In January 1996, I was called and ordained Bishop of the Flowell Ward. That was a challenging but rewarding time of service in my life and the lives of my family. A little over two years later in April 1998 I was called and set apart as Second Counselor in the Stake Presidency in the Fillmore Utah Stake and released as acting Bishop. Nine years later, in April 2007, I was released from the Stake Presidency.
I must say my time as Bishop was enjoyable. I knew the trials and needs of my ward members and fought the fight with them to overcome those issues. It was an intimate and sacred relationship with people. I loved working with the youth. Here again this calling to minister in that close relationship was pleasant and fun. During this time I extended countless calls and releases of assignments to members of the Ward.
I really loved serving in the Stake Presidency although the calling is much more administrative than serving as Bishop. We had 8 Wards in the Stake plus a Branch at the County Prison and a Spanish Group. When you think about 16 Melchizedek Priesthood units (High Priest Groups and Elders Quorum Presidencies), 8 Bishoprics, the High Council and all the Stake Auxiliary Presidencies and other Stake callings, you realize the large number of people to call and set apart and release during the normal rotations of callings. We also had ward conferences almost every month, Stake Priesthood meeting twice a year, Stake Conference twice a year and quarterly Stake auxiliary leadership meetings. I spoke frequently and became acquainted with almost every member of the stake. During that time I extended many calls and releases of assignments to members of the Stake.
After my release from the Stake Presidency in 2007, I was called and released as a Primary Teacher for 6 year olds, then a few years as the Young Men President and finally a year as the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine instructor. On 10 February 2012 at 2:30 pm, President Henry B. Eyring called us to serve as President of the Belgium Netherlands Mission. This call also has a release attached to it.
I have learned something about church callings which are every bit applicable to callings or assignments for missionaries here in the Mission. Callings, just like transfers, come from the Lord. He may not appear in vision to the ecclesiastical leader and tell him who to call and what to do. I doubt he ever works that way. But, he is in charge as the leader considers the circumstances, does his best to make good decisions, struggles, prays about it, makes adjustments and finally feels good about the assignments and persons involved. At the end of the day, things always miraculously work out right and for a purpose. There are no accidents. The Lord looks at the heart not the outward appearances (1 Sam. 16:7) and callings are not a function of earning them, deserving them, campaigning for them or taking turns according to seniority.
Every call in the church has attached to it a future release. The timing of the release is usually not known when the call is given. Essentially, a period of time is allowed for service and work. If you use your time wisely and do your best, your inevitable release will come with no regrets. But when it is over it is over and it is time, in the Lord’s calendar, for someone else to step up.
All callings in the LDS Church are lateral moves. There is no ladder to climb. The most important job in the Church or on a mission is the job you currently are assigned. While you hold a calling, nobody else in the church or the mission can do that assignment for you because you have the responsibility not them. I did not view my Primary Teacher position any less important than my service in the Stake Presidency. The most important thing about callings is to do your assignment well. When you excel at your job, the Lord will move you to other interesting and challenging positions over time through the inspired calls from your ecclesiastical leader. This is also a true principle in business or in any walk of life.
I refer to key leadership calls made to individuals who are unworthy, have not excelled or proven themselves in other callings or just need something to get them going in the church, a “Project Call.” Project Calls in my experience seldom work out. If people do not make things happen in their current job, why should one expect them to instantly become productive in a different assignment?
We believe, as members of the church, that we were foreordained in the preexistence to perform our called labors on earth. However, be careful with this thought, we were chosen in the sense to fulfill a mission on earth and to perform our labor. We are not chosen to relax, think well of ourselves or to boast. It is not just a birthright, but a birthright of work. Experiences of the apostle Paul teaches this principle.
Saul had left Jerusalem to capture Christians in Damascus and return them bound to Jerusalem for punishment. He could see but was blind to the truth when he left Jerusalem. On the road to Damascus, Christ appeared and reprimanded him. As instructed he “arose from the earth” and was taken to Damascus, now blind but also seeing the truth. An angel told Ananias that “he is a chosen vessel unto me” Paul had been chosen long before he was on the road to Damascus.
8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink…
15 But the Lord said unto [Ananias], Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: (Acts 9:8-9, 15)
Joseph Smith taught, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before the world was.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings, p. 365). In fact, there appears to be a divine calendar on which the Lord works the sequence and order of every one of His Father’s children.
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: (Acts 17: 26-27)
Alma taught that every person who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood was foreordained to hold that Priesthood in the pre-existence. We were prepared according to Alma by the Lord, “from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.” (Alma 13: 3-9) Christ himself was chosen and foreordained for his ministry. (1 Peter 1:20) The Book of Mormon prophets foresaw: Joseph Smith (2 Nephi 3:6), John the Beloved, Columbus, the founding fathers of America, and many others. (1 Nephi 13:12,18) People who are foreordained to perform a work on the earth are given the opportunity to serve and to measure up to their potential. Church leaders were called and foreordained because God knew their capability based on their acts in the preexistence. (Abr. 3:22-23) However, free agency is completely adhered to. No one is predestined to do anything. One cannot doubt that Paul, with his free agency, put forth the effort to attain what he did once he was placed in his foreordained position on the road to Damascus.
Calls and assignments in the Mission and in life come and go, but your only concern should be to excel at whatever your assignment is at the moment. But, the question remains before you as a missionary, have you risen from the earth? You have or will be sometime confronted by the Lord on your own road to Damascus. You must rise from the earth and write your own book of acts since you are also a chosen vessel unto the Lord. You are chosen to perform a labor. I applaud your efforts here to attain what you are capable of doing.