What Is a Bishop’s Number One Responsibility?


President Russell M. Nelson said in the October general conference that the bishop’s “first and foremost responsibility” is to care for the youth of his ward. 

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced organizational changes to make youth a more significant focus, which included dissolving ward Young Men presidencies. He explained, “We are confident that more young men and young women will rise to the challenge and stay on the covenant path because of this laser-like focus on our youth.”

Youth—The Primary Focus of Bishops

Some bishops may have wondered how they would be able to manage all of their ward duties without ward Young Men presidencies.

In response to such concerns, Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, pointed out: “A bishop has always been the president of the Aaronic Priesthood. He still is. And he is still going to have the same number of adult leaders involved. The purpose is to bring the youth closer to the bishop.”


Elders Quorum and Relief Society Presidencies to Take Initiative

In a notice to stake and ward leaders dated October 6, 2018, the responsibilities of member missionary work and temple and family history work in the ward were delegated to the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies. Elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies should also oversee and coordinate ministering efforts.

ward organization

Concerning these delegated changes, Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and Utah Area president, stated, “This has to be done so bishops can relinquish much of the day-today responsibility they feel to minister to families and to move the work forward and focus the majority of their efforts on the youth.”

For example, when Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, visited Sierra Leone in June, she met a woman named Mariatu Songo who was serving as a ward Relief Society president. As she walked with Sister Songo from home to home in the village, Sister Bingham explained: “She was ministering to everyone. She was caring for those in need. She was reaching out to the elderly. I don’t believe that any of those people were taking a great deal of the bishop’s time because she was taking that responsibility herself.”


This sister is an example of a Relief Society president who is actively engaged to help relieve the load of the bishop, bless the ward, and engage in the work of salvation.

Ward council is a key place to coordinate ideas and keep all organizations informed. Sister Bingham said she knows of ward councils that focus on ministering two weeks of the month, missionary work one week, and temple and family history work another. “You’re not having any extra meetings that way,” she noted.

Another way the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies can help relieve the load of the bishop is by helping more with welfare. According to Church Handbook 2, “welfare is central to the work of the elders quorum and Relief Society.” While the bishop oversees financial assistance and the use of fast offerings in the ward, elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies can work with families to teach principles of self-reliance, and they can counsel with the adults in their ward on issues of employment, budgeting, or challenges with family relationships.


“Rather than starting with the bishop, members need to learn to start with the Relief Society and elders quorum presidency,” Sister Bingham explained.

Elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies should take initiative to reach out, identify the problems and step up to help: “There are certain worthiness issues that the bishop has to engage in. But even with permission from the person, he can involve others. To me, this is quite a cultural change from what we have established over many, many years,” Elder Christensen added.

Changes for Aaronic Priesthood Advisers and Young Women Presidencies

Though the ward Young Men presidency no longer exists, the number of adult leaders for young men has not decreased, Brother Owen noted. Each quorum has an adviser to support the bishop in his scriptural duty to preside over the Aaronic Priesthood as well as mentor young men as they serve in quorum presidencies. To allow “two-deep leadership” in each quorum, a long-term specialist can also be called. Other specialists can be called on a short-term basis for big events such as a camp, youth conference, or trek.

“Each of these adult leaders plays an essential role in lifting the young men and supporting the bishop in his duty,” Brother Owen said.

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, said the change to allow the Young Women president to report directly to the bishop is an opportunity for the young women “to sustain and support the bishop and serve ward members.” It also allows the Young Women presidents to help young women who need an extra listening ear.


Leaders should always invite youth to meet with the bishop on matters of worthiness or abuse. They should also turn youth to their parents to “strengthen those eternal bonds.”

Class and quorum presidencies can be “active contributors” as they participate in the “renamed and revitalized” ward youth council. (Read more: Why ‘ward youth council’ isn’t just a different name — it’s part of a culture change)

Under the direction of the bishop, youth 14 and older may also be given the assignment to help build unity and belonging within a ward by participating as ministering companions for Relief Society sisters and Melchizedek Priesthood brethren.


What Members Can Do

Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and Southwest Area president, counselled: “The ward structure will help the Church move forward and protect the Saints as we continue to move to this home-centered, Church-supported focus. It’s not a new structure — we just haven’t used it very well. But we need to learn it. To me, it’s a big mindset change we’ve got to go through as members. We need to trust that our ministering brothers and sisters have been called and assigned by God to help us. We have to believe that’s the Lord’s first line reaching out to us. We need to use them.”


If the ministering brothers and sisters don’t have the necessary tools to help, they can call on a member of the elders quorum presidency or Relief Society presidency. Elder Pieper explained, “They can both be magnified in the same ways as bishops can to help meet the needs of the members. You don’t need to go to the bishop to access that priesthood power.” Bishops are to concentrate on strengthening the youth—the rising leaders of the next generation—to stay on the covenant path.