Adult youth leaders of a ward in Sandy, Utah, looked over the calendar for the month of January. “Should we have a joint activity this month?” Bishop Scott Anderson asked.
The month was full. The leaders were tired. Several events involving the youth had already happened. So they decided no.
But that quickly changed with a group text message involving the priests quorum presidency. The young men followed up with the Young Women class presidency, and together they decided they wanted an activity and began to plan it.
“We swallowed our humility pill and said, ‘OK, how can we help you?’” Bishop Anderson recalled with a chuckle.
For many adult leaders, the transition to allow the youth to lead has been easier said than done. But as Bishop Anderson observed, “there’s a manifestation of what everybody, including the prophets, have been telling us for years — that capacity in these youth is greater than we might have given them credit for or responsibility to rise up to.”
Bishop Anderson — along with his counselors, the Young Women presidency and Aaronic Priesthood advisers — is beginning to recognize the strength, capability and willingness of the youth in his ward, especially those who have been called to lead in classes and quorums. He is seeing that capacity in action in the ward youth council — a new council to replace the bishopric youth committee as announced by Elder Quentin L. Cook during the October general conference.
The Young Men and Young Women general presidencies recently sat down with the Church News to discuss what they hope adult leaders know about the ward youth council and what youth can gain and contribute as they rise up and lead in the Lord’s work of salvation and exaltation.
1. Youth are set apart to receive revelation. Trust them.
Youth serving in class and quorum presidencies have been called of God and set apart under priesthood authority to lead the members of their classes and quorums. With this role comes the responsibility to minister to and receive inspiration for those whom they serve, said Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president.
“The youth are very capable,” she said. “They are ready and willing to lead. And with adult leaders as mentors, they will quickly grow in skill and experience.”
By participating in the ward youth council, “we hope the youth will realize their capacity to receive revelation, be able to share that in a council, receive additional inspiration as they counsel and know what to do with it,” said Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
One of the roadblocks Bishop Anderson has seen in allowing the youth to lead in his ward is he or other adult leaders feel they need to propose a solution, especially when there is just the slightest bit of hesitation with the youth leadership.
When they counsel and plan, he has learned to “step back and exercise a little more patience” and not expect everything to go perfectly. “It’s OK when it doesn’t go according to the blueprint in the adult leaders’ minds every time,” he said.
Lucas Hansen, 18, the priests quorum first assistant in Bishop Anderson’s ward, described the increased responsibility to lead as “intimidating but exciting.”
“It’s scary being the one that has to lead and get everyone together and coordinate with the young women,” Hansen said. “But just realizing that you can do it and that even though you might be the leader, you have all the help that you need around you with your bishop, your advisers and even your counselors.”
2. The ward youth council is patterned after the ward council.
Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, said, “What used to be looked at as just a calendaring meeting is now patterned after the ward council. The same things that happen there can happen in the ward youth council — but led by the youth.”
The ward youth council is not just a name change from the bishopric youth committee. “This is about engaging the youth and benefitting from their capabilities and strength in the work of salvation,” said Brother Douglas D. Holmes, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency.
The purpose of the ward youth council is to “help individuals build testimonies, receive saving ordinances, keep covenants and become consecrated followers of Jesus Christ.”
The bishop presides over the council, which usually meets monthly and is composed of the bishopric, one of the bishop’s priests quorum assistants, the teachers and deacons quorum presidents, the Young Women class presidency (if just one class) or presidents (if multiple classes), and the Young Women president (See Handbook 2, 18.2.9).
During ward youth council, the youth counsel together about concerns or challenges facing the youth, and their families. They discuss topics such as ministering, missionary work, retention, activation and temple and family history work. This is also a time for the bishop to teach leadership skills to the youth.
Just as the bishop delegates assignments in ward council, “we hope the same thing happens in the ward youth council. Then there is follow-up so they understand the pattern,” said Brother M. Joseph Brough, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency.
“Youth will take ideas or concerns from their presidency meetings to the ward youth council and take information from the council back to their presidency meetings,” said Brother Owen, just as a Relief Society president or elders quorum president would do for their organization.
“Quorum and class presidencies can then engage all the members of their classes and quorums in meeting the needs of the ward. As we engage the youth, they become a mighty resource to bless the ward,” added Sister Cordon.
This meeting is not for planning activities, but coordinating activities and making assignments may be a portion of the agenda, Brother Brough added.
3. This is one way youth can participate in the Lord’s battalion. He needs them.
President Russell M. Nelson has called the youth of the Church to enlist in the Lord’s youth battalion to gather Israel. “The ward youth council provides a way to fulfill the prophet’s charge to do that,” Brother Holmes said. “The Lord needs the youth.”
As they participate, “they will see themselves outside of their quorum or class responsibility and start seeing what they can contribute to help the bishop, the ward and each other,” Sister Cordon said.
When it comes to involving the youth, “oftentimes we don’t want to stress them out, so we withhold responsibility. It’s too easy for the adults to take over because the youth are so busy,” said Sister Michelle Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
Yes, they might have football practice or art class or piano lessons, but “we can’t be afraid of giving the youth responsibility,” she said.
“We hope the youth see themselves as a key component in helping the bishop with the concerns of the ward,” added Sister Craven.
With that responsibility, the youth will learn, grow and feel needed. “They are a generation that needs meaning in their lives,” Brother Holmes said.
“They want to be a part of a cause. We want the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of salvation to be their cause,” Sister Cordon said.
4. It’s a chance for youth and adults to learn from each other.
While the ward youth council is an opportunity for the youth to learn, “the adults have so much to learn from the youth,” Sister Craig said. “It’s an opportunity for both the youth and adults to learn from heaven and each other.”
“If we’re there as leaders to listen and learn of what the youth discuss, I think we’ll find a huge shift and resource in helping the ward move forward,” Sister Cordon said. The youth have “fresh ideas” and a different perspective.
The environment created by the bishopric and the Young Women president in ward youth council is critical, Brother Brough said. “We want an environment where the youth can speak up and say what’s on their mind.”
It’s also important for the youth to see that the bishop trusts them. “Here’s an opportunity for the youth to be right with the keyholder of the ward and learn and watch and build relationships,” he said.
5. The ward youth council is a preparation for future callings.
In addition to leadership experience, youth will gain communication skills from participating in the ward youth council — skills they will use for the rest of their life.
For example, young men and young women will learn how to work together and counsel together. “As young men and young women share their thoughts and ideas — and listen to one another — they are learning relationship skills that will bless them now and in the future, including dating and marriage,” Brother Owen said.
Experience in ward youth council will also benefit missionaries. “When missionaries get in the mission field, they are going to be attending ward council and participating in mission leadership councils,” he said. “If we begin now, counseling together will be familiar to them. They’ll understand it.”
These youth are the future leaders of the Church. “Really, we’re training future Relief Society presidents and future bishops,” Brother Brough said.
“Imagine how much better they’ll be in ward, mission, and even family councils if we help our youth learn in this setting how to really effectively counsel,” Brother Holmes said.
Sister Craig added, “As youth begin to see themselves as really needed, utilized and engaged in the work of salvation, it will have a ripple effect — they will see they have a place in the Church and stay engaged as they leave Young Men and Young Women to go to elders quorum and Relief Society.
“Their testimony and faith in Jesus Christ will have been strengthened as they have these experiences and learn what it’s like to seek and receive revelation on behalf of others.”