I don’t know about you, but my children are adults and haven’t been in the youth program for over 10 years. Plus, I haven’t served in the youth program for decades. When I received a recent call to serve in the Young Women program, I was thrilled and surprised. Thrilled because I love working with youth and surprised at my ignorance of the evolution the program has made to best serve this generation of youth. (And truly, adults too.)
My experience was all tied to the “old days” of Young Men campouts and Young Women goals. When the new youth program was rolled out a few years ago, I just figured the goal setting had changed to include similar goals for both the young women and the young men. However, I didn’t recognize the magnitude of the changes. If you are new to the youth program or don’t have children in the youth program and want to discover the power of the program for both youth and adults – keep reading.
Spiritual Development is Not Black and White
I started to get a glimmer of the power of the new youth program in 2022 when I joyfully read and studied the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. It is of note that the 10th edition also added a subtitle with it, called “For the Strength of Youth: A Guide for Making Choices”.
Simply put, the purpose of the new For the Strength of Youth,
“… is not to give you a “yes” or “no” about every possible choice you might face. Instead, the Lord is inviting you to live in a higher and holier way—His way.”
Can you see how this guide applies to both youth and adults? Thus, it is to our benefit to read it, study it, and consider ways we can expand our understanding, commitment, and living of our covenants. I love how each section is organized in three parts:
- Eternal truths, or doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ
- Invitations to act on those truths
- Promised blessings that the Lord offers to those who live by His teachings
The “new” pamphlet, or guide, helps move us away from looking at things as only black and white, or in other words, our interpretation of what is “right and/or wrong” in our application of eternal truths. The new guide invites us to learn the doctrine and seek inspiration on how to apply it uniquely in our life at this time. Yet as we study and grow in our life experiences, we may receive additional insights on how we can best apply the doctrines.
A wonderful byproduct of this approach is we are less inclined to compare (or judge) our approach to living the doctrine to someone else’s approach to living the doctrine. We realize that there are so many things that come into play in our spiritual development and if we truly want to be a disciple of Christ, we love unconditionally and leave any judgment up to an all-loving and all-knowing Heavenly Father.
The Addition of Themes for Both Young Women and Young Men
In October 2019 a new Young Women theme was introduced. It states:
“I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I strive to become like Him. I seek and act upon personal revelation and minister to others in His holy name. I will stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places. As I strive to qualify for exaltation, I cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day. With faith, I will strengthen my home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, and receive the ordinances and blessings of the holy temple.”
One month later, November 2019, During a Face to Face event outlining the new Children and Youth program, Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President, invited young men around the world to stand and recite the new Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme:
“I am a beloved son of God, and He has a work for me to do. With all my heart, might, mind, and strength, I will love God, keep my covenants, and use His priesthood to serve others, beginning in my own home. As I strive to serve, exercise faith, repent, and improve each day, I will qualify to receive temple blessings and the enduring joy of the gospel. I will prepare to become a diligent missionary, loyal husband, and loving father by being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I will help prepare the world for the Savior’s return by inviting all to come unto Christ and receive the blessings of His Atonement.”
There are some wonderful similarities between the two themes. Plus they complement each other as well. When I read and ponder upon these two themes, I get VERY excited about the gathering of Israel, and the return of our Savior.
The Evolution of Youth Themes
As we look at the annual themes or focus for the youth each year, there is a beautiful evolution to the current them.
In 2021 “A Great Work” – “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33-34)
In 2022 “Trust in the Lord” – “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The then Young Women General President, Bonnie H. Cordon opined:
“If I’m going to trust anyone in my life, it’s usually because I have a great relationship with them,” President Cordon said. “So I hope this year, as youth do so well, that they can create an enhanced understanding of who the Savior is.”
In 2023 “I Can Do All Things Through Christ” – ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Philippians 4:13)
In 2024 “I am a Disciple of Jesus Christ” (3 Nephi 5:13)
We see our youth evolve from a general “A Great Work”, to a more personal “Trust in the Lord”, to a powerful insight of “I Can Do All Things Through Christ”, to a profound goal and declaration that “I Am a Disciple of Jesus Christ.” Can you see the significances that President Emily Belle Freeman, the Young Women General President, sees?
“Being a disciple, and becoming a disciple means this is not a year where you sit in the audience,” she said. “This is a year where you rise up and you accept a call from the Lord to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to witness of Him and His words to everyone that you know.”
