The Blessings of an Assignment

In church we often hear the questions, “Are there any volunteers for the canning on Friday?”  “Can I get a volunteer for the prayer?”  “Who would like to do this service on Tuesday night?”  “We need five people to go help with this move Saturday morning at 7:00.  By raise of hands, who would like to do that?”  While this way of asking for service may have its merits, I believe there is a far better way that yields much greater blessings to more members and others.  It is found in the assignment.

To be sure, it is much easier for leaders to ask for volunteers.  I have done so many times myself when in leadership positions.  Volunteering puts virtually no pressure on anyone, leaders and members alike, other than some diverted glances and awkward moments of silence.  Those who want to do a service will raise their hand.  Those who don’t, won’t.  The leader is safe; those who do the service essentially asked for it.  Everyone is happy in the end.  And then we move forward and mistakenly record these as “assignments.”

A few years ago there was an article on this subject in the Church News.  It was entitled “By Assignment.”  Joseph Smith organized and administered the establishment of the Church by assignment, and his successors followed suit:

On March 1, 1841, at the suggestion of Joseph Smith, men in the four wards of the Church in Nauvoo were assigned to work on the temple.

A few years later, when the body of saints planned to wagon their way west, members were organized into companies of hundreds, and into fifties and tens, with each person having specific assignments.

When the people reached Utah, they attended conferences where names were read from the pulpit of people who were assigned to take their families into the wilderness and there establish communities.

The article cites the example of one member, Charles Walker, in the early days of the Church who was called and assigned to help colonize and settle Cotton County in southern Utah.  He recorded in his journal:

This was the hardes(t) trial I ever had and had it not been for the gospel and those that were placed over me I should never moved a foot to go on such a trip, but then I came here not to do my will but the will of those — that are over me, and I know it will be right if I do right.

Br. Walker’s assignment was not easy.  It was extremely difficult.  It was one which he would not have volunteered himself.  But it did several things which volunteering would have been weaker or could not have done:

  1. It was a true sacrifice, in similitude of Christ’s “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
  2. It allowed an exercise of faith in God.
  3. It permitted obedience to the direct call of a priesthood leader.  “Yes, I will go and do.”
  4. It allowed for the fulfillment of a priesthood call.
  5. It allowed for greater organization and mobilization within the Church.
  6. Priesthood leaders received revelation to choose which members were called to what assignments.
  7. Gave all an opportunity to serve in the kingdom, which might not otherwise be taken.
  8. Greater blessings were poured out in consequence, for all members, others, and the kingdom of God.

What if Joseph Smith or Brigham Young had asked for a raise of hands?  The article continues:

Imagine if Brigham Young had tried to settle the West with only volunteers: Instead of reading a list of names, the Church leader would ask for those who would like to settle the southern deserts at risk of life, family and loss of fortune.

It would never have happened.  The Church would not have accomplished its purposes with volunteers only, for there would have been few:

The kingdom of God on earth was not built by volunteers, though volunteers are appreciated. Nor is it in the economy and harmony of the gospel for the same few volunteers to do all the work. To the contrary, gospel work blesses those who do it, and the entire quorum, group or society should be included, according to the wisdom of the leader in considering personal capacities and situations.

The blessings that flow from true assignments is how the Church was established.  It was how Joseph Smith worked.  It was how Brigham Young worked.  It is how General Authorities serve today.  It is how members of the church, and our neighbors, can be blessed today.

Imagine the blessings that everyone would receive if they were afforded the opportunity to respond to the direct call and assignment from their church leaders.  Imagine instead of a raise of hands, a call (either face-to-face or on the phone) was extended: “Br. Smith, will you serve at the cannery Thursday evening from 7-9pm?”  “Sister Johnson, will you come with us to visit the nursing home on Wednesday?  “Br. Haymond, will you help the Hutchings family move this Saturday morning from 8-9am?”

For me, it is easier to respond affirmatively to the call of an assignment from my leaders, than to offer to be a volunteer of my own accord.  Perhaps volunteering is the norm where I live.  Maybe it is different in your area.  What do you see as the differences between volunteering and assignments?  What are the pros and cons?  Why don’t we extend assignments more often versus asking for volunteers?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

This entry was posted in General by Bryce Haymond. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bryce Haymond

Bryce grew up in Sandy, Utah, where he attended Jordan High School. He served a mission to the El Salvador San Salvador East mission, including eight months as mission financial secretary. Bryce graduated from Brigham Young University in 2007 in Industrial Design and a minor in Ballroom Dance. He loves all things Nibley and the temple, and is the founder of TempleStudy.com, and also blogs at BlackpoolCreative.com. Recently Bryce joined the Executive Board of The Interpreter Foundation, where he serves as a designer and technologist. Bryce has served in numerous Church callings including ward sunday school president, first counselor in the bishopric, and currently as temple and family history instructor. He is a Product Manager and Design Director at HandStands in Salt Lake City, and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with his beautiful wife, three children, and another on the way!

