Dr. Robert Ferrell has served as an elders quorum president, high counselor, YSA bishop, and YSA stake president, and has presented at firesides and conferences—including BYU Education Week—about connecting with young single adults. He grew up in the Bay Area of California but lives in Mountain Green, Utah, and is a periodontist working in the Ogden area. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a doctoral degree in dental surgery, and he and his wife are the parents of eight children.
7:30 His call as a YSA stake president came while serving as a bishop, forming a new YSA stake
11:00 He saw a need for a greater understanding of young adults today, and decided to present at BYU Education Week as an advocate for young adults
13:10 Stigmas of the Millennial generation in and outside of the Church
14:20 The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not lose people; the culture, tradition, false doctrine, and application loses people
15:20 Creating a young adult program needs to start with a strong organizational structure
16:00 Most wards are not aware of the problem with the activity rate among YSAs
17:10 Priesthood keys and leadership have to be behind the leaders in a YSA program
21:10 It can be easy to lose track of YSAs, and family wards need to work with YSA programs to focus on rescuing—most effective when the stake presidents work together with YSA leaders
25:00 Worked with his area seventy and coordinating councils and were able to see great success with the program
- Multiple ward mission leaders were assigned to the stakes that funneled YSAs to their YSA ward, and senior adult couples assigned to be the bridge between the YSA ward and the home stake
- Returned missionaries are prepared to help rescue other YSAs
27:25 Wanted as many of the less-active records as they could, so they could organize and reach out to rescue them
- Focused on organizational structure with leaders working together
- Ministering happened among the active members, YSA ward mission leaders handled the rest
31:10 The organizational process has to be there to help young adults come unto Christ
31:50 #1 cultural concept that must change: YSA wards are not about marriage, they don’t need to be reminded, and that message turns them away
34:00 The purpose of the young single adult program is helping them connect with Jesus Christ
36:40 YSA programs are not glorified YMYW programs, and activities need to be planned by the YSAs and be focused on things that help connect them to Christ
40:15 Leadership by collaboration instead of control: turn it over to them
- The Lord used young adults to restore the Church; they can be trusted with the YSA program
45:10 Example of giving autonomy: Stake YSA Relief Society presidency recognized a pornography problem with the sisters and taught about it at ward conferences
47:10 Encouraged the sisters to turn to their Relief Society president when they have a problem, and take it to the bishop when they are ready to repent
49:30 Counsel given to him as the stake president was that you cannot rescue YSAs and then throw the book at them
- Is that approach too soft? Story of missionary who returned after less than a week in the MTC, due to sexual transgression
1:00:30 The sins are a symptom of a more serious doctrinal problem and the purpose of discipline is to save the soul of the transgressor, not to punish
1:04:00 Bishops and counselors need to be working on the same level so they can develop relationships with the YSA ward members
1:05:00 Behavior vs. doctrine: sin is the consequence of Satan’s real purpose
1:08:00 Leaders need to help them resolve contention in their lives
1:10:45 Not knowing the meaning of worthiness is the greatest cause of contention
1:16:00 Example of young woman who asked, “Where do I find joy?”
1:18:35 Doctrine & Covenants 10: contention, worthiness, and false doctrine
1:20:30 Doctrine is not black and white but progressional in nature: begin repentance by coming unto Christ and feeling His love
1:26:15 These young adults are hungry to find Jesus Christ and their examples have brought him closer to the Lord
Kurt: Here’s my interview with Dr. Robert Ferrell.
Today I’m in the dental office but not in the dentist chair, thankfully…
Rob: Thank goodness.
Kurt: …with Dr. Rob Farrell. What kind of dentist are you?
Rob: I’m a periodontist. So dental surgeon.
Kurt: Sounds like a dinosaur.
Rob: Easy now. I am.
Kurt: Maybe not the best place to start. So you don’t do the typical dental checkups?
Rob: No, 95% of what I do is surgery. So take teeth out, place implants. Just a lot of stuff that no one really wants to do.
Kurt: I mean, the joke is every Latter-Day Saints boy becomes a dentist and moves to Utah and tries to succeed. Did you differentiate yourself by heading down this path?
