Daniel, My Brother: The Case for Pastoral Training in the Church

Here is a story about when I tried to do everything right but ended up doing everything wrong.

I had just moved into the ward and been made Elders Quorum President. I got my first call from the Bishop while I was mowing my lawn. “There is a man named Daniel staying at the Scotsman Motel in Martinsburg,” he said. “He is a member of the Church who just got out of a group home in Hagerstown. You just need to drive him over to the homeless shelter on Washington.”

As it turned out, though, there was more to do. At least I thought so. Daniel was homeless, and, in my judgment, incapable of taking care of himself. He had serious physical and mental challenges: he was diabetic, weighted nearly 400 pounds, and functioned about on the level of a twelve-year-old child. He was the least of these my brethren, and I was supposed to do unto him.

So I took Daniel to the homeless shelter, but there was no room at that inn. I took him to the hospital, which only bought a few days, as he was soon released. I paid for him to stay in a hotel until I could figure something out. I let him call me, any time, and when he did I drove the twelve miles from Shepherdstown to Martinsburg and got him whatever he needed.

For about two weeks, Daniel was the only thing in my life. I left work early almost every day. I neglected my family. I felt that this was a test of my moral fitness—the real, rubber-hitting-the-road, mourn-with-those-who-mourn test of whether or not I was fit for Zion.

And I accomplished a lot—much more than I ever thought possible. In just two weeks, I managed to get Daniel approved for Medicaid and food stamps (both had to be shifted from Maryland to West Virginia). I found him an apartment in a subsidized housing project. I got him enrolled in a day-long, special-needs program. I even bought him a television set. I fixed all of his problems because he needed me and I took the Gospel seriously.

Except that I didn’t fix anything. Everything I set up fell apart within two days. He got in a fight in his program and was kicked out. He lost his apartment because he kept pressing the emergency call alarm for no reason. He got arrested in the park for using drugs. And he left town, two weeks and one day after arriving; I don’t know where he went.

And I was a failure. My best was not good enough. I couldn’t help him, and I resented him for what he took from me. And I hated myself for resenting him. And then I resented him for making me hate myself for resenting him. And for the next two years, I was a completely ineffective Elders Quorum President because my main goal was not to care about anybody ever again.

In the intervening years, I have talked to a lot of professionally trained counsellors about Daniel: my own therapist, members of our social work faculty, my friends who are Catholic priests. They all told me the same thing: I made every mistake in the book. I got too close. I failed to establish boundaries. I did for him what he should have done for himself. I let his needs control my life. This is the stuff you learn in the first semester of any social work or counselling program.

And as I have talked with people of other faiths about this, they have all asked the same question: don’t you have any basic pastoral training before you start a job like that? It turns out that pastoral ministry is a thing. You can get a degree in it. In fact, in my current job as an administrator at a Catholic university, I supervise a bachelor’s degree program in just this subject. Students take courses in theology, but they also take courses in counselling taught by professional counsellors. They learn what social workers learn their first semester.

I see a great need for something this in the LDS Church too. Unlike most religious organizations, we are run entirely by unpaid, and untrained, volunteers. This is good. It gives opportunities to grow into the responsibilities that we assume. But it is also true that Latter-day Saints serving in Relief Societies, Elders Quorums, and Bishoprics have serious—and sometimes very heavy—pastoral responsibilities. Some very smart people have worked out broadly recognized principles for doing this kind of work. They could never replace inspired religious judgment, but they could give inspiration a lot more to work with.

An eight- or sixteen- week course in pastoral counselling would not have empowered me to solve all of Daniel’s problems. But it would have helped me not create more. It could have saved my family great pain, and it might have prevented this two-week incident from rendering me virtually incapable of future service. It would have taken my desire to do good and supplemented it with the knowledge to do well.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve experienced a little of this in the 5 year arc of my volunteer work at our local shelter program, but as a newly called RS pres. am thinking about these issues a lot.
    I have the desire to do good…still looking and praying for those resources to do it effectively–or at least, as effectively as I can respecting the agency of the person I’m working with. And I have learned a lot from fellow board members at the shelter, several of whom have pastoral training.

  2. Rockwell says:

    What a great insight. Many people with current and future callings could benefit from this kind of training. I wonder if BYU offers something as a independent study open to anyone that would provide this kind of training…

  3. Melissa says:

    Yes, yes, yes. A thousand yesses. This could be a class put on through stakes. My current Bishop has a background in counseling, and as a result I feel like I could approach him with needs. It’s a dramatic difference from most leaders in wards I’ve attended and makes me long for a trained lay ministry.

  4. Jason K. says:

    This post makes me wish for the days of Clarissa Smith Williams, who set out to train the entire Relief Society in modern methods of social work. Her leadership and vision are truly inspiring.

  5. At any point, did you ask the Lord what you should do? Did you receive an answer? If yes and yes, why didn’t you include that part in your story?

  6. Great, more meetings for leaders.

  7. I would assume he didn’t include the contents of his prayers in the story because it’s a private matter and it has no relevance to the point of the story.

  8. Good heavens, I needed this on my mission. We worked with three generations of the same family with some problems, and I felt like I got burned. It made me even more aloof and less inclined to “get involved” with people who have major problems.

  9. Thanks for the response Colin. I am interested in Michael’s take on it.

  10. Wise counsel that I would have appreciated those years ago when I first got called as a PH leader. You learn a few things along the way, and you get lucky sometimes, but trial and error is a terrible way to learn when you are trying to help real people. And as you pointed out, the personal cost can be great. My wife and I had the experience of trying to help a paranoid schizophrenic who moved into our ward. For a while, she was quite stable and willing to do a lot on her own, and made great progress. But the break with reality eventually came, and we went through much of the same things that you did, Michael. It is painful, and three years or so later, we still mourn the loss of our friend to her delusions, and worry for her and wonder about her.whereabouts and status.

