Last week, “Pam” asked us whether we are ever justified in saying no to a church calling. She said she sometimes gets a calling at a time when her personal circumstances don’t allow her to take on anything else. Other times she gets a calling she doesn’t think she can do.

Meridian readers have come to Pam’s rescue, with more advice than she ever thought she’d get. Let’s see what this week’s batch has to say:

I was just looking at the scripture where the Savior tells us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect.” At first reading you want to think, how is that done, and what a daunting thing to think of. How can I become perfect?

Now as to your feelings to accept a calling you feel you can’t accomplish, the next thought that comes to my mind is “All thing are possible with God.”

All of us are just like Pam, but we all have different talents, and some members just seem to be perfect for certain callings. But this is what I think. As we know, we were put here to grow and to be on the right path to becoming perfect. We know that the Savior can do anything, and that is how he changes you and me,

In this school to become perfect, our leaders are called by revelation and likewise so are the callings that come to us in life. When we are on the Lord’s errand, then we qualify for the Lord’s help, and He does just that; He takes us from the feeling of I can’t do this, to instilling within us, I will help you along.

Pam, the Lord will make you perfect. Changes in you and your feelings will come, sometimes so unnoticeable that we don’t see the changes. Before you know it, you’re there, you’re qualified, and the Lord has instilled within you the confidence you need to lead and to help others become closer to Him and his beloved Son. That is how we become perfect.

The Lord promises that he will send angels to bear us up, and Pam, he does. You’re in the kingdom of God. You’re His beloved child, and He will be there always to bear you up.

On the Way

Thanks, On the Way, for reminding us that we’re all on the same journey. It’s a lovely reminder, too, that angels will be there to bear us up in our weaknesses.

I’ve had many different callings in my adult lifetime in the Church, and I have to admit there were some that the mere thought of them brought me to tears. Fortunately I’ve always had the time and life situation to be able to fulfill them and I have to admit those that I dreaded the most were often the ones that taught me the most valuable life’s lessons.

However I do think it’s appropriate when a priesthood leader meets with us to discuss a possible calling, to let him know our life situation. It is sometimes the case that, while we might be well qualified to serve and might even have a strong desire to serve, our life situation is not one to enable that serving at least at this time. Excessive work hours, ill health of ourselves or a family member, excessive travel, work days and times that conflict with our serving, and any other special needs or burdens – these are all things we should share with our Priesthood leader.

So rather than “turning down a calling” I would recommend counseling honestly and with wisdom with our priesthood leader. In some cases once the situation is made clear a gracious decision will be made that the calling will not be extended at this time.

Additionally, should we accept a calling and our there is a change in our life situation, we don’t need to be plagued with thoughts that asking to be released is less than faithful. Instead I would recommend that we go and counsel with our priesthood leader and keep him appraised as to our new situation so that he can make a wise decision.

Sandee Spencer

I’ve had that experience too, Sandee. Sometimes priesthood leaders aren’t aware of your circumstances when they meet with you to issue a calling. If you tell them what’s going on in your life, they sometimes change their minds and do not extend that calling.

We’ve been told and taught that we are not called because we have the skill for a particular calling and that the Lord will help us magnify that calling.  I have on a couple of occasions, turned down callings for reasons that at the time seemed reasonable and logical to me.  Later I have realized that I said no for purely selfish reasons. 

On the other hand I have had been asked to do things I didn’t feel I had the skills for and have prayed about it and felt supported.  I have also had callings that were really stressful and that I hated but with patience and the help of the Lord have maybe not come to love the calling but have grown from it. 

Also there is a wonderful article in a recent Ensign from someone who was called as a pianist but she knew nothing about music or even how to play the piano. She accepted the calling and her family sacrificed for her to learn to play the piano and they enjoyed many blessings because of her willingness.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I used to believe that we know ourselves and could pray to see if the calling was right for us and then we could say no.  But now, through behaving badly and feeling chastened, I believe that if we humbly accept any calling and do our best that is all that is necessary.  We do not have to do the calling perfectly to be magnifying that calling.  The Lord is more interested in a humble and willing heart that in someone who can be a shining star.

Jamie Costello
Ft. Belvoir, Virginia

What a great last sentence, Jamie! That’s a reminder we all need.

I have always been told that you should always accept a calling. 

I felt guilty about turning a calling down and I only did it once and I have regretted it. It was to be the choir director. I only play the piano, barely.  And I was a full-time college student and a full-time mom and wife. So I thought I did not have time to learn. 