Rob: Yeah, yeah. As a specialist, it’s a little different. There are not very many periodontists in the stake. So it’s kind of a unique place. I’m a Californian guy who came to Utah.
Kurt: What part of California?
Rob: I grew up in the Bay Area.
Kurt: Nice. Nice. It’s a little cheaper here to live and raise a family. Do you live here in Ogden then?
Rob: I live in Mountain Green. Just right up the mountains here, 15 minutes from Ogden.
Kurt: Is your wife from Utah?
Rob: She’s from [inaudible 00:07:02]
Kurt: Good. Now, you’ve also had experience serving as a Young Single Adult stake president, which we’ll talk about. What do you remember about that call coming to you?
Rob: I was serving as a Young Single Adult bishop when I was called. And this was probably – how long ago was that? That was probably seven, eight years ago, where they along the Wasatch Front decided to call all of these new Young Single Adult stake presidencies, where it was more going to be based on geographical boundaries. So I think they called 17 stake presidencies along the Wasatch Front at the same time.
It was unique in the fact that we were forming a brand new young single adult stake. There was no protocol for this because it was a non-college stake. So pretty new territory. I was called and had to find 12 High Council in my area. We had 22 stakes I think funneled into my stake. I don’t know any of those 22 stakes.
I had to find counselors, I had to find my own counselors, I had to find a Relief Society presidency. So it’s very unique opportunity to start a stake from scratch, and then not really having a lot of counsel on how to start the stake. It was just a couple of ideas and go, see how this is going to work. So we had a lot of trial and error.
Kurt: What’s the process of finding counselors or even counselors for yourself? Do you have to pick within a geographic area?
Rob: Yeah, the boundaries of our stake, which were pretty large boundaries.
Kurt: But then you can venture out. Obviously, there’s multiple traditional ward stakes. so how do you become familiar with those people?
Rob: I call stake presidents and say, “Here’ is what I’m looking for. I need a bishop, I need counselors. I need a high council.” And they would send people to us to interview. The tricky part of that is a lot of those stake presidents didn’t really know exactly what we were looking for. So when I would call, for example, a high councilor or a bishop, we probably interviewed anywhere from 10 to 20 people to find the right fit for that calling. So we did a lot of—
Kurt: So even though you interviewed someone, it didn’t mean you were extending a call?
Rob: Yeah. Which was really awkward. You’d call someone and have kind of a get to know you interview, and then not sure if this is going to turn out to a calling or not. And that was just always an awkward interview to have.
Kurt: How long did that process take to start up a YSA stake?
Rob: I was called about a month before they organized the stake.
Rob: So it’s a busy time.
Kurt: So you and your counselor just put your heads down and got to work.
Kurt: Put on your revelation gap. Wow, that’s interesting. And then, as YSA bishop, how long did you serve in that role before you were called?
Rob: I was five years there. I’m sorry, three years there. And about three and a half years, and then about five and a half years as stake president?
Kurt: It’s pretty traditional. [00:10:00] I think it’s across the whole church that YSA bishops are three years, stake presidents are five.
Rob: Yeah. I think it’s because you’re so busy.
Kurt: Was it a shock when you were called as a bishop in the YSA? Did that come out of nowhere?
Rob: Yeah. At the time, we had seven kids, and we had a young family. When I was called, my wife was pregnant with our eighth child.
Kurt: Oh, my goodness.
Rob: And I thought, “There’s no way we get called to be Young Single Adult bishop. I’ll say that was the greatest calling I’ve ever had in my life. Not just for me, but it was a phenomenal experience for my family. We had a young family. So we blessed two babies in the Young Single Adults ward when we were the bishop and it was wonderful to see those young adults from my family.
Kurt: And prior to that, did you serve in various capacities in your family work?
Rob: Yeah. I’ve served kind of all over the place. I’ve been Elders Quorum president couple times and Young Men’s president couple times, high counselor.
Kurt: Nice. From all this experience of serving as bishop and as a stake president, you have now been presenting at Education Week at BYU? Is that the last few years?
Rob: Yeah. Last two years. This will be the third year this summer that I’ll be teaching there. And wow, there’s a real need for this topic of young adults.
