Change in LDS leadership is interesting and unique and unlike any other religious organization. Most churches have a priest or some type of leadership for their local parish. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the local leaders are all lay leaders. They are just regular members of the congregation who serve for a limited time. The leader of the ward (parish) is a bishop. The bishop has two counselors and they comprise the bishopric. There are also two administrative callings which support the bishopric; the ward clerk and the executive secretary. They are also sometimes referred to as part of the bishopric and often are called and released at the same time as the bishop. Bishoprics usually serve for 5 or so years. They serve in the capacity as a bishop while living their regular life. For example they continue working in their profession, continue their other duties as a father, husband, etc. It’s not easy, but somehow the Lord seems to stretch your time so you can get it all done.
A couple weeks ago the stake presidency (also lay leaders usually called for 10 or so years), came to our ward and released our bishop, me (the first counselor) and the second counselor, as well as the ward clerk and executive secretary. I marveled at how in the Lord’s Church, this work is not about its leaders, it’s about Jesus Christ. No matter who is serving as the bishop, His work, the work of the Lord, moves forward. Serving in the bishopric, just like any other calling, is temporary.
After the stake president, who holds the priesthood keys for administering the affairs of the stake (a larger geographical area than a ward which comprises of multiple wards), released the bishopric, he then asked for a sustaining of the new bishopric which consisted of the new bishop, two counselors, a ward clerk, and an executive secretary. It was seamless, and the Spirit confirmed to me that this was the who the Lord would have lead the ward moving forward.
After the sacrament meeting, the stake president then laid his hands on the head of the new bishop and set him apart and gave him priesthood keys to administer in the affairs of the ward and to be a judge in Israel. After the bishopric was set apart we, the former bishopric and the new bishopric met in the bishop’s office. The new bishop sat where the former bishop sat for the previous few years, and we exchanged some information and gave them our physical keys to the church, bishop’s office, etc. The former bishopric left the ward in the capable hands of the new bishopric. We will all be called sooner or later to our next calling where we will serve. Just like that. This happens all over the world, and the Lord’s church moves forward.
I had the same experience as I left the mission field in France to come home. I thought of how the work will carry on without me. I put in my two years working hard, but the Lord prepared another missionary to take my place and carry on the work I was doing.
Today I watched the funeral proceedings of Elder Robert D. Hales. Elder Hales recently passed away while serving as an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are a few differences between serving as a bishop and as an apostle. Unlike the calling of a bishop, the calling of an apostle is a lifetime calling. They are expected to serve until God calls them back home. But just like the calling of the bishop, the Lord prepares someone to step in and move the work forward. The other 11 Apostles and three members of the First Presidency, all of whom are prophets, seers, and revelators, will pray, ponder and fast, and come up with a name of the new apostle to be called. This is the same pattern that the local stake presidency follows to call the new bishop. Most likely at the next general conference of the Church, the new apostle will be sustained by the general membership of the Church. He will be called for the rest of his life. The prophet and apostles hold all the keys of the priesthood needed to ordain new prophets and apostles to carry forward.
Elder Hales was a magnificent example of how the calling as apostle is not about the person, but it’s about the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ. At the most recent general conference of the Church held in Salt Lake City, Elder Neil L. Andersen, one of the apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve, shared a portion of the talk that Elder Hales had prepared and would have given if his health had been better. Elder Hales wrote, “When we choose to have faith, we are prepared to stand in the presence of God … Our faith prepares us to be in the presence of the Lord.” He was self effacing, always drawing us towards the Savior.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read in Section 121:
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Speaking of the process of reorganizing the First Presidency after the passing of the current prophet/president, President Hinckley said, “There is no electioneering. There is no campaigning. There is only the quiet and simple operation of a divine plan which provides inspired and tested leadership… There was no campaigning, no contest, no ambition for office. It was quiet, peaceful, simple, and sacred. It was done after the pattern which the Lord Himself had put in place.”
Church leaders and priesthood holders cannot keep the power of the priesthood or the Spirit of God if we try to operate in any way other than in righteousness. We cannot gratify our own pride. No one is better than any other person in the eyes of the Lord.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, currently serving as a counselor to the Prophet and President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, spoke about this in a memorable talk titled, Lift Where You Stand. In this talk he said, “No calling is beneath us. Every calling provides an opportunity to serve and to grow. The Lord organized the Church in a way that offers each member an opportunity for service, which, in turn, leads to personal spiritual growth. Whatever your calling, I urge you to see it as an opportunity not only to strengthen and bless others but also to become what Heavenly Father wants you to become… Brethren, as strong as you are, you cannot and you should not lift a piano by yourself. Likewise, none of us can or should move the Lord’s work alone. But if we all stand close together in the place the Lord has appointed and lift where we stand, nothing can keep this divine work from moving upward and forward.”
Back in 1844 in Carthage, IL, those who wanted to stop the progression of the Mormons thought if they could kill Joseph Smith, that it would be the end of the Church. That would have been true if it were the church of Joseph Smith. But it’s not. It’s the Church of Jesus Christ. Brigham Young had been given all of the keys of the priesthood, and was able to continue what Joseph Smith had started. And so it is today as new leadership comes into the Church.
Speaking of bishops, President Hinckley said, “… Every [bishop] is a man who has been called by the spirit of prophecy and revelation and set apart and ordained by the laying on of hands. Every one of them holds the keys of the presidency of his ward. Each is a high priest, the presiding high priest of his ward. Each carries tremendous responsibilities of stewardship. Each stands as a father to his people. None receives money for his service. No ward bishop is compensated by the Church for his work as a bishop.
The bishops of the Church … are in a very real sense the shepherds of Israel. Everyone [in the Church] is accountable to a bishop or a branch president. Tremendous are the burdens which they carry, and I invite every member of the Church to do all that he or she can to lift the burden under which our bishops and branch presidents labor.
We must pray for them. They need help as they carry their heavy loads. We can be more supportive and less dependent upon them. We can assist them in every way possible. We can thank them for all that they do for us. We are wearing them out in a short time by the burdens which we impose upon them.”
There might be certain bishops, stake presidents, apostles, or prophets who we connect with more than others, but we sustain and support the newly called leaders trust in the Lord. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing I’m looking forward to lift where I stand for my next calling.