Advice from Church Leaders

August 20, 2004 | 17 comments
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Don over at Nine Moons tackles the question of how we should treat “advice” from a church leader (Bishop, Stake President). In Don’s case, the advice was to get out of the movie business. Don asks:

My question is: Is “advice” in an interview like this “counsel” that should be taken and obeyed? Or is it just an opinion that should be taken like anyone else’s opinion?

That’s a tough question. It’s easy to say that we should take advice to read our scriptures, write in our journal, and do our home teaching. But I’m less certain of the proper course if your Bishop says, “I know you want to go to law school, Kaimi, but I think you need to go be a bus driver instead.”

My current ward offers something of an example. It’s a struggling ward, as I’ve written. The members don’t come, and the ones who come won’t accept callings, and as a result a handful of members — including me and Mardell, and Logan Bobo and his wife Amy — perform a number of functions.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I may move from the ward at some point. There’s nothing specific on the horizon, but it seems to be a possibility that something will come up, and we may end up in another neighborhood or even another city.

Every time I have said anything of that sort to the Bishop, I get a hard sell:

The Lord wants me and my family in the ward for now. I may think that I will have money or other things (such as a functioning primary program) in another place, but I am getting blessings staying right where I am.

Sometimes he mentions how he originally wanted to go to Brooklyn, but ended up in Kingsbridge, and now he’s the Bishop.

I’ve never found these chats to be particularly convincing. It seems transparent to me that the Bishop is very concerned about his ward, and wants to keep leadership in place. But I’m less convinced that he is concerned about my welfare or the welfare of my family. And as a conceptual matter, I find it hard to believe that someone should never move from an ailing ward. Sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your family, and leave the old dysfunctional ward behind. I haven’t yet moved, but that stems from lack of the right opportunity above anything else.

The bottom line is that I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to advice from leaders. Religious advice is clearly fine. But I’m much less inclined to view non-religious advice — “Me personally, I would never buy a Sentra” or “I think that home schooling is [good/bad]” or “sell your movie theater” or “never leave the Bronx” — as something that needs to be followed.

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17 Responses to Advice from Church Leaders

  1. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    This is Mormonism, Kaimi. There isn’t and there shouldn’t be a hard dividing line between ‘religious’ advice and any other kind.

    The real issue, I think, is whether or not the Bishop is acting through inspiration. A direct question to the Bishop might illuminate matters.

  2. Renee on August 20, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    Does the credibility factor increase as the “rank in leadership” of the adviser goes up? For example, if it was a stake president saying it or one of the 70s, would you give it more creedance? What if it was someone in the first presidency?

    For me, it depends on my respect for that person. There’s been bishops I’d had little respect for. I suspect, for those who know people in higher ranks, they might say they trust their bishop more than (insert person in a greater position of authority here).

  3. Derek on August 20, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    If the Lord hasn’t presented you with that “right opportunity” yet, maybe you really are needed more in Kingsbridge for the time being. But I wouldn’t take that to mean you shouldn’t be searching for your new calling.

  4. Kaimi on August 20, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    I should note that Hugh B. Brown’s talk about the tree has occurred to me more than once throughout this process.

  5. diogenes on August 20, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    “The real issue, I think, is whether or not the Bishop is acting through inspiration. A direct question to the Bishop might illuminate matters.”

    A direct question to the Lord generally works better.

  6. Scott Wilkinson on August 20, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    I agree with Adam. My wife and I have had two experiences in recent years in which the Bishop (or one of his counselors at the Bishop’s request) extended a calling to my wife that did not, at first blush, seem to be inspiration driven. In both cases, we asked the difficult question concerning revelation and in both cases the Bishop retreated. Bishops make mistakes, too.

    To me, the more difficult question is to what extent we should rely on the Bishop’s inspiration and advice when it clearly goes against the personal inspiration we receive. For example, Kaimi could press the Bishop about the comment that the Lord wants Kaimi’s family to remain in the ward and the Bishop could reply that his comment was based on inspiration. What, then, should Kaimi do if he receives an answer in personal prayer that he should move?

  7. diogenes on August 20, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    I don’t think that’s a hard one. Kaimi and his wife are the primary stewards of their family. Within that stewardship, communications they receive from the Lord trump the Bishop’s.

  8. clark on August 20, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    There’s a funny quip by J. Golden Kimball which talked about the three “tions” of the church: inspiration, persperation and desperation.