Kurt: Is that what encouraged you to apply to teach there?
Rob: Yeah. I feel like this generation gets really a bad rap in the church, definitely outside of the church. So I really feel like I’m an advocate for this generation. I see so many wonderful, incredible things that are going on. so that’s why I decided to go talk to Education Week is I was hearing so many negative things about this rising generation. I wanted to maybe show another side to that.
The first year I went to Education Week, nobody knows me. I’m just a new face and a new name, and yet my class was packed. And nothing to do with me. It was the topic. That really hit me that wow, people are really worried about this rising generation. What do we do? So that’s a big concern of mine because I think we are seeing quite a shift in this generation leaving organized religion. And it’s not just our faith. That’s across the board in Christianity in the United States. And what do we do about that? What’s the best way to help with that?
Kurt: Was there a lot of parents that were in that?
Rob: Yes. It’s Education Week. Your typical attendee from Education Week is probably middle-agedmom. There’s some men, but that’s predominantly what it is. I would have some young adults come to the class. And what I loved about that is I’d have these adults come up afterwards, and thank you for being an advocate, for showing a different side to what’s going on, and to talk about ways that my generation can really connect with what they call the millennial generation.
There’s a big gap there. And there’s a big struggle in priesthood leadership. There’s a pretty big gap. And knowing how to connect with this generation parentally, I think there’s a pretty large gap as well. So people are a little desperate what to do.
Kurt: So when you talking about advocacy, what are the stigmas that you are always trying to battle when it comes to that generation of young single adults?
Rob: It’s just that entitled, lazy, they’re not hard working—
Rob: Yeah. Addicted to social media. I hear that one more time. I heard someone once say, “It’s kind of like telling a baby boomer, that they’re addicted to electricity.” This is the culture we’re living. This is reality. But they get that a lot. They want instant gratification, they’re not willing to sacrifice, pay a price. Just the list goes on, and on and on.
And I think outside of the church, there’s a real problem, I think with what the millennial generation is perceived as. But I think quietly, there’s that issue in the church. I would talk to young adults on a regular basis as the stake president, and I now do lots of fireside chats and things like that, and I’ll always ask that age group, “What do you think the generation above you thinks about you? Negative, positive, neutral?” Every single time it’s negative. Never do I get, “Oh, positive. Awesome.” It’s always negative.
Kurt: Perceptions or reality regardless if that’s true or not.
Rob: Right. I’m a strong believer that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not lose people. What loses people is the culture, the tradition, the false doctrine, the application. And that’s the stuff that we got to start changing because this generation just won’t play that game. You know, manipulation, shame, all of that stuff. So we need to change our approach. Sometimes when I talk like that people think I’m talking doctrinally leading the church. It’s not what I’m talking about.
Kurt: Not at all.
Rob: It’s the approach on what we’re going to do to really learn how to connect. [00:15:00]
Kurt: From Education Week, and obviously, people become more familiar with you and speaking around the Young Single Adults that you’ve been asked to speak, whether it’s a fireside, or group of leaders, or people starting up YSA stakes or wards. You mentioned before we hit record that you see people just trying to reinvent the wheel again, which is difficult. So if you were to stand in front of a new group of leaders trying to start a YSA, where would you start with them?
Rob: Well, I just had that opportunity. I went back east, and I went also to another spot in the south, where they brought me out to just talk to the leaders and the people that were involved with trying to put together a young adult program. It was really actually quite sad to me that we just call people and throw them into it, “Just go try to figure it out,” where… this is why I love what you’re doing with these podcasts. Because where else do people go to try to get ideas? And who do they call and contact? I went out to visit and kind of gave some ideas, and they were just so hungry for anything to start with.
Fundamentally, what needs to happen is, I think the first thing is you need a really strong organization structure because most of the wards and the stakes when it comes to young adults aren’t really aware of the problem. Where I was the stake president in Syracuse, that’s northern Utah, this is the heart of the church, we had about a 25% activity rate. We didn’t even have records of all the young adults in our area.
