Whom the Lord Calls, He Qualifies (Hopefully)

May 2, 2004 | 16 comments
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I’m a believer in the principle that callings and responsibilities in the Church are given according to inspiration and revelation. When I get a calling extended to me, I fully believe that Heavenly Father in some way has prompted the leader to give me that calling, and that in some way I am meant to have this calling. What I can’t figure out is just how inspired these callings are.

Are Church callings unrelated to our talents, our interests and our experience? Does efficiency and a concern with getting the job done have anything to do with why we have callings? I see that most General Authorities have business backgrounds with experience in management, logistics and other practical affairs, and people believe it makes sense that the Lord would call them to serve in this way. Why does this idea seem to fail on the local level, where the MBA finds herself in Nursery, and where the GRE is EQ President?

Why do we get callings, anyways? Is there something more interesting going on here than the commonly-cited friction between what the Church needs and “what the Lord knows we need?”

If you find this all boring, here’s an alternative topic for you: how does the Lord extend callings to us outside of formal Church structures? For example, I feel really inspired and blessed for the work I’ve done with BCC, and I’m sure others in the Bloggernacle feel similarly. Though some may see it otherwise, am I justified to look at this as a calling?

16 Responses to Whom the Lord Calls, He Qualifies (Hopefully)

  1. Gordon Smith on May 2, 2004 at 11:38 pm

    Steve, That last question most intriguing to me. If the word “calling” denotes an instruction from God, I see no reason why callings from Church leaders should be exclusive. Certainly, a person might be called to a particular profession or charitable undertaking without the intermediation of a Church leader. In fact, I might turn your question on its head: shouldn’t we feel that we have been called to perform all of our labors? If we don’t feel called to our present circumstance, perhaps we are not listening intently enough.

  2. greenfrog on May 2, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    How do we define failure in performing a calling? I have heard many testimonies of how a person believed her/himself to be incapable of fulfilling a calling, only to find that her/his abilities developed to be greater than s/he had foreseen. But I’ve never heard a testimony by someone who said, “Here are the criteria for success, and I didn’t reach them.” On the one hand, the lack of such statements could be significant evidence of the divinity of the calling. On the other, it suggests that we might define criteria of fulfillment in order to find them fulfilled.

  3. Steve Evans on May 2, 2004 at 11:57 pm

    Greenfrog, that’s a really interesting question. Clearly, if you’re assigned a task, and you don’t do it, you’ve failed: if you don’t teach the lesson you’re supposed to, or don’t clean the chalkboards like you’re asked, you have failed. Other callings have less tangible goals, so the analysis is a little trickier: hence missionaries say that so long as you’ve converted yourself, your mission was successful (a cop-out, IMHO).

    Gordon: the problem with seeing everything as a calling is that pretty soon, you’re a delusional fanatic. I mean, was I called to go to ShopKo and buy that gallon of chocolate milk? The whole concept is a little too Joan-of-Arc-y to me, although at the same time I am a fan of expanding the ‘calling’ idea outside of Church structures, I guess it’s a weird idea to take it too far.

  4. Steve Evans on May 3, 2004 at 12:03 am

    I should probably also point out that my post overstated how inspired I feel callings are. Most callings, I think, come from simple logistics of putting names with spots of the grid — the inspiration comes as a residual part of the process at best. However, with all of this, I have definitely seen some major exceptions.

    p.s. I official declare triumph over Bob in the comments. Where is Bob, anyhoo?

  5. Kristine on May 3, 2004 at 12:04 am

    I think the cultural mandate not to “say no to the bishop” sort of dilutes the idea of callings coming from God. We pay lipservice to the notion that one can be reassured that the calling is from God, but since there is such strong pressure to say ‘yes’, we lose the power that might come from a sense of strong, *direct* calling from God.

    otoh, since I’m not very good at getting revelations, I wouldn’t like feeling that I had to be certain of every calling’s divinity.

    (What’s that saying? You can please all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time, but there’s just no pleasing Kris Haglund…)

  6. Jordan on May 3, 2004 at 12:12 am

    How about this:

    SOMETIMES the Lord actually intervenes and puts us in a calling where HE really, really needs us.

    But MOST of the time, he allows the local leadership to rely on its own intuitions as to what is best for the branch/ward/stake, although he may occasionally use a sort of “veto” power if the person chosen would definitely be the wrong choice for that calling.

    Then, because pretty much any calling could make pretty much any one of us grow, and because most active members could probably fill most any calling with a little dedication and exertion, these callings allow us to grow, whether they come directly from the Lord, or from the mind of the local leader.

    In that case, the point would seem to be that the work gets done.

    That is not to deny divine inspiration. But the Lord needs work done, and he doesn’t need a bunch of people sitting around all day waiting for the exact right name to pop into their heads to fill a calling (although I won’t deny this happens sometimes. just not always, or probably even most of the time…).

    That said, I still think it is appropriate to say the calling comes from God, because the local leadership represents his church on that level and if they make a decision in the course of righteously fulfilling their callings, then it is likely perhaps that God would give a stamp of approval.

    Much the same way as the Bishop gives a nod when you as, say, ward mission leader, propose a name for a calling as ward missionary. In that case, I (the Ward Mission Leader) came up with the name (whether through inspiration or good intuition or a mix of the two is often difficult to say), the Bishop approved, and the BISHOP, as the Lord’s local representative, called the person to serve. Seems like a stamp of approval to me.

