Do we underestimate the complexity and depth of knowledge required to execute Church callings competently? Does consolidation of church administrative, doctrinal, and spiritual authority into a single chain of command exacerbate this problem?
Rope and Knots
When I was asked to be a Boy Scout leader, there was a required series of training courses for new leaders. These were fairly simple courses intended to reduce the risk of risk to boys and leaders. As I continued with the program, the training didn’t stop.
From the Audience: “Yeah, I was a scout leader. It was a real pain to keep on top of it.”
Annually, leaders were required to renew their “Youth Protection” training that was intended to protect boys from sexual abuse. Other courses had to be renewed less frequently, including subjects on weather safety, water safety, and so forth. These were mostly conducted online, but there were also practical training like Woodbadge, a multi-day adult leadership course and Outdoor Leader training, which required an actual camping experience and included classes on various subjects like plant identification and leave-no-trace camping. Ultimately, I continued to take courses on first aid, CPR, and wilderness first aid. Later, I organized these for other leaders.
From the Audience: “Wo-hoo, you were a big scouter. </sarcasm>”
No, I was more of a reluctant scouter that can’t help but do things obsessively.
When my oldest son showed attempted to rappel from our balcony on a tow rope, I got involved in the scout climbing program. This involved a series of technical courses on ropes, safety gear, anchoring, knots, and rigging and conducting a group through climbing and rappelling activities.
In addition to the classroom work, we were trained in the field; we had to hang on the ropes that we anchored and hang on the ropes that other men anchored.
And then I took more training in order to train other climbing instructors. In fact, I actually wrote the book for the climbing leader training program for the Trapper Trails council of the BSA.
After all of the training, I can’t say that I was a great leader of boys. I think that I took things too seriously. But, we held some good activities and no one ever got hurt. I loved working with other competent leaders that could fill the friendly role with the boys that I couldn’t; we all had a part to play.
From the Audience: “Okay, okay. What’s your point?”
My point is two fold:
1) Leader training is essential to having a good organization. “Just pray about it,” doesn’t build skills.
2) Distributing tasks to appropriate personality types helps ensure a good experience for everyone.
When some one is “called” to serve in a Church position, whether a Primary teacher of 3 year old children or a Bishop, what training is given? Are there any pre-qualifications to serve in these positions?
I’d like you to make a list of the training requirement for new primary teachers.
From the Audience: “Okay, let me get some paper and pencil. … Got it.“
Okay, I’ll give you a minute.
… waiting …
Oh, you can’t remember the training courses? Maybe I can help.
Child Protection — Keeping children safe from abuse at church. Recognizing signs of abuse.
Child Development — Teaching children at their level. Facilitating the development of cognitive abilities.
Child Behavior and Class Administration — Conducting class activities and lessons in a healthy environment.
Safety and Emergency — Instructions for handling missing children, medical emergencies, and physical dangers.
Got it? Does that help you remember?
From the Audience: “Um… I’ve never heard of these.”
What? You haven’t?
Well, then, how about another position? You pick. Young men’s leaders, maybe? Since these leaders don’t go through scout leader training in the US anymore, the Church has certainly filled the void with similar training so that they can conduct activities safely.
From the Audience: “I haven’t heard of any.”
Well, what about the bishop and his counselors or the auxiliary presidencies. They must certainly have some training in theology, church management, pastoral care, and spiritual practices.
From the Audience: “Um… no?? But, there is the Handbook.”
The General Handbook is an administrative document, essentially an employee manual; it contains nothing related to skill development.
Let me ask another question: Are there any professional jobs that you know of where people are simply told to “pray about it” and then turned loose? How about school teacher, therapist, youth counselor, wilderness guide, or accountant?
If you were given the choice between taking a class from a trained instructor or from someone that was just given a course manual, which would you prefer?
From the Audience: “Yeah, but church is different.”
If you were paying substantial money to any other organization, would you have different expectations?
Its Not The 1800s Anymore
Access to information is now readily available to anyone with an internet connected device, even women. Our expectations have been raised and the Church must rise to our expectations or lose credibility.
There is a popular quote from Elder Ballard that was given during a training session to Church Educational System (CES) instructors:
Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, “Don’t worry about it!” Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.
Let me take the liberty of adapting this to the subject at hand.
Gone are the days when a member could be expected to serve in a calling by simply saying, “Here’s the manual. Good Luck.” Gone are the days when a lay leader was given serious responsibilities and told to pray for guidance. Gone are the days when untrained leaders could meet the expectations of members.
From the Audience: “But, members already give so much. Requiring training would just be too much.”
I expect that for some people, training would be a burden, but for most people that are willing to serve, training would be welcomed. Most people want to do a good job and are frustrated when that desire isn’t given serious investment by those they report to. Sure, some callings may not require anything more than a paragraph, but any teaching or leadership responsibility would certainly benefit from training.
One challenge for leader training is that the LDS Church consolidates church leadership (administration), religious leadership (scholarship, doctrine), and spiritual leadership (personal development, ordinances) into a single, protected, hierarchical structure.
Consider the duties of a bishop. He may be an accountant, but have no experience in theology, psychology, or pastoral care; all he gets is a handbook. He may make an obedient ward administrator, but may not know anything about adult development, Biblical scholarship, counseling, Church history, or a spiritual practices. Unfortunately, being a “judge in Israel” may be the most approachable tool he has. Consequently, a member that questions Book of Mormon historicity may have their temple recommend revoked instead of being provided with alternative perspectives on scriptural hermeneutics (perspectives for interpreting scripture).
Members that elevate serious concerns to the stake president just exchange one untrained leader for another. Often there is no place to turn if members want non-judgmental guidance or have doctrinal questions. Internet communities are often safer places and more informative than Church leaders.
Assigning administrative responsibilities to a board or committee, might allow spiritual leaders to be selected and trained for a more specific purpose. I suspect this type of separation of duties would also be a welcome relief for most bishops and stake presidents. (We might look to more established churches for lessons on how to divide and conduct these responsibilities.)
In our current era, we have much better access to credible information than ever before. As such, we also have higher expectations of our leaders and organizations.
The consolidation of administrative, religious, and spiritual authority within a strict hierarchy of lay leaders may have created oversensitivity and protective stagnation. When business men, attorneys, engineers, and scientists are elevated to religious authorities, they may lack the tools for effective spiritual and theological counseling. They might also have limited context for recognizing their deficiencies and biases.
In a recent article by David Bokovoy, he includes the following observations:
I believe that the LDS church leaders mean well. But they are not good religious leaders. It gives me no pleasure to state this; in fact, it causes me considerable pain and angst. But I must speak out. Their teachings and policies do tremendous harm to the LGBTQ+ community. Every six months they instruct their members to doubt their doubts, to only look towards approved sources of information, to never share their doubts or concerns with non-believers. They say things that divide families and the community, calling those who leave the church lazy learners who cannot exercise even a particle of faith.
I would honestly feel alright about their leadership, if these men could keep up with the world in terms of its progress in helping those who have been historically marginalized or abused, but tragically this has not been the case. LDS Church leaders have fought against the extension of basic human rights to minorities and women. And they continue to collect tithing from the poor and downtrodden, including those suffering in third world countries. I disagree with this, and so I cannot attend.
And now, it has become an even deeper issue for me personally since I have discovered how much happier and spiritually edified I feel as a person committed to spiritual independence.
Unfortunately, the path to “spiritual independence” is being chosen by more and more LDS Church members. Without substantive changes, this will probably continue.