Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sustaining Church Leaders: A Conundrum

I want to pause in my posts about the bishops in my life to focus on a more sensitive subject.

I realize this blog is to be historical and that it is not intended to be a forum for ideas. But I believe that the stories we share should provide the listener, or reader in this case, a glimpse into our souls. We need to share stories so that others come to know us better. In that process, we come to know ourselves better as well.

I use this as a prelude to a post about my interpretation of what it means to sustain church leaders. As I mentioned above, this is a sensitive topic because there is no real training for LDS people on what it means to sustain a leader. Likewise, there is no training for church leaders on how to be sustainable. What complicates this issue is that one of the covenants made in the temple is that we will not speak ill of those called to lead us.

So, does sustaining a church leader mean that you do whatever he or she says with blind faith simply because they wear the mantle of a leader?

Is it wrong to disagree with one who has stewardship over you?

Is a church leader infallible and, by divine right, entitled to our strict obedience?

While the answer may be obvious, one’s ability to do the obvious is greatly restricted when you feel you are staring into an abyss of breaking a covenant.

I bring this up now because I am ready to write posts about two bishops with whom I have had disagreements. Also, if anyone read previous posts, there was mention of President Bennett in North Carolina with whom I had major disagreements. So, I felt the need to try to work through my interpretation of the concept of sustaining church leaders to not only share this part of my life with you, but to see if I can make sense of it myself.

For more than three years, I had the great opportunity to serve as bishop of a BYU singles ward. I viewed this rare opportunity as a laboratory for ideas that have been percolating in the recesses of my mind. This laboratory was enhanced by the fact that many of these ward members still had malleable minds and were willing to explore with me.

One of my first experiments was to encourage ward members to see things differently than I did. In fact, I encouraged them to disagree with me. But if they disagreed, I asked them to do so in person with no threat of reprisals. This was a huge success.

Our leadership meetings became a hatchery of ideas and dialog that I did not control. In fact, I was simply a member of the team, not the heavy hand that needed to shepherd his flock to his own vision of the Promised Land.

I receive countless e-mails and text of ward members disagreeing with me. I had numerous interviews with ward members who wanted to share their point of view, knowing full well it was opposite of mine. I pity the next bishop these young people have if my former ward members assume that such a dialog is acceptable in all situations.

Next, I assumed that every ward member needed a bishop. I would tell them that they were all projects but that I was a project as well. Once I opened that floodgate, I learned that while they all needed a bishop, they all needed personal council. Rarely did a pat answer from scriptures of prophets provide any long lasting, sustainable, positive impact. I learned to be a bishop to all, I had to come to know them all. That took time, lots of time.

Also, I learned the value of not having all the answers. I never assumed that because I was bishop God would simply tell me what to do. He doesn't work that way with me. Rather, He gives me fleeting moments of clarity shrouded in a flood of uncertainty. My job was the dig through the mass of confusion to discover these hidden treasures.

To combat this, I learned to counsel with my ward members. When I was lost a maze of someone’s problem, I would turn to my ward leadership and ask them for counsel. They were young, very young. They lacked the experience of life that I had. But that didn't matter. They understood their peers better than I did. By inviting them to assist me in helping others, they became invested in the solution. More important, they saw that I honestly needed their help.

Finally, I would rarely speak openly about inspiration or revelation I received on their behalf.  I feel it is unfair for a leader to say to someone that God wants them to do something. I don’t recall Christ telling people to do something because God wanted them to. Rather, He asked them to do things because they could come to know God through the process.

As I told my ward members, they should never tell their boyfriend or girlfriend that God wanted them to marry or demanded them to break up. This puts the other person in a horrible situation and, in my mind, shows a lack of courage. They used their “revelation” to shield them from personal responsibility.

So, this is where I stand today on the concept of sustaining leaders. This has put me at odds with some leaders, both past and present. My interpretation of this concept has caused some of my leader’s sleepless nights as they debated if I was questioning their authority and thereby breaking a covenant .

I have never questioned the calling of any of my leaders. But I have questioned some of their insight, policies, and processes used to perform their calling. Yet I still feel I have been true to the covenant I made in the temple.

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