My purpose today is to help us better understand the duties and responsibilities of a bishop and what each of our relationships should be with our bishops.
When I was a teenager, my bishop interviewed me before going to youth conference. He had a strange sense of humor and was asking me ‘what if’ questions. I found myself increasingly unsure of what the right answer was, so I just kept saying ‘yes.’ Eventually he asked a question that was supposed to have a ‘no’ answer, so when I answered incorrectly, he had to stop and explain his question and ask me more directly, without trying to be funny. I was a bit embarrassed, but glad he took the time to explain what it was he was asking, and glad he signed-off on my participation in the youth conference trip.
A few duties of the bishop
The bishop is the ward’s president of the Aaronic Priesthood.
“The bishopric is the presidency of this [Aaronic] priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same” (D&C 107:15). “Also the duty of the president over the Priesthood of Aaron is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants. This president is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood” (D&C 107: 87-88).
Bishops typically serve for about five years. I think this set expectation is, perhaps mostly, to help the bishop maintain his sanity.
In addition to being the president of the priests quorum of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward, the bishop is also the ward’s presiding high priest.
This is from the book, Gospel Doctrine:
“A bishop is the presiding officer of his ward, … and those who are members of his ward are subject to his presidency. … and his place should be held sacred in the minds of his associates” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine).
As the presiding high priest, the buck stops there — at least as far as the ward is concerned. For now, bishops report to stake presidents, who report to area authorities, who report to the Quorum of the Twelve. But we know the manner of administration in the Church is subject to change.
A bishop is also a common judge in Israel.
“And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, who he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church. This is the duty of a bishop. … Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion” (D&C 107:72-74).
As a judge in Israel, bishops are responsible for church discipline. We follow a process similar to what Alma used in the Book of Mormon to help set the Church in Zarahemla in order:
“And it also came to pass that whosoever did belong to the church that did not repent of their wickedness and humble themselves before God—I mean those who were lifted up in the pride of their hearts—the same were rejected, and their names were blotted out, that their names were not numbered among those of the righteous” (Alma 6:3).
A bishop is responsible for overseeing the welfare of the saints.
“And the bishop … should travel round about … searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud” (D&C 84:112).
It’s the bishop’s duty — and his alone — to determine to whom, when, how, and how much is to be given from Church funds to those in his ward who are in need. He does this working closely with ward auxiliaries and priesthood quorums.
Bishops are to preside over the temporal affairs of members of their ward.
“For the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things” (D&C 107:68).
The bishop is responsible for the administration of finances, records, and properties of the ward, including the receiving of tithes and offerings from ward members.
Beginning in 2008 our family moved from Henderson, Nevada to Bountiful, then, after a year, to Holladay, then, a few months later, back to Bountiful for a couple years, and then finally to South Jordan in 2012. In a five year period, we had five different bishops.
We’ll each encounter many different bishops throughout our lives. It’s our job to support and sustain (and be very grateful we’re not the one serving as bishop!), and when given the opportunity, we counsel with, pray with and encourage the bishop.
From my observation, serving as an LDS bishop is one of the most challenging and rewarding opportunities in the Church. But it’s always the case that where there is great sacrifice, there’s great fulfillment: but two sides of the same coin.
Our relationship with the bishop
We should each have some sort of reliable relationship with the bishop.
While serving as the Church’s presiding bishop, Elder Hales said:
“My experience has given me an understanding that our personal relationship with the bishop is often a good indication of our personal relationship with the Lord.”
Think about how the bishop represents the Lord in each of our lives. It’s a great blessing, as members of this Church, to have bishops who hold and exercise power in the priesthood of God in our lives.
Here are four recommendations for developing a better relationship, or enhancing your existing relationship, with the bishop:
1. Pray for the bishop.
Every morning and every night, each child, youth and adult in the ward should pray for the bishop. He needs your help. You can pray to know how you can best support him as he serves the ward.