    A few short sessions to teach bishops, RS presidents, and quorum leaders some basic tools would be of immense value. We have trained social workers at LDS Social Services, who could easily teach these basics at a stake or regional level a few times a year in just a few hours, and make a huge difference.

  11. This struck a real chord with me. As a RS president I spoke to the stake RS president about having a counsellor talk to us presidents about boundaries and strategies when working with people with mental and social needs. Similar to a previous comment I am fearful of being burnt out or overwhelmed.

  12. We can all be more efficient in serving others. But I disagree with the idea Daniel’s inability to make a permanent change means your efforts amount to a failure. To put it simply, I don’t think you will be scolded for making mistakes with Daniel at the last day. My guess is Heavenly Father will reward you for the time you spent in taking care of his lost child.
    One of my favorites from Longfellow:
    Talk not of wasted affection, affection never was wasted;
    If it enrich not the heart of another, its waters, returning
    Back to their springs, like the rain, shall fill them full of refreshment;
    That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.
    Patience; accomplish thy labor; accomplish thy work of affection!
    Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is godlike,
    Therefore accomplish thy labor of love, till the heart is made godlike,
    Purified, strengthened, perfected, and rendered more worthy of heaven!”

  13. “A few short sessions to teach bishops, RS presidents, and quorum leaders some basic tools would be of immense value. We have trained social workers at LDS Social Services, who could easily teach these basics at a stake or regional level a few times a year in just a few hours, and make a huge difference.”

    This type of training is offered by social services now.

  14. This story reminds me of when I was a missionary and we were teaching a person recovering from a crack addiction. Gosh we were so naive and ill-trained, and (surprise!) we ended up doing everything wrong. I still feel embarassed about it.

  15. Boundaries! Yes please. I struggled on a smaller but similar scale with a sister I was set to visit teach. I ended up bailing on the relationship but not until after it became very unhealthy for both of us.

  16. I think bishops are generally aware of these things, and there is some training they get, but I don’t think it gets formally passed down to quorum and auxiliary presidents unless proactively taught by the bishop. But even with the bishops, much of what they know comes from experience and only occasional training.

    I asked one recently called bishop what the biggest surprise was for him after he was called. He said that immediately after the sacrament meeting concluded in which he was sustained as bishop, he received an urgent request for an interview with a person who needed financial assistance. For the bishop, there was no time for training, no time to read up on it, no nothing. He was left entirely on his own, left to rely completely on the Lord’s help. That’s what I call a baptism by fire.

  17. Calling for formalized training after the fact misses the point. It sounds like your two week experience taught you far more than anything you could possibly be expected to learn in a sterilized and neutral environment. That such growth came at great personal expense to both of you shouldn’t be that surprising. There are some personal trails that simply defy any rational attempt to explain being given to a individual for reasons of their own growth. Schizophrenia certainly falls under that category.

    Oceans of pain, suffering, and misery are more often that not removed one thimble at a time. It helps to remember that oceans are nothing more than collections of thimbles.

    Daniel’s suffering wasn’t for Daniel, it was for you. My hope is the realization that all anyone can ever do at any given time is their best, and it’s undoubtably clear that you did. For whatever reason, unbeknownst to us there are far more Daniels that need attending to than there are those of us who reasonably can. It is completely understandable that you’ve been rendered nearly incapable of providing future service. Given what’s at stake for both you and the Daniels of this world, in the future you must.

  18. The Other Clark says:

    Heck, I’m still wishing the Church would teach the basics like how to interview, extend callings and releases, conduct a PPI, talk to youth in an encouraging and non-creepy way, etc.

  19. My impression is that bishops, moreso than RS or EQ presidents, have experience (and hopefully, at least some training) with setting boundaries. They’re the ones that deal with requests for financial help, and I’ve known people who’ve had their requests turned down (because their requests weren’t appropriate, etc.) So go to your bishop if you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship trying to help someone, especially if mental illness or addiction involved. Unless you’ve got formal training, you are way out of your league.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was in a position to be involved, Stake training was useless busy work, as though they had to have a meeting and just sort of came up with stuff to fill the time. This is a great idea for something worthwhile that is actually needed.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    These scenarios sort of terrify me. Don’t you think that this is part of the reason the church has outsourced so much to LDS family services? For the attorneys around, is there some sort of liability protection for a lay bishop?

  22. kevinf says:

    Marc, when I was a bishop starting 18 years ago, we knew about LDS Social Services, but there was no formal training in counseling or any of the strategies discussed here. Mostly it was about resources (counselors and meetings) to send people to, but nothing about what to do for the person who wouldn’t go to professional counseling, yet wanted help from a bishop,

    Also, as to legal liability, it was pretty clear to me as a bishop that if the church got sued, the church;s law firm would represent the church, but that if I also got named in a lawsuit arising out of my church calling, i was pretty much on my own, and would need to get my own counsel. And I did have one time when that was a real possibility that we managed to avoid. That only emphasizes the need for more training in counseling.

  23. anonymous says:

    I was a therapist in an agency that dealt with people with severe mental illnesses. Our agency provided therapy, but also case workers who could drive the client to doctor’s appointments, make sure the clients had groceries, etc., but only if the case workers were truly needed. Many clients wanted a case worker, but they were capable of taking care of themselves, and it was therapeutic that they do so.