But as the years have gone by I wish I would have said yes.

Now when I get asked to have a calling I tell the person asking all the reasons that I think would make a difference in my taking the calling  (time, skill, temperament) and let the person making the calling see if that is what they are willing to work with.  If he still wants to extend the calling, I ask that when they set me apart that they put the blessing in to cover all my concerns. 

I was asked to be the nursery leader many years ago and told the bishop that I really did not like small children and I had a hard time with my own when they were that age.  He did not extend the call.  Now I think if I was called to nursery I would do great. I have mellowed over the years. 

When the calling came for teaching seminary I told the stake person that I work full-time and travel a lot.  He said, “Okay. Do your best.”  So when he set me apart he added the help that since I had previously taught seminary that I would remember the lessons from the past, be able to feel the spirit and that the prep time would not be an issue with all of my other duties as a busy executive.  And you know that blessing has been a “blessing” as I have been able to teach and have a great class.      

Have Learned  

Thanks for sharing your experiences, HL. As we can see, every case is different – even when it’s callings issued to the same individual.

I have been in the position that Pam talks about.  In one case I do not think I really got the calling “right” and I was not there very long.  In another I was finally able to turn my heart to the calling and learn what I needed to know.  Although I think I could have done a better job at it, I also think I learned things I never would have otherwise. 

Elder Maxwell said, “Whom the Lord calls. He qualifies.”  I believe that the Lord knows more about us than we know ourselves, and that He knows whether or not we are capable of whatever it is He is asking us to do.  If we do not have the appropriate skills needed at the time, He will enable us to learn what it is we need to know. 

Becoming Qualified

Thanks for reminding us of Elder Maxwell’s quote, Becoming. That’s something I lean on all the time. What a wonderful promise!

This is my mother’s lesson in declining a calling.

My mother had the same question given to her. She was asked to fulfill a job in the Church for the summer months. She declined, saying she was too busy with young children.

Shortly after declining she was taken sick with rheumatoid arthritis. It left her bedridden for the whole summer months. My father had to lift her to and from bed to table, toilet and car to see the doctor. After the summer months were over she got better.

She told the Lord that she would never decline another calling in the Church again, and she kept that promise. She said that she did not do what she was going to do for the summer any way. She could have been serving the Lord, she said.


Now that’s a powerful lesson, Darrel! Thanks for sharing it.

We have often heard the phrase, “Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.”

I have noticed lately that some of the women called to be the chorister in my ward Relief Society have absolutely no idea how to lead music, so I keep my eyes on the hymn book and don’t watch the chorister.

One woman who was recently called admitted to me that she knows nothing at all about music or how to lead. I told her I would be willing to help her to learn, but so far she has not contacted me. But the last time she led the singing, I noticed she was getting better. So perhaps the phrase is true.

After all, if we believe the bishop is inspired in his callings, then we should believe the Lord wants us to have the callings we are given. Perhaps if people don’t feel comfortable accepting a calling, they should pray about it before accepting or declining. Or maybe they could ask the bishop if he felt inspired to give this call or was he just going from a list of people that didn’t have callings yet.

Sometimes bishops don’t use the power of inspiration that is given them. I believe my bishop is an inspired man, but I was recently called to be the ward choir accompanist. I believe I was called because I had been doing it already for a couple of months as there was no one else who would do it. But we need to remember that we are often given callings that may be out of our comfort zone or area of expertise because they Lord wants us to learn something new and to expand our horizons.

That said, I’d have to think twice and pray really hard before I would accept a calling in Primary!

Salt Lake City

I’d be scared out of my mind to accept a calling in the Primary, Sharee. Of course, I used to say the same thing about Young Women, and I love it there. Once we get out of our comfort zones, we can sometimes find ourselves getting comfortable anyway.

Several years ago, my bishop told me, “The Lord wants you to serve in Primary and be a spiritual influence.”  He then called me to be the pianist. When I asked how I could meet the Lord’s expectations from a piano bench, he acknowledged that he didn’t know.  He just knew that is where the Lord wanted me to be.  Since he phrased the call as he did, I accepted, with great reservations.  

It took five minutes in our Primary to see that the children were not being taught reverence and weren’t expected to behave in a reverent manner.  There was little I could do, except intervene when the behavior became too outrageous, and the teacher was oblivious.  After a year and a half, I asked to be released.  I was disappointed he didn’t call me to a position where I could have made a difference.

