What does a Mormon bishop do?

May 25, 2013

Following my recent ordination as a Mormon bishop, many Jewish friends have written to ask me what my new responsibilities are.  Although I’ve only been at it for a month, I’ll do my best to outline my duties for my readers.

Like rabbis, LDS bishops are chosen to be leaders of congregations. Unlike rabbis, bishops don’t apply for the job. Instead, they are chosen by the regional leader (stake president) and are expected to serve without pay until they are released. In addition, because Mormons are generally expected to attend the nearest congregation, the authority of a bishop is restricted to a defined geographical area. In my case, the borders of my ward (congregation) in Los Angeles are Fairfax Avenue on the west, Western Avenue on the east, Beverly Boulevard on the north, and Slauson Avenue on the south.

Unlike rabbis, bishops usually have no formal training in theology, homiletics, psychology, etc. We come from all walks of life, and are expected to study and apply the rules and principles contained in church handbooks and manuals. Since we serve in a hierarchical church, we also meet regularly with our regional leaders to receive counsel and direction.   

In addition to tithing, Mormons fast once a month and donate offerings to the church to help the poor. Bishops are authorized to draw on these funds (fast offerings) to help needy members who request assistance, including financial help and food orders. The purpose of this help is to assist the recipients to become self-sufficient, so it has to be doled out sparingly and judiciously. I pray a lot before meeting with needy members, and hope to use these resources to change people’s lives for the better.

One rewarding task for bishops and our counselors (assistants) is calling people to serve in various positions in the ward. We have a lay ministry, and every active member is supposed to be given at least one “calling” to carry out. It’s gratifying to see people willingly accept these volunteer positions and attempt to serve their fellow congregants.    

Thankfully, bishops rarely have to give sermons. Every week members take turns delivering talks, and I have assigned a counselor to assign talks throughout the year.

Bishops are asked to dedicate a lot of their time to the youth of the church, which is a responsibility that weighs greatly on me. It’s not easy to be a teen in Los Angeles today, and we need to provide them all of the spiritual guidance and support that they can get. In our case there is strength in numbers: Our ward runs a combined youth program with Spanish and Korean wards, so our kids can learn from their leaders as well.

Needless to say, I have already developed a greater appreciation for congregational rabbis. I look forward to consulting with them in the coming weeks and months on challenges that both of our communities face.

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