I believe that this type of thinking represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrine of callings in the church and what church leaders mean when they talk about callings coming from the Lord. It further misconstrues the doctrine of sustaining church members in their callings.
Article of Faith #5 states that church members "must be called of God, by prophecy ... by those who are in authority...." Handbook 2, section 19.1.1 states that "Leaders seek the guidance of the Spirit in determining whom to call."
No one should expect the spirit of prophecy and guidance from the Spirit to occur any differently for callings than it does on any other issue in life. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has an article in the August 2013 Ensign on the workings of revelation. His points include:
- Revelation comes to those that are qualified to receive it.
- Revelation comes on the Lord's timetable and in the Lord's way; not on our terms.
- Revelation most often comes when we are actively doing our part.
- Revelation often comes by enlightenment and peace (i.e. quiet whisperings) rather than in a bold manner. Exceptional spiritual events happen, but they are exceptional because they are rare.
- In the lack of clear direction we "are often obliged to act upon our best judgment, subject to the Spirit’s restraining impressions if we have strayed beyond permissible limits."
In line with Elder Oaks' teaching on the rarity of exceptional spiritual events, we should not expect that the bishop have the heavens opened to him every time he or one of his counselors calls a ward member to fill a position. Rather, we should expect overpowering revelation to be rare.
The bishop will have listened to the quiet whisperings of the Spirit that bring a sense of enlightenment and rightness to the calling. Or he will have moved forward using his best judgment, having not been told no by the Spirit. At least, that's how it has worked when I have served in callings where I was among those that have had responsibility for determining and issuing callings.
It really doesn't matter which spiritual method the Lord uses to help his servants develop church assignments; "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38).
I have had callings that I have loved and callings that I have hated. I have had callings that I initially hated that I learned to love. But every calling has been from the Lord, and fulfilling those callings to the best of my meager abilities has blessed my life beyond measure.
Releases come by inspiration from the Lord too. Years ago I both loved and hated my calling as scoutmaster. It was very fulfilling and I learned much. But support was hit-and-miss, making it difficult to effectively run a troop with nearly two dozen boys.
A couple of years into the calling I counseled with the bishop about some health problems I was experiencing related to my Multiple Sclerosis condition. After confidentially counseling with my wife about the matter, the bishop decided to replace me as scoutmaster (a process that took about three months). I had not asked to be released. I wanted to do the calling. But when the release came, I knew inside that it was right.
No doubt bishoprics sometimes find themselves scrambling to fill positions in the ward. Sometimes it can seem like callings occur out of desperation, even (especially?) to members of the bishopric. But when the process for seeking revelation as outlined by Elder Oaks is followed and callings (and releases) are properly handled, all will be in accordance with accepted doctrine, even if no spectacular heavenly manifestation has occurred. And of course, the person being called is fully authorized to receive and follow their own revelation on the matter, providing for a system of divine checks and balances.
Is a calling from the Lord? You decide. But in light of your covenants, you also are responsible for your decision. That is the Lord's way.
Wonderfully said. I've been a part of those councils where callings are considered and extended, and have had a variety of confirming experiences. It is important for us as members of the Church to gain our own witness as callings come to us. Thank you for articulating the process so clearly.
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