I also suggest praying for the bishop’s family. He spends as much or more time with the ward family than he does with his own family. The Lord will bless his family because of the bishop’s service, and praying for them — their safety and success — will make us more mindful of them and their needs, allowing us to be the Lord’s hands in specific needful circumstances.
2. Turn to him for help and accept his council.
Each of us can turn to our bishop when we are in need of help and can feel secure in his love for us. We can have absolute confidence in following his counsel.
“Receive counsel of him whom I have appointed,” the Lord said. “… Resist no more my voice” (D&C 108:1-2).
Those of you who attended this month’s stake women’s conference heard from fellow Latter-day Saint and Olympian, Noelle Picus-Pace, about the many instances when her faith required focused, diligent action in order for the Lord’s blessings and counsel from priesthood blessings to be manifest in her life. One example was when her back was out and she needed to train. Her husband gave her a blessing but the next morning, she was still in pain. Rather than lie in bed, disappointed and disheartened, she slowly got up, got dressed and started walking, then jogging. It was then, after her action, that the blessing was fulfilled. What a powerful example of demonstrating faith through works.
In my late 20s, when Vickey and I met in a singles ward, our bishop was Bishop Skousen. He helped me through a challenging time. His counsel was initially unpopular — and by that I mean I was stubborn and didn’t want to do what he recommended. But I ultimately followed his counsel and not too long afterwards could see the wisdom in it. The Lord was watching out for me through a faithful priesthood holder; a man who, to this day, I love and greatly appreciate.
3. Accept and fulfill the callings that are extended to you.
This is probably the best (and perhaps most challenging) way for us to sustain and support the bishop — by confidently and compassionately fulfilling any and every responsibility the Lord, through the bishop, extends to us.
The bishop can’t be everywhere. But if we all do our part, the work will get done and we’ll all progress together.
We may be asked to do something we consider to be incredibly difficult or time consuming. It may be something we’ve never done before. But we can do it, for with God, all things are possible.
I met a few months ago with a good brother who had in his mind how he could best be utilized in his ward, only to be offered a different opportunity to serve. He accepted the unexpected opportunity, and in my view, has become better for it.
The Lord said:
“Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100).
4. Speak kindly of the bishop… always.
It’s easy to be critical, brothers and sisters. But as Christians and Latter-day Saints, we can be better than that.
If you think about the people in your life you’d love to just hang out with, I’ll bet they’re people you admire, who unconditionally love you. I’ll bet they’re optimistic and supportive.
We should support and love our bishops (and others for that matter) as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it. We show that love through our faith, commitment and fulfilling callings; and by speaking kindly of the bishop… always.
In the New Testament we’re taught:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. … Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:29,31).
When I was 13 and serving as a deacon’s quorum president, our quorum adviser was called to be our ward’s new bishop. I was devastated. I remember talking with my mom about how much I loved our adviser, about how much he had taught me, and about how different going to church would be with him no longer a part of our quorum. She encouraged me to maintain those feelings of love and respect for our new bishop and helped me see he’d still be actively involved in the young men’s program and my life. It wasn’t too much after that that our family moved from Houston to upstate New York, where we all got to support and get to know a new set of Church leaders.
Who among us hasn’t heard countless examples of a young Bishop Monson, now President Monson, who seems to have accepted every opportunity to follow the promptings of the Spirit to care for and minister to the many families, and eventually widows, of his Salt Lake City ward. He has worn out his life in the service of his brothers and sisters. He was a great bishop and is a great prophet. He’s an example to us all.
“Busy as a man can be, He’s our bishop.
He finds time to talk to me; He’s our bishop.
Always kindly words he’ll say, To the children every day.
Let us help him every way; He’s our bishop.
Cheerful as he serves the Lord, He’s our bishop.
He’s the father of our ward; He’s our bishop.
He helps us to do the right, In our Heavenly Father’s sight.
We love him with all our might; He’s our bishop.”
Children’s Songbook, 135
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 1997, “Bishop, Help!”
Elder Robert D. Hales, April 1985, “The Mantle of a Bishop”
Elder Boyd K. Packer, April 1999, “The Bishop and His Counselors”