A Mormon Bishop’s Guidebook

92H

One man’s attempt to help those who lead.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

*If any of the links in the table of contents don’t work, you’ll need to scroll down. Sorry, I’m not a web developer  : )

Click the links below to jump to specific sections in the post.

In the Beginning: What to do when you’re first called. 

Establishing Best Practices:

Lessons Learned:

Who am I?

My name is Andy Chatham.  I’m a husband, father, brother, business owner, runner, loud music listener, mountain bike rider, and wake surfer.  I was 38 years old when I was called as a Bishop. 

First things first: 

While in the thick of things as a Bishop, I wrote this blog post (READ THIS FIRST).  Early in my calling I found myself wishing the church had a handbook, or guide, just for Bishop’s.  Yes, the church has handbooks, and Handbook 1 is for Stake Presidents and Bishop’s. However, this is designed for a broad worldwide church.  Designed to help a Bishop in Cape Town, South Africa as well as one in Anchorage, Alaska. I was looking for more down to earth, rubber meets the road guidance.  

I believe I could have been much more effective if I didn’t have to walk the ‘school of hard knocks’ that first year.  A little help would have gone a long way. I get it, you need to experience many things yourself. Just a little help though, up front, would have made me more effective and helped me be a better minister early in my service. 

I hope you’ll find some practical tips you can use today.  

As I compile these thoughts, I keep thinking about my friends that have served as Bishop more than once.  I can’t get the thought out of my head that I may end up sitting in that chair again. If anything, this has been a great exercise for me to put all these thoughts in one place – so I can easily find and share them. 

This isn’t approved by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

This is all my opinion.  I don’t speak for the church.  Any mistakes are all my responsibility. 

So, take what I say with a grain of salt.  I ran the ship as I felt I was inspired to – in Northern California.  I’m sure my experience was very different than that of a Bishop in New Zealand.  Please know that I’m speaking to other Bishop’s in North America. That group will find my insights most fitting.  If others, outside the US, can gain something from my words, great! Please don’t be frustrated if my opinions, strategies, thoughts and ideas simply don’t work in your neck of the woods.  You’ve got to find your own way – this tells you a little of the path I followed. 

I served as a Bishop for just over five years in Northern California, March 2009 – May 2014.  

Our congregation felt the full ramifications of the Great Recession.  As a business owner, I personally felt its effects. It brought me and my congregation to our knees in more ways than one.  

The church is incredibly strong in California.  Outside of Utah, California has more members than any other state, by almost double – LINK.  Because of this we had an average size ward, approximately 400 members the entire time I served.  Approximately 140 members attended Sacrament meeting every Sunday. I had a fully staffed Bishopric, Relief Society Presidency, Elders Quorum Presidency, High Priest Group Leadership, etc.  I had a fully staffed Ward Council the entire time I served. Don’t get me wrong, our ward struggled. We were smaller than the other ward that met in our building. But we were probably average for attendance, level of service, and level of engagement for the wards in the state of California. 

I had experience.  I’d been raised in the church, gone on a mission, served as an Elders Quorum President, served as a Young Men’s President, served as a councilor in the Bishopric for five years immediately prior to being called as Bishop. 

For the most part, my time served was very similar to other Bishops.  My time was also unique though. No two membership demographics, areas where served or stake leadership directives are the same.  Combine all of the above and your experience will be different than mine. I believe there are things we hold in common though, and I hope to cover a number of them here. 

You should also know – I almost quit.  

I’d been serving as a Bishop for about two years.  It was the summer of 2011, the Great Recession had clobbered my business, as it had much of the rest of the US and I’m sure the world.  I’m a wealth manager. The majority of my income is derived from the amount of investment assets I manage. Since the financial market dropped by 50% in 2008/2009, and most of my clients were invested in the markets, my income dropped by about the same amount.  Ouch.

My father, who’s also a wealth manager, but in Southern California, is 20 years my senior.  He had been thinking about his succession plan. In 2009 we began discussing the topic of merging our practices.  By 2011 we were in serious discussions and moving that direction. My wife and I consistently felt we needed to ‘take the next step’ in regards to the discussions with my father and the ultimate taking over of his practice.  It would mean moving my family of six to Southern California, moving my clients to another broker dealer and starting my business from scratch in a new area. In 2011 we took this decision to the temple and felt we were to ‘take the next step.’  Well, the next step was to move – so we started. At the next family home evening we told our kids. They cried. We told our extended family, and we told our ward. Everyone knew we were moving.  

I told the Stake President and he was surprised, but said they wouldn’t release me ‘until we see your tail lights go down over the horizon.’  This surprised me, I thought he’d release me right away. I was to stick it out until the end.    

The next weekend my wife and I flew back down to LA.  When we were picked up at the airport we knew something was different.  We sat down and went through the numbers again, and this time the deal had changed.  My wife and I looked at each other and knew it was over. There was no way we could move down to LA with these new terms.  It just wasn’t worth it.  

My father, a previous Bishop himself, said I’d never be able to stay a Bishop and keep my business afloat in Northern California.  The state of the economy, a young and growing family, and the time demanded of being a Bishop – it was simply too much. He recommended I call the Stake President immediately and ask for a release.  

My wife and I left LA and headed back to the airport.  We sat in a little restaurant and wondered what we were going to do.  I knew one thing – I wasn’t going to let my father be right. I would succeed, on all fronts.  At that point, probably more than ever, I knew I needed to be a Bishop and I needed to serve.  I couldn’t run away from serving, no matter how bad things were financially. ‘We need the blessings,’ is what my wife continued to say, and I agreed with her.  

I got back to Northern California and called the Stake President asking for an opportunity to see him ASAP.  When we sat down I told him we were staying, but that I needed to make some big changes, otherwise I would have to step down as Bishop.  He was 100% on board and willing to work with me.  

When the dust settled I made dramatic changes in the way I worked as Bishop, I had two new councilors and I was delegating much more to my Elders Quorum President and High Priest Group Leader.  

From that point on, I decided to have a more balanced life.   

My focus, mental energy and physical time would be spent this way: 

  • 30% to my family – this had remained constant, thus my good relationship with my spouse and kids. 
  • 10% to ‘me time’ – to ‘Sharpen the Saw.’  
  • 35% to my business
  • 25% to church / my calling

Before this change I was completely off balance.  I was giving 35-40% of my time, focus and energy to being Bishop, and things were starting to fall apart.  As a business owner, I needed to make some adjustments fast.  

After the change, I was only willing and able to give 20 hours a week to the calling. Obviously there was more mental energy spent on the calling, but in actual time, this was all I could do.  

This change in focus made all the difference.  I became more well rounded. In my personal opinion, I believe these priorities hold true:  

First priority should be our personal relationship to God. 

Second priority should be to ourselves.  Always making sure we are sharp, getting enough sleep, working out, having quality play time, etc.  If we aren’t ‘sharp’ we won’t be effective for anyone; ourselves, our family or the Lord. 

Third priority should be to our family, making sure our relationship with them is strong. 

Fourth priority is our job.  We need to provide for ourselves and our family. 

Fifth is our calling in the church.  

I believe these hold true and I’ve counseled many a person on making sure these priorities are kept straight in their lives.  There’s some give and take at times, but to be happy long term, there must be balance. 

That next year my business rebounded and I had one of my top earning years.  Since then my business has been incredibly strong and growing. Just what I’d been hoping, praying and working for.  

