The Number One Qualification

There are all sorts of characteristics one wants in a Bishop. Ideally he’d be kind, honest, obedient, a good people person, in-tune spiritually, good at administration and delegation, care deeply about the youth, doctrinally aware, and so on. But all of these pale in comparison to what I consider to be by far the leading qualification for Bishop.

It isn’t me. Pretty much anything else is gravy. To do the job well takes an incredible dedication and effort. To do it badly would make one miserable. So I’m deeply grateful to anybody who is willing to take that burden on for whatever ward I’m in.

FYI, President Hinckley gave a great talk on Bishops a while back.

46 comments for “The Number One Qualification

  1. I agree, Frank. While there are some callings I secretly aspire to, there are two I would be glad to pass me by: bishop and mission president.

  2. Yep. A bishop who does everything and does it well is just meeting expectation. Let him make one slip — be too preoccupied to greet someone with the expected degree of warmth, or allow the music at a youth dance to be one decibel louder than some self-appointed standardskeeper approves — and he’s a failure in the eyes of some portion of his congregation. He’s on the front lines dealing with every sin, crime, lapse, struggling marriage and hurt feeling. His greatest successes are kept in confidence among the Lord, a penitent and himself. Who would aspire to an office with those perks?

  3. I sat in the congregation on the day one of my friends was sustained as the bishop in his ward (who had been without an actively functioning bishop for about 3 months). A speaker that day said it best — “Anyone who would aspire to this calling fully deserves it.”

    I’ve had great bishops, and “bad” bishops (in my opinion). But after having worked side by side with bishops — both in Church callings and in a professional, non-eccleasiastical capacity — my perspective now is that they are generally inspired, trying to do the best they can with limited input. People never tell the bishop the fully story, but will instantly criticize if the advice given doesn’t work (they then blame the bishop for not being discerning enough). Even the so-called “bad” bishops were pretty inspired some of the time. The rest of time, maybe I wasn’t in tune enough to get where they were coming from. (And sure, sometimes they overstepped their bounds.)

    There’s been a lot of recent bishop-bashing on the Bloggernacle recently (OK, we see this often, actually), and often it boils down to people only seeing one side. Rarely does a bishop get the opportunity to defend himself.

    I think the best bishops are those who teach their congregations to solve their own problems, become self-reliant, and not have to rely on his constant advice or guidance. I also think the best bishops are those who aren’t afraid to share their opinion and call it the way they see it (even if the receipient of said advice is about to go post it to the world). I think the best bishops are flexible — they have developed a standard M.O. to address issues, but they are sensitive enough to know when to violate their own standard and take a different approach.

    The other thing we have to remember is that there is not a real training class for the job. One bishop I know said he has, on average, one interaction with the stake president per quarter. I think that’s (a) a sign that bishop is probably doing an excellent job, and (b) a sign of a stake president willing to give the bishop a lot of latitude in solving his own problems. Although, I know that bishop probably feels sometimes there’s an instruction manual to help him with certain problems I know he has to constantly address.

  4. One other point — I think the best bishops are wise enough to pick counselors and other leaders (but especially his counselors) who are willing to be vocal enough to push back gently. Bishops don’t do themselves any favors when they only select yes-men and yes-women. A councilor (or RS president or clerk or exec secretary or whatever) who is willing to give his opinion, but is willing to execute whatever decision is ultimately made, is the best friend a bishop can have.

  5. I have been lurking on this site for a while now. Thought this might be a time to jump in.

    As a recently released Bishop of almost 7 years I can honestly say that it is truly a great calling to have HAD. Seriously though, it was the greatest, most fulfilling, most frustrating, most spiritual calling I have ever had. I would do it again, though hopefully won’t be called.

    On a separate but quick personal note–Kaimi, I am also a Xela Missionary having served in the Momostenango zone speaking Quiche.

  6. Ideally a bishop doesn’t hit on BYU girls who are home for the summer. My folks’ bishop hit on me, and a few years later, sure enough, he left his wife and ran off with somebody a couple of decades younger. I didn’t know what to do at the time other than politely decline. I was too chicken to try to rat him out and hoped my rejection would cool his jets. Guess it didn’t. So what I’m saying is anybody who is trying to live the law of chastity has a quality I wish every bishop had.

