The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand the responsibilities of bishops and branch presidents so we can know how to support and sustain them.
During the Savior’s mortal ministry, He organized His Church on the earth. After His death, congregations of believers met together to worship, learn the gospel, and strengthen and serve each other. Today members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also organized into congregations. The purpose of these congregations is to help all people “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32). Large congregations are called wards and are presided over by a bishop.
Small congregations are called branches and are presided over by a branch president. “A branch may be organized when at least two member families live in an area and one of the members is a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder or a worthy priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. The stake, mission, or district presidency organizes and supervises the branch” (Branch Guidebook , 1). As it grows, a branch can develop into a ward.
A bishop is called by inspiration of the Lord and ordained by a stake president under the direction of the First Presidency of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve. A ward bishopric consists of three high priests—a bishop and two counselors. The bishop is the presiding high priest and presides over all the members in his ward. In addition, he is the president of the priests quorum and, together with his counselors, is responsible to watch over and nurture the young men and young women in the ward.
Branch presidents are called by inspiration to be presiding authorities over their branches by the stake, mission, or district president. Branch presidents hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and serve with counselors. Their responsibilities are similar to those of the bishop. Scriptural references referring to bishops usually pertain to branch presidents also.
Temporal responsibilities are those duties having to do with the physical well-being of the ward or branch members.
One important temporal responsibility that a bishop or branch president has is to administer the Church welfare program in the ward or branch. Part of this responsibility includes administering fast offerings. Each fast Sunday members should fast for two consecutive meals and contribute a fast offering at least equal to the value of the food they would have eaten. (Those who are physically unable to fast need only contribute fast offerings.) As the Lord’s representative, the bishop or branch president is accountable to the Lord for properly receiving, recording, and administering these offerings. The bishop or branch president knows the members of his ward or branch, and when they need help he can assist them by using the fast offerings or by calling on members of his ward for help. (See D&C 84:112.)
The following story shows how a bishop helped a family in need:
“Situated beneath the heavily traveled freeway which girds Salt Lake City is the home of a sixty-year-old single man who has, due to a crippling disease, never known a day without pain nor many days without loneliness. One winter’s day as I visited him, he was slow in answering the doorbell’s ring. I entered his well-kept home; the temperature in save but one room, the kitchen, was a chilly 40 degrees. The reason: not sufficient money to heat any other room. The walls needed papering, the ceilings to be lowered, the cupboards filled.
“Troubled by the experience of visiting my friend, a bishop was consulted and a miracle of love, prompted by testimony, took place. The ward members were organized and the labor of love begun. A month later, my friend Lou called and asked if I would come and see what had happened to him. I did, and indeed beheld a miracle. The sidewalks which had been uprooted by large poplar trees had been replaced, the porch of the home rebuilt, a new door with glistening hardware installed, the ceilings lowered, the walls papered, the woodwork painted, the roof replaced, and the cupboards filled. No longer was the home chilly and uninviting. It now seemed to whisper a warm welcome. Lou saved until last showing me his pride and joy: there on his bed was a beautiful plaid quilt bearing the crest of his McDonald family clan. It had been made with loving care by the women of the Relief Society. Before leaving, I discovered that each week the Young Adults would bring in a hot dinner and share a home evening. Warmth had replaced the cold; repairs had transformed the wear of years; but more significantly, hope had dispelled despair and now love reigned triumphant” (Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 11; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 9).
Bishops and branch presidents have other temporal duties such as keeping records of all Church business and overseeing the use and security of Church buildings and facilities. They also conduct tithing settlement and receive other contributions from Church members such as funds to support missionaries.
Bishops and branch presidents are called to care for the spiritual well-being of the members of their Church units. One specific spiritual responsibility that bishops and branch presidents have is to be a common judge (see D&C 107:74). As a common judge, the bishop or branch president conducts worthiness interviews, counsels members, and administers Church discipline. In order to help them in these duties, the Lord has promised bishops and branch presidents the gift of discernment (see D&C 46:27).
The gift of discernment enables a bishop or branch president to know truth, to understand the differences between good and evil, and even to know what is in a person’s heart. Because he has this gift, we can seek his counsel and he can tell us what the Lord would have us do to grow spiritually.
Through the gift of discernment the bishop in the following story was able to help a young man in his ward:
Craig, a 16-year-old priest, was an outstanding young man. He was always willing and ready to do whatever he was asked to do by his bishop. One day, however, Bishop Wells noticed that Craig was avoiding him. Even in priesthood quorum meeting, Craig’s eyes were always looking in another direction. Bishop Wells wanted to call Craig as secretary to the priests quorum, but he felt something was wrong. So he called Craig into his office for an interview. During the interview Craig confessed that he had a moral problem. He said he was ashamed and did not feel worthy of the priesthood. Bishop Wells talked with him and assured him that he could repent and feel good about himself again. Through this talk, Craig learned how to overcome his problem, and through repentance, he was forgiven and became happy and enthusiastic again. Bishop Wells was then able to call him to be the secretary of the priests quorum.
How did the bishop’s use of the gift of discernment help Craig to grow spiritually?
Because the bishop or branch president is a common judge in Israel, we can confess our sins to him and he can help us repent. When members commit serious sins, the bishop or branch president has the responsibility for holding disciplinary councils. These disciplinary councils are conducted in love and are meant to help the individual repent and enjoy once more the blessings of the gospel. (See D&C 58:14, 17–18, 42–43.) Leaders must be guided and inspired by the Lord in these matters.
Some additional spiritual duties of bishops and branch presidents include the following:
Preside over ward meetings.
Conduct ward business.
Coordinate the work of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Oversee callings and releases.
Oversee the performance of ordinances and blessings.
Recommend brethren for advancement to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Give blessings of comfort and counsel.
Interview and recommend worthy members to serve as full-time missionaries.
Our bishop or branch president has been called by the Lord. For this reason, it is important that we sustain him in his calling. Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “A man who says he will sustain the President of the Church or the General Authorities, but cannot sustain his own bishop is deceiving himself. The man who will not sustain the bishop of his ward and the president of his stake will not sustain the President of the Church” (Follow the Brethren, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, [23 Mar. 1965], 4–5).
Elder L. Tom Perry taught: “I promise you, my brothers and sisters, if we will sustain and support our bishops, learn to be concerned for their welfare, and pray for their success in all they have to do, it will bless our lives as we are placed under their leadership and have opportunity to follow their inspired direction, as they lead the wards of the Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 43; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 32). His counsel can also be applied to supporting our branch presidents.
The scriptures teach us some of the ways we can sustain our priesthood leaders.
Ask class members to follow along as each of the following scriptures is read. After each scripture is read, ask the class members to explain what it tells us we can do to support our leaders.
Teach repentance and live the commandments.
Accept and fulfill all callings that are given to us.
Share our talents.
Pay tithes and offerings.
Be obedient to the counsel of our leaders.
Be forgiving of the weaknesses of others, including those of our leaders.
The success that our bishop or branch president has in his calling is largely determined by how we sustain him. We should always pray that Heavenly Father will guide him to lead us in the right way.
The service performed by bishops and branch presidents is vital to our well-being. Worthy men called to serve as bishops and branch presidents are called to give direction to the members of the Church. They serve and love us, and we should do all we can to help them accomplish their duties. As we support them, we will find that we are blessed by their leadership.
Pray for your Church leaders in your personal and family prayers.
Refrain from criticizing or gossiping about your Church leaders.
Sustain your Church leaders by following their righteous counsel.
Before presenting this lesson:
Invite the bishop or branch president to attend the class so that he can answer any questions class members may have about his calling.
Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.