Episode 35: President Steven J. Lund and President Bonnie H. Cordon on reengaging in the Children and Youth program post-pandemic

In His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ declared, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:14). As parents, teachers and leaders of children and youth, it is important to continue to invite them to come unto Christ.

General youth leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund, are aware of the recent trials our youth have experienced amid the complicated coronavirus pandemic. President Cordon and President Lund join this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss reintegrating the recently launched Children and Youth program of the Church into our homes, worship, service and social activities. 

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Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”

In his mortal ministry, Jesus Christ declared: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” As parents, teachers and leaders of youth, it is important to continue to invite children to come unto Christ. General youth leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund, are aware of the recent trials our youth have experienced amid the complicated coronavirus pandemic, President Cordon and President Lund join us today on the Church News podcast to discuss reintegrating the youth programs of the Church into our homes, worship, service and social activities. President Cordon, President Lund; welcome to the Church News podcast. 

President Steven J. Lund: Thank you. It’s nice to be here with you.

President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president
President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Sarah, this is so fun to be with you and be on this podcast. Much to talk about.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, Sister Cordon, I was hoping to start with you because on Nov. 17, 2019, you participated in a huge Face to Face broadcast that got everyone so excited about Children and Youth. Tell us about the energy that went into the launch of this great program and what the Church was so looking forward to about it.

2:08  

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, and I think you’re referring to the one that Elder (Gerrit W.) Gong was hosting. Is that the one we’re talking about?

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yes, that is. 

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Now, that was remarkable, wasn’t it? I think we had more viewers on that Face to Face than probably any other because we were all anxious to know what the Lord had revealed. And it’s quite a program. In fact, every time I think about this program, I think, “Why, the Lord gave us quite a gem.” But that broadcast, I would say to listeners: go back and watch it. There’s so much good in that broadcast, and we learned so much as it was outlined. But one of the things that has been remarkable to me was for us to realize that revelation was continuing. I thought I knew a lot about the program back then, but as time has evolved, the Lord has given to us line upon line, precept upon precept, more about the purpose of the program and how it can help us our lives and the lives of our youth and our children. And so, yeah, it was a remarkable Face to Face. 

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, middle, is joined by President Joy D. Jones, President Bonnie H. Cordon, President Stephen W. Owen and two youth hosts during a Face to Face event on the new Children and Youth program in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Nov. 17, 2019.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, middle, is joined by President Joy D. Jones, President Bonnie H. Cordon, President Stephen W. Owen and two youth hosts during a Face to Face event on the new Children and Youth program in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Screenshot from ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Sarah Jane Weaver: And President Lund, just as the program gets launched, everyone’s excited, wards and families are starting to dig in and get everything accomplished — and then the pandemic hits, and things kind of get put on hold. What impact did that have?

3:29  

President Steven J. Lund: Yeah, you’re right. When Sister Cordon did that Face to Face, I was an innocent bystander. I hadn’t been called yet. We were excited to see what would happen cheering from the sidelines and then just about the time our presidency was called — I don’t think there’s a causation here — but suddenly, the world dropped into a year of pandemic and disaster. So, not every calling in the Church comes with such drama, but ours did. 

So, it’s been fun to see how what played out. You know, the interesting thing to me is that what Sister Cordon and Elder Gong and that team announced was a home-centered, Church-supported youth program. And then the pandemic made it so — forced that result, where we had a year to practice actually doing what we were going to be doing from our homes, under mandatory lockdown. So, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about what might have happened, what could have happened, what should have happened, but really, Heavenly Father, as has been said, wasn’t surprised by this pandemic. And important things happened this past year or two that are going to redound in the future to our benefit, I think. 

4:39  

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, just noting from what you just said — Yes, home-centered, but we learned how to support better as a Church. And I think our class and quorum presidencies really rose to the occasion when you talk about Church-supported: those that had been set apart and were guided and directed really made a difference during the pandemic. I think they were a real force for helping each other through this difficult time.

