The new youth curriculum represents many departments of the Church coming together to create the "perfect storm," a panel of Church leaders said during Women's Conference at Brigham Young University on May 3.
"I have a special witness to know that the Lord's hand is in the timing of this delivery of this wonderful tool to teach the youth," Elder Adrian Ochoa, who prior to his recent call as a Seventy served as the second counselor in the Young Men general presidency. "I have some personal experiences … working on this project and it was amazing. … And I know every organization has an experience like this."
Brother Matthew O. Richardson, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, acted as moderator to the panel that included Elder Ochoa, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, and Chad Webb, an administrator in the Church Educational System.
"I think of the term 'the perfect storm,' and usually that is used in a way that's not very positive, usually doing something with the climate that creates a lot of havoc. … But in the early days it was actually a positive term, or the coming together of unlikely strands at the same time to create … an event of unusual magnitude," Brother Richardson said. "The reason that I use this term is because in some ways I feel that is what's happening with the youth design and the curriculum. It was a perfect storm, where many things were coming together all to create this wonderful experience that's unfolding, and will yet unfold."
Hard work and events among many departments of the Church converged to make the final product possible, Brother Richardson said.
"It's interesting to watch some of the things that were being worked on … as one group was working on something in an effort to bless the lives of the youth, another group was working at the same time concurrently without even communicating," Brother Webb said. "Seminaries, for example, a few years ago started something we call 'the teaching and learning emphasis' where we started to try to train teachers to have more experiences in the classroom where young people were discovering more in the scriptures for themselves, participating more through explaining gospel principles and sharing their own experiences with them and bearing testimony."
At the same time the teaching in seminary and institute were evolving, committees had been called to work on Sunday School, Young Women and Young Men manuals in an effort to update the material for new curriculum announced in 2012.
"It is interesting to me that it is not only coming from Church Headquarters for this 'perfect storm,' " said Sister Oscarson. "I was just talking to a Young Women leader … a little while ago and she said that those who have been teaching the old lessons have felt a need to step it up and change their teaching and were already headed in that direction."
Although the different organizations within the Church were working on things individually, it is amazing to see how they fit together so well collectively, panel members agreed.
"The miracle of this is that when it was coming together it was exactly that — a unified approach — sometimes unbeknownst to the other party that they were working on and then coming together and tweaking and adjusting to have a unified curriculum," Brother Richardson said.
As each of the groups approached changes, they tried to build upon incremental revelation — line upon line, precept upon precept. These combined efforts created the curriculum for the youth today.
"The [youth] need to have conversion in their hearts," Elder Ochoa said. "What the new youth curriculum does is teach in the way Jesus Christ taught."
With the focus on helping the youth develop their own testimonies, leaders have the responsibility to foster opportunities — during Young Women and Young Men classes and activities, Sunday School, seminary and at home — that would invite each youth to participate and develop a testimony of his or her own.
Preparation from the teacher is crucial — to be in tune with what the youth need.
"We are not preparing lessons, but preparing our lives so we can be a witness," Brother Richardson said.
To do that, instructors must prepare a little more than in the past — a different preparation — as they live gospel principles and become aware of the feelings with the Holy Ghost.
"Maybe a better way to say this is that the single most important part of a lesson is teacher preparation, not lesson preparation," Brother Webb said.
Youth involvement is also critical to the success of a class.
"The beauty of this curriculum is that we are turning the learning over to the youth," Sister Oscarson said. "And it helps the youth learn that strengthening your testimony is up to [them]. We can give the tools but it is up to [them]."
As the youth teach and learn from their peers, the Spirit can testify of truth, and they often learn better, Brother Webb said.
Although the curriculum is designed for the youth, it is also a resource for families to use, especially in creating gospel conversations in homes.
Other reports on the Women's Conference at BYU appeared in the issues of May 12 and May 19.