    In a personal (not professional) conversation with a RS president, she disclosed that she was providing all sorts of services to a ward member that we both knew was involved in this agency. The RS pres. was burned out but still concerned because she believed no one else would help this ward member, and the member was complaining bitterly that not even the agency would help. Without breaking confidentiality, I informed the RS president that there was probably a therapeutic reason that this ward member did not have a case worker, and she should have the ward member sign a release of information to communicate with the ward member’s therapist to see if she should still provide services. Very soon, the RS president discovered from the ward member’s therapist that she needed to back off. So, no food, no rides, no visits in the middle of the night, no suicidal phone calls.

    In another situation, I was a new visiting teacher to a woman who was very demanding and dependent. The RS pres told me I needed to take her to buy groceries, teach her how to cook, inspect her fridge for spoiled food, etc. I asked the RS pres how this woman had managed all these years without all this care. She thought her adult, nonmember kids intervened. I asked why the kids were no longer helping. She said it was because the ward was taking over. I helped the woman get groceries, but I told her I’d provide monthly visits, the occasional phone call, but I couldn’t do the rest of her demands. She later requested a new v.t.

    My point is, 1. don’t believe everything a client says. 2. There may be a therapeutic reason why “no one cares.” 3. If you know a ward member is seeing a therapist, request a ROI so the RS pres (or whoever) can communicate with the therapist about the best way to work with the ward member. 4. get the family of origin involved. 5. people with severe mental illnesses have probably been mentally ill for years before you came along and they figured out how to get by, and they will figure it out after you are gone–you do not need to save them (nor can you).

    If I were King of the Church, I would have annual or semi-annual trainings (I’d delete a bunch of other meetings to make up for it–seriously, why do we need multiple sessions of stake conference?) on boundaries, yes, but also about community resources (given by representatives of these agencies). I’d also re-vamp LDS Family Services. I’d have a local LDS Family Services social worker (not a therapist, because they provide therapy, and not that 800 phone number that gives legal advice about breaking confidentiality in the case of abuse). The social worker could be contacted by any EQP/RS/bishop/etc. who has questions or concerns; i.e., “Brother X constantly calls me in crisis, has no food, the voices are increasing, etc. What do I do?” and the social worker would provide info on boundaries, how to be assertive (without being aggressive or passive) with a ward member, what community resources (shelters? food pantries? clothing pantries? suicide hotlines? low-income psychiatrists? etc.) are available and how to advocate for your ward member with the community resources.

  24. Anon this time says:

    Despite working constantly and hard, I’ve never enjoyed any measure of financial success or even stability. Still, I’ve managed to get by or do without, without ever needing or asking or accepting fast offering help. Yet there have been times when, in a spirit of misguided generosity, people have insisted on “helping” me in ways that I did not want and could not use: I was living without a couch while I saved for the kind I wanted; without asking, the ward dumped the huge, ugly orange, stained, missing-one-leg couch from the newly redecorated church foyer in my yard “because you need it.” I didn’t need it, didn’t want it, and ended up spending money I could have saved for buying my own furniture to have it hauled to the dump. Ditto with food I couldn’t eat left at my door, and the hurt feelings caused when I returned cash left in my mailbox. If only people would ask first, instead of blindly deciding what I must need as if I shouldn’t or couldn’t make those decisions myself!

    I offer that as another example of problems some professional pastoral training might prevent. We all want to help; our ability to help is limited; let’s learn how to help wisely to avoid waste of all kinds.

  25. “Unlike most religious organizations, we are run entirely by unpaid, and untrained, volunteers. This is good.”

    No it’s not. For a perfect example of why it’s not good, see the article above.

  26. A little training (especially on boundaries) would go a long way in callings like this!

  27. This is a great post, and I agree with the thesis.

    Why do you think there isn’t adequate training for this in the church? Is it just the practical difficulties of rolling out such training (which I take to be part of queuno’s comment above, “Great, more meetings for leaders”)? Or is it a cultural resistance to things that smack of professionalism in running the church on a local level?

  28. I think we have a cultural bias against professionalism because we want to believe that the gospel is the only tool we need – that professionalism somehow diminishes the power of the priesthood/gospel.

  29. The Other Clark says:

    “The world’s way” is training. “The Lord’s way” is inspiration. If things go awry, you obviously just weren’t righteous enough. Or didn’t take time to listen to the Spirit. Or didn’t follow the handbook/leaders closely enough.

  30. We have unpaid clergy, and sometimes you get what you pay for. (Only half joking here.)

  31. The Other Clark says:

    On a more serious note, I think training doesn’t happen because the churn rate among leaders.

    While it’s common in Utah/SE Idaho for men to serve for a decade or more in leadership–YM or EQ presidency, then bishopric counselor, then either bishop or high counselor–that’s not the way it works in the rest of the world (in my experience). My current ward has been through three RS presidencies, three EQ presidencies, and five bishopric members in five years. About the time one finally understands what the calling entails, they’re released do to some other pressing need, and the Chinese fire drill starts all over.

    It’s the same reason LDS scout leaders are perpetually under-trained vs. other troops: In both cases, the leaders are unpaid, but the similarities end there. The non-LDS guy wants to be there (he volunteered) vs. being “called”. The non-LDS guy will be around for (realistically) as long as he wants to be, which is usually at least 10 years. The LDS guy is there for who knows how long. The average in LDS scouting units is 10-12 months (I’ve seen data backing this point.)

