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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Helping new members understand "callings"

For many new members of the Church, the idea of holding a position or "calling" can be a very intimidating thing. The last thing that we want is to have new converts running for the door after the closing hymn so they can avoid a potential "Can I meet with you for a moment?" encounter with the Bishopric... What can Ward missionaries do to help our new members feel comfortable with accepting callings?

Something that we have done is bring up the subject of callings when we're visiting a new convert for one of the early new-member discussions*. This gives us a good opportunity to resolve any concerns that the new member may have. We give brief summary of what a calling is (this a term that we use frequently, but most non-members are unfamiliar with, so it doesn't hurt to explain), explain how callings are extended (and how we are sustained), and why we as members serve in the Church.

I've found there are four general concerns that new members have about accepting callings:

#1- I don't have the gospel knowledge/experience
This is a very common concern. New members are used to dealing with full-time missionaries that can usually answer virtually any question without breaking a sweat. And when they come to Church they see men and women speaking or giving lessons who have had years and years of speaking/teaching experience. How can someone who was just baptized last week be expected to have the gospel knowledge and ability of a missionary or a lifelong member? Well, of course they aren't expected to have those abilities, which is why a brand new convert isn't usually called to teach Gospel Doctrine. Bishoprics are very aware of the limitations that a convert will have as they are learning the basics. There are many callings that are appropriate for new members that don't require an extensive gospel education. Even a calling as a teacher isn't necessarily going to require a mastery of the scriptures... For example, some new converts that I've known have been called as Primary teachers. This provides an opportunity for the new member to learn through teaching, line upon line, and to a (hopefully) less-intimidating young audience.

#2- I don't know enough about the organization/calling
Even long-time members could feel a little panicked at being called to a position in an area/auxilliary that they aren't very familiar with, so this is easy to relate to. A new member may not realize that they will have training and leadership support for their calling. No matter what the calling, there is someone to offer support and answer questions. For example, if a new member were called to be a visiting teaching supervisor, they would receive instruction and support from the visiting teaching leader and the Relief Society President. It would be really helpful for new members to know that they will have this support and that there are also support materials (instruction manuals) and other resources that can help as well.

#3- I might be asked to do something I just can't do
It can help to explain that callings for all members (including new converts) are chosen carefully by our leaders who are guided through revelation (meaning that we may be asked to do something that stretches us and increases our talents/abilities, but we're generally not asked to do something beyond what we can handle). I've used the example that I can't play the piano at all, so I probably won't be asked to serve as the ward pianist - its just literally beyond what I am able to do. On the other hand, as we serve in positions we start to gain skills and become more familiar with how things run, which can give us that background (and confidence) we need to serve in future callings that may require a greater knowledge or skill. Most callings will "stretch" us beyond our comfort zone in some way. I don't believe in turning down callings because they are intimidating. However, I do feel that its appropriate to tell new members that if they are extended a calling that they feel uneasy about, it's okay to talk to the Bishopric member about our questions or concerns. My husband and I learned this the hard way when we were in a new Ward and called to a husband/wife team calling that required regular weeknight meetings. Not wanting to question the call (though we'd never spoken with the Bishopric before that night and they didn't know our circumstances), we accepted the callings (without voicing our concern that every single meeting conflicted with my husband's work schedule). A lot of complications could have been avoided if we would have expressed our scheduling conflict when the calls were extended. So, its important for new members to know that its okay to have questions or concerns - its better to resolve them before agreeing to the calling than to wait until the situation becomes frustrating or overwhelming. This will also give the Bishopric member an opportunity to reassure the new member and help resolve concerns about lack of experience, etc.

#4- I'm just too shy to teach
This concern is a little more difficult to resolve, since you can't really tell a person to just stop being shy... I find that many new members are afraid to be asked to teach because they have never been a fan of public speaking or they are just generally shy (and this may be made worse if they are also concerned about lack of experience/knowledge). Most new members won't be asked to teach right away, but some will. In this case, refer back to #1 , #2, & #3 - explaining how callings are administered and that they will receive support from leadership can really help put a shy new member at ease.

*In our Ward, the Ward missionaries present the new-member discussions to the new converts and we try to incorporate the visiting/home teachers when possible. Generally, the Ward Mission Leader determines how the new-member discussions are handled, so your Ward may have a different arrangement (for example, in some Wards the full-time missionaries teach the new-member discussions, in other Wards the full-time missionaries and Ward missionaries teach these discussions together). Consult your Ward Mission Leader.

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