So we had about 4,500 records in our stake. There were about 8,000 young single adults in our boundaries. If we would have had all of those records, I guarantee it would be less than 25%. I was in a coordinating council meeting with a group of stake presidents and a visiting general authority was going around the room and asking us what our activity rate was. He came to me and I said, “Well, we’re about 25%.” And he said, “Oh, no way.” I said, “Yeah, we have about 30% inactivity rate amongst returned missionaries.”
Kurt: He was surprised it was high or low?
Rob: He was surprised it was that low?
Rob: So I think that’s the problem is we don’t really know how big the problem is. And I know I’m biased, but I personally think this is probably the greatest challenge the church is facing right now because this generation is leaving at a very quick pace. There are many reasons now we can talk about that later on.
But so I think, primarily, the first thing people have to do if they’re going to get some kind of a program together is they have to have priesthood keys and leadership that are behind the program. So if I’m in, Alabama, or wherever, and someone’s called to start a young, single adult program in the area, there’s no keys, who do they report to? And so the challenges, they go to all these stakes and all these bishops who are busy and swamped, and they want to try to start this Young Single Adult program, and it’s really hard to get it off the ground.
Kurt: What do you mean there’s no keys? Obviously, the stake presidents are ordained with keys. But what do you mean by that?
Rob: Well, they have a calling. Like, they’ll call them into nurturing couple or a young single adult couple that’s going to be over an area, and they’re just told, “We want you to put together a Young Single Adult program.” So they start activities outside of Utah, where maybe their groups aren’t as large. And they’re trying to get the support of the home bishop and the home stake presidents.
Now when they go outside of whoever called them, there might be a stake president, or sometimes there’s an area Seventy that will call them. So they’re responsible for multiple stakes. But now you have somebody just who [?] bishops and stake president saying, “We need your help and support.”
Kurt: And they don’t know who they are really.
Rob: And they’re like, “Okay, I got 10,000 things on my plate right now, and this is one more person coming to talk to me about one more thing.” It’s not a very effective way to start a Young Single Adult program, and yet, that’s the most common way. So what you really need is you need an area Seventy, who if they want to program has to sit down with a coordinating council with all the stake presidency in the area and say, “This is the Young Single Adults program. This is what we’re going to be doing. Here’s the contact people that are going to be involved in this. Eventually, we want to get a ward going here for young adults, and I need all your stake presidents to get in line and follow this program.” Because now they’re following priesthood keys.
Kurt: Got you. It’s a directive.
Rob: Then Rob showing up, and they don’t know who we are. Like, yeah we know, it’s important, and we want to support that, but we’re swamped.
Kurt: Got you.
Rob: But when it comes through the hierarchy of the church, it’s going to be a lot more effective.
Kurt: And it’s organized. “Here’s some direction, here’s what to focus on.”
Rob: Instead of just calling someone and throwing them out there. And it’s even true in a just a regular stake. If the stake president doesn’t have all the bishops saying, “Here’s the program, here’s how we’re going to align with this program,” then nothing. You’re just spinning your wheels. So it gets frustrating for those that are trying to put together the program.
Kurt: Now, this is interesting because me being in my Utah bubble, I don’t realize because we have so many numbers that you can just create a ward and you have support there, but outside where is sort of the Young Single Adult program starts as a program, not as a ward. [00:20:01] And so it’s within various stakes, and you call a few people to go around and hopefully stimulate this to happen. And that’s where priesthood keys are crucial to…
Rob: I’ll tell you, even in Utah. So here’s the something we don’t even think about. In the Young Single Adult world, when do priesthood keys overlap? If you have two stakes that are next to each other, there’s no overlapping of keys there. So the next line is the area Seventy. Or when you have a Young Single Adult ward or a Young Single Adult stake, I have keys, and so do the 20 stake presidents that I’m working with. And we’re overlapping keys.
So you can see there’s a little bit of an awkwardness and a challenge there that almost can sometimes turn into a little competition. The young adult program is stealing the young adults from us, and we need to return missionaries in our ward to help with the youth. Or once again, that’s President Ferrell’s stake over there. But when an area Seventy says, “Oh, no, no, no, here’s the program and we need you stake president supporting it,” then you’d surprised in Utah to how much of a challenge that is.
Kurt: And I remember being that family ward bishop where all of a sudden these records show up. And I’m like, “What is this?” It’s almost as passive-aggressive battle between the YSA stakes and the family ward stakes.
