm

  33. I serve in a ‘prestigious’ calling right now. I do not believe that many people aspire to callings to serve others better. I was a Webelos leader for my first two years after converting to the church. In this role, I had time to exchange with the elder’s almost weekly, be involved in many service projects and teach the Ward’s 10 year olds. I do not do as much of these things anymore because of time constraints. I know my current calling is necessary and serves others, but in retrospect, I think that my service during those two years was much more fruitful. I guess what I’m trying to say is there there is plenty of work for the church to be done regardless of what calling you have. Aspiration to callings can only be fueled by egotism from what I can see.

    Comment by J Scherer — May 31, 2005 @ 1:50 pm

  34. I personally have aspired to be “officially cool”–I wanted to be president of everything, until I actually was in presidencies and saw what they did. Now I would turn down most of those callings, they are basically a lot of work. But I still think people who are the presidents of stuff are cool. Not as cool as I used to, I remember the first time I argued with a counselor in the bishopric and expected to be struck dead.

    I’m probably on the level of almost the apostles for figuring out people are just human. Although I worry fairly regularly that I will flip off or cuss at or to a general authority unknowingly. Yes, I would feel worse than if I did that to my neighbor, who is just the sunday school president.

    Comment by annegb — May 31, 2005 @ 3:56 pm

  35. ps, I love “may God have mercy on your soul.”

    Comment by annegb — May 31, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

  36. I have decided that I will explore the truth of God in writing here and look under every nook and cranny until I find it. If that means I get passed over for certain callings in the future I am fine with that.
    I think what I’m most concerned about here is the implication that seeking the truth is antithetical to most of what goes on in the church–that somehow truth-seeking disqualifies us for the work. As I follow this idea through, it seems that the church comes off looking like a real road-block to truth, and only by putting ourselves out of service can we provide some essential service, without which the general membership of the church cannot find truth. I simply don’t see this.
    First of all, I don’t think that those who choose people for the callings we’re talking about read the bloggernacle all that regularly. But beyond that, if they did, we either have to say that they are all a bunch of reactionaries or say, hey they are people, just like us, with a concern for truth. Hopefully, they are following the guidance of the spirit in choosing people for these callings. The Spirit likes truth. If I’m not preaching anything that the brethren have specifically asked me not to preach, I’m OK. If I am teaching such doctrines, I’ve got a problem, not those who are choosing people for callings.
    Example. Geoff says, “I think there is enough evidence to entertain the idea that Adam was part of the pre-earth Godhead.” That sounds like a pretty good explanation to me of what might be going on in the whole Adam-God thing. We know that Adam helped to create the world. Does that make him part of the Godhead? Don’t know, but as long as I say I don’t know, no big deal. In fact, I don’t find the whole issue a big deal, but at least you aren’t rejecting the counsel of the brethren because you feel like you have something to offer that people couldn’t otherwise get. If, on the other hand, I say, hey, this whole thing has been covered up–when the brethren say that this doctrine is not correct, and that I shouldn’t teach it, they’re restricting people from finding the truth, I think we are headed for apostasy. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s where I see such thinking heading.

    I guess my point is that I don’t see any reason to say anything in the bloggernacle I wouldn’t say anywhere else. The church’s objective is truth. We are more likely, I believe, to find it there than we are anywhere else. If we feel we can find it better in paths that the brethren would disapprove of, I would think we are deceiving ourselves.

    Comment by Steve H — May 31, 2005 @ 4:13 pm

  37. PS,
    I don’t see people aspiring to callings so often. In fact, I don’t see people preparing themselves to be able to serve nearly often enough.

    Comment by Steve H — May 31, 2005 @ 4:17 pm

  38. I see people aspiring to callings all the time, haven’t you ever thought you could do a much better job? It seems only human, although the older one gets, the more one realizes that nothing is as easy as it seems when somebody else is botching it.

    I posted somewhere else (can’t remember where) about the guys in our ward aspiring to be bishop and having meltdowns when they didn’t get picked. They had their membership moved out of our ward. Really. One went to peoples houses to lobby for himself or another as bishop, almost anybody but the guy who was picked. Boy that was a cheap thrill for the rest of us.

    I aspire to callings that look fun, like, uh, uh, not young women, uh, not primary, uh, not homemaking (sorry enrichment), uh, not the library, uh, not the newsletter, hey–leading the music in Relief Society was fun! I’m having fun, in a really strange and perverted way, playing God as the visiting teaching supervisor. If somebody makes me mad, they get the difficult sister. And it isn’t me. well, not entirely. Compassionate service is really fun.

    But, you know, I want to be wanted. I like it when somebody says I’d make a great relief society president. It wouldn’t be fun, but it’s nice.

