“Un-professionalism” in the Church

I remember reading a blog post in the ‘nacle about how teaching is a professional skill that must be practiced and requires at least a little bit of training, and yet many people treat it so lightly in the Church. He made the example that you would never call someone to be an organist or pianist when they’ve had no training and expect them to play even decently the next Sunday for the whole congregation. So why do we do the same for teaching?

And why do we do the same for counseling, for that matter? I appreciate the great deal of work that bishops and stake presidents and branch presidents put into their respective flocks in making sure things run properly. They do it with little training and expertise, and for the most part they pull it off pretty well. But I know of many people in the Church personally who have been traumatized by a leader in the Church who, to give them the benefit of doubt, lacked any training in counseling of any sort and proceeded to advocate horrible ideas for any kind of psychological healing or closure. Sometimes they felt more committed to saving the Church face than addressing legitimate concerns, and other times they might have simply not known that their ideas or methods are outdated or can have disastrous effects on a person’s psyche.

I do believe that a person can be directed by the Spirit of God if that person is in tune. However, I do not believe a person should be subjected to have to perform miracles every day when it would be so easy to have someone trained in it step into place. For example, I believe the Spirit can, in incredible circumstances, inspire a person to perform some medical action that person might not have known about otherwise that saves a life. I do not believe, however, that person should then go into medicine and practice it on a day to day basis. If the Prophet needed open heart surgery, would the brethren get together and pray about which lay member should perform open heart surgery? No, they would find someone trained in open heart surgery (the best of the best, member or not) and have that surgeon perform the procedure. Even if that lay member has the possibility to be inspired by the Spirit to do the right thing, we shouldn’t take unnecessary chances in life. Even worse, suggest to a surgeon that it’s possible for a regular, untrained member of the Church to perform such procedures all the time under the direction of the Spirit and they will be livid. But when a counselor or teacher raises the same objections to the argument, suddenly they have no faith in their fellow brothers and sisters, nor in God. It doesn’t follow.

"Seriously, guys. I got this. I read the Church manual last night and prayed about it this morning. I think I can do this."

"Seriously, guys. I got this. I read the Church manual's lesson on open heart surgery last night and prayed about it this morning. I think I can do this."

So why do we feel that counseling is the same thing? Counselors go through schooling in psychology and sociology, are updated on the most recent knowledge in the social sciences, and now even learn chemistry and biology to understand how our physical bodies can affect our mental well-being. And while I respect all leadership in the Church for the great people they are and the sacrifice they provide for helping out in their roles in the Kingdom of God, I can’t help but wonder that, as a Church, we take unnecessary risks when it comes to delicate matters such as counseling and teaching. We have people who have received minimal training at best to play an important and difficult role, whereas in the world, such matters would require years of training and schooling before they are allowed to take on these roles. It’s as if we’re tempting God unnecessarily.

We require some form of training when it comes to playing the organ or acting as a lawyer representing the Church. Maybe we should start requiring some form of training for counseling and teaching as well.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to ““Un-professionalism” in the Church

  1. David

    I believe I wrote some similar things about teaching in Sunday School a while back. It’s so true, though, and I think it is both reflective of and a cause of lack of respect for certain professions, teaching and counseling included. I trust God, I know that he is capable of inspiring and teaching and giving people the skills necessary, but I also believe that God expects us to do at least something on our own first. I am reminded of the classic joke about the man who was stuck in a flood. There was a radio report warning about flooding and encouraging evacuation. He stayed and prayed and trusted in God. When it began to flood he climbed on his roof, a boat came by and he refused, praying and trusting in God. Then a helicopter came by and he told them the he had prayed and trusted in God. He drowned, and showed up in heaven before God and asked why God didn’t save him. God told him, I sent a radio report, a boat, and a helicopter, what more do you want?
    The point of that is, God has given us resources and tools to use to learn how to be better teachers and counselors. How arrogant of us is it to trust in God and expect him to make us good teachers or counselors without using the resources he provides. There are also a lot of Church-produced resources, websites for Bishops, guides and trainings. I don’t want to fault the Church as a whole, but certain members would do better to utilize the materials that are available.

    • Ted

      I thought of that same joke too!!!

      I would agree that the Church has a lot of resources available and I’m sure many faithful members use them. I’ve also heard there is a growing trend where when difficult situations arise that need professional counseling, leaders are recommended to refer them to the Church’s professional counseling services, which is a great resource as well.

      But, yes. We should require more training tools for members to learn and grow and we should take advantage of them more often. I remember a ward which provided a class for teaching how to speak publicly. This is a skill that we should develop as members and yet so many members (through no real fault of their own) lack. We should make resources available so that speaking in church is not a terrifying experience.

    • Tyler

      During the entire time reading this, I just kept remembering the things which teachers, bishops, and other people are given as resources. Teaching manuals, bishops handbook, etc. Then I thought about all the various stories I’ve heard of a bishop, teacher, etc. doing the wrong thing. And in all the cases I remember, they went against the things that were given to them.

      Yes, a sunday school teacher could do better if they had some sort of formal training in teaching. But when it comes down to it, the have a teaching manual that has all the information they need for their lesson, ideas of things to do, scriptures to use, etc. That’s why it’s so easy to teach a lesson if you haven’t prepared. Boring? Yes. Arguing about the force of gravity on Kolob and Joseph Smiths favorite color Starburst? Well, at least the teacher won’t start it.

      Overall it isn’t that there’s a lack of resources of members in their callings, but that people feel they know what they’re doing when they don’t. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a bishops handbook, but that thing is beastly. And I’d say 9 times out of 10 that a bishop did something wrong, they didn’t do what they were suppose to. I don’t disagree that some people are just plain wrong for some callings.

      And Ted, I really don’t think there is anything out there to help with fears of speaking in front of a couple hundred people! (Except maybe some good hard liquor…)

      • Ted

        Alas! The Word of Wisdom says otherwise!

        I think you do hit a point there where people feel that they are “good enough” when it comes to teaching. I mean, heck, it’s not like they’re being paid to do this and it’s not exactly a permanent position, so there might not be incentive to do better, or they feel they are already doing enough already. Sure, there’s all that talk about going the extra mile, but as Mormons, I think a lot of the time we’re kinda burned out when it comes to that extra mile stuff. :p

        And like you said, if you follow the manual, you’ll get a lesson that’s easy to prepare but kind of boring. But maybe milquetoast is what the people want?

  2. Just stumbled across your blog today and am enjoying it. I have to say this post is wonderful and it’s encouraging to see someone who self-identifies as a true believer say it. I no longer go to church for a variety of reasons, but the catalyst for the process was the abuse I continued to endure because my bishop told me that God wanted me to stay with my husband. He specifically told me that I’d be invoking the wrath of God if I walked away from my temple covenants. That’s an immense amount of power for a man with absolutely no psychological education or training to wield. Incidents like this happen on a regular basis and the answer of “well, that’s not how it’s supposed to be” is not helpful to those of us who were abused or misled by a leader with no professional expertise.

    It’s a perfect metaphor. If you are sick, you go to a doctor. If your car breaks down, you go to a mechanic. Bishops are not psychologists, and they are not qualified to give marital advice or tell people what life decisions they should make. Even well-meaning Bishops can unwittingly do massive damage. This can change, but it won’t until more Mormons voice this concern and remove the burden of psychological counsel from a Bishop’s list of duties.

    • Ted

      Thanks for reading!

      I’m sorry to hear about such a story. Unfortunately, I know that on my mission, I met a lot of people with similar stories. I have heard that bishops are now encouraged (when they can) to send people with sensitive psychological situations to professional counseling, so hopefully things are getting better.

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