Episode 176: Elder Clark G. Gilbert on the expansive Church Educational System and the power of involving the Lord in learning

Elder Clark G. Gilbert joins the Church News podcast to talk about Church education and the ‘three Gs’ he experienced during a recent trip to Africa — gathering, gratitude, grace

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “obtaining an education and getting knowledge are a religious responsibility,” said President Russell M. Nelson.

Charged with taking education to Latter-day Saints and others in the world is Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of Church education.

He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss the expansive Church Educational System, the enlightening power of education and involving the Lord in learning.

Listen to this episode of the Church News podcast on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Spotify, bookshelf PLUS or wherever you get podcasts.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: You know, you see this growth of BYU–Pathway, the growth of the institute, the growth across all of our campuses — it’s inspiring. But it still happens one person at a time. When Christ came to the New World and He ministered one by one and He touched them one by one, it still happens that way today. And, look, with a million students in the Church Educational System, you don’t need everyone to come to Provo, Utah. Everyone doesn’t have to cheer on the Cougar football team. But everyone needs a chance to be changed as a disciple and become more capable to serve in the Church, to serve their family and to be a light to the world. And we’re part of that in the Church Educational System.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you 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.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “obtaining an education and getting knowledge are a religious responsibility,” said President Russell M. Nelson. Charged with taking education to the Church and to so many others in the world through the Church Educational System is commissioner of Church education Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy. Elder Gilbert, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about this important topic.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Well, thank you for having me. And thanks for opening with President Nelson’s statement on the spiritual and doctrinal importance of education. We teach that and emphasize that in so much of what we do, and we’re grateful for his guidance on the spiritual responsibility we have to grow and be educated in the Church.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of Church education, speaks during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as part of the Church Educational System, you’re focusing on four priorities right now. I’m hoping we can start today and have you outline those for us.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Great. You know, there’s so much going on across the Church Educational System. We now have over a million students enrolled in the programs. It operates in every country the Church is organized in. And trying to put some structure and focus on that has led us to these four priorities:

The first is that we’re trying to work as a unified system. And in that priority, we try to do two things. One is we emphasize it doesn’t matter if you’re in an institute course, in a program at BYU, or somewhere around the world in a BYU–Pathway degree; we all focus on becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, who can be leaders in their homes, the Church and their families. That’s the mission of the Church Educational System, and that unifies, no matter what we’re doing, we’re all aligned with that purpose. Every part of CES has that purpose.

But then within that, each school or each program has a specific focus that they need to be uniquely good at. And it doesn’t help us to replicate someone else. And so, you know, we have BYU, which is not only a flagship, but really the ambassador, and we host guests from around the world. We have college athletics, we do graduate programs, and we use that as a bridge to the rest of the world from the Church Educational System. BYU–Idaho focuses on undergraduate teaching, and everything it spends its resources on have to help undergraduates get a wonderful in-class, teaching experience. BYU–Hawaii focuses on Asia and the Pacific. And we don’t need BYU–Hawaii to be a place to send all of our kids here from the Salt Lake Valley. It really has a specific role to be a resource to those areas of the Church.

Ensign College is our most-applied program. They help you get a job-ready skill that allows you to get an entry-level job and the ability to progress in your career, and you’re seeing each one of these as a distinct role. Pathway, of course, is the access provider going all around the Church. And then seminary and institute is the spiritual anchor; no matter where you are, whether you’re in a Church school or not, we want you to involve the Lord in your learning, and institute and seminary allow you to do that no matter where you are in your educational journey. So, this first one is, really, work as a unified system, but amplify the unique strengths of each of the programs and schools.


The second one is to embed BYU–Pathway in the Church, and BYU–Pathway will look a lot more like seminary and institute than it will look like one of our campuses. It’s already the size of BYU and BYU–Idaho combined. Within the next year, it will be bigger than all the Church schools in aggregate. But the difference is it doesn’t have a single campus in a single community. It serves the Church all over the world. And it’s going to look a lot more like our seminary and institute programs, which also go wherever the Church is organized. So that’s our second priority. And I know you told me you’d like us to focus a little bit on Africa. And I’ll come back to how BYU–Pathway’s growing there. But as we look at that program, it needs to be embedded in the Church as a formal part of the Church programs and offerings, no matter where you are in the world.