  7. Jordan on May 3, 2004 at 12:17 am

    One more thing…

    Even if it wasn’t the Lord who originally put the idea of a certain name for a certain calling into a leaders head, I definitely think that once the calling is made and the setting apart completed the Lord will “qualify” whom the leader has called. (if the person who was called will let him…)

  8. Aaron Brown on May 3, 2004 at 4:31 am

    Jordan said:
    “That said, I still think it is appropriate to say the calling comes from God, because the local leadership represents his church on that level and if they make a decision in the course of righteously fulfilling their callings, then it is likely perhaps that God would give a stamp of approval.”

    I agree with this, and tend to think that this is all that’s really going on, most of the time. One of my mission presidents liked to make this point with some regularity. He once assigned two sisters to be companions who didn’t like each other. One of them complained that the President obviously hadn’t sought inspiration in assigning the calling, since there’s no way the Lord would ever have instructed the President to put them together. The President encouraged the missionaries to recognize that God wasn’t whispering who the President should pair with who in his ear every transfer. Rather, the President tried to make the best decisions as he saw them, and the Lord would give his decisions a stamp of approval, given that he was the decision-maker with the proper authority.

    I’ve always interpreted “your callings are inspired” to really mean “Please operate under the presumption that callings are inspired (i.e. chosen by, or at least pleasing to, the Lord), whether or not they really are in any given case, so as to help the Lord’s organization operate smoothly and efficiently.” Taken too literally, the idea that callings MUST be inspired raises serious questions as to what was going on when I was Deacon’s Quorum President, and I picked my two counselors based on nothing more than the fact that I thought they were “cool.” Maybe the Lord really picked them, even though I didn’t ever turn to him for assistance? Was I an “instrument in his hands,” even though I didn’t intend to be? I doubt it. No need to invoke divine intervention in such trivial matters.

    Aaron B

    Aaron B

  9. Aaron Brown on May 3, 2004 at 4:31 am

    Jordan said:
    “That said, I still think it is appropriate to say the calling comes from God, because the local leadership represents his church on that level and if they make a decision in the course of righteously fulfilling their callings, then it is likely perhaps that God would give a stamp of approval.”

    I agree with this, and tend to think that this is all that’s really going on, most of the time. One of my mission presidents liked to make this point with some regularity. He once assigned two sisters to be companions who didn’t like each other. One of them complained that the President obviously hadn’t sought inspiration in assigning the calling, since there’s no way the Lord would ever have instructed the President to put them together. The President encouraged the missionaries to recognize that God wasn’t whispering who the President should pair with who in his ear every transfer. Rather, the President tried to make the best decisions as he saw them, and the Lord would give his decisions a stamp of approval, given that he was the decision-maker with the proper authority.

    I’ve always interpreted “your callings are inspired” to really mean “Please operate under the presumption that callings are inspired (i.e. chosen by, or at least pleasing to, the Lord), whether or not they really are in any given case, so as to help the Lord’s organization operate smoothly and efficiently.” Taken too literally, the idea that callings MUST be inspired raises serious questions as to what was going on when I was Deacon’s Quorum President, and I picked my two counselors based on nothing more than the fact that I thought they were “cool.” Maybe the Lord really picked them, even though I didn’t ever turn to him for assistance? Was I an “instrument in his hands,” even though I didn’t intend to be? I doubt it. No need to invoke divine intervention in such trivial matters.

    Aaron B

    Aaron B

  10. D. Fletcher on May 3, 2004 at 11:08 am

    I’ve been the organist in the Manhattan First Ward since October, 1985, the same month as the new (green) hymnbook was introduced. Since I started, there have been 6 Bishops.

    I’ve had a few other callings. (I’ve also taught Sunday School, Priesthood, led the Choir for 9 years, and had 2 Stake callings).

    Some callings make practical sense (like this one). Others need inspiration.

  11. Steve Evans on May 3, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    So what then are the real consequences and effects of turning down callings? If, as Aaron and others (including myself) have pointed out, callings aren’t always the product of direct inspiration, why then should we feel compelled to accept them?

  12. D. Fletcher on May 3, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    In my own experience, turning down a calling is offensive to the caller, i.e., the Bishop or Stake President. So, it ultimately turns against the person being called. It’s like saying to the Bishop that his inspiration isn’t real, since I won’t be doing the calling.

  13. Steve Evans on May 3, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    I think that’s right, D — it’s more a matter of interpersonal relationships. But turning down a calling means that you probably won’t get ANY calling for awhile, and there’ll probably be some kind of mistrust going forward.

  14. Kaimi on May 3, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    I’m not sure I can think of any single person more qualified for a calling than D. as ward organist.

  15. Steve Evans on May 3, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Or any married person, for that matter.

  16. D. Fletcher on May 3, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, guys. I love to play our hymns, and I aspire to no other calling.

    But there’s a bit of a conundrum there. We have a pipe organ in our chapel, and someone qualified to play it, effectively, and so I have done for almost 20 years. My professors at BYU warned me that a good organist would be in “for life” which has always bothered me — no hymns or pipe organs in the next life?

    “Callings” would seem to be defined by giving service, but additionally, a person who fills a calling receives something, an education, a wisdom and growth, and a sense of belonging.

    So the conundrum: what to do when you have someone eminently qualified to do a calling, and others not so qualified but perhaps with more need to provide that service: which of these do you choose? I may be a fine organist, but I might learn more about life and the gospel by being a Scoutmaster and letting someone else learn how to play the pipe organ.

    (Meanwhile, if my Bishop is reading this, PLEASE do not ask me to be a Scoutmaster).

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