The Bishop


Robert D. Hales

We often see the bishop in his administrative role, sitting as the presiding ward priesthood officer on the stand at sacrament meeting; but we may not be aware of the personal relationship he has to each of us.

Our bishops visit and attend to the needs of the widows, the poor, the sick, and the mentally ill in homes and hospitals. The bishop also listens to many of our problems and helps us work out solutions, knowing that opposition and trials in this life strengthen us and develop our faith and free agency.

Who is the bishop? What are his callings, duties, and responsibilities? What should be our personal relationship with our bishop?

The Keys and Duties of a Bishop

If we first understand the keys given a bishop when he is called, ordained, and set apart to serve, we can better understand what our relationship with him should be. (This same information would also generally apply to branch presidents throughout the Church.)

President of the Aaronic Priesthood

The office and calling of a bishop is important to each member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the bishop’s calling as president of the Aaronic Priesthood has a special significance to the young men and young women. Bishops realize that their first and foremost responsibility is to the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and the young women of their wards.

“The bishopric is the presidency of this [Aaronic] priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same” (D&C 107:15).

“Also the duty of the president over the Priesthood of Aaron is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants—

“This president is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood” (D&C 107:87–88).

In addition to being president of the Aaronic Priesthood, the bishop has four other areas of responsibility.

Presiding High Priest

“A bishop is the presiding officer of his ward, … and those who are members of his ward are subject to his presidency. …

“… and his place should be held sacred in the minds of his associates. …

“… The average bishop gives all his time and efforts for the betterment of the people over whom he presides. The bishop should not try to do all the work that is necessary to be done in his ward” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, pp. 185, 188).

We should honor our bishop and follow his counsel. The bishop needs our support in administering the affairs of the Church and fellowshipping the members of the ward with friendship and love.

Common Judge

“And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church.

“This is the duty of a bishop. …

“Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion. …” (D&C 107:72–74).

The bishop’s role as a common judge is not merely to hear our confessions and determine what action should be taken with regard to our transgressions. The bishop serves as our counselor if we will listen to him. He can help us repent or turn away from transgression so that we may feel better about ourselves and so that we will feel comfortable in the presence of the Holy Ghost, who will guide us and comfort us. Ultimately, it is the Lord who will forgive us when we have overcome our transgressions.

Caring for the Poor—Welfare Services

“And the bishop … should travel round about … searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud” (D&C 84:112).

“To the bishop is given all the powers and responsibilities which the Lord has specifically prescribed in the Doctrine and Covenants for the caring of the poor. … No one else is charged with this duty and responsibility, no one else is endowed with the power and functions necessary for this work. …

“By the word of the Lord the sole mandate to care for, and the sole discretion in caring for the poor of the Church is lodged in the bishop. … It is his duty and his only to determine to whom, when, how, and how much shall be given to any member of his ward from Church funds and as ward help.

“This is his high and solemn obligation, imposed by the Lord Himself. The bishop cannot escape this duty; he cannot shirk it; he cannot pass it on to someone else, and so relieve himself. Whatever help he calls in, he is still responsible” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., as quoted by Marion G. Romney, “The Role of Bishops in Welfare Services,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 79).

Temporal Affairs

“For the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things” (D&C 107:68).

The bishop is responsible for the administration of finances, records, and properties of the ward.

The bishop receives tithes and offerings from ward members. At the end of each year we go to the bishop and have an annual tithing settlement, where we declare if we are full-tithe payers. Our willingness to pay tithing is a good indication of our spiritual commitment to living the Lord’s commandments.

Our Personal Relationships with a Bishop

My experience has given me an understanding that our personal relationship with the bishop is often a good indication of our personal relationship with the Lord. The role of the bishop in our lives is to be a teacher—an adviser or counselor. Too often we think of going to the bishop only when we have a problem or after we have done something wrong. But a bishop’s interview can also be a time for reviewing our plans for the present and future. It helps us to make a commitment with the bishop so we can work together on our plans to go on a mission and prepare ourselves for temple marriage.

How can you help the bishop and improve your relationship with him? Here are some suggestions:

  1. 1.

    Make a point to say hello to the bishop each Sunday. There is no greater gift you can give than a cheery greeting to let the bishop know everything is all right in your life. In fact, just being at the meetings on Sunday will help the bishop to know how you feel about yourself and about him.

  2. 2.

    Invite the bishop to come to some of your youth activities. I can remember going on a campout when I was a bishop and falling asleep in the back of the bus. Somewhere there is a picture of me asleep with my mouth open and a wild flower placed inside. My own sons were part of the practical joke. We all grew closer together when the youth got me out of my blue suit and enjoyed some relaxing time with me. If the bishop knows how much you want him to be with you, he will try to find time to be part of your special activities.