5:06  

President Steven J. Lund: Yet some youth programs, some families, some individuals managed better than others along the way. But all of us kind of learned month by month, and got better and better at engaging from afar. One of the fascinating things, to me, is a few months into this, we were in a presidency meeting and kind of lamenting: “Wow, we had to cancel all these global flights that we were going to go on to go out and train, and we don’t get to get in front of our youth, in front of our people,” and, you know, it’s kind of a sad thing. Then we started adding up, because of Zoom, how many people that would actually be able to talk to. Sister Cordon and I did a fireside a few months ago in New Zealand, and the (Pacific) Area presidency had us just speaking to a stake in New Zealand, and then it occurred to them: “Well, wait a minute. We just have to push two more buttons, and we can have our whole area involved in this thing.” And so at the last minute, they just engaged the whole area. So we were talking to everybody — not just New Zealand, but Australia and the South Pacific. And so we got on thinking: we were talking to this little group in New Zealand, and I hadn’t really prepared to talk exactly. And there were, I don’t know, the numbers were 200,000 to 300,000 computers that tuned into that. And so, because of the pandemic — we’ve been training stakes and areas on how Children and Youth works — we’ve surely trained more priesthood leaders and Young Women leaders around the world than any presidency that has gone before between us.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, and even to talk to you — I just got done doing an FSY with Brazil, and half of their youth were on that FSY. Now, there is no other way I could have spoken to all of those wonderful youth. So it’s normal and natural now to get on and do a video conference. That’s remarkable. There’s nothing like walking or talking with people, though.

 6:55  

President Steven J. Lund: But in no previous year would that have been possible — to talk to that many people no matter how you tried to bring them together, so Heavenly Father knows what He’s doing. We can always wring our hands about what might have been, but what happened, as is His way, was probably much, much better.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And you’re absolutely right — there were so many things that we learned during that year. Our family might have been the one that learned slower; it took a little while for us to actually adapt to how we were going to make this look. But thankfully, we had a lot of opportunities. Tell us: What is the end goal of the Children and Youth program?

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak during a presentation titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak during a presentation titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

 7:33  

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, I think that as we stop and ponder: “What is the end goal?” Hopefully, it’s really to strengthen our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to come closer to Him, to know Him. But as we come to know the Savior, no one is settled to know Him by ourselves. And then what happens is, everyone wants others to know Him also. And so the end goal is we strengthen our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; it’s to let others also know about the good news. And as these youth come to know the Savior — and they’re starting to progress, and they’re doing as the Savior did to grow spiritually and physically, intellectually, and socially — they are remarkable, because they’re always putting an arm around someone else, and letting that person know about the Savior. So I think the end goal is just that: Help them know the Savior. But it’s a process. 

President Steven J. Lund: It really is. When President (Russell M.) Nelson called me to this position, he called me and then the first words out of his mouth were, “You know, I’ve called the youth into the Lord’s battalions, right?” And I said, “Yes, President Nelson. And I know they’re listening.” And he said, “It’s really important that they do.” 

So in order for the youth to engage in the Lord’s battalions — battalions are led by leaders. This is one of the things we’re trying to learn is what it means to be a Christlike leader in furtherance of his cause. So job one around here is give them a rock-ribbed testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. And when that is in place, then life really holds few horrors for them. And then the next thing is to make leaders of them so they can bring others under Christ.

Read more: 6 reasons why President Lund and other Church leaders have faith in the Children and Youth program

9:12  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and that’s something that doesn’t always come natural for those of us who work with the youth. We sort of like to tell them what to do, and what we’re learning is that it’s best when they lead and we follow.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: You know, isn’t that interesting? I think there’s so many times as adults that we realize if the youth don’t have their hands on what they’re doing, they won’t learn it. But yet we forget that at times with church. The analogy is learning how to drive a car, sitting in the backseat, watching your mom and dad drive. You really don’t know how to drive a car. But then to be the mentor in the passenger’s side where the youth have the keys and have the control, and the gas and the brake. Now, it’s not for the faint of heart. Just stop and think about this. Those people that have been called to be parents at this time, those that have been called to be leaders at this time, it’s because the Lord trusts them that they would be in the passenger seat giving such clear and concise directions that they will be okay driving the car in this youth program.

