Being a Mormon is not a passive activity. Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members know it is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. This gives them a strong mission to carry out God’s work.
Because the church has a very complex structure with many auxiliaries and programs, it takes a lot of work to carry out all the programs. However, the Mormons have a lay church, so there are no full-time pastors to carry out that work. The bishop, who is a lay pastor, has an ordinary job somewhere out in the world, and a family, so his time is limited. Generally they are asked to volunteer about 20 or so hours a week, although of course, it is often more. That still leaves a lot of work to be done—and that is where the membership comes in.
Nearly everyone in the church has a job. Practically the first thing that happens when you become a new Mormon is that you are given a small job to do, enough to make you feel like a part of the team while you’re settling in. Over time, it is likely you’ll receive more volunteer opportunities, which Mormons call callings, because, although you aren’t paid, you don’t usually really volunteer for them.
It works like this: Suppose the president of the women’s Relief Society needs a new counselor. Every president has two counselors who advise and assist in the work of the organization, as well as a secretary. All are volunteers. She looks over the female membership, since only women can lead this organization, and chooses some people she thinks would be a good fit. She prays until God agrees with one of her choices. Then she gives the name to the bishop. He and his counselors consider the name given. Sometimes they know the person can’t be spared from her current calling or that she has serious home circumstances that make such a demanding calling a bad idea just now. But if they don’t know something the Relief Society president didn’t know, they pray as well and if they also feel it is the right choice, they approve the name. Then the person is invited to fill the calling by the bishop or one of his counselors. Mormons try very hard to accept their calls, knowing how much prayer went into them.
As a convert, I quickly realized that callings were one sign the church was true. It was exactly how God would run His church. Why? He wants us to become everything He knows we can be. As mortals, though, we tend to stay in our comfort zones. Because these callings come from God and are rotated often, we eventually find ourselves outside that cozy comfort zone and into a calling we don’t think we can do. Out in the world, if someone asked me to teach English as a second language or to be a secretary or to work with teens, I’d say no. I’m good with small children and that is all, in my mind. I consider myself a person who is incapable of teaching without puppets and flannel boards. However, I accepted all those calls at various times, despite my nervousness and insecurity…and I was able to do them all.
Why was I able to do them? Mormons have a saying that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies. That means that while the world might think our “resume” doesn’t qualify us for a job—after all, teaching ESL normally requires a master’s degree—God knows we can do it. Whatever we might not be very good at isn’t a problem because God helps us do the job. He gives us the skills to carry it out. This doesn’t mean we do it perfectly the first time. It means that if we work hard, study, practice, and pray, eventually we will be able to do the job. Each time we do it we get better at it if we let God help us.
Over the years, as I’ve filled a variety of church callings, I’ve done things I never thought I could do. Some callings terrified me, but I managed them. As I did them I learned new skills and gained more confidence in my ability to do things that seem out of character for me. I am becoming more of the person God knows I can be.
That is why God gives Mormons callings to begin with. In a church with paid positions, the same person might do the job forever. In a lay church, with always changing assignments, we get chances to do a wide range of jobs, each with its own set of skills. Very wise of Heavenly Father, isn’t it?