    Where’s the motivation to attend (1) Youth protection training (2) fast start training (3) leader specific training (4) basic outdoor leadership skills (a full weekend for this one). (5) skill specific training for Safety Afloat (boating) Safe Swim Defense (all water activities) Climb On (rock climbing) Cold Weather Skills, plus pressure to attend week-long Woodbadge, Philmont, and other advanced training? There’s already three hours of church, BYC, presidency meetings (youth and adult), planning and executing a few hours of YM every week, planning and executing a monthly campout, roundtable meetings, a full week at scout camp etc. It’s just too much without having some sense of how long the calling will last.

    Bishops, stake presidents, and full time missionaries and mission presidents make the time to learn their callings because they know the length of the race they’re running and can pace themselves. Why can’t we have similar training and tenure expectations for other callings //end rant//

  32. Angela C says:

    We could at least do this as a 5th Sunday lesson church-wide. Right?

  33. This would be helpful for at least some missions. I served in eastern Europe at a time when the church there was very, very young and the missionaries essentially ran it on top of their normal proselytizing responsibilities. There were so many situations — unemployment, spousal abuse, heroin overdoses, etc — that 20 year old Americans a couple hundred miles from the mission president simply weren’t equipped to handle with the necessary degree of poise, wisdom, and tact.

  34. Molly Bennion says:

    Important post, Michael. My experience as an inner city RS President leads me to these additions: Our ward deals with every imaginable problem. it would take too many in person classes to get the information needed (and I get to “too many” real fast; there just isn’t time to do the job and attend a lot of meetings). I would appreciate an online course/sourcebook. I could fit the course in when I have free moments and use a sourcebook for additional questions. I’ve also learned a wise bishop seeks the advice of professionals and funds professional counseling for those whose problems are beyond the work of amateurs.

  35. Awesome post! This training would be welcome in my urban ward. Whether we like it or not, the complexity of social relationships and expectations have changed the traditional response from RS and priesthood leaders. As for seeking inspiration, what is the need for that? So many leadership training meetings extol the virtue of wasting yourselves in the service of the orphans and widows. When leaders use cheerleading and a bit of unstated guilt to motivate, leaders begin to lose sight of what is important. It’s a tough thing to serve the Lord.

  36. Molly’s comment reminds me that there’s a Coursera starting in two weeks, “Psychological First Aid” from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. It will be a six-week online course teaching the RAPID model: Rapport and reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition. It is a model specifically developed for use in crises by people with little or no mental health training, and could be useful for people in the lay ministry who find themselves dealing with death, abuse, or other sudden and critical needs. It is not a substitute for professional mental health intervention, but a way to get to that point if needed.

    Here’s a link to the class:


    Even if this was not the exact training a bishop or Relief Society president or missionary needed, the model of practical training through online delivery and moderated discussion forums could fit the needs mentioned in this discussion.

  37. Ben Shideler says:

    I have been thinking of this and thought that someone should put together a YouTube channel with this info. either someone with the info or an interview show bringing in experts. No need to wait on the church to provide this.

  38. @The Other Clark, the example of scouting is right on since the BSA *does* have a decent training program and our haphazard LDS approach to staffing short circuits it, completely undermining the scouting program in many (most?) units. Even with very specific guidance from GAs about leaving people in youth callings for a good long time (the quip I always heard was that we need longer TENure), something about our system keeps that from happening.

  39. I have been a bishop or branch president 3 times now. I have been to countless bishopric training meetings at the stake level. It is ALWAYS about administering rather than ministering. It has very rarely included anything about pastoral care. These meeting could not make up for actual training in pastoral care in terms of time, but this sets the time. This has ben a major disappointment for me.

  40. lastq sentence is “sets the tone”

  41. I often ask myself if I would go to whoever happened to be bishop of my ward if I had a serious pastoral need and the answer is always the same: no. I’ve never had a bishop who was trained to be a social worker or a counselor or even a very good listener. Most were businessmen or government workers. Sadly, even those with whom I had some kind of friendship prior to their callings put on that mantle of the good bureaucrat and made it almost impossible to even try to communicate. I don’t see how it can be any other way, though, because our bishops are amateurs who typically have a family and a full-time job they must attend to. They do not have time for pastoral care even if they were trained for it.

  42. Maggie says:

    I love the idea of doing training, and as a few others have pointed out, it doesn’t even have to be ‘for leadership only’. Given that Mormons emphasize training everyone for leadership positions, I don’t know why this kind of training couldn’t be incorporated into the regular lesson schedule. Those called to leadership positions could have a shorter, intensive pastoral training course, but everyone would have a basic idea of best practices in service and care. There’s no reason that missionaries, visiting and home teachers, compassionate service leaders, RS and EQ presidencies, and of course bishopric members, shouldn’t already be familiar with these concepts. As the person who was asked for financial help immediately after being confirmed to the bishopric demonstrates, training shouldn’t have to wait until after you need it.

  43. Maggie says:

    ….except that, as at’s question demonstrates, we seem to teach people instead that if they are just righteous enough and pray enough, they will be ‘guided’ to know the right things to do. The school of the prophets wasn’t a group where they sat around and prayed and waited for the Lord to enlighten them on all matters secular and religious. We have an obligation to educate ourselves to the best of our ability.

  44. Maggie, your conclusion that I was making an argument regarding Michael’s righteousness, or that I was drawing a conclusion that he did not pray enough, is not correct. The questions I posed were not rhetorical, nor did the questions argue for or infer a specific conclusion. The purpose of the questions was to invite further information from Michael.

