~by Jenny Pocock
Something unique about the Mormon faith that has greatly enriched my life is the multitude of opportunities for service. Many churches do massive amounts of service, but in the LDS church we also serve each other in set responsibilities referred to as “callings.” This results in blessings all around.
In the LDS church there is no paid clergy. Each local congregation has a pastor, what we call a bishop or branch president, who volunteers his time and abilities. Actually, the entire congregation is asked to serve in varied positions of responsibility. We call these jobs or positions “callings.” We believe that these calls to serve are made with inspiration from God, for the benefit of the congregation, community, and the person performing the service. The time a person serves in a specific calling is varied. Members serve until they are formally relieved of duty – what we call “being released.”
The attitude we are encouraged to take in performing our duties is one shown in Mosiah 2:17: “And behold, I tell you these thing that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (See also Matt 25:40.)
You might wonder how each person in a church congregation could hold a calling, as local congregations can range in size from 15 to 500. Teachers are the most common, and important, calling in the church. We need worthy, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic members to teach the gospel to our children, youth, new members, and adults. With three hours of meetings every Sunday and small class sizes for the children; it takes many hands to coordinate, supervise, and perform the teaching that takes place.
In addition to this each member that is willing and able is given the opportunity to be a visiting or home teacher. Women are visiting teachers who minister to the needs of individual women, while men are home teachers who minister to the needs of families. With people in the church receiving a monthly visit from their home and visiting teachers, and additional help if needed, there is no shortage of work to be done. There are various other callings in the church, such as financial clerk (keeps an accounting of monies donated and spent), secretaries (assist those in leadership positions to keep attendance records, take minutes of meetings and etc.), and mission leader (coordinating missionary efforts in the area) to name just a few. In a macro sense, this system of responsibility is orderly and efficient. In a micro sense it blesses individual lives, both those serving and those being served.
I believe God has confirmed each calling I have received in the church. When there is a need for someone to fill a position those in leadership take an accounting of who is worthy and able to serve, and then they council together and pray for the guidance of God. If a spiritual confirmation of the calling is given then the person is asked to serve (see Acts 1:22-26). It takes faith to accept a calling, to say, “Yes, I will take on that responsibility.” Once you take on that responsibility people depend on you to do it.
Every job I have performed in the church has been different. If I am asked to teach, there are variables that make each teaching positions unique. If I am teaching 2-year-olds it is much different than teaching a Sunday School class for adults. Because of this variety there is always something new to learn, new experiences to understand, and new friends to embrace. I’ve learned leadership skills from successful entrepreneurs and housewives. I’ve been taught gospel principles from a high school graduate with a stutter and a theological professor. I’ve been shown homemaking skills by a mother-of-the-year and a humble newlywed. This layman’s work shows me that God trusts us with the care of each other. He believes in our abilities, he knows we will rise to the opportunities that are given if we depend on him. And being dependent on God is an integral part of performing a calling well.
There are two things I find difficult about callings. It can be hard to get along with everyone. Trying to do what is required while working with people who have different ideas and personalities takes Christ-like attributes. Being put in these somewhat uncomfortable situations pushes me to be a better person. I learn more about Christ by realizing what it takes to serve in the manner that he would.
The other difficult thing about callings is that they don’t last forever. A calling can change at any time, although usually for continuity and ease, members are left in a calling for at least a year. There is a joke in the church that as soon as you master a calling it’s bound to change. We know one of the purposes of service is to learn, so if you’re doing well, it must be time to move on and learn something else. The hard thing is that often changing callings means changed relationships and a changed life.
When I work with someone I become attached to them, it can be a sibling-like relationship. I gain a love for those I serve. It feels like Christ is sharing his love of individuals with me. It is an amazing experience when you are sufficiently humble. But when the time comes to change callings it is hard to let go of those relationships that are built through service. It never really goes away because you still attend the same congregation, but you have less contact than when you were serving together. It is a life change as well, because your meeting schedule varies. The nights you might have previously been at home are now spent in service. This makes changes for your family as well as they adjust to your new schedule. These type of changes force me to be flexible and keep my priorities in line.
I often feel a confusing mix of emotions when my calling is changed. Those feelings can range from relief, shock, excitement, even dejection. Just as I must do in the calling, I must do when the calling changes. I have to rely on God, that he will help me through the changes. He will help the person who now has that stewardship to take care of those I have come to love through serving them. These frequent changes in callings keep me humble, which isn’t necessarily a comfortable thing.
As the congregation serves in these callings it develops unity, a loving reliance on each other. While I teach the younger children in Primary, someone else is teaching my teenage daughter, while my husband teaches the teenage boys. It creates a web of interconnectedness that brings everyone together.
I am a better person because I have been called of God to serve his children. It is an opportunity he wants everyone to have. The more I put my soul into the work, the better it is for me, and those I serve. I am grateful to the many people who have allowed me to serve them and to the people that have patiently taught me how to serve. These experiences are another witness to me that this is God’s church and that he has a wonderful plan to help us grow and progress.
Jenny, what a thorough explanation of callings!
After being called to a new position I always enjoy being “set apart” in my duties. After meeting with the Bishop, his counselors or with a member of an auxillary presidency to receive a new calling, and accepting it, the calling is then announced to the congregation for a sustaining. I have felt buoyed by my congregation as they raise their hands in acceptance and a commitment to help me in my new role. But soon thereafter, members of the Bishopric place their hands on my head and give me specific guidance and help from the Lord in how to serve in the new capacity.
I was just set apart by my Bishopric members two weeks ago to be a Sunday School teacher and in the blessing I was given “good health” for the remainder of the year. How I will be leaning in faith on that promise!
Janelle, That is a huge part I wasn’t able to include, thank you for explaining it. My husband was just set apart today to be a clerk for our congregation. That’s how it works, always changing, encouraging us to grow!
Another thing that I didn’t mention about callings (although the post is certainly long enough 😉 is that we are “sustained” by the congregation. When the calling is announced to the congregation in our main meeting every member is able to raise their hand in a sign of support for that person in their new calling. Something similar happens when a person is released – the change is announced and the members raise their hands in support of the change and as a sign of gratitude for the service that was given. I like how this keeps us all up to date on changes and gives us a chance to consider how we can effectively support a person in their responsibilities.
I think the simple act of sustaining each other in callings can bring such a sense of unity.
I’m grateful for the opportunity we have to serve in different ways as members of the Church.