8 more things I’m learning as a Mormon bishop

In February 2015 I was asked to serve as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).¹ Bishops do not campaign for office nor are they compensated for their efforts. They are selected by area leadership and give their time outside of their responsibilities at work and in the home.

My service as a bishop draws to a close soon as our family will be moving to California. What follows are 8 more things I’m learning. See also the first 8 things I’m learning.

Note: These views and opinions are my own and should not be construed as the views and opinions of all bishops, nor are my remarks endorsed by the LDS Church.

1. It’s not hard to love the people you serve when you genuinely care about them, even when your love isn’t reciprocated.

It’s been humbling to recognize that I genuinely love those I serve because I genuinely care about them. About their well-being. About their progress. About their struggles and sacrifices. About their losses and their successes.

Though I could never pretend to understand how the Savior felt, in a very small way I can appreciate how he loved those he served even when he was spat upon, rejected, and ultimately crucified. Humans will be human. We all do stupid things. Yet genuine caring transcends indiscretion; genuine love isn’t dependent on the recipient’s behavior.²

2. Daily personal scripture study is remarkably powerful yet drastically underutilized.

In personal interviews with members of our congregation conducted over the course of several months, I asked if they studied the scriptures every day. Some 50+ interviews later I could count on one hand the number of people who said they did.

I was stunned.

I guess I assumed that all (or at least most) who believe in Jesus Christ make it a habit to study his teachings daily. Not so, at least not in the form of daily personal scripture study.

I love Paul’s observation about the remarkable power of the word of God, which comes in many forms but most notably in scripture:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Bible, Hebrews 4:12)

Nephi’s description of the same is pretty amazing:

And … whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 15:24)

Imagine that. The word of God as “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” and a protection from “the temptations and fiery darts of the adversary.” What powerful statements!

If you’re not yet studying scripture daily, here are two suggestions:

  • Start small. Daily scripture study doesn’t require blocking off a huge chunk of your day. In fact, it might take only 11 minutes.
  • Use that amazing device in your pocket or purse. We check our phones a lot, 221 times a day by some estimates. Scripture apps are readily available. How easy would it be to utilize one (just one!) of those 221 times to study scripture?

3. Significant achievements are the result of many significantly small decisions.

The success, allure, and charisma of great leaders might lead us to believe these leaders accomplish significant things because they make extraordinary decisions on regular basis. As a bishop, I’m discovering that’s simply not the case. More often than not, significant achievements are the result of countless, seemingly insignificant decisions. When strung together over weeks and months, however, these small decisions can produce spectacular results.

To borrow an analogy from baseball, great leadership isn’t characterized best by home runs but rather by batting average. Consistently making good decisions leads to consistently great outcomes.

4. Answering questions with a question is often the best answer.

If this sounds like who’s on first, allow me to elaborate. As humans, we’re surprisingly adept at answering our own questions if given the opportunity. I’m learning that I can provide that opportunity by answering questions with a question.

Here are some examples:

  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • What alternatives have you considered?
  • What do you think the answer is?
  • How do you suggest I help you?
  • How have you enlisted the help of others?

The Savior is the best example of this. On several occasions he answered a question with a question, as demonstrated here in the book of Luke:

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Bible, Luke 10:25–26)

This exchange not only allowed an opportunity for the asker to answer his own question, but it also provided the Savior an opportunity to teach one of the most recognized parables in all of scripture, the parable of the good Samaritan.

5. Often the only way to truly help someone is to let them help themselves.

This is a difficult principle to learn! Whether a bishop, parent, CEO, etc., it can be tough to let others work out their own salvation as it were.

Several months ago a good friend of mine, who had also served as a bishop, offered this observation:

One thing I learned as a bishop was that people can solve their own problems with God’s help. I found that my role as bishop wasn’t figuring out the answers to their problems but helping them open the channel of communication with God. Sometimes they needed to fix mistakes. Sometimes they just needed the confidence to talk to Him.

Our natural inclination as leaders is to solve problems. That’s what leaders do, right? But when we solve problems for others, we often rob them of the invaluable experience that comes from the struggle, the fight, the hard work to solve their own problems.