Make sure you find balance, and if you’re not there – change.   I had six councilors, three executive secretaries, 2 ward clerks, and 3 Relief Society Presidents during my five year term.  Don’t be afraid to bring in new blood and make changes.  It will all work out.

In the Beginning 

What actions to take at the start of your calling.

Live worthily: 

You are the head of the ward.  Every day you have the opportunity to help those in your congregation.  The only way the spirit can guide you is if you are living a life worthy to receive revelation and guidance.

I remember the first time I received an answer to prayer while I was jogging.  I’d been struggling over what topic to speak on at an upcoming Sacrament meeting.  I was jogging along, listening to a general conference talk on my iPod and all of a sudden the spirit prompted me with the answer.  Jogging! Who knew the Spirit could talk to you while jogging? 

There were numerous times when I was just laying down to sleep and I’d be thinking about the day.  Often I would have to get up because I’d remember something, or I’d need to write something important down.  I learned that quieting my mind, giving myself time to ponder was an important thing to do.  

It’s important you give the Spirit the opportunity to communicate with you.  You need to live worthy to receive inspiration, but you also need to provide an opportunity – daily – to receive promptings from the Spirit.  

I recommend you come up with a routine – actions you take every day that will help bring the Spirit into your life.  By the middle of my service I had this down. Here’s what I did every day: 

Roll out of bed onto my knees.  I started every day with prayer.  Now, I’m not a morning person, at all.  But I learned that if I didn’t start the day this way, there was a good chance I’d never get that first prayer in.  I often found that if I humbly asked the Lord for help, my day would go much better. 

Listen to a conference talk every day.  Most conference talks are only 8-10 minutes long.  Some are a little longer. The question was how to fit it into my schedule.  What worked for me was right when I got out of the shower. As soon as I got out, I grabbed my phone and hit play.  I had conference downloaded and I just listened to the next talk in line. As I was listening I dried off, shaved, did my hair and got dressed for the day.  All that takes about ten to 15 minutes, about the same amount of time to listen to a conference talk. Often I’d find that I was moved by something one of the brethren said in a talk. 

Read the scriptures.  I focused on reading at least one chapter a day in the Book of Mormon.  The best time for me was in the morning. As a family we also read two pages a day in the Book of Mormon immediately after dinner.  So, I’d get in 15 minutes or so of scripture time every day. Often I’d find that I was moved by something I read.  

Prayer with my family.  We prayed, every day, before everyone left for the day.  We prayed over our meals, but we also prayed together as a family before the first person went to bed.  My wife and I rotated who said the prayer in the morning, the kids all rotated at night. This gave us all an opportunity to hear and plead with the Lord about our personal and family hopes and goals.  Often I was moved by what was said by my family members. I hope they too were moved at times by what I said. 

Videos.  The church has put out some incredible videos.  They’ve spent a ton of money creating high quality stuff.  There are also many Mormon Messages videos on YouTube. I’ve often felt the spirit while watching these.  

Preparing myself with music.  I live almost exactly five minutes from our church building.  I found that my meetings went much better if I was in the proper frame of mind when I arrived at the building.  So, I started preparing myself by listening to specific music on my drive to the church. Most of the time I listened to this specific song.  There’s just something about it that helps me think about the Savior, and the importance of my job as Bishop.  I was often moved by listening to music, it greatly helped prepare me for the conversations I was about to have with my members.  

I can’t tell you I had a spiritual experience every time I prayed, nor did a conference talk break through to me every day.  The trick is the combination of all of these things. If I was filling my life with these types of things, and taking time to listen and ponder each day – the spirit was bound to get through. 

Find a mentor: 

Since there is no official Bishop’s handbook, 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 four. 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.

[UPDATE: March 5, 2016]

Recommended Reading:

It’s been two years now since I’ve been released.  I’ve had some time to ponder the position, and now watch other men at the task.  While I was serving as a Bishop the movie Les Miserables came out. A close friend mentioned that the book was incredibly deep, and gave great insights into life.  “But the book is very long, and very few people read it.” Once the movie came out I recalled his words and decided to listen to the audiobook. It’s quite long, over 40 hours, but I commute quite a bit, exercise every day and work in the yard – lots of time to listen to good things.  

I was incredibly moved by the first part of the book.  This first part is taken up by describing the Bishop who interacts with Jean Valjean, who shows him charity.  This interaction is key in Jean Valjean’s life and who he ultimately becomes.  

In the movie it is a quick interaction.  In the book the buildup of the Bishop takes over 4 hours of listening time.  You come to know, deeply, who the Bishop is and what he is about. So, when he finally meets Jean Valjean and interacts with him, it’s no surprise how he acts.  

It’s been many years since I read the book, but I’ve opened it again just recently.  I listened again to the description of this Bishop. Once again I was incredibly moved by who this Bishop is and how he looks at his calling.  

I understand that a Catholic Bishop is different than a Bishop in the LDS church, but the charity this man shows is an example to us all.  I highly recommend anyone serving in a leadership role read the first part of this book. If you’re in the Stake Presidency, High Council, Bishopric, Relief Society Presidency, High Priest Group Leadership, Elders Quorum Presidency – you should read the first part of Les Miserables.  

This Bishop and his example is one we all should be following.  If I have the opportunity to serve in leadership again, I will strive to have those around me be familiar with this book.  

Follow the handbook: 

You need to know the handbook.  You’ll need to refer to it again and again as a Bishop.  There are many items you’ll have questions about. So, start with the basics.  Your responsibilities: 

  1. You are the Presiding High Priest
  2. You are the President of the Aaronic Priesthood
  3. You are a common judge
  4. You oversee all welfare matters (‘oversee’ is the key word here)
  5. You oversee records, finances, and the building. (again, ‘oversee’)

A good friend of mine asked his Executive Secretary to basically memorize the handbook.  Know its ins and outs. He wanted him to be able to answer any question about it. So, when a question came up in Bishopric or Ward Council, they were able to turn to him for clarification.  

The handbook changes.  In 2010 they came out with a whole new handbook.  That year they also started using the Ward Councils MUCH more than they had in the past.  So, things change. Thank heaven the Lord has blessed us with a Prophet to steer us in the right direction. Be prepared for change. 

The Lord called YOU: 

I know it may be hard to believe, but the Lord called you.  Yes, you. The one that listens to loud music, that loves to watch comedy specials.  The one that plays funny jokes on his friends and co-workers. The one that loves Star Trek movies and enjoys reading comics.  OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.  

When I was first called to be a Bishop, I was 180 degrees different than the man I replaced.  Don’t get me wrong, the man I replaced was one of my mentors. But he was retired and had all kinds of time, while I was running my own business.  His kids were all grown, and I had a very young household. He had served in four other Bishoprics before he served as Bishop. We were very different.  I thought I’d never be able to fill his shoes, and guess what, I never was. But in reality, the Lord didn’t want me to do that, he wanted me to be me. 

It took a brick to my head for me to see that.  

I’d been Bishop for about nine months.  It had been a bit of a rocky start. I continually seemed to be letting people down.  Not only that, I was making some people very upset as well. I couldn’t believe how often I stepped on people’s toes.  I just couldn’t seem to get a grip on things. No one was happy, including me.  

It was about this time when my Executive Secretary asked to speak to me alone.  He pulled me aside and asked me what I was doing. I didn’t really understand where he was going with his question, so I asked him to clarify.  

“Is something wrong?  You don’t seem to be yourself?” he asked.  