The third one is one we’ve been so excited about, which is to expand the reach and impact of seminaries and institutes. And, you know, coming out of the pandemic, we’ve had several years of decline in institute enrollment. Chad Webb and his whole team said, “How do we innovate institute in ways that will make it more relevant, increase belonging, make it more accessible?” And the last two years in a row, we’ve seen a multiyear increase; almost 60,000 students were added to institute attendance just in the last two years. We’re now at one of the highest percentages of young adults ever attending institute in the history of the Church.

And with all these concerns and worries — and many of them legitimate — around the challenges our young people and our young adults are facing, we’re so pleased the institute is becoming an even more vibrant part of the spiritual lives of our young adults. We’re also doing the same thing with seminary curriculum. And just this week, we announced these new life-preparation lessons for seminary, another way to help it be relevant to the lives of youth today. We’re not walking away from our scripture-based training of young people; we still will do three days a week and the sequential scriptures tied to “Come, Follow Me.” But two days a week, seminary will teach life skills, like getting ready for a mission or emotional resilience, career planning, college preparation — all scripture based, all grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but helping students learn how these gospel principles apply to everyday life.


And then the last priority is really to strengthen the spiritual leadership of the Church Educational System, with an emphasis on BYU as the flagship. And, you know, BYU–Pathway’s going all around the world, but it benefits from the halo of BYU. And I tell the leadership team at BYU, “When BYU’s strong, it blesses the whole system. When we don’t live up to our ideals, it hurts the whole system.” And, boy, President Shane Reese, our new president there, has really come out and reanchored us on, in his phrase “Becoming BYU.” And how do we become the university that prophets have seen and foretold? And there’s just a renewed focus on BYU’s mission and BYU’s spiritual leadership across the Church.

So, those are four priorities that, really, almost everything I do is somehow tied to one of those four priorities: working as a unified system, embedding BYU–Pathway in the Church, strengthening seminary and institute’s reaching impact, and elevating the spiritual leadership of our programs and schools with an emphasis on BYU.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy, visits with members of the Yai family, who went through the BYU–Pathway program in Lagos, Nigeria, and now serve as Pathway service Missionaries. | Courtesy Elder Clark G. Gilbert


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I know your work with Church education takes you across the globe. You just returned from Africa. I can’t wait to hear about some of the exciting things happening there.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Well, thanks for asking. And I’ve had people since this trip — I’ve been all around the world, Sarah, with BYU–Pathway, even as commissioner — but this trip was powerful and special, and the Lord’s doing a work on that continent that is just amazing to watch. And people would ask me after the trip, you know, “How was your trip to West Africa and French-speaking Africa?” And it’s almost like a young missionary who gets asked, “How was your mission?” And it’s so much that happened.

As I’ve thought about the lessons from that trip, I’ve kind of put it into three themes, and they all start with the letter G. There’s a “gathering” happening that is at a scale that’s unprecedented. The students there have a “gratitude” that is inspiring for the rest of us across the Church. And there’s a “grace” there, that you can feel the Savior working in people’s lives and the power of just the core doctrine of His gospel. And, you know, maybe I could talk to you a little bit about each of those gathering, the gratitude that we see in the students and some of the grace we see of the Lord’s tender mercies working in the lives of His children.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think that’s a great place to start. And let’s just jump right in with gathering. I am sure there were some anecdotal things that support each of those that you witnessed.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: You know, we have in BYU–Pathway alone — seminaries and institutes expanded all across the continent, and it’s beautiful, and it’s shaping the lives of these young people — but BYU–Pathway, last year, we had over 20,000 students in Africa. So think about it: If BYU–Pathway in Africa was its own institution, it would be the third-largest Church school. And it’s two-thirds of the size of BYU–Idaho, on the continent of Africa. And our retention rates there, we’re gathering because students are enrolling in BYU–Pathway. We’re gathering because they’re coming and they’re staying.

