Saturday, November 23, 2013

Strange Mormon Customs #8: Callings

Let's pretend.

Let's say you were to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  (Don't panic! Remember, we are just pretending. :) )

So what happens next?

Almost as soon as you come out of the water you are put to work. You are given a calling.

A calling is an inspired assignment. The calling is given to you by the bishop of the congregation--a lay minister himself who makes no money serving as your pastor, but earns his money in another profession just like you do.

Usually you are not given anything too demanding at first. For instance, you might be asked to serve by teaching 3-year-old children about the gospel.

And this is when you begin to wonder if getting baptized was a good idea.

You enter into a room filled with inquisitive bright eyes and the door is closed behind you. Although they look cute and innocent you soon realize that you can't get through a five minute lesson without someone clawing at the door, biting their neighbor, sticking their finger up their nose or rummaging through your bag looking for food. It is like trying to teach raccoons.  Sunday quickly becomes your least favorite day of the week. Your only comfort is that the teacher of the nine-year-olds looks more worn out than you do.

After a while you start thinking about your raccoons during the week, and how you can best reach the more . . . untamable ones. Week after week you teach them, feeling like the only thing you are gaining from this assignment is the five extra pounds around your belly from eating too many goldfish crackers.

Then one day you are surprised when realize that not only do you know their names but also the names of their parents, their dogs and their security blankets. Before long you can teach them the first principles and ordinances of the gospel with confidence and power, you can coax a shy new student away from the folds of their mother's skirt, you can whip out a flannel board character in less than a minute with a pair of dull kid scissors. When parents come to pick up their child after class they cling to your legs. After a year or two or three they will be raccoons no more, but the purest spirits that you get to bless and love and then--

And then your calling will change.

You are snatched away from those angel-children and are called to teach the youth, more specifically the teenage boys. Do you have much of a choice? No, not much. But at first you think this will be easy because even though you are 40 you still feel like you are 16 and you are betting that you still have it in you, somewhere, to be lightning-cool. But it doesn't even take one day before you realize that boys these days are not the way you remembered and you are as cool as leftover lasagna tossed out in the snow.

And this goes on and on. You will serve in many types of callings (choir director, scout leader, refreshment organizer, custodian) and just as soon as you figure it out the calling will change. Each time you will be surrounded by different people and learn different skills.  Sometimes you will be teaching, sometimes leading.  No matter what calling you have you will be welding connections with those around you, building a framework in your church community that transforms a congregation into a family.

We believe the callings are inspired of God, but like everything, you get out of it what you put into it.  The harder you work at the calling the more inspired you realize it is.

Mormons don't just go to church on Sunday and call it good. We might have three or four activities during the week that are church related, especially if we are called to work with the youth. Depending on the calling you might put in 4 to 25 hours doing church service every week. Church is not part of our week. It is not part of our life. For Mormons, church is life. And every other event or activity, whether it be sports or community service or work, it all falls with in the larger circle of Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Your calling with bless your family. Your children will see you serving in the church and your service will be a stronger testimony to them of your love for the Savior and your fellow man than any words you could ever say to them.

Your calling blesses others in the congregation. Right now I serve in the youth organization, teaching the 14-17 year old girls. I love this calling. I teach one beautiful young woman named Carmen. For a while Carmen's mother was teaching my three-year-old son at the same time I was teaching Carmen. I knew that Carmen's mother loved my son like he was her own, which inspired me to teach Carmen in the same way. When you put everything you have into your calling it comes back to bless you in ways you might not have predicted.

There are a variety of places you will serve, and many of those positions will feel foreign at first. Most callings have no training, no warning and no trial period. This can be extremely uncomfortable, like having someone nail your swimming suit to the bottom of a pool and then tossing you in naked to go get it.  You often do not feel qualified or even interested in your calling. Sometimes you feel overqualified for the calling. But although Jesus can turn water into wine he can't turn whining into anything, so out of duty you serve. One can't serve long before duty is overcome by love soon you understand the reasons why your were supposed to serve in that capacity. Mormonism is all about being thrust out of your comfort zone and pelted by firey darts. I have plenty of battle wounds myself.

Can you say "no" to a calling? Yes. If you are called to be a pianist but you can't play the piano you can inform the bishop he has made a mistake and he might change your calling.
He might.
Or you might have to learn to play the piano.
And when you are finished with your calling you now know how to play the piano. If you said no at the beginning then you would still be the same old person you were before.  (Usually when it comes to actual piano callings you won't be asked to play piano if you don't know how, but their are plenty of callings where you might be asked to do something that you have never done before.)

Then, after many years of service, you might be called into a meeting with the stake president and he will call you--yes even you--to be the bishop of a congregation. You don't have to have been a member your whole life, you don't need to have had a job with leadership experience, you don't need an ecclesiastical degree from a divinity school. All you need to have is a humble heart and a desire to do what the Lord has asked you to do (. . . and you also need to be male, but that is another Strange Mormon Custom yet to come.)

After five to eight years, and after many years of praying for inspiration to give other people callings you will then suddenly be released . . .

. . . and then called to once again teach the three-year-olds.

And that is how we learn and grow and improve and excell and love. We are like an orchestra of different instruments with different timbres and different tasks. We are all trying to stay in tune, blend in harmony, rest when we are supposed to let others shine, all the while following the rhythm set for us by our Conductor, the Savior Jesus Christ.

It is our work, it is our calling.


  1. I got here from facebook and I am allowed to comment because I've finished my preparations for tomorrow. ;) Wonderful post. I really do love that we have a lay ministry and I have made so many wonderful friends as I have served and problem solved with those I've been called to serve with. It's a grand ol' time.

  2. It is true. I love the 10 year olds that we teach as a couple. But really do you think they could call me as bishop???????

  3. Thank you for all you do in teaching my daughter's class and for loving her!

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

  4. Thanks for this. It was very timely. I read it last night and this morning was called to be a nursery worker until January where I get to teach the same kids in Sunbeams. Our ward boundaries recently changed and so I was left with nothing to do for a few Sundays. It was very unsettling and I was so excited to be put to work again.