Thursday, February 28, 2013

Informed Inspiration and Extending Callings

(See the first post in this series here)

When we first moved into this ward, we filled out some questionnaires about ourselves. One of the questions on the form was "do you know how to lead music?" Janelle quickly marked yes, thinking, "of course I know how to lead music -- how many young women activities did I have on conducting? What woman who grew up in the Church doesn't know how?" The next week, she was called as the Relief Society (women's group) chorister. She says it is the most uninspired calling she has ever had. But recognizing that she was new, her talents were as yet unknown, and someone had to do it, she accepted the position.

About a year later, she was asked to meet with a member of the bishopric (we'll call him Richard). They found an empty classroom, sat down, made the requisite small talk, and had a prayer.

"Janelle, we would like to call you to be the ward music director."

Janelle went off script. She cried.

Richard was a little surprised by the response.  He allowed Janelle to compose herself a bit and gently asked what prompted her reaction.

Janelle replied, "When we moved here, I was called to be the Relief Society chorister, and it felt completely uninspired.  It's unsatisfying and I've felt completely useless, and this feels like more of the same."

"Well I'll tell you what.  I'll take what you've said back to the bishopric and we'll talk about it.  I'd like you to think it over during the week, and we'll meet again next Sunday and talk it over."

Janelle came home and thought more about the position.  With some research, she found that it was more than just directing music during congregational meetings, but also involved helping to improve the music program throughout the ward.  Over the week, she began to feel differently about the idea of accepting this call.  When they met again, Richard explained that the bishopric had a goal of making music a more prominent part of our services and felt like she was someone that was capable of making that happen.  Janelle shared what she had learned in the course of the week and gladly accepted the calling.

In that same meeting, Janelle also asked that a particular musically inclined husband and wife be called to be the choir directors.  In an earlier conversation with the husband, she had learned that his dream calling was to be a choir director, and she figured that was a good reason to give him a chance.  That husband and wife served for four years and ran a great choir the entire time.


I'm sure it seems kind of self-congratulatory to use an example from my own family, but that wasn't actually why I chose it.  I chose this example because there are so many good things happening in it. (I also really liked working with Richard and thought he was a great model of a ward leader.)

There was empathy, patience, an open ear.  Richard didn't try to use guilt, but instead tried to create a vision of the work to be done.  There was no pressure to answer right away, but time was granted to ponder, to let the Spirit work.  There was freedom and flexibility, as well as selection of people who wanted to do a calling.  Above all, there was genuine concern and feeling for the emotions of the person being called.

My favorite times working in ward leadership were when these elements were present.  Some of the most unpleasant moments for me were when these elements weren't.  Fortunately, there seems to be more positive in the current leadership than negative.  But my experience in Mormonism in general leaves me with the feeling that there are some underlying assumptions and beliefs about callings that could still haunt us if left to their own devices.

Traditionally, callings in the Church are deliberated in confidence.  The final decision rests with the bishop, and he normally involves his counselors.  Usually, they request recommendations from the presidents of the affected group (women, youth, men, children).  Aside from this small group, discussions about callings are kept entirely confidential.  There are some valid reasons for this, but it's quite possible we take it a little too far.

Our process of recruiting volunteers might benefit from a little more openness.  Involving the people we are considering for a position earlier in the process could also improve the selection.  For the remainder of this post, I'm going to propose different ways that ward leaders could consider, select, and call members to volunteer in the church.  The purpose of these tools is to encourage the use of more information when seeking inspiration.

The more informed you are going into a decision, the better prepared you will be to receive inspiration.

Listen to Inspiration
First and foremost, spend time listening to the Lord.  Give Him a chance to weigh in on who He wants in a position.  In a discussion of informed inspiration, it may seem counter-productive to start here, but definitive guidance from God is itself a form of informed inspiration.  It shouldn't be set aside lightly.

So, without question, it sometimes happens that the Lord has a specific person in mind for a specific calling.  But not always, and I'm not even convinced that it is often.  If God doesn't give you a definitive answer within a few days, maybe it's time to seek other avenues of inspiration.