And I was just with President Brian Ashton, the president of BYU–Pathway, this morning, and he was showing me retention data in the international Church. In BYU–Pathway, we’d always had, you know, the domestic students. You had higher retention rates, and they’re more acculturated, and English is their first language. But the retention rates are closing to the point where they’re almost indistinguishable. And another way we’re gathering in is once the students come, they’re staying. And part of that’s the curriculum innovations. PathwayConnect is teaching them how to be effective college students. The Certificate First program lets them get a job and improve employment almost right out of the gate. The new 90-credit bachelor’s degree has made getting a bachelor’s degree feel much more attainable.

And then one of the incredible things — and this is part of the gathering too — is we used to hire full-time employees to be mentors for the Pathway students. We now hire Pathway students to be peer mentors to each other. And that’s driving the retention. They know what it’s like, and they know the experiences. They know how to follow up in the country context in where they’re serving. And all of these things are making the retention of this gathering stay high. And we have students in some economies where there aren’t great employment opportunities.

And the BYU–Pathway team has identified this concept of a Church living wage: What do you need to be able to support a family, serve in the Church and still sleep? And, you know, many of these Saints in Africa will have two or three jobs just to provide food for their families. And so we’ve set a target for a Church living wage. And one of the ways we’re helping BYU–Pathway students realize that is through remote jobs. And we raise scholarships for BYU–Pathway, and we have donors help support that.


But a few years ago, the BYU–Pathway team said, “We don’t want you just to donate to us. We want you to hire our students.” And the pandemic taught us remote work is a reality now all around the world. And we realized we could be hiring students in some of these local economies that don’t have good job opportunities. And we’re seeing students get jobs with Silicon Slopes firms here in Utah, with employers all around the country. Even employers who don’t have a formal tie to the Church, they actually are inspired by our students.

And so, another way we’re gathering them in is letting them gather in country. They don’t have to come to America. They don’t have to go to one of our universities here. Those 20,000 students in Africa can get educated in Africa, and they’re finding jobs in Africa. So, on the first G, the gathering, it’s just the scale of what’s happening is overwhelming. For example, I was in Brazzaville in the Congo. And one institute gathering that had EnglishConnect and Pathway is 1,500 students. Every week, 1,500 students. And more than two-thirds of those students weren’t members of the Church. There they are in an institute class, you know, and, you know, they’re raising their hand, they’ve got the Gospel Library app downloaded, and they’re participating, and they’re joining the Church.

And we had rooms that were just overflowing with students. And in fact, Elder [Thierry K.] Mutombo and I taught one of the institute classes, and it was full to the back of the room. And then we found out they closed-circuit broadcast these institute classes in overflow rooms. There isn’t enough space to house all of these students. And just the scale of gathering that’s happening there is breathtaking.

BYU–Pathway students gather in Accra, Ghana, in January of 2024. | Courtesy Elder Clark G. Gilbert


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I was recently in Mexico City, met some of your Pathway students, and I was so taken aback and impressed by the quality of student and the quality of jobs they had. And so, the idea that that is now spreading across the globe, those opportunities, is remarkable.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: We — and I’m glad you talked about how capable they are — we were in Lagos, Nigeria, doing a focus group with students who have remote jobs. These students were smart. They’d earned certificates and degrees for BYU–Pathway.

We talked to one student, Chidi, and he said, “Well, I got my first certificate in social media marketing. And I was working for a Google-based agency in a remote job. And then I realized, ‘I want to do some of this in Amazon’s platform.’ And I had learned the skills how to do this, so I just went out and taught myself. In my career-planning course, they taught us how to use LinkedIn. So I got on LinkedIn, I found an American who was a BYU grad who ran a large social marketing agency out of Seattle on the Amazon platform. He hired me, and now I’m doing a whole program around PPC.”

