Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why I Love a Church That Makes Me Work My Butt Off

Usually when people talk about a "calling," they mean a feeling that God is pointing them down a certain path in life.

Of course I also believe God guides us using feelings and impressions, but when members of my church use the word 'calling', we're talking about our job at church.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we all have "callings" (or church jobs) in addition to our regular responsibilities in life, and we don't get paid for them.

Virtually everyone has a church calling. At any given time, I could be a Sunday School teacher or the president of the youth group for teenagers, the church librarian or a toddler nursery leader.

From the organist up to the bishop, everyone in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a volunteer. I love this wacky system of getting things done in the Lord's church, and here's why.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
When I taught the 3-year-olds, they always paid rapt attention exactly like this.

We rotate these responsibilities (sometimes after six months, sometimes after a few years) so throughout your life you'll have dozens of callings.

Even the bishop, the leader of our congregation (think: minister or priest) is there because it's a church calling that he performs without pay, in addition to his regular job. Since joining the church in 2000 I've had bishops that were in real life a professor, a mail carrier, a paint store owner, a chemist, and a CEO.

If this sounds weird to you, and it probably does if you're not a Latter-day Saint, it gets even better: none of us (even the bishop) volunteer for the jobs that appeal to us. The church leader in charge simply sits down with us, tells us about a specific calling, and asks us to do it.

And most of the time, we joyfully say yes. Even if it's not a calling that we would have ever asked for or sought out.

I love this wacky system of getting work done in God's church, and here's why.

1. Callings make us more understanding of one another.

It's just human nature to expect perfection and be critical of the people who are in charge  until you're the one in charge yourself.

In a meeting with some other church folks someone once said "When I was you..." (meaning, "when I had your calling,") and I couldn't help but think how wonderful it was that other people in the room had been in my shoes before.

Even if I mess up, they probably know that I'm trying my best because they've been there, too.

2. Callings help us get to know each other.

If there's one thing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are really good at doing, it's building a village. We really get to know each other, partly because our callings cause us to work constantly with each other in all sorts of different capacities.

I've gotten to know people at church who I never would have met if we hadn't been asked to team-teach a Sunday School class together, or be on the same church committee, or work together in some other capacity through our callings.

Sometimes I look around during church on Sunday and notice how people are holding each other's babies and sharing crayons with the kids in the pew in front of them, and I am so glad we've all been nudged into knowing each other a little better to create this sense of community.

3. Callings help us stretch, expand, and rely on the Lord.

Latter-day Saints almost always accept the callings we're offered, no matter what they are, because we believe they represent God's will for us at the time. Our church leaders pray about each and every calling before asking someone to fulfill it.

We won't be asked to be the church organist if we can't read music, but we probably will end up doing lots of jobs at church that aren't particular interests of ours or that we aren't particularly good at. And maybe that's okay, because I've found that most of my spiritual growth happens outside of my comfort zone, anyway.

Through difficult callings, I've learned new skills and developed more love and patience for the people I work for and with. I've also been driven to my knees to ask for the Lord's help often when I knew I couldn't do it alone.

4. Callings give us the opportunity to serve others.

Callings give us a special assignment to serve those around us. With a calling, you always have someone to pray for, someone to teach, someone to help.

Some people are naturally inclined to seek out these opportunities in their life outside church, and some aren't. Some are outgoing and always make it their business to know and help others, some hang back because they're shy.

Either way, callings take us outside of ourselves and make us willing to sacrifice our own time to bless someone else. They help us to feel useful, and keep us from getting sucked into the minutiae of our own lives.

5. Callings help us become "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12.)

I have no idea how many callings there are in our congregation, but I'd guess it's in the hundreds. We all work together, like a body with many different but complementary parts.

People make mistakes, forget things, and can be hard to work with so sometimes the "body" isn't always in perfect working order. But maybe it's supposed to be that way as a metaphor for our mortal existence — or something deep like that.

As a result of callings, which include sacrifice and personal responsibility, we come to feel that we not only attend God's church, but that we are God's church. Part of the body of Christ.

* * *

As you can probably imagine, running an entire church with complete novices volunteering on a rotating basis doesn't always work perfectly.

Sometimes a person accepts a calling but then slacks off on their responsibilities.

Sometimes I've struggled to find joy in a calling I didn't like very much.

And most callings require preparing lessons, planning activities, or personally visiting and ministering to others, demanding time you don't think you have.

It's not always easy to have callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but what I love about them is that they require us to go beyond just showing up at church on Sundays expecting to be spiritually fed.

Each of us actively participates in Christ's gospel and does our part to build God's kingdom, wherever we are. 

(If you'd like to know more about the callings I've personally held in the past and what they were like, see this post!)

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files


Unknown said...

I like the idea of everyone pitching in and not being given a choice. It's sort of like being a member of a family where the children are told (politely) what to do and not asked, which would give them the notion that they have a choice.

Jenny Evans said...

People certainly can and do say no, but I think 95% of the time we say yes. I've never thought of it quite that way before, but it kind of is like a family how we're all pitching in and helping each other, even if the particular chore you're doing isn't your favorite. You do that when you're part of a family.

PurpleSlob said...

I think this is great! I would disagree about the minister being a volunteer, personally, but I love how y'all have to work together. Any your analogy about being the body of Christ is right on!

Anonymous said...

Will it you do a blog post on all the callings you have done? Thanks!

Jenny Evans said...

Done, Anonymous!

Amanda Bumgarner said...

I didn't know that the leader of the church was also a volunteer. Interesting! Is it that way in all LDS churches? But the actual temple bishops (are they called bishops) get paid like a job, yes? So could the actual church leader rotate every 6 months? And who tells the church leader that that is their calling? Would anyone get told to do that job, or only certain people? Like, could that ever be your calling?

Jenny Evans said...


Yep. Our church is a worldwide organization, so every Latter-day Saint congregation in the world operates that same way.

The leader of our local congregation is called a bishop. Bishops don't get paid for their work at church; they have regular full-time jobs (my bishop right now is an engineer.)

Bishops are usually in their callings for 3-5 years, in my observation, before a new bishop is called.

The bishop is given the calling by the stake president, who oversees several congregations in an area. Our church organization keeps going like that up to the president of the worldwide church.

To be a bishop, you need to be ordained to the priesthood. So I wouldn't be called as bishop but my husband could be. There are no "prerequisites," but since callings come from God I think He wouldn't call someone as bishop without first giving him at least a few other callings where he can develop qualities bishops need like the ability to love people and the capacity to discern God's will.