“How to Sustain Your Bishop,” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 23
Not long after he was called to serve as bishop of our ward, my husband, Scott, admonished our ward members to not be critical of the way individuals serve in their callings. To illustrate the point, he used as an analogy our experience together as we hung the outside Christmas lights on the roof of our home.
He was perched near the top of a very tall ladder. The ladder teetered precariously on the icy slope of our front lawn. With one arm, he hung on to the ladder, and with the other arm he strung the lights from beam to beam. Uncomfortable with heights, he felt a little anxious. I stood on the ground, steadying the ladder. As he reached for the farthest beam, he called down to me, “I don’t know about this! I sure would hate to fall and break something.” I laughed and yelled back, “You can do it! I believe in you!” He reached out and placed the final light.
After Scott related this story to the ward members, he explained that most of us, in an effort to serve and to magnify a calling, are metaphorically perched atop shaky ladders—overcoming fears and inhibitions, reaching out to symbolically place a light or two. While we’re there, what we need most is someone who steadies the ladder, who occasionally gives helpful directions, if needed, and who also shouts words of encouragement and affirmation. We don’t need someone standing back criticizing the way we do our jobs.
Building on that analogy, I have thought of several specific ways ward members can sustain the bishop. Here are some suggestions of things to do—and not to do:
Don’t expect people in the ward organization to always function perfectly. We’ve heard this said many times, but it bears repeating. All of us, in our efforts to become real Saints, make mistakes. This means that “Brother Jones” may forget to relay a telephone message as he said he would. “Sister Smith” may leave something off the program.
Don’t expect the Church to fill all your needs. Though created and implemented to reach and serve every member, the Church organization cannot be all things to all people. A member may need to fill social needs with neighbors or fellow employees. A couple may need professional counseling. A family may need to hire a moving van.
Don’t judge and criticize one another. Random comments, expressions of anger, and tactless suggestions, besides hurting others, take a tremendous toll on the time and energy of ward leaders. Precious hours can be consumed by people calling the bishop to report something that someone in the ward said or to beg him to straighten out disagreements between families.
Don’t murmur. Few of us would cast ourselves beside Laman and Lemuel, when, in fact, we may be guilty of repeating disparaging remarks or of harboring ill feelings that lead us to murmur to our spouse, our friends, or anyone else who will listen. Rather than complain about someone, we would do better to go to him and lovingly work it out.
Don’t come to the bishop with an organizational problem without thinking of possible solutions as well. Merely complaining of a flaw in a particular ward organization may worsen the situation, creating disharmony. On the other hand, when you take the initiative in volunteering and giving service, the ward organization runs smoothly and many are influenced and blessed by your example. Especially magnify your callings as visiting teachers and as home teachers. When you do, you lighten the bishop’s load considerably.
Don’t call the bishop for information if you can get it elsewhere. There are printed ward directories and master calendars in the hands of building schedulers and auxiliary and quorum leaders.
Don’t call the bishop at work unless he has given you permission to do so or unless it is a true emergency. Some bishops may be able to alter their schedules to meet the needs of ward members, but some may not. A bishop’s work may sometimes make him unavailable to the members—even to his family. He no doubt feels terrible when he is not available, but given the demands of his job, he does the best he can.
Don’t expect the bishop to be at every meeting and every function. If he doesn’t show up, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about you, or that he’s irresponsible, or that he doesn’t support you in your calling. His absence means that he has a previous commitment or some emergency to deal with. Most of the time, if a bishop can be there, he will be there.
For example, on one Wednesday night, Scott wasn’t at a roadshow meeting because he was at a Cub Scout pack meeting. After the meeting, Scott wasn’t able to return two phone calls because someone in our ward desperately needed to talk to him—which he did until late that night.
Understand the bishop’s priorities. After Scott’s call to serve as bishop, we guarded our family time carefully. We especially treasured our Monday nights together.
Give honest feedback. During personal interviews and meetings, please be kindly candid. The bishop prays daily for inspiration and guidance; however, he values your thoughtful opinion. Regarding your personal status, let him know what’s going on in your life and how you are managing; then he can make an informed and inspired decision.
Come to the bishop if you need help. However, please try to solve problems without involving him if it is possible, and appropriate, for you to do so. If you can solve a problem within your family circle, do. If you need the assistance of your visiting or home teachers, call them or your quorum or auxiliary president. Then, if you truly need counsel or assistance from the bishop, let him know. And don’t wait for him to call you in. Sometimes he will be inspired to do so. However, he is also grateful when people recognize that they really do need to see the bishop—and take the initiative to make an appointment.
Understand delays in staffing and in action. Keeping the ward organization fully staffed is a never-ending process, in which your suggestions are given careful consideration. However, there may be extenuating circumstances of which you may not be aware. The bishop and his counselors must look at the big picture. A change in one position may cause a domino effect of change throughout the ward. Or they may be aware of a challenge in someone’s life that may influence a call.
Allow the bishop to be human. He makes mistakes; he gets tired. Sometimes he is not able to return calls. Occasionally, he simply forgets to do something. Every now and then, he says the wrong thing. Please give him the benefit of the doubt. Each bishop has his own weaknesses and strengths.
Express appreciation. A positive comment or a word of appreciation goes a long way. Bishops will continue to serve, whether or not they hear any compliments. However, a kind “thank you” or an “I appreciated the way you handled the situation” sweetens the experience immeasurably. And please, don’t stop with the bishop! Express your appreciation regularly to any member of the ward who serves you in any way. Occasionally we need reminding that the Church is a volunteer organization.
Pray for the bishop, his counselors, ward leaders, and all the families in the ward. Our ward once held a fast for me before I underwent major surgery. After the operation, I could feel the power of the prayers offered concerning me. Those prayers facilitated my speedy recovery. Likewise, bishops often feel empowered and strengthened by the prayers of ward members.
Attend the temple. If you are blessed to have a temple located nearby, you will find that regular temple worship increases spirituality. However, no matter how far away the temple is, the effort and sacrifice to go as often as possible will bless and enlighten you.
Love one another. The Lord’s admonition is so simple, yet so all-encompassing. The members of our ward, like those in wards and branches everywhere, have responded overwhelmingly to this invitation. Their kind acts and deeds are innumerable as they have reached out to forgive, express love, listen to, and serve each other. As a result, the circle of our ward family has widened and love has deepened, members literally becoming ministering angels to one another.
Know that you are loved. As we serve each other, our ward can share the full range of emotions of a family—sharing our admiration and disappointment, our grief and gladness, rejoicing in the support. In many respects the ward is just like a family, and the bishop is the father.
When Scott was serving as bishop, sometimes before he prayed, he went through the ward list, running an inventory of needs and blessings. Then he prayed for our family, not only for our three young sons and our own extended families, but also for the wonderful members of our ward.
When it was appropriate, I sometimes knelt with Scott to pray for members of our ward. The love and aid of fellow ward members is available to all of us. Each of us, as we face life’s challenges, gains strength when we are supported by our ward leaders and our brothers and sisters in the gospel. Through their caring, we feel love from our Savior and our Heavenly Father. Through the years that Scott served as bishop, we watched our ward grow. But mostly we felt that wondrous and satisfying feeling of love from sharing our lives with others.
That love gives us the desire to stand beside others’ ladders. As each member of our ward reaches up, we call encouragement and affirmation: “You can do it! We believe in you!”