    I think that often the Bishop has to make callings based upon what he has. Often he has to do this with relatively little information and dozens of more major issues taking up his thought and prayers. (i.e. all the social and often spiritual problems of people in the ward – many leading to disfellowshipping or worse).

    I think a little inquiry of the bishopric done with meekness and understanding of the difficult positions they find themselves in can be apt. Further, I think we ought keep in mind the great stress they are under. I’m not saying anyone is criticizing bishops – merely that I sometimes think we expect more perfection from them than is apt. If we keep in mind building them up rather than criticizing, I think we look at their weaknesses and mistakes quite a bit differently and with far greater humility.

  9. greenfrog on August 20, 2004 at 7:16 pm

    As I know the bishop in Brooklyn (or one of them, anyway) and as I’m convinced that he’s a spectacular bishop, I think your bishop might have made a mistake in heading to Knightsbridge.

    But don’t let that color your perceptions of him. ;-)

  10. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2004 at 8:19 pm

    Why would God give us guidance about whether or not the Bishop was inspired if we didn’t take the step of asking the Bishop?

  11. greenfrog on August 20, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    Why would I ask God if the bishop was right about what I should do rather than asking God what I should do?

  12. Ethesis (Stephen M) on August 20, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    “The real issue, I think, is whether or not the Bishop is acting through inspiration. A direct question to the Bishop might illuminate matters.”

    A direct question to the Lord generally works better.
    Comment by: diogenes at August 20, 2004 06:36 PM Permanent

    You took the comment right out of my mouth (so to speak)

    I would treat it as something to think, ponder and pray about.

    I do have to note that I’ve had experiences where contrary advice was right for people, who gained a great deal from it — but only after the pondered and prayed over it.

  13. Bryce I on August 20, 2004 at 11:13 pm

    In my experience, revelation flows to the person with the proper authority and responsibility.

    So if I were to receive direction from a priesthood leader on a non-Church related topic, I would ask myself, “Is he accountable for the decision that I make on this matter?” If not, then he’s probably not receiving revelation on my behalf, and probably has no authority in the matter either. One thing I’ve learned from my time in the church is the relationship between authority, responsibility, and accountability.

    Now, this does not mean that it is inappropriate for a priesthood leader to offer counsel on topics over which he has no authority/responsibility. Another prinicple I have learned sitting at my father’s knee is that the Lord answers our questions according to the knowledge that we bring to the question. Thus, it behooves us to do our homework (D&C 9:7-9). A church leader can be a valuable source of information when making a decision. Also, even though the bishop may not receive revelation on behalf of my family, he may certainly be a means of transmitting revelation, to be independently confirmed.

  14. Bryce I on August 20, 2004 at 11:38 pm

    Kaimi, when my dad was in the stake presidency out there (I’m not sure how the stakes are set up now, but at the time, the Bronx was included), he told me once there was a branch in the Bronx with one active priesthood holder. He was an elderly retiree, and the branch had close to 100% home teaching each month. He visited two or three families each night.

    I may have the details slightly wrong (I’ll have to ask my dad about it again — it’s been years), but I’ve thought about that man often. I find myself longing a bit for that kind experience. Of course, I barely get my own home teaching done now with just three families to visit, but I imagine the blessings of such service would be incredibly rewarding.

    From the branch president’s point of view, it would be a nightmare — what happens when that man moves/dies? Yikes!

  15. Geoff B on August 21, 2004 at 6:53 am

    Kaimi, answers to questions like these come from pondering, consulting with authorities and finally fasting and prayer. You are given primary stewardship over your life and career and where you should live. If your bishop has told you something like this, ask him if he feels it is a direct revelation from the Lord. If he says no, you know your answer. If he says yes, then fast and pray about it. I always get an answer when I do this.

    We should not set aside the fact that the Lord does place us wherever we are for a reason. There is something that we are intended to learn, somebody we are intended to help. Often by being in a dysfunctional ward (and I have been in some doosies) we learn a tremendous amount in a short period of time.

