Participation in the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men not only for missions, temple marriage and righteous fatherhood, but also develops charity, according to Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the Seventy and Young Men general president.
Elder Featherstone told the Church News that not only is this the dispensation of the fullness of times, but also the dispensation for the fullness of evil."You can look in every direction and see a great deal of evil in many forms," Elder Featherstone explained. "But the Lord is preparing an army of Aaronic Priesthood young men who will combat evil in its most rampant stage in the history of the world. I think in a darkening world, our young men are prepared to keep the beacon shining in front of them.
"In a day when people are so involved in selfish pursuits and `what's in it for me,' the Aaronic Priesthood is taught and prepared to have charity."
The General Authority said much of that preparation to combat wickedness comes through administering to the temporal needs of the saints – which results in spiritual blessings.
"By collecting fast offerings and helping the bishop take food to needy families in the ward, a young man is learning what the pure love of Christ really is. That training and refinement is preparatory to developing the finest qualities that God can put in man. A young man active in the Aaronic Priesthood comes out the other side and finds that he's been trained, schooled in the learning of the Lord. He is well prepared for life.
"Many bishops think it's easier for a family to pay fast offerings along with their tithing, so in a lot of cases our young men are not having the privilege of going out and collecting fast offerings. Others think it is too far between homes. In those instances, Melchizedek Priesthood holders ought to help them. It's a great thing for a boy to knock on the door of a home and say, `I'm here on behalf of the bishop, and we would like to invite you to give a contribution to fast offerings.' And then to realize where that money is going and the number of people it is helping. The Church is doing a marvelous, wonderful thing in taking care of the poor. And our Aaronic Priesthood ought to be a major part of that."
Elder Featherstone encouraged leaders to involve the young men more in priesthood ordinances to help them prepare to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and to appreciate and respect priesthood power.
And there is also, of course, the responsibility of administering the sacrament.
"The sacrament ties directly into the atonement of Jesus Christ," Elder Featherstone reflected, "and this great ordinance is entrusted into the hands of the Aaronic Priesthood. When you think that the major purpose of sacrament meeting involves the Aaronic Priesthood for those few minutes, that's very significant."
He also noted the importance of meaningful service activities, especially in keeping with the new Church budget and activity guidelines.
"Through Aaronic Priesthood service and activities, young men will learn that service is a magnificent healer. It doesn't only heal us spiritually, but heals us psychologically, physically, emotionally. People who are frustrated or despairing, or when they seem to be losing hope, can turn that around by asking, `Whom can I serve?' They go out and start serving others, and pretty soon their buckets are filled. They are no longer depressed, no longer frustrated and despairing."
Meaningful service projects help young men learn physical ambition in a day of extreme television viewing and listening to music, added Elder Featherstone. They learn how to work, which is preparatory for life and livelihood. "It's especially effective with the new budget system, where we're teaching how to be frugal."
Physical activity and service is especially effective when combined with scripture study and prayer.
"The young man who really does have faith in Christ and a determination to stay sweet and clean and pure has confidence and can exercise priesthood power," said Elder Featherstone. "It's amazing how many of our young men have read the Book of Mormon following President Ezra Taft Benson's challenge. If you combine personal prayer, reading the scriptures and service in the home, Church and community, you have a very effective preparatory priesthood.
"To help bring all this about we need leaders who have a profound, deep love for the Savior and the teachings of the gospel, and a great love of young people. It's helpful for priesthood leaders to remember what I call the three T's: training, time and tenure. Leaders must be properly trained, then put in the time with young men, whatever it takes, and then stay in a position long enough where they can really have a positive influence."
A diversity of Aaronic Priesthood activities leads to well-prepared missionaries.
Elder Featherstone noted: "There is not much done in priesthood quorums and personal living of the gospel that doesn't relate to missionary work, because missionary service is so all-encompassing. I think home teaching is outstanding missionary preparation. Young men can call and make appointments, knock on the doors – where sometimes they are welcome and sometimes they're not – invite people to pray and teach people in their homes. They learn how to handle those things. They are prepared."