  7. Am I missing something? What does, “It isn’t me.” mean? Is the qualification dedication? Maybe I’m a really poor reader, but it seems to me that this is unnecessarily hard to understand.

  8. Do you mean that the #1 qualification is that the bishop not be Frank? If so it’s incredibly unclear. Or I’m _really_ dumb. Or both.

  9. Frank – my family history in the church dates back to the pioneers but the current state of my family is that most of them are inactive. I spent most of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood with indifference toward the church. I met my wife in high school and she convinced me to clean up my act enough to obtain a temple recommend and we were married in the temple at a young age. For most of the next 20 years I attended church regularly and accepted callings but for most of that time I was not temple worthy. Then about 15 years ago events in my life caused me to accept the challenge of being a committed member and I have been in that state ever since.

    Just about a year after making that decision I was called to serve as a counselor in the bishopric and two years later I became the bishop. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility but more overwhelmed by the love I felt from the ward members and especially the Lord. I was able to do things and say things that I didn’t think myself capable of and I know that strenght came about through the prayers of the ward members.

    My life still had as many, or perhaps more, challenges than ever before but we found a way to deal with them. I’m sure I didn’t meet all the qualifications you mention above but I met some of them and I had plenty of help from my counselors and all the members of the ward coucil to help me survive and even thrive in that calling. Aside from marrying my wife and having my fours sons, and all the associated blessings of daughters-in-law and grand children that ame with that, serving as bishop was the best thing that ever happened in my life. It has been 6 years since I was released but as I write this today I am filled with emotion just recalling the wonderful experience.

    I’m sure that as long as you keep hoping it will not happen to you the day will come when you will be called to serve as bishop. And when it happens just know that you will be blessed beyond measure.

  10. Frank, is this post a super-secret way of revealing that you’ve actually been called as the bishop? :)

    Ardis, great description of what the bishop faces on a daily basis. Amen. I would also add in that usually the bishop’s wife faces the same scrutiny, but she doesn’t get to experience any of those counter-balancing “successful” moments with the penitent as you describe above.

  11. Klutz–I just saw one of the Zarate kids at the Provo MTC. (If you lived in Momos, you had to know the Zarates.) I told him I used to live with his family. All seven of the surviving children are active. Two are serving in stake presidencies. One (Vidalmino) just got called to be a bishop. (The blanket he wove is still in the Church Museum, though Mino no longer weaves.)
    So, did you learn Quiche? Did you know you can get BOM tapes/cds in Quiche? I have Cakchiquel ones, purchased at the Provo Distribution Center.

  12. Russell–people have been prophesying all over the bloggernacle. Here’s my prophecy for the day:
    You will be called. You will not decline. There will be days you will wish you had declined. There will be many more days when you will simply marvel at the ways God has blessed and magnified you.

  13. Margaret–The Zarate family is one of the great families in the church. I still have a few of their blankets hanging in my home.

    Yes, I learned Quiche. I was there from 78-80, the current Xela Misson president (Cesar Morales) was one of my greenies–teaching him Quiche.

    When were you there?

  14. I was there in 1975 (just before the great quake), again in 77 and then in 78.
    My dad is a linguist. I wonder if we already know each other. My maiden name is Blair. The Quiche-speaking elders I knew were Biesinger and Tedford. We took Tedford back to Guate in 78 (meaning Dad and a bunch of ex-misioneros) to work on dictionaries in the various dialects. Dad has written about Cakchiquel and Mam grammars. I lived with the Zarates during the summer of 1978, then took a bus to Mexico City, where I taught literacy at Benemerito. I took my children to Patzicia last summer, where we worked for Randy Ellsworth’s foundation, teaching English. (Julio Salazar was in charge. He was another of the ex-misioneros who joined us in the dictionary-writing trip, as was Randy.) When I lived in Momos, there was a Salvadoran elder. I can’t remember his name. I’ve heard about Pte. Morales. My daughter is waiting for a missionary she met in Guate, who returns in six days. Morales was his pte. I loved the fact that he encouraged his elders to learn the dialects. I brought a lot of Cakchiquel material with me for the missionaries (including the beautiful Jesus movie, produced by Evangelicals).

