Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Hope For Better Ward Councils

It was the first Sunday that the bishop was away, leaving me in charge of the day's various meetings. I had been called to serve as a counselor to the bishop when our ward's new bishopric had been formed several months earlier.

As our ward council discussed various matters that morning, we hit on a topic that struck a chord with me. After some discussion, I glanced at the clock and then deigned to offer my enlightened counsel. Not only was I the guy in charge, I had a fair amount of experience with the issue.

In my mind's eye I could see myself dispensing incredible profoundness to breathlessly eager listeners. But it didn't quite roll out that way. Almost everything I said seemed to produce loose ends, which I would then try to tie off, only to produce additional loose ends in the process.

These attempts to achieve a coherent thought resulted in me rambling on and on. My message felt like a strong rolling river that eventually peters out into a broad sandy delta covered with a thousand stagnate marshy streams.

I finally glanced at the clock and realized that 8½ minutes had passed since I had last looked at it. Nobody else had said anything. I'm sure that the rest of the people in the room were relieved when I quickly abandoned my attempt to reach a cogent conclusion and weakly wrapped up my desultory monologue. "This" I thought to myself as the meeting ended, "is not how ward councils are supposed to work."

Ward councils are supposed to be collaborative bodies where members work together within their various stewardships to accomplish the entire mission of the Church. Although the bishop ultimately is responsible for the actions of the council, nobody — not even the bishop — is supposed to dominate the council.

Nor are members of the ward council simply errand boys/girls for the bishop/bishopric. Each is called of God to vigorously fulfill a specific stewardship and is entitled to inspiration and revelation in relation to that calling. While the Church has a hierarchical structure with vertical stewardships, no individual is any other individual's underling. Each is accountable to God for their calling.

When any leader sucks all of the air out of the room, members of the ward council tend to clam up and become observers rather than active participants. They feel that their ideas and inspirations are not important to leaders, so they just wait to be told what to do.

An example of this occurred on one ward council of which I was a member. The bishop essentially insisted on making all of the decisions, even on matters that could have been handled by others. It wasn't that he shut down the discussion. But everyone in the room would constantly look at him to see if he was prepared to pontificate his verdict. It was like a game of musical chairs where everyone keeps walking in the same circle until the person in charge stops the music.

I would like to offer some positive examples of how ward councils should work. But quite frankly, I've seen very little of that in any of the various church councils I have attended throughout my life. Many of these meetings have devolved to little more than leaders dumping demands as other council members quietly sit and make notes of what they are supposed to do. I believe that a monumental cultural shift will be required for this to change.

Neylan McBaine's essay on ward councils focuses heavily on enhancing the experience of female members of the council. This is vitally important. But I think that many of her points could be extended to all members of the council. Each needs to be valued in her/his role. Each needs to feel accountable not just for carrying out orders, but for making useful contributions to consequential decisions made by the council. I'd love to see this happen on a broad scale in my lifetime.

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