  45. Maggie says:

    Fair enough, at. Jumping to conclusions is always dangerous, and removing prayer from religious discussions can point to larger problems…but I confess it seemed a logical leap. ‘Why didn’t you include that part in your story?’ sounds at least mildly accusatory.
    So, a non-rhetorical question (I am actually curious). It seemed to me that your question was pointed toward discovering a piece of information to support a specific hypothesis. Rarely do we come into conversations without some ‘prejudices’ about the topic at hand. What was your impression of Michael after reading his post, and your analysis of his suggestion for institutional improvement? If Michael admitted that he trusted his own judgment and prayed for strength rather than insight, how does that influence your reading of his post? How about if he says that he prayed for guidance and felt that he was doing the right thing, but now feels that he actually was doing wrong?

  46. newbishop says:

    This is a very good topic. I was called to be a Bishop just 4 months ago. Years ago, there was a project done by some BYU students that was the beginnings of a guide for pastoral care. When I came across it, I read through some of it and decided that would be a good resource for when I was to be called a bishop in the future.

    The project was called clergy bridge. Here is a deseret news article on the project:

    Sadly the clergybridge.org url no longer works.

    Happily, the webpages can still be found via archive.org:

    My second week as Bishop, I got hit with a child abuse accusation against another member of the church. My 4th week in I had a member have a complete mental breakdown, which required a manhunt by the police, his capture, and finally being temporarily institutionalized. Luckily he’s now on the road to recovery. This on top of the usual requests for resources and charity, and two funerals.

    Each week feels like a month. There is simply not a lot of time left over to a bishop going from crisis to crisis. I’ve had to abandon my hobbies. Free time I used to spend on continuing ed for my profession is time I now spend on continuing ed for my calling.

    I’m not complaining. I’ve had a witness from the spirit that I am in this calling for exactly this reason. I realize I am new at this and am making mistakes, but its ok. I do wish the clergybridge project was incorporated into lds.org leader resources. I think we are seeing some positive things start to appear there, but there isn’t enough. Hopefully this trend continues.

    I signed up for the coursera course mentioned above. Thank you for that. I love Coursera. When I was a high councilman and called on to speak more often, I took a Coursera course on public speaking from University of Washington that was excellent.

  47. Maggie,

    I can see how question number 3 sounds a bit accusatory. I am trying to think of how I could have better phrased it to sift out that tone . . . perhaps, something more deferential like, “I am curious to know why you didn’t include that part in your story?” Let the record be amended to so reflect.

    You are right that I am not without prejudices and pre-conceived ideas regarding the issues presented. You are also right that I probably would have been less likely to pose the questions, and more likely to join into the chorus of Amens, if I completely agreed with Michael’s conclusions.

    That said, Michael is offering a diagnosis of a problem or a perceived problem. He is basing his diagnosis, at least in part, on his own personal experience. I am seeking more information about his personal experience so as to better position myself to evaluate Michael’s diagnosis and my own conclusions.

    I would prefer to defer on answering any hypotheticals, at least in part because I believe that might foreclose any possibility of Michael addressing my questions.

  48. at, you can re-word the question all you like, it’s still rude–you’re implying a lack of faith on the OPs part.

    God doesn’t always answer prayers, or the world would be a very different place. That shouldn’t have to be said, but self-righteous individuals like yourself love to come in and “just ask questions” about stories like this, as if God would have fixed the problem if only OP had been more faithful or something.

    God gave humans intelligence for a reason, presumably we are supposed to use it to solve our own problems sometimes.

  49. Doug,

    Your conclusions that I implied lack of faith on the part of Michael is not correct.

    I disagree with your conclusion that I am self-righteous because I asked those questions.

    I did not conclude or suggest that God would have fixed the problem had Michael been more faithful.

    I did not conclude or suggest that God didn’t give humans intelligence for a reason, nor did I conclude or suggest that we are not supposed to use our intelligence to solve our problems sometimes.


  50. Maggie says:

    At, now you really have piqued my curiosity. Your statement ‘I probably would have been less likely to pose the questions, and more likely to join into the chorus of Amens, if I completely agreed with Michael’s conclusions,’ says to me that you are NOT in support of pastoral training for Mormon clergy. I confess, I’ve never yet had the chance to talk with someone with this position, so I am curious as to what led you to it.

  51. Hi Maggie,

    Actually, no, by saying that I didn’t “completely agree[ ] with Michael’s conclusion” wasn’t to suggest that I am not in support of pastoral training for Mormon clergy.

  52. Care to enlighten me? Which conclusion(s) did you not completely agree with? What feeling of dissatisfaction with the OP prompted your probing?

  53. I’ll defer until I have the factual basis that I think I need to legitimately stay with, or alternately, reconsider those conclusions.

  54. As you please, of course. Fortunately, Michael’s is not the only account of clerical success or failure on which you can rely to update your position. Quantifying this information can be difficult, and I doubt it would be shared with the body of the church even if such data were collected, but the anecdotal accounts I have heard and read have confirmed me in the belief that clergy burnout and failure to properly handle difficult situations is not isolated to a single BCC blogger, but may be endemic to a system which emphasizes inspiration over training. Even within the comments on this blog, others in leadership positions have expressed a desire for more preparation. I’m sure I and others on this site can share and / or suggest stories which have brought us to greet Michael’s post with a ‘chorus of Amens’, if you haven’t come across any such stories yourself.

  55. Hey Maggie,

    Thanks for the response. I don’t agree that you are in possession of facts warranting a conclusion that my position, which has not been stated or argued, merits updating.

    I have not argument with your other points.

  56. “I don’t agree that you are in possession of facts warranting a conclusion that my position, which has not been stated or argued, merits updating.”

    I don’t even know what you’re talking about, but sheesh you sound like a junior lawyer.