10:25  

Sarah Jane Weaver: When you know, there’s three areas of focus in the Children and Youth program and they are: gospel learning; personal development; and service and activities. It’s most likely, I’m thinking, the service and activities that we’ve missed the most during the pandemic, just because of the natural limitations. So we’re sort of to a point now where we can reengage in those things. Let’s talk about what you hope that will look like.

President Steven J. Lund: It’s important to think about what we’re trying to accomplish with services and activities. It’s not that we’re trying to clean up the neighborhood or mow people’s lawns. That’s a nice little side benefit. But something really important happens when youth learn to organize themselves; quorum presidencies and class presidencies learn to organize themselves around a good deed and a good activity. And then when they get outside and start doing things in service of others, it turns out the Savior always comes along when you’re in His service. And so they come to know Him, the keeper of the vineyard, while they’re working in His vineyard. 

And so what we’re hoping will happen is that young people will go out and engage in meaningful service and come to love each other, and come to invite others to serve Him too. And that way, that testimony, which may be a little bit intellectual, and maybe just a little bit visceral at first, becomes experiential, to the things that they do. 

One of the good differences that the youth will make by getting involved in the work of salvation and exaltation is that they’re going to be talking to each other. And we have to find people when they’re seeking, and many people are seeking in their youth, in their teenage years, and they get hardened as they get older in life. And so our youth have a capacity to go out and find them where they are, meet them where they are, and teach them while they’re teachable. And that’s an advantage that grownups don’t have.

12:25  

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And that applies to our even younger youth that are 8, 9 and 10. So don’t underestimate, you know, we always think we need to entertain these youth: allow them to be a part of the process and more will come to know the Savior. 

You know, It’s an interesting thing — as I asked people, “what is the Children and Youth program?” Many of them have that same hope that they will come to know the Savior. And how we know the Savior is by doing His work and doing as the Savior did, is to help people know more about why we’re here. I’m always intrigued that our prophet, in 2018, the first group that he invited to gather Israel were the youth. And they are the battalion, but he asked them to gather Israel. So really, when you think about the Children and Youth program, it’s a tool to accomplish the work of salvation and exaltation, or to accomplish the gathering. So, it’s the structure in which the youth do the work. And so by knowing that, it’s no longer just an activity, like President Lund said, to clean up the community — it’s actually something that they can do and use to help bring that quorum together, and come to know the Savior or bring that class together, to laugh, love and make sure everyone belongs. When you have those three areas, there are actually some of the three areas that will help us in the gathering of Israel.

13:58  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yesterday, I had the chance to go to youth conference for my stake. We had 300 youth together, and I was so surprised at how much everyone enjoyed being together after not spending time together for so many months. The youth were so energized. I hope that that enthusiasm continues for a long time.

President Steven J. Lund: But now that you’ve said that, we actually want to interview you and want to know what happened, and what worked and what didn’t, because these amazing activities are springing up all around us now that the sun has come out, and we’re getting out of school and amazing things are happening. And we see that same thing happen when you put these kids together and just empower them a little bit. They just really flourish. 

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak during a presentation titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund speak during a presentation titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

14:47 

Sarah Jane Weaver:  It was surprising to me that everything felt so normal for the first time in so long. There was so much excitement. And then there was a lot of sharing of testimonies and strengthening of one another. It was really, really fun. I’m wondering: how do we keep that enthusiasm? And how do we as parents and leaders and others, motivate and inspire the youth?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, I think you said something very important there, Sarah — “how do we?” — I think we change that: “How do they?” These youth, these class and quorum presidencies, they’ve been set apart and hands have been laid on their head that said, “You are the class or quorum president or the first counselor,” and as we help these youth be the vehicle that they lead the classroom forum: we’re going to see miracles. They know how to do this better than any group, because they’ve been set apart, and they can receive the revelation and inspiration that they need for their calling. And I think that’s one of the keys for these youth, is to allow them to lead. Revelation — you know, the prophet said that we all need to learn how the heavens speak to us. And (there’s) no better way than to be engaged in the Lord’s work and be on your knees praying for your class members. 

