Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Responsibility of the Bishop in Member Missionary Work

A recent blog Converts to the Church: Quality Versus Quantity got me thinking about the role of bishops in member missionary work. A few commentators to the blog expressed the viewpoint that bishops should be the one that gives the potential member the interview before baptism. Baptismal interviews are currently conducted by the missionary district leader. If there is a problem with the abortion/homosexual/crime question the investigator is referred to the mission president (if not available one of his mission counselor) for determination of worthiness. I think the bloggers contention is that the missionary district leader doesn't have much life experience or experience in dealing with serious problems. In a way that can also be a positive things since the new member once baptized probably will have limited association with his interviewer and doesn't have to carry the baggage with him or her in to their new ward. The bishop who will be determining his future church callings and influencing his/her progression will only know general information about them. A bishop may interview a potential convert, but this is only to get to know the future member of his congregation. Bishops should not conduct worthiness interview and should not cover those subjects with a convert baptism candidate. If they bring it up they should refer them back to the missionaries.

Here is a list of the baptismal questions that a district leader asks a candidate for convert baptism:

Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
Do you believe that the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Do you believe that the current Church President [who is Gordon B. Hinckley] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?
What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past transgressions?
Have you ever participated in an abortion? A homosexual relationship? Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole?
You have been taught that membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints includes living gospel standards. What do you understand of the following standard. What do you understand of the following standards? Are you willing to obey them?
Are you willing to keep the Sabbath day holy, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members?
What do you understand of the law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman? Are you willing to obey this law?
What do you understand of the Word of Wisdom? Are you willing to obey this law?
What do you understand of the law of tithing? Are you willing to obey this law?
When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?

In 2002 the First Presidency turned missionary work over to the bishops in the church when before it had been under stake leadership: "In an effort to bolster member missionary and fellowshipping efforts, the First Presidency recently dissolved stake missions and instructed bishops and branch presidents to directly oversee all missionary and retention responsibilities in their units. By dissolving stake missions, the responsibility and accountability for missionary work now rests with individual wards and branches."

The Official Position of the LDS Church is: "The bishop directs the work of sharing the gospel, retention, and activation in the ward. He reports to the stake president on all of these efforts.

The bishop calls and sets apart a worthy, missionary-oriented Melchizedek Priesthood holder to serve as the ward mission leader. The bishop or his counselors call and set apart other members to serve as ward missionaries. The ward mission leader and ward missionaries should be sustained in sacrament meeting.

Members of the bishopric also have the following responsibilities:

They use the priesthood executive committee and ward council to develop and implement the ward mission plan and to coordinate missionary, retention, and activation efforts (see "Ward Mission Plan," below).

They regularly review the Progress Record form in priesthood executive committee and ward council meetings. As needed, they make specific assignments to help individual investigators, new members, and less-active members.

They get to know each investigator personally and oversee efforts to befriend and teach them.

They oversee efforts to minister to new members and sustain their activity.

They oversee the assistance of full-time missionaries in activation efforts.

A member of the bishopric usually presides at convert baptismal services in the ward. He or the ward mission leader usually conducts the services."

In addition the bishop may use full-time missionaries to activate members: "As needed, the bishop may request that full-time missionary elders assist in home teaching and that full-time missionary sisters assist in visiting teaching part-member families and less-active members, or in otherwise visiting these members. Such visits are most effective when the full-time missionaries are accompanied by a member of the ward.

Normally, full-time missionary companionships should not be separated. However, they may be separated to go with different ward members when necessary to cover a large number of appointments."

In a First Presidency Letter: Implementing the Bishop’s Responsibility for Ward Missionary Work on 28 March 2002 said: "Efforts to share the gospel are most effective when they are ward-centered and ward-directed. The bishop will need to consider how he can delegate other duties to his counselors, as well as to members of the priesthood executive committee and the ward council, to enable him to devote time and attention to his responsibilities for conversion and retention.

The bishop should call a Melchizedek Priesthood holder as ward mission leader. The bishop and ward mission leader should determine how many ward missionaries are needed. The number should be sufficient to meet the needs in the ward for supporting members in sharing the gospel, including finding, fellowshipping, retention, and working with the full-time missionaries. The ward mis­sion leader and ward missionaries who are called may or may not have been serving as stake missionaries.

The bishop should use the priesthood executive committee and ward council as resources to:

* Encourage and support the members in sharing the gospel, especially in preparing people to be taught.
* Discuss the teaching and fellowshipping of investigators.
* Coordinate the retention of new members.
* Coordinate reactivation efforts."