And all of us are like, “What’s PPC?” And he looked at us like we were dumb. And he’s like, “Pay-per-click. A very basic digital marketing concept.” And we’re all looking at each other saying, “Where did this guy come from?” And He’s smart, he’s capable, he’s articulate, his English is impeccable. He’s well trained. And he’s earning a Church living wage, which allows him to do so much back in the Church. And so, the remote jobs are a really important part of the gathering that’s happening there.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that Pathway is the door to those opportunities. Let’s continue and talk about your other Gs.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Yeah, well, the second one is gratitude. And you know the parable of the ten lepers, who only one came back. We saw just the opposite. All 10 came back, and we listened to these students talk about their remote work. And it wasn’t about the income they’re making, or they didn’t get the job and say, “I’m glad I made it out of poverty.” We heard student story after student story, a sister say, “I saved up enough money to serve and pay for my mission,” a young man say, “I can now pay tithing.” We had a young father who said, “Yeah, three years ago, they asked me to serve as a bishop, and I just couldn’t do it. I was working three jobs. We didn’t have food for my family. I got a remote job. I make enough now to provide for my family. They just called me two weeks ago to be a bishop again.”

Some of the students in one of our focus groups said, “Yeah, we’re so blessed with these jobs. But we know we’ve got to find opportunities for others.” And you just thought, “Wow, some of these students are only making $1 or $2 an hour.” And yet, they were the most grateful people you’ve ever met. And they weren’t trying to hoard the benefits for themselves. Their thought was, “How do I use this to bless the Church, build the kingdom and help other students who are coming behind me?” And I just, I couldn’t believe it. We sat there just in awe as we watched those students and thought, “Boy, I wish I was as grateful for the things I have in my life as these BYU–Pathway students are in theirs.”


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and that leads us right to your third G, which is grace.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: You know, it’s amazing what’s happening, Sarah, and I felt on this whole trip the gathering, the gratitude we felt, it’s all happening not because BYU–Pathway is a great program or we have great managers or even just because of the quality of these students; but Jesus Christ is coming into the lives of these young people, and He’s changing who they are.

And maybe the story that was most impactful for me on this was in the Republic of the Congo. We we’re in one of these large gatherings, and it was full of students. An amazing story everywhere you looked. And I described earlier how they had overflow rooms so people could watch institute class in another room. They even had waiting rooms, Sarah. We walked out in one room — it was outside of a classroom with 40 or 50 people — and there was no instructor, there was no whiteboard, and I was like, “What is this, a class?” And they’re like, “No, they’re queuing up so they can be the first people into the next institute class.”

And so, you’re seeing the scale of all of this. And by the way, the institute class with 80% nonmembers in the class we went to, they were doing the Doctrine and Covenants. And I looked at Chad Webb, who is head of seminary and institute, and I’m like, “Chad, really? We’re starting nonmembers with the Doctrine and Covenants? How about the Book of Mormon? Or how about Gospel Essentials?” And we went into our focus group, and with the scale of what’s happening, now you’re drilling down into the lives of individuals. And I met one sister, her name was Teresa, and she was a college student at the local university. She heard you can get very professional English at this place, and it’s religious, but it’s very high quality. And so she said, “All right, I’ll go try it.” She walked in. She said the class was great. They asked her to stay for institute. And the institute instructor started talking on the lesson. The whole lesson was on chastity.

And now, I’m really looking at Chad Webb, saying, “So, you do the Doctrine and Covenants and chastity as the way to introduce these nonmembers to the Church?” And then I realized I was thinking way too small. And this sister said, “That lesson was just for me.” And she said emotionally, “I wanted to be clean more than anything else. Then I listened to that lesson. I knew the only way to do it was through Jesus Christ and His Atonement.” And she told that story. She said, “I came for English. But I stayed for institute and the gospel.” She had since joined the Church. She’s now a BYU–Pathway student, and she’s preparing for her mission. And I thought, “Look at what the Savior can do in the life of these students.”

