People are really excited about the topic of wards where the leadership positions rotate among the chosen few. We have a bunch more letters today, and one of them actually informs us that the new church handbook addresses this issue. Once again, the general authorities are right on top of things (no surprise here!). Read on for people’s thoughts on the Same Ten People, followed by the Church’s official stance on the topic.
I have not only been in wards where STP was SOP (standard operating procedure), but one bishop stood at the pulpit and said this when he announced the new Relief Society president. “I interviewed the cream of the crop, and choose Sr. So-and-So.”
He interviewed just three sisters for the calling, and while I think his intention was to compliment the new Relief Society president, what he actually did was tell all the other 60+ active sisters in the ward that he didn’t interview that he didn’t consider them the “cream of the crop.” None of us was aspiring to the calling, but we all were hurt knowing he only thought those three were “the cream of the crop.
One family in our stake dominated all the leadership callings, and one daughter-in-law in that family told me she was exhausted from going from one heavy leadership calling to another even heavier calling, while expecting their fifth child and fighting lupus. She felt “picked on” just because she was part of that family, so STP can be a double-edged sword.
Not the Cream
Wow, Not, I’m sure the bishop didn’t intend to slight the rest of the ladies in the ward when he referred to the “cream of the crop,” but that’s exactly what he did. We all say things occasionally that make us kick ourselves afterwards, and I imagine your bishop winced as soon as he realized (or as soon as his wife told him!) how his statement would be taken by the rest of the women in the ward.
I used to want to be in leadership callings, and I’ve been in a few. I don’t value it at all now. Let someone else do all the work. There is no salvation in holding a certain calling, and I don’t need the validation of feeling like I was “chosen.” We all serve.
I’ve seen people get really puffed up when they received a certain calling — that was disgusting, actually. I think there are many bishops do the best they can with what they have. We hope. We all work for a penny at the end of the day, no matter how hot (or how “cool” the calling). Our goal is to be disciples of Christ. That is our real calling. Everything else is just administrative.
In the Background and Happy
Thanks for reminding us, Happy, what our real calling is. Everything else is just fluff. Fluff isn’t a bad thing, mind you. But in a church where our stated goal is to bring souls to Christ, sometimes we let peripheral things occupy all our thoughts and our effort.
Thanks for another stimulating question. When I was young I resented the STP and wanted a chance to serve so I could grow (I thought). What I really must have wanted was the perks of popularity that went along with it. I wanted to be in that in group that seemed just that teeny bit more righteous and wonderful than everyone else — the one everyone fluttered around (most likely asking for a piece of them). I know for sure they wore really nice clothes, and they always seemed to have everything all together. How about their hair? It was always flawless.
Well, I’m older now, and I sincerely realize that I simply don’t have what it takes to be a president of anything. Although I truly love children, young people, and the sisters in my ward, I suspect that my leadership skills are tin to their gold. I’m a very laid back person, and if you look at many of the women in these positions, they’re dynamos. I tire easily, and I’ve had all I can do to tend to my own business.
I have a dear friend who has been passed around from presidency to presidency all her life. Her husband was bishop at 26, for goodness’ sake. She is the most energetic person I’ve ever been friends with. Why she even likes me I’ve pondered over. Her home looks like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Yes, her hair is flawless, she is thin, and beautiful. She had six children.
My thought is this. These STP have a great deal of organizational skills, they have a great deal of ability. They have the talent to keep a ship afloat in stormy waters. If Jesus said, “Come,” they would step out onto the water. They also have a knack for recognizing what another woman can handle, and they usually recommend her name to the bishop. In short, they are natural born leaders.
I don’t think I’m a natural leader. If put in such a position, I think I could muddle through by calling really super assistants to help me, but it isn’t my thing. If I did it, something else in my life would have to go — most likely my husband of forty-two years. He happens to be a dynamo too.
I’m sorry if I’ve rambled on too much, but I’ve really thought about this a lot. I’m so happy to be in the library, or leading music, or working in the nursery or whatever position they give me. To be trusted in any capacity is a lovely experience.
So carry onward STP, and God bless you for your boundless energy, your competence, and your humble willingness to serve. At least I don’t have to do it.
Love your attitude, Krys! And I’m glad you don’t have to give up your husband of 42 years just to serve in a calling. He sounds like a keeper.
For what it’s worth, I feel the same way about callings as you do. When so-and-so gets called to a high profile position, I think, “She’s doing it so I don’t have to.”
Not only do we see the STP for callings but for speaking in church also.
