Almost 180 years ago, in December 1832, the Lord proclaimed to Joseph Smith, "Behold, I will hasten my work in its time" (D&C 88:73). The new 2013 youth curriculum announced recently in a letter from the First Presidency, embodies the hastening of the Lord's work to "strengthen and build faith, conversion and testimony" with the youth. "This represents a marvelous opportunity for the youth," said Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy. "They will experience things they never felt before, and they will become different from the world."
In January 2013, youth, parents and youth leaders across the Church will begin to implement a more interactive method of teaching in Young Men, Young Women and Sunday School patterned after how the Savior taught His disciples. It is designed to help youth be active listeners, feel the Spirit and deepen their understanding of the doctrine. "We wanted to teach for conversion and not just for increasing knowledge," said Brother Russell T. Osguthorpe, Sunday School general president. "If we just increase knowledge, then that's not enough. It's harder for the youth to go out and live it unless they become converted to it."
A few wards and stakes in the Church have been using the new program for over a year. This pilot program has been helpful in learning what works with youth to achieve conversion. President Ron Watkins of the Bingham Creek Stake in West Jordan Utah has been observing the pilot program in two wards within the stake. He said, "The most powerful testimony I have gained through this is that the youth of today are valiant and they have the ability to teach and strengthen their peers. They truly have greater opportunities to learn, act and share."
Roscoe Ashhurst-McGee, a priest in the Elm Creek Ward pilot program said, "We have had some great spiritual moments when everyone participates. The new program encourages you to participate. The youth are being asked to step up."
Comparing the new youth curriculum with the old, Bishop Vyrl Bangerter, of the Fox Pointe Ward pilot program said, "The old curriculum was mainly a lecture-type program with 80 percent of the dialogue coming from the instructor and 20 percent coming from the students.
It's reversed now. The students are more anxious and willing to attend Sunday School. We seem to have far less 'truancy' during Sunday School."
"The old program was like a lecture at school," said Ryan Ward, a teacher in the Elm Creek Ward. "The new one opens things up for discussion, questions and thinking about the topics. For youth starting in January, stick with it. It's different at first, but its better."
With an emphasis on teaching youth and not lessons, youth teachers will need to evolve from reading manuals to prayerfully considering interactive lesson plans directed at the specific needs of the youth they teach.
"Prayerfully consider calling the best members of your ward to teach the youth," said Bishop Brent Jenson from the Elm Creek Ward pilot program. "Teachers must first focus on their own spiritual preparation, making sure their own lives are in order. It is difficult to constantly bring the spirit into a lesson if the instructor is not living gospel standards."
Using the guidance of the Spirit, youth teachers access monthly topics and resources online at lds.org/youth/learn to determine what to teach. All teachers cover the same doctrine for the month but choose their own lesson topic.
Sometimes an instructor may want to spend two weeks on a topic. The key is meeting the needs of the youth, not meeting a pre-determined schedule.
Teaching resources include videos, handouts, discussion questions, conference talks and lesson outlines. Content is updated on a regular basis.
"The lessons are more relevant and modern," said Lauren Marlar, a Mia Maid in the Fox Pointe Ward. "The questions make me think more, and I feel the Spirit. My testimony has been strengthened. I am able to talk about the gospel better with non-members now."
Working together, youth leaders, seminary teachers, Sunday school teachers and parents will reinforce gospel concepts for coordinated learning at home, school and Church.
"I would encourage parents to take time each Sunday to have discussions with their youth regarding the subjects that were taught," Bishop Bangerter said,
Speaking of the blessings that have come to the stake using the program, President Watkins explained, "The youth are better prepared to serve missions, teach the gospel and receive the blessings of the temple. In one of our wards, the youth planned a temple trip to do baptisms for the dead on their own. The decision was made by the youth and not by their leaders. This program helps foster and teach the youth to feel and respond to the Spirit."
Sarin Kotter, a Mia Maid from the Fox Pointe Ward said, "The new youth curriculum has helped me understand the gospel more fully. I can apply it in my life at home and school. I am a lot closer to my family and don't fight as much with my siblings."