When Leadership Positions Cycle Between the Same Few

by | Jul 28, 2021

girl in chapel

Part of A Happier Ward Series – (ward health)

Highlights for Doctrine and Covenants 84

This topic may be a bit uncomfortable for some of you – but Section 84 inspires me to write this unlikely post – so here we go. Most of all, I want to show how Christ is actively in charge of your life and His Church despite mortal mishaps. This is the most important message of this article, not the title, so bear with me to the end.

I’ve lived in a couple of places that influenced the title above. Let me describe the scenario and see if it sounds somewhat familiar? A couple of dominant, alpha families or established social clicks cycle each other and close friends through leadership positions. It can even become kind of an “in” club of the chosen ones. They hang out together during the week; they congregate for social time in the foyer during the 2nd hour…you’ve probably seen something like this. They and theirs are often showcased in lead roles at church meetings and activities. They get repeatedly selected for Pioneer Trek and other choice experiences. If anyone outside of the approved enclave comes along who shines or willingly has skill or time to give – they are quickly held down and sidelined. Sometimes the mechanisms to do so are pretty sad: gossip, resentment, ostracization, competition, jealousy, power plays, accusations, diminution, etc.

Elder Uchtdorf framed these very tendencies in October of 2010:

Pride is deadly cancer. It is a gateway sin that leads to a host of other human weaknesses. In fact, it could be said that every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride.

This sin has many faces. It leads some to revel in their own perceived self-worth, accomplishments, talents, wealth, or position. They count these blessings as evidence of being “chosen,” “superior,” or “more righteous” than others. This is the sin of “Thank God I am more special than you.” At its core is the desire to be admired or envied. It is the sin of self-glorification.

For others, pride turns to envy: they look bitterly at those who have better positions, more talents, or greater possessions than they do. They seek to hurt, diminish, and tear down others in a misguided and unworthy attempt at self-elevation. When those they envy stumble or suffer, they secretly cheer.

If you’ve experienced something along these lines in your ward or branch…keep reading.

Elder Gong Said It

I loved this quote from Elder Gong’s talk “Room In the Inn” (April 2021) when he admonished members and leaders to include everyone at Church:

Adults want to be seen as adults and to be responsible and contribute as adults.

Some ward cultures are unaware of how important it is for every adult to feel esteemed, useful, and involved. Their leaders are not spiritually mature enough to share the limelight. Thus, a good number of awesome folks with a lot to contribute habitually receive a calling that is considered minor or no calling at all. They may also experience being left out of projects, councils, social gatherings, etc.

My awesome daughter Laurelle drew an illustration of the ward dynamics I described above. We’ll call it ‘Ward A’:

faces

Whenever I see a ward or stake leadership that has developed this kind of a “special-er people” platform, I already know that ward or stake will steadily decline in attendance and strength over time.

A Better Balance

What we want is for our ward and stake to resonate with this verse from Doctrine and Covenants 82:14:

How do you grow, increase in beauty and strengthen a ward or stake? You invest in all the willing souls within her boundaries. You share and take turns with the best experiences and with leadership opportunities. Wise leaders make sure every household shines and is celebrated for what they can contribute.

Wards and stakes that thrive tend to be more balanced, and they widely rotate lead callings, choice opportunities, and inclusion. They make sure that as many different households as possible have members in important roles or memorable experiences. Wait, doesn’t the Spirit inspire and choose those callings? Yes. And you can tell when the Spirit is fully involved because there will be a pattern of win-win all around. The Lord is no respecter of persons, families, or social clicks.

A visual version of a thriving ward (‘Ward B’) would look somewhat like this: central callings and roles are dispersed throughout the different families and singles of the ward. (The circles represent family units and/or social groups, and the brighter colors represent central/leadership callings):

The circles represent family units, and the brighter colors represent central/leadership callings.

Compare this one to the ‘Ward A’ illustration above. Do you sense the difference?

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual maturity rotates all aspects of ward life.

Spiritual maturity patiently nurtures the best in others.

Elder Bednar shared, The highest type of discernment is that which perceives in others and uncovers for them their better natures, the good inherent within them. . . . (Quick to Observe – May 2005)

Spiritual maturity prompts us to sit back and let someone else have the limelight, the experience, that edifying leadership call, or be included at the center of memorable projects.

Spiritual maturity feels satisfaction in watching other people grow and thrive in experiences we loved for ourselves.

Spiritual maturity doesn’t habitually rotate our friends and family members as counselors or into other major projects and roles. We look into every corner the Lord can see for inspiration to fill those opportunities.

Spiritual maturity celebrates the skills, accomplishments, and bright lights outside of our family/friend circles and doesn’t feel threatened by them. There is enough room for everyone to be amazing.

