A recent post by Richard Ostler has been gaining traction on Facebook, receiving over 100 comments in just a matter of days. In the post, Ostler delves into how we tend to judge each other and our own worthiness based on our Church callings—a tendency that can have very harmful effects. Ostler says:
So, were you an AP on your mission?
When I’m around a new returned missionary, I find myself silently wondering if they were an Assistant to the President (AP). I’ve learned not to ask this question … but it bugs me that I still think it … and that somehow in our culture we’ve created a way of ‘seeing’ that might measure a missionary’s success by his leadership assignments.
I use this example to illustrate the broader challenge in our male church culture that can create a way of ‘seeing’ that causes men (starting as boys) to measure their feelings of self-worth, value and worthiness by their callings.
I’ve spent a lifetime hearing good men in our church being defined by their callings. How many conversations like these have we heard? “He’s dating Marci, she is the daughter of the Stake President”; “John and Mary just moved into the ward … he was in the Bishopric of his prior Ward”; “Marci is dating the Elders Quorum in her singles Ward”; “Nate is having a great mission, he was just made a Zone Leader”.
I’ve been at meetings where the person speaking introduces himself by a list of his church callings. I’ve been in Quorum meetings where a good brother answers a question with starting with ‘when I served as a [calling named]’. I’ve been in meetings where we tell the youth they will be the future leaders of the church and ‘maybe one of you will be a future Bishop, Stake President or even General Authority’. I heard of a funeral of a prominent member where the Presiding Officer asked all the former and current General Authorities in attendance to stand … to show the love for this good person. I've heard parents 'size up' their potential future son-in-law by his callings. I’ve heard talks describing someone returning from inactivity and then state his calling (‘he is now serving as the Bishop’) to illustrate his return to full activity. I've heard of meetings where all the returned missionaries are called to the stand to participate in a missionary song. I’ve read the bios of new Church Leaders that list all their prior church callings. And I’ve mentioned being a YSA Bishop in some of my prior Facebook posts.
These are all appropriate comments/actions. No one is trying to make someone feel marginalized. However, I’ve meet with many outside of this leadership circle who feel deeply marginalized … feeling that are not part of this inner circle … not worthy … maybe their children not seeing them as equal to other fathers … their service in other Christlike ways not equally valued, appreciated or understood. In that funeral, what message is that sending to those young boys on what is valued in our culture or to the other adult men who were never called? In that Quorum meeting, do those not called feel equally valued, their voice equally important? What are we teaching the youth about what is valued in our church? Do we need to list all those prior callings in a church bio? What is the impact over a lifetime of hearing good men defined by their leadership assignments?
To be completely honest, I’ve felt the pull of desiring church callings. Why? I’ve internalized and ‘hardwired’ the message of ‘worthy’ it sends about those that are called and have yearned for that same feeling … the validation … the signal of worthiness it sends me … and to our congregation, family and community about me.
Realizing this is unhealthy, over the past decade I’ve spent a great deal of effort trying to de-program myself from measuring my progress in life by my church callings … and re-programed myself to measure progress by developing Christlike attributes, being a good husband/father, having a strong relationship with my Savior, honoring my covenants and being a worthy Priesthood holder. I've got a long way to go. Yes, I will accept any calling that comes my way … I’ll do all I can for the cause … but I’m focusing on things I can control. But, I often get triggered and it is a work in progress.
I have deep respect for and sustain those that are called. They need all the support, understanding and ‘hands at their back’ they can get. Their road is difficult, time intensive, and lonely at times. And I don’t want anyone in leadership (or those who were an AP) to be diminished by my post or feel guarded in sharing your experiences. We need to hear your faith promoting stories and are grateful for your service to bring others to Christ.
My post is focused to help all of us to a better job of this so we don’t create a way of ‘seeing’ for the men of our church … starting as young boys … to measure their progress in life by calling. It can be damaging. It can make some of our best and most capable members feel marginalized. It can lead to some to step away from Mormonism. I’ve felt it in my own life and have spoken with many who have felt the same ‘pain’ … wondering if they are somehow less ‘worthy’ in the sight of Heavenly Father or from the leader who extends a call. Some see the same group of people being called … with all the wonderful growth that occurs during the call … becoming more qualified to be part of the same group for further calls. Similarly, some wonder if they had some early leadership opportunities if they’d later have the same senior leadership opportunities some of their peers are experiencing. I know many wonderful men who would make incredible Bishops, but are not called partly because they’ve never had some of the experience that comes thru earlier callings that makes them more prepared to be a Bishop. I think of them in our meetings and wonder how they are feel as I rarely hear some of them offer a comment ... isn't their voice just as important?
I was around some wonderful returned missionaries this week. They gave incredible homecoming talks and shared their love of the Savior and helping to walk people into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They didn’t mention anything about ‘serving in the office’ or ‘spending a lot of time with the President’. Well done.
Our own son Adam who served in Mexico City, never once in an e-mail mentioned anything about his leadership assignments. Further, his mission (because of poor mail service), didn’t update us on his leadership assignments. I remember getting up in Fast meeting on the last Sunday of his mission and mentioned that as far as I knew he was a junior companion for all 24 months of his mission and how proud I was of him that he made his mission about bring people to Christ and not his leadership assignments. Yes, upon returning home we did have a private conversation about his various leadership assignments and the wonderful lessons learned and those he served … but we both knew that didn’t define his mission … and my approval of his mission (like Heavenly Father’s) was not tied into any leadership assignments. Now in sharing this example, I don't want any parent to feel guilty for sharing the excitement of their son's leadership calling with others ... just providing some additional perspective.
My institute teacher taught the best scriptural account of someone who was 'qualified but not called' was Johnathan when Samuel was selected between him and David to replace Saul as the next King (1 Samuel). Both Johnathon and David were wonderful candidates … Jonathon, Saul’s son and a great leader, was the logical candidate to become King. After David was called, Johnathon stood by him when Saul (his own father) wanted David killed … over and over he supported David. Perhaps the best male example in scripture (except the Savior) of Paul’s definition of ‘Charity Seeketh Not Her Own’.
There are so many Johnathans among us … in our congregations … fully qualified … doing as Elder Uchtdorf taught ‘lifting that piano where you stand’ (Oct 2008 www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/lift-where-you-stand). Let's work harder to hear their voice ... value their service ... help our young boys want to become the 'Johnathans' of tomorrow ... create a way of 'seeing' so our young men measure their progress in life by developing Christlike attributes, a strong relationship with the Savior and honoring their covenants. Yes, many will be called and that is needed and wonderful ... but can see each other more by our Christlike attributes and less by our leadership assignments ... and help link being 'worthy' directly to things we can control ... which are the same things that lead to our eternal exaltation.
With Love, Papa Ostler ❤