A Tale of Two Bishops

I know two particular men who served as bishops in the same ward consecutively. I served in callings that allowed me to attend PEC and Ward Council and Welfare meetings with both of these bishops, so I was able to see them in action up close. I will call them Bishop X and Bishop Y. In many ways they could not be more different from each other.

Bishop X was the perfect image of a bishop. He really looked and acted the part. He always seemed to have a way of saying and doing exactly the right thing all the time. He was very cautious and deliberate in all of his decisions. He had a way of studying it out in his own mind very thoroughly. When he called someone to a calling the general reaction would be something like a firm head nod by the members of the ward. A logical choice. The right person for the job. Exactly who I would have called.
Bishop Y was not exactly what you would expect from a bishop. A very good man of course, worthy in every way, including being worthy of admiration and respect. But he did not necessarily look like a bishop. He was a little unpredictable in what he might say and do. Rarely seemed to have a plan. But this did not stop him from taking action. He had a way of flying by the seat of his pants so to speak. When he called someone to a calling, there might occasionally be a gasp or two heard. Not all that logical of a choice, maybe even one of the last people you would think to call to such a position.

Again, I want to say that I have total respect and support for both bishops. I also should say that some of the unexpected callings that were extended by bishop Y worked out quite well, some worked well enough, others were disasters. The same could be said perhaps of the callings extended by bishop X however.

The differences between these two bishops to me is quite obvious and striking. It makes me wonder which one was following the spirit of inspiration more? Bishop X (the cautious, thorough one, who always wanted to do the right thing), or bishop Y (the one who appeared to wing it at times).

There is the ‘study it out in your mind’ scripture in D&C 9, and there is ‘being lead by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do’ in 1 Nephi 4.

With the differences so obvious, which one was more likely following the spirit, X or Y? Could two approaches that seemed so different both be inspired from the same source? Could bishop X be planning and thinking to much to be inspired sometimes? Could bishop Y be just doing the first thing that comes to mind and not patiently seeking inspiration? Let me know what you think.

(There may be a couple of people out there from this ward who know exactly who I am talking about. Please do not mention names or even guess. The last thing I want to do is stir up any trouble. I hope to maybe learn something about church leadership and seeking inspiration from this.)

11 Responses to “A Tale of Two Bishops”

  1. 1 JKS July 12, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    I don’t think you can say who was following the spirit more. Remember, gifts of the spirit are not all equal. So for one bishop, perhaps he felt more inspired in one way, the other bishop was inspired another way.
    I think there are many ways to get answers to prayers. And some people have a particular way that it seems to happen.
    So if the Lord wants to inspire the study-it-out-logically man, he’ll give inspiration and confirmation in this way since the guy is listening.
    If the wing-it guy doesn’t excel and studying it out, the Lord might give inspiration in a more spontaneous way, since this guy would be listening for it.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson July 14, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Outstanding response!

    But the results seem so different. Perhaps this is why bishops are temporary callings.

  3. 3 sean p. July 14, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Interesting. It seems that either way the results are generally the same. I have a hunch that both were inspired…but not all the time…which is also OK in my book.

    The rest of my comments are made with some risk involved:

    My take is that Bishop X was probably cautious to the point of inaction, which is not necessarily a good thing either. My personal philosophy is that the Lord inspires the ones whose feet are in motion moreso that the ones who wait, and He will redirect our feet as needed, occasionally allowing us to bump into walls.

    I believe that “waiting” is in a way “forcing” the Lord to provide inspiration based on our OWN will and timetable. Even a no-response answer from the Lord can be an answer to prayer. The Brother of Jared comes to mind, when he took two problems to the Lord but only got one answer. The other one he was left to come up with on his own.

    So, ironically, even though Bishop X was meticulous-in-Spirit, I believe Bishop Y to be acting more appropriately in his role.

    Just my opinion, FWIW.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson July 14, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Wow Sean. Thanks. Hope all is well with you.

    I like your comments. The work must go on huh? Interesting.

  5. 5 a July 20, 2006 at 11:57 am

    I tend to feel the way jks feels. But to add to that, I also think this illustrates how there is no “template” for a proper bishop, or any other sevant of the Lord. We all have different qualities and talents to bring to the table, and it would serve us well to accept that in other people. Perhaps there are certain people going through specific struggles at different times who needed exactly what one particular bishop could provide. Later, different people, different trials, different needs, different bishop. As you said, perhaps this is why being a bishop is a temporary calling.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson July 20, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks a. Very good thoughts. Perhaps the Lord controls the timing.

  7. 7 JKS July 24, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    No one can be a perfect bishop in all ways. THe Lord knows what our strengths are, and he’ll go ahead and try to use them.
    For instance, if someone is perhaps less than perfectly organized in a calling, if you look you’ll see that they have other strengths that apparently the Lord decided was important for that time.
    He even does that with prophets. Joseph Smith had a great many talents and was the right man for the job. Brigham Young had very different strengths and the Lord used those strengths to build the kingdom in different ways during different times.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson July 25, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Thanks JKS. Thats a conclusion I am reaching as well.

  9. 9 RoAnn July 26, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    This is such a cool post, with such perceptive comments! Thanks for a thread that provides this ultimately positive view of how the Lord can inspire our leaders in different ways, and help them meet the needs of different people at different times.

  10. 10 Eric Nielson July 26, 2006 at 5:08 pm


    THanks a lot. I hope some of this is valuable to others.

  11. 11 JKS July 27, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    It can be frustrating though, sometimes, to see apparent weaknesses in a leader. I have “wondered” why someone was called when they made a particular mistake here, or have a gaping hole of a weakness there.
    However, if I keep my mind open I can see some positives.
    Here is an example. One person in particular was called despite a weakness that bothered me. A few months later someone who was going through very difficult problems (family members with mental illness and recent end stage cancer diagnoses) told me about this person’s visit and the love and comfort given.
    It made me realize that I may never know the “good” people accomplish in their calling because perhaps they are not put in the calling to benefit me (surprise, surpise the world doesn’t actually revolve around me). Perhaps they are in a calling to benefit other people during that time, and it our limited perspective we may only see the mistakes, not the successes.
    With leaders sometimes you see what you a looking for. It is so easy to see what they are doing wrong.

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