An issue that came up in my last post on church leadership as a marker of righteousness is that people are occasionally told that they are going to be the future bishops and stake presidents of the Church. There are a variety of problems with this: 1) it clearly implies a hierarchy when in theory hierarchy isn’t supposed to matter, 2) it can cause spiritual anxiety if that person does not, in fact, get called to be a leader, and 3) it’s kind of pyramid scheme-ish, since most people are not called as leaders.
Point 3 made me think: about what what percentage of priesthood holders will at some point be called as bishops? Now, I’m about to layer speculation on top of speculation, but I suspect these numbers are in the correct ballpark. However, if something is off let me know in the comments.
According to the Church, at a minimum a ward requires at least 20 temple recommend-worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders, and a stake requires at least 180 of the same.
Now, this is a minimum. Many of us have been both in wards that flirt with this line as well as wards with, for example, multiple quorums of deacons that are bursting from the seams. Since I have no hard data to go by, let’s assume that the average ward globally is 25% bigger than the minimum, which would give us an average ward size of 25 temple recommend-worthy priesthood holders for a ward, and 225 for a stake.
If we take an average priesthood holder who spends their whole life in an average ward at the same time as other average people (it doesn’t matter that this person is artificial for purposes of calculating aggregate averages), the next numbers that matter are: the average tenure of a bishop and stake president and the average leadership consideration lifespan. Bishops serve for about five years, and Stake Presidents serve for about 9 years. If we assume that somebody is leader eligible from 20-70, that gives us 50 years. For bishops, 50 years= ~10 bishops served in that time. Meanwhile, 25 MP holders in our artificial average wards lived their lives out in that ward. So 25 MP holder-lives across 5 bishops during their life= a 40% chance of being called as a bishop at some point in their lives. (People obviously move in and out of wards, but in general strokes it shakes out to the same as if we think of it as a cohort of bishop-eligible MP holders who are all born at the same time and all enter the ward and 20 and leave at 70, since somebody moving out means somebody moves in if averages are consistent across time).
For stake presidents it is much more rare, both because they have longer tenure and because the pool is larger. Here we have 50 years/9 years= 5.6 stake presidents during that time across 225 lifelong MP holders, which gives a 2.5% chance.
Now that I’ve gamed this out, the bishop numbers are much higher than I thought, but this is all assuming an “international ward,” if we take a life lived in strong “Mormon corridor” wards of, say, 100 MP holders then the chance is almost in the single digits across a lifetime of temple recommend worthiness.
Of course, it’s more complicated than this. People are sometimes called as bishop twice, people move in and out of activity, people at certain ages are probably considered more “eligible,” and stake presidents are generally drawn from previous leaders, so there’s a bayesian component here, but this is probably in the right ballpark.
So in conclusion, it would probably make much more sense to talk about a cohort of active priesthood youth as future leaders of the Church if you’re talking to members in, say, Bern or Tijuana, but not so much in Phoenix or Logan.