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you seem to be walking on eggshells all the time.  What happened to the guy who was First Councilor?  He was confident, collected, and knew what he was about.  Ever since you were made Bishop that guy hasn’t shown up for work.  You aren’t confident, you’re always second guessing yourself. It’s almost painful to watch.” He said. 

Wow!  It was like he threw a brick at my head.  When he said it, I knew exactly what he was talking about.  No one knew better than I the struggle I’d been going through.  Apparently, it was visible to those close to me as well.  

I vowed to change that day.  I became me. I stopped being the Bishop the other people wanted me to be.  After that day, I threw off that mask and walked out as me. The husband, father, wealth manager, AtlasBrother, Eagle Scout, Stumpjumer rider, wakeboarder, wakesurfer, loud music listener, Apple addict, and audiobook listener.  He’s the guy who the Lord called, and he’s the one that stepped out of the office after that meeting. Thank you Sean for pushing me that day.  

I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  I was free to be me.  

Don’t let the weight of another Bishops example, or someone else’s expectations weigh you down.  The Lord called you. Granted, he wants you to be your best, but he called you.  Remember that when questions creep into your mind as to whether you should really be sitting in the chair or not. 

Let your family know you love them: 

Shortly after I was called as a councilor in a Bishopric, a friend of ours shared something with us.  She said that her father had a special way to communicate with his children, from the stand.  When he was called as a Bishop, he wanted his young children to know he was thinking about them while he was on the stand.  So, he came up with a sign for each child: 

A scratch of the nose for one, rubbing his chin for another, pulling his ear for another, etc.  While looking at a specific child, and giving the sign, he would be telling them that he loved them.  The child would return the sign – thus telling each other that they loved each other. Much like a catcher talking to a pitcher, all through signs.  

My kids were ages 1 – 9, when I was called into the Bishopric.  These were something we shared for the ten years I sat on the stand.  Looking back now, I think this was something that kept a bond between my children and I.  We would make sure that we were connecting, personally, while I was on the stand. I let them know, even though I was on the stand conducting business, I wasn’t too busy to think of them.  I tried to never miss an opportunity to have this exchange with them.

Show respect for the previous leader:

My wife was recently released as the Young Women’s President in our ward (Feb. 2015). A week or two after she was released the new Young Women’s President asked her to come back into their group meeting. At the beginning of their meeting she handed her this framed picture in front of all the young women and leaders:

I thought this was a great way to show respect and thanks for the leader you are replacing. And what a classy way to do it. This will be something that my wife keeps for many years. She will look at it with fond memories – and she’ll know it was the leader that replaced her who made it possible.

Establish Best Practices: 

Picking your team: 

Concept: How to choose your team 

The Lord will guide you here.  You will need men that you can delegate to.  If you have a young family, I highly recommend choosing men with experience, preferably more experience than you.  You’ll need their counsel. Men you can count on and delegate to. Since your Ward Clerk and Executive Secretary will typically stay, you just need to choose your councilors.  

  • Go through the ward list.  
  • Pray.  
  • Narrow down who you think are the top contenders.  
  • Pray about those men.  
  • Narrow down the list.  
  • Get to the temple.  
  • Pick who you think are the final two.  
  • Pray again, and again, and again.
  • Get to the temple again if you can.  

First order of business.  Who’s responsible for what?  

Concept: What is the first thing you do with your new councilors? 

When my Bishopric was first set apart the first thing we did was go through the division of responsibilities.  Who would do what, and be responsible for what? You need to know who to delegate to.  

Here is a link to how we broke down the responsibilities of the Bishopric – Bishopric Duties

Whenever new councilors were called, the first item of business was to discuss this again with everyone in the Bishopric, set clear boundaries and let them run with it.  I tried to never micromanage. As a good friend of mine said, ‘Your councilors are entitled to receive revelation for their callings, just as much as you are as Bishop.’  Circle back often, reign them in as necessary.  

Always have these lines specifically drawn.  Then get out of the way.

When nothing else matters.

There are times when nothing else matters, when it’s you and the people who need you.  Your family, your job, a scheduled meeting – nothing else matters except the emergency in front of you.  This typically shows up in the form of someone being rushed to the hospital, someone dying, or some other real emergency (I’m not talking about something a member thinks is an emergency, I’m talking about the real thing).  When one of these happens, it’s time to step up. Don’t shrink away. Don’t call and ask someone else to take your place.  Go to where you are needed and be the minister you were called to be.  

My story: 

There was an elderly gentleman in the ward that was slowly passing away.  His wife didn’t want to talk about what was happening. She was afraid. There was a very strong woman in the ward that was her friend, and she forced all of us to get together and talk about what was coming – he was dying and they needed to prepare.  Fortunately we had time to prepare for the funeral service and think about her financials.  

When the day finally came I was caught off guard.  It was a Sunday afternoon, at the start of our third hour, that strong woman in the ward came to me and said the man had been sent to the hospital, they didn’t think he would make it.  She said she was headed to the hospital and gave me a look like I needed to head there as well.  

Sadly in my mind I thought, ‘We’ve been planning this for some time.  I’ve met with the spouse many times, talked with her, planned with her, now it was finally happening.  I’m glad Sister strong woman was going, she would do a good job.’ I began to walk down the hallway. As I walked down the hallway I ran into one of my mentors.  He asked me if I’d heard the news, and I said yes. He said, ‘Well, it’s time. This is it. This is what you were called to do. Don’t worry about the ward, we’ll be fine.  Go help that woman and be the minister you were called to be.’ The light went off and I rushed to the hospital. I’m so glad I did. I was able to help that lonely sister through that incredibly trying time.  There was no other place more important for me to be than with her as she went through that incredibly difficult experience.  

From that point on I made sure every auxiliary leader knew, if someone was in the hospital, I wanted to know.  I didn’t care what they were there for, I wanted to know. If someone was sick, please tell me. If someone was in need, I better be in the loop.  

We were called to be ministers, not administrators.  Think about it, where would the Savior have us be when people are in need?  That’s where you should be.  

Now, there are plenty of times when a member thinks there’s an emergency, like when their water gets turned off or something like that.  But in reality, most things CAN be delegated to the responsible leader over that member. But when there’s a true emergency like someone being admitted to the hospital, or a member learning of a death in their family, or a member gets a call from the Stake President that their son or daughter is coming home early from a mission (you will know the true emergencies), then you need to be there.  Don’t hesitate and don’t delegate. Step up. You won’t regret it.

Office Hours – Like a professor at a university.

Concept: How to give your life (calendar) structure.  

I realized early on, that I wanted ‘office hours.’  This helped me on many levels. I chose to have all my ‘scheduled’ meetings on Wednesday nights, or on Sundays.  My family always knew I had church at those times, and I could be called away at any time on Wednesday nights or all day Sundays.  My Executive Secretary was told to only schedule me during those times. My work secretary knew I was busy on Wednesday nights. Eventually my congregation knew those were the times I was available.  

Obviously emergencies came up, there were many other items on the calendar – regular Thursday night meetings, and many Saturdays.  When it came to scheduling an interview though, it happened on Wednesday night or on Sunday if at all possible. 

Have ‘office hours,’ it’ll bring you peace. 

Use Technology to Your Advantage: 

Use Google Calendar.

Concept: Use a calendaring tool that will allow you to coordinate with your wife, your Executive Secretary, and your work secretary – from any device connected to the internet. 

I have Administrator access, meaning I can add/delete anything on the calendar.  

My wife has Administrator access. 

My Executive Secretary has Administrator access.

My secretary at work has Administrator access.  