And with all of those 1,500 students in one institute Pathway gathering, that one story, and you could see the grace of God and the mercy of the Savior working one at a time in the lives of these students. And so, yes, the gathering is happening at scale. These students are grateful for it. But I think the reason they are is because they’ve felt the grace of Jesus Christ and His Atonement and His mercy and His love in their lives. And I’ll never forget that focus group, where it seemed like everything stopped, and I could just feel the grace of God working in the life of one of His children.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Christine Gilbert, speak during a devotional from the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think this is such an interesting time in history because, I think, a lot of people in this country are expressing skepticism or lack of confidence in higher education. And yet, both in the United States and around the world, your experience is that people are flocking to it. They’re seeking the light, and they’re being drawn to it.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: We are helping convene a group of religious university presidents, and despite the narrative that young people are losing faith — and they are; there are very real and painful and sad stories of people who walk away from their faith — but we’re seeing a vibrancy with young people. And religious higher education is actually seeing a rebirth and a growth in enrollment. I mean, certainly we see it in the Church Educational System. If you go to 2000 and look at today, the number of students in institute growing, the number of students in Church schools growing dramatically, outpacing the demographic growth of the Church.

Young people, as my Jewish friend said, they’re not facing a crisis of faith; they’re facing a crisis of meaning. And it turns out a godless society, a society without religion, doesn’t bring the happiness and joy, as President Nelson said in his talk “Overcome the World and Find Rest.” He says the truth is it’s much harder to find happiness where it doesn’t exist. And students are wanting meaning and purpose in their lives. And we’re seeing that across the Church Educational System. And interestingly, we felt it in full force in Africa. But we’re seeing it in our institutes.

I was up at the University of Utah Institute last fall, doing workshops on President Nelson’s talk to the young adults, and they wanted it. And it was interesting; I learned a great lesson, Sarah. I have about 15 kind of thematic topics. I try to listen to President Nelson and the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and, “What are they saying to the Church?” and I try to amplify that to the young adults of the Church whenever I speak, and I’ve got these topic pages in my iPad with quotes and scriptures and messages from conference. And I looked at them, and I was asked to speak when I was in Africa. And it was in a congregation there. And I went through the topics, and I’m like, “So many of these aren’t issues here that matter to these people,” you know, and I anchored in on the core of the gospel.

And I’m sure some academic scholar would say, “Well, that’s overly simplistic, or it’s naive.” And, boy, come with me to Africa, and you’ll see these people don’t have simplistic testimonies. They’re deep. They’re robust. They’re well-formed belief systems, but they’re vibrant, and they’re focused on the core of the gospel. And I came back from that trip saying, “That’s where I need to focus my own teaching and efforts with young adults, because it’s what they want, and it’s what they need.” Even here domestically, where we face so many forces of secularism, this core of the gospel and the principles we felt in Africa — gather with the Saints, be grateful for what we’ve been given and turn to Jesus Christ for His grace in your life — that’s the essence of who we are as a Church, and it’s the essence of what we’re trying to do in Church education.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, center, and the BYU–Pathway team meet with the Africa West Area presidency in Accra, Ghana, including Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, Elder Jörg Klebingat and Elder Alfred Kyungu. | Courtesy Elder Clark G. Gilbert


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk to you about what gives you confidence in the future of Church education. Certainly, you’ve gained a lot of confidence as you saw Saints in Africa, but I’m sure that’s a feeling that you take away from most of your experiences.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Yeah, my confidence is in two factors. One is the Lord’s in charge. And President Nelson is the chairman of the Church Board of Education. That’s who we look to. We don’t come up with new ideas and new innovations because we have a bunch of clever people inside of CES. I hope they’re consecrated and working hard and well trained, but we are led by a prophet of God.

And I had an interview with one of the leading educational publications in the country. And they said to me, “Well, there’s no big stories going on in religious higher education.” And really, the only stories they could see were secular stories; you know, white nationalism, LGBTQ issues. And I went and met with their whole board, and I talked about Pathway’s reach around the world. I talked about BYU–Idaho’s innovative cost model. I talked about BYU–Hawaii’s efforts to reach across multiple cultures. And they finally said, “OK, we’ll admit there’s big stories going on that aren’t these secular topics.”

And then he said to me, “But the reason is, it’s because you have good governance and talented people.” And I said, “Yes, we do have good governance. But you have to ask, ‘Why would all of these schools cede their governance to a prophet, unless they fundamentally saw these schools as religious institutions?’ Like, the religious mission is at the core of our good governance. The reason we look to a prophet is because we believe in and sustain a prophet.” And then I said, “Boy, as far as talented people” — they had cited Kim Clark leaving Harvard Business School and going to BYU–Idaho, and Brian Ashton and Matt Eyring with their great professional and academic backgrounds.