  3. 3.

    Occasionally invite the bishop to participate with you during your quorum meetings and classes. Some of my most productive interaction with the youth has been when they prepared questions in advance for the bishop to discuss in a class period together. Although the bishop is specifically assigned to meet with the priests quorum each Sunday, he may be available from time to time to meet with others, too.

  4. 4.

    Make an appointment with the bishop when you are prepared to talk to him about your goals in life. Don’t be afraid to talk in confidence with the bishop about your goals, as well as your concerns. It would help if you would also talk to your mother or father before seeing the bishop. Your parents are an important link in your eternal plans, too. If you are having trouble communicating with your parents, let the bishop help you to open a line of communication between your parents and you.

  5. 5.

    Participate in teaching, baptizing, or activating a friend. The greatest missionary work you will do in your life will be as a good example for your friends. Introduce your less active or nonmember friends to the bishop. Let them feel of the bishop’s special caring and love. The bishopric youth committee can help you think of ways to bring friends like these closer to the Lord so they can experience the gift of the Holy Ghost in their lives. There is no greater joy in life than sharing the gospel.

When serving as a bishop, the best personal relationship I had with the youth came when we trusted each other and had open communication. For example, I developed an approach which required the participation of the young men in determining their worthiness to participate in the administration of the sacrament. We discussed the sacrament as a holy ordinance and the obligation Aaronic Priesthood holders have to be worthy in order to administer it. Instead of leaving the burden of who was worthy to participate on the bishop’s shoulders, I asked each deacon, teacher, or priest to come to me and let me know when they were not worthy. Then we worked together to solve their problem before it grew bigger. We had a good relationship, built on trust.

Another example was with the young women. When each young woman reached her 16th birthday, together we reviewed her thoughts and concerns about dating. Then we looked at her eternal goals and encouraged her to discuss them with her parents and to remember them on her dates. As the years have gone by, a number of young women have told me how much it helped to remember their “sweet sixteen bishop’s interview” and the commitments they made to themselves and the Lord for achieving eternal goals.

Now I would like to tell you one more thing. I have served as a bishop three times, and each time I was a different kind of bishop! Not only did I bring different background and experiences according to my age and station in life, but each time I served there were different needs among the individual members of my ward and in the ward as a whole.

There have been times when I needed to show compassion and mercy. There have been times when I had to be firm. Some wards needed help with their finances, some with getting organized, and some just needed a feeling of fellowship. But this I have come to know—a bishop is called of God to meet particular needs during the time he serves as bishop.

The same is true of a bishop as he works with individuals. He is there to help you, guide you, listen to you, keep your confidences, and to strengthen you in your relationship with the Lord, who is also your friend. The bishop may simply need to reassure you and remind you of your goals and promises: to pray, read the scriptures, live the commandments, give service to others, and strengthen your testimony.

But as your friend, your counselor, and your judge, he may need to call you to repentance, in the same way that the Lord commands us to repent and reminds us of the consequences of sin. The bishop does this because he loves you, because he wants you to overcome your problems. It is an act of love, an opportunity to set things right. Once you go to the bishop, don’t resist his counsel. The Lord will inspire and direct him so that he can help you find the answers you need.

“Receive counsel of him whom I have appointed,” the Lord said. “… Resist no more my voice” (D&C 108:1–2).

Yes, the bishop is a busy man. He has his family and his profession to look after, as well as the ward. He has to help people solve a great many problems. But remember that he loves you and wants to help you succeed in your eternal goals.

I have had great joy in serving as a bishop, especially in associating with the magnificent youth of our church. You are the leaders of tomorrow, who will someday be the bishops and bishops’ wives. May the Lord bless you to be ready for that day. As the hymn says, “Youth of the noble birth right, carry on, carry on, carry on” (Hymns, 1985, no. 255).

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark

[photos] The calling of a bishop is important to each member of the Church. However, the bishop’s calling as president of the Aaronic Priesthood has a special significance to the youth. Bishops realize that their first and foremost responsibility is to the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and the young women in their wards.

[photos] The role of the bishop in our lives is to be a teacher—an adviser or counselor. Too often we think of going to the bishop only when we have a problem or after we have done something wrong. But a bishop can also help review plans for the present and future. It helps to make a commitment with the bishop so we can work together on our plans to go on a mission and prepare ourselves for temple marriage. Bishops feel the best personal relationships they have with youth come when they trust each other and tell each other the truth.