How focusing on gospel principles helps youth ‘get through the fog of modern life’

Young Men general presidency shows how youth are drawn to the Savior through principles and activities

PROVO, Utah — As he took the stage Friday morning, President Steven J. Lund, Young Men general president, thanked his audience for allowing him and his two counselors to be among the few men on BYU’s campus during the previous three days.

Thousands of women in attendance at the Marriott Center in the final hours of BYU Women’s Conference laughed at President Lund’s comment. His thanks, however, were genuine. He continued by thanking the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and influential adult women who have a part in raising children — specifically teenagers — at this time in the world’s history.

President Lund was joined by his counselors in presentations Thursday and Friday to share how those influential women can make use of the Church’s Children and Youth program, the For the Strength of Youth standards guide and the For the Strength of Youth conferences in building teenagers’ faith in Jesus Christ.

Thousands of women gather in the Marriott Center for BYU Women’s Conference on Friday, May 5, 2023. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

“One of the most important things that we came to the earth to learn, is how to go about making hard decisions — especially when we’re conflicted between what seems fun and what is painfully right,” President Lund said Friday, May 5.

During both of their sessions, the Young Men general presidency shared examples of how the Church’s resources can help youth in that decision-making journey.

The Children and Youth Program

Speaking to hundreds gathered in BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse on Thursday, May 4, the Young Men general presidency focused on the Church’s Children and Youth Program and For the Strength of Youth conferences.

President Lund said the Church loses many youth because they go through their teenage years without ever building a connection with or feeling the joy of the Savior.

“The Children and Youth program is about bringing young people to Jesus Christ,” he said.

An important key in helping the youth come unto Christ is the relationship that is developed between youth and an adult leader during activities. Getting out in a wilderness environment, away from devices, distractions and the world, helps them have a spiritual experience.

“Everything we do is about connecting them with the Savior, through their leaders, the teachings, the various mechanisms and goals,” President Lund said.

Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speaks in the Smith Fieldhouse at BYU Women’s Conference on Thursday, May 4, 2023. | Trent Toone, Church News

One central activity in the Children and Youth Program that is already making a difference in the lives of youth are FSY conferences. Last year the Church had more than 103,000 youth participating in FSY conferences on 16 different college campuses around the United States and Canada. Thousands more will participate this year starting this summer.

President Lund suggested that stake and ward leaders might look for ways to incorporate elements of FSY at their respective levels to help strengthen the youth and provide similar spiritual experiences.

The Young Men general president said another “secret sauce” ingredient for adult leaders is spending time with youth to develop trusting relationships.

“You can’t do this stuff in the hallway or at an overnighter,” he said. “Getting them out of the world where they can come under the influence of the Savior and remain there for days on end allows their brains to get reoriented around this truth — that they are sons and daughters of God and He has a work for them to do.”

At the end of day at FSY, youth discuss what happened that day that is worth remembering or worth recording. It helps them see the evidence of God in their lives and strengthens their testimony of the Savior, President Lund said.

Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, announced that for the first time in Church history, the Young Men general presidency and the Young Women general presidency are working, training, serving and meeting together on a regular basis to set an example for leaders in wards and stakes.

“Sisters, we welcome you, we love you, and we look forward to working with you,” he said.

Brother Wilcox said the purpose of the Children and Youth Program is to help young people connect with the Savior Jesus Christ and engage in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation (General Handbook, 1.2).

“Just as the Savior grew in every area of His life as he engaged in the work of His Father, we know that our young people will grow in every area of their lives as they engage in the work of salvation and exaltation,” he said.

He told of a bishop who, when a member passed away, turned to his assistants in the priest quorum instead of his counselors and asked the young men to meet with the family, express condolences and assist with planning the funeral service. The young men stepped up and performed this assignment.

“We are so excited to see young people all over the world standing up and embracing this work,” Brother Wilcox said.

Focusing on the three areas of the Children and Youth program — gospel learning, service and activities, and personal development — can help the youth learn to “be about their father’s business,” Brother Wilcox said.