    None of the Zarate men weaves anymore. LeoFredi married a gringa and lives in the U.S. (though she’s still in Momos). Ernestina passed away, as did Juan (the father). (I was touched by his tombstone, which contains an engraving of Moses 1:39.)

    Besides the documentary on black Latter-day saints ( ), I am planning on doing a short doc on Pablo Choc, one of the great men in this world. We interviewed him and others who knew him and knew his son, Daniel, who perished in the quake. Daniel was Dad’s main assistent as he helped missionaries learn Cakchiquel. I went to Daniel’s missionary farewell. He died a month after the quake, while helping rebuild Patzun.

  15. Oops. I put an extra word in the link for the webstite:

    Oh, and I have a whole room which I call the Guatemala Room. It has a blanket from Momos (Mario Zarate helped me pick it out), a huipil from Patzun, which a woman I lived with made for me, and various pictures from Comalapa. I have told my children that if Bruce dies before I do, I’ll head back to Guate.

  16. Thanks all, for the kind words about your bishops and bishoping experiences.

    Maria, perish the thought.

    arJ, I guess we could poll the readers and ask how many of them understood what I was saying. But perhaps, in the spirit of No Child Left Behind, we should require that all posts be intelligible to every reader– No Computer Scientist Left Behind! Or perhaps another qualification for a good bishop is that he be a clear writer…

  17. Frank,
    Or perhaps another qualification for a good bishop is that he be a clear writer…

    Let’s hope so for your sake. Is that how economists decide if something is well written, by taking a poll? :)

  18. Margaret–If we do not already know each other, it is a miracle in that we have travelled in the same circles–or atleast parallel paths. I arrived in Guate (Tactic) in December of 1978 then after one month went to Totonicapan, then San Cristobal, then Momos Zone–serving 6 months as ZL in Momos proper. I do remember meeting a group that was working on the dictionary and I spent a few hours in Chichicastenango reviewing what they had for Quiche.

    We are planning a trip back to Xela for the Temple Dedication (whenever that happens). I say we, there are quite a few ex-chapinlandia missionaries here in Mesa, AZ, and we are trying to get organized.

    Hate to hijack this thread. Don’t know how you can get me other that email me at: [email protected]

  19. “Is that how economists decide if something is well written”

    I don’t know, it never comes up.

  20. At a stake priesthood leadership meeting a number of years ago, I heard a General Authority say that the Church has no problem finding men who are willing to be bishops or stake presidents, but the Church does have a problem sometimes finding men who are willing to work in the primary or be good home teachers. I am sure this is true, even though serving as a bishop takes far more time. As a High Priest Group Leader, I remember seeing a man accept the call to serve as bishop, who three months before I had to release as chairman of a high priest group commitee, at his request, because he “didn’t have time.” He was also was one of our least dependable home teachers. The reason again: “too busy.” He found the time to serve as bishop and did a very good job, but could not find time prior to his bishop’s call, to serve on a high priest committee, or be a good home teacher. I bit my lip, and have never spoken of this to anyone in the ward. Hopefully he has learned from this. He is now a counselor in the stake presidency. Yes, the calling of a bishop does require much time and effort, but bishops also receive a ton of recognition and kudos. This is from someone who has served as a bishop.

    The main quality I want in a bishop, is a man who is enthusiastic in serving the Lord, and who regards every calling in the Church with equal importance.

  21. Impressive, Rusty. The alphabet changes, so I’m not sure if that’s Quiche or Cakchiquel. I learned the old alphabet, which used a q’ for the sound you’re using a k’ for. Nonetheless, yalan jebel–utz! Where did you serve?

  22. Retaluleu, Escuintla, Chimaltenango & the Cap. I was in the Central mission in from 96-98 (and I know President Salazar, we ate Thanksgiving dinner at their place in El Tejar in 1997).

    They spoke Quiche in my area in Retaluleu (San Sebastian) and I learned a few phrases, just enough to charm the old ladies, not nearly enough to communicate. Then in Chimal they spoke Cakchiquel and we had a lady translate (phonetically) a Christmas hymn for us and we sang it in the ward (it was terrible).

