Youth advisers do far more than teach Sunday lessons

Jaren Wilkey, a stake Young Men president in Utah, came to understand the cultural shift associated with the Children and Youth program as he remembered teaching his son, Isaac, to drive. 

Wilkey recalled, “When Isaac got his learner’s permit, he was required to log a certain number of hours driving with a parent. I started off teaching him while I was driving by explaining what I was doing and why. I pointed out things to watch for as we drove. Then it was time for him to sit in the driver’s seat. I took the passenger’s seat and directed Isaac to drive around the church parking lot and the quiet roads in our neighborhood.”

Isaac then had to have surgery on both his ankles and did not drive at all for three months. When he finally recovered, Wilkey threw his son the keys to the car and asked him to drive the two of them to the mission prep class at their local stake center.

Brother Bradley R. Wilcox is the second counselor in the Young Men general presidency.
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox is the second counselor in the Young Men general presidency. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Wilkey said, “When Isaac pulled out of the driveway, it was clear he had not driven for a while. It was not the smoothest start. When we got to the end of the driveway, he asked me, ‘Which way do I go?’” 

Wilkey was dumbfounded. 

“You have been going to the stake center for years, including mission prep every week for the past year,” he said. “I’ve driven you there every Sunday for the past three months while you were not able to drive. Why don’t you know how to get there?”

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency
Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Isaac answered, “Because you were always driving or telling me what to do.”

Wilkey realized that he had missed the most important part of teaching his son — letting him drive on his own. The Children and Youth program is a lot like that. It is important to give tips and warn of obstacles. It is vital to let youth practice by “driving around the parking lot,” so they gain confidence. But if we really want them to know how to get where they need to go, advisers and parents need to “let them drive.”  

Wilkey gives adult youth leaders in his stake this advice: “We already have a connection to Christ. Now we need the youth to have their own connection. We need to take our place in the passenger’s seat, buckle up, and be patient when the ride gets a little bumpy. We need to give the youth many opportunities to practice.”

At the ward level, young people in the Church have many adult leaders: parents, bishoprics, Young Women presidencies, and advisers. One or more specialists may also be called to assist permanently or temporarily with specific activities like dances, road shows, or camps. However, the goal is that the program is youth led and adult supported. 

Empower quorum and class presidencies to lead the Children and Youth program, Young Men and Young Women general leaders say

All these adult leaders must remember they are “driving instructors.”  

Perhaps the calling most affected by this shift is that of adviser. In the past, some advisers have seen their role as only teaching Sunday lessons or helping the youth prepare to teach Sunday lessons.

Young men help rake leaves. Service and activities can help children and youth stay on the covenant path.
Young men help rake leaves. Service and activities can help children and youth stay on the covenant path. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Children and Youth program reminds that more is expected of them. The Church’s General Handbook offers the following direction:

  • Be good examples and mentors (see 10.2.1.1 and 11.2.1.1). 
  • Encourage youth to learn the gospel outside of Sunday classes (see 10.2.1.2 and 11.2.1.2).
  • Study the gospel and share what you are learning (see 10.2.1.2 and 11.2.1.2). 
  • Support the bishopric, Young Women presidency, and youth presidencies as they make plans to accomplish the work of salvation and exaltation (see 10.2.1.3 and 11.2.1.3).
  • Support the bishopric, Young Women presidency, and youth presidencies as they plan safe service and activities (see 10.2.1.3 and 11.2.1.3).
  • Make sure there are always two responsible adult leaders present (see 10.2.1.3 and 11.2.1.3).
  • Support youth as they become more like the Savior by seeking inspiration, making plans, acting on their plans, and reflecting on what they learn (see 10.4.4 and 11.3.4.3).
  • Encourage youth to prepare to serve full-time missions (see 10.4.3 and 11.2.1.1).
  • Attend youth presidency meetings and provide leadership instruction (10.4.3 and 11.3.4.1). The youth leadership lessons are a great starting point.
  • Provide youth with the experiences that will prepare them for a lifetime of service (see 10.6 and 11.2.1.3).
Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone
Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The late Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, a General Authority Seventy, spoke often about how essential it is for youth to have “third party” leaders — someone in addition to parents and bishops: “[Youth] need help from concerned, perceptive leaders who will use their influence to help steer our youth on the right course.”  

That describes an adviser. Imagine what an impact an adviser could have just by showing interest in young people’s goals and asking how they are doing and what they are learning. Imagine an adviser sharing some of his or her own goals and progress.

Jaren Wilkey learned there was a lot more to teaching his son to drive than handing him the keys. Similarly, adult leaders — especially advisers — are learning that there is a lot more to teaching young people to lead than giving them a calling and a Sunday lesson.  

Just as the youth have been prepared for these days, so have their adult leaders. Each adviser has gifts and talents needed to lift and bless the rising generation. What a wonderful time to be serving in God’s kingdom.