“What should I do if I don’t feel comfortable talking to my ward leaders?” Ensign, Feb. 1985, 51
D. Jack Dunn, bishop, Murray 21st Ward, Salt Lake City. Before we turn to anyone for personal counseling, it is important that we try to resolve our problems on our own, seeking the inspiration of the Lord in our own behalf. Next, we would turn to husband, wife, father, mother, or other appropriate family members for advice and assistance. However, for those times when we do need help beyond our own resources and those of our family, the Lord has established a way for us to receive it.
Over the years, the First Presidency has encouraged us to follow the proper line of priesthood authority when seeking counsel from Church leaders. (See, for example, First Presidency letter, 20 Nov. 1981.) This has generally meant that we should talk to our bishop instead of taking personal matters to the General Authorities. In recent years, we have also been encouraged on some matters to turn to quorum leaders when appropriate. (See Melchizedek Priesthood Handbook, 1984, p. 7.) Of course, the bishop is still the one appointed by the Lord to talk to about matters of worthiness or confidentiality.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, sometimes a member of the Church feels he or she can’t talk to local leaders. If you have those feelings, I would suggest that you take a close look at why you feel that way; you may find that your concerns are unjustified. Let’s look at some of the most common concerns:
1. I don’t like his personality, the way he dresses, speaks, etc. In the Church, lay members serve other lay members—and all of us are unique as individuals. It’s inevitable that at some point in our lives we may not particularly care for the personality of someone who has been called to a position of leadership over us. But it would be unfortunate to let differences in style or personality keep us from seeking needed counsel from our leaders.
If your leader has actually offended you in some way, it would be well to follow the Lord’s counsel to talk to him about the matter and clear it up: “If thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.” (D&C 42:88.)
2. He’s a neighbor—a personal friend. I’d feel more comfortable talking to someone I don’t know. It can be easier to talk to a stranger than to admit our problems to someone we know well. But when we really need help, most of us confide in a close, trusted friend. When appropriate, the bishop should be that kind of friend.
Concerning the relationship between members and their bishops, the First Presidency has stated: “The Lord has so organized His Church that there is accessible to every member … a spiritual advisor, and a temporal counselor as well, who should know them intimately and who could best know the circumstances and conditions out of which their problems come, and who, by reason of his ordination, is entitled to an endowment from our Heavenly Father of the necessary discernment and inspiration of the Lord to enable him to give the advice which the one in trouble so much needs. We refer to the Bishop or Branch President. …
“We, therefore, urge all members who have problems or questions that are troubling them to consult their Bishop or Branch President freely and fully and get from him the help which they feel they stand so much in need.” (First Presidency letter, 27 Jan. 1975.)
When I was called as bishop, I wondered if I could really love all the members of my ward with all my heart. It didn’t take me long to find out that I did have a great love for each member of the ward. I believe this love is a gift the Lord bestows upon bishops to help them fulfill their responsibilities.
3. He may think less of me than he does now. I’ve found that I have more respect—not less—for those I counsel with. My admiration for them continues to grow as I see great changes take place in their lives because of the things we’ve counseled about.
Shortly after I was called as bishop, I had an appointment to interview a member for an important ward position. Before we began the interview, however, he confessed a serious transgression from the past. As we talked about his repentance and about the many years of valiant Church service he had given since the time of the unfortunate incident, I felt impressed by the Spirit that this person had fully repented and should still be called to the position. I thought more of him—not less—because of the intense personal effort he had extended to repent and to keep the Lord’s commandments. This love grew even more as I watched him serve faithfully in his new calling.
4. I’m afraid he won’t keep things confidential. Bishops receive a strict charge to say nothing of the things told to them in confidence. It would be breaking a sacred agreement for a bishop to divulge confidential information to another person—even to his wife or to his counselors.
Those who don’t keep sacred confidences entrusted to them as the Lord’s representatives will surely be held accountable by the Lord. However, in my experience it is often those who have been counseled who divulge confidences—not those confided in.
5. He’s not educated as a professional counselor; he won’t know how to help me. It’s a rare opportunity to counsel with a bishop who is also a professional counselor or psychologist. Most bishops are men who have been schooled in the ways of the Lord: they know how to pray, how to search the scriptures, and how to discern and respond to the promptings of the Spirit. They understand the processes of repentance. In addition, they have had many of the common experiences of life, which have given them wisdom and empathy. They counsel out of love and with the inspiration of the Spirit.
If the bishop feels he needs additional help, he may counsel with the stake president and receive added inspiration from him. Or he may ask the stake president to counsel with the individual. If he feels professional help is needed, he may refer the individual to a Church Social Services counselor.
When we seek guidance from our bishop or local priesthood leaders, we can have confidence in them as spiritual and temporal counselors, even though they may lack professional training and—like all of us—are subject to human weakness and imperfection. We can be assured that they have the authority and may receive the spiritual blessings necessary to give inspired counsel.