Summer youth activities are making a comeback, and Young Men, Young Women general leaders want them to be a priority

I was talking to one young group, actually with a quorum, and we were talking about how revelation works in his quorum presidencies. And he said, “Well, I kind of think of it as mundane revelation, it just kind of flows. And ideas come, we act on those ideas, and it blesses our quorum.” And one young woman said, “You know, I have been in a class presidency since I was 12 years old.” And this girl was 17. And she said, “I never realized that I needed to seek for revelation in my calling,” and she said, “I’m on my knees, praying for these girls.” And with tears in her eyes, she said, “Sister Cordon, the Lord is anxious to get answers of how I can bless them.” And so the opportunity for these youth to lead and to make a difference is shining through. It’s amazing.

17:09  

President Steven J. Lund: That’s a great answer. If I can supplement it — Sister Cordon’s actually taught me this — whenever somebody asked her, “Yeah, but you know, we’re trying to figure out this program, how do we …” and no matter how they finish that sentence, her answer tends to be, “I don’t know, and you probably don’t get to know either. We’re going to have to go to the people who’ve had priesthood power and authority invested in them to find the answer to that. You turn that question over to your youth, and they’ll give you an answer about how to stay motivated, or about how to do this or how to do that. The youth will figure that out.” As unlikely as that sounds to us adults, it always seems to work and always seems to play out, as soon as they feel empowered as they feel the weight of the moment. They’re calling, they respond with inspiration. The Children and Youth program is a work of curious workmanship, and the answers of how you’re going to build your particular little ship are going to be unique to these wards, and those answers are going to flow through those young people.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Ask the class and quorum presidencies. I’m always intrigued — I have to give this as one of my favorite scriptures, so I’m just going to share. When we think of the 2,000 stripling warriors, I think those are youth that really led out in something they knew nothing about. They didn’t know anything about war, and so many times as we look at these young 12-year-olds, and they’ve just been set apart to be a class president, you think, “You know nothing about this, but the Lord does.” 

The "Two Thousand Young Warriors (Two Thousand Stripling Warriors" is by Arnold Friberg, ands show the army of young men, also known as the Army of Helaman, in the Book of Mormon.
The “Two Thousand Young Warriors (Two Thousand Stripling Warriors” is by Arnold Friberg, ands show the army of young men, also known as the Army of Helaman, in the Book of Mormon. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

And I think of those 2,000 young men who knew nothing about the war and had Helaman as their guide. Helaman comes to them, because they were in a sticky situation. And they had been — Antipus, they had been kind of a decoy for Antipus’s army. And Helaman comes to him and he talks to the young men. He says, “Whether they (the Lamanites) were overtaken by Antipus we knew not, but I said unto my men,” — and I love how he addressed the 2,000 warriors as “my men  — “Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare.” So he’s giving them the worst-case scenario. And then he says this important question: “Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?” Now there in that question, he gave them the stewardship to answer whether they were going to go into battle. And their answer came when they said, “Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone” (see Alma 56: 43-46).

Now, what I love about this is that Helaman could have easily made the decision, but he doesn’t. He gives the decision to the boys who know nothing about the war; but he counsels with them, and as he gets an answer, what do they feel? They, to themselves, testify of God. They have experiences with the Spirit, and they’re the ones that are committed, and they go into battle. So that answer right there is much how we lead as adult leaders, as we work with youth leaders. 

20:35 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that you bring up the stripling warriors, because what we know about them is that they had great parents, and parents and leaders are so vital to the Children and Youth program. What about the youth that don’t have a lot of help at home?

President Steven J. Lund: Well, the other half of that story is that they had great parents, but they weren’t victorious because they had great parents, they were victorious because they were great sons. And those great sons come from all kinds of families, the way that there are a lot of our youth who don’t have fully supportive families. We all come from a spectrum of support variously, but that is why the organization is built around quorum and class presidencies, wards and stakes. There are echelons of support that are available to these young people. And so if the encouragement and support they need isn’t necessarily coming from home every day, they have a quorum president, they’ve got that Young Women president that you were describing, Sister Cordon, who are on their knees praying for their benefit, day to day and hour to hour, looking for ways that they can be helpful. 