Ask People You Trust
Typically, a bishop will ask his counselors and other ward leaders for recommendations. But there's no real reason to keep the circle so closed. There could be other people in the ward that have different perspectives and insights that could prompt inspiration. Ask former leaders, bishops, your spouse, or teachers who they think is a good fit for a position, and be sure to ask why.

Ask People Who Have an Interest in the Work of That Calling
Need a new young men president? Ask the parents of the youth which men they think their sons and daughters would look up to.

Need a new youth Sunday School teacher? Ask the youth if there is anyone in the ward they would like to learn from.

Ask teachers who they think could serve well in the library; ask men who they could look to as an elders quorum president. If the Lord hasn't already told you who can fill the needs of the position, perhaps someone who will be served can give you an idea.

Ask for Volunteers
I suspect that a call for volunteers would be a horrific shock for a lot of Mormons. Our culture forbids ambition for leadership (perhaps to a fault), and volunteering to fill a need would be framed by some as 'aspiring to a calling.' but here is the simple truth: aspiration isn't always bad.

I can see the wisdom in avoiding this tactic with certain leadership roles (bishops and presidencies especially), but for various teaching and administrative roles, this could be beneficial. Why not get a volunteer scout leader, or girls camp director, or nursery teacher. A person who comes forward willingly is much more likely to perform his responsibilities than a person who must be persuaded1.

Get to know what people are interested in, start your search among them
I'll admit upfront that this is hard work. It requires knowing people personally, speaking with them often, and remembering details about them. One suggestion might be to keep a database of notes and enter each person's interests as you discover them. Meeting with members when they join a ward and annual tithing settlements would be good times to gather this information. Then, if you aren't feeling inspiration for a calling, pull out the notes and see if anything sparks some inspiration.

One of the strengths of the example at the beginning of this post was that the choir directors were chosen based on their interest in leading a choir.  It was their interest that made them successful, and there's no shame in admitting that as a reason for selecting them.

Talk to people about what the needs of the ward are
Your idea of what the needs are may be very different from what the members' idea of what the needs of the ward are.  We all tend to see the world through our own experiences and biases.  Asking for input on what the needs of the ward (or a group) are can be extremely informative.

I know a woman who, when called as a Relief Society president, had a very clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish with the women in the ward.  She spent a year running programs and activities that suited her vision.  After a year, she took the time to meet with each woman in the ward and asked in those meetings what they felt were the needs of the Relief Society.  A great number of women pointed out some areas that they felt were lacking that the Relief Society president didn't think were a need.  After those interviews, she adapted her leadership to better fit the needs that the women felt weren't being met2.

Ask the person you are replacing for suggestions
Often, the people with the most time and energy put into a position are those that have been serving in it.  They are likely also the best source of information about what the needs of the people they serve are.  Their input on who in the ward is well suited to continue that work could be extremely valuable in making a selection.

Make sure you know the names of everyone in your ward (and make sure they know it)
This may seem like a strange item to put on the list, but the mechanics are simple.  If you don't know who a person is, you can't possibly know that much about them.  If you don't know much about them, you can't really expect much in the way of inspiration about their talents and abilities3.

This certainly isn't an exhaustive list for how to seek informed inspiration, but I think it's a pretty good start. None of these should be a favorite tool, or the only tool you ever use to find someone for a calling.  Using multiple tools at a time, and using a variety of tools may help spark the inspiration on who to call.  Going about it in some of these ways will certainly break down the confidentiality that normally surrounds callings.  Remember that what really counts is that a person you are asking to volunteer knows that, even if their name wasn't the first name to come up, it was the right name to end with.

1 Though interviews would still be important here. You would want to impress on volunteers the requirements and expectations of the permission. Otherwise you risk picking up volunteers who may be more interested in reliving their days of youth than in building youth into adults, for example.

2 In the process, she also became one of the most effective and confident leaders I've worked with, and someone I would consider a model of quality leadership.

3 As a practical matter, if the members feel like you know them and are personally invested in them, it becomes a lot easier to persuade and inspire them to take on new callings.

1 comment:

  1. Ever heard the term "ark bearer"? If not, it might benefit you to look it up.