Rob: Which is sad, because we should be collaborating together. Because in a homeward or home stake, who really is working with those young adults? Who’s really trying to find them work with them all that kind of stuff? You ask a typical bishop and stake president, my experiences, they don’t know the numbers, they don’t know how many young adults they have, they don’t know what the activity rate of those young adults are. They are a group that can disappear really fast. And so who’s tracking that? Who’s on top of that?
So If you are a home bishop, and I come in as a Young Single Adult bishop or Young Single Adult stake president, or a Young Single Adult advisor outside of Utah’s trying to create something, why would you not want to say, “Here’s every young single adult in my ward. How do we collaborate? How do we work together because you’re right? we got to figure out how to help these young single adults?”
Kurt: Because you need some type of ground rules. Again, it helps when they come to priesthood keys in that direction. Because I just know that there’s almost like the YSA bishop can say, “Okay, we haven’t seen this group of single adults for a while, let’s dump them into the family ward.” Or the family ward Bishop says, “All right, we haven’t seen this group of a young single adult, let’s dump them in the YSA ward.” And it’s just this digital battle that’s going on.
Rob: Right. Then I think it’s to the whole vision of the Young Single Adult program which should really be based on rescuing young single adults. And young single adults, I think is interesting is studies will show us that they are more likely to turn to lateral mentors than they are vertical mentors. So that peer influence is pretty significant with this generation. So that’s why the Young Single Adults program is so effective. Because if some 50-year-old guy like me is out knocking doors trying to invite young adults to an activity or program or something like that, they’re bolting out the back door unless I was their young men’s president or add some kind of personal connection with them, which isn’t going to happen most of the time.
So if you could create a situation where young adults were helping rescue other young adults. Imagine a home Bishop having a returning missionary come into his ward, and say, “Bishop, Kurt, you have 25 young adults in your ward. We have visited all 25 of these and adults, and here’s the status of those 25 young adults. Five of them want to attend this ward and the other ones, we’re going to still continue to invite to activities, and 10 of them are inactive.” Can you imagine as a bishop having a returning missionary come in and help you get control of what’s happening with those young adults?
Kurt: And that returning missionary will be representing the YSA?
Rob: Right. Yeah. I mean, that’d be powerful, building of a bridge to bring the two different priesthood keys that are overlapping together. And yet, what we’re doing is that we have these Young Single Adult programs that really are these isolated programs that cannot [00:23:24] there by themselves, then we’re not building bridges with the home wards and stake presidents.
Kurt: And you’re nothing there’s a specific way to do that. But you’re saying make a connection between the family ward and the YSA, talk bishop the bishop or stake president to stake president, and say, “What’s our plan? How can we help each other?”
Rob: Because imagine in Utah or outside of Utah, you have a 17-year-old young man that you’ve been working with on pornography problems. And he’s turned 18 and graduating and is going to go off to the Young Single Adult program. And you’ve never met the Young Adult bishop? How worried would you be about letting that young man go after the Young Single Adult program?
he church handbook says that young adult can make the decision at 18. A bishop and a stake President should not be making the decision. It is up to the young adult and to the parent to make that decision. So at 18, how scary that would be as a bishop and you love this young man and you don’t want him to fall through the cracks, and you want to make sure that’s getting passed on, but it’s so big and so large, but you don’t know this Bishop, you’ve never met the bishop. So you can see if there’s not good communication like that, the program really can’t get going. And you have to have critical mass for the Young Single Adult program or it’s not going to work.
Kurt: What did that communication look like for you? Was it a quarterly meeting? How did you can facilitate that between your stake in the family stake?
Rob: I had several talks with our area Seventy to make sure that we were on the same page. He saw the same vision that I saw, and we were in coordinating councils, and we were training the stake presidents that were supposed to then turn around train the bishops. [00:25:02]
Kurt: And these are all YSA stake presidents and your coordinating council?
Rob: These are all traditional stake presidents.
Kurt: Got you.
