‘Wow, how time flies,’ he remarked. ‘You know, you’re in your home stretch right?’
Woah. That hit me like a brick to the head. I realized I could be released in less than a year, two years max. I am in the last leg of my service as a Bishop.
As a brand new Bishop I often thought I would have benefited from a guidebook for Bishop’s. The church has slim handbooks, but they are written for a worldwide church and only deal with broad topics. It would have been incredibly helpful to have something to help me in my first years.
So, I’ve thought about the things I wish I’d known as a new Bishop and tried to put together a list. Hopefully this will help someone, maybe even ultimately, my replacement.
You are not prepared.
Before I was called as Bishop, I would have told you I was well trained. I am a returned missionary, I’d served as an Elder’s Quorum President, a Young Men’s President and I’d been a First Counselor for five years to a Bishop immediately before being called as Bishop myself.
As a counselor to the Bishop I felt I had been completely engaged. I worked incredibly hard and did all I could to do my duty to the fullest. I was floored, humbled by the call to be Bishop, but I felt I had been prepared.
What a fool. I wasn’t prepared – at all. Not even close. Unless you’ve been a Bishop before, neither are you.
No one, other than another Bishop, will ever appreciate what you’re going through.
It’s not because people are inconsiderate, they simply can’t grasp all there is to being the father of a ward. There are far too many moving parts, so many details you couldn’t explain all of it to them, even if you wanted to.
Take Sacrament meeting as an example; When was the last time you were worried about what a speaker said over the pulpit? As Bishop during Sacrament meeting, this is my primary concern. What if someone stands and says something I have to correct? What if it’s a prominent member of the ward or stake, or a friend of mine? I’ve actually had it happen before. During Sacrament meetings I’ve also experienced the power go out, had the microphones stop working, had speakers not show (this happens so often it’s comical), or have speakers finish in ten minutes instead of forty five.
Being on stage, for the entire ward to see = incredible stress. Sacrament meeting only represents one hour of the week.
You’ll most likely spend 20 hours a week on the calling.
The church did a survey of Bishop’s a few years back and turned out my experience was similar to the norm. However, 20 hours is the average, there will be weeks where it’s much more. Oh, and at least an hour a day is spent on emails and correspondence. Sharpen those typing skills.
It’s going to affect your health.
The simple lack of hours in the day forces you to prioritize. I had a friend who once called it, ‘selective neglect.’ Unfortunately in my world, like the dead grass in my front yard, regular exercise is one of the things that’s been neglected. I hope you’re not a stress eater like me, otherwise after four years you’ll be the heaviest you’ve ever been.
I’d like to say putting on weight is the only toll it will take on your health, but in reality, the mental strain is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been married over twenty years, I have four kids – three of which are teenagers, I have run my own business for almost twenty years – through the Great Recession. I can’t say those things were easy, but being a Bishop has taken it all to a new level of mental and spiritual strain.
And to top it off, I’m now going grey.
Be prepared to cry.
You will help people through some of the hardest times in their life. You’ll watch them succeed while others jump off moral cliffs. It’s impossible not to be affected by it. I remember driving home one day and I received a call from a distressed mother. She was so worried about her child who was making bad decisions that would impact their family’s life for years to come. While on the phone I stayed strong and supported her and told her everything would be alright. But when we hung up, I completely broke down. I’d grown close to that child and family and I ached for all they would have to go through with this new challenge. As the father of the ward, it’s impossible not to have your heart broken.
As I mentioned last week, there are also days when all the hard work pays off. When you are fortunate enough to witness people changing for good, it’s impossible to stop crying from the joy in your heart.
There will always be someone who is upset with you.
My first year I had an incredibly hard time with this. I like to be liked. I work hard to make friends and keep friends. But NO MATTER what you do, there will be people who will want to tear you down, people who will not be happy with the decisions you make, people who will speak behind your back to anyone who will listen and say you are the worst Bishop they’ve ever known.
The old adage that a Bishop upsets twenty percent of the people in his ward every year, so by his fifth year he’s upset everyone in the ward – is true. I’ve upset nearly every stalwart women in the ward, and many of my close friends. It’s hard to lead and make changes without upsetting people. People don’t like change.
Someone will always be upset with what you are doing. You’ll just have to learn to live with it. When you learn to do that, tell me how.
Update – March 17, 2014 –
Read THIS blog post. GREAT advice.
Many times, the only one left is you.