21 thoughts on “The Blessings of an Assignment

  1. This is a nice post. I enjoyed reading it.

    There is a big difference between asking for volunteers and by assignment. There are time that I am more likely to respond to the affirmative if I am asked to do something. By being given an assignment, one is able to commit to it and do it. One can say yes or no. In my experience, it is much easier to not do something if they ask for volunteers. If I am asked to do something and I don’t have a conflict, I’ll say yes.

    I believe that Adam was given the assignment to be the first man on earth. Heavenly Father did not ask for volunteers.

    Many callings in the church would be unfilled if they waited for volunteers. That is the case with many assignments that need to be filled in the church– they are never filled because leaders ask for volunteers or pass around a sign up sheet. In the volunteer model, it might as well be the same people each time. However, the times and days for different assignments can be a bad time.

    What month/ year is the Church News article from?

  2. Great post, Bryce!

    My ward now assigns people for welfare projects and other assignments. If you are assigned and cannot make it, you are responsible for getting a replacement. It’s actually working out very well in our ward.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention » The Blessings of an Assignment The Millennial Star -- Topsy.com

  4. So Brian, if you can’t make your assignment do you assign someone else or do you ask someone if they will volunteer?

  5. It works ok where the person making the assigent runs two brain cells together before doing so. Otherwise it’s only a lame way of shoeing you don’t care about the thing assigned or the people you’re assigning. For example, assigning the scout leaders for a sealing session on the night of the stake encampment, or splits with the missionaries in a night the brother in question is supposed to be at Trek as a pa, or a cannery assignment to someone who works out of town during the week. Repeated idiocy like that is laziness, nothing more.

  6. Pingback: Our Thoughts » Blog Archive » The Blessings of an Assignment

  7. I should explain two things… one, the post above was written on an iPhone, and my thumb missed the mark more than once. Two, our ward has assignments similar to those in the first response above, where you’re assigned and if you can’t do it you’re supposed to get a replacement. One learns about assignments, if one is serving in Primary and therefore not in Priesthood or RS meetings, by their publication in the ward bulletin or on a list in the hallway. So sometimes you don’t find out until nearly last minute. There is no phone call or personal conversation involved. Our rule, after several stupid assignings like those described above which demonstrate a total lack of thought, is to flatly refuse to find a replacement if we can’t do the assignment because of a conflict with a church calling (calling trumps assignment, in my view).

  8. It seems to me the way you keep it an assignment and still keep it voluntary is to ask somebody if they will accept the assignment. They can still refuse, but it is more direct than asking 20 people who will volunteer. In Young Men’s in our ward, we don’t ask the Young Men who will volunteer to do things. Nobody ever volunteers. We ask them directly if they will accept an assignment to do something. They usually say yes, although sometimes they say no and you ask the next person if they will accept the assignment and so on.

  9. Our ward, under the direction of someone higher than our stake pres, has gone to the assignement system. It works for somethings, and not so much for others. In the beginning, we were being assigned to things and not asked or told. I had issues with that. Finally a new bishop was called and modified it a bit. Assign, but call and ask first, and he is ok if we send around sign-ups for things. It’s worked much better.

  10. Things have always worked better in my experience with an assignment system. Of course, adequate notification is essential. Occasionally, we have taken time at the beginning of Priesthood meeting for people to work out trades of assignments. At the moment, however, we are doing things mostly on a volunteer basis. It makes for a lot of awkward silences, hungry missionaries, and a few overworked faithful who feel obliged to pick up the slack.

    I remember one time, a brother was asked if he would do something that conflicted with something else that he planned. His response was to tell the leader “Give me an assignment”–the implication being that he would accept the assignment, but was not going to either volunteer or respond positively to a mere invitation. I don’t think he was trying to make any theological point–he probably just wanted cover that his wife would recognize as legitimate when he didn’t follow through with his original plans.

  11. KLC, given that I sleep through most of my meetings, I wouldn’t know if I had been assigned or not. ;-)

    Truthfully, I have not missed an assignment yet.

  12. How does this fit with arguments about how only volunteering to give charity is acceptable when it comes to taxes? An argument I have seen repeatedly from some Latter-day Saints against willingly paying taxes is that it is immoral because it robs the person of the ability to voluntarily give to charity.

    This post seems to suggest that it is indeed better not to solicit voluntary charity but rather assign it.

  13. Joyce, great point. I absolutely agree that an assignment must be consensual. “Will you do this?” No one should be assigned to something without their consent.

