Monday, March 4, 2013

A Thought Experiment on Informed Inspiration--How Would You React?

In the previous two posts I explored some of the pitfalls of uniformed inspiration and ways to pursue more informed inspiration.  Both of these posts dealt with inspiration in the context of recruiting volunteers in our congregations.  My main point, especially in the previous post, is that we could do things differently and, in doing so, do them better.  In that vein, I propose a thought experiment.  After reading the scenario below, I hope you'll take some time to answer a couple questions about it.  If you're comfortable, please share your answers, and pose new questions.  This is one of those areas where I think I have great ideas, but I'm not sure how others would react to them.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, I will use the example of a bishop calling a Relief Society president.  The principles apply to any of the organizations in the congregation, however, and you may substitute a position that is suitable to your interests and gender.

The Thought Experiment: A Novel Approach to Filling a Calling
Bishop Smith welcomes Sister Doe into his office. After a brief chat, Bishop Smith proceeds to say the following. (Ideally this would happen as a conversation, but I wrote it one-sided for fear of over fictionalizing the content).

Sister Doe, I've asked you to meet with me today because I've feel like the time has come to make some changes in the ward leadership.  I will explain more shortly, but I first want to say that I am not calling you to anything today.
As I've thought about the needs of the ward and the women in particular, I have felt that it is time to call a new Relief Society president.  I have prayed and sought guidance about who to call, but I have not yet felt any inspiration that would lead me to a decision.  What I have done so far is made a list of four women that I think have the skills and maturity necessary for this role.  You are one of those women.
While I believe that all four of you will, at some point in your lives, serve in significant leadership positions in the Church, I can only call one of you right now.  I want you to know that, if you are not called, it is not a reflection on your personal worthiness or preparation.  It would mean, at most, that the Lord desires someone else for this moment in time.
I have prepared of list of questions I want you to take home with you and think about.  You are free to discuss these with your husband, family, and friends.  I'd like to meet again next week and talk about your answers.  I am having these conversations with the other three women as well.  My hope is that with the help of your responses and feedback, the Lord will help me identify the right person for this calling at this time, whether it be one of the four of you or someone else you help me identify.
Again, I'm not sure who the Lord will guide me to yet.  Whether it is you or someone else, I do want you to know that I consider you a leader in the ward and value the influence you have.  Whether or not you are called, I know that you will be a positive force in the lives of those around you, and that is recognized and appreciated by the Lord.

The list of questions
What do you think the goals and priorities of the Relief Society should be?
What are the needs of the women in Relief Society?
What challenges would you expect to face?
What resources would you need?
What vision and goals do you have for the ward?
What are the needs of the members of the ward?
Who would you recommend be the Relief Society president? (Be honest.  You may name yourself if you feel that's the right recommendation, or you may name others)

Questions to Consider

  • If you had this meeting with your bishop, how would you react?  Would it bother you?
  • Do you think people would be unduly hurt if they weren't called?
  • Who would you talk to about the questions given?
  • If you reaction to this idea is negative, how much of that reaction do you think is related to a cultural norm of callings being discussed in total confidentiality? (I ask with a genuine desire to determine if there is something inherently wrong with an idea like this, or if cultural norms are influencing the reaction)


  1. 1) It would be different but not bothersome. But I've been asked to fill a calling out of pure desperation before.
    2) I don't think it hurt the sisters that might be called I think their friends might hold grudges. Say I told my best friend and she loved the idea and then I wasn't called she might not be as supportive of the RS President that was called.
    3) I would talk to my husband, parents, and Heavenly Father. I'd try to receive my own revelation on the situation and what is needed. Although sometimes it can be very hard to receive revelation for a calling you don't have yet.
    4) I do believe that callings needed to be extended to those both "willing and worthy". But I know that there are times when our leaders know exactly who needs to be in that calling, for some reason or another. Other times the leaders take several names to the Lord and make a choice from there. In the times of the latter I see nothing wrong with seeking the person's willingness before the call is extended.

    1. I suspect that if this kind of a model were going to work, we'd have to be better people, and more empathetic toward the challenges of leadership. Ironically, with this kind of openness I think we'd also have to put a lot more trust and faith in your leaders than we do now. (Also, I think we'd have to be a lot more trusting of each other. I don't think that would hurt)

  2. 1. It won't bother me one bit.

    2. No, unless they are really sensitive.

    3. My husband.

    Benjamin (I didn't know your name was Benjamin!), I really enjoyed your post and I agree with it 100%. I turned down a few callings in the past and I never felt guilty about it because I had serious reasons for refusing. I believe if we approach callings in a more rational manner, fully understanding each person's situation (empathy anyone?) we will witness an increase of performance and what is most important: The person will serve happily...and not feel like it is a "chore". Oh and for Pete' sake give mothers a break from nursery! Geez!

    1. A comment from an earlier post postulated that sometimes callings are offered because a person needs to know that they are valued and not because they need to serve in that position. We could speculate a million reasons why the Lord might want a person inspired leaders to call a person and simultaneously inspired the person to turn down the call. I think you nailed it when you said that we need to have empathy. If we could increase our empathy and have more trust in each other, I think people would accomplish much greater things in the church.

  3. Recently, our stake presidency changed. We all knew it was coming. The visiting authority (A Seventy) scheduled individual appointments with the stake presidency, the high council, and the bishops. I spoke with my bishop and he said they had a conversation to get to know each other. One of the questions the seventy asked was "Who do you think should be the next stake president?"

    I think this fits the pattern you described. Nobody's feelings were hurt. Everybody could discuss it because we all knew it was coming. I think we could follow this pattern with other callings as well. I think another thing that could be beneficial is setting a time limit on the calling. There is never a time limit on callings but the custom or norm is that stake presidents serve for 9 years and bishop serve for 5 years. When you call someone you could say, I expect you to serve for 2 years (or 3 years).

    I know what it is like to feel desperate. Even if you plan on the Relief Society President to serve for 3 years, they might move unexpectedly or something else. In many cases, there are not enough people to fulfill all the necessary callings in the ward. This is where the bishop will have to prioritize and choose which callings are most important. It is discouraging when you go through this process, and then someone rejects the calling (Reject sounds too strong but that is what it feels like. "Chooses not to serve in that calling" might be a better choice of words).

    Maybe we need to think of callings as assignments rather than volunteer opportunities. We commit to serving the Lord when we are baptized, the Lord's representative asks us to serve in a specific way.

    My reaction is a question, "What if the church leader does feel inspired to pick a specific person?" If that person chooses not to serve, it was still a learning experience for the leader and the person. The leader and the person followed the spirit and the person was given an opportunity to serve. I can think of two examples where a leader chose a specific person because he was inspired and one where the leader went through a process like you described. In both cases, the leader got to know the person, however briefly it was. I think this is the empathy/charity which is so important.

    1. I had completely forgot that visiting authorities do this when calling new stake presidencies. What a great model!

      This might be a tougher sell in a ward, however. It's never been done like this, and so I think it would move a lot of people out of their comfort zone.