New bishopric member seeks advice

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NWwisdomseeker
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New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by NWwisdomseeker » 21 Apr 2010, 14:08

Hi,

I'm new to this forum. Quick intro: I'm lifelong LDS (though from a part-member family); RM (Germany 83-85); long labeled myself "existential Mormon" before there were labels like NOM (which I'm not sure I like, but I'm not sure I like "existential Mormon" either). Temple married, temple recommend holder, devoted husband, father of four (oldest is 20 yo inactive Priest).

For the past two years I was a high council member in our stake, and just last Sunday was sustained as first counselor in our bishopric. During the first bishopric meeting, the new bishop told me flat out that the reason he felt inspired to call me was that we have a large number of people in the ward who are "intellectuals" (his word, not mine) and that he knows that I am similarly inclined and a part of that group of people. He wants me to reach out and minister to them. I don't think he wants me to cajole them into staying -- in fact I told him that would be counter productive. But it is interesting to me that he confirmed the justification I had when I was called to the HC -- I'm here to help others like me. The bishop would like to start right away visiting some of the people who are closest to the brink of leaving -- there are several. He'd like me to set up the appointments and lead the discussions.

In thinking though this, I have concluded the following: a) I'm very willing to reach out and make the appointment and visit these people; b) I would like to state to them up front that we have no intention of trying to talk them into anything. In fact, I would like to state that my intention is to listen to what they have to say and why they are considering leaving, identify if any of the concerns they have are things we can address either by clarification or by trying improve a situation within the ward, and assure them that we will respect their intentions and that we will always have open arms and a willingness to support them and help them in any way. I'd also like to use these visits to see if there might be either improvements we could make in the programs we run, or alternative ways to help people feel a part of the ward without making them feel guilty if they don't want to attend the temple, or can't stand to be in a fast and testimony meeting, or can't claim that they "know" something, or have difficulty with the historicity, the exceptionalism, etc.

So the question I'd like to pose to this group is: what do you wish for in your local leadership? If you were in my ward, and the bishop and I showed up at your house, how would you want that to go?

Thanks!
Last edited by NWwisdomseeker on 21 Apr 2010, 22:04, edited 1 time in total.

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hawkgrrrl
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by hawkgrrrl » 21 Apr 2010, 16:30

Weird situation! BTW, I've often found myself being labelled as an intellectual. The other "intellectuals" come up to me and talk about how much they enjoy the talks or lessons I've done (or even blog posts) because they are fresh and unusual. That's a label they affix to it, more than my own view. I think I'm not that intellectual, just curious about things, and I like to read.

First of all, I am wondering - how do you know they are thinking of leaving, and on what grounds are they intending to leave (theology, belief, what)? Are they practicing still? Do they object to the practices (chastity, WoW, tithing) or just the beliefs? My own opinion is that beliefs are not a choice, but behaviors are. I'd promote behaviors (allowing for differences of interpretation and values) and let beliefs fall where they may.

Secondly, I would ask about your ward. Are the teachers well prepared? Are the lessons interesting? Is questioning welcome? Is there meat or only milk to the discussions? (I know already that the manuals are a bit milk-intensive, but the discussions themselves are not correlated, just the manuals). Do talks include stimulating ideas or are they rote, regurgitated and trite? If there is an issue with content at church, I'd address that through who is asked to teach (and how participation is encouraged) and who speaks on Sundays.

Lastly, do these folks have interesting callings? Are they participating in the ward and free to express themselves and be authentic? Does the ward welcome them or are you being called as the "token" intellectual because they are cast as outsiders to be feared, silenced and mistrusted?

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Heber13
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by Heber13 » 21 Apr 2010, 16:35

What a great opportunity! I wish you the best...because it could be very challenging. There are so many varying needs from one person to the other, I don't think there is any "program" that fits all needs. Instead it is likely someone like yourself that has empathy and tolerance and love to minister individually.

If I were in your ward boundaries, I would welcome a visit if you could do the following for me:

- Don't try to "fix" me. I'm not broken.
- Listen to what is important and what bothers me without having to be defensive for the church. It is what it is.
- Validate to me that even with my ideas...there is a welcome place in the church for me. These can't just be words, but I should feel the sincerity of this when I attend church.
- Ask me what I would like to do to contribute. It would be nice if I felt I was needed, just the way I am, without having to be somebody else to "fit in".

I'm really curious if you find you can reach out to people and make that work. It is a noble cause that hopefully is done with love as the foundation...not reactivation numbers.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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just me
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by just me » 21 Apr 2010, 16:41

Heber13 wrote:What a great opportunity! I wish you the best...because it could be very challenging. There are so many varying needs from one person to the other, I don't think there is any "program" that fits all needs. Instead it is likely someone like yourself that has empathy and tolerance and love to minister individually.

If I were in your ward boundaries, I would welcome a visit if you could do the following for me:

- Don't try to "fix" me. I'm not broken.
- Listen to what is important and what bothers me without having to be defensive for the church. It is what it is.
- Validate to me that even with my ideas...there is a welcome place in the church for me. These can't just be words, but I should feel the sincerity of this when I attend church.
- Ask me what I would like to do to contribute. It would be nice if I felt I was needed, just the way I am, without having to be somebody else to "fit in".