    Last Lemming, interesting anecdote. I too feel like I could change my schedule, or work things around if needed to fulfill an assignment. I wouldn’t be as likely to do so by volunteering.

    Brian, I like the idea that if you can’t fulfill an assignment, it is your responsibility to find a replacement. I still like consent in the equation. Maybe you originally accepted the assignment, then some emergency came up and you can’t do it, and you find someone else to take your place.

  14. Yes, it makes sense that if you accepted an assignment, you have to find a replacement. My objection is to the assumption that entering the waters of baptism or accepting the oath and covenant of the priesthood automatically equates to accepting all assignments from the quorum presidency. Which is the subject of the blow up my husband had with the HPGL in the hallway one Sunday, when confronted with the simple suggestion to at least call and ask first before assigning. The HPGL was mightily offended at the idea, and quoted this very article as his justification for assigning people without first asking.

    This is especially a problem when brethren are serving in Primary and not present during that discussion period in priesthood. So I object to the article because some people use it as an excuse to be lazy in talking to people.

  15. John F, you cannot compare an assignment in the Church to an assigment to pay taxes in a civil society. An assignment is voluntary. You can turn down an assignment in the Church. Taxes are never voluntary — they are forced payments. If you are a waiter, and make $50k per year in cash tips, and don’t report that money, you are violating the law and could be subject to harsh fines and/or jail time. You don’t have the alternative of “turning down” the assignment of paying taxes.

    It is interesting to ponder how this will work in Zion, and you are correct to point out in another thread that we don’t know how it will work. My personal opinion is that there will be no need for people to be given the assignment of paying taxes — people will voluntarily give to others in need before being asked. This will happen because the nature of the society and our individual natures will be changed by seeing that the society functions perfectly. But I could also be wrong. I guess we’ll have to see.

  16. I appreciate the sentiment behind the post, but I disagree on many levels.

    First, I’ll respond to Bill’s comment, #1. “In my experience, it is much easier to not do something if they ask for volunteers.” I won’t deny your experience, but I think it’s worth noting that my experience is quite the opposite. My church leaders have almost no idea what my work/family schedule is, so they almost invariably extend an assignment that I must refuse. Furthermore, they sometimes extend assignments that do not take into account my/my family’s talents nor our spiritual needs; thus, neither the servant nor the servee is maximally blessed.

    Now, on to the original post:

    “[Settling So. Utah] would never have happened.” I think you underestimate the dedication of the early Saints. Of course, there’s no way for us to be sure.

    The list of points 1-8 re: Br. Walker’s assignment: Volunteering accomplishes 1 & 2 just as well as assigning; volunteering essentially/indirectly accomplishes 3 & 4; 6 is hardly necessary—it’s basically revelation for revelation’s sake; 8 is pure conjecture.

    That leaves point 5 and 7 as the only clear “winners” in my book. Thus, I conclude that there are times when assigning needs to take place (e.g., urgent need, or when a leader identifies an individual who will not serve otherwise). But I would never say that assigning is “superior” to volunteering—don’t throw out the screwdriver just because you found a good use for a hammer.

    One more counterpoint:

    “…he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

    “…should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” D&C 58:26-27

  17. Thanks BrianJ for your comments. I disagree with your evaluation of points 1-8.

    #1 – A sacrifice is a loss of something, whether time, possessions, life, etc. If someone is assigned to do something that they would not otherwise volunteer to do, then they are given the chance to sacrifice when they would not otherwise sacrifice at all, such as Br. Walker. And the sacrifice might be much greater. Volunteers also sacrifice time and energy, but it is voluntary, something that they chose to do. When there is large sacrifice involved, not many voluntarily choose to do it. They must be asked directly and specifically if they will sacrifice.

    #2 – If someone is assigned to serve when they would not otherwise volunteer because of a busy life or schedule, they are given the chance to exercise their faith in God that He knows best, the outcome will work out, and they will be blessed for their service. Those who volunteer might often have free time to fill, so an exercise of faith is not necessarily needed.

    #3 – Volunteering means that one chooses to do something. They raise their hand and offer to do it. Whereas, when someone is assigned to do something, they must say “yes” or “no” to the call. Certainly, once someone volunteers to do something, obedience is involved in fulfilling the commitment, but it is obedience to their own self.

    #4 – Again, when there is no direct priesthood call, then there can be no fulfillment of that call. Asking for volunteers makes a service optional for everyone. Those who can or want to will do it, but they weren’t asked directly to do so.

    #6 – Revelation is hardly necessary? Revelation is the rock upon which the Church is built. I would hope that most of our leaders decisions, choices, and actions are based upon inspiration and revelation, and that they seek it in all that they do. In choosing members to assign to a task, leaders should exercise their keys of revelation to know who would be the best person for it. The Lord knows who would be best, who would receive the greatest blessings, who needs the sacrifice, the exercise of faith. When asking for volunteers, no revelation to direct who does what is involved. Those who would receive the greatest blessings might not volunteer themselves, and most often probably don’t.

