8 Things I’m Learning As A Latter-day Saint Bishop

The following is posted with permission from the author, Cameron Moll, who originally published this article on Medium.com

In February 2015 I was asked to serve as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.¹ Bishops do not campaign for office nor are they compensated for their time. They are selected by area leadership, and they usually serve 5 to 6 years (sometimes less, sometimes more).

In my responsibilities as a bishop, I typically put in 15–20+ volunteer hours each week outside work and family life. It’s been a terrific experience so far, though not without its challenges. What follows are some of the things I’m learning.

Note: These views and opinions are my own and should not be construed as the views and opinions of all bishops, nor are my remarks endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

1. “Love everyone. Every one.”

The advice given to me by my father, who has also served as a bishop, is the most important counsel I’ve received and will likely remain the most important throughout my tenure. “Love everyone,” he said to me. “Every.one.”

It’s not surprising to me that his advice echoes the Savior’s charge “that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:35). I have so much to work on in this regard. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life — not just my time as bishop — learning how to offer love to everyone I encounter, even if we stand on vastly different ground.

2. The answer is “nothing.”

The question, asked by Gordon B. Hinckley paraphrasing scripture, is “what shall it profit a man though he serves the Church faithfully and loses his own family?”²

I was fortunate to hear this advice more than a decade before serving as bishop. It has remained with me ever since and serves as a reminder to prioritize my family and personal well-being above all other efforts. Thankfully, I have an extremely supportive wife and an outstanding staff of men and women, all of whom also serve without compensation and who share the responsibility of caring for those within our membership.

3. Input ≥ Output

Math was my strongest subject growing up, so I suppose this equation came as a natural result of that. Working with youth years ago I discovered input matters as much as output, if not more.

Assume these youth were asked to plant trees as a service project for a local non-profit organization. It’s important that the trees be planted properly, watered well, and look resplendent to the best of our ability. But it’s just as important, if not more, that each individual has the opportunity to contribute meaningfully and sacrifice time and effort in the service of others. In other words, we’re in the business of cultivating contributors, not arborists.

4. Tact is vitally important in any leadership setting, but especially when serving others.

I’m discovering that tact goes a very long way in conveying love and fostering discipleship in others. A very long way. How I convey a message is almost more important than the message itself. Timing, tone, and choice of words all play a role in serving others with tact—or conversely, a lack of tact.

5. Leaving the 99 to rescue the one is Christ-like service. Shepherding the 100 before they become the 99 is Christ-like leadership.

I don’t take lightly the directive to “leave the ninety and nine … and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matthew 18:12).³ But oh how much more effective it is to care for others while still on solid ground, than to let them slip from our grasp and rescue them on loose soil. This principle has helped me recognize that all within my care are worthy of nurturing and shepherding, even if they appear to be doing fine spiritually, physically, emotionally.

6. There appears to be a high degree of correlation between family discord and inactivity in the gospel.

As I’ve counseled with individuals, it’s striking to see how those struggling to become or remain active in the gospel often have strained family relationships, either immediate, extended, or both. That isn’t to say that activity in the gospel will prevent and eliminate all family challenges. It’s simply been my experience that a high degree of correlation exists between a lack of commitment and dedication in living the gospel of Jesus Christ and the discord that exists in family relationships.

This observation has helped me understand that by helping others improve their activity in the gospel, family relationships are likely to improve as well. “Activity in the gospel” doesn’t necessarily mean “attends church every Sunday”, although that’s certainly an important component. Rather, truly active in the gospel means striving each day to align one’s life with the teachings of Jesus Christ, including the fundamentals of daily prayer, daily scripture study, and loving our figurative/literal neighbors.

family learning in the home

7. “We are each other’s clinical material.”

I love this principle taught by Neal A. Maxwell:

“We are each other’s clinical material, and we make a mistake when we disregard that sober fact…. The Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a ‘student’ rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.”†

Imperfect people serving imperfect people. That’s how I interpret Maxwell’s words. And I’m no exception to imperfection. In fact, I lose sleep over the number of mistakes I make as a leader, but I try my best to show up the next day and give it my all regardless.

8. Love everyone.

Dad was right. When it’s all said and done, loving everyone is really what matters most. If love is the best we can do as leaders, we’re doing the best we can. And if love is the only thing people remember about me after I’m replaced, I’ll have fewer sleepless nights in the years to come.

After Cameron published his original article on Medium, he decided to write another one called 8 More Things I’m Learning as a Mormon Bishop. We’ve included his incredible insights from that article below as well.