I'm really curious if you find you can reach out to people and make that work. It is a noble cause that hopefully is done with love as the foundation...not reactivation numbers.
Wow, you said it perfectly!
Most of us, sooner or later, find that at critical points in our lives we must strike out on our own to make a path where none exists.~Elaine Pagels

Ultimately, you are the path-the path begins and ends with you.~Stephan Bodian

He who think he knows, doesn’t know: He who knows he doesn’t know, knows.~Sanskrit proverb

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flower
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by flower » 21 Apr 2010, 17:05

Wow... This may seem like quite a challenge for you to be in such a calling, but can I just say if I were in your ward, how deeply I would appreciate knowing a man with your insight and perspective were part of the Bishopric.

Be sure to share with your members the words of Elder Wirthlin "The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony."
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." ~Rudyard Kipling

http://tinymosquito.blogspot.com/

nightwalden
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by nightwalden » 21 Apr 2010, 18:00

I feel very respected by my bishopric while being completely honest about my beliefs and it does me a world of good.

I wouldn't mention that the people you visit might be considering quitting church. Ask them what they like about church, what they don't like, and if they have any ideas about how your ward could be improved.

Personally, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people are assigned to give talks or lessons on general conference talks. I know that it's part of the church program to do lessons on GC talks in Priesthood/RS on fourth sundays. But I think people tend to give much better talks and lessons when they are given a topic and not a talk. I have no problems with church being mostly milk and not meat but I want people to be honest and get a little personal because that's when I get the most out of church.

Curt Sunshine
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by Curt Sunshine » 21 Apr 2010, 18:52

Welcome. I've been in your exact shoes - at least as the "leader" who was seen as an intellectual. (Actually, I am again right now - everyone else just doesn't know it yet! :? )

Ironically, because I am orthoprax, many people don't see me as heterodox. They just know I see things a bit differently.

My only advice is:

Don't be "just" the rep for the intellectual members or the heterodox. You need to help break down the divisions, not reinforce them. Be their "voice" in councils, but focus on everyone.

In one ward I attended long ago, two GD classes were created - to accommodate the more liberal members and lower the tension in GD. It was a fiasco, as it only served to polarize the ward officially along ideological lines. The second class was disbanded, and, instead, various special classes were held - with an intentional mix of perspectives and a direct, clear mandate to listen to all viewpoints and seek to understand the topics as fully as possible. (Elder Wirthlin's analogy of the orchestra would be perfect, but it wasn't around that long ago.) That approach worked amazingly well, as it kind of forced people with different views to listen to each other in a controlled environment. It changed the ward significantly and was a piece of the effort that unified that ward in wonderful ways.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

NWwisdomseeker
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by NWwisdomseeker » 21 Apr 2010, 21:40

hawkgrrrl wrote:Weird situation!
The situation of being labeled as "intellectual" is a little weird. However, I don't think it's weird (in the sense of unusual) for someone to be called into leadership -- I know lots of people in leadership positions from all over the spectrum. I do think it's weird to be in the bishopric. Weird because it is an unfamiliar feeling, and I find my spiritual and practical sides sort of battling for control. Balance in all things, but it's a weird feeling.

NWwisdomseeker
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by NWwisdomseeker » 21 Apr 2010, 21:48

hawkgrrrl wrote:First of all, I am wondering - how do you know they are thinking of leaving, and on what grounds are they intending to leave (theology, belief, what)? Are they practicing still? Do they object to the practices (chastity, WoW, tithing) or just the beliefs? My own opinion is that beliefs are not a choice, but behaviors are. I'd promote behaviors (allowing for differences of interpretation and values) and let beliefs fall where they may.
I know they are thinking of leaving because they have explicitly said so to me and/or my wife. They are both on the brink primarily because of doctrinal/cultural issues (I believe) -- one regarding feminism, one regarding the Church's stand on homosexuals. These people are friends of mine, so my concern about them is not from afar.

As for whether beliefs are a choice, the thing I choose to believe (did you see what I did there?) is that belief is a choice. Ultimately I believe that we construct our own meaning from the materials of our lives and experiences that we find around us, including the communities we are members of and the associated heritage, myths and vernacular of these communities. To me it was very liberating (and somewhat frightening) to realize the possibilities and responsibilities associated with that freedom. Just a little philosophical waxing there.

NWwisdomseeker
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Re: New bishopric member seeks advice

Post by NWwisdomseeker » 21 Apr 2010, 21:53

Heber13 wrote:If I were in your ward boundaries, I would welcome a visit if you could do the following for me:

- Don't try to "fix" me. I'm not broken.
- Listen to what is important and what bothers me without having to be defensive for the church. It is what it is.
- Validate to me that even with my ideas...there is a welcome place in the church for me. These can't just be words, but I should feel the sincerity of this when I attend church.
- Ask me what I would like to do to contribute. It would be nice if I felt I was needed, just the way I am, without having to be somebody else to "fit in".

I'm really curious if you find you can reach out to people and make that work. It is a noble cause that hopefully is done with love as the foundation...not reactivation numbers.
Thank you for this clear advice. I agree with it, and hope I can pull it off with sincerity. Believe me, there is no statistical motivation at all (at least not for me, and I believe not for the bishop, either). To be honest I have two motivations -- one is a sincere caring for the people involved, and wanting to do what I can to help them feel respected and validated and wanted, and two is to try to figure out how to retain people in the participating community who leaven the community with interesting perspectives and a willingness to pitch in. I guess there is a little bit of self-interest going on there -- I want my church experience to be better, and it is better when the type of people who are leaving remain involved.

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