Spiritual maturity recognizes and discerns those who hold down the heads of others and counteracts those lesser dynamics. Elder Renlund recently described this as being a “stone catcher.”

“Brothers and sisters, not throwing stones is the first step in treating others with compassion. The second step is to try to catch stones thrown by others.” (April – 2021)

Spiritual maturity esteems all other family clans and households as important as our own.

What Can I Do?

Above all, resist the temptation to send any leader a copy of this article. It will backfire because people do not see themselves clearly. This article is meant exclusively for your benefit.

If you find yourself in a ‘Ward A’ with lesser dynamics – do not worry or feel much concern for this situation. This might not be an obvious or intuitive piece of advice, but please allow me to make a case for it!

I certainly understand maybe feeling depressed over such circumstances because I’ve been there. We can allow inferior ward culture and dynamics to push down on our self-esteem. The good news is, Christ really IS in charge of his Church. He understands the frailties and vanity of mortals and the imperfections we bring with us to Church life. He is a diligent, keen, highly aware, and involved Teacher. Let Him do his own work in His own time – He always does.

Consider this message straight from Christ (D&C 82:23-24):

Next, recognize that the Lord’s great power and His Kingdom are everywhere – not just in the ward or stake infrastructure. If you are open to different experiences and opportunities, the Lord will fully utilize you in ways you never dreamed of. This IS His world, and His miracles, powers, and dominions abound. If by short-sightedness, the current local Church leaders do not utilize your talents and time, He will employ you elsewhere if you allow for it and pray for inspiration.

I have found that when doors close, especially manmade doors – when I bear such experiences with patience and faith – the Lord opens substantial windows. Typically those windows are far larger than the doors that were closed. It’s a repeating pattern you can bank on.

Years ago, In a small town in the west, I found myself in the ultimate model of ‘Ward A.’ It was truthfully discouraging, and I felt so sidelined. One day, at the gym in my wrinkled t-shirt and super ugly sweats, a highly influential school board member walked up to me and urged me to run for the school board. They were familiar with my service and volunteerism and thought I would be perfect. That was so out of the blue, and I was completely taken back.

So I did run and served on that school board which gave me many leadership experiences I still treasure. They all knew I was LDS, so it gave me a chance to model who we were as a people. What more, eventually, the board unanimously urged me to run for President, and I served in that capacity too. I saw the hand of the Lord repeatedly manifest in this experience from beginning to end.

Do You Really Need a Title Anyway?

Eventually, you discover the more important titles or high-status callings are only a shell or an opportunity to show you who YOU are. Influence doesn’t follow status or title for long anyway. That kind of power often fades rapidly.

Next, you don’t need any title or higher status calling to be a central, important ward member. In one ward, I observed the nursery leader make hanging out in her hall after Church the social event of every Sunday. Everybody wanted to say hi to her. She was bubbly, friendly and made anyone cinnamon toast in her little toaster. She was amazing! You just knew it would never matter what calling she was in. She was completely happy with herself and fully in her personal power. She was one of the most respected, influential members of the ward.

In another ward, everyone coveted the Primary teacher calling. Why? Because the Primary president treated all of her ‘staff’ like family and had them over for a BBQ social and a bit of ‘training’ once a month. She included them in council decisions regarding Primary. It was the CENTER of the ward social life to be called as a primary teacher. There’s a lesson somewhere in there for any leader.

You can be the heart of loveliness and life in any calling for at least a few people. Every calling has the seeds of greatness and influence built-in. That is truly the Lord’s way. It’s all in how you magnify it or not. Consider this verse from Doctrine and Covenants 84:109 –

scripture verse

For example, I’ve seen Primary teachers hold fun weekend parties and visit their kids outside of church and become darlings of multiple families in the ward. They became notable, influential strongholds of goodness and respect.

When you partner with the Savior, you can have fulfillment with ANY calling. You simply take the opportunity to connect and serve. The Lord loves Saints who reach out to others. Consider this checklist from the Lord for any calling you may have: to succor, lift and strengthen (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5)

Once, when my husband and I had no call, we would regularly make huge amounts of food, drive around, and deliver it to random families and households. We had so much fun and made lots of great connections that way. People were happy to see us at Church. So much elevation, satisfaction, and well-being can happen with simply ministering to others.

We are not Zion yet, but our job is to make it as much like Zion for others as we possibly can.

If you humble yourself in prayer, partner with the Heavens, and allow your divine, creative nature to ponder and explore possibilities – you will find satisfaction and fulfillment. You will also feel the powerful hand of the Savior in your life. He will open more and more doors – whatever form they may be. This is His world, and you are of great worth to Him.

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2 Comments

  1. peggybogar

    That was a good read and Brother P. Challis told me his Mission President told him Seek to bless nor to impress.

    Reply
    • Shawnie Cannon

      I love that motto! Thank you for sharing.

      Reply

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