  57. Yeah, you’re right, that sentence sounds pretty amateur.

  58. Bayesian updating allows for higher confidence in a given proposition based on new information, though of course it may work the other way as well. I apologize for using a shorthand you didn’t understand. You said you were awaiting “the factual basis that I think I need to legitimately stay with, or alternately, reconsider those conclusions”, which suggested to me that you were open to a little Bayesian updating. statisticalengineering.com/bayesian.htm

  59. Okay, my mistake. I construed your use of the word “update” to imply that my position was wrong, and needed to be updated to the correct position.

  60. Don’t get me wrong, junior lawyers can be awesome people.

    PS Maggie, COME ON with the Baynesian stuff. Let’s not be pedantic. Can’t we all get along, people, and just agree that Mike is a terrible person for writing this post then not responding to every comment?

  61. I said I wouldn’t whilst I wasn’t which implies no promise once I am.

  62. Steve, I really hope you’re going to follow that up with a reminder that ‘pedantic people can be awesome.’ Because we can – and I, specifically, am.

    Also, the world needs to be reminded that Bayesian updating IS A THING and we should be updating our opinions in light of new information / insight. I refuse to apologize for my decision to bring it into the conversation – though I do, of course, apologize for any statement, real or implied, which suggested that Mike is NOT a terrible person for writing this post then not responding to every comment.

  63. No sir, Steve. However, I am content to concede that Michael is probably an awesome person.

  64. All my comments include, but are not limited to, apologies either express or implied as may or may not be warranted and/or applicable under circumstances existing at the time of or arising from the aforementioned comments.

  65. preach it, SGNM!

  66. I scanned through the comments for a reference to the handbook, particularly Handbook 2, 6.2.4. I think it admirable that you wanted to help Daniel. And, training of some sort would be helpful. However, not everyone is going to absorb the kinds of things social workers, addiction specialists, psychologists, and other mental health care workers know through education and experience. Quite frankly, the average person alone isn’t cut out to handle the kinds of problems Daniel seems to have had. So, we succor and help and do the best we can. But 6.2.4 is a good starting point because it encourages us to work with other leaders and members so the burden is spread out. You found out (like most of us do) that you will burn out quickly if you try to do everything yourself, no matter how well intentioned. Plus, the member you’re aiding has his/her agency, so that figures into all of it. I think you did a great job, irrespective of the final outcome. The example of Daniel is clear indication to me why family is so important. I can’t say whether having a strong family support system would have helped Daniel or not. However, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Hence the admonition to us Saints to do all we can to strengthen families where we can.

  67. RE: The training issue. We do get trained. Some of it is better than others. Bishops have a welfare council they are to attend. They bishopric/PEC/Ward Council should be discussing welfare, and how to address problems (like addiction, mental health, depression, etc). Some wards have social workers; others don’t. Some wards are full of members with plenty of welfare needs, others aren’t. It’s a mixed bag no matter how you cut it when you have a lay clergy. Part of magnifying a calling involves some self help. There are plenty of internet resources to peruse that address the kinds of struggles Daniel was having. There are municipal and county agencies that provide help, state and federal agencies. In other words, the information is out there, you just have to self educate. My opinion is that it’s less of a training issue than it is a convincing of members that they need to reach out and at least try to help. I would rather read about Michael’s effort — and perceived “failure” — than read about someone who didn’t even make the effort to help at all.

  68. Emily U says:

    “…they could give inspiration a lot more to work with.” I love that sentence.

    I err on the side of not serving enough, and not getting involved in people’s intimate lives, but your story makes me think, Michael.

  69. The Other Clark says:

    I really appreciate the aphorism that “information leads to inspiration.” I think that’s the main gist of the original post: leaders could provide better, more inspired care if there was better access to training and information.

    We believe scripture study leads to doctrinal insights. Why not social work studies leading to better pastoral care insights?

  70. Anonymous says:

    A few years ago I had a couple of harrowing visiting-teaching experiences trying to help women with severe problems. One suffered from chronic unemployment and serious mental illness and was unable to care for her children. Another had a controlling, emotionally abusive husband who quite successfully used the church’s ideas about gender roles against her. In both cases I was struck by our general impotence and incompetence in the face of desperate needs. My husband’s a mental-health professional by training, so he was able to give me some guidance and suggest some resources, but I had no idea what I was doing–and neither did my companions, my Relief Society presidents, or my bishops. I left those experiences burned, exhausted, and wary.

    I love the idea of visiting teaching, which at times has been a lifeline for me, but if we’re going to all be lay ministers to each other, we ALL need a modicum of training. A fifth-Sunday lesson or two, or a night Relief Society on the basics of establishing clear boundaries and accessing community resources, would be a good place to start.

  71. I have a slightly different take on this. I have figured out what my boundaries are and set them. I don’t feel trampled on by the people in need. However, whenever I talk to anyone else in the church, they then chime in on how they feel I am either doing too much or too little. First of all, I didn’t ask. Secondly, I was called and you weren’t. Harsh maybe but they usually preface it with “If it were me…” well, it wasn’t. Since there are no clear guidelines and we all make it up as we go, everyone feels free to comment on the amount of work I do or don’t do. I can sleep well at night…just not enough because of seminary alarm. However, I would be in favor of some universal pastoral guidelines. Nothing shuts up people better than saying, “That’s what (someone they perceive as being in authority) trained me to do.”

  72. You know, it occurs to me that pastoral training would benefit not only the bishop but also the bishoped. You don’t have to look very far on the internet to find horror stories of sensitive situations being mishandled by untrained bishops: women being told not to leave abusive husbands, that the abuse is their fault, etc.