And I said, “Look, Kim Clark came to the Church and to BYU–Idaho because of his religious conviction. And we told some of these people who leave their industry jobs, ‘We will match your Silicon Slopes salary, all but the seventh digit.’” And I said, “So, if we have talented people, again, it’s only because they’re consecrated to their beliefs. They look to a prophet, that gives us the appropriate governance, and consecrated people who have great training and backgrounds and talent come, but something happens to them; they’re magnified because they’re on the errand of the Lord.”

So, I have confidence in what’s happening, yes because we have good governance and we have good people. But that all stems from two things: The Lord is in charge of His Church, and we’re part of that in the Church Educational System. And we are led by a prophet of God.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, I hope you don’t mind if I shift a little because of all the exciting things that are happening. We’ve talked about so many. But there’s something that seems a little counterintuitive when you talk about education, and that is a new emphasis on dating. You know, you’ve got your universities sponsoring date nights. Why do we care about that so much?


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Well, look, it’s interesting. I’ll go into some of the substantive reasons, but I just said we’re led by prophets. And in his worldwide devotional to young adults, President [Dallin H.] Oaks last year with his wife taught the young adults about the importance of dating. And why is marriage important? And what does that do for a young man and a young woman who are growing in the gospel? And what is the doctrinal significance of marriage? What is the doctrinal significance of parenting? And he taught that to the Church. And inside of the Church Educational System, Sarah, we don’t make up what our priorities are. We look to prophets, seers and revelators. What are they saying to young adults?

Two years ago, President Nelson spoke to the worldwide young adults in his talk “Choices for Eternity” and our divine identity. We have amplified that in our curriculum and our teachings all across CES. Last year, President Oaks talked about the importance of marriage, which begins with dating. And he talked about what a date really is. And we have so many young people now who, they’re more connected than ever on Instagram, but they don’t talk to people in real life. So, in an effort to amplify those prophetic teachings, we asked all of the CES presidents, all of our core institutes, even BYU–Pathway around the world, to do this in unique ways for their own students. But to do this in ways that would amplify the teachings of President Oaks that he had given just last year to the young adults, and do it in loving and maybe low-stakes ways to help students who are a little nervous about dating, just to get back in the game and ask someone out.

And, boy, we just saw, you know, BYU–Idaho at the head, with 7,000 people at their date night. At BYU, over 6,000. We had almost 1,000 At BYU–Hawaii. The Orem institute had over 1,000 students. You know, if we were tracking the largest date night in the history of the Church, maybe it had happened last week. But what was more important is we are teaching principles of the proclamation, principles of the family, and amplifying a message from a prophet, seer and revelator.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and commissioner of Church education, speaks during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as a mother of three college-age young people, I say, “Thank you.” We want these kids to date and to progress and everything else.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: We do. Can I just say one more thing of that? You said as a parent, you hope for that. I’ve received letters, and sometimes back to back, you know, a mother saying,

“My daughter has been at such-and-such university and hasn’t been on a date for two years.” And then I get a letter from a father saying, “My son stays up with his roommates gaming all night. And they’re too tired to even wake up for church.” And I’m like, “OK, we have young women not getting asked on dates and young men staring at computer consoles. We’ve got to turn the one off and turn the other one on.” And this isn’t a silver bullet, but it was a catalyst to help reinstill a culture of dating with our young adults.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And what a fun way to send a very important message. As we come to a close, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always ask the same question. And I’m actually hoping to do this today in three parts, because the question is “What do you know now?” And I would love for you to share with us what you know now after being so involved in Church education. And then, what you know now after spending some time in this really historic and impactful trip to Africa. And I hope you’ll also, as a general authority, share your testimony and witness of Jesus Christ.