    #8 – Going back to the article, hundreds of brethren and families were assigned to settle the west when they would not have otherwise done so. Were the blessings greater in that instance? When members are asked to sacrifice when they would not voluntarily do so, are greater blessings manifest? Always! For they would not have received any blessings for not sacrificing.

    “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

  18. I wonder if the Church should return to assigning people to serve missions, rather than inviting them to apply to serve a mission.

    “they are given the chance to exercise their faith in God that He knows best,”

    That is true if it is God making the assignment. That is more likely to be the case when the leader has first sought input from quorum members about availability and potential conflicts (and even preferences–a person who likes what he/she is doing tends to do a better job than someone who does not). I don’t recall who reportedly said it, but I believe the principle that God generally won’t reveal something to usas leaders about someone else’s situation that we could easily find out (in a nonthreatening way) by simply asking.

    That

  19. Bryce: I appreciate your response. I’ll go through it point by point to make my position clear.

    “#1 If someone is assigned to do something that they would not otherwise volunteer to do, then they are given the chance to sacrifice….” Yes, the non-volunteering are given a chance to sacrifice. But those who would volunteer on their own are likewise making a sacrifice. There’s no reason to deem one a “true” sacrifice and the other…what, “false”?

    “And the sacrifice might be much greater.” Or it might not be. That argument is too nebulous for me.

    “Volunteers also sacrifice time and energy, but it is voluntary, something that they chose to do. When there is large sacrifice involved, not many voluntarily choose to do it. They must be asked directly and specifically if they will sacrifice.” There are countless examples of people who chose to put everything—including their lives—on the line to serve others. True, some people must “be asked directly and specifically” or they won’t do a single thing to help another, but others will serve until exhaustion, and lots of others are somewhere in between. You’re insisting that everyone needs to be compelled, but it’s just not the case.

    “#2 – If…would not otherwise volunteer….” See #1. Yes, your argument applies to some people, but not everyone. We’re not all Size Medium.

    “…they are given the chance to exercise their faith in God that He knows best, the outcome will work out, and they will be blessed for their service. Those who volunteer might often have free time to fill, so an exercise of faith is not necessarily needed.” Then again, volunteers, like most people, have plenty of things they need or want to do with their time—things that don’t include cleaning buildings, canning tomatoes, etc. And yet, they say to themselves, “Okay, I’ll get up really early Thursday, go into work early so I can leave in time to help at the Temple/cannery/etc.” or “I’ll take my kids to the grounds cleanup on Saturday instead of to the playground as I had planned” etc. etc. And why do they do it? I can’t speak for everyone, but when I volunteer I do so because I think it is the right thing to do, something needs to get done, and in some cases it’s something that I simply have to trust God when he says it’s important (e.g., temple work). I almost never think about how I “will be blessed for [my] service.”

    “#3 – Volunteering…is obedience to their own self.” When we take upon the name of Christ we commit to serve others—to love God and our neighbor with all that we have. Thus, every act of service is “merely” a fulfillment of a commitment we already made. The difference between volunteering and accepting an assignment is very minor in this regard. The D&C tells me that my duty as a priesthood holder is look after the ward in various ways; thus, I have already been assigned to help Sis. Thompson and Bro. Walker. The specifics of how I find out about their needs are mere details.

    “#4 – Asking for volunteers makes a service optional for everyone.” See #3.

    “#6 – Revelation is hardly necessary? Revelation is the rock upon which the Church is built.” Read carefully: revelation in this instance may be unnecessary. If we need to accomplish X and Jim and Bob say they can do it, then why do we need to ask the Lord to tell us who can do it? By all means, if I as a leader feel inspired to assign a person in particular, or feel that Jim or Bob shouldn’t participate, then I should follow that prompting.

    “When asking for volunteers, no revelation to direct who does what is involved.” Except the revelation that comes directly to the volunteer in the form of the Spirit moving them to put aside their own wants in order to serve another.

    “Those who would receive the greatest blessings might not volunteer themselves, and most often probably don’t.” This is yet another instance where you identify a use for making assignments but then enlarge that into a total dismissal of volunteering. In other words, I think in your rebuttal you have conflated point #7 into nearly every other point.

    #8 – hundreds of brethren and families were assigned to settle the west when they would not have otherwise done so.” Probably true. Then again, hundreds would also have gladly volunteered, despite the enormous sacrifice.

    “When members are asked to sacrifice when they would not voluntarily do so, are greater blessings manifest? Always! For they would not have received any blessings for not sacrificing.” True, but that’s not the question. Your post is about how inferior volunteering is to assigning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>