    Comment by annegb — May 31, 2005 @ 6:37 pm

  39. Steve,

    Good points. Perhaps the fears many of us have in discussing these deeper doctrinal questions are unfounded. But there is no question that that fear does exist in lots of us. Eric Russell’s friend is an example (#5). Jeff Giliam is an example (#31). And I have privately talked with others that refrain from bringing up lots of very important doctrinal and theological topics for fear of appearing too heterodox and thus damaging future opportunities to serve in the church.

    You have teased out the conflict in my post though. On the one hand I say I’m going to dig in to these subjects regardless of the possible damage it could do to my chances to get prestigious callings in the future. On the other hand I said: “I trust (God) enough (as well as my leaders) to give me whatever assignment he wants me to do anyway.”

    That line in my post is true. But I am also aware of how God often runs his church — that is he lets his leaders choose who will serve in positions a lot of the time. I firmly believe that God intervenes and specifies certain people for certain jobs on occasion and that he tells leaders “no” on suggestions for callings on others until they get it right, but I think he only intervenes when he has to. What is the implication of this? That I could get pegged as a guy who publicly talks about (for example) the merits of multiple mortal probations as the best explanation of the eternities and thus I am way too heterodox to be a person who would be chosen for leadership unless God himself intervenes and forces the issue… (Never mind that Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young and lots of other church luminaries agree with me). And I’m ok with that. I hope you are right that doing so will have zero effect on my mortal church career. I’m certain it will not negatively affect my soul.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 6:39 pm

  40. Thanks annegb,

    I was starting to think I was the only one that saw this common tendency among members. I think most all members have great intentions and work hard to repress any aspirations to prestigious callings, but such aspirations come very naturally and it is work for most of us to inwardly want to be the one chosen for that prestigious assignment that needs to be filled. Strangely, even knowing that it is an undesirable job does not completely squelch the natural tendency to want to be chosen at times…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

  41. I was totally surprised to be called as EQ Pres. I really loved the calling too. Then I was really surprised to be called as Bishop’s Councilor. I loved that calling too. After seeing how tough the Bishop’s job was, I would never aspire to that calling. Then one day while driving home from church, I heard an audible voice telling me to prepare to be bishop. (Over on the blog *Issues in Mormon Doctrine* some feel that that audible revelation was because I was spiritually weak.) I did as instructed, without expecting to be called soon. Another Bishop was called and I mentally wiped my brow thinking that I had missed the bullet. Then when that Bishop moved I heard a rumor that someone had already been called. I though, *Oh, well. When the Lord needs me, I’ll be ready.* The Stake Pres called for an appointment and I thought that it was to thank me for having served. So, I was rather mellow when I met with him. But, I guess it was my time, because he called me. The rumors were false.

    There was one brother in our ward who felt that he should have been bishop when the previous bishop was called. He was in a funk for several weeks at that time. When I was called to be bishop, he was almost apoplectic. He did his best to sow discord through the ward and to find fault in everything I did. That is the real problem with those who aspire to positions. They are not right spiritually and feel justified in doing what ever it takes to make their *personal revelation* come true.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — June 1, 2005 @ 11:34 am

  42. (Over on the blog Issues in Mormon Doctrine some feel that that audible revelation was because I was spiritually weak.)

    Ha! I suspect you are referring to a comment I made. I was thinking of angels appearing to Laman and Lemuel because they were “past feeling” when I made that comment over there… I probably ought to go back and clarify that.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2005 @ 12:56 pm

  43. I personally take the idea of revelation to mean that we are being told what we need to hear, not necessarily what is entirely true, similar to the oracle on the Matrix. This is how I account for people receiving answers to prayers which say they should stay in their own church and the like.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — June 1, 2005 @ 1:08 pm

  44. Hmmm… I find it highly unlikely that the Spirit of Truth can tell us an untruth or lie just because “we need to hear it”. I suspect that a more likely scenario would be that the Spirit tells us as much truth as we can handle and we fill in the blanks ourselves. The untruth happens in that compensation process.

    (I know this is a minor threadjack, but it is interesting enough to make it worth it I guess…)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2005 @ 1:21 pm

  45. Geoff,
    I think for the most part I agree with your thread in theory. Also even in practice this may be useful for the individual to judge his intentions and desires. What happens though when one begins to judge anothers enthusiasm over a new calling? This happens often, and I’m probably guilty of it myself, but I think that judging some one like that is more of a sin than being overly enthusiastic over a prestigious calling. I’d say more but I’m between classes.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — June 1, 2005 @ 1:55 pm

  46. Geoff,
    There isn’t that big of a difference between the two if you ask me. You say that in the communication process God gives us a partial truth and knowingly allows us to fill in the rest with false information. I say that this is true AND the spirit just might every once in a while say something that isn’t entirely true, but ends up being better for the person than the truth would have been.

