Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar with the expression “magnify your calling,” but we don’t always fully understand what that means. Here’s some clarification from Church leaders on the topic—
Magnification in our world is so useful. It allows us to continue reading books, directions, medications, and menus long after our aged natural eyes could see anything but a blur. The magnification of a microscope allows doctors to diagnose disease and plan treatment that saves lives. The magnifying lens of a camera allows us more control over the focus, beauty, and meaning of each moment captured. When we magnify something, we do so much more than just make it appear bigger and more complex. We increase our understanding, because we can see beyond our natural vision.
Of course, not all aspects of magnification are as useful as others, and some are just plain dangerous. Any boy scout or camping enthusiast can tell you how to start a fire by angling the sun’s rays through a magnifying lenses to dry tinder or paper. This is a great skill if you’re in the extremely unlikely circumstance of conveniently having a magnifying lens when you get hopelessly lost in the wilderness without any matches on a sunny day. On a day-to-day basis, fire-starting is probably one of the least useful and more dangerous uses of magnification.
Sometimes when attempting to magnify our callings, we direct so much extra heat into it that we end up setting fires where they aren’t helpful and can be harmful. We end up burning through time, energy, and other resources that the calling doesn’t require. We start spot fires in the lives of others as they are also expected to give up more time to attend extra meetings and participate in needless complexity or expense when elegant simplicity would be more inviting to the Spirit.
Occasionally we may feel torn between strong pressures to go overboard in our callings and the inspiration of the Spirit. Even when we feel inspired to plan a simple activity, tales of more complex and expensive super-activities in other wards can distract us from our initial promptings. Another temptation is to prepare a lesson packed with too many good things to possibly cover, becoming stressed and irritated with class discussion because we can’t get through everything we prepared.
In circumstances like these, sometimes all we need are the words of the prophets to help us commit to the correct course, even if we feel outside or self-imposed pressures to complicate and add unnecessary frills. The gospel is amazing and impressive all by itself, and if we are accompanied by the Spirit, we can fulfill our callings beautifully without making them burdensome, complex, or expensive.
Here are some helpful quotes, counsel, and stories from our leaders on the difference between magnifying your calling and burning through it—
Church leaders should be aware that Church meetings and activities can become too complex and burdensome if a ward or a stake tries to have the membership do everything that is good and possible in our numerous Church programs. Priorities are needed. —President Dallin H. Oaks
Elder Richard G. Scott once gave this clear, concrete example of a stake group that invested a great deal of work and planning into an activity—
May I give you a word of caution as you plan your activities. Make sure that the essential needs are met, but do not go overboard in creating so many good things to do that the essential ones are not accomplished. I will share an example. Recently an enthusiastic stake Relief Society presidency decided to take advantage of the worldwide women’s meeting broadcast from Church headquarters. On the day of the conference, they organized a four-hour training session for the ward Relief Society presidencies, then had a formal, sit-down dinner which, of course, those local Relief Society presidents prepared, served, and cleaned up. By the time the Relief Society broadcast was received, those sisters’ minds were full to overflowing. They could not have gained the maximum benefit from that carefully prepared broadcast. Remember, don’t magnify the work to be done—simplify it. —Elder Richard G. Scott
Elder M. Russell Ballard reminded us to keep our lives in balance as we fulfill our callings. And remember to delegate!
Occasionally we find some who become so energetic in their Church service that their lives become unbalanced. They start believing that the programs they administer are more important than the people they serve. They complicate their service with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy. They refuse to delegate or to allow others to grow in their respective responsibilities.
As a result of their focusing too much time and energy on their Church service, eternal family relationships can deteriorate. Employment performance can suffer. This is not healthy, spiritually or otherwise. While there may be times when our Church callings require more intense effort and unusual focus, we need to strive to keep things in proper balance. We should never allow our service to replace the attention needed by other important priorities in our lives. Remember King Benjamin’s counsel: ‘And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength’ (Mosiah 4:27). —President M. Russell Ballard
President Ballard goes on in this general conference talk to provide 6 ways we can fulfill our callings “both wisely and well.” You can read the talk, O Be Wise, at lds.org or watch the video here—
In this next quote from President Monson’s general conference talk, The Lord’s Way, President Monson acknowledges that highlighting and thereby inadvertently encouraging youth “super-activities” in Church publications was perhaps errant. So just because a complex or exotic activity is highlighted in LDS Church News or in the New Era doesn’t mean that the Church is encouraging everyone to go overboard. There are also stories of famous Mormon athletes on Church sites, but it doesn’t mean that the Lord expects all of us to get drafted by the NFL or go to the Olympics. We shouldn’t expect the same level of inspiration in a novel LDS story on a church site that we do from a general conference talk or direct prophetic counsel.
In some respects, many of our youth activities in recent years have supplanted the home and family. There has been a tendency to trend in our thinking to the position that an activity must be exotic to be successful. Faraway places with strange sounding names beckon as a Pied Piper for our youth to follow. Featured in our Church publications at times are glowing accounts of excursions to Hawaii, the Sacred Grove, historical sites, and other tempting locations. The word spreads, the cost escalates, and yearning increases, while objectives dim and time commitments of leaders and youth border on the burdensome. Errantly, we have used the term “super-activity” to encourage the exotic rather than the practical.
Many units are now planning major youth conferences on a two-year or three-year basis rather than each year. Some have discovered that through careful scheduling, there are sites and facilities very close to home available for productive youth activities. One stake reported holding its youth conference at the stake center, utilizing the parking lot and grounds for some of the functions and the recreational hall and chapel for others. The report: “One of the finest youth conferences we have ever held!”
When we turn our attention to outdoor encampments, let us remember that the same moon, the same stars shine forth from the heavens from hilltops close to home as the ones which shine over the Himalayas. The campfire glow, the sharing experience, lessons from leaders, and that inner feeling of closeness to God do not depend on distance. They are available to all. —President Thomas S. Monson
The problem of escalating the complexity and cost of activities in the Church is not new. The usually well-intentioned drive to put together the increasingly impressive activities or events has tempted us for generations. Consider this portion of President Boyd K. Packer’s talk, Teach Them Correct Principles, given in 1991, where Elder Packer discusses two letters the Church had sent out concerning the matter; one of the letters had been issued 5 times over 10 years—
The First Presidency has counseled us again and again:
“Dear Brethren and Sisters,” they wrote, “we are seriously concerned over the demands made upon the people of the Church in carrying forward its many programs. We are most anxious that these requirements not become so heavy as to have an adverse effect on family life, vocational pursuits, or the pursuit of needed educational undertakings. We are also concerned about the financial requests made upon our people. … We have reason to feel that these requirements are becoming unduly burdensome for many.”
That was printed in the Priesthood Bulletin in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987—five times!
The First Presidency sent yet another letter entitled “Reduction of Time and Money Required for Church Programs.” I will read from it.
“We are very anxious that the cost of participation in Church activities not become unduly burdensome to our members. There is concern lest some who are not able to meet these costs may withdraw themselves from full participation in the Church. Particularly the youth programs of the Church should be so managed that all of our young people may enjoy full participation.”
Did you notice that each of those statements called for a reduction in both time and money required of members?
… Some of you have asked why this change should come just when the forces of temptation are surrounding our youth as never before. You ask, ‘Do we not need more impressive activities and more meetings, rather than fewer?’
Sometimes more can be less, and sometimes less is more. Even with all we expend and all we do, we are not doing as well as we should and have little evidence that the expensive activities really secure our youth. —President Boyd K. Packer