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Church commissioner of education shares 5 prophetic emphases for teaching young people of the Church

Elder Clark G. Gilbert is encouraging Church educators to utilize new emphases in their curriculum, the way they teach and minister to students

As Elder Clark G. Gilbert, Church commissioner of education, summited the Malad Pass on a trip from Salt Lake City to Rexburg, Idaho, he received a distinct impression to listen again to President Russell M. Nelson’s Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults from last May.

As he crested the summit, Elder Gilbert pulled his car over to capture the impressions that would eventually lead to his remarks to seminary and institute instructors worldwide.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, Commissioner of the Church Educational System, speaks to teachers and administrators worldwide about the current prophetic emphases at the 2023 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion annual broadcast. | Screenshot from ChurchofJesusChrist.org

In those remarks, broadcast during the Jan. 27 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion annual training, he highlighted five prophetic themes, which he encouraged educators to utilize in their curriculum and in the way they teach and minister to students.

The five prophetic emphases are:

  1. Know your divine identity.
  2. Draw on the power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
  3. Let God prevail and follow His prophet.
  4. Teach truth with love.
  5. Take charge of your testimony.

“We live in perilous times,” Elder Gilbert told instructors. “But the Lord has prepared a ‘pattern in all things’ so that we need not be deceived. Part of that pattern is the presence of a ‘prophet in the land’ to teach us truth. Are we listening, and is it impacting how we teach and minister to our students?”

He was joined at the broadcast by Young Men General President Steven J. Lund and Chad H Webb, administrator for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, who also announced changes to the program, including updates to seminary course credit.

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1. Know your divine identity

“Many young adults today are struggling because they do not understand their true identity,” Elder Gilbert said. In the worldwide devotional, President Nelson asks: “Who are you? First and foremost, you are a child of God. Second, as a member of the Church you are a child of the covenant. And third, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

President Nelson further taught: “There are various labels that may be very important to you, of course. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that other designations and identifiers are not significant. I am simply saying that no identifier should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations: ‘child of God,’ ‘child of the covenant’ and ‘disciple of Jesus Christ.’”

Elder Gilbert then “strongly commended” President Nelson’s full remarks as a central resources to religious educators working the with young people of the Church.

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2. Draw on the power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement

In studying the words of the Prophet, Elder Gilbert said he has recognized a pattern in many of his statements. First, the Prophet recognizes the challenges being faced in the latter days. He then follows with a promise that individuals can overcome those challenges and their anxieties when they turn to the Savior and draw upon His power. 

“When I first recognized this pattern, I thought that the reference to Jesus Christ meant that if I anchored my testimony on the Savior, I could withstand the trials that were coming in the last days. But increasingly, I also believe that President Nelson is calling us to be like the Savior,” Elder Gilbert said.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert speaks at the 2023 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion annual broadcast.
Elder Clark G. Gilbert, Commissioner of the Church Educational System, speaks to teachers and administrators worldwide about the current prophetic emphases at the 2023 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion annual broadcast. | Screenshot from ChurchofJesusChrist.org

3. Let God prevail and follow His prophet

To help young adults know their divine identity and draw on the power of Jesus Christ, educators must teach them to put God first and follow His prophet. 

“Nowhere has this message been taught more powerfully than in President Nelson’s charge to let God prevail,” Elder Gilbert said. “As if conducting an interview with the entire Church, the Prophet asks us the following six questions:

  • “Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? 
  • “Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? 
  • “Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day? 
  • “Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? 
  • “Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? 
  • “Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?”

Elder Gilbert spoke of a lesson he learned during a stake leadership training during a time when he lamented leaving an academic career to pursue a different path the Lord was preparing for him in Rexburg, Idaho. “Every time we let God prevail in our lives, we are giving up our natural self for something better in Jesus Christ.”

The pattern of letting God prevail also requires seeking and receiving personal revelation as taught by President Nelson in “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives.”

“Learning this pattern of receiving personal revelation is the first step to letting God prevail in our lives. It will help our young adults find and receive revelation that will bless them in this critical season of their lives,” Elder Gilbert said.

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4. Teach truth with love

Those who pay attention to the way the prophets and apostles teach will notice a pattern of teaching truth, even in the face of criticism, Elder Gilbert noted. “They do this with love, empathy, and Christlike concern for others, but they still teach the truths they are commanded to teach.”

