The following outline is intended to help journalists, opinion leaders and the public better understand the structure of local ministration and leadership within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints functions in large measure because of the unpaid volunteer ministry of its members. In fact, this lay ministry is one of the Church’s most defining characteristics. In thousands of local congregations or “wards” around the world, members voluntarily participate in “callings” or assignments that provide meaningful opportunities to serve one another. It is common for Church members to spend 5-10 hours a week serving in their callings. Some callings, such as a bishop, women’s Relief Society president, or stake president may require 15-30 hours per week.
Callings in the Church are not sought after or campaigned for. Members are simply asked to be willing to accept assignments that come to them through Church leaders. These leaders seek inspiration through prayer about whom to call. Church members, for the most part, are willing to accept these callings.
For example, a member may serve as the leader of several congregations totaling thousands of Church members for a period of time, and, after concluding that service, he may be asked to teach a youth Sunday school class for a few 15-year-olds in a local congregation. Service, in whatever capacity, is viewed as contributing to the well-being of fellow congregants and the broader community.
The basic structure of callings in local congregations is outlined below:
Local Latter-day Saint congregations of approximately 200-500 members each are called wards. Several wards in a given geographical area comprise what the Church calls a stake. Approximately 2,000-5,000 members belong to a stake.
All stakes have a president who, along with two counselors and other leaders, helps to organize and shepherd the Church in that area. The stake president and his counselors are assisted in their ministry by auxiliary presidents and a group of 12 men called a high council. These leaders have a significant amount of local autonomy to make decisions regarding the members in their stake. A stake president typically serves for about nine years.
Stake Relief Society President and Other Stake Auxiliary Presidents
Stake-level auxiliary presidents and those that serve with them lead the organizations for the Relief Society, Sunday School, young women (ages 12-18), young men (ages 12-18) and children. They assist, instruct and administer to fellow leaders who serve at the ward level.
The stake president calls one man in each local congregation to serve as a bishop. The bishop typically serves for approximately five years and has primary responsibility for ensuring that the spiritual and physical needs of the 200-500 members of the congregation are met. Bishops also organize Church services and extend callings and service opportunities to members within their respective wards. With the help of two counselors and other congregational leaders, bishops invite Latter-day Saints to serve in nearly every local position from ward organist to Sunday School instructor or from Relief Society president to Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts
In the Bible the Apostle Paul taught that all these callings are vital to Christ’s church:
“But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary … that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22, 25).
Women’s Relief Society President
Along with stake presidents and bishops, stake Relief Society presidents and ward Relief Society presidents have considerable responsibility in the Church. Alongside two counselors, Relief Society presidents lead the Church’s organization for women, providing physical and spiritual relief for Church and community members. Additionally, Relief Society presidents are responsible, along with bishops, for administering the Church’s welfare aid to the poor and needy within their local congregations and communities.
As well as serving in various capacities within the Relief Society at both the stake and ward levels, women serve as adult Sunday School instructors and leaders within the young women’s and children’s (Primary) organizations. Leaders of these two organizations work with others in the ward and stake to help promote the spiritual growth and development of families and individual members of the congregation.
Members of the Church’s priesthood lead andserveat the stake and ward levels. Worthy male members starting at the age of 12 may hold what is called the priesthood. Members believe the priesthood is God’s authority to administer the Church’s ordinances such as baptism and the Lord’s sacrament, or communion. Priesthood members serve within various offices in the priesthood, which usually correspond to their age, experience or callings within the Church: deacons (12-13), teachers (14-15), priests (16-17), elders (18+) and high priests.
Members of the priesthood in all offices perform service and have an important role in taking care of the spiritual needs of the congregation. Priesthood holders also serve in teaching positions and various leadership positions within the young men’s organization and within their respective priesthood quorums, or groups (deacons, elders, and so on).
Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching
About each month, home teachers and visiting teachers make trips to care for and fellowship other members of the congregation. Each adult member in the Church serves as someone else’s home teacher or visiting teacher. This way, each congregant is involved in caring and fellowshipping but is also being cared for and fellowshipped themselves. The opportunity for members to visit and care for each other helps build a loving ward community.
According to the Church’s official handbook of instructions, bishops and stake presidents should seek spiritual guidance and consider each member’s personal or family circumstances when determining who might serve in a particular calling.
“Each calling should benefit the people who are served, the member, and the member’s family,” says the Church handbook. As Latter-day Saints participate in callings, they report feeling the joy that comes from serving others. They strongly believe in Christ’s statement that whosoever loses their life in service, “the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24).
The Church also has global general authorities and general auxiliary leaders. Read more about their various offices and responsibilities.