We always get the “new” people who just move into the ward. Then, week by week, the old faithfuls are talking again, and again, and again. I even went to the bishopric and asked if they would sometime ask me to give a talk. They said, “Oh, sure.” That was five months ago, and again, and again, it’s the STP giving talks. What I think is happening is it’s a) last minute shuffling to make sure there’s a speaker, and they rely on the reliables, and b) last minute back-outs, for whatever reason…they pull in the same people in a panic to have a speaker.
We even had one priesthood holder who publicly stated that they should let someone else have the chance to speak, he had been asked so frequently. Well, they are still doing it and I have pretty much given up on that!
I feel your pain, Speechless. I have spoken in sacrament meeting four times in the twenty-four years I’ve been in the ward I’m in now.
I’m not particularly big on public speaking, and I do not consider this a hardship. However, I can easily see how people might feel slighted by being left out. I hope the people who are in charge of choosing speakers in your ward “remember” to call you in the near future. I’m sure you have something worthwhile to say.
When I was serving as the Young Women president years ago, my secretary was released and I had to find a new one. As I prayed about this position I kept getting the same name over and over. She was inactive and had Word of Wisdom problems. However, she was the one Heavenly Father wanted at this time. She was called and accepted the calling. She was a wonderful secretary. She came to all the presidency meetings and most of the Sunday meetings. She always let me know if she would not be there. I am so grateful that I listened.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Charlsie. I hope many leaders follow your example.
I would suggest that reference to the “Same Ten People” or “Same Twenty People” is an overly generalized statement. Although it is true that capable individuals are often asked to serve in multiple positions of leadership over the course of their lives, sometimes even repeating in the same organizations, it is equally true that many other individuals beyond the core 10 – 20+ families or individuals that form the nucleus of a ward are called to serve in wide varieties of responsible positions.
In the 36 years (13 wards in 4 states) since I returned from the mission field, I have served in nearly every position in the ward or stake organization, including nine years in a bishopric (3 1/2 as counselor, 5 1/2 as bishop). During one ten-year stretch, that included living in four different wards in two states, I served continuously as the scoutmaster. In another instance I served nearly consecutive terms in elders quorum presidencies — one stint as a counselor, and two stints as president. These three callings were extended in Arizona, Tennessee and Washington State respectively, in each case by leaders who had no knowledge of my prior service.
In each case where calls were repeated in different areas I attribute the repetition to inspiration, rather than the tone of desperation or expediency inferred in the STP model. As to the “why” question posed by Befuddled, I have no answer. The “why” as to callings in the Church is very personal and is generally only truly known by the recipient of the call.
During my tenure as bishop, I served with two Relief Society presidents. One was a single sister and the other married. Neither fit your STP description. Both were exceptionally capable women who served faithfully and well. Before extending their calls, I didn’t spend a lot of time considering whether these were “dark horse” candidates, or whether they had served in other responsible positions. They were simply the right person at the right time for the assignment.
My most cherished, and most oft-repeated, calling in the Church is home teacher. No matter where we go, I am always called as a home teacher. My deepest friendships and most cherished memories of church service are associated with close associations with home teaching companions and families.
In my experience, the best answer to your question is found in this well known and oft quoted statement from J. Reuben Clark, Jr. “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines.”
Happy to Serve
Thanks for writing, Happy. It seems the reason you never noticed the STP phenomenon was that you were one of the STP (it’s often the outsiders who are first to notice things like that), and when you became a bishop you were careful to choose the people the Lord wanted for callings, rather than the obvious choices.
As for your comments about home teaching, I’m so glad you stressed the importance of being a good home teacher. It blows me away how many responsible people in the Church would never miss a leadership meeting, but who think of home teaching as an optional activity. It isn’t. In fact, I suspect that a person’s diligence as a home teacher or visiting teacher may show his or her commitment to the gospel more than anything else he does in the Church.
I’m a branch president who’s tried to follow President Packer’s counsel about using people that might not come first to mind, and it’s worked beautifully for us. When considering people for a calling, we try to list every eligible member, not just those who appear most qualified.
We know callings can often be a stretch for our members, but as they accept and magnify the position, they grow — and they love it! My first counselor is a wonderful man who for a time was not active in the Church, but he has risen to the challenge magnificently. It’s been a delight for us to see how members thrive in unexpected callings, and the branch is doing great.
Looking for the Underutilized
What a great attitude, Looking! I wish we could clone you and send the clones out all over the Church.
I have been in wards that were filled with STP but. I would like to tell you a story of the other side of STP, or as you called it, the “dark horse.”
