We’ve talked before about callings and authority; I’d like to talk here about something closely associated with the previous discussion, but which also has a peculiar dynamic all its own: callings and skill.
I been called to many different positions over my adult life, but one area of service I have never had a single calling to is music. I’ve never been asked to play the piano, lead the choir, conduct the hymns, or run singing time in the primary. Why? Because I can’t do any of those things. I can’t play the piano, can’t read music, and have a poor singing voice. In short, I have no skills in that area. Only those who possess these skills are called to serve in these capacities. (Emergencies where the piano player doesn’t show up to the baptism and some poor elder has to lead the group in an acappella rendition of a hymn don’t count.) Ok, yes, I did lead the nursery kids in song when I was a nursery worker. But generally speaking, I have never known of a true exception to this rule.
As a recent thread has made clear, this dynamic does not hold for teaching; we do not necessarily call only those with teaching skills to teach. I’m a professional teacher; I’m probably not a world-class one (that would be Jim), but I do know I can do a better job than many of those who all too frequently simply alternate between monotone readings from the manual and endless strings of embarrassing non sequiturs. Moreover, everyone else knows it too. And yet there is no expectation that I will always, or even usually, be given teaching callings. Why don’t music callings work that way? Why aren’t we told, for example, that if we don’t feel the Spirit during a musical number, it’s because we didn’t listen with appropriate gratitude, the same way we are reminded that a failure to feel the Spirit during a lesson is a reflection upon our poor participation, not the teacher’s poor presentation? For that matter, we have teacher development programs; why not music development programs? In short, why does “excellence” (or “genius,” to refer back to Jim’s original post) raise its head in one area, but not another? I can think of several possibilities right off the bat: perhaps the act of teaching is considered to be more spiritually valuable than musical performance, and therefore more important to spread around equally. Or perhaps teaching is considered (falsely, in my view) easier to master than music, so (unlike playing prelude music) it is assumed that anyone can figure out how to teach a class in fairly short order. Or perhaps we simply, on some level, have decided that sitting through a crappy priesthood lesson is acceptable, but listening to a crappy sacrament hymn is not. All of these make sense; none however, as far as I can tell, entirely dispel the slight incoherence and inequality attached to our assessments of different callings.
Are there any other areas of church service where this dynamic plays a role? I have no love for math, no knowledge of spreadsheet programs, little facility with data and minimal experience with balancing checkbooks (Melissa does that in our family). Does this mean that I shouldn’t ever expect to be called to be ward financial clerk? A harder question: ought someone like I ever be called to be ward financial clerk? Or should that calling be reserved for people who would be, you know, good at it?