A Lay Clergy: The Value of Service
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no professional clergy, so the lay members must carry on all of the activities of the Church.
[In the Church] there is no paid ministry, no professional clergy, as is common in other churches. More significant even than this is that there is no laity, no lay membership as such; men are eligible to hold the priesthood and to carry on the ministry of the Church, and both men and women serve in many auxiliary capacities. This responsibility comes to men whether they are rich or poor, and with this responsibility also comes the authority. There are many who would deny, and others who would disregard it; nevertheless, the measure of that authority does not depend on whether men sustain that authority, but rather depends on whether God will recognize and honor that authority.
The Fifth Article of Faith reads [A of F 1:5]:
“We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
Callings to serve in the Church are made by revelation to authorities holding stewardship over those callings. For instance, a “bishop” presides over a ward (a local parish) of the Church. His stewardship is the ward over which he presides. The bishop prays over all his responsibilities and is priveleged to receive revelation and inspiration as to whom he should call to serve in positions in the ward. The bishop has two counselors, clerks, and an executive secretary. In addition each auxilliary in the ward is staffed by members who have been called to serve. The Relief Society (women’s organization) has a president, two counselors, a secretary, teachers, a compassionate service leader, visiting teachers, music specialists, and a committee that plans special events and activities. Within the ward there are priesthood groups with similar callings, youth organizations, children’s organizations, a Sunday School organization, an activities committee, music directors, choir directors, pianists, etc. Thus, every member of a ward can have a calling at any given time. In smaller church units, called “branches,” members might hold multiple callings. There are also “stake” callings (over a group of wards), area callings, and missionary callings. All callings are temporary, and there is no “ladder” to climb as far as responsibility or prestige. A man might be a bishop one day and a teacher of children the next. The only permanent callings in the Church are the “General Authorities“—the Prophet, the Apostles, and some Seventies.
Callings are not forced upon members of the Church. Church members have the opportunity to accept or refuse a call. Members understand that family responsibilities are paramount, and callings must not compromise the ability to perform in the home. Most faithful Latter-day Saints understand that callings come from the Lord and are willing to make sacrifices and leave their “comfort zone” in order to serve. Imagine being called as a choir director, if you don’t know how to read music. Imagine being called as a missionary to a strange land, when you know you must leave your family and friends, and that you must learn to teach in a language you have never heard spoken. Callings extend our abilities, prove our faith, prod us to trust the Lord, get us onto our knees to ask for help and wisdom, take us to foreign countries to spread the word, and increase our compassion for all God’s children. Accepting a calling is a test of devotion, as is illustrated in the following story:
“On one occasion I was in the office of President Henry D. Moyle when a phone call he had placed earlier in the day came through. After greeting the caller, he said, ‘I wonder if your business affairs would bring you into Salt Lake City sometime in the near future? I would like to meet with you and your wife, for I have a matter of some importance that I would like to discuss with you.’
“Well, though it was many kilometers away, that man all of a sudden discovered that his business would bring him to Salt Lake City the very next morning. I was in the same office the following day when President Moyle announced to this man that he had been called to preside over one of the missions of the Church. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘we don’t want to rush you into this decision. Would you call me in a day or two, as soon as you are able to make a determination as to your feelings concerning this call?’
“The man looked at his wife and she looked at him, and without saying a word there was that silent conversation between husband and wife, and that gentle almost imperceptible nod. He turned back to President Moyle and said, ‘Well, President, what is there to say? What could we tell you in a few days that we couldn’t tell you now? We have been called. What answer is there? Of course we will respond to the call.’
“Then President Moyle said rather gently, ‘Well, if you feel that way about it, actually there is some urgency about this matter. I wonder if you could be prepared to leave by ship from the West Coast on the 13th of March.’
“The man gulped, for that was just eleven days away. He glanced at his wife. There was another silent conversation, and he said, ‘Yes, President, we can meet that appointment.’
“‘What about your business?’ said the President. ‘What about your grain elevator? What about your livestock? What about your other holdings?’
“‘I don’t know,’ said the man, ‘but we will make arrangements somehow. All of those things will be all right.’
“Such is the great miracle that we see repeated over and over, day after day, among the faithful.”
Sustaining Members in their Callings
Latter-day Saints are asked to “sustain” those who have been called to fill positions in the Church. Say, for example, one of the brethren in a ward has been called to be Sunday School President. In a regular sabbath sacrament meeting the calling is announced by the Bishop and members are asked to show that they will sustain the person in his new calling by raising the right hand. The Bishop then asks if anyone opposes the calling. A person who opposes will be privately interviewed to determine his objections. Otherwise, members have now covenanted to sustain the new Sunday School President. This means they should pray for him, support him, and honor his position. Latter-day Saints who murmur or complain about people who serve in callings undermine their own faith and the faith of people around them. A person who complains about his bishop will complain about the Prophet.
Advantages of a Lay Clergy
Having a lay clergy as directed by the Lord provides many advantages to the Church and its members.
- It prevents “priestcraft,” the purveying of religion in order to get gain.
- It enables members to fully participate in the Lord’s kingdom as leaders, followers, teachers, students, and servants.
- It develops members’ talents that otherwise would have been neglected or undiscovered.
- It develops members’ compassion, sacrifice, and love for the people they serve.
- It causes members who feel inadequate in their callings (and most do feel inadequate) to seek guidance and support from the Lord. This increases humility and gives members experience with prayer and personal revelation from above.
- It prevents aspiring to positions, since there is no upward mobility in callings.
More to read about serving in the Church:
Watch Over and Strengthen, The Weak and the Simple of the Church, Called and Chosen, Finding Balance in Service