Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning Seminary. He currently serves as a counselor in his ward bishopric.
Anyone that knows me knows that I am a big fan of Disney theme parks. I love going and experiencing all the nostalgia and joy that can come from visiting Disneyland and Disney World. Ironically, I am not a fan of big thrill ride roller coasters. For me, there is nothing more terrifying than getting on the Tower of Terror and watching those elevator doors close and knowing what is about to happen. Soon the floor would drop out from underneath me, and I would be in a free fall. This is not a very enjoyable experience for the faint of heart.
Over the past few years, my calling as a stake Young Men president has felt a lot like the floor is falling out from underneath me.
Here’s a quick refresher of all the changes that have taken place in four short years:
- In January of 2019 the “Come Follow Me” program was introduced and was to be taught in our homes, Primary and Sunday School classes.
- In January of 2020 the entire youth program was revamped.
- The “For Strength of Youth” program was introduced and the current curriculum of the Young Women (Personal Progress) and the use of the Boy Scouts of America for the Young Men program were eliminated.
- It was also at this time that ward Young Men presidencies were discontinued,
- Bishoprics took on the primary role of leading the Young Men program.
- By Spring of 2020 Covid-19 was in full force. This event not only had a huge impact on the world, but completely changed the way the youth program could operate.
- Finally, stake Young Men presidents would be added as a member of the High Council.
As I look back at these monumental policy changes, I can see the wisdom of putting them in place at the time we did. The Church has been shifting our focus to a home-centered, church-supported mindset. This was a tremendous help when Covid forced everyone to hold church in our homes. However, with these changes in policy, it also completely shifted the mindset of how the Young Men program would function.
I may be a little biased, but in my humble opinion, no callings in the Church were more impacted than the bishop’s and the stake Young Men president’s with these changes. With all that was mentioned, there are four lessons I’ve learned about serving as the stake Young Men president.
While the Lord is unchanging, the policies and programs of the Church are not. I think for many die-hards it was difficult to let go of the Boy Scouts program as part of the Young Men program in the Church. For decades it set the pattern and outline of what our weekly activities and youth nights would look like. There was an exact structure and process to follow. There were a lot of really good principles and lessons that could be learned through the scouting program. Many people did and still do feel that earning your Eagle Scout award is one of the major accomplishments a young man can earn in their lives.
Not only were leaders impacted by the change to the “For Strength of Youth” program, but parents were as well. Gone were the days of dropping your son off at the church to learn how to tie knots and earn merit badges. Now parents were to sit down with their youth and create goals and formulate a plan on how to accomplish them. Anytime there is change it can be uncomfortable and hard to adjust. But this change seemed to have a major impact on the Young Men program.
From the stake Young Men’s perspective, I was concerned that parents would simply not sit down and go through the exercise of setting goals with their children. I worried that our youth would be less prepared for future events like a mission or college. I could absolutely see that if the program was instituted by parents and youth, that it would be tremendously valuable in helping future missionaries set goals, follow up on them and reporting them. But frankly I lacked the faith that it would be executed as intended.
We had to help parents and leaders with this shift of focus. It was not easy at first. Over time, we started to see little changes and victories in our youth and the parents.
In the scriptures we read so often about hard heartedness. Being hard hearted is often associated with one’s unwillingness to adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this can also carry over into our willingness to accept changes in church policies and programs. Understanding that church leaders are both prophets and “see-ers”, they can see things that will be needed in our lives. As this program has developed, I can see that the Lord absolutely had His hand in this change of policy.
Compartmentalize and Delegate
In my stake, a big part of the role of the stake Young Men program and presidency is planning major youth activities and events. This includes, youth conferences, stake Young Men summer camp, Mormon prom, helping to organize FSY, trek and many other activities. These events can take months and in some cases a year or two in advance of planning. They can be very time consuming and mentally exhausting.
