Damaged Goods

There was once a time when I felt fairly good about myself regarding local church leadership. I had moved to a small town in Michigan which had a small and spread out ward without many resources. I had been born of goodly parents, served an honorable mission, married in the temple, and was a heck of a guy. Over several years I had served as a cub master, Elders Quorum Instructor, Young Men’s President, and Ward Mission Leader. I was then called as the Elders Quorum President. I felt that it was only a matter of time before I was called into a bishopric and maybe even bishop. I would not have ruled out being called into a High Council or Stake Presidency someday.

I do not really enjoy being in charge of people, or being in front of a group. I would naturally prefer to sit in the back and observe. I consider myself a better follower than a leader, and perhaps not all that good of a follower. I would say I was a better counselor than a president in an organization. But with the circumstances I was in, and still am in, I thought additional leadership callings were inevitable. I would simply accept them and do what I felt I reasonably could. Then certain events happened which changed my view of local church leadership and of myself.

Two members of our Stake Presidency worked for the same large company. The company was going through some down-sizing and this would effect both members of the presidency. One was given an early retirement deal which he gladly accepted. He put his house up for sale and would soon move to another state. Our Stake President was going to be transferred across the country. So everyone knew that in a few months we would get an entire new Stake Presidency.

At about this time we had a Stake Priesthood leadership meeting which I attended as the EQP. Our Stake President gave what I considered a sad and a bit disturbing talk. He told us that in the seven years that he had been the Stake President that nothing in the stake had changed. Same number of members, same activity, same number of priesthood holders, same number of temple recommend holders, etc., etc. You could tell this really bothered him. I felt this was a shame because I considered him to be a very good man who had done a very good job in his calling. It was not necessarily his fault that the stats had not improved. Why should he feel so bad?

I had had many opportunities to be interviewed by this Stake President. He had told me a few times that my Elders Quorum was probably the best quorum in the stake. But now things changed. The interviews became much more – aggressive. Accountability and stewardship became frequent key words. Results were being expected. Every presidency in the stake was instructed to have planned, formal presidency meetings every week. And the results of these meetings were to be reported to the stake.

I was in a difficult position with these instructions. One of my counselors worked a night shift, and the other counselor I knew was working many extra hours – he also had a newborn son who was having health issues. I simply did not feel good about burdening them with these extra meetings. I agonized over this decision. I prayed and I fasted. I felt that I received subtle answers to my prayers and that the answer was not to have the extra meetings. I discussed this with my counselors and they both felt the same way. So we decided to stick with our monthly presidency meeting routine and agreed to communicate with each other as needed.

I should probably say that I am not meeting averse. I like meetings much of the time. It gives me a chance to rub shoulders with some of the best people I have ever met. I have had callings where I needed to attend PEC and ward counsel and missionary correlation meetings without a bit of complaint. If it were just me I would gladly participated in weekly presidency meetings, but it was not just me.

The Stake President was not pleased when he heard that we were not having weekly presidency meetings. He had a high councilor attend our ward and talk with me every week about these presidency meetings we were supposed to have. Every week there was a follow-up interview regarding this issue. In addition the H.C. did not like one of our instructors, who taught once a month, and recommended that we release him. I continued to pray about these two issues and felt that I should continue as I was. The H.C. didn’t like my decision.

One week my wife was ill, and so I took our four boys to church without her. Our youngest at the time was just old enough for nursery. Sure enough, the H.C. was there and wanted to speak with me after church again. I told him that my wife was sick and I had all four boys, so our interview would need to be short. He assured me it would be. So after church we found an empty room and started again.

We went over the same stuff again and again. The H.C. telling me I should obey the instructions of the S.P., and me saying that I was trying to follow the spirit in leading the EQ. This interview lasted for about 45 minutes. I eventually told him that I did not feel that additional meetings would result in better results. He then gave me a sly smile and said something like. ‘We will never know will we’? I was fed up. I stood up and declared that this interview was over and headed for the door. He leaped out of his seat and held the door closed. He began apologizing and brought me back to my seat. We discussed the same issues again. I was going nuts. My four boys were somewhere in the church doing who knows what, and my wife was sick in bed. We finally closed the meeting and I barged out of the church.

I sent the SP an e-mail relating this experience. He wrote back telling me that he was sure I was the right person to be the EQP in the ward and thanked me for my patience through all this. Within a couple of weeks I and the HC were both released from our callings.

