Nathan Nelson has a passion for seeing scriptures beneath their surface and using them to mentor Aaronic Priesthood holders with his likable style of laying low so that others may grow. Nathan and his wife, Kara, are the parents of three amazing daughters and one-of-a-kind son. He is the author of Upon You My Fellow Servants: Harnessing the Power of the Aaronic Priesthood, a book that seeks to sustain Aaronic Priesthood holders, their families, quorums, and priesthood leaders in their collective preparatory pursuit of priesthood power.
When appearing to the aged Zacharias, the angel Gabriel announced the miraculous conception of John the Baptist and in so doing declared a beautiful testimony that would establish a purpose for officers in the Aaronic Priesthood for generations to come. Within his witness and prophecy was this simple statement about the priesthood purpose of the yet unborn, John the Baptist:
“And he shall go before him….to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
Moroni, quoting his father Mormon, expounded on the notion of preparing the way for the Lord when he outlined the Aaronic Priesthood keys to the ministry of angels saying:
…And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men…” (Moroni 7:31)
This notion of going before and preparing the way is a prophetic Aaronic Priesthood mandate that gives renewed purpose and enlightened understanding when contemplating what it means for those who officiate in the preparatory priesthood.
A Prophetic Perspective
When President Russell M. Nelson stood at the pulpit in October 2019 and announced significant changes to the structure of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s programs in the church today he also called substantial attention to this process of preparing a people for the coming of the Lord – more commonly known as the “Gathering of Israel.”
“You will remember that I have invited the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to enlist in the Lord’s youth battalion to participate in the greatest cause on earth today – the gathering of Israel… The cause of the gathering is an essential part of helping to prepare the world and its people for the Second Coming of the Lord.”
Establishing and maintaining this perspective of preparation is imperative for stake and ward leaders as they work together to implement the changes introduced last fall. While bishops work to find their sea-legs again after the elimination of young men’s presidencies they might be well served to look to well-directed stake young men’s presidents for help in establishing a vision within their ward to accomplish the sacred preparatory purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood outlined by prophets both past and present.
When Elder Quentin L. Cook detailed the changes announced by President Nelson, he spoke specifically to this new role of High Councilors called to serve as Stake Young Men’s Presidents:
“These high councilors, under the direction of the stake presidency, can serve as a resource to the bishop and Aaronic Priesthood quorums in a manner similar to the service provided by high councilors to ward elders quorums.”
Elder Cook also accentuated the role of bishops in strengthening both young men and their families.
“It is our hope that bishoprics will give great emphasis and focus to the priesthood responsibilities of young men and help them in their quorum duties.”
As bishop’s work to provide this “great emphasis” to priesthood responsibilities, stake leaders should stand ready and equipped with training and direction to sustain and guide bishops in their efforts. Among the purposes of these structural changes outlined by Elder Cook were the specific objectives to:
“Place the power and duties of the Aaronic Priesthood at the center of every young man’s personal life and goals.” And to: “Motivate adult leaders to assist and mentor Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies in magnifying the power and authority of their office.”
For the power, authority, and duties, of the Aaronic Priesthood to be magnified and placed at the center of a young man’s life, they must be first well understood by those who hold and direct the keys to that Aaronic Priesthood. This is where support from stake leaders can be particularly helpful. It is essential for stake leaders to embrace their supportive role to train and sustain bishops in their efforts to “give great emphasis and focus to the priesthood responsibilities of young men.”
Planning for a Powerful Priesthood
Together with stake leaders, bishops would be wise to give time and effort to developing a plan for a powerful preparatory priesthood, which is effectively a plan to gather Israel in their ward through the exercise of Aaronic Priesthood keys. An effective plan can be developed as leaders council together to discuss the attributes and elements that define Aaronic Priesthood service. Together they might consider questions such as these:
- What do the scriptures teach about the true nature and purpose of the preparatory priesthood?
- What are the foundational pillars of true Aaronic Priesthood power that can be established in our quorums, classes, and wards?
- How does the Lord intend to accomplish his preparatory purposes in our ward/stake through designated Aaronic Priesthood duties and responsibilities?
A powerful preparatory priesthood plan should clearly establish an understanding of the preparatory purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood as the means for preparing ward members for their own encounter with the Lord. As church leaders come to understand and teach the true nature of the preparatory priesthood, they will fulfill prophetic promises of the preparation. When we can effectively place these doctrines within our wards and particularly at the center of our Aaronic Priesthood holders’ personal lives and goals, we will begin to see the power of preparation manifest in meaningful ways.
How can this be accomplished?
You might consider these five points for establishing priesthood power.
- Teach priesthood leaders (especially quorum presidents) the true preparatory doctrine of the Aaronic Priesthood.
- Establish love, knowledge, and personal righteousness as the foundational pillars that will sustain real priesthood power. (See 2 Timothy 1:7-8; D&C 121:36) Empower Aaronic Priesthood duties and activities with these pillars of priesthood power.
- Equip all priesthood assignments with the sustaining power of the underlying preparatory doctrines. When giving priesthood assignments, take care to tie the preparatory doctrines to the assignment being given. A simple example might be to help a deacon recognize that offering the sacrament to a ward member is the fulfilment of a priesthood duty to call to repentance and an invitation to come unto Christ.
- Ensure successful priesthood service. Give assignments that are age appropriate and easily achievable. Help Aaronic Priesthood holders feel accomplished and confident in their service.
