I Am a Man Without a Calling

Right before Christmas, my EC and I had a visit from our friend, who happens to be in the bishopric. One of those “formal” visits. When he left, our time as Primary teachers was over. We are currently without callings.

To some, that might feel like no big deal, but as I look back, I am pretty sure that I’ve only been without a Church calling for about a year of the last 48 years. The longest run was maybe 5 months. Other than that time I have had a responsibility/job to do, and much of my time and attention went there. Those lulls were weird. This lull is already weird.

Yes, I do have a ministering assignment. However, if I served that family enough to be considered a busy calling, they would put a restraining order on me.

We had a great conversation in the process. Having been on the other side of the table and been the one extending callings and releases, I understand what a serious process it is. I also know how hard it is to make sure everyone has a calling and feel needed and utilized in a ward/stake.

Over the course of the past few years, that goal has become even tougher, if not unattainable. Many of the changes implemented in the Church have had direct bearing on the number of available callings in any given ward. For example: With the High Priest group rolled into the Elder’s Quorum, half of the Melchizedek priesthood callings vanished. With the dismantling of Scouting, a ton of Young Men’s callings evaporated.

Even the change to two-hour church made an impact. There isn’t much use for four Priesthood or Relief Society instructors when they only teach twice a month. If a ward still has 4 teachers, or multiple Gospel Doctrine teachers, they are maybe teaching 50 minutes every couple of months. Not too demanding, our fulfilling.

The result – fewer “official” opportunities to serve in many areas of the Church.

Coincidentally, I was chatting with one of my sons this past week who expressed concern that he did not feel like he was being utilized in his ward, and expressed hope that he would get a calling that would help him feel more useful and involved.

I have spent the past few weeks with some of the same feelings. Lumiere (In Beauty and the Beast) had it right when he sang:

“Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful”

While I do feel that way bit, I have two advantages over my son in my understanding of this stuff: Age and experience. I’ve served a lot, and witnessed others serving for a long, long time.

Sadly, on occasion, I have been one of those shallow people who delights in getting released, or enjoys not having a calling. Of course I try to put those thoughts out of my heart because I know that they are the very antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a Gospel of service. Always has been, always will be. If I don’t get that, I am in trouble.

Which gets us to the point of this post: The days of expecting and/or waiting for a Priesthood leader to show up at our doors to hand us service opportunities on a silver platter are fading. What to do?

The answer: We take charge and ask the Spirit to help us figure it out how we can serve ourselves, and lose our dependency on formal callings.

The Lord had something to say about this:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

But he that doth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58:26-29)

Very familiar verses, but also surprisingly strong. Slothful? Not wise? Dammed? Interestingly, ‘damned’ works two ways here: Not only do we risk being damned eternally, we are also damned in that we will not progress as much in our lives without serving others.

The answer is where the Lord says, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

We don’t need to wait around to be asked to serve. It is up to us. We have agency and opportunity – all we lack is a willingness to get out there and find good things to do. And there’s LOTS of things to do.

From a Church standpoint, there is so much we can do: Temple attendance; finding names for ordinances; name indexing, etc. There is always-needed missionary work, serving missions, fellowshipping members. There are Bishop’s storehouses, Deseret Industries, Church welfare farms. Rarely does anyone get turned away when they come to offer service. These are just a few opportunities – they are countless.

But it is a big, needy world out there. Outside the scope of the Church there are humanitarian groups, charities, clubs, hospitals, nursing homes, children’s homes, etc. The list is endless.

Opportunities to go about doing good and to serve others are limitless. We can find them in our communities, in our wards and branches, and certainly in our homes.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf) Did you notice he said communities before he said wards?

One of the easiest ways to find some way to serve is to merely log onto the website justserve.org, and find what speaks to you. Or find what the Spirit points out to you.

Again, we don’t need to wait around to be asked to serve. It is up to us.

When? Now.

There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, “Sometime I’ll try,”
But go and do something today. (link)

In my personal experience, I have been blessed from serving. However, some of that service did not come from a calling. I know of two specific opportunities for service that came into my life specifically because I felt under-utilized and needed something more to fill my soul.

“The more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls.” (Spencer W. Kimball)

The first of those two opportunities came when I was invited to help a small humanitarian group that was founded by some good friends of mine. They needed some help with some marketing materials. Six weeks later I found myself in Mozambique meeting with government officials and trying to help build a program that would save lives. I spent the next ten years knee-deep in humanitarian work.

It blessed the lives of many people…and mine.

The second resulted in what you are reading. A few weeks after I was released as Bishop of our ward, I was bored and needed something to do. It is quite an abrupt adjustment coming off that level of service. I had no “official” calling for awhile. (I think they were giving me a “rest.”)

Resting from serving made me feel like Lumiere: Unnerved. So I spent some time thinking about what I could do. The result?


I’ve been blogging and trying to share good things for over a decade – all triggered by not having a calling or feeling useful. I feel it to be a calling of sorts, and I know that every time I check in with the Lord to see if it is time to wrap it up, I get the same reassurance that I need to keep rolling. It has been great blessing in my life, and I know a few other people have been blessed through it, and the associations that come with it.