Through this, I have lost a level of trust and good feelings regarding local church leadership. I have questions about the proper role of accountability in the church. I have a distaste for statistics as a method for evaluating people in their callings. I am more sensitive to what I perceive as unrighteous dominion by local church leaders.

I realize that all of this says negative things about myself. I am just a simple guy trying to get by in life. As far as I am concerned the gospel is just as true as ever, and the church is true as it is administered properly. I may not be cut out for church leadership after all. I suppose that is fine. I don’t expect the stake to call me to anything soon, but time will tell. Sorry for the downer post.

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31 Responses to “Damaged Goods”


  1. 1 Matt W. April 18, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Eric, wow. This was somewhat unexpected but seems to fit your personality so will and fill some wholes in our five dysfunctions discussion.

    I could give you the “pat” advice, and ask you to read leadership and self-deception, but I want you to know I understand your frustration in this.

    Anyway, while the stake may interview for EQP and stuff like that, I thought it was the Bishop who made the selection and sent the name on to the Stake President? I’m a bit of a green horn in that area.

  2. 2 John Barger April 18, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Eric –
    I lost your e-mail address in a recent laptop meltdown (I blame your father – the virus struck while I was opening one of his e-mails, but it was really coincidental), so I’m forced out of the shadows to respond to this one publicly. I’m curious about the timing – were these events quite recent, or are you narrating an experience farther in your past?

    Regardless, you raise so many issues that require some response that only a personal conversation could really suffice. I’ve played each of the roles described in your post (frustrated stake pres, dutiful but misguided high councilor, earnest, obedient and inspired elders quorum president). The only error I note in your behavior was the decision not to keep your four boys in the same room with you during your interview with the HC – the meeting would have been much shorter and likely more productive.

    The title you’ve chosen for your post is troubling to me. I’d like to give my “it’s not where you serve but how you serve” presentation (talk #27), but I recognize that lacks the appropriate air of sincerity coming from me. However, to strengthen my bona fides I’d like to point out I was serving as a Primary teacher (and very happy with it, thank you very much) when I was called as mission president. One of the big challenges we have in East Africa is helping leaders, particularly branch presidents, remain active after their releases, as they equate “release” with “demotion”. Teaching leaders here that we are interchangeable parts requires that we believe that ourselves, and I do.

    I hope on reflection you can see that your experience, while it may be more common than we (and the Lord) would like, is not really consistent with the style of the most senior leaders in the Church. Without wanting to appear too judgemental of the players in your story, sometimes we just aren’t very good at some aspects of our assignments. During my years as stake president I was visited by a number of General Authorities who came to preside at conferences. They stayed in our home and interviewed me with varying degrees of vigor, but not once did any of them ask a single question about the statistics in our stake. Not once. No questions about sacrament attendance, home teaching, number of missionaries serving. And I can assure you I wasn’t going to bring that stuff up. I can only assume that our “performance indicators” fell within the parameters of what was considered acceptable, because they seemed to care more about how my family was doing and what they could do to strengthen the families in our stake than in how often we held certain meetings. I have no idea why your stake leaders would somewhat suddenly choose to ignore the good outcomes in your quorum (based on their earlier compliments) and shift their focus to the process. The good ol’ handbook provides guidelines that reflect what has produced the best chance of success in most situations in the past. Frequency of presidency meetings is one of those predictors, but just one. The real key indicators would be the outcomes in your quorum, and nobody seemed to have a problem with any of that. We do have to keep statistics – every hospital bed needs a chart, so we know whether the patient is dead or alive, or at least improving or declining – but I love how our most senior leaders are focused on what’s really important. President Faust told me “the day is long past when we measured mission presidents by the number of baptisms in their mission. We’ll determine your success by waiting 20 years and seeing how your missionaries turn out”. I just love that. I would say, and I suspect if you had a personal chat with your stake president he’d say, that nobody’s going to measure your success as a quorum president by counting how many presidency meetings you had.

    I’d really rather have this conversation more privately some day. I’m reluctant to sound critical of your local leaders. But I think most of us have had experiences similar to the one you’ve posted about. Mine was a real classic, but I’ve decided not to share it because it makes me look too petty. Heck, I was too petty. But the feelings were the same as what you’ve experienced and they were very real, so I’d like to find some way to help you feel better enough to change the title of your post.

    Plus, if this was a very recent experience the story isn’t yet complete. It sounds like there will be a number of releases and new calls in your stake – and we’re all interchangeable parts.