We can all SEE and EDIT the calendar from any device that’s connected to the internet.  

Phone, Work, Home, Anywhere.  

Here’s what a typical week looked like: 

  • Blue = family
  • Green = Bishop’s calendar
  • Red = Work

Without a tool like this I wouldn’t have been as organized, I would have missed my teenager’s games, I would have had to communicate much more with my Executive Secretary.  It all just worked.

To protect my wife from having to know who I was interviewing at church, I’d have my Executive Secretary simply title the calendar item as ‘Interview.’  If I clicked on it, I could see who it was with and where we were meeting. My wife, not wanting to be burdened with that information, wouldn’t click on the calendar items marked ‘Interview.’ 

Use Google Drive – or a third party cloud provider: 

Concept: Sharing documents in the cloud allows anyone you choose to be able to View and/or Edit – Agendas, Calendars, To do lists, Sacrament Programs, etc. 

Aren’t familiar with Google Drive / Docs?  Watch this YouTube video

I ‘shared’ many docs with the other members in my Bishopric and Ward Council. We had a lot of them. Agendas, Youth Calendars, Notes, etc.  We were able to share all these and collaborate on them together. This allowed us to collaborate while at home.  

We were able to have less meetings and also have greater efficiency.

Sunday – Get to church early. 

Concept: I found the best time to ponder over my calling was just before my Sunday meetings. Find that weekly time for yourself, then work it into your schedule. 

I used Sunday morning as my time to prepare for the day and week.  I would get to the building 30 minutes prior to the rest of my Bishopric.  This allowed me time to ponder, and think of what I needed to do to prepare for the day.  I found this to be a key time, time to allow the Spirit to speak to me.  

This wasn’t always easy.  We had three units that rotated time slots (9am / 12:30pm) in our building.  Two wards and a branch. The Spanish branch would overlap with one of the wards.  

My Bishopric typically agreed to have a 1.5 hour Bishopric meeting prior to Ward Council and our meeting block.  This allowed us to work through the issues prior to meeting with the members. Because we had a long meeting, it usually kept us from having an additional meeting during the week.  We only had to meet during the week if we weren’t able to complete all our items on Sunday – which happened, but was rare.  

I’d have to get there pretty early to get in a half hour of quiet time before a 1.5 hour Bishopric meeting, and a 1 hour Ward Council – all before our 9am Sacrament start time.  I preferred early morning church though. Get all your work done early, if that happened there was at least a chance of going home and relaxing for a bit.

Take Good Notes: 

Concept: I learned the hard way, without good notes you can’t be an effective leader.  

If you are anything like me, there is no way you can remember all the details.  So, the only way to remember everything is to take good notes.  

Two examples: 

Someone came to me and had some morality issues.  We spoke about their past, what happened and where their mind was at the moment.  We spoke about what actions would most likely happen going forward. Because they were fairly serious mistakes, I let the person know I would need to speak to the Stake President and ask his counsel.  

I called the Stake President and filled him in.  He started asking me detailed questions that I didn’t know the answers to.  I simply hadn’t asked deep enough questions. There were also things he asked me about that I couldn’t remember.  I know I’d spoken to the person about it, but couldn’t quite recall the answers. 

At that point I knew I needed to start taking good notes.  Often, since then, I’ve had to go back to my notes time and again to remind myself of our previous discussions, goals we agreed on, action items going forward, and specific time frames we’d discussed.  

Another example was a young couple that came to me with financial issues.  The economy was grim and they were having problems making ends meet. I spoke to them about their current financial situation, and went through their budget.  We whittled out a number of items they could do without, and family members they needed to ask for financial help. In the end I helped them cover a bill or two, on the basis that they would take those actions.  

About three months later they came back, with similar issues, just not being able to make ends meet.  I knew we’d met before, I knew we had a frank discussion about money, I even remembered much of the discussion – but not all of it, not the details.  I couldn’t recall all my recommendations, or the to do items I’d given them.  

Frustrated, I realized I needed to keep good records not only of morality issues, but of financial issues as well.  

Both of these caused me to do two things: 

  1. Whenever I helped someone with a moral issue that I needed to keep track of, I created a folder with their name on it.  I kept this folder in my locked filing cabinet in my office.  I only kept this folder, and any notes, as long as necessary.  The people I was working with knew I’d been taking notes, they watched me do it.  They also watched me read from them as they first came in and we caught up on issues.  It was common, once their issues were resolved, for me to walk to the shredder and shred the file right in front of them.  ‘Neither the Lord nor I remember it any longer.’  
  2. I would use one sheet of paper for each visit.  I’d date the top. I’d write out my specific notes from the meeting.  I’d write out specifically what tasks I’d given them. I’d write out what they were to accomplish before our next meeting.  I’d write out what tasks I’d need to accomplish before our next meeting. I would then make sure the person I was speaking to was clear on what was required of them.  If there was ‘homework’, they would write down what it was. We both would be clear on what was to happen at our next meeting.

Before the person would come into my office for our next meeting, I’d pull their file and review my notes.  I’d make sure I knew all the important details prior to our discussion.  

This was incredibly helpful.  

From a good friend who served as a Bishop: 

“I used 3×5 cards and kept a locked card file for this exact information. I color coded the cards for different types of information (only I knew this) such as welfare, morality, marriage, etc. Notes made me so much more connected. 

I had a good friend tell me once that he spilled his soul to the bishop about morality issues he was having. It was incredibly painful and difficult for him to do. When he returned for a follow up visit with the bishop, he was crushed when the bishop couldn’t recall why he was there and asked him to go through his transgressions again. It was devastating for him and he never returned.”

Sacrament Meeting Best Practices: 

Concept: Our model for having a great Sacrament meeting.  Goal: To get people to feel the spirit and to want to come back again and again. 

Here’s the agenda we used to keep us on track (1 page pdf) – Sacrament Meeting Planner Form

Here’s my thoughts on how to have the best Sacrament meeting (2 page pdf) – Sacrament Meeting Best Practices

From a friend who served as Bishop:  

I always encouraged our speakers to prepare their talk as though a non-member friend they invited was going to be there (I would ask them to invite that friend). This would ensure that we would stay away from more edgy topics and stay strictly on the gospel centered topics. It also helped the missionaries when they did bring someone that the talks would be specifically centered on them. 

I also set up a sacrament committee. I called two older members of our congregation to the committee. I chaired it and along with the chorister and music chairman we met once a month. I leaned on this committee for topics and they were awesome in coaching our youth on their talks. They also took turns writing thank you notes to speakers highlighting areas of the talk they liked. This had a huge impact on our sacrament meetings spirituality.

Blessing the Sacrament and how we did it: 

I taught our Priests that they needed to back each other up when they were blessing the Sacrament.  When Chair #1 (the Priest blessing the bread) was down on his knees reading the card for the Sacrament, the Priest in Chair #2 (the Priest blessing the water) would be reading over his shoulder to make sure he didn’t miss anything.  IF he did miss something, the Priest looking over his shoulder would quickly point to the line where a mistake was made and then the Priest saying the prayer would know he’d need to repeat that specific line.  

They would rotate their roles as the Priest in Chair #2 said the prayer over the water.  This way, they watched out for each other. 

When a mistake was made and I had to correct them, we would talk about it later in Priest Quorum.  I would talk about the importance of watching out for each other. We would talk about the importance of being a team.  We had a fairly large Priest Quorum (10 active youth at one point) so we rarely had the same two Priests up there. They really learned to watch out for each other, without having favorites.  It worked well. 

