Brother Brad Wilcox reflects on leading the youth through a time of change and transition

Sustained as first counselor in the Young Men general presidency during April general conference, Brother Brad Wilcox looks back and reflects on his time serving as second counselor.

Years before serving as a counselor in the Young Men general presidency, Brother Bradley R. Wilcox and his wife, Sister Debi Wilcox, sent their reluctant 14-year-old son to Especially for Youth at Brigham Young University. 

They worried that he “didn’t have a spiritual bone in his body.” The teen came home different — more focused and sensitive to spiritual things. Now, years later, he is serving in a bishopric and mentoring the youth in his own ward. 

That is what Brother Wilcox observed repeatedly last summer — and again this summer — as Latter-day Saint youth around the globe participated in For the Strength of Youth conferences. Over and over again, those “who were not sure they wanted to come” went home different and better. 

Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, sustained as first counselor in the Young Men general presidency during the April 2023 general conference. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It has been “phenomenal to see the effect [FSY conferences] are having on youth worldwide.”

Brother Wilcox — who was released as second counselor in the Young Men general presidency and sustained as first counselor during April 2023 general conference — said this has been an exciting time to serve Latter-day Saint youth. The general Young Men and Young Women presidencies are working together regularly, the Church’s Children and Youth program is helping young people learn to lead, a new “For the Strength of Youth” standards guide is connecting youth to the Savior, and FSY conferences “are reaching more youth than ever before,” he said.

Bradley Ray Wilcox, 63, was born in Provo, Utah, on Dec. 25, 1959, to Ray T. Wilcox and Val C. Wilcox. He grew up in Provo, except for a few childhood years spent in Ethiopia.  

While serving a full-time mission in the Chile Viña del Mar Mission, Brother Wilcox learned an important lesson. “When times got hard, I had to stop and say, ‘Why am I here? Where is God? Does He know that I’m here? Is He aware of me?’ That started a process of reading the scriptures, praying and learning. With the help of a wonderful mission president, Gerald J. Day, I came to know for myself in a much deeper way that God is there and He is involved in our lives. Chile will always be sacred ground for me because that’s where I strengthened my testimony and found a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”

Upon his return home, Brother Wilcox met Deborah Gunnell. “I first met her twin brother and was impressed with him, so I said, ‘You don’t happen to have a twin sister I could marry, do you?’ He said: ‘Actually, I do! She is finishing her mission in Guatemala in a few weeks,’” Brother Wilcox recalled. “‘You should come when she speaks in sacrament meeting.’ I did, and that was where Debi and I met.”

Sister Debi Wilcox said, “I wrote in my journal that night that I met a guy by the name of Brad Wilcox and he seems like a really nice guy. What stood out is the love that emanated from him.”

The couple — who have four children — married a year later in the Provo Utah Temple on Oct. 7, 1982. 

The Young Men general presidency, President Steven J. Lund, Brother Bradley R. Wilcox and Brother Michael T. Nelson.
The Young Men general presidency — President Steven J. Lund, center, Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, first counselor, left, and Brother Michael T. Nelson, second counselor — was sustained during the April 2023 general conference on April 1, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Brother Wilcox received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brigham Young University and his doctorate in education from the University of Wyoming. He taught elementary school for three years and is currently a professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU.

Since 1985, most of his summers were devoted to BYU’s EFY program. “That program is where I found my love of working with youth,” he said. “I’ve been involved with EFY and FSY for my whole adult life, and I’m thrilled to be able to see this program now reach so many more kids. I know the difference it can make.”

He served as a bishop and in a stake presidency, as president of the Chile Santiago East Mission and on the Sunday School general board.

In April 2020, Brother Wilcox was called to serve in the Young Men general presidency with President Steven J. Lund and now-Elder Ahmad S. Corbitt, the former first counselor in the Young Men general presidency who was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April. During the past three years the presidency led Latter-day Saint young men not only through the COVID-19 pandemic, but also through a time of change and transition — helping, among other things, to launch a new “For the Strength of Youth” standards guide and working to implement the Children and Youth program.

“We’re seeing more interaction between the organizations,” Brother Wilcox said. “There are a lot of groups in the Church that have responsibility for the youth: seminary, Sunday School, Young Men, Young Women and Primary. I see a lot more ‘linking of arms’ as we try to go forward together.”

Children and Youth

Launched in January 2020, the Children and Youth program offers daily opportunities for young people to prayerfully discover their own path of discipleship, said Brother Wilcox.