The Lord has designed his church so there is a leadership tree where we all back each other up. If a Sunday School teacher doesn’t show up on Sunday, then it’s the responsibility of the Sunday School presidency to teach. If they are also gone, then it’s the responsibility of one of your counselors to step in. If they aren’t willing then who’s job is it? If all of those people either aren’t available or won’t do it – the buck stops with the Bishop. Be prepared to pick up the slack.
Find a mentor.
Since there is no guidebook, find someone you can talk to. My recommendation: Your Stake President, other Bishop’s in the stake, or other men you are close to who have been Bishop’s before. These men will get it. You can ask them for advice when a challenge arises that you don’t know how to solve.
My first year I had three. They were my sounding board when I was stumped. At the end of the year I gave each of them a gift thanking them for all they had done for me. Remember those who help you along the way.
As the saying goes, ‘Work like it all depends on you, but pray like it all depends on God.’ For it does all depend on Him. I’ve never prayed like I have these last four years. In my own life, and in working with others, I’ve learned that it all starts with prayer. If people come to me with problems, often those problems stem from a lack of prayer. Getting people to pray has been one of the most consistent tenants in my ministry.
We often hear people say their mission was when they were closest to God. It’s not surprising when you consider how many times a day a missionary will say a prayer. They roll out of bed and pray. They start their personal scripture study with prayer. They pray before they eat breakfast. They pray before companionship study. They pray before they leave the apartment that day. Five prayers, all before they leave their apartment at 10:30am – every day. A missionary could easily pray 15-20 times in a single day.
Are you praying once an hour? Is this the closest you’ve ever been to God?
Live your life so you are worthy to be guided.
You need the Spirit daily to help you make decisions and guide you to those who need your help. If you feel prompted, don’t hesitate, jump.
I’ve been laying in bed, jogging, or driving home and will feel a prompting to speak to someone. I’ve never been sorry when acting upon that guidance.
Build a strong team.
Your Counselors have to be good, solid men. Your Ward Clerk needs to be someone you can totally depend on. Your Executive Secretary though determines if you will be sane or not. You delegate all day long to your counselors and Ward Clerk. Your Executive Secretary is the filter that helps you be a Bishop. Without him, you will end up bogged down by administrative work. As Elder Holland told a group of us a few weeks ago, ‘You have not been called to be administrators, you have been called to minister to the poor and needy. You have been called to spread the good word of Christ.’ Your Executive Secretary is what helps free you to spread that good word.
If your team isn’t functioning then you’ll need to pray about how to strengthen it.
Stay close to the youth.
Not only is this a major part of your calling, but they will keep you feeling young and energized. They will make moral mistakes, but they are quick to realize they don’t want to carry those heavy bricks in their backpack. I’ve found them anxious to follow counsel on how to repent and get back on the path. For in the end, we all want to be at peace, to be able to look ourselves in the eye in a mirror and know we are on the path the Lord wants us to be following. The youth haven’t yet been jaded by life and are willing to take action to get back on the path.
Youth that I’d been working with for months cried as they told me how close they now feel to God. How they are so grateful for the atonement in their lives, and how their burdens have been lightened. I’ve watched the confidence come back into their faces, but most importantly I’ve felt the Spirit bare witness to me they are clean.
Take one more step.
“Triumph often is nearest when defeat seems inescapable.”
– B.C. Forbes
Over the last four years, this has become one of my favorite quotes. I have it on a handwritten note stuck on my bathroom mirror. That’s why I’ve put it here.
There will be times, when you are convinced failure is a surety. I’m here to tell you, if you step into the fray – the Spirit will guide you to success. There’s something about the faith needed to take that step into darkness that opens up the doors of heaven and leads you to the goal. I know, because I’ve experienced it first hand.
It’s worth it.
Yes, the mental, spiritual and physical strain are unlike anything you have experienced. But it’s worth it. You will grow in ways you never thought possible.
Just yesterday I was having another PPI with my Stake President and we were talking about being a Bishop. How it is unlike any other calling in the church. I talked about how I knew there was no other experience I could have gone through to bring me to the spiritual state I am in today. I’ve been humbled, strained and stretched. Through it all I’ve become a better husband, Priesthood holder and provider. I’ve learned to pray like never before, gotten closer to God like never before. This experience has been the challenge of my life, and yet, I am grateful for it and you will be too.
For even more tools to help Bishop’s see this post.
To see the COMPLETE updated list, see this post.