I’m not sorry I accepted, but still wonder if the bishop was engaging in what I consider to be “spiritual extortion.”  

More recently, a bishop’s counselor called me to be an assistant Cub Scout den mother.  I informed him I would have happily accepted the calling 45 years ago when my son was a Cub.  But at my age (73)  and with my other volunteer activities in the Church and in the community, I did not have the time or energy to work with young boys.  I did not feel any guilt, and wondered if they really thought this is where the Lord wanted me to be.

I know my bishopric has no idea what I do with my time.  I serve in the temple two days a week and at the local hospital one day.  I am also a willing volunteer for special events at two historic homes in my community.  I am as busy as I want to be, and don’t need anyone feeling as if I need something to fill my days.

Actively Engaged

Wow, Actively! How blessed you are to have such health and energy at age 73!

Young people (including men who serve in bishoprics) often think people of retirement age are sitting around crocheting doilies. There’s nothing wrong with crocheting doilies if that’s what floats your boat, but these days, older people are usually out doing something worthwhile. Thanks for all your community service. What an inspiration you are!

As a general rule, I don’t turn down callings.

I have sat in many bishopric meetings over the years (as a ward clerk and as an executive secretary)  and seen the turmoil and wrestle with the Spirit that is often experienced just to find the right person for an unfilled calling.  I know of the inspiration that is felt in choosing a person for a specific job.

Generally, the prayer is asked in such a way to know: “Is this a calling that Brother Johnson can do?  Is this a calling that can bless Brother Johnson’s life?  Is this a calling where others can benefit from Brother Johnson?”  Often, we would be on our knees in silence for several minutes, awaiting inspiration for each calling.

When Heavenly Father, through the Holy Ghost, answers those types of questions to the positive, you know that the calling is inspired.  In these wards, callings often lasted for years and almost no one ever turned one down.

On the other hand, I worked with another bishopric that never asked those types of questions.  They never prayed individually on names.  They would pray at the beginning and end of bishopric meeting for inspiration, assuming that everything that happened between opening and closing prayer was covered.  In that ward, several people would turn down callings and some callings were changed every few months.

I moved into a new ward in the 90’s and was extended a calling to work with the youth on MIA night on the very first day of my attendance.  What that bishopric didn’t know was that my occupation required me to work five evenings a week.  My only evenings off were Sundays and Mondays, and this could not be changed.  I explained this to the bishop, giving him the reason I couldn’t accept the calling.  He withdrew the calling and asked me the following week to do something else, which I did for the next year and a half.

It was pretty obvious that they hadn’t prayed about this one, as I arrived in town Saturday morning, showed up for church on Sunday, no one knew I was coming, and the bishopric hadn’t had time to even pray about a calling for me.  This was a calling of “desperation” and not “inspiration.”  They were just trying to fill a slot and picked the new guy that walked in the door.

I once lived in a stake where the entire stake presidency, the stake clerk, the stake executive secretary, and ten of the twelve high councilmen all came from the same ward.  The stake presidency had all come from the Mormon Colonies in Mexico, and so did all but one of the bishops in that stake.  In this stake, it seemed like callings were based on “relation” and “location” instead of “inspiration.”

When a bishopric (or stake presidency)  does their due diligence, puts in the time and effort to pray for guidance, waits for an answer, makes sure that they are unified in their inspiration, and then acts on that answer, you can be sure that the will of the Lord is being followed in issuing a calling.

If you have doubts, however, you should pray together with the bishop (or member of the bishopric issuing the calling)  and seek inspiration.  If your answer is not immediately required, don’t give an answer yet and take some time to pray on your own.  If the Lord told the bishop one thing, he ought to tell you the same thing.

I have had several callings over the years that didn’t seem to fit me, but they provided growth and learning and blessed my life.  This was due to bishoprics that sought guidance and inspiration in issuing callings to the members of their ward.

Alan W. Hatch

Las Cruces, New Mexico

What a great letter, Alan! It shows that every bishopric is different, and that some seek the Spirit and others sometimes fly by the seat of their pants.

I have been told that the Lord always drops the mantle on the bishop, but that it’s up to the bishop to catch it. That’s a humorous way of saying that some bishops rely on inspiration more than others. No matter which bishop we have, we owe him our sustaining vote (followed by our sustaining actions). But if we have a bishop who is in the fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants category, it’s great to know that we have the option of praying for ourselves to see if a calling that has been extended to us has been divinely inspired.

