"We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." AofF5 No one in the Church of Jesus Christ chooses where they will serve, nor do they get paid for their service 1. There is no ministerial career track. Callings to serve are made through revelation through the proper line. The qualifications for service are a willingness to serve and to live in accordance with Christ's teachings. Every worthy man is ordained to the priesthood, and every church position, from librarian to bishop to apostle, is filled by men and women who are called by God from among the body of the church. We believe that we will be given help from the Lord and are entitled to revelation from Him to assist us in the callings and responsibilities that He gives us. Every member in encouraged to develop faith in Christ, understand the gospel, and be prepared and worthy to serve wherever the Lord may need them.
Because of the lay organization, everyone in the ward has opportunities to lead and teach and minister to each other. As we serve together we learn to love and support each other in a very special way. Everyone knows that their leader or teacher is serving in a position that they didn't ask for and might find very difficult to do. Callings are given, not only for the service we can provide to others, but for our personal growth as well, and Latter-Day Saints tend to be very patient and supportive of each other. Everyone who is called to teach or lead already knows and loves those who they are called to serve. Most callings are temporary so there are opportunities to serve in many different capacities. You may serve as Bishop this year and be called as a nursery assistant the next, or maybe to teach the children, or to organize ward socials. Every calling brings with it an opportunity to learn and grow, both in skills and abilities, as well as in faith as we seek the guidance of the Lord to complete the tasks He has given us. I have often been both surprised and humbled by the responsibilities that I have been given.
I think of the family as the fundamental unit of the church. This is where some of the most lasting and important work takes place. A family consists of a mother and father who nurture and teach their children to follow Christ and who receive revelation from God in regard to that responsibility. Most families include a righteous husband and father who has the priesthood authority to act in the name of God to bless others. He gives blessings of healing and comfort, performs ordinances, such as baptism, for his family members, and humbly leads his family. Every week the family meets together for Family Home Evening, to study the gospel and spend time together. My children always look forward to their turn to prepare and teach the lesson and to share their testimonies of Christ. LDS families are encouraged to pray and study the scriptures together daily, in addition to individual study and prayer.
Every household in the ward has Home Teachers assigned to look after their physical and spiritual needs. Every man has the opportunity to be a Home Teacher to help take care of other families. Each woman has a Visiting teacher assigned to support her and each has the opportunity to visit and strengthen other women in the ward. The Home- and Visiting-Teachers make monthly visits and are responsible to make sure that the needs of the people they visit are being met. These assignments often lead to close and lasting friendships.
A ward, or congregation, is made up of several households from the same geographic area. All Latter-Day Saints attend the same church and go to whichever ward is 'theirs' based on where they live. There is no competition between wards for members. A ward is a lot like a really big family. Much like a family, you don't choose your ward, you are all thrown together and you grow to love each other. Members of this church are actively engaged in lightening the burdens of others, sharing their joys and sorrows, and strengthening each other in our discipleship.
The Bishop (similar, I think, to a priest or pastor in other churches) in our ward has a full-time job in addition to his heavy responsibilities of leading the ward and caring for it's members as well as caring for his own family. He serves out of love and faith and is blessed and strengthened by God as he serves. A bishop usually serves for about five years and spends a lot of time in private interviews with members of the ward doing things like issuing callings, helping with needs, and assisting people in the repentance process; he also has many other meetings and administrative duties. One thing a bishop does not do is preach sermons. Though he occasionally addresses the ward, as do the stake leaders, most of the "talks" (as we call them) are given by the youth and adult members of the ward, with different members being invited to speak each week.
The other auxiliaries, Sunday School, Youth programs, Childrens Programs, Women's and Men's groups are led by ward members, both adults and youth, who are also called to serve. These calls come, not because of experience or ability, but because of willingness to serve the Lord wherever He asks you.
A Stake is made up of several wards. (The name is taken from Old Testament imagery in which the tent, or church, is held up by supporting stakes) It is led by people who are called from among those wards. Most Stake callings provide training, support, and assistance to the wards, as well as helping individual members with certain needs. We meet as a stake twice a year for meetings, and occasionally for socials and activities.
The apostles, including the Prophet, are special witness of Jesus Christ to the all world. They are all considered prophets, seers, and revelators. They receive revelation from God today as they did anciently. They direct the church and travel throughout the world where they meet with local leaders, encourage members, and oversee the affairs of the church. They are great men who have earned the Lord's trust through lives of service to Him. They come from many backgrounds, surgeons, lawyers, businessmen, pilots. They are often retired or abandon successful careers in order to respond to this call to devote the rest of their lives to the service of the Lord. They are united in their love of the Savior and respect for each other and they work together under the direction of the Lord to direct God's work on earth. The apostles hold all of the keys of the priesthood and act under the direction of the president, or Prophet.
There are seventies (also a new Testament office) who live and serve throughout the world to assist the apostles and many other men and women who serve and lead the church at the general level.
When Christ was on the earth, He organized His church. Though the apostles that he called were killed and the authority that they held was lost from the earth, people continued to do their best to follow Christ's teachings and to preserve as much of His gospel as they could. We are blessed to live in a day when Christ's church is again on the earth in it's fullness and His will is once again revealed to man through His authorized servants. Jesus Christ actively leads this church, just as He has in days of old.
The Church is directed by God through revelation every step of the way, from the direction that parents receive as they lead their families, to the direction that comes to the Prophet as he leads the church. This church could not function without it. Though every member receives revelation from God, it is all done in order. When the Lord needs something done in a ward, that revelation comes through the Bishop (who is responsible for the ward) and not me. Likewise, a bishop does not receive revelation for the stake, and when the Lord has a message for everyone, He speaks through His appointed Prophet. It is all done in order so there can be no confusion.
There is a line of authority in the church, even the Apostles report to their ward bishops regarding personal matters such as obtaining a temple recommend or performing certain ordinances. Each 'president' position (bishop, stake president, prophet, young womens, sunday school, etc...) is assisted by two counselors and they work harmoniously together as a unit, though each has different responsibilities. In this structure, I see a reflection of the organization of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). The only "path" to leadership in the church is a true desire and determination to follow Christ. Through the way the church is organized, Christ has ensured that leadership in this church could only be about unselfish service to Him.
Records are kept of baptisms, ordinations to the priesthood, temple sealings, and other priesthood ordinances. A member cannot hold a calling unless their ward has their member record. This helps ensure that important information is not forgotten, or lost when someone moves to a new ward. This not only facilitates order in the church, but ensures that bishops are aware of sensitive issues and can act accordingly to assist and protect the members of their ward. 3
The organization of this church is just amazing to me! I cannot conceive of an organization more capable of caring for and assisting individuals as they strive to become like their Father in Heaven. Everything I see in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints reflects it's divine organization. I feel truly blessed to be a part of it, and am grateful for the experiences that the Lord has given me as a member of this church.