  16. mormontim on August 24, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    This is a very interesting thread. There are some questions that have been raised in this thread that I have wondered about myself. Renee states: “Does the credibility factor increase as the “rank in leadership” of the adviser goes up? For example, if it was a stake president saying it or one of the 70s, would you give it more creedance? What if it was someone in the first presidency?” From my understanding, the scripture states, “If ANY OF YOU lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to ALL men liberally…” (James 1:5). I’m not sure why we as Church members seem to have this need to rely on other people to give us inspiration for our lives, when the scriptures clearly tell us that inspiration, direction, revelation, and counsel can come to us directly from God. On the other hand, I’m not sure why some feel the need to give inspiration to others as if their channel to God is clearer than the person they are giving counsel/revelation to. I have a father-in-law who is a High Priest in the Church who feels he is the personal prophet over my wife and I. We are constantly hearing the phrases: “I feel impressed that you should…” or “As a Patriarch of a family, I feel it would be well if you…” or “as the Priesthood holder in my home, I counsel my family to…and it would be well if you did likewise.” This man is not the only person I have had personal contact with that puts their personal “tag” of priesthood authority on their statements to try and give it more validity.

    Having said this, I am not in the belief that other people cannot receive revelation for others, but I just at times wonder why there is such a feeling that to “get to God” we have to go through the “telephone effect” up the ladder of Priesthood offices before finding out what God’s will really is for us.
    Then comes the question, “What if I pray about something the Bishop has told me to do about my personal life, and then I receive a revelation that I am to do something else?” Should we tell the Bishop we have received revelation contrary to his, with the fear of offending him, being labeled an apostate, or even worse, being tried for our membership? I think Brigham Young puts it well when he said, “How often has it been taught that if you depend entirely upon the voice, judgment and sagacity of those appointed to lead you, and neglect to enjoy the Spirit for yourselves, how easily you may be led into error, and finally be cast off to the left hand? (Brigham Young, May 20, 1860, JD 8:59) A few years later he said, “What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (Brigham Young, January 12, 1862, JD 9:151)
    This is a topic that I personally think is not easily answered. For me, it is a matter of keeping in mind the question of the fallibility or infallibility of men appointed as church leaders. Which of course, none are infallible. The Lord even sets up the procedures in D&C 107:82-84, 91 to remove the President of the High Priesthood if he should transgress, that way, “none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God.”

  17. mormontim on August 24, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    This is a very interesting thread. There are some questions that have been raised in this thread that I have wondered about myself. Renee states: “Does the credibility factor increase as the “rank in leadership” of the adviser goes up? For example, if it was a stake president saying it or one of the 70s, would you give it more creedance? What if it was someone in the first presidency?” From my understanding, the scripture states, “If ANY OF YOU lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to ALL men liberally…” (James 1:5). I’m not sure why we as Church members seem to have this need to rely on other people to give us inspiration for our lives, when the scriptures clearly tell us that inspiration, direction, revelation, and counsel can come to us directly from God. On the other hand, I’m not sure why some feel the need to give inspiration to others as if their channel to God is clearer than the person they are giving counsel/revelation to. I have a father-in-law who is a High Priest in the Church who feels he is the personal prophet over my wife and I. We are constantly hearing the phrases: “I feel impressed that you should…” or “As a Patriarch of a family, I feel it would be well if you…” or “as the Priesthood holder in my home, I counsel my family to…and it would be well if you did likewise.” This man is not the only person I have had personal contact with that puts their personal “tag” of priesthood authority on their statements to try and give it more validity.

    Having said this, I am not in the belief that other people cannot receive revelation for others, but I just at times wonder why there is such a feeling that to “get to God” we have to go through the “telephone effect” up the ladder of Priesthood offices before finding out what God’s will really is for us.
    Then comes the question, “What if I pray about something the Bishop has told me to do about my personal life, and then I receive a revelation that I am to do something else?” Should we tell the Bishop we have received revelation contrary to his, with the fear of offending him, being labeled an apostate, or even worse, being tried for our membership? I think Brigham Young puts it well when he said, “How often has it been taught that if you depend entirely upon the voice, judgment and sagacity of those appointed to lead you, and neglect to enjoy the Spirit for yourselves, how easily you may be led into error, and finally be cast off to the left hand? (Brigham Young, May 20, 1860, JD 8:59) A few years later he said, “What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (Brigham Young, January 12, 1862, JD 9:151)
    This is a topic that I personally think is not easily answered. For me, it is a matter of keeping in mind the question of the fallibility or infallibility of men appointed as church leaders. Which of course, none are infallible. The Lord even sets up the procedures in D&C 107:82-84, 91 to remove the President of the High Priesthood if he should transgress, that way, “none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God.”