When we get it right, Heavenly Father will fill in gaps for those that are seeking Him. Bishops, organizational advisors and specialists, are all there ready to serve and really kind of wondering what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and that’s what they’re supposed to be doing, is looking for the for gaps in the support and coming in and teaching leadership and to helping the youth to find ways to get in each other’s homes and be helpful themselves.

22:13 

In an April 2021 training video, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund ask youth about their experiences of loving others and sharing the gospel.
In an April 2021 training video, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund ask youth about their experiences of loving others and sharing the gospel. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

President Bonnie H. Cordon: It is a home-centered program, so I hope that leaders notice those that need extra support, and they do open their homes. We can be examples in so many ways as we open our doors and our windows so that they can be part of our family.

President Steven J. Lund: But it means being very purposeful about it. The quorum and class presidency meetings were created around training that these young people received. So they learn how to build agendas, and learn how to build calendars around the needs of their quorums and their classes, and then they go out implementing those things with their individual quorum and class members in mind. And so when that happens and the Spirit of the Lord is invoked, then those gaps of support that may exist in individual families can really actually be overcome.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Yeah, so you see from what you’re saying, then it’s really important that class and quorum presidencies aren’t planning just an activity, and who’s going to bring the chips, but they’re actually planning with their thoughts on: who can we help? Who can we build up? Who needs to be part of this? And then they, on that agenda, they also have gospel learning where they’re saying, “Who’s not coming to seminary? How can we help? Who can I pick up on my way as I go to seminary?” So there’s so many things that now we’re not looking at it just in planning activities, these young people are really about caring for those in need and sharing the gospel.

President Steven J. Lund: They’re asking themselves: “Who doesn’t have their patriarchal blessing? Let’s get them ready for that. Who doesn’t have a limited-use temple recommend? Let’s get them ready for that and be there.” When they engage in that actual work, then amazing things truly happen.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, and the youth are asking, “How can more of us go on missions? 

What can we do to prepare ourselves? And how do we not leave anyone behind?” So there’s so many more things that these youth are stepping up and are a part of. If we will just ask the youth, I think we will be so amazed at what we learn.

Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church. The broadcast introduced a new Children and Youth initiative that will replace the Church’s existing children and youth programs on Jan. 1, 2020.
Latter-day Saint youth arrive at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 17, 2019, to participate in what was described as the largest Face to Face event ever hosted by the Church. The broadcast introduced a new Children and Youth initiative that will replace the Church’s existing children and youth programs on Jan. 1, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

 24:16  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I was so touched that as the First Presidency continued to reopen temples in a phased manner, that they actually thought of the youth and said, “Let’s see if we can get the youth back.” And in many cases, they’re inviting the youth to come back to do proxy work before temples are open for their parents. Talk about what the temple means to this generation of young people.

President Steven J. Lund: You know, what Elder (David A.)Bednar has said that I love is — in a RootsTech talk that he gave, he said, “We expect you to astound the adults.” President Nelson fully expects, when we get the youth fully deployed around these principles, the Church is going to change in dramatic ways. When he says that they are to help prepare the world for the Savior’s return, he doesn’t mean in some distant time — he means in the here and now, they’re going to start making a difference. 

I love this little story I heard once, that the Church tried for years to figure out how to get people to bring family names to the temple with them, and they kept track of this. Three percent of the family names are being done, some very low percentage were actually family names, but most people just relied on the temple to supply them. They did campaigns and they did stuff, and that number moved up to 3.5% or 4%. I don’t remember the number but they moved by half a percent. And then a few months later, they were back down where they were, and they just didn’t seem to be able to make a change. Then they invited the youth to get engaged in creating family names and that number more than doubled, and has continued to escalate from then until now. The Church doubled in productivity because of the activity of the youth. Well, that dynamic is going to find place in every corner of the Church as the youth deploy their energies and their talents and skills in these various areas. And then having learned to find joy in that work, they will serve in those ways all of their lives. 

26:14  

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, I think that’s so true. And the challenge is, we as adults have a tradition that we need to save the youth. Well, the Savior is going to save the youth, but we need the youth that will help bring their parents and their siblings and their friends to the Savior. And so I think it’s imperative that we sit down in counsel with the youth. They’re going to see things so fresh, with a perspective of enthusiasm. There’s not the walls that we’ve put up: “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” They don’t have that. They’re very inclusive, and they invite all. And they want everyone to know the goodness of the Savior. So it’s key that they understand, it’s also key for their own.