I also taught them that after they said the Sacrament prayer they were to look at me, or whoever was presiding.  ONLY if they saw me shaking my head ‘no’ would they have to do it over. If everything was right, I wouldn’t recognize them at all.  I would simply be looking forward – just like normal. ONLY if they needed to be corrected would I be looking at them, asking them to do it again.  This worked well. 

Welfare:  

Concept: You don’t have to carry the full weight of welfare.  In fact, the Handbooks say you should delegate it.

My experience is that Bishops tend to take on welfare items themselves, they don’t delegate any of the responsibilities.  I also know that as a Bishop it was one of the biggest challenges I faced, and biggest time draw.  

Delegating welfare needs to your Elders Quorum President, High Priest Group Leader and Relief Society President isn’t just a good idea, the Handbooks say you should.  Elder Robert N. Packer of Northern California, our Area Seventy, spoke to a gathering of tri-stake Bishop’s and Stake Presidencies about the best use of our time.  He stressed the importance of delegating.  

As I mentioned before, I served during the Great Recession.  Financial times were tough. There were many people in our ward that needed consistent help.  Seeing these people over and over again became a struggle on me spiritually and mentally. Dealing with the financial stuff, on top of all the other moral issues and youth issues I was dealing with, really started to weigh me down.  This was about the time when Elder Robert Packer spoke to us. I decide to move on his advice, really study the Handbook and start utilizing ‘all my strength.’  

Let me help you re-read the Handbook so you can see what I’m talking about: 

Handbook 2, 6.2.1

“The bishop directs welfare work in the ward. He has a divine mandate to seek out and care for the poor (see D&C 84:112). His goal is to help members help themselves and become self-reliant.

The bishop’s counselors, the Relief Society president, the high priests group leader, the elders quorum president, and other members of the ward council assist the bishop in fulfilling these responsibilities.”  – Emphasis added.  

As the Bishop, you, are to direct the work – it doesn’t say you have to ‘do all the work.’  It also spells out all of those who are assigned to help you with the work.  IT IS THEIR STEWARDSHIP. 

As mentioned in Handbook 2, 6.2.2 – keeping welfare items confidential is of the utmost importance.  I kept the personal information on a ‘need to know’ basis only, as should you.  

The key to welfare in the ward is found in Handbook 2, 6.2.4 

“Welfare is central to the work of the high priests group, the elders quorum, and the Relief Society. In meetings of the high priests group leadership, the elders quorum presidency, and the Relief Society presidency, leaders plan ways to teach principles of self-reliance and service and to address welfare needs. Under the direction of the bishop, these leaders help members become self-reliant and find solutions to short-term and long-term welfare concerns.” – Emphasis added.

And again in 6.2.4 – 

“As the bishop provides short-term assistance, he may give assignments to Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society leaders.”  – Emphasis added.

And again in 6.2.4 – 

“Many short-term problems are caused by long-term difficulties such as poor health, lack of skills, inadequate education or employment, lifestyle habits, and emotional challenges. Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society leaders have a special responsibility to help members address these concerns. Their goal is to address long-term concerns in ways that lead to lasting change.” – Emphasis added.

You can even call specific individuals to help you with welfare issues:  6.2.5

Does it need to be any clearer than that?  

You don’t have to carry all the welfare stuff yourself.  Believe me, once you share this burden, being a true minister will be much easier

Let me explain how I handled welfare items in our ward. 

Concept: Specifically how I delegated the welfare items in my ward. 

I would be made aware of someone needing financial assistance.  Either they would reach out to me, or I’d be told about their need and then I’d reach out.  Either way, I would have the first, initial conversation with the needy person / family.  

I would find out the base facts – For example, they are behind on their rent, water bill, their car broke down, etc.  I would say that I understood they needed help. I would then explain the steps we take to help our ward members.  

  • I would explain they would be getting a call from the Elders Quorum President (or High Priest Group Leader, based on who I felt they would best work with).
  • They would then have a very detailed, and I would explain probably difficult conversation, with this Priesthood leader.  
  •  I would explain that the Priesthood leader will want to understand their entire financial situation.  
    • A breakdown of all the household expenses.  
    • How much they make monthly. 
    • How much is in savings, etc.
  • I would explain the Priesthood leader will ask where else they’ve gone for help. 
    • Family members 
    • Government assistance, welfare
    • Have you filed for unemployment assistance?  
    • Have you negotiated with those you owe money?  Asking for longer terms.
    • I explain that the church should be their last resort for help.  
  • After all of these questions I explain the Priesthood leader will give them specific action items they will need to work on.  Things to cut out of their budget, there may be some hard things they ask them to do. All of this will be done, before the church can step in and offer help.  I explain that the church is there to support life, not lifestyle.  
  • I explain the Priesthood leader will then make a recommendation to me, as to what, if anything, the ward should do to help them financially.  

After I explain all of this, how the experience will be a tough one, I ask the loaded question, ‘Is this a process you are willing to go through?’ 

I then call the Priesthood leader (Elders Quorum President or High Priest Group Leader) and explain the situation, let them know the individual / family is expecting a call from them ASAP. 

The guidance I give to the Priesthood leader: 

  • Give the needy person/family a call ASAP – that day if at all possible.
  • I ask them to assess the situation (following the steps above) then be prepared to give me an executive summary
  • Make a specific recommendation, to me, on what actions to take going forward.  
  • I clarify that I will not write a check if they, the Priesthood leader, isn’t one hundred percent sure of the actions we should take.  

Using this methodology I was able to teach my Melchizedek leaders the importance of welfare principles.  They became actively engaged in the work.  I was able to remove 90% of the meetings I was having with welfare recipients.  

Not surprisingly, I found that the Elders Quorum President and High Priest Group Leader were often better at directing the families with home budgeting items than I was.  I’d gotten sloppy, where the Priesthood leaders had more time to dedicate to helping the members. They dove in and really helped them better their situations. It was a win win for everyone involved.  It’s probably worth noting the welfare advice I received from our Stake President as I was first made Bishop.  “Everyone is worth a tank of gas and a bag of groceries.”  So, whenever I had a non-member show up at the building asking for help, I’d grab my Elders Quorum President and ask them to take care of them – with that saying in mind.  If they required further help, I would expect a complete breakdown of their needs.


Helping those struggling with pornography, etc. 

Concept: Delegating to your Elder’s Quorum President and High Priest Group Leader will help those struggling with pornography, and it will help you as well.  

Elder Robert N. Packer or northern California, our Area 70, spoke to a gathering of tri-stake Bishop’s and Stake Presidencies about the best use of our time.  He stressed the importance of delegating.  

Elder Packer spoke specifically about men who needed regular Priesthood leadership check ins.  This was often men struggling with pornography or other addictions. Elder Robert Packer mentioned that these regular check ins could be facilitated by an Elders Quorum President or High Priest Group Leader.  Their direct Priesthood leader was able to become more engaged in helping them with their addictions.  

In speaking with the Priesthood leaders, I made it clear, if there were further confessions to be made, they were to stop the discussion and direct them to set up an appointment with their Bishop ASAP.

Lessons Learned: 


  1. Your Bishopric: Use all your strength.

Concept: How I learned to use my Executive Secretary and Ward Clerk as councilors.  

In a General Conference talk, Elder Vinson told this story

A young boy was trying to smooth out the dirt area behind his house so he could play there with his cars. There was a large rock obstructing his work. The boy pushed and pulled with all his might, but no matter how hard he tried, the rock wouldn’t budge.