Rob: I’m the only Young Single Adult stake president and that coordinating council. So I got 12 other stake presidents that are sending young adults to me, and we want to make sure we’re all on the same page. And it wasn’t until we did that, that we really saw great success with the Young Single Adult program. Because now it’s me begging a bishop and a stake president, a home bishop, a home stake president to send me their young adults. And it wasn’t very effective. But when the Seventy says, “This is the program we’re going to work with,” it worked pretty effectively.
So what we did is we had multiple ward mission leaders, and we would have them assigned to the different stakes that would funnel into that particular ward. So in our area, we had probably sometimes two to three stakes that would funnel into one Young Single Adult ward. So we’d have ward mission leaders that would go to each one of those stakes. And the turnover of young adults was so high. This is where we would use senior adults where we would have a couple assigned from each stake – not to go out and rescue, not to interact necessarily with the young single adults, but to be the bridge between the Young Single Adult ward and the home stake because they were consistent and they’d be there for a period of time. They were the ones that really made sure communication happened and that we were consistent in that. That was a very effective way.
Kurt: And I love this. That it wasn’t that the bishop or bishoprics had to go out and connect with these family wards. You called your ward mission leader, made a part of that calling to build that bridge. So it’s not one more thing that these bishops or leaders have to do.
Rob: No. And you have all these returning missionaries that have divided up their missions and areas. This is a perfect segue for them to do after their missions. That they’re now going to divide up the three stakes and they’re going to go and rescue. And now I’ve got a team of ward missionaries that now a lot of Young Single Adult wards don’t want all of the less active records in their ward because that’s just more work for them.
But in our philosophy, and my experience has been that the rescuing of young adults is what makes the young adult program so powerful. And that’s what the Brethren wanted. They want that to happen. They’re doing this to rescue young single adults. So we wanted as many of those less active records in our ward as we can possibly get so that our ward missionaries were out trying to find them. How many of them were married or moved or in the military? There was so much mess there to try to clean up. We cleaned up hundreds and hundreds of records that were just sitting there with no one to find.
So that organizational part of it was I think a real critical part. And the rescuing was huge. I was in a meeting probably towards the end of my time as the stake president with four area Seventies who were talking to five Young Single Adult stake president. And they said that one of the concerns that they had was the Brethren were not seeing an increase in sacrament attendance in the Young Single Adult wards, and so they’re worried if this program is really working or not.
They were consistently seeing 150, 200 people on sacrament after doing all this rescuing. And the point of the Young Single Adult program is to rescue young single adults and help them come into Christ. If we’re doing that effectively, we should be seeing these wards getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
So these five stake presidents said, “Well, time out.” Do you know how many people in that ward went on missions in this last year we lost? You know how many of them went off to college that we lost? Do you know how many of them got married that we lost? So we’re losing 40, 50 young adults every year, and sacrament attendance is staying the same.
Kurt: Which means it’s increasing.
ob: We’re having huge success. But if you’re just looking at sacrament meetings attendance, you’re going to miss it.
Kurt: Got you.
Rob: But that was all in the rescuing. In our stake, when we were really functioning the best we could, we were getting 200 less actives returning back into activity every year. That’s an entire ward. Every year. Can you imagine if your home ward was doing that? And that was all focused on organizational structure, area Seventies on the same page, stake presidents are on the same page, homes bishops are on the same page, I’ve got adult couples that are bridging the gap between all of those, I got a very effective ward missionary program, and we’re trying to rescue young single adults.
Kurt: So the way you saw it, I mean, you wanted as many of those young single adult records that you could get. Is that accurate?
Rob: Absolutely. Yeah. And a lot of people would be scared with that. Like when we did this, when we were at our prime getting all the records, we would have some wards that would have 800 records in them, and 140 people attending church. That can be overwhelming. How do you handle at the time home teaching, [inaudible 00:29:38] teaching, but now ministering? How do you assign everybody?
Well, we would just assign those that were coming to the church on some kind of…You know, if they came once a month, they would have at the time a home teacher, a minister that would be involved with them. And that other 600 people that we’ve got the records for, that was what the ward missionaries were doing. [00:30:02] They were out making visits and trying to clean up those records, first of all, and then second trying to reactivate them. If we don’t have our hands on them, and we’re not using those, who is? I guarantee you if they are doing it, but they’re not doing it effectively because they’re sending senior couples out to go visit those young adults.
