“Your Friend the Bishop,” New Era, Oct. 2002, 10
A deacon and I were talking about a bishop’s interview. I asked, “What would you like to know about it?” He thought a minute and said, “I’d like to know what the questions will be.” He knew his bishop would be interviewing him at least once a year, and he was anxious about the unknown.
But he wasn’t the only anxious Aaronic Priesthood holder I knew. An older boy was anxious about an interview the bishop was trying to schedule with him. He tried to avoid it because he was “afraid he wouldn’t pass.”
Both of those boys would have been less anxious—in fact they would have looked forward to a bishop’s interview—if they only understood why a bishop looks forward to visiting with them. I learned the “why” of those interviews a long time ago, on a Sunday afternoon. It was the only bishop’s interview I ever had that wasn’t in the bishop’s office, but it’s the one that taught me best what a bishop is trying to do when he interviews an Aaronic Priesthood holder.
In those days, priesthood meeting was in the morning, and sacrament meeting was much later in the day. I was at home, thinking my priests quorum work was done for the day. The phone rang. It was the bishop. He asked if I would go with him, as his companion, to visit a poor widow who needed help. I jumped in the car when he came by, nervous about the unknown but interested to see how a bishop helped the poor.
I didn’t see any food in the car. And my surprise grew when we drove down a dirt lane, in what I thought was a vacant lot, and pulled up in front of a house with no paint and a broken sofa on the sagging wooden porch. We were invited into the dark living room by a woman in a faded and soiled dress. We sat at a table. The bishop began by asking, “Now, where is that budget form I gave you to fill out last week?” Then, for what seemed an hour, he worked that woman through a budget, a plan to repair her house, and a commitment to change her habits. I never said a word. I realize now that the bishop was watching me out of the corner of his eye the whole time.
We drove off in silence, the puzzled priest and the thoughtful bishop. He pulled into the driveway of my house, and we began to talk quietly. He asked me what I thought of what I’d seen. I told him honestly that I had always thought helping the poor meant giving them something, not asking them to do something. And then he opened his scriptures and a black notebook and taught me something he called, “the welfare principle.” He talked about building self-reliance and told me how to help people develop it.
When I walked into my house that afternoon, I didn’t know that I’d had an interview with my bishop. I wonder now if he somehow knew that I would someday be a bishop. But whether he knew or not, he did something remarkable that your bishop or branch president wants to do for you.
First, he cared about me enough to plan that interview carefully to teach me priesthood service. He didn’t need my help that day. His counselors or a home teacher could have helped him more. The way he casually pulled open his little black notebook and opened it to the pages filled with scriptures and quotations showed he was anything but casual in preparing to teach me how to give priesthood service.
Second, he turned from teaching to letting me talk about my goals for improving my ability to serve. I realize now he was urging me to prepare to be his assistant in the quorum, a call that came within months.
Finally, he learned how well I was living the gospel. His questions that day weren’t as direct as they were in some other interviews. But on that afternoon he asked if I had felt the Holy Ghost during our visit. And I realize now my positive answer probably told him what he wanted to know about my personal worthiness.
What he wanted, and what your bishop wants, was to give me the best chance he could to honor my priesthood. He knew that took at least three things: some understanding of how to use the priesthood; a personal commitment to use the priesthood; and a life clean enough, both by avoiding sin where I could and repenting where I must, that I could have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. He was wise enough, too, to know that my parents had done much of that. They had taught me, they had helped me set goals, and they had urged me to be worthy.
But as the president of the Aaronic Priesthood and of my quorum, he could give me some things I couldn’t get anywhere else. He was the person through whom God could call me or withhold callings from me. And he had the keys of repentance for the ward, and so for me. I know now how much he didn’t want to fail the Lord on his errand to give me every chance to prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood, for missionary service, and for temple marriage. And I know now how lucky I was to have such a bishop as Alvin R. Dyer.
My bishop never interviewed me the same way twice, and your bishop will be inspired as he interviews you. There isn’t a fixed set of questions. But all bishops have the same purpose: they are on an errand from the Lord, as your president in the Aaronic Priesthood, to help you prepare in understanding, in experience, and in moral cleanliness for the blessings of priesthood service. And they want that service to lead you through a mission and into the temple to start you toward an eternal family of your own.
The best interviews I ever had were more like conversations. A real conversation means that two people listen to each other and express honest feelings. Your bishop will ask you questions. He’ll listen to what you say and pay attention to your feelings as much as to your words. And you should ask him questions. If you are afraid to admit what you don’t know, you won’t have the chance to learn. And if you are timid about telling him about your mistakes, you may miss the chance to clear away sin early, before it gains a hold that’s harder to break. You might be able to fool a bishop, since he is human and therefore imperfect. But you will not fool God, and so to be dishonest to your bishop is to fool yourself, tragically and needlessly.
Try to remember that the bishop’s purpose in every interview with you is to teach. He will teach you, if you let him, what he has been taught about the priesthood and how to use it. He will give you the calls that God has prepared for you, and those calls will teach you. And even when he talks with you about personal worthiness, his whole intent is to teach you how to be clean through righteous living and through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Lord taught His disciples with that same intent. He said to them, in John 15:15: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
Memories of interviews long ago with my bishop still guide me. He tried hard to teach me all that he had been taught about the priesthood. When I had a last interview with him, years later, I realized that conversations with my bishop had become conversations with a friend. I hope that happens to you, too.
I bear you my testimony that the Aaronic Priesthood was restored through John the Baptist, and that our bishops today are called by God through inspiration. God honors their calls. Your life will be blessed as you honor their calls. And you will learn to look forward to your interviews with a bishop.