Preach My Gospel places the success of missionary efforts within a ward or branch in the hands of the bishop or branch president. “The bishop [or branch president] is responsible for missionary, retention, and activation efforts in the ward [or branch]. His personal participation and leadership are essential” (PMG, pg. 218).

In Preach My Gospel it says: "A high councilor is assigned by the stake presidency to promote missionary, retention, and activation work in the stake. He regularly reports the progress of his work to the stake presidency. He also ensures that ward mission leaders are properly trained in their duties, including the preparation of a ward mission plan.

The bishop is responsible for missionary, retention, and activation efforts in his ward. His personal participation and leadership are essential. To help accomplish this work, the bishop calls a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder to serve as a ward mission leader. He also calls a sufficient number of ward missionaries to meet the needs in the ward.

The bishop uses the priesthood executive committee and the ward council to coordinate missionary, retention, and activation efforts. He gives direction to developing and carrying out a ward mission plan. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, pp. 217-218).

President James E. Faust has a high regard for bishops: "I have admired and respected every bishop I have ever had. I have tried not to question their guidance and have felt that in sustaining and following their counsel I was protected against the “sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.” This was because each of these called and chosen leaders was entitled to the divine revelation that comes with the calling. Disrespect for ecclesiastical leaders has caused many to suffer spiritual weakening and downfall. We should look past any perceived imperfections, warts, or spots of the men called to preside over us, and uphold the office which they hold."

I decided to find out doctrinally what the LDS Church had to say about the responsibility of the bishop in member missionary work. Here is what I found.

In 2003 Dallin H. Oaks stated the policy of the Church regarding a bishop's role in working with new members: "In order to strengthen the role of these priesthood leaders, the First Presidency recently approved a major change in the way our missionary efforts are organized in the stakes and wards. In reaffirming that “the bishop is responsible for the work of sharing the gospel, retention, and reactivation within the ward,” the First Presidency discontinued all stake missions and changed the callings of stake missionaries and ward mission leaders to ward callings under the direction of the bishop.

One of the effects of this change should be to reemphasize that the responsibility for sharing the gospel rests fundamentally with the members of the Church, and the leaders who have the closest relationship with the members—those in the ward—have more direct responsibility for helping the members succeed in their missionary efforts. To a great extent, the success of this change will depend on the ability of the bishops—and, under their direction, the other ward leaders—to embrace and magnify this responsibility.

The priesthood executive committee—presided over by the bishop, who is assisted by the ward mission leader—functions as the ward missionary committee, and the ward council plays a major role in promoting and coordinating efforts to share the gospel in the ward. In these and other meetings, such as the quorum and auxiliary meetings, the efforts of the members and the needs of investigators and new members can be discussed, plans can be made, and progress can be reported. President Hinckley’s teaching on this subject is very direct: “Now, to you bishops who hold your ward council meetings, a discussion of the status of converts in that meeting may be the most important business you will conduct.”

M. Russell Ballard specifically says about using ward councils: "Bishops, you are the key. You give the vision and invite your ward council to help you strengthen the spiritual conversion of those investigating the Church as well as all of your members. Encourage council members to constantly think about the specific things they can do to assist you in helping your ward members and their nonmember friends to better know and understand the gospel. What can they do to help them feel it is true and to support them as they strive to live the principles? Ask yourselves what specific things we as priesthood and auxiliary leaders can do to encourage a family or an individual to experiment on the good word of God. What can the council do as leaders and teachers to ensure that every person who attends our Church meetings feels the Spirit and is strengthened spiritually? . . .

Some of you bishops feel like you must be involved in every action your council members take. This is a mistake, because if you do, you will never bring all the powerful resources God has given to you into full strength. At the general Relief Society meeting two weeks ago, Sister Sheri Dew said she believes the sisters are “the Lord’s secret weapon.” I think she is right. Our sister leaders have a spiritual sensitivity that will prompt them how to best approach and nurture those whom the missionaries are teaching. The best place to begin to fully utilize the talents and wisdom of our sisters is through the established council system of the Church. You are free to be flexible in how you use the ward council."

Just last year, President Hinckley said this to the bishops of the Church: “You are not bound by rigid rules. You have unlimited flexibility. You are entitled to answers to your prayers, to inspiration and revelation from the Lord” (“Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 110). Perhaps in some cases, holding council meetings only once a month will not be sufficient to focus on the spiritual conversion of members and nonmembers alike who are under your ministering care. You are free to meet in council as often as deemed necessary."