  3. 3 Naiah April 18, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Eric, I only have a moment; I will write more later, but I at least wanted you to know that I’d seen this, and, well, wow, yeah, that’s hard…I’m so sorry (for you, your SP, your quorum who will miss your leadership, for your wife, his wife–for everyone affected).

    Just remember what it says on the title page of the Book of Mormon, “if there be faults, they are the mistakes of men.” That’s what helps me in times like this.

    Also, you are not damaged goods.

  4. 4 C Jones April 19, 2007 at 12:35 am

    Oh, I wish I could tell you a certain story right about now! One thing that helped me through the time my SP seriously offended me was a quote that I ran across. It was actually talking about mission presidents, but I think it applies to Type A Stake Presidents too. It said something like: Some leaders are sent to help us and some are sent to try us, and that both experiences are valuable.
    And I LOVE how you were more concerned for your wife and your boys rather than a meeting.
    And I’m with Naiah, you are definitely not damaged goods in any way.

  5. 5 John Barger April 19, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Eric –
    Just realized my last remarks were written hurriedly and convey the wrong meaning. I didn’t mean for you to read “cowboy up, Eric, who knows – maybe you’ll get a new leadership calling” (spoken solemnly with a knowing wink). I meant there are seasons in our lives, and two priesthood leaders (you and the SP) and one staff member (the HC – I know the general definition of “priesthood leaders” includes high councilors, but I’m making the distinction that the EQP and SP hold keys) will receive new assignments that may provide opportunities to minister rather than administer. That’s what I loved about teaching in the Primary.

    Nor did I mean to excuse bad judgement and hurtful behavior by saying “sometimes we’re just not very good at this”. What I meant is that while every organizations needs to count its beans, we get into trouble when we forget we’re not in the bean-counting business, and our senior leaders’ examples would help us in this regard if we were more attentive.

    Nobody who’s important considers you “damaged goods”. The best I can tell, we won’t be organized in quorums, wards or stakes in the celestial kingdom. Seems the organization we ought to be trying to perfect is the family, anyway.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson April 19, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Thanks everyone. I am amazed that there are those who care enough about me to read through this long and somewhat negative post and offer such kind words and advice. I should probably explain a little bit more.

    This series of events happened about two years ago. I don’t think of changing callings as demotions/promotions particularly. I have long felt that being a good husband and father and home teacher is enough to make one very valuable in the Lord’s kingdom and every bit a leader.

    For me the unfortunate thing is the lack of trust I feel for some of my stake leaders and the lack of trust I perceive they have in me. This is the damage. And where I thought I understood the proper role of accountability within the church I am now a bit baffled by it. I am also over sensitive for anything that may resemble unrighteous dominion.

    I also admit that perhaps ‘cowboy up’ and a kick in the pants may be just the attitude adjustment I need. I hope that by writing this I can continue to get over it.

    I also realize that I need to sort our counsel, council, councel, councilors, counselors, whatever. I have never been able to get these straight and spell checkers aren’t much help.

  7. 7 Craig W. April 19, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Eric
    Thanks for sharing this experience with us. I have had similar experiences, as I think most of us have. It is very demanding to be a follower when the weeknesses of the leaders are so apparent. But, I have come to understand that this challenge is intended to be part of our trials/life experience.

    I will say, however, that along with the negative stories I can also recall some very positive ones. As an example, in my ward, we had a Bishop a few years ago who broke the mold. He was very unorthodox in his approach. From my perspective he seemed to really understand the true purpose of his calling. Under his leadership our ward flourished. Many peoples lives were blessed because of him. However, not everyone liked him. There were those who did not care for his style and felt offended. Maybe it was there turn to be challenged.

  8. 8 C Jones April 19, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    “For me the unfortunate thing is the lack of trust I feel for some of my stake leaders and the lack of trust I perceive they have in me. This is the damage.”

    I’m wondering if this is something that can be fixed, or do you think that this kind of relationship damage is just something that we have to “cowboy up” over? I guess I’m asking whether we have these kinds of trials to give us an opportunity to “forgive and forget”, or are they an invitation to take action to repair them?
    I tend to be more of a “forgive, but avoid them in the future” kind of person. But now I wonder if I am missing the boat.

    And besides the inevitable damage from an experience like this, has there been anything positive come from it at all?

  9. 9 Eric Nielson April 19, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Craig:

    Thanks for the comment. I do think the interchanging parts that make up the church bring a balance to the whole.

