A great question was asked in the LeadingLDS Helpers Facebook group recently:
When the stake presidency comes to a ward to make a bishopric counselor change, should the released counselor and his wife share a testimony along with the newly called counselor and wife?
This is a very common tradition during a bishopric or other “major” leadership change. Typically the the bishopric member conducting turns the time over to the stake presidency member after the sacrament is passed. He then releases a member of the bishopric (or the entire bishopric) and then invites each outgoing and incoming bishopric member, along with his wife, to stand and share a testimony. This generally will fill the entire time of sacrament meeting.
At the end of the day, this decision is left to the member of the stake presidency that is presiding. However, it would be beneficial for us to step back and consider why we do this and whether it enhances the sacrament meeting or whether it distracts from the purpose of the meeting.
And that would be a good place to start. What does the handbook say about the purpose of sacrament meeting?
In Handbook 2 – 18.1 it says the purpose of sacrament meeting is to “partake of the sacrament, worship, provide gospel instruction, perform ordinances, conduct ward business, and strengthen faith and testimony.”
One could easily argue that inviting outgoing and incoming leaders to share their testimonies with their wives is a good way to strengthen faith and testimony, and build bonds among ward members, and it is therefore obviously part of ward business. However, this tradition is more distracting then inspiring in most cases, and here are a few reasons why:
Any time a presiding authority invites someone to bear their testimony we hope it will be done in a way that strengthens the faith and testimony of those in the congregation. However, many times during these leadership-change-testimonies individuals are nervous and they default to thanking individuals rather than testifying of truth. Or their emotions turn to expressing love for their spouse or family which is probably more appropriate in a private setting with our loved ones.
If the individuals invited to stand and share are not given a specific focus the meeting can go in any direction and miss the purpose of the meeting that we read about in Handbook 2.
Focuses on Individuals Rather Than Service
Nobody would argue that being in a bishopric or any other type of formal leadership calling isn’t a walk in the park. These individuals have sacrificed much of their time and effort to attend countless meetings and administer in a way that keeps the ward moving. However, this process of testimony sharing during a leadership change creates an unneeded worthiness hierarchy with leadership callings; indirectly communicating “these callings are more important than others.” This is not in line with the timeless council from President J. Reuben Clark Jr., “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines.”
When local leaders invite only those whom have served in formal leadership callings to stand and share their testimony when they are released, it easily puts too much emphasis on the individual rather then the blessing we all have to serve the Lord in whatever capacity we are called. I’ve never witnessed the outgoing and incoming Physical Facilities Rep. invited to stand and share his testimony. Over time these subtle highlights of individuals in leadership callings influence others who have not been called to these roles to judge their self-worth in building the Kingdom of God.
Distracts From the Purpose of Sacrament Meeting
A brief consideration of the true purpose of sacrament meeting, as mentioned in Handbook 2, would aid any leader that is presiding in a sacrament meeting. Unfortunately it is sometimes easier to follow tradition than handbooks. One rule of thumb our stake presidency tells the bishops in my stake in regards to facilitating sacrament meeting and staying on purpose, is to ask yourself constantly if an investigator of the Church was in attendance during sacrament meeting would he or she leave with the impression that Latter-day Saints talk of Christ, rejoice in Christ, preach of Christ, and prophesy of Christ? (2 Nephi 25:26) Is the theme over each sacrament meeting overwhelmingly on the doctrines of Christ? When we turn the time over to individuals with no more guidance than “share your testimony” we run the risk of the meeting going in an unintended direction.
Early on in our service as a stake presidency we talked at length about what we felt would be the best way to handle leadership changes. We had already facilitated a handful of these changes and never felt quite satisfied with the spirit of these leadership testimony meetings. As I said before, the direction of any meeting is up to the presiding authority and my prerogative is not to tell these leaders how to run a meeting but I hope these perspectives help you act more intentional rather than because of tradition.
With that said, let me share with you some adjustments we have made in our stake in regards to leadership changes, and I’d love for you to share some ideas you have tried.
Conduct the Change During “Ward Business”
Instead of using the time after the sacrament is administered—time normally given over to prepared talks—to reorganize a bishopric, we have made it a habit to handle bishopric changes at the same time during ward business right before the sacrament is administered, just as we would handle the change of any other calling, like an assistant stake clerk, or Young Women camp director. If it is a change in bishop we may wait until after the sacrament is passed to announce the change as to not distract from the sacrament by making a dramatic leadership change, but the intent is to keep the focus on the purpose of sacrament meeting.
Invite Leaders to Speak on a Topic
In order to keep focus and not make the leadership change about the individual, we encourage bishoprics to consider inviting outgoing or incoming leaders to speak during sacrament meeting with a defined topic rather than an impromptu testimony. This invitation to speak is given like any other speaking invitation, weeks in advance.
In the last few bishop changes we have conducted we have found it most effective to invite the outgoing bishop and his wife to speak along with the incoming bishop and his wife. They are given a specific topic in advance and the meeting stays on a spiritual, Christ centered focus, and the new bishop has opportunity to address the ward members as their newly called leader.
If advance topics were not given and the presiding authority still feels inspired to invite outgoing/incoming leaders to share their testimonies, they could at least give them a focus before they stand at the lectern. For example, “We would like Brother Spendlove to share his testimony along with his wife. Our hope is that they will share with us about how service in God’s Kingdom has sanctified them to become more like the Savior.” This quick direction helps keep the meeting on point and it helps Brother Spendlove start thinking about something to share, avoiding the default thank-imony mode.
Those are a few approaches that have helped us as a stake presidency. I realize I am sharing a strong opinion on this topic and it may not be a good fit for every ward or stake. I would love to hear what has worked for you. What have you done to keep leadership change sacrament meetings in sync with the purpose we read about in Handbook 2?
Leave your thoughts below and let’s share some thoughts in order to gain a deeper understanding!