Kurt: Bless their heart.
Rob: And so they’re spinning their wheels, and they’re not very effective. So to me, I felt like someone’s got to get their hands on those records and do something with them. And so it should be the Young Single Adults program.
Kurt: And you just own them, right? You just say, “This is our battle to…” And like you said, the peer to peer is going to be more effective.
Rob: And I tell my bishops, “Don’t freak out when you got 800 records in your wards, because that scares them to death. You still have your core that are showing up.” We just have now a pool of people that go visit. Their ward missionaries are going to be plenty busy. And if it takes us three years to get through all those, great. At least we got our hands on it.
Kurt: Anything else? I mean, this is probably three podcasts that we could fill with this. But as far as anything else we need to mention as far as the dynamic between the family wards and the Young Single Adult wards? Anything else about that dynamic of people?
Rob: Yeah. The last thing I would tell you, which is critical about the organizational thing because you got to have the organizational structure. But then I’d like to take a few minutes if we can talk about the doctrinal stuff that helps connect these young adults. But if the organizational process isn’t there, then helping young adults connect with Christ isn’t going to work. Because if I got a small ward or if I’ve got 10 young adults comeingthings, that critical mass, it’s hard to get people to show up.
If someone is coming back for the first time, and they walk into an activity with 200 people in it, it’s an exciting place to be at. If they show up, and it’s just low energy and low numbers, it’s going to be hard to bring those less active back into activity. But I’ll tell you, the number one thing that we’ve got to stop is we’ve got to stop the emphasis of what people think the young adult program is all about.
Kurt: Which is it’s about marriage, right?
Rob: Yeah. We laugh about that, but when you talk to stake presidents and bishops and parents, that’s what they all think. They all think it’s all about getting these young adults married and part of the regular the rest of the church. That is the most damning thing that we’re doing right now. And we have got to stop this message that the Young Single Adult program is about getting them married because it’s not.
If you want graduating seniors to come to your program…I can’t tell you how many moms have told me, “I’m not sending my 18-year-old daughter to the Young Adult ward, because it’s a meat market and they just want to try to get them all married off.” Or “I don’t want to send my young man who’s going to be going on a mission. I want him to focus on a mission. I don’t want to be in the Young Adult Ward to get distracted.” And yet the best place for him to be preparing for a mission. Can you imagine if I get a return missionary and an 18-year-olds that are going out and visiting 600 less actives? What better preparation could you have for a mission?
So we have the wrong vision of what this is all about. And they’re sick and tired of people talking about the marriage. They know. I think for many of them, it’s pouring salt into a wound. They want to get married, and they want to do things, and others that the timing’s not right. So we just got to stop that. I was kind of brutal because I felt like with the young adults, if I didn’t have the right leaders, then it would kill the program quickly. So I would release people pretty fast because I don’t have time to train and get you up to speed. You got to hit the ground running, or I can’t spend a year trying to get you trained. On that year, you’ll kill the Young Adult program.
So I’d have high counselors that would come and they give their talks, and it all be about marriage. I’m, “Nope, we’re not doing that.” What redeeming message is there to go out and tell less actives or even active young adults, “Hey, come join this Young Single Adult program because we want to get you married off.”
Kurt: It doesn’t work.
Rob: It doesn’t work. So what should be happening is the purpose of the Young Single Adult program is helping young adults find Jesus Christ. That’s the purpose. Forget about marriage, missions. Let’s just focus on connecting them with Christ. If we can do that, then guess what happens? More marriages automatically happen, more missions automatically happen. We will get better marriages and better missionaries. We just got the wrong focus. And I think that scares young adults away. They don’t want to be involved in the Young Single Adult program because of this constant message of young adults.
Kurt: As part of that, obviously, there are messages out there and people are encouraging the verbal a or through for their talks or whatever. But what are your thoughts as far as a lot of the activities where that’s like, okay, let’s do some speed dating, or let’s do this activity and talk and hey, she’s cute over there? Is that along the same line?
