Here’s the one lesson I learned from my 3.5 year stint as an Elders Quorum President: never, ever aspire to be a Bishop. Seriously, it is a thankless job. To put a finer point on it, being a Bishop is an honest-to-goodness, up-to-40-hours-per-week, full-time thankless job. Not to mention the fact that the pay (-10%) is really lousy.
An evergreen subject here in the Bloggernacle, it seems, is the outing of “bad Bishops.” I cannot begin to count the number of posts and comments I have read over the past few years in which people have complained about all forms of mistreatment at the hands of a Bishop. These purported “bad Bishops” come in all forms, e.g., the ones who ask too many personal questions, the ones who don’t take time to get to know their members, the ones who visit too often, and the ones who don’t visit enough. Boiled down to their essence, these complaints amount to a disappointment that the mere mortal serving in one’s local ward does not meet the member’s idealized version of what a Bishop should be. When confronted with this dissonance, otherwise sensible bloggers across the ideological spectrum can whip themselves into a virtual lynch mob.
The purpose of this post is to bring a bit of balance to the discussion. To be clear, I believe that real ecclesiastical abuse can and does occur But I also wholeheartedly believe that truly “bad Bishops” are tiny minority. By contrast, I think most Bishops are regular guys, trying their hardest to make the best of what everyone admits is just about the toughest calling around. That has been my consistent observation throughout my 36 years as a proud wearer of the worker’s seal. It’s time we give these guys their due.
Quantifying all of a Bishop’s responsibilities is much more than compiling the number of hours spent in the church building. As an EQP, I attended hours upon hours of (at times, pointless) meetings. Not only did my Bishop attend all of the same meetings, he went to dozens of others which I had the fortune of missing.
But even worse than the sheer boredom, Bishops carry a heavy emotional burden. They are called upon to deal with every conceivable tragedy — ranging from flooded basements (which, in truth, constitute a “tragedy” only to the family under water) to job loss to death — that may befall any of the hundreds of families within their jurisdiction. During my EQP service, my Bishops made time to visit patients wasting away from cancer in the hospital, struggling teenagers serving time in prison, and parents crying inconsolably in a nursery over the unexpected passing of a newborn.
In addition, they alone bear the burden of listening to their friends, family members and associates confess their most secret thoughts and desires. Just imagine the toll that would take on your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being! At the same time, Bishops, like any other father, must juggle the needs of their own families. I’ve written elsewhere about my current Bishop, whose 4 year-old was killed in a sledding accident. Even while mourning, he kept about his ecclesiastical duties.
Perhaps the worst part is, no matter what is thrown at them, Bishops are expected to take it in stride, and come back ready for more the next day. One Bishop I knew often joked, “other ward leaders aren’t allowed to have a bad Sunday; Bishops aren’t allowed to have a bad day, period.”
So, with all of that in mind, I think its high time to carve out some space to recognize the good work Bishops do. Let me give you two short examples:
- My brother has been inactive for nearly two decades. A few years ago, he married a wonderful woman who, on her initiative, joined the Church. She and my family have been gently nudging my brother in this direction ever since. While he has warmed to the Church, he hasn’t quite jumped back in. A new Bishop was called in their ward the week my sister-in-law was baptized. Since then, this young Bishop (who has 5 little kids of his own) has gone out of his way to befriend my brother and keep watch over his family. While reactivation certainly may be an ulterior motive (it hasn’t happened yet), that does not change the fact that, for the first time, my brother feels loved and valued by a Priesthood leader. It was been a wonderful experience due this Bishop’s selfless service.
- On a lighter note: just this afternoon, my family’s brand new dog ran away for a few hours. The Bishop, who lives relatively close, heard the news and drive by to see what was going on. He was one his way out the door, but he volunteered his two oldest children to come help in the search. (FYI — the stupid dog showed up on her own after we all spent hours combing the brush yelling her name)
These are just the first two that popped to mind — with a bit more reflection, I could rattle off dozens of instances in which a Bishop proved himself to be a truly inspired and inspiring leader. At the same time, I would be hard pressed to come up with a personal “bad Bishop” experience.
Now it’s your turn. Let’s hear your “good Bishop” stories. I’ll bet you can come up with one much easier than you can a “bad Bishop” tale.