“Sometimes we think that those we help are the ones who receive the greatest blessings, but I am not so sure. Something happens within us as we extend ourselves to others. We become more refined, more charitable, more humble. Our hearts become more receptive to the Spirit, and the windows of heaven can be opened to us.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf

If we don’t want to serve others, well, that is something we need to work out with the Lord.

If we do want to serve, but are waiting for an official calling, stop waiting. We don’t need “official” callings to serve. Go find a calling. Go create one. There is much need out there, and so much need for us to respond to it.

“Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, A blessing of duty and love.”

(I’ll keep you posted as my calling-free sabbatical progresses.)

Coincidentally, my friend Matthew Watkins wrote about another aspect of callings in his blog today. Check it out: PowerintheBook.com

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  1. Oh to go even a month without a calling… a fella can dream. After 35 years of being in a presidency of one form or another I’m ready to sit in the back row and observe.

  2. I wonder if the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, is trying to teach us to be better ministers. Less callings = more time to minister to one another.

  3. Thanks for the timely reminder. I’ve been too selfish this last year spending all my time with my immediate family and their needs. Yes, that’s important too, but I’ve been feeling the need to share with others as well.

  4. We just had a marvelous Stake Conference last week and since it wasn’t on the usual timeline, we knew something was up. Our Stake was completely re-arranged and boundaries changed left and right. But the main thing was two completely new wards. That’s probably not a big deal in Utah or Arizona but this is Alaska. The Stake President gave a very eloquent talk about the need for more people to have callings. With two new wards, there were many to fill. Today, a member of our new Bishopric gave a short talk that compared what happened to rotating your crops every year and not planting potatoes in the same spot. We are being rotated a little. I’m luckier than some because I’ve lived here for 35 years. I would have known many in any of the wards so I am comfortable no matter what. The Stake President bore his testimony to the teenagers, who, understandably, were the most affected and sad about it because of their friends.

  5. Have you thought about going into “politics”? Yes, it is not a dirty word. It’s a challenge, and a need. Yes a need. We need people with good common sense. And the ability to work well with others. You will have good days and bad days. You will need to get in and “do it”. But the job is so worth while when you look back. I challenge you (with a hug).

  6. I received my life calling from the Lord many years ago in answer to prayer. It was clear and very compatible with the yearnings of my heart and my desires to serve. He has restated it to me on several occasions, including in the past few days, right about the time you were writing about this. In fact, it was so long ago that it was before Church leaders had begun to talk about a life mission or a personal calling or whatever words they use when they do, from time to time, talk about it. I didn’t talk about it much, because I knew that many people would judge me as presumptuous to think that I could receive a calling directly from the Lord. But it is consistent with my Patriarchal blessing, and although I have had many official callings since, they have all provided opportunities for me to focus on fulfilling my life calling, as I magnified my “official calling.”

  7. I have for a few years strongly been feeling that I need to know my neighbours. How many times have we not wanted to do “something” missionary type stuff, like inviting the neighbours over for dinner or… , but we have been “too” busy because of our church calling. There is always someone crying for help. This is the time to hear and be there for someone.

  8. Brad, you’re absolutely right. In the evolving Church today, we’re seeing a tapering-off of the “spoon-fed” Gospel so that the tares and wheat can be separated. The SSS (Self Starting Saints) will do as you say and “go and do something today” and not wait to be “commanded in all things”. Oh Brave New World, that hath such people in it!

  9. I agree with you. However, if you want something official, after all, Talk to your bishop about being a temple worker. That calling has given me an amazing amount of peace and joy for the last several years.

    1. Good idea, however, one must be patient, as the need for temple workers is also down; and just because you want to be one, doesn’t mean you’ll pass all the approvals in the process. If that doesn’t work, you can also apply as a temple senior service missionary, and volunteer in one of a few departments in the temple.

  10. My husband was recently released after 10 yrs as a stake president. It has been hard because we have found that while there are lots of callings needing to be filled in our ward (not in an area with high population of members) the bishop isn’t sure what to do with him. But yes, he has just stepped in and “assigned” himself things to take on. For me– yes please go your driving me crazy!

  11. Thanks for this post. After 9 consecutive years of busy callings I am now teaching Gospel Doctrine once a month. I have taught once and I am really going to enjoy it but have had many of the thoughts expressed here. D&C 58:26-27 has been replaying in my head and I have been seeking inspiration on how to use my time wisely to serve. Thanks for your helpful thoughts.

  12. I’m so grateful for the service you render by writing this blog. My life has been enriched and blessed in many ways as I have partaken of your thoughts. It may be selfish of me but I hope the Lord never helps you feel like it is time to stop. 😉

      1. This brings to mind how Relief Society started–sisters wanted to do something more, saw a need, took it upon themselves to serve without being asked. JustServe is great for giving ideas for helping in the community but sometimes one just has to decide how to make the world a better place on one’s own.

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