    There’s definitely a pervasive attitude that a leader in the Church should rely on *nothing* other than inspiration. No professional training is needed or even warranted. And yet I don’t know where we got that idea – it’s certainly not anything the Lord has said. It’s not like Elder Nelson was able to perform heart surgery only through the influence of the Holy Ghost – he had to, you know, go to medical school first.

  73. newbishop says:

    So this is what the church does provide:


    I had assumed that because I had gotten there via lds.org leader and clerk resources that it was available only via sign in, but not so.

  74. “There’s definitely a pervasive attitude that a leader in the Church should rely on *nothing* other than inspiration. No professional training is needed or even warranted.”

    This is very true, but there is at least one exception. I have yet to see a ward pianist called by inspiration and told not to worry about music lessons but to just seek the influence of the spirit and to play the hymns. In one area, at least, we recognize the value of secular professional training. The same logic really applies much more broadly if we would only think about it.

  75. Where I live, an emphasis is put on secular professional training for leadership positions. Unfortunately, the emphasis is only on the business management aspect. All other aspects–including charity, true concern for ward members, and, at times, plain old common sense–don’t seem to be valued much.

  76. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    That’s a good example, Michael. In fact, moving into a Ward and revealing that you play the piano is a surefire way to make sure your first calling involves using that training. Triple that if you can play the organ. However, I’m not sure I want professionals in social services to rise to the top of the list of those to call for Ward leadership. I guess this leads to the bigger question of just what skills/training you are looking for in a Bishop (leaving aside, for the moment, the possibility that such callings are issued strictly on the basis or inspiration/revelation).

    Possibilities include (but only possibilities):
    -experience/expertise supervising others
    -pastoral proficiency
    -social services training
    -public speaking ability
    -parental experience
    -occupational prestige

    As I make that list, it occurs to me that very few Bishops will be proficient in all of those areas (as well as the host of others I didn’t consider), and that we shouldn’t expect them to be. At the same time, why shouldn’t we expect them to be. The calling they fill is not unimportant, and the potential to adversely effect another’s life is profound.

  77. socalbishop says:

    Sometimes I wonder if during our journey through life, we become so focused on outcomes we end up missing the lessons of the process.

    It pains me to think Michael believes his outcome was “…I was a failure…”. You showed compassion for your brother, sincerely tried to help, and did so without thought of reward. However, the process left you burned out and feeling you could not help because you did not have the training or experience to help you understand when to stop helping someone. That is a tough place to be when we are constantly reminded that the process of service can lead us to very different outcome.

    Handbook 1 is very clear on the purposes of church welfare; (1) help members of the church become independent of all welfare assistance, regardless of its source (2) help strengthen members spiritually so they, in turn, can serve others, and (3) help members maintain their dignity and self respect. Pastoral training could certainly be another resource for anybody in the church looking to implement the welfare purposes of the church, but sometimes there is a reason that things which could be done, should not be done. I’m not saying pastoral training should not be done, but in my experience as a bishop, I’ve generally had all the resources needed to manage the situations I’ve faced. And my profession has nothing to do with mental health, social science or public policy. However, I do believe the church can make huge strides in educating all members on the resources which are available (and I agree with the comment that the “churn rate” in leadership positions makes training a very challenging problem to solve).

    I’ve been a bishop for just under five years. I’ve seen all sorts of good and bad with regards to church welfare. I’ve had members stop attending church because I would not provide food orders, dealt with the ugly side of abuse between family members, spent a year as our stake transient bishop in an area in So Cal with a significant church profile (which leads to plenty of “welfare” inquiries from all sorts of people), but have also seen people get back on their own two feet and start living a life where they can help others.

    The process of all this has led me to a greater appreciation for the principles of self-reliance. Not all the outcomes have been positive. I’m generally more cynical now than I was before being called as a bishop, especially with regards to matters of temporal welfare. Several members of my ward are no longer attending church because I would not give them food orders. So however shallow their testimony may have been before, it is probably in worse shape now as a result of my decisions as bishop. That is tough to live with.

    At the end of the day, the most valuable training I’ve received came from another bishop. When presented with a welfare case, his response was always “..I cannot help you. What I can do is play a part in your plan to help yourself…” This one statement goes a long way in determining who is willing/unwilling to help themselves and who is able/unable to provide for themselves.

  78. Hi newbishop, I tried accessing the page you mentioned and you must have greater access than me. I couldn’t access any of the information. It all came up “Access Denied”.

  79. newbishop says:

    Sally, I’ve used that link on a browser which has never logged into lds.org and it works fine. Try again, maybe with a different browser.

  80. newbishop says:

    wait I get to the first page ok without logging in, but as soon as I click into a link, it requires log in.

  81. There’s something a little “off” in what you write, socalbishop, or at least in the way you write. You come across as a little bit proud of yourself for having held the line on so many financial fronts, very emphatic on the “tough” and no hint of the “love” I associate with wise leaders. I suspect you only THINK you’ve had, or at least taken advantage of, “all the resources needed to manage the situations” (but not the people) you have faced.

    I’ve reread your comment several times and noted the specific points where your language gives me those cynical shivers. This frankly judgmental comment isn’t made quickly or without careful thought.

  82. socalbishop says:

    Ardis…to each their own; I’m not claiming extraordinary wisdom, just offering thoughts based on my experience. I never received the highest marks in English composition so perhaps my intent is getting lost in the language.

    One of the greatest expressions of love is time. Over the years I have spent as bishop I have spent hundreds of hours away from my wife, my children, and my home to serve people. Sex offenders, drug addicts, convicted felons and the homeless. All of those people were in brutal situations. There have been times when I’ve spent hours with a person to understand their situation and have provided no assistance. Does being “tough” (your description, not mine) exclude being loving?

