Mormon leaders who say, “Where much is given, much is expected” are usually referring to others to whom comparatively little has been given, while those who believe that the LDS church is a meritocracy are typically referring to themselves. Shame on them. Exploiting the church and church-oriented service opportunities so that they become sources of personal validation and aggrandizement perverts the gospel into an instrument for worldly gain. The Book of Mormon refers to this practice as priestcraft.

Yes, I’m familiar with Jesus’s parable of the talents. And I know all about the notion of a stewardship we’ve inherited from the harebrained scheme that early church leaders concocted to implement the law of consecration: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:23; KJV).

But let’s not forget Jesus’s admonition against those who personally capitalize on the outward manifestations of worthiness. He said that they’re hypocrites whom God will not reward for their service, because “they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16; NASB). In Jesus’s parable of the talents, the lord’s reward to his good and faithful servants signifies glory in the hereafter, not callings or responsibilities in the here-and-now (cf. Job).

It is, of course, customary for Mormon men to denounce any interest in important callings. “What, me bishop? Not in a million years!!” That’s the sort of thing I heard growing up from my father. The funny thing is that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know exactly how old he was when he served in his first bishopric. And I’ve heard enough youth boasting about their father being head-honcho of this-or-that to know that many families share the priestcraft-oriented approach to church leadership that mine did.

Even sadder is the entrenched, Utah-mormon belief among many multi-generational Mormons that there’s a kind of royal bloodline within the church, that certain families constitute “church royalty” — a pretty pathetic belief in a church wherein most of the membership joined in the last 2 decades. I wonder how well such a belief would be received if we actually taught it to investigators: “We’re led by a Holy Royal Bloodline, and you’re invited to join them in worship.”

This belief in a royal bloodline is perhaps the most consistently repudiated doctrine in the Old Testament, and it is an especially peculiar belief in a church named for a man descended from an idolatrous prostitute (Genesis 38), a Moabitess convert (Ruth 1), and the youngest son of a shepherd who grew up to become a corrupt and murderous king (I Samuel 17; II Samuel 11). History and scripture repeatedly cement the trivial nature of Christ’s own “royal” line, from the abrupt termination of Saul’s line (which gave rise to David’s) to the murder of Zedekiah and his heirs (which terminated David’s) to the rise of the Maccabean dynasty to the rise of the Idumean leaders of the Herodian Dynasty, none of whom proved to be less corrupt in general than the much-vaunted “Davidic” line. It’s difficult to square this fascination with royal lineages with the pride that our church takes in being founded in a promised land set aside to be free of kings.

The purpose of organized church meetings is to provide us opportunities to teach and to be taught, to edify and be edified. Insofar as the hierarchical leadership structure is a manifestation of God’s power on Earth, approaching it as something that provides personal, career-type validation twists it beyond recognition. As a youth and as a missionary (for 2 short weeks), I saw enough of church leadership to give me a strong testimony that the church is not a meritocracy — enough, in fact, to convince others in my family that it was quite the opposite. As an adult, I’ve been blessed to belong to wards and quorums with fantastic leadership. Whether this was by accident or by design I do not know.

I am, however, blessed to know that I am not my calling. I am not the degree of respect that my spirituality gains in my ward. I am not the deference with which my opinions are treated in class. I am not the quantity of compliments that I get from my talks. I am not the western-business-suit-with-white-shirt that I wear. I am not the amount of tithing that I pay. Like everyone else at every other Christian church in the world, I’m just a poor failing sinner struggling to get by as a father and a husband and a son and a sibling and a friend. And I should be utterly ashamed to learn that I or anyone around me had ever given the impression that I earned a calling or deserved a calling or that a calling gave me an elevated status.