His father watched for a while, then came to his son and said, “You need to use all your strength to move a rock this large.”

The boy responded, “I have used all my strength!”

His father corrected him: “No you haven’t. You haven’t had my help yet!”

I had four Executive Secretaries during my five years of service.  My first was a holdover from the previous Bishop. He stayed until I got things under control, but in the end I could tell he was frustrated and wanted to move on.  I wasn’t sure why he was frustrated, I couldn’t get it out of him.  

My second was a good man, but he started to have some personal problems and he too eventually burned out.  

My third was also a good man, we worked very well together.  We were close. After about a year the stake called him to be my Elders Quorum President.  We continued to work closely, but obviously in different roles. It was during this time though, that I realized I’d been doing things poorly as a leader.  I’d not been using him to his fullest capacity.  

I ran my Bishopric much the same as I’d viewed the other Bishop’s before me.  The Bishop and his councilors ran the show, and the Ward Clerk and Executive Secretary were basically there for the ride.  They didn’t add much, mostly because not much was asked of them. 

During one Quarterly Stake Bishop’s Welfare meeting, I asked the other Bishop’s how they used their Ward Clerk and Executive Secretary.  They all agreed, that they used them like a third and fourth councilor.  Listening to their voices, just as they would their first and second councilors.  This was a breakthrough for me.  I was just using the Ward Clerk and my Executive Secretary like I’d seen in the past, not asking for their counsel like I did my councilors.  With this advice, I knew I had to change.  

I started using them just like my other councilors in our Bishopric meetings.  When we would speak about a specific calling, we would go around the room and talk about the calling or person.  I would give each person time to speak – the Ward Clerk and Executive Secretary, just as much time as everyone else.  

If for any reason we were not united in moving forward on a specific calling or assignment, we didn’t move forward.  I let them all know it was 100% buy in, or no action.  This often stalled callings.  But in the end, I learned it was always for a reason.  Remember, as Bishop you don’t have to be the one to receive all the revelation for the ward.  You just have to recognize it.  

I believe this engaged my Ward Clerk and ES completely.  They not only felt like a part of the Bishopric, they were the Bishopric.  I gained two more councilors, and was able to think much more freely in meetings after this change.  It was incredibly freeing.  

I also asked a lot more of my ES.  I asked him to take charge.

Executive Secretary:  How I stayed sane.

Concept: If this is the only thing you take away from this Guide, I’ll consider it a win.  

As I mentioned above, I lost my first couple Executive Secretary’s.  I wasn’t utilizing them as I should have. 

In a tri-stake meeting, with all the Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies in attendance, Elder Holland gave us council.  For a few minutes he spoke specifically to Bishop’s. He said that we were “called to be ministers, not administrators.”  He counseled us to build a team around us that would help us fulfill the callings we were given. We shouldn’t get buried in the minutia of the details.  Delegate as much of that away as possible.  You should focus on being a minister.

This concept helped me understand I wasn’t supposed to be focusing on calendaring, financial details week to week, the activities of the Primary / Elder’s Quorum, or High Priest Group.  An Apostle of the Lord was telling me to delegate – so I did. If I ever felt burdened with certain tasks, I thought to myself, “Is this my responsibility, or can I delegate it to someone who’s probably better at doing this than I am?”  

I started with my Executive Secretary.  

I sat down and diagrammed what I expected of myself.  All the daily tasks I took on, and the time of day I accomplished them.  It was a big list. I then diagrammed all I expected of my Executive Secretary – the daily to do’s.  

Here are the expectations that I had of my executive secretary. (2 page pdf) – Executive Secretary – Duties _ Expectations

After I diagrammed all of this, we had a meeting.  I explained all of my responsibilities and to do’s, and then we talked about what I understood his to be.  We talked about it, came to an agreement about being on the same page going forward.


My Executive Secretary conducted Bishopric and Ward Council.  

“The guy with the agenda directs the meeting.”  

I’m not an organized guy.  I know this is a weakness so I’ve built all kinds of systems around me to help me stay organized and not let things fall through the cracks.  With this, I’m also easily scattered. I get distracted and can easily take conversations far off the rails.  

I need someone to keep me on task.  

There’s no one better than a good Executive Secretary.  Since my Executive Secretary was completely organized and kept me together, I decided to let him start running Bishopric and Ward Council.  Let me be clear, I presided at the meetings, but I let him conduct them.  

Here’s an example of how Ward Council was run.  

We all stood to start the meeting and I asked someone to pray.  Next my Executive Secretary spoke up and reminded the person who had been asked to share a Spiritual Experience.  Once that was completed he turned the time over to me for anything I wanted to say to start the meeting.  Often, he would remind me of the queue of items I’d emailed him throughout the week that I wanted to discuss at the particular meeting we were in (Bishopric or Ward Council).  I’d then look back to him and let him run down the agenda.  

He had all the details, all the emails, all the stuff in order to remember the assignments from last week and what assignments needed to be made this week.  As he ran through the agenda, gave people their time to speak, reminded us of all the to do’s – I would jump in with my input throughout.  

He did all the administration while I was left free, to do be a minister.  

The Ward Council:  Did you know, they should be running most of the show?

Concept: When the church started really emphasising the Ward Council – things changed.

Watch / Study the Worldwide Leadership Training from November 2010

I had served as an Executive Secretary to a Bishop for over a year.  I’d been an Elders Quorum President, I’d been a Young Men’s President, I’d been a councilor to a Bishop for five years.  Through all this I’d seen, first hand, how three different Bishop’s handled Ward Council’s and PEC meetings.  

For the most part, they were run, directed, and pushed by the Bishop.  He called the shots and directed 80% of what happened in a ward. In November 2010 the church changed the handbooks of instruction and sent a very different message in regards to how a ward should be run.  Chiefly, many of the decisions in a ward should be made by and through the Ward Council. The goal was multi-faceted.  

Greater buy in of the ward leadership. 

Greater input from the sisters in the ward; the Relief Society President, Primary President and Young Women’s President.  

Allow the Bishop to delegate more so he could focus on his main responsibility, the youth. 

This was a dramatic change to how I’d witnessed the running of the church for roughly 13 years.  

It’s been four years since this World Wide Leadership meeting.  I highly recommend you go back and review it. I asked all our new auxiliary Presidents to review it immediately after they were called.  

You don’t have to be the only one receiving revelation for the ward: 

Concept: Revelation can come from many places. 

In that same World Wide Leadership meeting noted above, there was something else I heard that changed the way I led the ward.  

In the panel discussion, Elder Bednar said (00:11:28):

“I think we have the mistaken notion, that every element of revelation coming to the ward, has to come through the Bishop. By virtue of his keys, he has to acknowledge it and affirm it, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be the only vehicle through whom it comes.”  

WOW!  When I heard this I was shocked.  I didn’t have to carry the weight of having to receive all the revelation for the ward, I just needed to be able to recognize it when it appeared.  Good ideas can come from anyone, at any time. When a good idea was presented, and it was something that should be applied in the ward – I needed to be worthy to recognize it as inspiration and take action on it.  

If you carry the weight of having to receive ALL the revelation for the ward, you’ll be stifled and have difficulty taking action.  ‘Is this truly the direction the Lord wants us to go?’ If you know you just need to be able to recognize the revelation when it comes, it frees you up to listen to all input, from every source.  And why wouldn’t you do this? Get as much information about a topic as possible, then make your decision. I can’t tell you how often the Primary or Relief Society made a recommendation that was what the Lord wanted.  