  10. 10 Eric Nielson April 19, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    President Barger:

    Thanks so much for your responses. My email address is enielson at yahoo dot com.

    Your perspective has really helped me here. To hear you say that in your experience as a Stake President that you were never questioned about statistics is impressive to me. I think this strikes at the core of my difficulties. I had the impression that Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents were often getting grilled over performance statistics. If you have not been then it must not be a systematic thing which brings me a level of healing and relief. I appreciate leaders like you for what you do, and would hate to think that you are getting second guessed and called to task about results all the time. I think this perspective is what I needed.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson April 19, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    CJones:

    I have frankly forgiven them, and never felt that they needed much forgiving. I still think very highly of them. I think what bothered me was the feeling that a businesslike approach to leadership was crowding in on the priesthood model in the church. But as President Barger has stated in his experience this is not the way it happens everywhere. These men were just trying to do their difficult callings well. Might they have been a bit vain in seeking to have good stats in the stake? Maybe, but I don’t really know.

    You asked what good has come out of it. I am glad you did, it made me think about it. I was called into the Young Men’s as a teachers quorum advisor almost immediately after my release. Speaking of statistics, the amount of 14-15 year old boys that go inactive is pretty scarry. I would like to tell you a little bit about our current teachers quorum.

    Teacher#1: A cool, popular, star basketball player.
    Teacher#2: An athlete wanna be with no real father figure.
    Teacher#3: An intellectual computer nerd brainiac.
    Teacher#4: An aspiring musician who is in the HS band.
    Teacher#5: A rocker who wears black and is a bit of a rebel.
    Teacher#6: My son. A shy quiet late-bloomer who could easily be left behind.

    So for those of you who know me a little bit, how many adult Mormon men in south-central Michigan do you suppose could relate well to this diverse group of boys? Not many. It seems that each of these boys represents an aspect of my own personality. I may not be a big fan of Boy Scouting, but I love these boys. Their eyes light up when I walk in the room and they can’t wait to tell me their stories. My face probably lights up too. Who knows? Maybe something dramatic needed to happen to knock me out of Elder’s Quorum and get me into Young Men’s at this important time.

  12. 12 Michelle April 19, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    My suspicion, Eric, is that your Stake President might have felt some pressure before his move and that could have affected his behavior to suddenly try to ramp up numbers. I’m sorry you had this experience, and sorry you feel an aftermath with it.

    I do think that it is important to try not to generalize such experiences, though, to all local leaders. There is lots of hope. The Lord is still in control. Amazing He lets any of us do anything. It’s all part of the process of growth, development of patience and charity, etc. Hard lessons, indeed.

  13. 13 Dave April 19, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    This too shall pass. If a leader feels a sense of urgency about improving the spiritual health (or the performance statistics) of the stake, there’s really not much else they can do besides hold a few extra meetings and offer encouragement (sometimes pointed encouragement) to other local leaders and the general membership. And they might get carried away with things from time to time, especially if they are getting the same sort of encouragement from above. I’d cut them some slack.

    But holding the door closed so you can’t exit the room when you desire to leave and have attempted to do so — that’s a real no-no.

  14. 14 C Jones April 19, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    I know that
    My goal is more than a thought
    I’ll be there
    When I teach what I’ve been taught
    And I’ve been taught… 🙂

  15. 15 Eric Nielson April 20, 2007 at 8:42 am

    Michelle:

    Your advice is good. I think I have assumed that being a SP or a Mission President would be awful partly because of being beat up over performance statistics. Perhaps this is not really the case.

    Dave:

    You advice is good also. Thanks for swinging by.

    CJones:

    Where did that come from? Well done.

    I also thought a good theme song for this might be Lynard Skynard’s classic:

    Give me three steps,
    Give me three steps mister,
    Give me three steps for the door.

    Give me three steps,
    Give me three steps mister,
    And you won’t see me no more.

  16. 16 Mark IV April 20, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Eric, I think you have handled this situation about as well as can be done. I especially admire the fact the you didn’t release the quorum instructor when the HC said you should. Sometimes we need to stick to our guns and show some respect for the inspiration we have already received, and I think it shows some real spiritual maturity to realize that it was you, not the HC, who held the keys of revelation for the quorum.

  17. 17 Eric Nielson April 20, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Mark:

    That was one of the things at the core of all this – should I be blindly obedient to local leaders, or follow inspiration I thought I received. It was the first and only time I was faced with this choice in any meaningful way.