    Of course, we should also acknowledge that rarely is guidance given in the form of propositional statement which fall under into thr true/false dichotomy. What I was originally referring to was the spirit saying “you should stay in your church instead of join the Mormons.” That isn’t false at all.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — June 1, 2005 @ 2:00 pm

  47. What happens though when one begins to judge anothers enthusiasm over a new calling?

    Geoff- that is sort of what I was trying to get at. How can we possibly accuse others of “gunning” for callings? What does that say about us when we judge others to be “gunning”? How can we ever possibly tell if someone is “gunning” or not?

    That’s why I say that it doesn’t happen. I may see behaviors that SEEM like “gunning,” but I do not know the thoughts and intents in the hearts of those who might be considered “gunners.” So I assume they aren’t. Which is why I can honestly say that I have almost never seen any Latter-day Saint “gunning.”

    Comment by Jordan — June 1, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

  48. Jordan, you’re lucky. It’s not a pretty sight.

    Comment by annegb — June 1, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  49. Jordan,
    Soren Kierkegaard would agree with you. Kierkegaard interprets the scripture that says “Love hides a Multitude of Sins” as saying that when we love someone we presuppose love in them in such a way that we only suppose the best intentions in them. By supposing such good intentions we hide from ourselves the sins that they may have in their heart. There have been numerous times in my own life where I have had the best of intentions but the worst of outcomes. Actions do not always reveal the persons true intentions, we cannot know their intentions. If we cannot know their intentions then we can only guess; if we can only guess then we should always guess the best intentions. I’m going a bit off topic now and “thread-jacking” as Geoff puts it, so I’ll stop. My point though is, we can never know the intentions of those who appear to be aspiring to “prestigious positions”. Since we cannot know, we should suppose that their intentions are the best of intentions. Also, thank goodness for those who aspire to the positions that take the most effort, that means that I can continue to be lazy. :) If any of you would like to read Kierkegaard’s thoughts on love then read his book called “The Works of Love”. It’s the best book (besides the standard works) on love ever written.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — June 1, 2005 @ 6:10 pm

  50. One more thing I forgot to include. As we hide others sins we also hide our own, or in other words, the way we judge others discloses our love, or lack thereof to the world. This disclosure is our own judgment upon ourselves.
    Oh, and one other thing, I am not accusing Geoff or anyone else of being unloving. If I did that then I would be unloving. :) (It’s a double-edged sword) I only think that this is something important to think of when we think that we may know the thoughts of anothers heart. So this not an accusation, but a thought for each individual to think about and judge themselves.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — June 1, 2005 @ 6:17 pm

  51. My point though is, we can never know the intentions of those who appear to be aspiring to “prestigious positions”.
    I agree with this. I think there might be a real danger in seeing someone who legitimately feels like they shoudl prepare for a calling and assuming they want to be doing so. We do not know what sort of encitement they may have had to do so. The worst possibility would be to come to the point whre we are always cynical of someone’s beliefs, or even the attempt to better their lives in ways that simply happen to be visible, and see them as attempts to better position for a calling.
    After all, in these situations, the person who prepares to servein any capacity might look a lot like the person “gunning” for a calling. Of course campaigning is, perhaps, another matter, entirely.

    Comment by Steve H — June 1, 2005 @ 6:20 pm

  52. There’s only two church jobs that I “want”: Prophet and primary pianist (I’m joking about the Prophet part). I was a PP for 9 of 10 years in various wards. I love the kids and their singing, plus it’s an easy calling. Seriously I don’t care about having any particular calling (there are a few I’d like to avoid).

    My current theory about inspired callings is either 1) the “noble and great ones” theory, 2) they have something they need to learn, or 3) they need to be a test to someone else.

    Comment by Daylan Darby — June 1, 2005 @ 8:06 pm

  53. Craig, Jordan, Steve,

    I appreciate your thoughts on unrighteously judging others who appear to be aspiring (gunning) for prestigious callings. I might point out that if you re-read the post you will see that two of the three reasons I list as motivations for such aspirations are in fact righteous motivations. The first is a the righteous desire to serve other more fully and the second is the righteous desire to gain assurance that one is in good standing with God. There is no implication of any unrighteousness in those. The primary point was not that it is necessarily unrighteous to aspire (in whatever degree) to high callings in the church, but rather that it is misguided.

    I might add that Alma came to the very same conclusion in Alma 29 after he inwardly and righteously aspired to greater power and influence too.

    BTW — Thanks for that tip on the Kierkegaard book, Craig. I’ll add that to my books-to-read list.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2005 @ 11:28 pm

  54. The only thing I aspire to is to have the faith and confidence to pray and ask God if he really truly loves me. It’s been suggested to me that the lack of this knowledge is why folks want outward signs like callings/riches to prove they are righteous/loved/saved etc.