    So, about bishops…

  23. As someone who would never publicly upbraid a Bishop but reacted strongly to Margaret’s post on BCC, I will submit one qualification I wish every Bishop possessed – humility. Every time I have been made aware of an issue with any Bishop that truly needed to be addressed formally *or* privately, it was due to pride in one manifestation or another.

    The most recently released Bishop in my home ward is a wonderful man. He served for 8 years and had a tremendous impact on me and my wife – who served in two auxiliary presidencies during his tenure. As is common, he was reassigned to the High Council when he was released, even though he is incredibly busy building a small business (and was throughout his time as Bishop). A few months ago, he was released from that calling – and gratefully accepted a calling in the nursery with his wife. That type of humility (to do something that frightened him nearly to death and was a *huge* drain on his ability to focus on his business venture, then to accept and be grateful for what others often see as a “minor” calling) is truly inspirational.

  24. Ray–Just as a note, I crave the day I am called to serve in the nursery. To me, it is a dream calling in that I love kids and the enthusiasm they have for the Gospel at that young age is exciting to me. Not to mention that they don’t have the verbal skills to complain much.

  25. “Not to mention that they don’t have the verbal skills to complain much.”

    You’re kidding, right? Complaining is a newborns’ first verbal skill.

    And yes, I too like the nursery.

  26. “they don’t have the verbal skills to complain much”

    Your definition of “verbal skills” is obviously narrow. : )

  27. Good point about verbal skills guys. I suppose I would rather hear a whiny two-year-old than listen to a sanctimonious member tell me what they thought about the lack of spirituality in our most recent ward party.

  28. “Anyone who would aspire to this calling fully deserves it.” Amen.

    I’ve never understood people who want to be bishop, or who want their husband to be bishop. Horrors. I like to see my husband now and then, thanks very much. Eeeek.

    I’m extremely grateful to be married to an extremely low key guy who is usually overlooked for the high powered callings. And the primary kids are very blessed, because he’s AWESOME.

  29. “I’m extremely grateful to be married to an extremely low key guy who is usually overlooked for the high powered callings.”

    That was my mantra for many years. My husband is an excellent clerk, and hopes to got back to that one of these days.

    But it turns out that a lot of bishops and stake presidents are, in fact, low key guys who would much rather teach Primary or be a clerk. Which is part of their qualification for the work.

    Also, I thought that not shaving my legs would disqualify me from being a RS president. Turns out that nobody cares.

    I’ve generally not understood people who want to be bishop, either, although I’ve heard that some folks want to make the world a better place.

  30. I like to see my husband now and then, thanks very much

    That reminds me of a cartoon (Sunstone, maybe?) where a bishop is reading a letter forwarded to him from the First Presidency. It reads something like, “Since letters to you are sent through priesthood channels, please tell my husband that we miss him.”

  31. Here are some thoughts re: Bishops

    1) Sometimes we call the bishop the ‘father of the ward’. In a lot of ways, being bishop could be compared (more than almost all other modern-day callings) to polygamy (w/o sex of course). Think about it. The bishop’s time is divided among *many* families. Sound familiar? I’ve never met a bishop’s family that wasn’t challenged by the absence of the bishop in his own home. Seriously! Read a book like ‘In Sacred Loneliness’ or a few pioneer diaries and then compare the feelings of the pioneer women to the bishop’s wives that you know today. You’ll find a surprising amount of similarities for both the temporal challenges/sacrifices and the spiritual blessings as well as the social jealousy (from the kids as well).

    2) Queuno, I have some thoughts about the quality you cited as important for a bishop.

    “I think the best bishops are those who teach their congregations to solve their own problems, become self-reliant, and not have to rely on his constant advice or guidance.”