As a stake Young Men president, I had to learn to compartmentalize what my roles and assignments were. I also had to learn to delegate and trust those that took on different assignments that they would get the job done. This can be challenging for those of us that are control freaks and like to have our hands in everything. You can offend someone very easily by constantly following up with them and not showing trust in them that they can carry through with their assignments.
Another part of this lesson is that some of these events are just so big, and so involved, that you simply can’t know every detail about every event and activity. Many times, people would come to me and ask me about a specific detail regarding an event. I had to learn to say, “sister or brother so-and-so was handling that aspect and they would be the best person to contact about that.”
The Lord counseled us, “A man should [not] run faster than he has strength”, this is very true when it comes to learning how to compartmentalize and delegate.
Call Good (Friends) Councilors
For many this seems like a no brainer, of course I would want good councilors in any presidency of the Church. But this goes beyond just having capable councilors.
I actually went through two sets of councilors as part of my presidency. The first set of councilors I had were wonderful, hard-working brethren. We got along great and we did a lot of wonderful things.
On the second set of councilors, I had the opportunity to call a couple of brethren that I am really good friends with. My secretary was actually one of my young men that I worked with years beforehand when I was serving as an early morning Seminary teacher.
Having a base of friendship and an established relationship going into the new presidency made a world of difference. As good as the first round was, the second round flowed and moved so effortlessly. Others would actually tease us about just being a group of friends that also happened to serve together. But I was amazed at how efficient and effective our presidency ran.
This is not to say we didn’t have differences of opinions on how we should do things. But we had the layers of friendship and previous experiences to guide us. We knew that differences of opinion and discussions around how to approach things were done in love and with the ultimate goal of creating a wonderful spiritual experience for the young men.
We also all had the same philosophy of how we should approach the young men in our stake and what they needed to hear and experience.
Keep Your Relationship With the Young Men
Prior to serving as a stake Young Men president, I was an early morning Seminary teacher. This meant I had daily contact with the youth. I was learning about them and their personalities. I loved seeing them outside of Seminary because I felt like we had a genuine friendship. There was also a comradery of knowing you had been in the “early morning foxhole” together as teacher and student fighting through the sleepiness and also sharing wonderful spiritual experiences.
Stake callings in general can be very different from ward callings. Stake leadership tends to deal more directly with the ward leaders. This is especially true with the new role of the bishoprics acting as a ward Young Men presidency. However, our presidency felt very strongly that we wanted to maintain relationships with all the young men in our stake. We felt it would be very beneficial for future Young Men camps, treks, and youth conferences to be in touch with our young men and to be able to create camps and programs based on real challenges they were facing. We did not want to be an unseen presidency that operated from a far. We felt it was important to visit the wards and get to know as many young men as we could while we were there.
A Special Relationship
Young men are very different than what we were as youth growing up. Connecting with them meant understanding them. In my mind, a stake Young Men presidency is a lot like a grandpa’s relationship with his grandson. He gets to experience a lot of wonderful events and experiences with him but doesn’t have the responsibility of the daily discipline and challenges of a parent. He can share little nuggets of knowledge with him that hopefully stays with that young man for a lifetime. You get to experience the young men in doses and in typically really fun and spiritual settings.
Trusting and Growing With Others
Overall serving in the Young Men program has been very challenging and very rewarding at the same time. I feel like it has forced me to learn to let go of my “Type A” personality of needing to be in control of everything and learn to work with and trust others. It has helped me grow as a leader to work with other leaders within the stake and the varying personalities. It has helped me have a greater appreciation for our youth and what they experience on a daily basis.
When I was first called to be the stake Young Men president, I had a former stake Young Men president tell me that he cried when he was released. At the time I thought that was a little strange. Now, having just been called to serve in my ward’s bishopric, I am beginning to understand those feelings.
It is a very hard and demanding calling, but it is also a very rewarding and fulfilling calling. I will definitely miss serving with my presidency and the relationships I formed with the young men across our stake.