I Have a Question


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

A nonmember friend is interested in sharing her unique talents and abilities in our ward. Can she hold a Church calling, or are callings reserved for “members only”?

Paul M. Norton, President of the Madison Wisconsin Stake.

In considering this question, we need to remember that neither “interest in” callings nor “unique talents and abilities” necessarily qualifies someone—member or nonmember—for a calling. However, the answer to your question is yes, a nonmember can receive a Church calling. In fact, calling nonmembers to serve in certain positions in the Church, especially in small wards and branches, may be more prevalent than is commonly thought.

In my experience in the Church, I have known nonmembers who have served on Scout and activity committees, as Sunday School or auxiliary class officers, as family history librarians or consultants, and as organists and choristers. In fact, the calling of nonmembers to the latter two positions is specifically approved in the Church’s General Handbook of Instructions.

The questions of whether a nonmember can serve in a calling is really several questions: Why would a person want to accept a calling in a church to which he or she does not belong? When are such callings appropriate? Why are such callings extended? Certainly, a prime factor in ward or branch leaders’ consideration of a nonmember for a particular position should be the person’s motivation for wanting to serve in the Church. Does the person truly want to render selfless service, or does he or she merely want personal recognition?

In a General Conference talk in October 1976, Elder Robert L. Simpson of the First Quorum of the Seventy, recalled the story of one brother, quite new in the Church, who was very eager to serve in an “important” position—but for the wrong reasons. Once, when he met with President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency, he asked, “President Brown, how does someone get to be a bishop in the Church?”

“Well,” answered President Brown, “the process is very simple. You just have to be invited by the Lord.”

“In the work of the Lord,” said Elder Simpson, “we don’t seek positions, nor should we refuse the opportunity to serve when called.” That same “policy” applies to all Church callings; we receive a call from the Lord, through our ward or branch leaders.

But back to the question—when is it appropriate for a nonmember to receive a calling? Most Church callings require substantial commitment and sacrifice of time, sometimes travel, and often other related costs. When would a nonmember be willing to make such commitment and sacrifices?

One answer is: when he or she has a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. But if he or she has a testimony, why can’t he or she be baptized and serve in that calling as a member? In the answer to this question is found the other major factor ward and branch leaders need to consider when extending callings to nonmembers—the individual’s particular circumstances.

For example, I know a young man—a nonmember—who faithfully attends church and early morning seminary. He has a testimony of the gospel and desires to be baptized, but his parents do not desire to grant their permission. A call to serve as a seminary officer or class officer would both thrill and bless him.

I know of another nonmember—a dedicated sister who has attended Church meetings regularly for years. She, too, has a testimony, but her husband does not want her to join the Church. Another nonmember I know, not wanting to offend his wife, has postponed his baptism, hoping that with time she will join him. Many such individuals have been called to Church service by inspired priesthood leaders.

Ours is a church of involvement, and human development is the very foundation of the gospel plan. In this context, it is well to remember that it doesn’t matter where we serve, but how we serve. A calling is not a “reward” or a “favor,” but an opportunity for dedicated service. A bishop is entitled to inspiration in working with all who live within his ward boundaries—including nonmembers.

By Church directive, nonmembers cannot be called to teaching and administrative positions. But an inspired bishop, discerning and understanding a particular person’s motivation and circumstances, can issue calls to nonmembers to serve in certain positions and can thereby bless their lives and help build the Lord’s kingdom.

[photo] Photography by Phil Shurtleff