There is a Christian pastor in my community that everybody adores. People from all over the city come to hear him preach. Many continue to attend their previous churches, but in addition, they flock to the sermons taught by this dynamic, well-spoken man. He is known by his first name only, like Cher, or Beyonce. Ill call him Biff.
I first began hearing of Biff when he was a pastor affiliated with a particular faith. I had clients that attended that church, and were extremely fond of Biff. Before long Biff left that faith and started his own church. Biff was creative in choosing the name of his church. It could have been called, “The friendly little church on the corner of 8th and Main” (a title I have actually seen), or “The Welcoming Eveybody Church.” Instead, he gave the church a title as clever as his own: one word, catchy, a word of his choosing, not chosen by Jesus Christ, of whom he preaches.
Such a creation would seldom evolve from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Biff were a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the minute he became so popular that people came to church just to hear him preach, he would be released.
Have you ever noticed the second you begin to feel competent in a calling, you get released? As Latter-day Saints we are reminded constantly that we are members of the church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of Biff, or Bert or Bob.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints callings come and go with amazing frequency. It is a tremendous amount of work for a bishopric, or a stake presidency to constantly be interviewing an organization president, all the counselors, eight people total, when a presidency is changed. You would think it would be far easier to leave things alone, and keep the same people in the same places for an extended period of time.
One of the reasons, change occurs in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to remind everybody, the person in the calling, and the persons he or she serves, that this is the church of Jesus Christ, and not the church of a man.
In fact, the only reason we ever become competent enough to merit release, is because of the grace of Jesus Christ that helped us learn, grow and excel at doing his work in the first place.
As Latter-day Saints, callings are not always so we can perform, but so we can grow. Once we have experienced the growth we needed, the purpose of the calling is often fulfilled. A perfect performance is not necessarily the purpose of the calling. We may convince ourselves into thinking we are offering others a tremendous gift by our service, and indeed, that may be the case, but we cant be deluded into thinking that is the entire reason we serve. We dont serve because we are so wonderful and the Church needs our talents so desperately. We need the Church. We need the opportunity to serve, to learn and to grow. The Church can always find somebody else to serve.
When I was called as the Primary Chorister (my favorite calling of all time) I noticed that there were hundreds of posters in the closet. Sometimes two or three posters existed for the very same song! I wondered why every new chorister felt she needed to re-make a poster that already existed? Why not use the one created by the person who had the calling before you?
My initial theory was that the new choristers couldnt find the posters because they werent organized, so I had a brother make a giant “filing cabinet” to store all these posters, and I alphabetized them, and labeled the backs so nobody would have trouble finding the poster they needed. Still, the new chorister would make her own poster, and then we would have four posters for the very same song.
Often people want to put their touch on a calling. They take a little too much ownership. They consider it “their” calling, and think they have the best ideas, and they want control.
In one ward I saw sisters “decorate” their calling to make it their own. As soon as they got called they would re-arrange the closet where their supplies were stored, or re-do the bulletin board, or bring in flower arrangements or other accessories to the room where they would serve.
It reminds me of the parking lot spaces at my childrens high school. One year the seniors decided to label their own parking spots. They brought paint, and “decorated” their parking spots, with their name, their sports numbers, and anything else they could find that would identify the spot as “theirs.”
Our callings are not “ours” any more than a parking slot is “ours.” It is a place where we serve for a period of time. Many have gone before, and many will follow thereafter. No matter where we serve, our calling it not our own. It is a slot that we will fill for a period of a time, not doing our own thing, but doing what the Lord wants.
Because we can be released from callings suddenly, and with no explanation, members often become offended. Some even leave the Church. We marvel that a hard-working bishop, or an enthusiastic Young Womens president would ever leave the organization he/she worked so hard to build. Yet, weve all seen it happen.
People get offended when released because they forget who they are working for. They forget that this is not the church of a man, but the church of Jesus Christ. The church wont succeed because of them, and it wont fail because of them. It will roll forward like the stone cut of the mountain.
Sometimes getting released stings because we think our efforts werent adequately appreciated. We may feel we were taken advantage of. We may feel we sacrificed too much for a cause, and are left with the detritus resulting from the sacrifice.
If we served for appreciation or if we served for recognition, we served for the wrong reason, and naturally we will be disappointed if we sought after a reward that wasnt to be had. Dallin Oaks shares healthy reasons for service in his talk, “Why Do We Serve?” (Nov. Ensign, 1984)
The most effective reason to serve is because we love the Savior and we want to bless his children. That is the nature of charity, the pure love of Christ, and “whosoever is possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”
JeaNette Goates Smith is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, Florida.
She is the author of Unsteady: Resisting the Rush to Romance, and Side by Side: Supporting a Spouse in church Service, available at amazon.com.