    I agree. This is important. Part of being a good parent or leader is being a teacher; empowering the people to do for themselves. However, I’ve seen a growing trend to emphasize this value recently in leadership training meetings, the Ensign, talks, etc. It concerns me a little, since balancing this principle with the temporal and spiritual responsibilities for the ward is extremely difficult. I’ve seen families (including children) NOT receive the help they need as bishops give unbalanced emphasis to self-sufficiency. (Dare I mention the bishops who mistakenly think returning money to SLC from the welfare and ward budget will improve their favor up the ladder?) Emphasizing self-sufficiency can turn away those in need and cut off the essential support that is accessible ONLY through the bishop. It can also create a climate in which needs are not vocalized. It can put undue guilt upon those who truly need help and are already swallowing all their pride to ask. There is a spiritual lesson to be learned from both giving AND receiving, and laying guilt upon those involved dulls some of the most beautiful feelings we learn from charity.

    Bishops have needy ward members who will shrink away unserved after hearing ‘self-sufficiency’ harped on all the time. Conversely, they’ll have big baby birds who are long overdue to be pushed out of the nest. How do we balance self-sufficiency with charity? I really think it would suck to be a bishop and have to make that judgment in people’s lives day-in and day-out. In my opinion, considering the bishop’s stewardship for the temporal needs of those in his ward as well as our collective covenants to clothe and feed the poor etc. etc. etc., I think it is better to err on the side of charity.

    I’ll put ‘charitable’ down as the first quality for the ideal bishop.

  32. Last week in my parents’ ward, I heard a Bishop, in his testimony, admit to wishing he could play hookey from church. Then he said he was glad he came. My parents, who both served in ward and stake-level leadership positions in previous wards and stakes, were very impressed that their Bishop told it like it is. I think the comments here, as to the difficulty of the calling, the very real spiritual rewards, and the public benefits are well-founded. In the end, Church-service is designed to try us and purify us individually even as we try collectively to mirror of the Heavenly Kingdom in this vale of tears. I think the best choice is to do our best to magnify each calling, no matter how high or low.

  33. #39 – One quick comment:

    I can’t explain how much I dislike the “father of the ward” title for a bishop – mostly because it gets mutated beyond the fact that he has stewardship for the youth of the ward and ends up being bastardized into assumed, comprehensive stewardship (spiritual *and* temporal) for all members of the ward. IMO, that is the one thing that multiplies a bishop’s responsibilities to the point of becoming truly overwhelming – when the adults view him as the one who is supposed to counsel them and solve their problems. I believe this is a transferal of the “minister” and “father” in Protestant and Catholic congregations, but it isn’t how the Priesthood structure is supposed to operate. In general, bishops do *way* too much and HP Group Leaderships and EQ Presidencies do way too little, in my experience.

  34. Ray,
    Even though RS and HP are underutilized, the fact of the matter is that the bishop has the keys to temporal assistance. The RS, HP and others can only go so far w/o needing the Bish’s signature to release resources. That’s the way it goes.

    Setting aside a discussion of the Bish’s spiritual responsibilities to the ward (which I would NOT agree are zero unless you are a youth), the temporal welfare of the ward is enough of a headache to hold up my parallel about the bishop being quasi-polygamous.

  35. @39 – I agree with you that an overreaching emphasis on self-sufficiency is a bad thing. But I think that bishops need to continue to stress spiritual self-reliance. There’s no reason why a bishop has to spend two hours counseling a family on whether or not they should take a job, or refinance their mortgage, or whether they should or should allow their teenager to read Bushman. Bah. The bishop has more important and real problems to solve.

    The bishop should strive to teach the ward what are appropriate problems for the bishop to solve, and then what is appropriate to take to the EQ president, or the ward employment specialist, or the home teacher. My current bishop is a master at this. If an issue comes up in ward council — he defers to the home teacher or the assigned ward specialist. He’s not going to get involved unless he recognizes it as an issue where he needs to get involved. It’s an appropriate way to solve problems.

    Our ward has reorganized home teaching in such a way specifically to address the needs of those who need special attention, with the expectation that the majority of the ward should practice self-reliance.

    On your second point, regarding charity — A wise bishop told me that he’d rather answer to the Lord for being too generous with welfare funds than not generous enough. Wise counsel.

  36. I agree, JAT. I just believe that bishops usually end up doing much more than they should do in the area of spiritual development of the members. Much of what many do should be done by the MP quorum and group in the ward without ever reaching the bishop.

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