President Steven J. Lund: And they are more than capable of receiving revelation. I had the thought while you were reading that beautiful section about the stripling warriors — it’s never occurred to me before, this may actually be true, I don’t know — but the comment of the youth was, “The Lord won’t allow us to fall.” Helaman is worried about sending them into battle because he’s been to battle, and he just can’t bear the thought of losing those kids.

When he approached them, their response was — they seemed to know more about the outcome than he did. It sounds to me like they’d already had this impression — we can go do this thing, and we’re not going to fall.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And don’t you love — “He will not suffer that we should fall.” I think the youth know things and they have so much trust. And the challenge is the adversary doesn’t want the youth to be involved in this work, and so we need to do all we can do as leaders to allow these youth to be involved, because the promises for these youth, as they’re involved in the work of salvation and exaltation are huge. Their confidence is over the roof. 

When they start working in this, their confidence, no matter what their personality type is, increases. Their happiness and their joy increases. Their laughter, and some of the things that the world is throwing at them doesn’t stick because they know who they are, they know they’re a beloved son or beloved daughter of God, and they have a purpose, they have a work to do. And by doing that, they realize, “I’m a disciple of Christ.” And so we underestimate the power of the Children and Youth program by allowing these youth to lead. And if I had a question, “How do I increase ‘Come, Follow Me’ and scripture study in the home?” I’d go to my class or quorum presidency, and I’d say, “Let’s counsel together. How do we increase the importance of this in a home?” I think we’d learn some things that would move the needle forward.

President Steven J. Lund: And we hear the stories of this actually happening. That’s not theoretical, is it? We are changing the way they worship at home. 

 29:13

President Bonnie H. Cordon: That’s why I can say it with such confidence, because I know the stories. But seminary — we hear stories upon stories where youth have invited their friends and they’ve come; youth have invited someone to join an activity and they come. And youth have helped their parents know the Savior better, because they know the Savior. So it is quite a remarkable time. 

President Steven J. Lund: Yeah, that seminary component is really under-appreciated by the Church but the reality is, what we worry about, whether our kids are going to get a hold of the rod. If they do four years of seminary, they stick, it could give them that asset. And their faithfulness in the Church is not assured, but their long-term participation rates, historically, have been profoundly different with four years of seminary than just a little seminary, and certainly no seminary at all. So, if you’re looking for the cheat codes to this game of life, one of them is get to seminary, come what may.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: Yeah.  And we’re seeing that. What I love is that youth can bring in their friends. And as you invite them — I mean, I served a mission because of an invitation, someone said, “Bonnie, go serve a mission” — and so I think we need to invite the youth to be part of this. The prophet keeps inviting, he opens the temples and invites the youth. You had the experience that in that conference, that youth conference: all were invited, but give them a purpose of what they can do, so they know they’re not just there to be entertained, but they’re part of the gathering.

30:54  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And each of you participated in a great event where youth around the world were invited to listen to President M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook and so many other youth and children leaders. Talk about what that was like the messages that were shared and what we can learn from that.

Why parents and leaders are vital to the Children and Youth program, President Ballard, Elder Cook and other Church leaders explain

President Steven J. Lund: One of the things that they wanted to explain is why this change. We had a program and now, we’ve modified the change. They were trying to articulate what that was about. And you know, the fact of the matter is, we’re living in a darkening world. But the prophet isn’t wringing his hands about that, and the prophet and the prophets of our age are quite optimistic about our future. Because as Brad Wilcox likes to say, “Yeah, the world’s the Titanic and it’s already hit the iceberg — but the good news is we’re in the lifeboat, we’re fine, we’re going to be fine.” But the problem that we’re facing is that the world is coming at our youth earlier and earlier. When we were youth and when I was a youth, the comment was, “You need to get ready for your mission, because you’re going to face really hard questions when you get there.” What we’re saying to our youth now is, “You’ve got to get ready for tomorrow morning, because really hard questions are going to be coming at you.” So we’re preparing our youth differently, because we’re preparing them for a different time than in the past.