P.S. Answering questions with a question is a great way help others help themselves.

6. “Sometimes it is better to be unified than to be right.”

I was taught this principle by Elder Erich W. Kopischke in a regional training meeting. There are many ways to interpret this principle. I’ll offer just one:

I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to remain silent and maintain unity rather than open my mouth and cause discord or discontent merely to make a point, clarify doctrine, or reinforce a decision.

Without doubt there are times to speak up, clarify, and reinforce. But in many cases, making a point is less important than making others feel welcome.

7. Of all the voices a bishop must listen to, the Spirit is the most important of these.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that the Spirit (also referred to as the Holy Ghost) can impress upon our minds and hearts needed direction and counsel from the Lord. Very seldomly this happens by hearing a voice. In most cases it comes as an impression, a feeling in our minds and hearts, either strongly or repeatedly. Much like it takes time and practice to learn a new language, it takes time and practice to discern impressions from the Spirit.

Allow me to share an example from Elder M. Russell Ballard in his book, Counseling with Our Councils:

One bishop told me of a time soon after his call to the bishopric when a new Young Women president was needed in his ward. “There was a clear impression in my mind who the new president should be,” the bishop said. “But when I spoke with my counselors about the call, they had another name in mind, and they made a good and compelling case for the second woman to serve in this important position.
“I was a brand-new bishop, and I had tremendous respect for these two good men who were serving as my counselors,” the bishop continued. “I guess I had more confidence in them than I did in my own spiritual sensitivity, because I chose to ignore what I was personally feeling and accept their recommendation as the decision of the council.”
The bishop was unable to issue the call before he had to leave town for an extended business trip, so he asked his first counselor to extend the call to the second woman. When he called a couple of days later to ask his counselor how things were going, he was told that there had been a problem. The woman, a faithful and devoted young sister, felt uncomfortable with the calling and asked for a day or two to reconcile her feelings. “It just doesn’t feel right,” she said after a couple of prayerful days. “I’ve never declined a calling in my life, and I won’t decline this one. But I feel like I need to ask you to ask the bishop if he’s really sure that this is what the Lord wants for the young women of the ward right now. If it is, then I’ll assume that the problem here is mine and I’ll willingly accept the assignment.”
“Of course she feels uncomfortable,” the bishop said when his counselor explained the situation. “This isn’t what the Lord wants. He let me know who the new Young Women president is supposed to be, and I’ve been ignoring Him.” The bishop instructed his counselor to let the sister know that there was nothing wrong with her spiritual sensitivity. Then he was to go ahead and extend the calling to the sister the bishop had been originally impressed to call. Her response was validating: “I’ve had the impression for two weeks that this calling was coming.”
“The experience didn’t teach me to ignore my counselors,” the bishop said. “Their input was important — the woman they [originally] suggested was called to serve as a Young Women adviser, and she did a wonderful job there. But I did learn that of all the voices I was to listen to as bishop, the most important one was the voice of the Spirit as it guided my thoughts, my words, and my actions.”

8. The atonement of Jesus Christ is inexhaustibly comprehensive.

In my time as bishop, I can think of nothing more rewarding than witnessing the atonement of Jesus Christ at play in the lives of those I’ve served—and in my own life for that matter.

I suspect all Christians believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ redeems mankind from all mistakes, transgressions, and sins if we accept him as our Savior and follow his teachings. But do we truly understand that the atonement does more than just redeem? Do we recognize that it has the capacity to enable, empower, and enhance everything we do in this life and in the life to come? Do we comprehend that it facilitates healing, forgiveness, self-expression, love, joy, and so much more?

I love the Savior immensely. I am incredibliy thankful for his inexhaustibly comprehensive atoning sacrifice.

¹ Some refer to the LDS Church as “Mormons”, which is a nickname that grew out of the Church’s belief in The Book of Mormon.

² Parenting is an obvious parallel here, but it’s worth noting there are differences between loving and caring for one of your own versus loving and caring for someone you’ve been assigned to serve.

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