A little over 10 years ago, back when I was serving as a Bishop, we had a week-long Aaronic Priesthood encampment. It was pretty awesome, but I hadn’t reflected on it much until recently. I think it could be fun and insightful to tell you about one of the activities we had.
Since we were dealing with Aaronic priesthood holders, I thought it might be interesting to learn more about the original Aaronic priesthood holders. My idea? Build an Ark of the Covenant.
While the boys were off on their various activities, I used a bunch of lumber and a LOT of gold spray paint and made a knock-off version of the Ark. It was the exact dimensions as the original. Yeah, it was very rough, and heavy, but it would serve its purpose.
That evening, as we gathered, I taught about the Ark in Old Testament times; What was in it, the power it held, its place of respect with the Children of Israel, the responsibility its bearers carried, etc. Then, I had some of the leaders bring the Ark around to the group so they could see it.
I explained that each quorum would have an opportunity to carry the Ark, and locate things that symbolized what was originally inside. Specifically: Scriptures, representing the stone tablets; a stick, representing Aaron’s staff; and some bread, representing the manna they had saved. (Hebrews 9:4) (And no, there were no cherbims.)
The instructions were that each quorum would pick up the Ark, and walk through the forest gathering the items, without setting the Ark down.
But of course – nothing is that easy. To make it more challenging, and to take advantage of a teaching opportunity, I made it tougher: Each boy that was carrying the Ark was blindfolded. For direction, they would need to listen to their quorum leader, who was not blindfolded, and carried a lantern so he could see the way.
The boys figured it would be easy enough, but I still had one more trick up my sleeve: Brother Morris. Brother Morris is one of the most gregarious people you will ever meet. He is full of life, love and good humor. He loved those boys and they loved him. Everyone loves Brother Morris.
Up until a few months before the Encampment, Brother Morris had served as the Young Men’s President for many years. He was an “institution.” Even though he had been released a few months before, he came to camp to help out.
The first group of boys covered their eyes, and picked up the Ark. Their leader, Mitchell, started shouting directions so they could find their way in the dark forest. It was going smoothly enough…until…
After a few successful minutes, Brother Morris started calling out to them in his loud, familiar voice. He warned them of obstacles that weren’t there, sent them in the wrong direction, and completely overpowered the voice of the leader who was supposed to be leading them.
Within a very short time, the boys were well off the trail, floundering in the underbrush, tripping and venting their irritation. (We were laughing our heads off.)
Eventually, the Priests had to stop because they were lost, and dropped the Ark. The boys were frustrated as we gathered back at camp for a reset and a discussion. It was a very teachable moment.
“What went wrong?” I asked.
“Brother Morris kept giving us bad directions!”
“Who were you supposed to be listening to?” I asked.
“Ummm..Mitchell,” they sheepishly replied.
“So why were you listening to Brother Morris?”
“Because he’s Brother Morris!”
I let them think about that for a second, until someone added, “He’s our leader!”
I seized on that answer, “Ah, he was your leader, but he got released. He’s not your leader now. He has no stewardship over you. He’s here because he loves you, but he has zero authority here.”
The boys looked at Brother Morris who nodded in agreement, shrugged his shoulders, and grinned.
I could see the light bulbs go on, and the boys immediately wanted to try again. We reset and gave them another go.
The next time it was different. Rob was louder and more sneaky, even walking alongside some of the boys and just talking directly in their ears. I’m proud to say that, this time, they accomplished their task with only a few hiccups.
The Teachers and Deacons soon followed, and succeeded because they learned from the Priest’s mistakes. However, even then it was difficult because Brother Morris’ familiar voice had such tremendous influence and goodwill that it was hard for the boys to tune it out.
Overall, it was a good experience and, other than some scratches, the boys learned a valuable lesson: Current leaders > Former leaders.
I have wrestled with this idea of exercising undue influence a bit in my life. I started blogging two months after I was released as Bishop in our ward. I wanted to blog about gospel and life, but I was concerned to put my voice out there when a brand new Bishop was getting his legs under him. I did not want any ward members reading what I wrote and giving it the weight they would have given it, were I still “Bishop” McBride.
So, I began the blog anonymously, and kept it anonymous for over four years. I think it was a good choice. Why? Current leaders > Former leaders, and I did not want my voice creating any confusion or misdirection with what our current Bishop was undertaking. Nor did I want to exercise any undo influence because of the goodwill built up with ward members while serving in my former calling. It felt exploitive.
Even so, I have always gotten the occasional email asking me for counsel, as a “former Bishop.” My response is always the same:
“First, I appreciate you reaching out to me. Second, I am not your Bishop. I have zero stewardship over you, and I am not entitled to any revelation concerning you or your situation. None. What I would recommend is that you reach out to your Bishop, just like you reached out to me. He has the authority, the mantle and the stewardship to help. And he is entitled to revelation on your behalf.”
When put that way, everyone has always been kind and understanding. Phew! I do not want any potential for confusion to exist, and always want to offer that small bit of teaching. Neither do I want to leverage my former calling for any purpose.
When someone is in a calling, they take on that role the Lord has asked them to fill, and the Lord sustains and enlarges them. I have talked to many people over the years who had this same experience that I did:
My mission president was an amazing man. He was dynamic, powerful and radiated authority. Several years later, I attended a mission reunion. When I saw my former president, all the feelings of love and respect filled my heart. What I was unprepared for was that the dynamic aura of authority that he carried while serving as mission president was absent. He was much more of a “normal” guy. In a way, I was disappointed. It was actually surprising enough that I mentioned it to a couple of buddies, who confided that they had the same experience.
In no way does this mean that my former president was no longer an amazing, righteous man – it only means that he no longer carried the authority and stewardship over me as a “civilian.” I could see and feel the difference.
This happens with other offices of the Church as well. I describe my personal situation as this: I am no longer serving as a sitting Bishop. Yes, I have some knowledge and wonderful memories from that experience, but I have ZERO authority or the same right of inspiration as I had before. I simply no longer wear the mantle, and I recognize the difference. I am now just a regular guy in the Church, and my thoughts and opinions should be regarded as such. (And you all know I have lots of opinions!)
As when I began as an anonymous blogger, I still always want readers to judge my words on their own merit and the support I can provide for them from other (better) sources, precisely because there is no stewardship involved.
This can apply to leaders at all levels, from the Prophet to Stake Presidents, to Bishops, etc. Regarding prophets, President Harold B. Lee said this:
“When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many saints who died spiritually with Joseph. And so it was when Brigham Young died. … We have some today willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and to accept his words as having more authority than the words of a living authority today” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City, Deseret, 1974, 153).
You will often see people using some obscure quote from Brigham Young to argue against something a living prophet said mere months ago. It just doesn’t work that way.
To help simplify these ideas, here are a few formulas:
- Living Prophets > Dead Prophets
- Current Leaders > Released Leaders
- Living Prophets > Scriptures
(These are not all my ideas, here’s a link to President Benson teaching them: Here)
As we are moving forward in life, always remember to listen to the voices that the Lord currently grants authority to – no matter how much you liked the previous Prophet of Bishop. We also need to carefully weigh the current words of our former leaders who no longer have stewardship over us, because they are not valid simply based on past goodwill and authority.
In determining what is true, the Spirit is our most sure path. As Moroni taught, “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5)