In 1993, two years after returning from a mission, I was called to serve as a Bishop. My wife and I had moved into the ward just 12 months earlier as a newly married couple. On the day I was sustained, my wife was in Hospital, pregnant with our first child and recovering from a appendectomy. To say the years that followed were busy, is probably an understatement, but it was certainly a learning curve. Three and a half years later, working full time, now with two children and studying with the Open University I was released and moved on to other callings. In the decades since, I have served as a counselor to three Bishops each having different styles. If nothing else I think I have grasped the role of a Bishop.
Unlike many other faiths, our Bishops are lay members who all work for a living and serve the Lord in their “free time” Its not an easy role to fill and often they are expected to be all things to all people. But that is not how it is meant to be. The handbook of instructions defines a Bishops role:-
The bishop holds the priesthood keys to direct the work of the Church within the ward. He and his counselors form a bishopric, which works under the direction of the stake presidency. They care for ward members with love and concern, helping them become true followers of Jesus Christ.
The bishop has five principal responsibilities in presiding over a ward:
- He is the presiding high priest.
- He is president of the Aaronic Priesthood.
- He is a common judge.
- He oversees welfare matters.
- He oversees records, finances, and the use and security of the meetinghouse.
The words presiding and oversee, always stand out to me when I read this section. It certainly doesn’t say the Bishop does everything for everyone. In fact in an online training video Elder Holland teaches some very specific things a Bishop is responsible for and some he is not.
Working together, the Relief Society and Elders Quorum Presidencies have shared responsibility for:- Missionary, Temple and Family History work, Ministering and the Quality of teaching in the ward. The Bishop as the Presiding High Priest oversees this work, he doesn’t do it. This leaves the Bishop time to look after and be involved with the Youth, Temporal affairs, such as the meeting house, Finances, being a Judge in Israel and perhaps most importantly… Caring for the poor (financially and spiritually)
Its easy to see, that in wards where the members work through their ministering Brothers and Sisters and then Elders Quorum and Relief Society Presidencies, the Bishop will have more time to do, what only he can do.
A typical example would be a family with Welfare needs. It is the Ministers that should pick up on this, if they cant resolve the issue, they speak to the RS or EQ President. If the Presidents can’t resolve the issue, they finally speak to the Bishop. The Bishop will then assign the RS President to make a return visit to the family and asses their temporal needs and report back with a recommendation. It is always best to resolve an issue at its lowest level where possible. The reality however is, often the first time a welfare need is recognized, is when the family knocks on the door of the Bishops office.
Perhaps we engender this culture of always looking to the Bishop to solve all problems, by virtue of the fact he sits on the stand each Sunday as the Presiding officer. Maybe it would be different if the Elders Quorum and Relief Society Presidents sat on the stand each week too ? Or maybe we just need to elevate and respect the role of these two great ward Presidencies, in our words and actions.
Bishops are busy men, away from Sundays most of them are out 2, 3 or more nights a week. Visiting those in need and caring for people. There are times in peoples lives when having the Bishop visit, will mean the world to them. I cant imagine a Bishop not wanting to visit a bereaved family or members that have been hospitalised. He will know about these events through the ministers and want to be involved with them. He will also want to live the motto “Be where are youth are” and attend youth activities and events. It is only when a ward supports in word and deed, that Bishops can do all these things.
A final thought, respecting the office of Bishop is very important. On the day my current Bishop was called, I changed his contact details in my phone to list him as Bishop, even though he is my brother-in-law. I always use his title when I speak of, or to him. He is a key holder in the priesthood, I don’t ever want to forget how important that is, to me or him. Please pray for and support your Bishop, he wont ask but he needs it.