PROVO, Utah — In back-to-back presentations at BYU Education Week, the general presidencies of the Young Men and Primary organizations of the Church pleaded with parents and leaders to help the children and youth come to the Savior.
Inside the Marriott Center on the Brigham Young University campus, the Young Men general presidency was introduced by the Primary general presidency. Primary General President Susan H. Porter told the audience how grateful she is to work with the other organizations on a daily basis. Later, in Young Men General President Steven J. Lund’s comments, he said this coordination is something the Church has lacked in the past but that is blessing the lives of Latter-day Saints around the world today. Organizational leaders now sit on councils with one another and with senior leaders of the Church.
Both presidencies showed how the principles of live, care, invite and unite — as taught throughout the new Church handbook — can help children and youth strengthen their testimonies of the Savior.
The handbook entry says:
New program; new focus
President Porter shared a story of a boy she recently met who was excited to tell her something he had learned.
The little boy, shaking out of so much excitement, said, “Sister Porter, did you know that God is our Eternal Father?”
President Porter then related how important this discovery was for that boy by teaching that, “No longer would he feel alone or vulnerable because he knew God is his Eternal Father.”
She said this is the purpose of the Children and Youth program.
“It’s not like a program like we’re used to seeing,” she said.
President Lund has been reminded many times by parents about one specific difference between this program and the one it replaced.
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, said he has seen President Lund be asked by many parents, “What’s the new ‘Eagle?’” as they discuss the new program. This question refers to the highest rank that can be achieved by youth involved in the Boy Scouts of America.
Brother Wilcox said he always loves to hear President Lund answer that question because it shows how different the focus of the program is.
“It’s called a temple recommend,” President Lund will reply.
Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, said the purpose of the Children and Youth program is to strengthen the rising generation and help them engage fully in the work of salvation and exaltation.
“But what is the work of salvation and exaltation?” he asked.
He showed a video clip of President Russell M. Nelson encouraging youth to join the Lord’s battalion and to contribute to the work of salvation and exaltation in four ways — to live according to Christ’s teachings, to care for someone in need, to invite someone to receive the gospel, and to help unite families for eternity.
Brother Corbitt shared that these four principles are included at the beginning of the Church’s new General Handbook as well.
President Porter said, “The entire handbook is focused on these four principles.”
Then, including children, youth and adults as the audience for President Nelson’s comments, she said, “The Prophet has invited all of us to participate in the Lord’s great work.”
For the Children and Youth program, the beginning of that work comes from, “The foundational scripture, ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2:52),” she said.
She counseled parents and leaders to see this verse as “an invitation for us to say, ‘Where are my children now in their wisdom and stature and favor with God and man?’”
And for those parents and leaders, she said the answer is that “it’s an invitation to be more intentional about building our faith in the Savior.”
Examples of intentional building of faith
Sister Tracy Y. Browning, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, provided a few specific examples of how parents and leaders can help children and youth to build their faith in the Savior.
“First, we can help children turn their attention and intention to the purposes and blessings of prayer,” she said.
Learning to pray at home for the needs of others invites the love of God to be manifest in their lives, she said.
Outside the home, children can build faith by participating in the baptismal ordinance if invited to be a witness of a baptism. As baptized members of the Church, the General Handbook also allows them to be invited to give opening and closing prayers in Church meetings.
Brother Wilcox gave other examples.
“What’s the Children and Youth program?” he asked. “It’s seminary … . Get them to seminary.”
“What’s the Children and Youth program?” he asked again. “It’s ‘Come, Follow Me.’ If they’re doing that, they’re doing the Children and Youth program.”
Brother Wilcox said a lot of effort was put in across the Church to unify the youth experience, reduce the disparate requirements and provide continuity both in and out of the home.
“I don’t know that the Church [membership] recognizes what a monumental time this is,” he said.
For the Strength of Youth conferences
President Lund shared experiences he and his counselors had observed and heard from youth participants at this summer’s FSY conferences in the U.S. and Canada.
“[FSY] is such an important event that Church leaders are allocating considerable resources for youth to be able to attend,” he said. “It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a tremendous start.”
He said youth leave FSY with stronger testimonies and personal experiences with prayer, scripture study, friendship, family, the Holy Ghost and their nature as children of God. He said these were all topics mentioned by youth at the conclusion of their weeklong sessions.
President Lund showed a video featuring some youth who talked about their apprehension to attend and their change of heart during FSY.
“I want the Spirit to be in my life,” one young woman said in the video. Both young men and young women said they had not wanted to attend for various reasons. But most have reported having positive experiences after staying for the duration of their sessions.
President Lund cautioned against allowing FSY to exist in a vacuum without any sustained follow-up after youth return.
“Momentum is a powerful influencer,” he said, referencing President Nelson’s conference address on spiritual momentum in April’s general conference.
“What does the rest of the year look like now that more than 100,000 youth have participated in these conferences this summer?” President Lund asked.
This first summer of FSY sessions in the U.S. and Canada included 102,760 participants (including 248 youth who are not members of the Church) in 212 conferences.
Seeing through new lenses
Ammaron, an important adult in Mormon’s life, told Mormon about characteristics he could see in the 10 year old, she said. Ammaron told Mormon he appeared to be sober and observant. Mormon wrote that five years later, he felt he had “somewhat of a sober mind” and that this led him to know “the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:2, 15).
She pointed out that leaders and parents sharing what they see in children and youth puts them on a path to see those things in themselves and to develop characteristics they might not otherwise engage with.
“This is what we desire for our children and youth,” she said. “We too can help them see their potential. We want them to know the Savior and to taste of His goodness.”
Brother Wilcox said this may require confronting some uncomfortable feelings along the way — especially when it comes to attending activities like Young Women camp, Aaronic Priesthood encampments or FSY.
“If you feel anxiety, maybe it’s about time we learned how to manage that anxiety,” he said.
“We need to have stake-wide or multi-stake youth conferences on off years,” he said. The off years being those in which a stake’s youth are not invited to participate in FSY.
“When done at the stake level, social circles expand,” he said. “Girls and boys need to be together in a multi-day activity every year.”
He said youth can be recharged and motivated through spiritual experiences that come with these types of multi-day experiences. He also noted that positive outcomes can’t be left to chance. They require planning, he said.
He talked about the stereotypes that exist of young women having life-changing spiritual experiences at their camps while young men sometimes return only to talk about the physical activities they participated in like running a river or rappelling. He said the youth need and deserve to have planned spiritual activities together.
“We need something that will carry them through the rest of the year,” he said.
The Savior needs children and youth
In her concluding remarks, President Porter gently said, “Maybe in the past, we focused on the event, the new dress, the blanket,” referring to some members’ approach to baptisms of children. But now the focus should be different, she said.
“Maybe we can focus now on teaching them they have started on the covenant path,” she said. “The Savior needs them to care for others and to invite them to receive Him.”
One of the tools the Church has created to help parents make that shift, she said, is the Gospel for Kids app that was released last year. That app includes scripture stories parents can read to their children. It also has coloring activities and sing-along music to help in learning hymns and children’s songs. It links to activities from FamilySearch to help children begin at an early age to engage in family history service.
“It’s not about checking boxes or putting more weight on our shoulders,” she said. “It’s about uniting. ...
“Anything you do to strengthen the faith in Jesus Christ of a Primary-aged child, that is the focus of the Children and Youth program. Children can change your families. They can change our ward families.”