The fifth article of faith states a fundamental Latter-day Saint belief: we “must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority.”
Most members of the Church have had the experience of being invited to the bishop’s or branch president’s office to receive a calling. Many of us have prayed that we would have the faith and courage to accept the call, for we believe our leaders have been inspired as they have prayerfully sought the direction of our Father in Heaven.
Some find it interesting that we don’t nominate ourselves to serve in positions for which we think we would be best suited. Yet the unique manner in which Latter-day Saints are called to serve in the kingdom is a distinguishing characteristic of the Lord’s Church.
The following principles can help us understand how to serve effectively in our callings.
“It Is Not Where You Serve but How”
Our willingness to serve in our callings, whatever they may be, is a reflection of our dedication to the Lord. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961) of the First Presidency taught: “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines.” 1
Brother Dai Endo of the Yokohama Japan Stake is an example of one who faithfully acted upon this principle. After serving for many years as a counselor in the stake presidency and then as president of the stake, Brother Endo was released in 2000. As he bore his testimony in stake conference at the time of his release, he expressed his love for the Saints and his gratitude for the blessing of serving them and the Lord. With a smile he said, “Next week I’ll probably be called to serve in the Primary.”
The following week Brother Endo’s bishop asked to meet with him and extended a call to him to serve as a Primary teacher. With humility the former stake president graciously accepted the call. His willingness to serve was not based on the status associated with the calling but instead on a desire to serve the Lord wherever he was called.
Called by the Lord
Jesus sought and called the men who would be His Twelve Apostles. Those who serve in the Lord’s Church are called following this same pattern.
I once had the blessing of hearing President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, counsel the children of men who had been recently called to serve in the bishopric of a ward.
President Faust said to these children: “Now, I want you all to remember that your fathers did not volunteer for these assignments. They did not put their names on a list indicating a new bishopric was needed. They did not campaign for the job. They were called. They were called by the Lord through inspiration and revelation to serve as the new bishopric of this ward. They responded to the call and have indicated their willingness to serve. Now they go forward with authority from God.”
As is done again and again in the Church, those involved in calling these men to the bishopric sought the will and guidance of the Lord throughout the entire process.
“You Didn’t Call Them”
On several occasions President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has described an experience he had during a leadership training meeting in which a bishop indicated he couldn’t get anyone to serve as the ward Primary president. The frustrated bishop said he had talked to nine different sisters in the ward, and not one of them had agreed to accept the call.
President Packer told the bishop he knew why none of the sisters had agreed to serve: “You asked them—you didn’t call them.” President Packer said that if the call had been extended properly, it would not have taken nine attempts to get someone to accept the call.
In the secular world there are no direct parallels to the issuing of a calling. One who holds priesthood keys does not ask, assign, or recruit people to serve. He calls them, and the calling comes from the Lord.
Just as we are called, we are also released. Just as we don’t campaign for assignments, we don’t resign and we don’t quit. We are released by the same authority by which we were called.
In 1947 Elder Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called my grandfather, James H. Walker, to be president of the Taylor stake in Raymond, Alberta, Canada. Until that time my grandmother, Fannye Walker, had served for many years as the stake Young Women president. She loved this assignment.
When Elder Benson extended the call to President Walker, he said that President Walker’s wife should not continue to serve as stake Young Women president so that she could support him in his responsibilities and so that others outside their family could have the opportunity to serve. Grandma was unhappy. She loved the young women, loved her calling, and wanted to continue to serve in that capacity.
Years later President Benson recounted the experience to me. He said, “Your grandmother was very disappointed when we released her. But the next time I saw her, she told me that she understood and accepted the need for her to be released.”
Likewise, we need to graciously accept and acknowledge the inspiration that led to our release from a calling we loved.
Responding with Commitment
The way in which faithful Church members respond to calls is remarkable. Church history is filled with stories of how dedicated Saints responded to calls that required considerable personal sacrifice.
President Packer was present when President Henry D. Moyle (1889–1963) of the First Presidency extended a call to a man to preside over one of the missions of the Church. President Moyle said to the man, “We don’t want to rush you into this decision. Would you call me in a day or two, as soon as you are able to make a determination as to your feelings concerning this call?”