The program’s three areas of focus — gospel learning, service and activities, and personal development — help strengthen the rising generation’s faith in Jesus Christ as they are actively involved in His work. 

In the Children and Youth introductory video, President Russell M. Nelson described a new approach to gospel learning and growth that has been designed especially for today’s children and youth. Instead of specific assignments, they will be asked to counsel with the Lord about how they can grow in a balanced way. 

“It will be rewarding and fun, but it will also take some effort on your part,” President Nelson said in the video. “You will need to seek personal revelation,” he continued. “You will need to choose for yourself how to act on it. Sometimes the Spirit may prompt you to do things that are difficult. I think you are up to the challenge. You can do hard things.”

President Susan H. Porter Primary General President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her counselors Sister Tracy Y. Browning Second Counselor and Sister Amy A. Wright First Counselor, listen as the Young Men general presidency: Brother Ahmad Corbitt first counselor, Brother Steven J. Lund president and Brother Bradley R. Wilcox second counselor announce them at BYU’s Education week in Provo on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Through the Children and Youth program, young men and young women have learned that “goals are not an end in and of themselves,” but a way for them to come to understand personal revelation, said Brother Wilcox. “That end is to help the youth learn personal revelation — to learn that they can improve through revelation, and they can turn to heaven for strength to do just that,” he said.

Part of the success of the program is the help elders quorums and Relief Societies are giving bishops — which allows them to have more time with the youth.

 “We are seeing bishops feeling more accountable for the youth and feeling a desire to interact with the youth, to get to know them, to build a relationship with them,” Brother Wilcox said.

Brother Wilcox said he would like to see more celebrations when young people accomplish something personally or with their quorum or class. “Just as we have wards gather to talk about making plans, we have to have wards gather to celebrate when young people are making progress and accomplishing those plans.”

For the Strength of Youth

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced during October 2022 general conference a revised “For the Strength of Youth” standards guide to help youth learn truths and make inspired decisions.

Subtitled “A Guide for Making Choices,” it focuses on gospel principles and agency. 

Brother Wilcox hopes that as a result of the new guide, “young people and their parents will learn to focus on the why of what they are doing.”

“We would love for young people to not just say, ‘I don’t drink coffee, I don’t drink alcohol, because I’m a member of the Church.’ We would love for them to say, ‘I don’t do these things because I know who I am, and my body is sacred.’”

Brother Wilcox says he loves the fact that in the “For the Strength of Youth” guide “every principle is connected to a temple recommend question.”

“This is all about being able to go to the temple, and the temple is where they will draw closer to Christ and can receive His power to help them get through anything,” he said.

Brother Bradley S. Wilcox and Sister Debi Wilcox, center, take a selfie after April 2023 general conference in the Conference Center. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Lessons from youth

Just before April general conference, Brother Wilcox spoke to youth from five stakes in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wanting them to know of his confidence in the teens, he promised to wear a red tie during general conference, which he did. “I hope that red tie let them know that I am pulling for them and they are loved,” he said.

While serving in the Young Men general presidency, Brother Wilcox said he has watched noble youth “stand against the tide of the world. The world is just flooding over them. And yet they have the courage to stand against that current and stand for Christ even when that is not always considered popular or politically correct.

“I hope they know that when they stand with God and His prophets, they never stand alone,” Brother Wilcox said.

That is one of the beautiful lessons of FSY conferences. “It brings them together, and they realize that they are not the only ones — that there are others like them — who are standing up for the Savior.”

“I have seen youth who are overcoming the world, and against great odds are choosing to stay strong in the Church, choosing to stay focused on what matters most. I see them all over the world. I am so proud of them. I love them.”

Map of Utah with a dot and line to Provo, Utah, in the north central part of the state.
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, was born in Provo, Utah. | Church News graphic

About Brother Wilcox

Family: Born Dec. 25, 1959, in Provo, Utah, to Ray T. and Val C. Wilcox. Married Deborah Gunnell on Oct. 7, 1982, in the Provo Utah Temple. They are the parents of four children. 

Education: Earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brigham Young University in 1985 and 1990 and a doctorate in education from the University of Wyoming in 1994. 

Employment: Professional career in education. Currently a professor in BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture. 

Church service: Previously served as a Young Men general presidency second counselor, Sunday School general advisory council member, Chile Santiago East Mission president, stake presidency counselor, bishop and full-time missionary in the Chile Viña del Mar Mission.

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