In 1999 Gordon B. Hinckley had discussed how bishops should interact with new members he mention a convert named Randy: "he was put to work immediately following his baptism. His bishop saw that he had something challenging to do. Was he qualified to handle the assignment? The bishop gave that question very little attention. He saw an eager new convert, and he gave him a responsibility on which to grow.

The bishop saw that he had friends in the Church. The first, of course, was his wife, Nancy, and there were a few more able people who could answer his questions and listen patiently when he did not understand. He was not left friendless, to grope through the dark. He had those who were willing to take the time to talk with him.

Does he know all there is to know about the Church? No, of course not. He is constantly learning, and with that learning is a growing enthusiasm. . . .

The process of bringing new people into the Church is not the responsibility alone of the missionaries. They succeed best when members become the source from which new investigators are found.

I would like to suggest that every bishop in the Church give as a motto to his people, “Let’s all work to grow the ward.” I am not sure the grammar is correct, but the idea is right. . . .

I request each stake and district president to accept full responsibility and accountability for the finding and friendshipping of investigators within your stake or district. I request each bishop and branch president to accept the same responsibility within your ward or branch. You brethren have a sacred obligation before the Lord for this effort. You set the example for what others may do under your inspired leadership. We have full confidence in your capacity and willingness to do it. . . .

Activity is the genius of this Church. It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscle of my arm. If I use them, they grow stronger. If I put them in a sling, they become weaker. Every convert deserves a responsibility. The bishop may feel that he is not qualified for responsibility. Take a chance on him. Think of the risk the Lord took when He called you. . .

Now, to you bishops who hold your ward council meetings, a discussion of the status of converts in that meeting may be the most important business you will conduct. You are not bound by rigid rules. You have unlimited flexibility. You are entitled to answers to your prayers, to inspiration and revelation from the Lord in dealing with this matter. I am appalled when I hear that a bishop is indifferent toward those who come into the Church. At that time, they may not be very attractive people. But if they are treated right, the gospel will refine them. Their very dress, their demeanor, their deportment will improve. All of us have seen miracles occur. How great is our opportunity, how tremendous our challenge.

My beloved brethren and sisters, it is our responsibility, the responsibility of each of us, of the stake presidency, of the high council, of the bishopric, of the Sunday School presidency, of the Primary presidency, of the Young Men presidency, of the Young Women presidency, of the Relief Society presidency, and of the priesthood quorum officers to see that every one who is baptized is encouraged and made to feel the wondrous warmth of this gospel of our Lord."

In 2003 M. Russell Ballard expounded on President Hinckley's statements: "Stake presidents and bishops have the responsibility and accountability to help members find the pure in heart and prepare them for baptism and for a life of service within their wards and stakes. President Hinckley has also said, “I would like to suggest that every bishop in the Church give as a motto to his people, ‘Let’s all work to grow the ward’ ” (“Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 106; Liahona, July 1999, 120).

One bishop in the state of Washington has prayerfully followed that counsel. This is what he is doing. Through priesthood and auxiliary leaders, the ward council coordinates missionary work in the ward. Missionaries are invited to ward council meetings to discuss their work. Members are assigned to attend investigator visits with the missionaries. Members and missionaries also visit less-active and part-member families together. Last year this ward baptized and confirmed 46 new members, and retention of those members is very high. Those who come into the Church or who return to activity in this ward already have friends because the priesthood and auxiliaries are involved in the conversion process by direction of the bishop through the ward council (see “Ward Council Is Secret of Centralia Ward Success,” Church News, 1 Feb. 2003, 5).

Paul H. Dunn way back in 1973 said: "For instance, the bishop, by right of his calling, is chairman of missionary work as well as welfare, genealogy, and home teaching. It is his responsibility to encourage every member to fulfill the divine injunction to be a finder and a fellowshiper. That process begins in the ward priesthood executive meeting and involves consultation with the ward mission leader—who is president of the seventies quorum, wherever possible—and high priests group leaders and elders quorum presidents. It reaches to home teachers, who are to encourage their families to find potential members. That’s where the converts will be made. As specialists in missionary work, seventies have the responsibility of teaching the other priesthood leaders under the direction of the bishop how to find families, as well as finding families themselves. These priesthood leaders (high priests group leaders and elders quorum presidents) then instruct their own respective quorum members, including the home teachers."

Bishops, engage the whole ward in proclaiming the gospel. You will see that the Lord will bless you and your members with many more converts and many more who will return to full activity. Missionary work should not only be on the ward council agendas but also on elders quorum; Relief Society; and other quorum, group, and auxiliary agendas. Emphasis should be placed on baptizing and retaining in activity fathers and mothers along with their children. Thus the missionary work of priesthood and auxiliary leaders should be coordinated by the ward mission leader and the bishop through the ward council. And by doing so, converts will be fully active members in their wards."

