Punching Above Our Weight

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we’re covering the priesthood session of the October 1988 General Conference.

When I was a deacon and I went to priesthood sessions of General Conference for the first time, I felt pretty special when the speaker would say, “Now I want to speak to the young men…” Pretty soon, however, I realized this wasn’t an unusual occurrence. It’s a tradition. There’s at least one talk–and it seems much more than one–that takes that approach in every single priesthood session. 

Well, for the first time, I realized why. In his talke, The Priesthood of God, Elder Wirthlin said:

I wish to speak first to the young men who bear the Aaronic Priesthood. I want you to understand that we have trust and confidence in you. We realize that from your ranks will come the next generation of Church officers, teachers, and community leaders. Most importantly, you will be fathers and patriarchs in your own families. Your tasks then will be to teach and prepare the generation that follows you.

I added that emphasis there, because that ‘s when it hits me: this is the cycle. This is the pattern. You show up as a deacon and they talk to you and then you grow older and it becomes your turn to help the next generation on their way up. 

Maybe it’s obvious, but I never saw it that way until this talk.

The last talk in this session also really stood out to me: (then) Elder Hinckley’s talk To the Bishops of the Church. Now, I’ll frankly state that I hope I’m never a bishop. My dad was a bishop for a while, and it was the busiest I ever saw him. He loved it, don’t get me wrong. And that’s unusual for my dad. Being a bishop changed him. He’s kind of an introverted, taciturn fellow. He’s not someone you’d describe as a “people person”. Except he was when he was a bishop. I’ve never seen him so focused on others. The calling really changed him. 

But, like I said, he was also fantastically busy, and since my own adult life has always involved at least 1.5 jobs at a time, I’ve always been petrified of getting that calling myself. I don’t know how I’d survive the additional responsibility on top of the (too frequent) occasions where I’m working until midnight or 2 or 3 in the morning just trying to get by with my ordinary load.

Which is probably why I haven’t been called. Or come anywhere near it, thank heavens. (Literally.)

But if I ever do, then this is the talk I’ll read every week. There are too many important quotes for me to try and excerpt them. This is just like, the talk on what it means to be a bishop. Read it!

I did have one random thought as I went through it, however. Elder Hinckley made another one of those traditional remarks about how many priesthood holders we have. And it got me thinking. How many do we have, relative to other denominations? 

Because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still pretty small in overall numbers. How are we going to fill the Earth if there’s only ten or twenty million of us? Maybe we’ll have much greater growth in the future, but the really fast growth we’ve had in decades past–growth that inspired huge projections for the first half of the 21st century–has largely evaporated. At first glance, we’re still pretty small.

But one of the things I’ve really noticed during the whole Covid-19, stay-at-home period (which I also wrote about here) is how easily the Church can adapt to being home-centered because of our lay priesthood. All adult males have the privilege–conditional on their worthiness–to hold the priesthood. 

I did a quick check. It looks like there are about 400,000 ordained Roman Catholic priests in the whole world and the number is going down. I looked at other denominations–just within the United States–and the most is the Southern Baptist Convention with over 100,000 (again, just in the US). Most other denominations have tens of thousands. 

I don’t know how many LDS Melchizedek Priesthood holders there are. There’s about 16.5 million of us. Figure about ½ are active and about ½ are female, and that gets you to 4 million active males. Cut it in half again (to get just adults) and then in half one more time (just to be conservative) and you still end up with over a million elders and high priests. That’s… a lot. 

These are back-of-the-envelope numbers and I’m not trying to prove anything. Just… show a slightly different way of looking at the size of the Church in terms of its potential influence on the world. In terms of ordained priesthood holders, we may have roughly double the population of the largest Christian denomination in the world. Talk about punching above your weight class!

Maybe that has something to do with how a seemingly small denomination gets out there and fills the world. I’m sure it’s not the whole story, but it may be an important part of it.

Other posts from this week’s General Conference Odyssey:

One thought on “Punching Above Our Weight”

  1. The last time priesthood holders were counted in the statistical report was for 1986, when there were 6 million members and 745,000 adult Melchizedek Priesthood holders. Saying there are over a million such men now seems a very safe estimate.

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