Because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, is a lay church, everyone is asked to help with the work to be done. Each willing member is given at least one calling. A calling is often referred to as a ministry in other religions. This is an unpaid position. Mormons don’t seek after callings, and although some have more authority than others, none is considered more important than another. The assistant in the toddler nursery is as important as the bishop (pastor) of the congregation. In fact, the bishop might find himself serving as the nursery assistant after he completes his time as a bishop. Church members are not “promoted” through the ranks. They simply fill whatever position is offered them.
Positions are assigned by inspiration. For instance, the president of the children’s organization, called the Primary, might need a few new teachers. She and her two counselors, who lead the Primary, discuss possible names for the position. Then they pray for confirmation of the names they’ve chosen. Those names are submitted to the bishop and his two counselors, who also discuss the names and pray about them. If all is well, and the leaders feel this person can be moved to the new position, he or she is contacted privately to be offered the calling. Although each person is free to accept or reject the offer, generally, members understand callings come through inspiration and accept what is offered unless they have a specific reason not to do so.
Members don’t seek after specific callings, although they may have favorites or places where they frequently find themselves working. Sometimes, of course, they find themselves in positions they feel unqualified for. Mormons are taught that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies. This means a person is not called to a position because he is the most qualified, but because of reasons that please the Lord. Sometimes it is because the Lord knows the member needs this job to grow and to learn. Other times it is because a person the member will serve especially needs him.
If a member is called to a position she has no training or experience in doing, there is a great deal of support offered. A teacher, for instance, can take a class on teaching, and can also turn to her leaders and friends to advise her. The official church website, LDS.org, also offers training and advice on how to fulfill a calling. The lesson manual she is given provides the material needed to teach each lesson and also includes teaching advice and information on each age group.
Most importantly, each person given a calling is given a special priesthood blessing which “sets them apart” to the calling. This gives them official authority from God to do what is needed and an increased ability to succeed. Often the blessing includes advice or special promises. The member must also turn to prayer because even though she may not know how to do the calling, God does.
Let me offer a personal example of how this works. I was assigned to fill a position as the literacy leader for my congregation. My first responsibility was to develop a program to teach English as a second language to our immigrant members and their friends. I was very nervous about this calling, in part because I had no idea how to do it. However, I also have auditory processing disorder, and it is very difficult for me to understand people with accents. I spent a great deal of time praying about this specific concern and asking for help. Then I went to work. I talked to my leader, who teaches ESL, and got some very basic advice. I also went onto the Internet and began to research how to teach ESL. The day I was asked to speak in church to introduce the program, a woman arrived who is a trained ESL teacher. She offered to take on the advanced students, leaving my assistant and me to focus on the beginning and intermediate students. We had no doubt she was sent into our congregation by God because we desperately needed her.
Our first classes didn’t go perfectly. I made my lessons much too complicated to carry out-a standard problem for me when I’m nervous. But over time, with more study and prayer, I became better at what I was doing. I stopped being scared every time I faced my class and began to get a feel for how the lessons should work. In time, I realized it was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done, and am currently planning to return to school as soon as possible to study in the field.
At the time I was called, I had no idea how to teach ESL. I specialize in teaching small children and generally feel sick at the thought of teaching adults, because I’m quite shy. Over the past year and a half, however, I’ve stopped being afraid of teaching adults, learned a new job skill, and gained new self-confidence. My prayers about my challenges with language were answered and I can now understand people with accents easily.
This is not a calling I would have volunteered for, even though I’d always thought it would be interesting. I was too certain I couldn’t do it. However, the Lord knows me far better than I know myself, and He saw something in me I could not see in myself. Through callings, He was able to show me talents I didn’t know I had and was able to help me become more like the person He knows I can be.
I’ve often thought callings were one proof the church is true. It’s exactly how God would choose to run His church, because He wants us to become everything He created us to be. While we may not always have the self-confidence to tackle the hard things He has in mind for us, through a responsibility to accept callings, we can be placed in situations we consider beyond our capabilities.
Why do Mormons agree to spend a great deal of time on callings? Their primary motivation is love for God and faith in His requests of them. They understand it takes many people to make the Church run well and by doing their part, they’re helping to build the Lord’s kingdom. Frequently, a side benefit is that they learn to love the calling, make new friends, and develop new skills, but these extra blessings are not the real reason Mormons serve.
“You are called to represent the Savior. Your voice to testify becomes the same as His voice, your hands to lift the same as His hands. His work is to bless His Father’s spirit children with the opportunity to choose eternal life. So, your calling is to bless lives. That will be true even in the most ordinary tasks you are assigned and in moments when you might be doing something not apparently connected to your call. Just the way you smile or the way you offer to help someone can build their faith. And should you forget who you are, just the way you speak and the way you behave can destroy faith.
Your call has eternal consequences for others and for you. In the world to come, thousands may call your name blessed, even more than the people you serve here. They will be the ancestors and the descendants of those who chose eternal life because of something you said or did, or even what you were. If someone rejects the Savior’s invitation because you did not do all you could have done, their sorrow will be yours. You see, there are no small callings to represent the Lord. Your call carries grave responsibility. But you need not fear, because with your call come great promises.” (See Henry B. Eyring, “Rise to Your Call,” Ensign, Nov 2002, 75).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.