My son was called as the deacons quorum president, and he took his duty seriously. He prayed and he pondered. He went to the bishop with the names he received in answer to his prayers. One of those names was of a young man who wasn’t even a member of the Church. His mother had been as a young person, but fell away. She had been bringing her sons for scouts for a couple of years, but they had never been baptized.
The bishop said that he almost laughed when he saw the choices. He explained to my son that this young man wasn’t a member and asked him to choose another, but my son stuck to his guns. The rest of the quorum was sustained and months passed with the position open.
The bishop passed the information on the boy’s mother, and it was a point for change. Within six months the whole family was baptised and the position in the deacons quorum was filled.
It has been life changing for this family, and only because of a calling.
Mother of One Who Listened
What a great story, Mother! You must be proud of having a son who listens to the Lord and then follows the counsel he is given. In this case, his courage may affect generations of people in that one family.
I am a convert, have been a member for more than 30 years, and have never even heard the term STP (same ten people).
When I was called as Relief Society president, I had moved into my ward just one year earlier and still felt fairly new myself. I had served previously as a Primary president and also in a stake Primary presidency, as well as other callings of Sunday School teacher, library worker, and in other callings in wards we’d live in prior to this one.
My bishop told me that who I called as counselors and secretary was entirely up to me, the Lord, and revelation. He did tell me that it was important to choose counselors with whom I felt I could work, because work was our objective. He also, however, suggested that because working in a Relief Society presidency was an intense learning opportunity in service that I might want to consider members of the ward who were, shall we say, unexpected candidates and who could benefit from this sort of service and rise to new levels. He also told me that he was willing to release from other callings whomever the Lord wanted in this newly-formed presidency.
So I made a list of all the women in the ward, age 18 and older, and spent much time in prayer and fasting and asking the Lord who He wanted to have work in these positions. I mentally took the list with me to the temple and there the names of three women, whom I would not have guessed, were put into my mind. It turned out that two of the three had served in presidencies before (one as a Relief Society president), both in other wards in other parts of our country. The third, the secretary, had not filled such a position before. A side note is that just last month, that third woman was called to serve as a counselor in our current Relief Society presidency. The other two women have moved out of my ward and, I am certain, are now serving in whatever positions they’ve been called to.
I feel that my experience with choosing counselors is probably typical of how presidencies are formed and of what the Lord wishes to occur in his Kingdom.
I truly do not understand how as members of the Lord’s kingdom here on Earth any of us have time to dwell on something as silly and divisive as the concept of the STP! For heaven’s sake, if you are working below your capacity and feel that you have more to give, I know that any bishop I’ve ever served under would be thrilled for you to let him know this! So please, open your mouth to others, and let them know your wishes and heart’s desire, and soon you won’t have time to be creating an STP list — you’ll be busy serving those with true needs, and the blessings of that service will flow back to you!
A Sister Just Like You in Nevada
You are fortunate to have had the bishops you have, Sister. As you can see from some of the letters in today’s column, even those who ask do not always receive.
But I do agree with you that there are opportunities for service whether or not you have a responsible church calling. If you look around in any ward you will see needs that are not being met. If you find that need and fill it, you can bless the lives of many — even if you haven’t been called and set apart for your service.
I have been in the STP position, but not as an auxiliary leader though I would be happy to do any of those as well. Having been very close friends with the bishops of these wards, I have come to learn, when I have asked this same question prior to accepting a calling, that most of the time it is because they have a very short list of people to choose from that are even willing to serve in the ward at all. I personally find that very sad. Those that are not willing to serve or feel they have done their time in service are only hurting themselves. They are denying themselves of blessings Heavenly Father is so very willing to bestow upon them.
When I see the same people being moved around between auxiliary presidencies, I do not consider that they are the only ones willing to serve in those positions, but just the right ones for that time — even if there may be someone else who is perfectly willing to do so. Perhaps there are some that just are not prepared for those callings yet.
I would like to think that our bishoprics are not just filling spaces, but are seeking for inspiration as to who is right and then checking again to make sure the person selected is the right one for the job. I would also like to think that individual spiritual preparedness is what determines the Lord calling a person through the bishop to those callings. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I am grateful that I was able to spend the first several years of my membership in the Primary learning, teaching, and sharing the foundations of the gospel.
Michelle in Virginia
That’s a great attitude, Michelle. It’s always better to focus on what we are doing, what we are learning, and how we can improve, than it is to focus on the possible advantages or even the shortcomings of others.
Long ago I was called to be the Primary president in our small ward (now branch). I was able to quickly discern who my first counselor should be — a sister who was capable with music. However, I had difficulty discerning who should be my second counselor. I submitted the name of a woman who was quite capable and known to be good with children. However, I was turned down, as she was given a calling in another organization.