Or how about the insights from President Steven Lund, the Young Men General President:
“Being a disciple of Christ means knowing the Savior and your life’s purpose.”
Both of their insights apply to all ages. Becoming a disciple of Christ is a life-long journey and we have much to learn from the youth program to assist us in our adult journey too.
The “Why” of the Youth Program
I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend a regional training for youth leaders shortly after I was called to serve the young women in my Ward. What a privilege to be instructed by Young Men General President Steven Lund and Sister Tamera Runia, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency.
Here are a few insights I gleaned at the training that can benefit youth leaders and members alike:
- The Young Men and Young Women (YM/YW) program is a combined program because they need each other.
- Through research and surveys, they have found that the youth program didn’t help our youth become disciples as well as it could have. I.e., no one left the Church because they couldn’t tie a slip knot or receive the YW medallion. But they may have left because they lacked a relationship of discipleship. The new approach to the YM/YW program is to focus on how to become better disciples of Christ as leaders; develop relationships of trust with the youth; invite them through word and deed to also become disciples.
- What do we want our youth to walk away with after spending six years in the youth program? It’s important that we give them opportunities to feel God’s love for them and that they can identify that experience.
- We were asked to consider who had “discipled” us in our journey and then ponder on that and why it was impactful. (What a sweet experience to consider the impact of my “Mission Mom” and the sister who invited me to explore the restored gospel.)
- Sister Runia shared an insight that if we forgot to brush our teeth one day, we would not say, “Well, I missed a day so I guess I might as well give up and never brush them again.” We often apply that mindset to holy habits, but we can always restart scripture study, prayer, etc. The doctrine of Christ is a pattern that helps us become disciples through our righteous routines and holy habits.
- We were counseled to have our weeknight activities be a balance between eternal truths and creating belonging. So plan with that purpose in mind.
- Of note: The Church research has found the most important youth activities in the Church are ones that establish relationships of trust and love with adults and youth.
- Outdoor, sensory-rich environments invite clarity and focus to learn new things. (No electronic distractions for three days then opens their mind and heart. That’s why girls and boys camps are so impactful.)
- The importance of shadow leadership: If the youth are involved in the “gathering” and planning, those who attend will develop relationships. Let them lead. They know what their peers want and need.
- We see a lot about our current generation and their desire to be inclusive and sensitive to marginalized groups. Guide them so that includes having inclusiveness in gathering souls to Christ. Everyone deserves to know, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?”
- For example, in Luke 14:16-23, the wealthy man held a feast and invited all of his prominent friends, but none come. So he sent his servants (us) to invite anyone they saw on the street to have a seat at the table. Some came and then he directed them to go to the far reaches and they were instructed to “journey with them,” to be sure they could find their way to the feast. We and our youth are called to gather in our friends and more by journeying with them.
- Be sure to have conversations that matter.
- Sister Runia shared: We don’t want our youth to pass through their parents’ Church as tourists. In 3 Nephi 11, how did the Savior connect with each person and child? He looked them in the eye, helping the youth to feel seen. He perceived they were weak, noticing and responding to their needs. If you could hear the Savior pray to the Father about you, what would He say? Consider the power of your prayers at youth activities or in a youth’s home where we pray specifically for them.
- It is in their nature to want to do right, but they don’t always know what that looks like. Help them see those opportunities.
- The Savior is our “why” as YW leaders. Follow His example as taught by Elder Ballard: Know, feel, and do.
A Disciple of Christ
What an exciting time to be on the earth as we literally watch the unfolding of the Lord’s triumphant return. May we each seek to grow in our discipleship, seek after and serve others, and support, encourage, and listen to our wonderful young people.
Beth Young is a convert of 46 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 36 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five adult children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She moved to Utah six years ago and loves writing, teaching, and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Beth is the owner of 5 Pillars of Health, serves as the written content manager at Leading Saints, and is a master gardener. Steven Lund – YM General Presidency President Tamera Runia – YW General Presidency 1st Counselor General Insights: For the strength of youth We know God lives. It is our prayer that you will stay firmly on the covenant path that leads back to your Father in Heaven. As you do, you will be an influence for good, sharing the gospel joyfully and preparing the world for the Second Coming of the Savior.