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A primer on Mormon priesthood
Recently, news reports have identified individuals as holding priesthood offices in the Mormon (LDS) church. Titles mentioned have included “Bishop,” “Stake President,” and “Priest.” Many may have assumed that because some Mormon priesthood titles are the same as titles used by other faiths, the offices must be similar in terms of requirements, selection, and authority. This is usually not correct.
Mormon priesthood is not limited to a few chosen leaders, but is available to any Mormon male who affirms obedience to basic moral standards, faith in God, and belief in the truth claims of the LDS church. He can be ordained a Deacon at age 12, a Teacher at age 14, a Priest at age 16, an Elder at age 18 or later, and a High Priest later in life. These offices are focused on performance of certain congregation duties, individual character, and service, but do not confer authority to speak or act for the church in general. A given congregation (or “ward,” containing about 300-500 members) may contain several Priests, all of whom are teenagers.
There is no formal training program or seminary for Mormon priesthood. There is no election process or competition–all who qualify are ordained. The priesthood itself is seen as a training and growing process. The only preparation necessary might be a time period to affirm worthiness after past violation of standards.
In addition to being ordained to a priesthood office, one might also be given a specific leadership assignment carrying an additional priesthood designation. A common designation is “Bishop,” which is the spiritual and administrative leader of a ward. In contrast to a Bishop in the Roman Catholic or Episcopalian faiths, Mormon Bishops only preside over a few hundred members, serve for only three to seven years, and are not prepared through any formal training or seminary. The assignment usually comes unexpectedly, and Bishops concurrently maintain their careers and other life and family responsibilities.
A group of six to twelve wards is called a “stake” (Isaiah 33:20), presided over by a “Stake President.” This assignment also usually comes unexpectedly and is not preceded by any formal training or seminary. Stake Presidents also maintain their careers and other life responsibilities, and only serve for approximately ten years.
After a Bishop or Stake President’s term of service ends, he has no remaining authority under that title. It is incorrect to assume that a former Bishop or Stake President still holds uncommon authority or status within the church.
At the highest level, spiritual and administrative leadership for the entire church is provided by the prophet and his counselors, or the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (Mark 6:7), and Quorums of the Seventy (Luke 10:1).
Priests, Bishops, Stake Presidents and others do not speak for the church generally or have any authority beyond the time and scope of their specific assignments. They do not have any authority outside of their respective ward or stake.