    Ok, I admit it would also be cool to be a mission president. But I’m happy being a home teacher forever :)

    Comment by lyle stamps — June 2, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

  55. Anybody who thinks it would be cool to be a mission president should spend more time close to one. That should effect a cure.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 3, 2005 @ 8:13 am

  56. Aspiring to church callings is a form of masochistic mental illness probably indicative of low self esteem and insecurity of some sort. Our SP and Bishops get abused big time by members who forget they’re volunteers, not employees of the church. Why would anyone aspire to that BS? My favorite callings were primary teacher and ward mission leader. I never had a chance to be just Joe senior comp on my mission and that sucked big time. When I went from junior comp to my first DL assignment, I’ll confess it was nice splitting off from my greeny comp whenever I wanted to spend time with real friends, but that was more than offset by getting knifed in the back by AH Elders who would complain to the pres about my unorthodox (but very effective) methods like staying out teaching until ~1 a.m. in the Summer because people routinely ate dinner ~10 p.m. in the Summer in the country. Being a ZL was the worse because the pres and AP’s censured everything at Zone Conferences, so you couldn’t tell the truth about how to be an effective missionary (except one-on-one, and any Joe missionary could do that just as well.). Also as ZL the pres expected you to rat out wayward missionaries like some Nazi; my refusal to do so almost got me sent home a few times. Missionaries get abused so bad; why do some RM’s line up for more?

    Comment by Steve (FSF) — June 3, 2005 @ 10:48 am

  57. Yeah, Mark, actually working closely to those people or having that calling has cured me every time I thought I wanted a particular one. Now I don’t want to do anything.

    Comment by annegb — June 3, 2005 @ 6:25 pm

  58. The best calling of all is Sunday School Pres, all the glory of a presidency and you get to ring the bell!!

    Comment by Casey Blau — June 3, 2005 @ 8:03 pm

  59. Ha! Ringing the bell is pretty cool, Casey. I’ve been SS president since I moved to Arizona a little over a year ago. I suspect the Peter Principle is in effect though — I would probably be more useful as a teacher. But I end up subbing enough that I get my teaching fix… (I’m stake SS president now so I get to teach the youth in two wards tomorrow!)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 4, 2005 @ 10:34 pm

  60. Let me add that I think people that would like to work for in CES or at BYU some day (or already do) ought to get a free pass on this subject. Everyone has to feed their families after all and some jobs require more discretion with personal opinions than others…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 5, 2005 @ 9:06 pm

  61. You might also note that those of us with careers in the secular world often need to be more careful about what we say online. There have been more than a few cases where employees have been fired over what they say in blogs. Or when they post to blogs.

    Comment by Jordan — June 6, 2005 @ 7:59 am

  62. That’s true Jordan. No one should write things that get themselves fired. In the context of this post, though, I suspect that most employers wouldn’t care much if someone posted on various theological musings that sound a bit new or unusual to most Mormons. That group I mention in #60 has a lot more reason to be concerned about blogging on those subjects.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2005 @ 8:52 am

  63. I have known people who aspire to callings. It certainly exists. And no matter what General authorites have said about all callings being equal, some people DO attach prestige to leadership positions. Some people brag about their positions, or more commonly, brag about the positions of close family members. I think if you base your entire social life(and self esteem) around members of the church or more specifically, the members of your own particular ward, you can be more vulnerable to this sort of thing. I can honestly say that I really don’t care about other people’s callings. I am friends with our newly called bishop’s wife. When he was called, I sort of felt sorry for her and for him. I don’t look at either of them differently. I respect his calling and I just hope his family not only survives the experience, but will be richly blessed for it.

    Personally, I think I have the opposite problem. I never aspire to callings. I think I would be totally happy if I never had one. Callings make me nervous. They are stressful. I find them a challenge. It doesn’t take much of a calling to make me grow. I would never aspire to be a RS president. I actually admire people who take on new callings with enthusiasm and wish I was more like them.

    Also, I agree that most people say “congratulations” to the newly called because they really don’t know what else to say. I think in the majority of cases, it is meant as a show of support rather than an acknowledgment of some sort of achievement.

    Comment by AJ — May 6, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  64. Oh and btw, if callings are supposed to come from inspiration, why would it matter what you blog?

    Comment by AJ — May 6, 2007 @ 9:41 am

  65. As a former bishop I have a couple of comments on people who “gun” for a calling, particularly a “prestige” calling:

    1. Anyone who aspires to be a bishop/stake president deserves to be one.
    2. Everyone in the church is equal, but some are more equal than others.
    3. No success as a bishop can compensate for the the inevitable failure of many aspects of your home life, regardless of how “righteous” you try to live.
    4. Your friends may come and go, but your enemies will accumulate — so be warned!
    5. It will cost you far more than your time.
    6. You can always tell a bishop, but not much.

    And though I state the above somewhat with my tongue in cheek, there is in jest always a measure of truth.

    The Bish

    Comment by The Bish — December 30, 2007 @ 6:42 am

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