When I questioned why I had a received a good feeling about her being called into the Primary, it was explained that she no doubt would have done a fine job there. But the Lord wanted her elsewhere!
I spent some time pondering other sisters for the position and could not come up with anyone who felt “right.” Finally, after reviewing the entire list of sisters in the ward, I focused on an inactive sister. Considering her seemed to feel right. I submitted her name for the calling, and she accepted! This sister had become inactive due to an alcoholic, nonmember husband. But she was willing to accept the calling, because she loved children. I feel that she did have a testimony but had just struggled with her personal situation.
She served in this calling very faithfully for the duration of our time as the presidency of the Primary. She had been willing to stand firm for this opportunity, and her husband eventually accepted the situation. She was one of the sweetest and most loving sisters and served the children so faithfully.
A Sister in Kansas
Thanks for reporting your good experience with personal revelation, Kansas. You will never know how much you blessed not only the children of the Primary, but also this particular family.
The STP is something we talk about in our ward all the time, however it because our ward is very small and we have too many inactive or unwilling people. As one of the STP I am willing, but would really like a break now and then.
I believe that bishops usually work hard and are inspired with their choices, but I am sure that there are times when that just isn’t so.
I don’t think there is really an answer to this issue. Being a bishop is a really hard job, and those of us not in the bishopric do not know all that goes on in the ward and the reasons that the “really good spiritual people” are not chosen, or turn down the calling. I choose to accept the way things are, and do my best wherever I am.
I’m afraid in small wards people often turn into the STP because nobody else will do the work, Teresa. Bless you for continuing to work even though you would sometimes prefer a well-deserved rest.
I guess we don’t have this problem to the same degree in the UK as the wards are smaller, 80-120 people being the norm. Everyone that is willing to serve usually has a calling of some kind. Being an auxiliary leader here can mean routinely travelling long distances for meetings, early Sunday morning meetings, which some people either cannot do or don’t wish to do.
Sometimes sisters just have too much on their plate, such as family problems or a husband with a demanding calling. Most sisters get to serve as counselors in an auxiliary. Just because you don’t get called to a position doesn’t mean you are not as good as those that are. I am quite happy to work in my assigned sphere, being a leader is a burden I would be loathe to bear.
Vim from the UK
I’ve often wondered, Vim, how it would be to serve in a small ward where everyone is needed. Thanks for sharing your experience.
In two different military wards, I was called as second counselor in the Primary presidency. I also was the assistant stake girls camp director in both of those wards. Since moving to a non-military ward, I have been in (mostly) Primary teaching callings (which don’t get me wrong, I love teaching in Primary). The same (STP) home grown people are called for the presidency callings. This goes for our stake too.
We are not from this area, and there are a lot of large families from which the presidencies seem to be picked. I know (from previous experiences) know I can contribute, but am not asked. In fact a few years ago, one of the Primary presidents told me she had asked numerous times for me to be called as a counselor, but was put off for my name to be accepted. It sure can hurt feelings, but it doesn’t shake my testimony (I know others may be affected by this phenomenon though).
I really related to your letter, Becky. I once had a bishop who would tell people who asked for me in a calling that I was “not available for callings.” I was a temple worker at the time, so worthiness wasn’t an issue, but I went without a calling in my ward for nearly three years. Talk about feeling unloved!
I finally had a Relief Society president who would not let the bishop tell her no. After many months of persisting, she convinced him to let her call me as a Relief Society teacher. I haven’t been without a calling since, but I know how it feels to be “unemployed” in the ward — and it’s a bummer. Good for you for keeping a good attitude anyway.
For years I wondered why I was never called to leadership positions. I was always called to teaching positions where I grew with each opportunity. Then I read my patriarchal blessing through again. It tells me that I have been called as a teacher. The verbiage is specific and focused — one of the gifts I have been given is the gift to teach. With that reassurance in hand I moved forward and made the best of whatever calling I received.
Then came the time when I was called to serve in first the Young Women presidency and shortly after that the Primary presidency. Both experiences have been a tremendous blessing in my life, and I have learned volumes. The abilities and talents needed for leadership positions are quite different than what is needed for other positions. The three-yearish commitment required to serve in a presidency and the “little extras” required for these callings has been an eye-opening experience and given me an even greater appreciation for those who are called, commit the time and effort, and honorably fill these callings repeatedly.
We all understand that we should not seek specific callings. However, if you feel the desire to render greater service in the Church, call any of your auxiliary presidents and offer your time and energy. Having now served in more than one presidency, I can tell you that your offer of assistance will be a welcome offer and warm the hearts of these sisters who give so much. This is also a good topic to discuss with your bishop. Share with him your desire to serve more and I’m sure he will help you find a way to do so.