    If the person who is asking me for assistance has been flagged as a welfare abuser by seven bishops in five different states, it is “tough” of me to refuse to pay for a motel room for the night? (and yes, there is a welfare fraud list maintained in SLC bishops can access as a resource in determining whether or not assistance is appropriate). Just as excommunication or disfellowshipment, as drastic as those actions are, may be the best path to repentance, sometimes letting somebody hit rock bottom in a temporal sense may be the best path to self reliance. It is hard to watch somebody make horrible decision after horrible decision, especially after spending time and effort to teach and serve them, but experiencing the reality of agency is an essential part of this life. Who am I to stop that process?

    I have referred people to LDS Family Services for counseling, asked members of the ward to assist other members who were financially illiterate, referred people to social services where necessary and seen released convicts receive the priesthood and attend the temple. None of those situations were managed by me in a vacuum; those people were helped because of the resources available to me as a bishop, including loving acts of service.

    I have no issue with people making judgments on my service as bishop. Plenty already have and I’m sure more will. I have read Alma 62:41 on many occasions and hope I can be like those who chose to be softened rather than those who chose to be hardened.

    What every leader in the church has to balance (bishop, RS Pres, EQP, HPGL, etc…) is how to truly help someone who is asking for assistance with their situation while honoring the faith of those who have sacrificed and donated funds/time/talents to the church, and somehow manage to take care of employment, family, etc…. So the question remains, will pastoral training help those tasked with providing assistance to the needy help members avoid Michael’s experience? Michael sees a great need and he may be right. I’m just not sure it would have been something I would have taken the time to do, or seen a need to do.

  83. Not that he needs my affirmation, but I could have written the two comments of socalbishop. His lived experience serving as bishop mirrors my 6 year service plus 12 years in three bishoprics. I think some members, because their interaction with church leaders is usually in a positive circumstance, have an image of a bishop who never gets frustrated and disappointed. It happens, and it’s just part of the calling when you see so much waste of human potential. My wife is very giving, always the first to address the edges of welfare needs. However, now that she’s RS president and has had about 6 “Daniel” experiences under her belt, she fully understands the difficulty involved in helping members become self – reliant. It’s actually been quite strange for me to be the one giving her the pep talk on remaining optimistic about certain people. Some bishops don’t want to be the “bad guy” and never say “No” to members seeking assistance. I know members who’ve been receiving assistance for 30 years. It’s gotten so out of hand that in my stake, while we took in “X” in fast offerings, we paid out 20X in assistance. Time for some tough love.

  84. Great post, important suggestios here. I was called as a bishop in my younger years in the Washington DC area a while back, having had no pastoral training, in a very multi-ethnic ward with many emotional, spiritual and temporal needs. Fortunately, LDS Family Services in the area had organized a day of pastoral training for all leaders a couple of weeks after I was called, and our wise Stake President urged us to attend. That session was and continues to be one of the best investments of time that I’ve ever made. I tried to use those concepts in many tough situations that I was frankly shocked to be dealing with, and without the benefit of much life experience. And I think I was able to do okay in many cases, at least better than I would have done on my own.

    Many of those concepts that they taught were pretty common sense, but not necessarily obvious to me, an untrained / inexperienced leader with big and unexpected problems on his hands.

    Some months later, my wife and I decided to start visiting with a pastoral counselor who was not LDS, to help us work through the challenges that we both faced in this daunting responsibility (LDS counselors were available, but we wanted some space from LDS-dom to work through these things). We were still pretty newly married, with complexities at home and work, and this calling created new challenges to both of us. That pastoral counselor helped us grow in our relationship, and to understand ourselves better as well. She gave us tools to form boundaries, to better communicate and associate with others, and to deal with tough situations in the ward and stake. I even urged my fellow bishops in my stake to give her a try. Not sure any of them did!

    That said, there was a limit to her help, not being a church member and not understanding our doctrine or way of doing things, so we stopped going to see her after a few months. But she was and still is a positive influence on us.

    I think it’s helpful to have some kind of “outside coach” to help bishops and other leaders work through these difficult situations and better understand their roles. There are so emotionally challenging situtions that they deal with, and leaders haven’t been trained on how to process or handle them effectively for the benefit of their flock, their family and themselves as people.

    Basic pastoral training for leaders would do a lot of good and prevent a lot fo heartache. Thanks for sharing these insights.

  85. Matthew73 says:

    Ardis, your comment reinforces my hope that the church decides to ordain women to the Priesthood someday. I hope you are called as a bishop so others can pass judgment on your service.

  86. Goodness, Matthew. If socalbishop hadn’t sounded so proud of the fact that he was able to turn away the needy—a sentiment which needed more explanation than he originally gave—no one, including Ardis, is likely to have responded.

    There definitely need to be limits for providing help. Here’s one example. A number of years back my family watched in dismay as a few high-needs individuals bled our small ward dry. During one of the low points, a new-to-the-area and newly-called RS counselor (fortunately not me!) was called into one of the needy homes and immediately called the county since she concluded that children were in imminent danger. From the resulting uproar from the ward leadership, you would have thought she was guilty of a capital crime, but honestly, she may have been the only sensible person in the whole bunch. I suspect the ward leadership would have been well served by having pastoral training and direction about accessing community services, including training about what constitutes criminal abuse and neglect.

    Being able to draw the lines correctly and protect the needs of the entire community is a valuable skill and one which should evoke a sense of accomplishment, but socalbishop should also be aware that drawing that line at food, and sounding self-congratulatory about it, is going to evoke an emotional response from readers since food security is a sensitive issue for far too many in our society.