President Nelson embodied this as he taught of eternal identity in his worldwide message to young adults and as he taught about the relationship between love and the laws of God. President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, also taught this in an address at Ensign College last year, Elder Gilbert said.

In that address, President Oaks described five ways to teach truth with love:

  • Avoid overly contentious settings
  • Love others, find common ground, even when we disagree
  • Hold to truth, even in our outreach to others
  • Be a light to the world
  • Stay anchored in Jesus 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to BYU faculty and staff about getting this balance right: “[W]e have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people. As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, ‘Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments.’ We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives.”

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5. Take charge of your testimony

Pay attention to when the Prophet repeats something and pay careful attention when he makes a plea, Elder Gilbert said.

In his latest general conference address, President Nelson did both when he reiterated a plea made earlier to young adults last May. “I plead with you to take charge of your testimony. Work for it. Own it. Care for it. Nurture it so that it will grow. Feed it truth. Don’t pollute it with the false philosophies of unbelieving men and women and then wonder why your testimony is waning.”

Taking charge of one’s testimony means encouraging young adults to faithfully address their questions, Elder Gilbert told educators. “A pattern for asking questions is outlined in the S&I Doctrinal Mastery resource page entitled ‘Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge.’”

Elder Gilbert referenced an address given by Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, who spoke of the difference between primary and secondary questions. “Primary questions are at the core of a testimony. They include knowing God is our Father, Jesus is the Christ, and the Book of Mormon is true. Secondary questions include questions about details of Church history, polygamy, and priesthood authority. Secondary questions can and should be answered, but they are unending and rarely lead to a testimony without conviction in primary questions,” Elder Gilbert explained.

In conclusion, Elder Gilbert encouraged religious educators to study the foundational addresses referenced in the five prophetic themes. “Know them. Incorporate them into your teaching and your curriculum. More importantly, integrate them into the way you respond to questions and minister to the needs of your students.”

He testified, “I know that a prophet of God leads us in these perilous times.”

President Steven J. Lund, Young Men General President, speaks to teachers and administrators worldwide about family-centered, Church-supported teaching at the 2023 Seminaries and Institutes of Religion annual broadcast. | Screenshot from ChurchofJesusChrist.org

What works for creating connection

The Church goes to great lengths to understand what works and what does not, Young General President Steven J. Lund told seminary and institute teachers during their annual broadcast. “You are actually at the vortex of several of the things that create lasting connections with the Lord.”

He then shared several things they know work to help youth make lasting connections with the Lord. “So you can lean in where it matters most.”

First is “showing up.” On average, youth who show up for seminary end up having better lifelong outcomes: they are more likely to become endowed, serve missions, marry in the temple. “Those who attend four years of seminary gain a connection to the gospel that seldom breaks,” President Lund said.

Second, “when youth pay a full tithe, they form a link with Heavenly Father that remains. Every payment creates a new bond of sacrifice and connection. I hope every S&I teacher is constantly improving the way they teach the connecting power of tithing.”

Third, “FSY conferences work,” he said of the For the Strength of Youth conferences being held annually.

So what’s the “secret sauce” of FSY? President Lund asked. 

“Part of it is unplugging participants from their day-to-day distractions for a week which puts them in a highly teachable, focused frame of mind.”

Gospel teachers provide tools youth need when they drive home on Saturday after the conference, President Lund said. “Church research confirms that one of the most powerful triggers of lifelong discipleship has been relationships with faithful adults who have figured out how to navigate life’s challenges and find joy in Christ.”

Fourth is prayer. 

President Lund related how when he and Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon were reporting to President Nelson about the rollout of FSY program, the Prophet leaned forward in his chair and said, “We must teach them to pray, to Whom they pray and the language of prayer.”

Fifth is the “For the Strength of Youth: A Guide for Making Choices.” 

This guide teaches youth to replace their focus on rules with a focus on a relationship with the Savior and becoming like Him, President Lund said. “The old adage, ‘What would Jesus do?,’ remains a fantastic rule of life.” 

President Lund noted the new reading requirements for seminary are consistent with the principle-based, Spirit-guided approach to making decisions.

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“Thank you again for the indispensable force toward lasting conversion you are to the youth of this, the Lord’s Church and Kingdom,” President Lund told instructors.

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