I think it is important to be honest with your bishop about what you can or cannot do. I can see that it could be frustrating for a bishop when there is difficulty filling a nursery or Primary position, for example.

I remember once being called to the bishop’s office and asked to accept a calling. When I heard the calling, I started to cry. I felt this call would be way more than my supportive nonmember husband would understand and support.

I did not have to say that, because my perceptive bishop immediately said, “Maybe I made a mistake.

Let’s both pray about it, and I will talk with you next Sunday.”  When we met the following week, he apologized and said he had something else in mind for me.

I have enjoyed stretching for a calling and am not afraid of a challenge. Still, the bishop may not be privy to all that is going on in your life and what you can manage at a particular time. The bishop may see a potential that you do not realize you have. The Lord may need us in a place that is outside our comfort zone. But we are free to choose – that is why we can accept a calling or not.

Nancy Cavanaugh

What a great bishop you had, Nancy, to admit he needed to rethink a situation and then to do so. I love to see the way that different bishops serve in individual ways. What a wonderful church we have!

I wish this was clear-cut, but it really can feel murky!  I’m going to try wading in though.  Should you always accept callings, or are there times when it is okay to turn them down?

First, I have found that the Lord will always bless you for serving. Always.

Second, I believe you are responsible for going to the Lord for confirmation of a calling.  All the time.

Third, there are times when you need to talk whole heartedly with your bishop and explain your concerns. This is essential.  Bishops and their counselors are not omniscient; they just try the best they can.

Fourth, I think you need to be aware of your own biases against serving in whatever calling it is.  It may turn out to be the next step in becoming who you really need to become.

All that said, there are two kinds of callings, and I think we all can relate to them: callings of inspiration and callings of desperation.  Sometimes the person who should be called has turned it down and it has to be filled.  Make sure that it isn’t you rejecting the right calling.  

Sometimes the right person isn’t in the ward yet and the position must be filled.  Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of a particular person as it is some body.  (I have one of those callings right now.)  In fact, right now, I have a calling of inspiration and one of desperation and I have felt the difference but the other job must be done.  The Lord will bless me for the efforts I make. 

You too will find your life blessed and enriched for doing your duty regardless.  Remember too, that rarely is the best qualified (in the eyes of the world)  called into a position. Joseph Smith was certainly not qualified in any human’s eyes, so you have incredible company!  Too often when a person is “qualified,” he leans to his own understanding rather than to the Lord.

Serving Both Ways

I really like what you said about qualified people not leaning on the Lord, Serving. I have found that to be true in my own life when I receive a calling I’m qualified to hold. On one memorable occasion, God taught me a pretty dramatic lesson to remind me that without His help, there was no way I was going to be able to do the work He had in mind for me to do. After that lesson, I toed the line and looked to inspiration from the proper Source.

Callings can come from either inspiration or desperation.  When we are uncomfortable with a calling we are entitled to extra help.  We can ask for a week to pray about it before saying yes.  

None of us is qualified, so if we say not for that reason, the church will fall apart. On the other hand, if we get a bad feeling because the calling is not inspired, bad things can happen if we take it.  Taking extra time to pray and ask Heavenly Father what He thinks is best can give us peace of mind when we feel inadequate and help us to get the divine assistance we need to make up for our deficiencies.  

I have gotten help in callings where things which had always been difficult for me were possible, and as soon as I was released the skills went away.  Not taking a calling we are meant to have can deprive us of this kind of amazing experience.  

At the same time I once took a calling I had been prompted not to accept.  I ignored the prompting and said yes on autopilot, and the experience was a disaster.  The next time I was prompted to say no I asked for a week for the leaders and me to pray.  I never heard back, and the person who took the calling later bore her testimony about how much it had meant to her. Had I taken that calling she would have missed out on what was an amazing spiritual experience for her.  If we pray and follow the spirit, we will be safe.

Lucky Woman in Nursery (the best calling ever)

What a stellar experience, to be given skills just for the duration of a calling! Thanks for reminding us that if we pray and follow the Spirit, we will make the right decision – no matter what that decision may be.

Okay, people, that’s it for this week. Don’t bother sending in any more responses. I have tons of them to run in the next few columns! Thanks to all of you who participated.

Until next week – Kathy

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Colin Powell

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