- Prepare your people for the coming of the Lord. Share the vision with all members and help them see how the sacrament is the central component of their preparation for their own encounter with Christ. Help all members to see their individual role within the preparatory purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood
In seeking to establish a plan for priesthood power within our families, quorums, and wards, it is essential that we understand the preparatory doctrine of the Aaronic Priesthood. There is no better place to learn about the nature and purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood than from the man who is considered to be the ultimate Aaronic Priesthood holder – John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel prophesied of his holy preparatory assignment and John’s father Zacharias echoed those same preparatory prophecies in Luke Chapter 1.
Understanding the Preparatory Doctrine
Ward and stake leaders can consider each of the Aaronic Priesthood prophecies given through the birth of John and how they are applicable in our families, quorums, and wards, today:
- To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children (verse 17)
- To turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (verse 17)
- To make ready a people for the coming of the Lord and to go before His face and prepare His ways (verse 17 & 76)
- Give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (verse 77)
- Give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (verse 79)
- Guide our feet into the way of peace (verse 79)
These priesthood purposes given to John millennia ago are eternal and profoundly evident in Aaronic Priesthood service today. The Aaronic Priesthood is the preparatory priesthood. It bears this moniker not only because it precedes the Melchizedek Priesthood, but more importantly because it is the priesthood power that is given to prepare God’s children for the coming of the Lord. This preparation certainly encompasses that glorious day when the Savior will return in the flesh, but perhaps more immediately relevantly captures the preparation for those glorious days when those who are properly prepared receive the Lord for themselves through the sacred preparatory ordinances of baptism and the sacrament.
Pursuing Preparatory Purposes
With a firm understanding of the preparatory nature of the Aaronic Priesthood, ward and stake leaders would do well to council together to determine how the Lord intends to accomplish his preparatory purposes in their ward and stake through the designated Aaronic Priesthood duties and responsibilities.
In the final chapters of the Book of Mormon, Moroni quotes his father and outlines the role that Aaronic Priesthood keys have in accomplishing the Lord’s objective to gather Israel. In this verse he beautifully declares the Lord’s preparatory purposes that are embedded within the Aaronic Priesthood keys of repentance, baptism, and the ministry of angels.
“And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.” “And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.” (Moroni 7:32-33)
The office of an angel’s ministry is to call men unto repentance, to do the work of the covenants of the father, and to prepare the way by declaring the words of Christ unto the chosen vessel so that they may bear testimony of Him. It is interesting to note the modern manifestation of these keys in duties given to Aaronic Priesthood holders today – a bishop who holds the keys to the gospel of repentance and deacons, teachers, and priests who can be found each week doing the work of the covenants as they prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament among countless other applications that can be found within all organizations
We can glean some important truths from Mormon’s teachings. Angels continue to be a relevant resource for the Savior’s ministry to his children. They minister unto those who qualify – even in our day. Those who qualify for the ministry of angels have strong faith and are of a firm mind in every form of godliness. The recipients of the ministry of angels are known to the Lord as “chosen vessels.”
Who are these chosen vessels that are blessed by this ministry of angels? Are not the chosen vessels those who are of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness? Are not the chosen vessels those who are actively pursuing the covenants of the Father seeking priesthood power in their lives? Effectively, are not the chosen vessels those who have a testimony of Jesus and who are working to follow Him? The chosen vessels are simply the members of our wards and stakes who are already under covenant to seek the Savior by striving to be worthy to receive the sacrament each week as administered by Aaronic Priesthood holders.
When we, as followers of Jesus Christ, recognize Aaronic Priesthood holders as those charged with preparing the way for each of us, as “chosen vessels” to be of strong faith, firm minds, and to be filled with testimony, we will come to know full well the power of the preparatory priesthood.
How can we put this all together? Angels are called by God to minister to the Lord’s chosen vessels. This could be you and I who are under covenant, being of strong faith and a firm mind. They minister to us “in every form of godliness,” or as we know it, through the ordinances of the preparatory gospel. By virtue of receiving the Holy Ghost, we too can access these ministering angels who can enable us to speak the words of Christ, just as they have spoken to us. We can bear testimony of the Savior and strengthen one another as chosen vessels. We also qualify ourselves to participate in the preparation of the “residue of men” for them to receive the covenant.
The Residue of Men
Finally, who is this “residue of men?” If not the chosen vessels, then they must surely be – everyone else. These are the rest of our Heavenly Father’s children who are waiting for the chosen vessels who through Aaronic Priesthood power have been well prepared to bear testimony of Him.
Under the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, covenant men and women have a royal opportunity to receive the ministering of angels and to bear testimony of Him as we prepare ourselves within our homes and ward to take the Father’s covenant to all of His children. Through this preparatory process, as chosen vessels, we can prepare ourselves to later operate under the greater Melchizedek Priesthood keys, which include the Melchizedek Priesthood mission of taking the gospel to all the world. In this way the Lord perpetuates a process of identifying and inviting chosen vessels to come unto Christ, accept His gospel, and receive His covenant through the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, the gathering of Israel is instigated.
The message from Moroni is consistent with prophetic promises offered today. Elder Cook concluded his introduction to the recent Aaronic Priesthood adjustments with this promise that echoes the promises made by Moroni:
“I promise and testify that these comprehensive adjustments, under the direction of an inspired president and prophet, Russell M. Nelson, will empower and strengthen every member of the Church.”
Every member of the church. The chosen vessels of the Lord. The residue of men. “And after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.”