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Bro. Marcus H. Martins

Insights from a "Former"* Bishop
Things I Learned by Doing, or by Trying to Do Them, or by Seeing Others Do Them

by Marcus H. Martins (2005)

Optional reading assignment for the course
REL 480 - Church Organization and Leadership

On Inspiration & Counseling

1) A bishop must have absolute faith, trust, and confidence that God will speak to him.  But the "price" for this "celestial phone call" is paid with the bishop's brain, ears, heart, and knees.

2) A Bishop must use his knees, his heart, his ears and his brain.  But he shouldn't let the brain take precedence over the ears, the heart and the knees.

3) As important as pondering and prayer are, there comes a time when action is required.  When the time comes, a Bishop must act.  If the Bishop did his homework he need not fear the possibility of a mistake.  Whenever the Lord has something specific in his mind that he wants the Bishop to do, he will inspire the Bishop on the right direction.  If nothing seems to come by way of direct revelation, the Bishop can find comfort in the idea that the Lord will have already blessed him with sufficient knowledge and wisdom to come to a decision that will be satisfactory in the Lord's opinion.

4) Still, not everything a bishop thinks will be an inspired idea.  Sometimes, what the bishop thinks will just be "a theme to be pondered" through a thorough and fruitful discussion with his counselors and the Ward Council--where the bishop will use his ears.

5) Occasionally a bishop's teachings and actions may be misinterpreted, and other times he may misspeak or act impulsively in a moment of stress--all of which will bring heavy criticism against him. Apologize profusively when needed, and forgive, forgive, forgive, and move on. The bishop probably won't be able to forget it completely (sorry ... we're still human), but under the influence of the power of the Holy Ghost eventually he will be able to feel an infinitesimal measure of the Savior Jesus Christ's love for those critics. In time, as they observe that the bishop is not "retaliating" but instead is extending love towards them, they also will feel that same Christlike love towards the bishop. Just give it time.

5a) Don't try to "shoot from the hip" with Doctrine and Covenants 121:16. That divine injunction is meant only for cases in which the bishop "... [has] not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded [him]."

President Harold B. Lee

Teachings of Presidents of the Church--Harold B. Lee, p.54

In humility be prepared to say with Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). And with dauntless courage say with the boy Samuel, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (1 Samuel 3:9). Be humble, be prayerful, and the Lord will take you by the hand, as it were, and give you answer to your prayers (D&C 112:10).

President [David O.] McKay taught us this in the temple one day. … "I want to tell you one thing: When the Lord tells you what to do, you've got to have the courage to do it or you had better not ask him again." I've learned that lesson, too. Sometimes in the middle of the night I've been awakened and am unable to sleep until I've gotten out of bed and put down on paper the thing that I have been wrestling with. But it takes a lot of courage to act when directed as an answer to prayers.  

President David O. McKay

Quoted by Elder Harold B. Lee - Address to Seminary and Institute Faculty, Brigham Young University, 6 July 1956

[President David O. McKay declared] that when we are relaxed in a private room we are more susceptible to those things; and that so far as he was concerned, his best thoughts come after he gets up in the morning and is relaxed and thinking about the duties of the day; that impressions come more clearly, as if it were to hear a voice. Those impressions are right.

If we are worried about something and upset in our feelings, the inspiration does not come.

If we so live that our minds are free from worry and our conscience is clear and our feelings are right toward one another the operation of the Spirit of the Lord upon our spirit is real as when we pick up the telephone; but when they come, we must be brave enough to take the suggested actions. The Lord will approve it and the Brethren will approve it, and we know it is right. [President McKay]  said, it is a great consolation in this upset world today to know that our Savior is directing this work.

On the Interaction with Counselors, the Stake President, and Fellow Bishops

6) A Bishop must let his two counselors work, and must grant them "space" to think, act, and counsel the Bishop.  The Lord will also speak to them, so they will be able to give wise counsel to the Bishop--which will allow the Bishop to be wiser than his own years.  Counselors should be allowed to grow in their callings, so one day they will become excellent bishops in their own right.  Consider the words of the revelation: "... now let [i.e. create the condition by which; allow; permit] every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence." (Doctrine and Covenants 107:99; brackets added with dictionary definitions)

7) After the Lord and the counselors in the Bishopric, the stake president is the bishop's next source of wise counsel and good ideas.  Great blessings will come to the lives of the ward members if the bishop and the stake president have a relationship marked by mutual respect, true brotherhood, and wise counseling.