President Packer relates what happened:
“The man looked at his wife and she looked at him, and without saying a word there was that silent conversation between husband and wife, and that gentle almost imperceptible nod. He turned back to President Moyle and said, ‘Well, President, what is there to say. What could we tell you in a few days that we couldn’t tell you now? We have been called. What answer is there? Of course we will respond to the call.’
“Then President Moyle said rather gently, ‘Well, if you feel that way about it, actually there is some urgency about this matter. I wonder if you could be prepared to leave … on the 13th of March.’
“The man gulped, for that was just eleven days away. He glanced at his wife. There was another silent conversation, and he said, ‘Yes, President, we can meet that appointment.’
“‘What about your business?’ said the President. ‘What about your grain elevator? What about your livestock? What about your other holdings?’
“‘I don’t know,’ said the man, ‘but we will make arrangements somehow. All of those things will be all right.’” 2
Usually this kind of urgency is not necessary. Those who are called to positions like these are typically afforded adequate time to put their affairs in order. In this case there was urgency, and the couple responded with faith, devotion, and absolute commitment. What a beautiful example of how each of us should respond to a call.
Magnifying Your Calling
One of the most important references in the Book of Mormon to magnifying callings comes from the prophet Jacob, who wrote, “We did magnify our office unto the Lord” (Jacob 1:19). Doctrine and Covenants section 84, which contains the oath and covenant of the priesthood, states that those who magnify their calling will be “sanctified by the Spirit” (v. 33).
Many of us have struggled to understand what it means to magnify our callings. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said:
“What does it mean to magnify a calling? It means to build it up in dignity and importance, to make it honorable and commendable in the eyes of all men, to enlarge and strengthen it to let the light of heaven shine through it to the view of other men. And how does one magnify a calling? Simply by performing the service that pertains to it.” 3
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how to receive guidance in our callings:
“With your call come great promises. One of those promises is … that the Lord will guide you by revelation just as He called you. You must ask in faith for revelation to know what you are to do. With your call comes the promise that answers will come. But that guidance will come only when the Lord is sure you will obey. To know His will you must be committed to do it. The words ‘Thy will be done,’ written in the heart, are the window of revelation.” 4
The Lord Will Make It Possible
In summary, here are several important principles relative to callings in the Church:
Those with the authority to issue callings need to prayerfully seek the inspiration of the Lord. When an inspired decision is made, the call needs to be extended properly in a dignified and reverent manner, with all involved realizing that the call comes from the Lord.
We serve willingly. We do not volunteer. We are called.
When we have been called to a position, we need to humbly remember that the calling is not ours and that we will be released someday by the same authority by which we were called.
When the release comes, we need to be accepting, gracious, and grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve. We need to trust that just as we are called by inspiration, we are released by that same inspiration. We need to be supportive of the one who is called to take our place.
Callings and releases don’t always come to us when we would prefer. We need to trust in the Lord’s timetable.
When a husband or wife is called to a demanding position, it may be best for him or her and the rest of the family if the other is released from a heavy assignment.
We need to trust in the Lord in responding to the call (see Proverbs 3:5–6).
The Lord will magnify our efforts as we do our best and seek His assistance.
Great promises and blessings will come with our callings.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “Whenever you are called upon to serve may I urge you to respond, and as you do so your faith will strengthen and increase. … If you accept every opportunity, if you accept every calling, the Lord will make it possible for you to perform it. The Church will not ask you to do anything which you cannot do with the help of the Lord. God bless you to do everything that you are called upon to do.” 5
How blessed we are to be able to help the Lord build up the kingdom as we serve in our callings.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 154.
Follow the Brethren, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (Mar. 23, 1965), 8.
“Priesthood Power,” Liahona, Jan. 2000, 60; Ensign, Nov. 1999, 51.
“Rise to Your Call,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2002, 76.
“Words of the Living Prophet,” Liahona, Apr. 1999, 18; “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, June 1999, 2.