Calling the Incompetent

When considering who to extend a church calling to, which is most important, considering the needs of the calling, or the needs of the individual?

I have never served in a bishopric, but I have been a Sunday School President, Young Men’s President, Ward Mission Leader and Elder’s Quorum President. In each of these callings I was in a position to recommend people for certain callings to the bishop. Individuals in ward priesthood and auxiliary leadership callings play an important roll in determining who gets called. What process should they use?

My natural tendency is to follow the instructions in D&C 9:7-9 which reads:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you can not write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

When following this approach one will tend to focus on individuals who are intelligent, experienced, well spoken, enthusiastic, and draw positive attention to themselves. Once such a person is considered, a prayer may bring some level of a ‘good feeling’. The name is then submitted and, pending approval from the bishopric, a calling will then be extended.

There have only been a couple of times (two that I specifically remember) where I had a stupor of thought and could not come up with a ‘good feeling’ about someone that I thought was well qualified for the position. On these occasions I browsed through the ward roster and considered the decision from a completely different angle. Who would benefit from serving in this calling? In both cases I knew who the Lord wanted to serve. I submitted the name feeling that if the bishop did not approve he would be wrong, and I would need to discuss it with him.

Both of the brothers called in this way had obvious weaknesses that at times would naturally make them seem like failures in their callings. I received frequent negative feedback from people involved. These men did enjoy their callings. They were both recent converts. They both give the impression of low intelligence. They both lacked social skills. They both remain active to this day. While some would say they were ‘failures’ at some level, I feel good about the decision even though I would have never made that decision on my own.

As I write this it strikes me that these two approaches may only cover two extremes in a ward. The more ‘elite’ people being called when one considers who is the most competent, and the more ‘needy’ being called when one considers who will benefit from the experience. But what of those in the middle? The ones who quietly do good without drawing much attention to themselves, and also quietly take care of themselves and are not all that needy. Are they routinely ignored?

How would the Lord have us go about choosing people for callings? Should the needs of the calling, or the needs of the individual carry the decision process? And what of those in the middle? Can we expect the Lord to give us revelation when we do not make some kind of effort to arrive at a decision?


8 Responses to “Calling the Incompetent”

  1. 1 Michelle January 29, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    When I have had experiences with this, and in talking with others, one approach to is simply to begin by looking over the roster to see if anyone “sticks out.” I think it’s sometimes too easy to gravitate to one we think will be the best for the calling.

    I have also seen situations where, with all the turnover in the ward, choices are limited; otherwise, there would be a major shake-up in all auxiliaries, every time a change was needed. When I was called to a leadership position in such a ward, I was basically told who would be my counselors, etc. because there wasn’t much else they could do at the time. To this day, I’m not convinced that was the right thing to do (it was a nightmare for a while), but then again, maybe we all had things to learn through the nightmare. 🙂

    Yet another situation is the same person being sought for six different callings, each one occuring about every two months. That was another ward’s situation, and that was really tough. There were so few people at all who could fill callings with any degree of responsibility because the ward was so thin.

    I think some of studying out in our minds may need to consider the big picture in the ward, which is why it’s not a bad idea to be in contact with the bishop, and why sometimes callings don’t end up happening.

    I dunno…I have a hard time pinning down any “right” way to approach this, as situations do differ in each ward and even each situation needing a calling.

  2. 2 danithew January 30, 2007 at 8:33 am

    I had the opportunity to be a first counselor in a newly-called bishopbric and I was impressed that as the bishop visited with people he asked them what callings they had had in the past (particularly recently) as well as a hypothetical “if you could choose your calling, what would you like and what would you not like?” type question. He wasn’t promising them that he would issue them one calling or another – but he was interested in knowing what they enjoyed and what they had not enjoyed.

    I thought this was a nice thing and very helpful in issuing callings. I don’t know if it’s as vital to give people callings they prefer as it is to avoid giving them callings they will hate.

  3. 3 RoAnn January 30, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Great post, Eric! I definitely agree that we should “study it out” rather than expect the Lord to dictate a name for each calling that needs to be filled.

    Like Michelle, I think that situations differ so much that it would be hard to say that there is only one correct way to approach choosing names to submit.

    Also, I think the Lord works with our particular personalities, as we seek his help in carrying out his will. Looking through the ward roster might be good for one; looking over the congregation by sitting in the back row one Sunday might work for someone else.

    Consulting with the Bishop is probably almost always a good idea. He may turn it back to you, but it saves him feeling dictatorial if he has already had a definite impression about someone that he would like you to consider. 🙂

    One of the problems I saw when living in struggling wards in developing countries was related to how they dealt with a lack of trained leadership, and tons of new members coming in. In one ward, the bishop was closely attuned to integrating all new members, and he must have helped the other ward leaders to cooperate in giving callings/assignments.

    The result was interesting. I think it ended up developing such a spirit of fellowshiping and unity that the initial question you posed ened up not being relevant. Most of the ward members (not all–we didn’t become another city of Enoch!) came to see how the needs of both the individual and the calling could be fulfilled if the ward community was willing to be totally supportive.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson January 30, 2007 at 10:38 am


    It sems that you have this figured out pretty well. I am a fairly ‘systematic’ type person, and I wonder if any system is used that you cut yourself off from inspiration. But I can not help but think we must think things through in most cases. It is hard not to let our own emotions and biases creep in, and allow some to fall through our ‘system’.


    Thanks for you comment man. I think you bishop was wise to ask such question. I have only once been ‘asked’ about a calling. I was asked what I would feel about a calling in the scouting program. I told the bishop that I would hate it and I would consider it the worst calling in the church. I then told him that I supported him and would do anything he asked even if I did not want to. Next week I was called into scouting and have been there ever since.


    I’m glad you liked it. your comment made me think about being ‘equally yoked’ within a ward. Working through things together. My previous bishop was definately a competence guy. He always wanted to get the best person for the calling, and approached things almost like a job hire. My current bishop is quite opposite, calling people because they need the experience even if they are not a natural fit. It is an odd contrast.

    I think that combination, or similar things, might set up a ‘pride’ in our callings. And a ‘what is SHE doing in that calling’ kind of attitude. A better balance and mix can probably lead to better cooperation.

    Boy, do we NEED inspiration in this area.

  5. 5 john scherer January 30, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Should the needs of the calling, or the needs of the individual carry the decision process?

    It depends. During the time I’ve been involved in a Branch presidency, which isn’t very long, I’ve learned the truth of the statement that whom the lord calls he qualifies. I’ve also been involved in situations where the need for a experienced member was impressed upon us by the lord. I agree that being in tune with the spirit is the only viable answer. It sounds like the members who complained of the brethren you had called need to use some charity. We worry about ourselves too much sometimes.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson January 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks John.

    I agree, I could not believe the lack of patience and charity of some members.

  7. 7 Michelle January 30, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    I don’t know if it’s as vital to give people callings they prefer as it is to avoid giving them callings they will hate.

    I love what this bishop did, danithew. I love having my interests be considered. However, having seen people get callings they thought they would hate, and having them grow into them and even discover that there was something they didnt’ know they would enjoy, makes me a bit hesitant to want to use one’s personal choice as a line in the sand. Of course, if one is the type who will choose to hate a calling no matter what, it may be a good idea to consider a different calling for that person. 🙂

    Of course, inspiration can help with all these situations. 🙂

  8. 8 Michelle January 30, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    I think the Lord works with our particular personalities

    Love this!

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