Personally, I believe this applies not only to Bishop’s, but to Stake Presidents as well.  A good leader will bring up a topic, ask that it is discussed – without putting their own spin on the topic.  Gather as much information as possible, and only then express their personal opinion on the subject. As is pointed out in the panel discussion mentioned above, if a Bishop gives his opinion first, everyone else shuts up and the discussion is over.  

It takes a good leader to be able to do this.  It’s not easy, it takes longer, but in the end, the Bishop hears all sides, everyone feels they had a chance to speak and hopefully you will know what direction the Lord wants you to go.

Weddings:  

Concept: Tools I picked up from a number of other Bishops to help me perform two weddings.  

My brother asked me to perform his wedding, outside of my ward boundaries.  He wanted me to perform it as a Bishop, so I had to get approval from the Office of the First Presidency.  Because it was my brother, and because I wanted to do a good job, I studied up on how to perform a marriage ceremony, what was necessary, best practices, etc.  I performed another wedding just before I was released. Here is a compilation of all I was able to find from the handbook, other Bishop’s in our stake, and from help online.  

(11 PDF documents, 17 pages)

With all of our brothers and sisters, with all my married children, with all of the individuals getting married, I sat down and read through this with each of them. – Marriage Advice

Bishop Chatham – B. Chatham – Ring Ceremony

Bishop Woodland – Devin and Nicky Civil Wedding and Ring Ceremony 7-10-09 — B. Woodland

Bishop Starkweather – B. Starkweather – Civil Marriage

Bishop Starkweather – B. Starkweather – Ring Ceremony 2

President Jensen – Pres Jensen – Civil Marriage

Sand Ceremony

WEDDING PRE-VOWS

Wedding Ceremony – iPad friendly

Wedding Processional

Church Handbook – Wedding Ceremony – Handbook

Funerals: 

Concept: Funerals can make or break someone’s testimony – don’t mess it up.  Here’s what I learned from presiding at 10 funerals. 

When I served as Bishop I conducted a funeral for my hairdresser 5 days after I was called.  He was a young, energetic type. He was very popular in the community. It was standing room only in the chapel and cultural hall.  I was thrown into the deep end with no time to learn to swim. 

Over my 5 years as Bishop I conducted (not just attend, but conducted) 10 funerals.  I’ve since learned that this is a large number for most Bishop’s, but only a small number for some.  I’ve put together many of the lessons I’ve learned.  

One items you’ll find here is a document titled, “Funeral Guidelines for LDS Bishops.”  This was given to us by Ken Elsey, of Darling-Fischer Mortuaries. He’s an LDS mortician and put together a GREAT resource to help walk you through a funeral – start to finish.  This is a MUST read. 

You can find all the documents here: (3 documents, 23 pages)

Funerals – How To – START HERE

Funeral Guidelines for LDS Bishops

Funeral Talk – Plan of Salvation

The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood: 

Concept: Tools to help teach the Priest Quorum to understand the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.

As the President of the Aaronic Priesthood and President of the Priest Quorum, it is imperative you help your young men make the transition from the Aaronic Priesthood to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Our Stake Presidency put together some good tools to help with that.  

You can find them here: (3 pdf documents, 7 pages)

Pres. Jensen – Oath & Covenant – Discussion Outline

Pres. Jensen – Receiving the Melchizedeck Priesthood

Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Interviews with the Youth: 

Concept: Best practices for interviews with youth. 

Use the For Strength of Youth with each interview.  Ask them if they are reading it often.  

For all the youth under 16 you are meeting with them only once a year, so give them a temple recommend interview EVERY TIME you meet with them.  

You can ask them the detailed questions from the temple recommend process.  

You can use those questions as teaching opportunities.  Ask them if they know what the questions mean, explain each of them, step by step.  It’s a great template.  

When you get to the chastity question, break out the For Strength of Youth pamphlet and turn to the Sexual Purity section and read, at least, this section

“Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.”

This leaves them with no doubt where the lines are.  You don’t have to worry about coming up with language on your own, the Brethren have spelled it out.  The language is also not vague, as it used to be with terms like, ‘petting.’ This is specific and straightforward. 

Help for those who have morality issues: 


Part One: Reading Material – 

Concept: What take away can you give people who are suffering from sin? 

I had many opportunities to talk with and work with those who had lost their way, and were striving to find a way back.  Many came to confess, burdened with the mistakes they made, wanting to find peace again.  

When I was first made Bishop our Stake Presidency had us read President Kimball’s – The Miracle of Forgiveness.  However, I read it myself and felt like there would never be any forgiveness, until the last few pages of the book.  I felt terrible reading most of the book. I tried giving the book to a couple of people seeking help. I found they too had the same experience.  Feeling even worse after reading it, that there was no hope for them, that they might as well just give up. I struggled to get them back and to help them see there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

– No, I don’t believe I channeled my feelings about the book to them.  I gave it to them as an assignment, along with a number of other assignments.  This one however, caused them the most stress, I’d say damage even. After the first two near misses, I never used it again.  

Late in my service I discovered the book The Continuous Atonement, by Brad Wilcox.  You can watch a 30 minute speech he gave on the subject, as a BYU professor HERE.  

This is a much better text, in my opinion.  Here the Lord’s atonement is real and attainable.  It seemed to resonate with all I shared it with. It helped people understand that there is hope, if they just do their part.  I highly recommend it.  

If you have other recommendations, please SHARE them. My email address is at the top of the page. 


Part Two – A Path Back: 

Concept: Provide a detailed letter that can be used as a path back to peace. 

There were a number of times I met with people and because of the seriousness of their transgressions, there were specific steps they needed to take to find their way back to peace, to be right in the sight of God.  In these instances I would ask them to do a number of things, very specific items, often with deadlines.  

It was at these times they would often have a look of never being able to make it back.  So, I would explain we would be meeting often, and I would help them. We would talk through their assignments and feelings.  

I would give them a letter spelling out the specific steps they would need to take.  This letter served two purposes: 

It gave them the specifics they needed to be right in the sight of God. 

It gave me a sheet to turn to every time we talked.  I was able to be reminded of our discussions and their assignments.  I always knew where we were and what the long term goals were.  

I got this idea from a Bishop who finished his term shortly after I started mine.  He gave me a few examples of letters he used. I spoke to my Stake President about this.  He liked the idea, his council, was to make sure each letter was specific to the individual – never make it a boilerplate approach.  Never should the person feel like they’re being pushed through hoops. The letter needs to be especially written for them.  

I wholeheartedly agree with his recommendation.  

Here’s an example of a letter I used: (3 pdf pages)

Bishop’s Letter – Example

Good Ideas: 

Priesthood Ordinances / a Priesthood circle.  

Concept: Handbook direction on performing Priesthood ordinances, who can do it and where to stand. 

Step One: Order 20 of these (they are free), and always have a stack of them on hand at all times.  They are available through LDS.org. They are a small pamphlet.  

Family Guidebook – Click HERE

The Family Guidebook is one of the only places where the Priesthood ordinances are in print.  Yes, they can now be looked up online through lds.org, but that’s hard to review in a pinch. 

The Family Guidebook is a thin pamphlet and is about the same size as the standard size scriptures.  They’ll fit well in a scripture case.  

Make sure your Elder’s Quorum President and High Priest Group leader have a large stack and hand them out as necessary.  An annual lesson, as a refresher to the ordinances, is usually a good idea.  

It is free from lds.org – so order as many as you like. 