In February 2015 I was asked to serve as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Latter-day Saint Church).¹ Bishops do not campaign for office nor are they compensated for their efforts. They are selected by area leadership and give their time outside of their responsibilities at work and in the home.

My service as a bishop draws to a close soon as our family will be moving to California. What follows are 8 more things I’m learning. See also the first 8 things I’m learning.

Note: These views and opinions are my own and should not be construed as the views and opinions of all bishops, nor are my remarks endorsed by the LDS Church.

1. It’s not hard to love the people you serve when you genuinely care about them, even when your love isn’t reciprocated.

It’s been humbling to recognize that I genuinely love those I serve because I genuinely care about them. About their well-being. About their progress. About their struggles and sacrifices. About their losses and their successes.

Though I could never pretend to understand how the Savior felt, in a very small way I can appreciate how he loved those he served even when he was spat upon, rejected, and ultimately crucified. Humans will be human. We all do stupid things. Yet genuine caring transcends indiscretion; genuine love isn’t dependent on the recipient’s behavior.²

2. Daily personal scripture study is remarkably powerful yet drastically underutilized.

In personal interviews with members of our congregation conducted over the course of several months, I asked if they studied the scriptures every day. Some 50+ interviews later I could count on one hand the number of people who said they did.

I was stunned.

I guess I assumed that all (or at least most) who believe in Jesus Christ make it a habit to study his teachings daily. Not so, at least not in the form of daily personal scripture study.

I love Paul’s observation about the remarkable power of the word of God, which comes in many forms but most notably in scripture:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Bible, Hebrews 4:12)

book of mormon

Nephi’s description of the same is pretty amazing:

And … whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 15:24)

Imagine that. The word of God as “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” and a protection from “the temptations and fiery darts of the adversary.” What powerful statements!

If you’re not yet studying scripture daily, here are two suggestions:

Start small. Daily scripture study doesn’t require blocking off a huge chunk of your day. In fact, it might take only 11 minutes.

Use that amazing device in your pocket or purse. We check our phones a lot, 221 times a day by some estimates. Scripture apps are readily available. How easy would it be to utilize one (just one!) of those 221 times to study scripture?

3. Significant achievements are the result of many significantly small decisions.

The success, allure, and charisma of great leaders might lead us to believe these leaders accomplish significant things because they make extraordinary decisions on a regular basis. As a bishop, I’m discovering that’s simply not the case. More often than not, significant achievements are the result of countless, seemingly insignificant decisions. When strung together over weeks and months, however, these small decisions can produce spectacular results.

To borrow an analogy from baseball, great leadership isn’t characterized best by home runs but rather by batting average. Consistently making good decisions leads to consistently great outcomes.

If love is the best we can do as leaders, we’re doing the best we can

4. Answering questions with a question is often the best answer.

If this sounds like who’s on first, allow me to elaborate. As humans, we’re surprisingly adept at answering our own questions if given the opportunity. I’m learning that I can provide that opportunity by answering questions with a question.

Here are some examples:

What do you think is the best course of action?

What alternatives have you considered?

What do you think the answer is?

How do you suggest I help you?

How have you enlisted the help of others?

The Savior is the best example of this. On several occasions he answered a question with a question, as demonstrated here in the book of Luke:

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Bible, Luke 10:25–26)

This exchange not only allowed an opportunity for the asker to answer his own question, but it also provided the Savior an opportunity to teach one of the most recognized parables in all of scripture, the parable of the good Samaritan.

5. Often the only way to truly help someone is to let them help themselves.

This is a difficult principle to learn! Whether a bishop, parent, CEO, etc., it can be tough to let others work out their own salvation as it were.

Several months ago a good friend of mine, who had also served as a bishop, offered this observation:

One thing I learned as a bishop was that people can solve their own problems with God’s help. I found that my role as bishop wasn’t figuring out the answers to their problems but helping them open the channel of communication with God. Sometimes they needed to fix mistakes. Sometimes they just needed the confidence to talk to Him.

Our natural inclination as leaders is to solve problems. That’s what leaders do, right? But when we solve problems for others, we often rob them of the invaluable experience that comes from the struggle, the fight, the hard work to solve their own problems.

P.S. Answering questions with a question is a great way to help others help themselves.