That’s a great reminder, Tammy. It’s always a good idea to refresh yourself by reading your Patriarchal Blessing when you’re confused about something. Often those blessings offer clarification that make the concept of blooming where you’re planted not only bearable, but joyous. And your counsel to go to auxiliary presidencies and ask how you can offer additional service is purely inspired.
Now, as promised, is a letter from a bishop who quotes the handbook for us. He also has some good advice of his own, so be sure to read his whole letter without skimming for the handbook quote:
I have been serving as a bishop for almost four years. I have seen many wards where the “same ten people” are used continually in presidencies. One may be released as a president in one auxiliary to be called as a counselor in another auxiliary. There is always a temptation to call those who have great experience or skills. They get the job done and even make you look good in the process. In these wards, I’ve noticed that the programs of the ward run smoothly.
But I’ve wondered about who is missing out on an opportunity to learn and grow. I’ve also wondered about the impact on the families of those who are continually called and re-called to leadership. Although our church service is always a blessing, this blessing needs to be shared across a ward family. In my opinion, it takes greater faith and trust in the Lord to go beyond the “experienced few” and truly call whom the Lord has called to serve.
I was heartened to see this addressed in the new handbook (available online at www.lds.org) in section 3.3.3:
“In some wards, leaders rely repeatedly on a small group of people to give service in priesthood and auxiliary organizations. This can overburden the faithful few, and it can also deprive others of experiences that could help them learn and grow.
“Effective leaders give all members opportunities to serve. As presiding officers prayerfully consider members to fill leadership and teaching positions, they should remember that the Lord will qualify those He calls.
Members do not need to be highly experienced before serving as teachers and leaders. They can learn from experience, by exercising faith and working diligently, and by receiving instruction and support from their leaders.
“Presiding officers look for ways to give service opportunities to new members, members who are returning to Church activity, and young single adults. New and returning members are excited about the restored gospel, and they are often ready for opportunities to serve others and learn about the Church. Young single adults need opportunities to contribute to the Lord’s work and grow spiritually.”
When we need to identify ward leaders, we always ask, “What would be best for the auxiliary or quorum?” After identifying who could help achieve this, we prayerfully consider what would be best for individuals in the ward. Would the calling bless them and their family?
It’s an interesting and purifying process. Sometimes, one of the more experienced people are called to lead an auxiliary. Sometimes though, the Lord calls an inexperienced member to serve. This is particularly sweet. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work as well. But in each situation, I’ve come to learn that our role as priesthood leaders is to call the person the Lord has called and then do all in our power to make it a successful experience for them.
Two recent experiences:
1. We had a sister who had not attended for many years. We began the process of fellowshipping her family. After prayerfully considering their situation, a call to serve was extended. She accepted. She returned to church. Her daughter was baptised. She is now serving faithfully in an auxiliary presidency in the ward.
2. We recently had boundary changes in which half of our ward council ended up in different wards. A lot of our “leadership depth” was gone. It was humbling as a bishopric to counsel, fast and pray together to identify whom the Lord would have us call.
When leaders were called, we trained (and continue to train) our ward council that one of the great legacies they will leave is to train up their replacements. This is taught powerfully by Elder David A. Bednar, who said:
“I think leadership includes both what you do and what you leave. What you do is necessary but not sufficient; it’s not enough. The most important thing is what you leave when you’re not there, and the most important thing you can leave are people who have increased in capacity and confidence.
“That originates, in my experience, when I was called the first time to be a stake president; the call was extended by Elder H. Burke Peterson. It was in the mid 1980s and I will never forget the first thing he said after he extended the call. He looked at me and he said, ‘Now, your greatest responsibility is to begin right now, training a multitude of men who can replace you.’ Now, I had just been called. I mean I’m in shell-shocked at being the stake president and he’s telling me to think down the road about the need to be a large number of men whom the Lord could call on to be the next president of this stake. And that influenced, I think, almost everything I thought and did during eight years of serving as a stake president.” (“A Conversation on Leadership,” 24 February 2010).
Train up a Replacement
What a great letter, Train! It was so helpful for you to quote the handbook, but the rest of your letter was equally valuable. Thanks for writing.
Okay, people, and I am serious about this, please do not send any more letters on this subject. In fact, we have enough letters already for two more columns on the subject, so I am putting an asterisk in my email box and not even reading any more letters that come. Save your words for our next topic!
Until next week — Kathy
“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life ofservice and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”