After serving as a counselor to a wonderful Bishop the last three years, I have learned things about myself, Church administration, and faith which I could not have learned otherwise.
Let me share some of the experiences I’ve had:
- Loving someone is not done by blindly applying some program to them. All too often I would judgmentally respond to a member’s struggle by simplifying it in my mind, and saying that the person wouldn’t have that problem if they attended Church regularly, or paid their tithing, or attended their regular youth activities, or had family home evening more regularly. My rash judgments of their decisions and circumstances solved nothing at all for the person we were discussing. It did, however, serve as a regular reminder to me that I am a hypocritical idiot. My Bishop, however, was on a higher plane than I. He would first try and understand the person’s heart, see them the way Heavenly Father might, and then find a way to love them back onto their feet. So many times his kind words, gentle reminders, and inspired visits would be just what was needed to help a struggling person find the strength to solve their own problems, in their own way.
- Being magnanimous means being in a position of power, but showing grace. I learned very clearly that “tough love” is not a good approach to most problems a Bishop faces. While Bishops aren’t really in a position of power, they certainly do run the show. Still, as we learned from King Benjamin, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)
- True charity is finding personal joy in helping others feel joy. Christ did not simply perform the atonement because he felt sorry that we always mess things up. He did it for the same reason your Elders Quorum President, Bishop, Relief Society President, favorite Primary teacher, and others always seem to be working to help others. Have you ever wondered why those people always seem to be doing church work? It’s because they find personal joy in helping others. My favorite Chinese proverb says, “Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo, thine own has reached the shore.” When your motivation is to help others, and not to bring yourself blessings, your personal joy increases. As my dad likes to explain it, “You can’t just give something away.” He means that trying to help others selflessly is impossible, because you are inevitably rewarded for doing good.
- A stake presidency rarely tells Bishops what to do – they support the Bishop as he leads his ward. Wards are not simply divisions of a large company which are beholden to a board of directors which issues marching orders. As I learned more about it, I saw that a stake presidency doesn’t often issue directives for Bishops to blindly follow. Instead, they give suggestions, counsel, resources, and support to Bishops as the Bishops each prays and receives inspiration for their own congregation. The same program will be applied in quite different ways from one ward to the next. Even though they are handled differently in different wards, the stake presidency may visit each ward and feel confirmation that the program is being handled appropriately in both places. This is NOT a contradiction. It’s a testament to the inspiration individual leaders receive which the Lord would give their specific congregations.
- Inspiration guides decisions at every Bishopric meeting. It would be impossible to detail every single time it happened, because it happened every time. We would take time to write on the white board in the Bishop’s office what callings were needed, and which people had been recommended to fill them. We’d also list out people who needed callings, but hadn’t been directly recommended by an auxiliary. Then we would discuss our initial reactions, what a person’s availability and strengths were, and how that might affect other callings or the class members. We would gradually combine our thoughts until one person’s name was written next to each calling. Then we would all kneel and pray about the list, with the person who was saying the prayer reading each name off the board and discussing our thoughts, and asking for a confirmation that our decision was correct. Then we would get to my favorite part of the meeting. We’d all stand after the prayer, and the Bishop would ask the other counselor first what he thought. Before he answered, I would know my response. Invariably, the other counselor or the Bishop would suggest a change I already had felt needed to be made. Usually we would get the exact same impression, all three of us. When we made those corrections, if any, then the Spirit would flood over me and the others, confirming that we finally had it right. It’s an amazing feeling to put in the work until your mind exactly matches what Heavenly Father wanted. I will greatly miss that experience each week.
- Bishops need to be included in ALL of your prayers. Sometimes, when we give someone the title of Bishop, we think they are instantly imbued with superpowers which make them able to do everything right the first time. Here’s a shocker for you – they are still human, and are fallible individuals. While the blessings from heaven come quickly to them and equal them to the task, many of those blessings are predicated on faith. I don’t say any prayer – meal, personal, family, or otherwise – without praying for our dear Bishop. This has two effects: first, it bolsters the Bishop with our faith, and second, it keeps in our mind the burden a Bishop bears, and so I find that I try more often to find ways to lighten his load.
- Counselors cannot work harder than the Bishop, but they sure should try. One of the times I served as a counselor, I was told by the stake presidency member who called me that I should work to take as much off the Bishop’s hands as possible, and that if I was working less time than he, then I wasn’t working hard enough. I don’t believe that’s good advice. The counselor’s job is certainly to take all of the load off the Bishop they can, but a counselor cannot do all the things a Bishop can. Counselors don’t oversee the Melchizedek Priesthood, Relief Society, or welfare work, let alone worthiness issues. Everything else, however, is fair game.
In the end, I will miss spending time with such wonderful men in the service of others. It helped me to be a better person as I aspired to be more like these great men I admire – the other counselor and our great Bishop. For now, I will love and support my new Bishopric the best I can, because I appreciate the sacrifice they make and am jealous of the experiences they enjoy.