“Are We Limiting God in Our Lives?,” Liahona, Apr. 2022.
When Marco was called as bishop, one of his first appointments was with Brother and Sister Peña (names have been changed). They both suffered from trauma related to abuse. Their resulting mental health challenges were acute. Both had previously experienced failed marriages and were doing their best to raise a blended family. Ongoing employment challenges made self-reliance a struggle. They wanted to go to the temple but didn’t qualify for recommends. One or the other always seemed to be in crisis.
Marco loved them, but it quickly became apparent that they needed more help than he was capable of providing alone.
Unfortunately, the Peñas were reluctant to allow the bishop to involve others. At the time, an expectation existed among many Church members that it was the bishop who was responsible for helping members through challenges like these. In addition, Marco was afraid that the Peñas would feel like they weren’t important to him if he asked someone else to help.
So Marco did the best he could. He visited. He counseled. He tried to connect them to needed mental health professionals. Marco and his wife went to self-reliance classes with them and helped them work through some financial challenges. While others in the ward also helped, the bishop spent countless hours with the Peñas. At the end of five years, they had been sealed, but they still struggled with most of the same long-term issues they had when they first visited with him.
Looking back, Marco says that both he and the Peñas misunderstood the role of the bishop. In addition, the three of them failed to trust the Relief Society and elders quorum presidents to fulfill their divinely appointed responsibilities to help members with these kinds of challenges. The result was that they limited the Lord’s blessings in the Peñas’ lives.
This is not an uncommon story. Most of us look to our bishop as the spiritual leader of our ward. He is the presiding high priest in the ward and holds the priesthood keys to lead the work of the Church in the ward. Because his scriptural role includes serving as a common judge, we need his help with issues related to worthiness and repentance. He is also ultimately responsible for the use of Church resources to assist those in need. So he is often the first person we think of when we need help of any kind.
However, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the bishop is not the only one the Lord has authorized to act on His behalf. Serving under the direction of priesthood keys, other men and women in the ward have the authority and power to receive revelation and help those assigned to their care. Elders quorum and Relief Society presidents have been appointed to receive God’s guidance in helping us. Other ward officers, ministering brothers and sisters, and anyone given an assignment under the authority of priesthood keys to act on the Lord’s behalf can also provide needed help.
“Elders quorum and Relief Society presidents have the divinely appointed responsibility and revelation to help members,” said President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President. “Everyone who is set apart for a calling or who has received an assignment under priesthood keys has the authority and is entitled to the revelation necessary to function in that responsibility.” 1
God loves us, and He wants to use His infinite power to bless us (see Doctrine and Covenants 41:1). 2 However, “it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” 3 When we limit those we trust to help us, we may be keeping out of our lives many of the blessings God wants to give us, because we are not meeting the conditions He has set for receiving those blessings (see Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21). 4
In the April 2018 general conference, leaders announced significant changes, including the restructuring of priesthood quorums, the introduction of ministering in place of home and visiting teaching, and the elevating of Relief Society and elders quorum presidencies to help lead the work of salvation and exaltation in the ward. These changes emphasized the role of Relief Society and elders quorum presidents to “take primary responsibility for … watching over and ministering to members of the Church,” 5 as well as to work together to address temporal needs in coordination with the bishop. 6
These recent changes to Church organization, policies, and programs were intended, in part, to “help elders quorums and Relief Societies harmonize their work. … And they allow the bishop to delegate more responsibilities to the elders quorum and Relief Society presidents so that the bishop and his counselors can focus on their primary duties” with the rising generation in the ward. 7
Because there are responsibilities that only the bishop can fulfill, having Relief Society and elders quorum presidents who are empowered to help can be a great blessing to bishops and to members in need.
For example, only the bishop can serve as a common judge regarding matters of worthiness. Likewise, he alone has responsibility for the use of fast offerings and ward finances. He holds the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward and cannot neglect his responsibilities for the rising generation.
Being able to delegate is a blessing to the bishop as well as to ward members. “A bishop needs to be a skillful delegator, or he will be crushed under the burden of his responsibilities or frustrated at seeing so many of them unfilled,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency. 8
“The bishop needs to understand that this doesn’t diminish him,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. 9 On the contrary, inviting others to help in the Lord’s work will build and bless them through opportunities to serve. That is the result of acting in the Savior’s name and with His authority to bless others.
Members and leaders are most likely to see these blessings in wards where members have caught the vision of ministering and where elders quorum and Relief Society presidents are coordinating well with each other and with the bishop.
“Ideally, the elders quorum and Relief Society presidents should already be working together on the needs of the members they discuss when they coordinate on ministering,” said President Bingham. “Then they meet with the bishop to get his insights and approval on their plans to help.” 10
It is important to recognize that as ward members minister, the work gets done. “Ministering is the gospel in action,” said Elder Walter F. González of the Seventy. “Meeting member needs is not just the work of the elders quorum and Relief Society presidents, just like it’s not just the work of the bishop.” 11
“Ministering is the key to meeting needs and accomplishing the work of salvation and exaltation,” said President Bingham. “Ministering is inviting people to come unto Christ and to make temple covenants with Him. Ministering is how we identify the needs and strengths of members as we support them in living the gospel and becoming self-reliant.” 12
Shortly after Marco was released as bishop, the pandemic struck. Brother Peña lost his job, and the family was plunged into a new round of emotional and financial crisis. Following the counsel of Church leaders and the revised handbook, 13 the Peñas’ elders quorum president took the lead in seeking inspired ways to support them. Counseling with the new bishop, the elders quorum president felt prompted to assign Marco to help Brother Peña.
The important relationship of trust was already there. And with the assignment, given under the authority of priesthood keys, Marco could rely on receiving the revelation he would need to help. 14
“Some would call it ironic that I was asked to help Brother Peña after spending so much time with them as bishop,” Marco said. “But this assignment has been a choice experience for me. It is an assignment from the Lord to help do His work. I am grateful to be able to help lift not only the Peñas’ burdens but the bishop’s as well.”