8 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 time. They are selected by area leadership, and they usually serve 5 to 6 years (sometimes less, sometimes more).
In my responsibilities as a bishop, I typically put in 15–20+ volunteer hours each week outside work and family life. It’s been a terrific experience so far, though not without its challenges. What follows are some of the 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. “Love everyone. Every one.”
The advice given to me by my father, who has also served as a bishop, is the most important counsel I’ve received and will likely remain the most important throughout my tenure. “Love everyone,” he said to me. “Every one.”
It’s not surprising to me that his advice echoes the Savior’s charge “that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:35). I have so much to work on in this regard. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life — not just my time as bishop — learning how to offer love to everyone I encounter, even if we stand on vastly different ground.
2. The answer is “nothing.”
The question, asked by Gordon B. Hinckley paraphrasing scripture, is “what shall it profit a man though he serve the Church faithfully and lose his own family?”²
I was fortunate to hear this advice more than a decade before serving as bishop. It has remained with me ever since and serves as a reminder to prioritize my family and personal well-being above all other efforts. Thankfully, I have an extremely supportive wife and an outstanding staff of men and women, all of whom also serve without compensation and whom share the responsibility of caring for those within our membership.
3. Input ≥ Output
Math was my strongest subject growing up, so I suppose this equation came as a natural result of that. Working with youth years ago I discovered input matters as much as output, if not more.
Assume these youth were asked to plant trees as a service project for a local non-profit organization. It’s important that the trees be planted properly, watered well, and look resplendent to best of our ability. But it’s just as important, if not more, that each individual have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully and sacrifice time and effort in the service of others. In other words, we’re in the business of cultivating contributors, not arborists.
4. Tact is vitally important in any leadership setting, but especially when serving others.
I’m discovering that tact goes a very long way in conveying love and fostering discipleship in others. A very long way. How I convey a message is almost more important than the message itself. Timing, tone, and choice of words all play a role in serving others with tact—or conversely, a lack of tact.
5. Leaving the 99 to rescue the one is Christ-like service. Shepherding the 100 before they become the 99 is Christ-like leadership.
I don’t take lightly the directive to “leave the ninety and nine … and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matthew 18:12).³ But oh how much more effective it is to care for others while still on solid ground, than to let them slip from our grasp and rescue them on loose soil. This principle has helped me recognize that all within my care are worthy of nurturing and shepherding, even if they appear to be doing fine spiritually, physically, emotionally.
6. There appears to be a high degree of correlation between family discord and inactivity in the gospel.
As I’ve counseled with individuals, it’s striking to see how those struggling to become or remain active in the gospel often have strained family relationships, either immediate, extended, or both. That isn’t to say that activity in the gospel will prevent and eliminate all family challenges. It’s simply been my experience that a high degree of correlation exists between a lack of commitment and dedication in living the gospel of Jesus Christ and the discord that exists in family relationships.
This observation has helped me understand that by helping others improve their activity in the gospel, family relationships are likely to improve as well. “Activity in the gospel” doesn’t necessarily mean “attends church every Sunday”, although that’s certainly an important component. Rather, truly active in the gospel means striving each day to align one’s life with the teachings of Jesus Christ, including the fundamentals of daily prayer, daily scripture study, and loving our figurative/literal neighbors.
7. “We are each other’s clinical material.”
I love this principle taught by Neal A. Maxwell:
“We are each other’s clinical material, and we make a mistake when we disregard that sober fact…. The Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a ‘student’ rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.”†
Imperfect people serving imperfect people. That’s how I interpret Maxwell’s words. And I’m no exception to imperfection. In fact, I lose sleep over the number of mistakes I make as a leader, but I try my best to show up the next day and give it my all regardless.
8. Love everyone.
Dad was right. When it’s all said and done, loving everyone is really what matters most. If love is the best we can do as leaders, we’re doing the best we can. And if love is the only thing people remember about me after I’m replaced, I’ll have fewer sleepless nights in the years to come.
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 From “Rejoicing in the Privilege to Serve”, Worldwide Leadership Training, June 2003.
³ It’s helpful to note that in the two instances where this parable is recorded (Matthew 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7) the Savior describes the “ninety and nine” as those “which went not astray” and are “just persons, which need no repentance.” By that definition, have we not all have gone astray and are currently astray to some extent?
† Quotes compiled from “Jesus, the Perfect Mentor”, a talk given at Brigham Young University in February 2000, and “A Brother Offended”, a talk given in the April 1982 General Conference.