8) Spend as much time with the Relief Society President as with the Elders Quorum President.  Much wisdom will come to a Bishop as he learns what is in the hearts and minds of the women of a ward.

9) Make good use of the telephone or e-mail.  When it comes to resolving matters that require temporal resources, often good resources will be known by another Bishop somewhere in another neighborhood: math & reading tutors, tow-trucks, plumbers, financial consultants, carpenters, etc.

On the Interaction with Members

10) A bishop is a friend, but should not be a "buddy."  Somewhat similar to the manner by which the Savior kept himself accessible but "apart" (see Talmage, Jesus the Christ, page 356), a bishop should also ensure that the dignity of his sacred office is maintained while he interacts socially with ward members--especially the youth and single adults.

11) The Bishop is the #1 teacher in a ward, and should teach the members on a regular basis, reminding the members what covenants they made and what the terms to those covenants were (Book of Mormon, Enos 1:22-23).

12) The disciplinary process is often heart-wrenching.  A Bishop must remember that he is the Lord's representative, but he is not the Lord.  A Bishop cannot "forgive" sins, nor can he punish anyone.  All a Bishop can do is use the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood and teach the doctrine of repentance and baptism/sacrament, which will instill in the people a desire to repent and be perfected in Christ (remember King Benjamin's people - Book of Mormon, Mosiah 5:2-6).  Unrepented sins--not the disciplinary process--can destroy a person's life and future.  When properly administered, the disciplinary process will bring healing and save a soul.

13) As much as the Bishop's wife can influence the lives of many ward members, she should maintain some "distance" from certain issues and confidential matters.  Serious problems will arise if a Bishop's wife is seen as a "third counselor in the Bishopric."

14) When the time for his release comes, a Bishop should prepare ward members--especially those in the Ward Council--for his release.  For many of the members this will be a very instructive experience.  Specifically, the Bishop can show that the ward continues to function normally--with new releases and callings, interviews, council meetings, etc.--until his last day in office.

15) After his release, a former Bishop will give one of his most memorable and powerful lessons on leadership by supporting his successor--specifically by: (a) continuing active in the ward or stake in whatever new calling he receives; (b) refraining from meddling in people's lives, including those who will still come to seek counsel out of familiarity with their former bishop; and (c) by not giving opinions to the new Bishop. (I know, I know ... but very likely you are not my bishop.)

For those who really want to know where on earth I learned this "stuff" ...

Bro. Martins' Ecclesiastical Biography
Mission President:
  • Brazil São Paulo North Mission (2011-2014)
  • Tijuca Ward, Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake  (1987-1990)
  • BYU-Hawaii 7th Ward, BYU-Hawaii 1st Stake  (2001-2004)

Executive Secretary:

  • Brasília Brazil Alvorada Stake  (1982-1983)
  • Tijuca Ward, Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake  (1986-1987)
Stake High Councilor:
  • Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake  (1981-1982)
  • Rio de Janeiro Brazil Stake  (1986-1987)
  • Brigham Young University 6th Stake  (1991-1994)
  • Rexburg Idaho Center Stake  (1997-1999)
  • Brigham Young University-Hawaii 1st Stake  (2000-2001)
  • Laie Hawaii North Stake (2009-2011; 2015-2017)

Branch Counselor (during full-time mission):

  • Marília Branch, Araçatuba Brazil District  (1978)
  • Ubatuba Branch, Taubaté Brazil District  (1979)
High Priests Group Leader:
  • Tijuca Ward, Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake  (1984-1985)

Ward Mission Leader:

  • Engenho de Dentro Ward, Rio de Janeiro Brazil Stake  (1985-1986)
  • Rexburg 16th Ward, Rexburg Idaho East  Stake  (1999-2000)

Copyright © 2005-2022 - Marcus H. Martins
This web page was published only as a support for classroom discussion.
For more information, contact Dr. Marcus Martins at: martinsm@byuh.edu