Step Two: Prior to a Priesthood ordinance, even if it’s just prior, pull the individual who’s going to be performing the ordinance aside.  Open the Family Guidebook to the back, where the Priesthood ordinances are located. Ask the brother if he’s prepared, while handing him the Guidebook and showing him the short outline of the ordinance to be performed.  Rarely have I had a Priesthood holder not take the pamphlet from me and review the ordinance. Most are grateful for the opportunity to review.  

I always tell them to keep the Guidebook for their reference.  I had plenty of them in my office. I want them to have quick access if they need it.  

On correcting Priesthood brethren acting as voice: 

Handbook 2, 20.1

“To avoid embarrassing a priesthood holder, the bishop quietly corrects errors only if essential elements of the ordinance or blessing are incorrect.” – Emphasis added. 

I’d highly recommend you correct someone in a Priesthood circle ‘only if essential elements’ are incorrect.  In my opinion, that would be rare. The best way to prevent having to say anything is to prepare ahead, as I mention above.  Hand them the Family Guidebook, and ask them if they are prepared. 

I’ve seen Priesthood brethren really become offended because they were not allowed to participate in an ordinance at all, or if they were corrected in front of family and friends.  Yes, this is pride, but men are prideful. Don’t be a deterrent from using the Priesthood.  

Far too often I see Presiding officers only paying attention to this paragraph.  

Handbook 2, 20.1.2

“Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the Church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a Church calling.”

Where, if the presiding officer read the other two paragraphs under 20.1.2 – and considered it with the guidance from 20.1 mentioned above, I believe a much more Christlike approach would be taken when working with Priesthood brethren and their lack of Priesthood experience, lack of Priesthood self esteem, lack of feeling worthy to perform the ordinance, or a simple lack of faith.  A lack of any of these can cause someone to stumble.  

20.1.2 – continued – 

“As guided by the Spirit and the instructions in the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice.” – Emphasis added. 

It does not say that every person in an ordinance circle must have a temple recommend to participate – the contrary is true.  In my opinion, just because someone has been away from the church for some time, doesn’t preclude them from participating. Be one who guides and helps, make it a teaching moment and a building experience for all. 

Here’s a quote from a friend of mine: 

“When I blessed my deceased son’s grave, the Bishop ( I was in the Bishopric ) said nothing ( as is right, in my opinion ).  The next time he saw me, he and I talked about the service ( he gave a GREAT talk ), and he said “You gave a great dedication of the grave.  Just perfect for the occasion. … …. I am not sure you did it by the Melchizedek Priesthood, by the way. “ So, the next time I was there, I re-dedicated the grave.  His approach was PERFECT. There is no way, during that dedication, he should have said anything.”

Where to Stand:  

Concept: On that rare occasion you feel it necessary to correct the Priesthood holder acting as voice – this is what I recommend. 

Again, prepare in advance.  As Bishop you can direct where people stand in a Priesthood circle.  I recommend you stand immediately to the right of the individual acting as voice.  This puts you closest to the ear of the person acting as voice. In that rare event the individual needs help, you are close to his ear and can whisper the direction.  

It may be possible that the individual will correct himself, so waiting is usually prudent.  

Good luck with this, and remember to strive to lead with care, as the Savior would. 

*See the example above, how a Bishop gave direction and solved the problem without embarrassing the brother performing the ordinance. 

Calling Sheet: 

Concept: One document to rule every calling and release.  Nothing will be missed.  

The Morgan Hill Stake uses a sheet to help them when administering stake callings.  There are a number of items that need to be addressed when someone is called. There’s a calling, a release, setting apart, etc.  There are typically a number of people involved when this happens. Bishop Gary Cameron decided to have some of these made up for us to use at the ward level. He actually took them to a printer and had them printed in duplicate.  One sheet would be given to the councilor who would be handling the release.  The other would be given to the Executive Secretary to then make sure all steps were followed until everything was complete.  

This document makes sure that none of the steps are missed.  

Calling Change Form – (one page)

Priesthood Line of Authority.  

Concept: Hand out your authority line to those you ordain. 

You can query the church to get your Priesthood Authority Line, all the way back to the Savior.  As of today, here is the email address of the department: 

LineofAuthority@ldschurch.org 

Here is an example of what it looks like:

You will most likely be ordaining a number of people, having your own Priesthood authority line available is a good practice.  You can actually have them prepared, so you can write in your name, above your Priesthood line. This way, they will be able to see their authority line, unbroken, all the way back to Christ.  

Candy Treasure Chest – Get to know your Primary children: 

Concept: Easy way to get to know the names of all your Primary children – and make friends doing it.  

Find a small box – we had a box in my office that looked like a treasure chest.  I filled the box with small suckers.  After my Priest Quorum meeting I opened my door so any Primary child could come by and get a sucker.  To get a sucker they had to do two things:  

Shake my hand.  

Tell me their name.  

I wouldn’t hand out suckers on Fast Sunday.  Often I’d have meetings immediately after, and wasn’t able to open the door.  But at least 50% of the time I would do it. The primary children loved it. I got to know all of them by name, and I was a nice guy they wanted to talk to.  When they saw me elsewhere in the building, they were excited to see me. When I saw them outside of church, they would always smile and want to shake my hand.  

Love purchased with sugar?  Yes.

When it’s time to move on: 

My Stake President called me in and released me about two weeks prior to the actual event.  There were many leaders I wanted to express my gratitude toward. Many individuals in the ward I wanted to express my personal feelings toward.  So, I decided to hand write cards to all the active members in the ward. Just a short note letting them know I was grateful for the time we spent together.  Something personal, something that I hoped would let them know I cared about them individually. I made no fanfare about it, just purchased enough small note cards to make this happen.  I wrote, addressed and stamped them. It was quite an undertaking. Fortunately during that time we went on a road trip so I was able to write half of them during the trip. In the end, I felt much better about putting my feelings on paper.  I had a number of people pull me aside and thank me, share their feelings with me as well.  

I also wanted to thank those who served with me in my Bishopric over the years.  I wanted to do something special. Specifically for the councilors I’d served with.  I thought about what kind of memento I could purchase to memorialize the experience.  I thought about buying CTR rings, key chains, tie tacks, something to put on their desk – none of those ideas felt right.  Finally I was searching the internet and I found a website of a photographer who had taken beautiful pictures of our local temple – the Oakland, CA temple.  I ordered enough of these prints for each of the six councilors I’d served with during my time.  I then went to a local craft shop and purchased wooden frames for each print.  

I hand wrote a letter for each of my councilors and their spouses.  I then delivered the pictures and letters to each of them.  My hope is that every time they look at the picture they will remember the time we all spent together growing and learning from each other.  I know I will.  

Bishopric Agenda: 

Here is the agenda we used in Bishopric – Bishopric meeting agenda

Ward Council Agenda: 

Here’s what we used for an agenda in Ward Council – PEC – Ward Council Meeting Agenda Updated

New Adventures  

I’ve now been called as the Deacon’s Quorum Advisor – or the Scoutmaster for our ward.  Fortunately for me, our ward’s youth program is mated with another ward. That means I’ll be an Assistant Scoutmaster to the one that’s already serving.  I’ll be happy to jump in the shotgun seat for a while. Good times. 

If you’d like to reach me, feel free.  I’d love to hear your feedback.  

– Anything I should add?  

– Anything I should change?  

– Anything that particularly helped you?  

I’d love to hear it.  My email is above. 

Go, and do good.   

– Andy

(Last updated 12/15/2019)

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