Questions and Answers

Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

“We hear a lot about sustaining the bishop. What does that actually mean, besides just accepting callings? What kind of support does a bishop need?”

Floyd A. Jensen, first counselor in the Salt Lake Emigration Ward bishopric

What do you mean, “just” accepting callings? That’s a great deal. When people refuse callings or accept them reluctantly, the bishop feels like he’s still out there all alone. Even if someone does accept, the bishop still has to worry about whether he’s actually going to do the job, and in some cases his worry is fully justified. I can think of several people in our ward who are really the main support of our organizations. The priests quorum adviser, for instance—we never have to remind him what meetings he’s supposed to attend. Once he knows what they are, he is always there, and there are a lot of extra meetings involved in his calling. He’s always willing to help and go the extra mile, too (see Matt. 5:41).

Another thing people can do is assist with the variety of essential activities of a ward—temple work, clean-up projects at the ward, ward socials, coming to meetings. We’re trying to repaint our recreation hall now, and it gets a little discouraging to hear people say on Sunday that they will help and then not have them come on Wednesday night when we are painting. But there’s a great feeling when you see the stalwarts there—just as they were last Wednesday, and just as they will be next Wednesday, and just as they will be the next Wendesday. And you know they’ll still be cheerful about it, too.

Something else that really helps is when quorum and auxiliary leaders are willing to sustain the decisions of the bishop and put the interests of the whole ward first. It’s natural for a leader to be primarily concerned about his organization—that’s his stewardship, after all. So it takes something special for him willingly to accept a decision that may be a little disappointing to him, and then work to fulfill that decision.

On the personal level, I know how much it means to our bishop when people express their personal concern about his son on a mission. It means a lot to him when people are aware of the kind of time he has to spend away from his family and are considerate and appreciative of that time. Another thing he really appreciates is the kind of appropriate informal comments he gets from ward members—about how a program could be improved or what they like about sacrament meeting—little things that say they care how the ward functions and believe he is doing a good job.

Working closely with the bishop is an experience every member of a ward should have. I admire and respect my bishop. More than that, I consider him a personal friend. And seeing the number of things he has to do and the amount of time he has to spend on ward business has made me keenly desirous of doing everything I can to help ease his burden.

“I’d like to offer some suggestions to one of my leaders, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding critical. What can I do?”

Bruce L. Olsen, assistant to the president, University Relations, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; first counselor, BYU Fifth Stake Presidency

Early in my assignment as a bishop I was approached by a ward member who came to make a suggestion. “The ward is too mechanical,” he said. “You have done much to organize and staff the auxiliaries, but you seem to be too busy to care about individuals.” I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that, in our anxiety to staff the ward auxiliaries, the bishopric was conveying the message that we were too busy to be helpful to our members. The kindly given information was discussed at length during the bishopric meetings that followed, and it proved most useful.

Perhaps the classical case in the scriptures of offering a helpful suggestion to a church leader is the case of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who observed Moses personally administering the affairs of the children of Israel as they “stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.”

“And when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?

“And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:

“When they have a matter they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

“And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

“Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” (Ex. 18:13–18.)

Jethro then proceeded to give Moses specific suggestions that told in detail how Moses could both teach principles and choose leaders to help govern the people.

It is notable that in verse 23 Jethro adds, “If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure.” (Italics added.) At least one implication here is Jethro’s clear recognition that the decision ultimately lay between Moses and the Lord. Apparently, Moses took the suggestion to the Lord and obtained approval because the next verse [Ex. 18:24] tells us, “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.”

Offering suggestions to Church leaders from time to time, then, seems to be entirely appropriate, but in doing so we must first make sure that our motives are pure and that the suggestions have merit. Among those questions that we need to ask ourselves are: What is my purpose in wanting to offer my suggestion? Is my idea just a way to alleviate an irritation I have, or is it a valid suggestion that could prove helpful? Am I attempting to counsel the Lord or his servants, or am I truly making a suggestion? Have I thought the idea through to see its implications clearly and be sure that it has genuine merit? Can I offer the suggestion without being hostile?

Once we have answered these questions and others that may occur to us, it seems appropriate to take our idea to the Lord in prayer, not to seek confirmation of the idea itself, for that is another’s responsibility, but to seek confirmation that we should indeed present the idea to our leader. If such confirmation is given, we are prepared to approach a leader in humility and with the proper spirit taking caution not to be critical of leaders or programs.

Again, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves, once we have presented our idea, that we allow the leader the opportunity which Moses was accorded by Jethro—to seek the counsel of the Lord. We also must allow for the fact that the leader with the responsibility for his stewardship has the privilege to hear us and to choose not to implement our ideas. It could be easy to be offended if our suggestion is not implemented, but it would be less than wise. Often we can see only a small part and the steward or the Church leader may see much more of the entire problem.