Earlier in 2000 M. Russell Ballard told bishops: "Envision the future you want for your ward and how you will accomplish it. What are your real-growth goals? Decide what balance of efforts will best generate real growth in your particular ward. How can you most effectively mobilize the full-time missionaries, the stake missionaries, and your members to accomplish these goals? Use your ward council to discuss and develop these goals and strategies. When you plan and implement activities, always think about whether these activities optimize opportunities for members to model the gospel, to informally teach, and to socially integrate investigators, new members, and less-active members. Ward activities can be wonderful settings for members to perform these valuable functions in a natural, comfortable way.

Use your Convert Baptism Checklist wisely. Too many bishops use it merely to check off whether an event has occurred or an assignment has been made. While that is important, it is even more important to use it to discuss each convert’s quality of experience as a new member of the Church. Do they have friends at church? Are they having positive experiences in a calling? Are they truly being nourished by the good word of God? If not, what can your council members do to support their development as active Latter-day Saints? Invite other auxiliary members to attend as necessary so that they too can participate in fulfilling the needs of those still growing into full activity. This should be possible in every ward. In fact, less than 3 percent of wards in the United States and Canada receive on average more than a couple of converts each month. That means 97 percent of these wards can do much, much more in conversion, retention, and activation."

Val R. Johnson in 2007 said: "In wards where member missionary work is successful, bishops emphasize it in priesthood executive committee (PEC), ward council, and priesthood and Relief Society meetings. They delegate assignments and with the ward leadership track the progress of investigators and less-active members.

One of the more successful aspects of many ward mission plans is a member missionary class to which the bishop calls six or eight members at a time. A ward or full-time missionary teaches the class. The text is Preach My Gospel, and topics include the doctrine behind missionary work, self-motivation, and practical approaches. Class members enjoy sharing personal missionary experiences and role-playing."

President Gordon B. Hinckley states the imperative behind bishops' involvement with new members: "They [the missionaries] still have an obligation to nurture and help those they have baptized—to befriend them, to write to them, to give them encouragement. But greater than that is your responsibility, my brethren—as bishops, as stake presidents, as elders quorum presidents—to put your arms around these people and make them feel comfortable and at home and warm and happy. It is an imperative (Regional conference, Woods Cross, Utah, 10 Jan. 1998)."

An article in the Ensign described how using the Convert Baptism Checklist can lead to full conversion by new members: Part of the reason for the successful conversion of the Bissells was the tracking of their progress by priesthood leaders. Bishop Eichelberger used the standard form, the Convert Baptism Checklist, in priesthood executive committee meeting and in ward council meeting. Nineteen items are listed, such as the date of the missionary discussions, enrollment in the Gospel Principles class, and ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood. This checklist guided their discussion of the progress of the Bissells the first year after baptism, as it should each new convert.

Under Bishop Eichelberger’s direction, the ward mission leader, Kurt Matthia, completes this form for potential converts. Once a name is on the list, he draws upon all ward resources to help the person. Names remain on the list until the converts go to the temple. Because this process is firmly in place in the Florence Oregon Ward, convert retention is high.

'We go over the list every month in priesthood executive committee meeting, and we ask how we can help our new members,” says Bishop Eichelberger. “Our stake president expects us as bishops to keep this checklist current. We report everything in writing. This helps. We get the home teachers and visiting teachers involved early. Our new members get a Church calling right away.'"

President Hinckley said: "If I were a bishop or stake president today, what would I do? I think that I would try to put my major efforts on building the spirituality of the people. I would work as hard as I knew how to work in building their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in God our Eternal Father, in the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration of this work and what it means and what it is all about. I would encourage my people to read the scriptures, to read the Book of Mormon, to read the New Testament. I would urge them with all the capacity I have to read quietly and thoughtfully and introspectively, if you please. I would urge them to read the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Eugene, Oregon Regional Conference,14 September 1996).

The Bishop is ultimately responsible for all member missionary work. I remember serving in the PEC in Calexico, California as ward mission leader and high priest group leader there wasn't a single Sunday where our bishop didn't direct the missionaries to part member families. We even assigned the missionaries to the three hundred lost members we had in our ward they were given them in allotments of thirty per month. Bishops have to be proactive in the process. The vitality of the ward rests in the hands of the bishop we revitalized our ward by bringing in dozens of new members in a coordinated effort. Bishops make the difference by being engaged in the process.

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