  18. 18 John Barger April 20, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Eric

    And you’re sure this had nothing to do with you being a Rush fan?

  19. 20 Matt W. April 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    It just occurred to me that this makes a very interesting contrast to the post over at BoJ on Orthodoxy by Connor…

    AndI tihnk Comments are out of order again..

  20. 21 Eric Nielson April 20, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    MattW:

    It may be a contrast. I wonder how far down the ladder Connor would go. Apostles? Any GA? A SP? A Bishop? An EQP?

    THis is all fairly interesting because as an EQP I had the keys for leadership within the quorum. The very SP addressed the EQ when I was set appart and he said that the keys that I had were the same keys that the prophet had, but were limited to the quorum.

    I don’t know what to make of comment order. President Barger is in Kenya – would the time zones make a difference? I’ll check into it.

  21. 22 Jim Cobabe April 20, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Eric said…

    As far as I am concerned the gospel is just as true as ever, and the church is true as it is administered properly.

    What else matters?

  22. 23 Eric Nielson April 21, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Good point Jim. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  23. 24 E April 21, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. We all are so imperfect in our efforts to serve the Lord. I’m glad you can forgive your SP and HC for their weaknesses and errors and recognize that they were good but imperfect men doing their best.

  24. 25 Stephen M (Ethesis) April 21, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    The only error I note in your behavior was the decision not to keep your four boys in the same room with you during your interview with the HC – the meeting would have been much shorter and likely more productive.

    That is the sort of thing my Mom would do 😉

    I have to admit that holding meetings, in general, seems to result in better results.

    On the other hand, I know what it is like not to have time or to have a sick child or spouse. All I can say is bless your heart.

  25. 26 Ann April 24, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    The story was a little frustrating…but your comment about your teachers quorum changed the whole thread around.

  26. 27 Rusty April 24, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Eric, this is a very interesting story. It’s disappointing to see that this goes on but it looks like there are positives that are coming from it (and seriously, if you’d rather be EQP over working with impressionable teenage boys then you’re insane anyway).

    I often wonder how much damage I’ve done unintentionally. I just discovered about a month ago that the reason a newish converted family in my ward went inactive was because of something that the mom thought I said (I didn’t). Still trying to figure out how to deal with that situation.

  27. 28 Matt W. April 25, 2007 at 12:24 am

    Maybe the Bishop was impressed with how you handled EQ and put you in the more important calling of YM. It has been my expereince, sadly, that all the best men are in the Youth programs, and all the loser men are left in EQ. Anyone else ever get that feeling?

  28. 29 Eric Nielson April 25, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Ann

    I can be pretty frustrating. Hopefully I will turn out ok in the end.

    Rusty

    Thanks for your perspective on this. All callings can be vitally important, as are the people.

    Matt

    Yes, I think that may often be the case. Particularly in a smaller, less well established ward.

  29. 30 Barb July 9, 2007 at 9:58 am

    I just read this and will comment though it is kind of an old post. I don’t have all the answers. You can’t go back in time. Cleave to the blessings that you have known and the Gospel and cast your mind upon these things. Live in the blessings. Try to do your best to sustain leadership. If someone does something that is wrong, tell the proper people. I really dislike numbers for just the sake of numbers. Geoff B pointed out on a post at Millennial Star how numbers can be a measure of spirituality in a ward. As he said, you cannot really measure the hearts of the people so you can look at faithfulness in areas and try to infer that it is a sign of people being more spiritual. I had a Bishop spend many hours trying to help me get my Temple Recommend back. Going to Church is a challenge. I also have challenges that make me feel unworthy though Priesthood leaders have told me that I am worthy. OCD is bad that way. So I feel bad that he spent so much time trying to help me get my Temple Recommend back. Yet, it was through going to all these meetings that I am able to function mentally better than I could before. I hope that he would be happy with that byproduct of our meetings. He had a gift for patience and love. It was like I could say all the bizarre things that run through my mind and I worry about and he was not phased by them. His professional life actually dealt with real life environemntal concerns for business. I am always worried about risks and did not know that this was his job until I had met with him a considerable time. No Bishop has ever spent the length of time trying to help me that he has. Perhaps they would have but I resisted such meetings at one time. Again, I don’t have all the answers. I have seen much humility in the local leaders that I have known.

  30. 31 Eric Nielson July 9, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Thanks Barb. It sounds like you have a great bishop, and that you are on the right track.


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