6. Sometimes it is better to be unified than to be right

I was taught this principle by Elder Erich W. Kopischke in a regional training meeting. There are many ways to interpret this principle. I’ll offer just one:

I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to remain silent and maintain unity rather than open my mouth and cause discord or discontent merely to make a point, clarify doctrine, or reinforce a decision.

Without a doubt, there are times to speak up, clarify, and reinforce. But in many cases, making a point is less important than making others feel welcome.

7. Of all the voices a bishop must listen to, the Spirit is the most important of these.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that the Spirit (also referred to as the Holy Ghost) can impress upon our minds and hearts needed direction and counsel from the Lord. Very seldom this happens by hearing a voice. In most cases, it comes as an impression, a feeling in our minds and hearts, either strongly or repeatedly. Much like it takes time and practice to learn a new language, it takes time and practice to discern impressions from the Spirit.

Allow me to share an example from Elder M. Russell Ballard in his book, Counseling with Our Councils:

One bishop told me of a time soon after his call to the bishopric when a new Young Women president was needed in his ward. “There was a clear impression in my mind who the new president should be,” the bishop said. “But when I spoke with my counselors about the call, they had another name in mind, and they made a good and compelling case for the second woman to serve in this important position.

“I was a brand-new bishop, and I had tremendous respect for these two good men who were serving as my counselors,” the bishop continued. “I guess I had more confidence in them than I did in my own spiritual sensitivity because I chose to ignore what I was personally feeling and accepted their recommendation as the decision of the council.”

The bishop was unable to issue the call before he had to leave town for an extended business trip, so he asked his first counselor to extend the call to the second woman. When he called a couple of days later to ask his counselor how things were going, he was told that there had been a problem. The woman, a faithful and devoted young sister, felt uncomfortable with the calling and asked for a day or two to reconcile her feelings. “It just doesn’t feel right,” she said after a couple of prayerful days. “I’ve never declined a calling in my life, and I won’t decline this one. But I feel like I need to ask you to ask the bishop if he’s really sure that this is what the Lord wants for the young women of the ward right now. If it is, then I’ll assume that the problem here is mine and I’ll willingly accept the assignment.”

“Of course she feels uncomfortable,” the bishop said when his counselor explained the situation. “This isn’t what the Lord wants. He let me know who the new Young Women president is supposed to be, and I’ve been ignoring Him.” The bishop instructed his counselor to let the sister know that there was nothing wrong with her spiritual sensitivity. Then he was to go ahead and extend the calling to the sister the bishop had been originally impressed to call. Her response was validating: “I’ve had the impression for two weeks that this calling was coming.”

“The experience didn’t teach me to ignore my counselors,” the bishop said. “Their input was important — the woman they [originally] suggested was called to serve as a Young Women adviser, and she did a wonderful job there. But I did learn that of all the voices I was to listen to as bishop, the most important one was the voice of the Spirit as it guided my thoughts, my words, and my actions.”

the church of jesus christ

8. The atonement of Jesus Christ is inexhaustibly comprehensive.

In my time as bishop, I can think of nothing more rewarding than witnessing the atonement of Jesus Christ at play in the lives of those I’ve served—and in my own life for that matter.

I suspect all Christians believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ redeems mankind from all mistakes, transgressions, and sins if we accept him as our Savior and follow his teachings. But do we truly understand that the atonement does more than just redeem? Do we recognize that it has the capacity to enable, empower, and enhance everything we do in this life and in the life to come? Do we comprehend that it facilitates healing, forgiveness, self-expression, love, joy, and so much more?

I love the Savior immensely. I am incredibly thankful for his inexhaustibly comprehensive atoning sacrifice.

¹ Some refer to the LDS Church as “Mormons”, which is a nickname that grew out of the Church’s belief in The Book of Mormon.

² From “Rejoicing in the Privilege to Serve”, Worldwide Leadership Training, June 2003.

³ It’s helpful to note that in the two instances where this parable is recorded (Matthew 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7) the Savior describes the “ninety and nine” as those “which went not astray” and are “just persons, which need no repentance.” By that definition, have we not all have gone astray and are currently astray to some extent?

† Quotes compiled from “Jesus, the Perfect Mentor”, a talk given at Brigham Young University in February 2000, and “A Brother Offended”, a talk given in the April 1982 General Conference.

Second set of 8

¹ Some refer to the LDS Church as “Mormons”, which is a nickname that grew out of the Church’s belief in The Book of Mormon.

² Parenting is an obvious parallel here, but it’s worth noting there are differences between loving and caring for one of your own versus loving and caring for someone you’ve been assigned to serve.

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