Elder Clark G. Gilbert: Thank you for the opportunity, Sarah. I think both of your questions for me are related. I love Church education from my youth. It was instilled in me from Paul and Susan Gilbert, who love BYU. And my dad used to say, “You can go anywhere you want for college. But BYU is paid for.” And I think he planted that in my heart. And I got to BYU, and it changed my life. For the first time, I was gathered in with other people who shared my faith. I’d always been a religious minority. And finally, I fit. You know, I went to graduate school and got my doctorate at Harvard, joined the faculty there, but I was always going to go back to BYU. That was always our plan. And then the Lord just rerouted us to Rexburg, when Kim Clark called and said, “I’d like you to pray about another option.”

And I think that early feeling for what Church education could do for me personally, starting from my parents then to my own experience, really allowed me to go to BYU–Idaho and then BYU–Pathway, and now in this role as the commissioner with a hope of taking that same experience. We don’t need everyone to come to Provo, Utah. You know, everyone doesn’t have to cheer on the Cougar football team. But everyone needs a chance to be changed as a disciple and become more capable to serve in the Church, to serve their family and to be a light to the world.


And I think one of the things I’ve learned since I’ve had this assignment as commissioner is just the scale of what the Lord’s doing and the role Church education has in the kingdom of God. There is a gathering happening. The work is accelerating. Even with the pressures we face from the world, the work is accelerating. It’s more vibrant and relevant than ever. And Church education is only relevant to the degree it is part of that. Church education is only powerful and worth the investment of the Church to the degree it brings people to the Savior and allows them to be disciples who can help support the work of the kingdom.

I don’t think I understood the scale of that before this assignment. And yet, in the middle of it, as I was describing on the trip to Africa, it still happens one at a time. And, you know, you see this, you know, growth of BYU–Pathway, the growth of the institute, the growth across all of our campuses — it’s inspiring. But it still happens one person at a time. The story I told of Teresa has to happen one at a time. When Christ came to the New World and He ministered one by one and He touched them one by one, it still happens that way today. And, look, with a million students in the Church Educational System, their lives still have to change one at a time. I don’t think I fully appreciated how expansive the Church of Jesus Christ can be and really is, and yet how miraculously it still touches us one at a time.


The other two things I think that I’ve learned since is my calling. I’m the commissioner five days a week. I have an ecclesiastical assignment almost every weekend, like every other of my brethren in the Seventy. And the Seventy really have doctrinally, in D&C 107, two main responsibilities. In the end, it doesn’t matter that I’m the Church commissioner, and that will be just for a season. My calling, until I turn 70, will be to be a witness of the Savior and to be a resource to the Twelve before any other. That’s the doctrinal basis of the calling of a Seventy.

And as far as being a resource to the Twelve, my role as commissioner isn’t to run the Church Educational System. My role is to amplify a prophet of God, understand what he and the Church Board of Education and the leadership of the Church want from the Church Educational System, and be their resource and their conduit to what we’re doing. And then wherever I go, everything has to be focused on Jesus Christ.


I had a poignant experience a year and a half ago, Sarah, with President [Jeffrey R.] Holland and Elder [D. Todd] Christofferson. We were headed to Hawaii, and the day before the trip, there was a conflict that came up unplanned, and Elder Holland couldn’t go. And Elder Christofferson was thrust into all of those responsibilities for this trip to preside and lead those meetings. And he was doing a great job. But in one of the meetings, he walked in, and he bore his testimony, and he said, you know, “We have assignments as the Twelve all over in different parts of the Church right now. He’s assigned to Church education.” But he says, “The more I learn about my calling” — his calling as an Apostle — “the more I realize it really is most fundamentally to be a witness of the Savior.”

And I just, more than ever in my life, I know He lives. I know He loves us. I know He changes us. I seek His repentance and forgiveness every day. I try to become more through the Atonement of the Savior. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. And our goal in Church education is to make it amplify the words of a prophet and bring people unto the Savior. And I leave my witness of the Savior in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, General Authority Seventy, smiles as he leads the panel discussion during the Utah Area Parent, Youth and Leader Devotional at the Bountiful Regional Center in North Salt Lake, Utah, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. | Adam Fondren for the Church News


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have 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, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; 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 channels or with other news and updates on the Church on

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