An important part of personal development is setting the right goals, which can be a way to help the youth learn to seek personal revelation. Parents and adult leaders can help by mentoring, coaching and sharing personal experiences of receiving personal revelation. Don’t hesitate to ask the youth about their goals.

“Share a time when you were told by God to do something that is so far out of your comfort zone that the only way you can even think about achieving was by turning to God,” he said. “Share those experiences.”

Brother Wilcox concluded his remarks by saying, “We want these young people to know that this program is all about strengthening their faith and dependence on Jesus Christ.”

Brother Michael T. Nelson, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, cited a quote from President Russell M. Nelson’s worldwide devotional for youth in June 2018: “You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation.”

The Prophet later said, “We need to let the young people lead. Particularly those who have been called and set apart to serve in class and quorum presidencies. Priesthood authority will have been delegated to them. They will learn how to receive inspiration in leading their class or quorum.”

The Children and Youth Program can be utilized as a tool at home and at Church to accomplish these objectives. “Think of it as a tool more than a program,” Brother Nelson said.

The Church has developed several resources found in the Gospel Library to assist with the Children and Youth Program.

“All of this has been developed in order to grow leaders out of our youth,” Brother Nelson said. “As we use these tools — not as a program, but as tools to help them develop their capacity — we will find that our Heavenly Father is doing His work, through His leaders in His Church.”

Shifting from rules to principles in For the Strength of Youth

The Young Men general presidency focused Friday on the principle-based approach used in the new For the Strength of Youth standards guide. President Lund shared the five overarching doctrinal principles that helped guide the explanation of booklet’s standards.

  1. Jesus will help you.
  2. Love God, love your neighbor.
  3. Walk in God’s light.
  4. Your body is sacred.
  5. Truth will make you free.

President Lund said the most recent revision to the guide was not designed to give a list of “correct answers, but as a workbook teaching us how to make inspired choices, how to align our decisions now to be consistent with the decisions that we made when we entered mortality.”

Brother Wilcox said that one of the first pieces of feedback Church leaders received after the new guide was released was that some youth and adults felt the standards had been relaxed or completely removed.

“The Lord is inviting you to live in a higher and holier way — His way,” Brother Wilcox said. “This guide is not the first time we have been invited to live in a higher and holier way.”

Brother Wilcox then spoke of the Savior’s teachings during His mortal ministry when He taught of the higher law that moved from commandments forbidding murder and adultery to a higher plea that God’s followers not hate others or lust after another in their hearts.

“This Christianity stuff is not easy,” Brother Wilcox said. “And if young people are making the easy choice, they have to understand that they’re not making the Christian choice.”

As the newly sustained second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, Brother Nelson shared a recent experience he had with two young women who gave him feedback on the new guide.

Brother Bradley R. Wilcox speaks inside the Marriott Center with attendees of BYU Women’s Conference on Friday, May 5, 2023. | Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

The first said she had read the guide cover to cover and felt grateful for the trust she felt as she studied it.

The second young woman handed Brother Nelson a note that expressed a similar feeling. She wrote of her appreciation for the “leadership of the Church and to the Prophet for the trust” she felt.

Brother Nelson said this is part of what was hoped for with the revisions that were made. He pointed back to Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s comments as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2022 general conference.

“Is it wrong to have rules? Of course not. We all need them every day. But it is wrong to focus only on rules instead of focusing on the Savior. You need to know the whys and the hows and then consider the consequences of your choices,” Elder Uchtdorf said.

Brother Nelson called on the women in the audience to help lead the youth from the previous guide to the principles of the new one.

“We are truly the pioneers that must help bring these youth across the plains from focus on the rules to a focus on the foundational doctrine that supports the truths,” he said.

Concluding the presidency’s remarks on Friday, President Lund shared his testimony of the Savior.

“Jesus Christ is the only enduring source of hope, peace and joy,” he said.

“That is our hope, that by having young people engage the Savior in their decision making, early in their lives, a pattern will be formed that will help them get through the fog of modern life.”

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