President Bonnie H. Cordon: And as we think about preparing our youth, we’re asking them to ask heaven, we’re asking them to go to their knees and to seek revelation, seek inspiration for their calling. And to find all the many ways that they’re hearing the voice of the Lord is interesting. I don’t think I ever remember as a young person — someone may say, “You can find out if the Book of Mormon is true.” But these youth are seeking to hear the Lord’s voice on a regular basis. They’re realizing that when they go to the sacrament table every week, the promise that the Spirit will be with them, and as they realize that is literal in their lives that the Spirit can be with them, and increasing their spiritual capacity to hear that, the Spirit is giving them the confidence that they need in this darkening world. It’s hard out there, and there’s a lot of voices, but they can have a lot of confidence and faith in the Lord’s voice. And so revelation is one of those key components of the Children and Youth program. We want them to have experiences with the Spirit regularly so that they know that they’re being guided, directed, comforted by the Lord.

President Steven J. Lund: We belong to such a creative species. I was thinking this morning that we are so good at coming up with new and creative and fascinating ways to break the commandments, and then justify why it’s a good idea to go out and break the commandments, and these kids are having to deal with that, because they’re presented in such enticing ways. And if they’re not grounded in the principles that bring us back to that iron rod and that covenant path, it’s so easy to get swept away by the enticement to the world. The world is just so good at justifying craziness. And so being able to go to the heavens and get answers to prayer, and have their faith reinforced, is just critical in these times.

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund film a segment for the virtual Youth Music Festival. Part of the event was filmed at the Conference Center Theatre in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund film a segment for the virtual Youth Music Festival. Part of the event was filmed at the Conference Center Theatre in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

34:11

Sarah Jane Weaver: So we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always let our guests have the last word, and we always ask them the same question, and the question is, “What do you know now?” So I hope that each of you can conclude and share your testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and, and then any direction or advice or anything you’ve learned from working with the youth, and anything you might know now after working with the Children and Youth program. President Lund, let’s start with you

President Steven J. Lund: I love President Nelson’s comment in his talk, “Hope of Israel,” when he told the youth that they have the capacity to be the greatest generation, they have the capacity to be smarter and brighter and have a bigger impact on the world than any other time. I love that he didn’t say, “You are the greatest generation. You are the smartest, you will.” Instead he said, “you have the capacity.” But that’s a choice. You’re going to decide whether to engage or not. And if you choose to engage, you will be part of the greatest thing that is happening in the world today — parenthetically, more important than pandemic, more important than the environment, more important than you name the cause — this is the most important thing in the world that you can be part of that and be an influencer and an influence for good, and you will change the history of the world for many, many people, if you choose to do that. These gangly teenagers that we’re working with are on the brink of greatness. We’ve been around long enough to see what happens when these kids get ourselves a little more training and move on to life. And suddenly, they’re running organizations and they’re making an impact. This generation, more than any other, is going to have their voices heard. Heavenly Father cares about them and loves them and sent them for this time. And He’s not worried about this generation — (He’s) worried about some individuals who may make bad decisions — but with Him, I have great confidence that this is a generation of greatness.

36:17  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. President Cordon?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: What do I know now? God can do His own work, and that He is hastening His own work. But what I do know is that these youth will be stronger, fortified, have the capacity, increase in their capacity, they have to be given a chance and an opportunity and an invitation to help with that great work. And that’s what the Lord has said. He said, “Come, follow me.” And so I’m excited for these youth that they’re doing the Lord’s work, I think what we’re going to find is that our families are going to be blessed. I think our schools are going to be lifted. But more importantly, I think we’re going to come to know the Savior with more energy and more creativity, because the youth are pointing this to Him in a way that we will understand the many attributes that the Savior possesses and what He can do in our own lives. So I’m excited that we have this Children and Youth program. I’m excited that we’ve been invited to be part of the gathering of Israel, the greatest cause, and our youth want a cause. May we point that cause to be the cause of Christ, so that youth can be part of that great cause.

37:46  

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.