Rob: Yeah. I have talked to a lot of young adults. And I don’t say this to try to brag or boast at all, but I guesstimate that my time with young adults is I have probably had between 8,000 to 10,000 interviews with the young adults. [00:35:05] When we talk one on one, and we talk about these issues, it’s people aren’t interested in that and it’s also a creepy thing.
I’m just telling you, that mindset has to change. And I do see it changing. I think if you listen to the Brethren and what they’re talking about, I mean, we’re seeing more and more of this emphasis on connecting with Christ and getting away from this to do list and this checkbox of all the achievements we’re supposed to be doing” Marriage, mission, children. We got to stop pounding that drum of somehow you belong, somehow you’re righteous, somehow you’re doing the right things. If you’re married at a certain time, and then you have to have kids at a certain time or you went on mission or didn’t go on a mission.
Kurt: And that’s a cultural aspect you’re talking about.
Rob: Not doctrine. Of course, marriage is important. Of course, missions are great. But pounding that drum that somehow you’re a good member of this church if you have those checklists, I think we got to be careful with that.
Kurt: [inaudible 00:36:08] is the weeds of culture that kind of corrupts the goodness. I think when it comes to activities, a lot of leaders are coming from a very…they want to help, they want to stimulate relationships and create a good time. So they come with this sort of passive-aggressive approach that this activity will get people talking. If they get talking, maybe they will pass phone numbers. And if they pass for numbers, maybe they will get married. So what’s your philosophy as far as activities go with—
Rob: Well, first of all, the activities have got to be planned by the young adults. Sometimes what we do in these young adult programs is we make them glorified young men, young women programs, and the adults think they have all these great ideas, and they’re going to do this and that. The young adults have got to be doing the organization, the planning of what is cool, what’s hip, what’s fun, what would be something that would be an attractive thing to bring people out. Because there are just a lot of cheesy things.
And I think sometimes what we do is we think we have to entertain the young adults, and we live in a day and age where we’re competing against the world. Good luck. Trying to entertain them at that kind of a level. So to me, yes, you have to have activities, you have to have things that are meaningful and not these cheesy activities that they can see through that all we’re going to try to get them lined up. Those things happen naturally at activities. They happen naturally with interaction with people. We don’t have to force something that’s going to occur.
One, I would have them plan the activities and making sure they’re doing things that they think would be enticing to young adults. And once again, the focus should be on things that help connect them to Jesus Christ, not so much all these activities we’re going to do to make it fun. There’s a balance. You have to have that. In my stake, I had so many…Because I’m a strong believer that we use priesthood leaders incorrectly. We think we go to priesthood leaders when we have sin, and we have to repent, and we’re in trouble. And that’s typically where people will go to a priesthood leader.
In my opinion, a priesthood leader should be someone who’s helping you connect with Jesus Christ. If you’re stuck, if you’re not progressing, if you’re not having spiritual experiences, that may have nothing to do with sin in your life. You’re just not progressing spiritually, you should be talking to these spiritual mentors, and having them help you grow and progress. That was the message we had in our stake. And so my schedule was getting pretty full because people were coming in typically to see the stake president, it’s either mission, marriage, endowment, or huge problems.
So when I opened the door up to the fact that I want to try to help mentor people to find Christ, my executive secretary was about killed me because my schedule is packed now. So I decided I was going to do a Friday night discussion once a month, where we would just talk doctrinal discussions once a month on a Friday night. My high counselors and my stake thought no one’s going to show for that.
Kurt: It’s a Friday night.
Rob: It’s a Friday night. Are you kidding me? There’s a thousand things to do. Well, we would pack the chapel every time we do that. And we would have incredible doctrinal discussions and things that they’re struggling with. And what about this? And—
Kurt: Like a real conversation.
Rob: How can you handle conversations about blacks in the priesthood and gay marriage. We just got into some great discussions. So that shows me the hunger and the desire for that kind of stuff. The world can’t compete with that because we only have that. We’re going to put on some fun activity, there’s lots of competition on the world. [00:40:04]
Kurt: You mentioned as far as having the young single adults plan these activities, this dynamic of sort of giving autonomy to that group, where a lot of it can be a glorified youth program where they feel like, “I’m here to supervise sort of direct what we’re going to do and you guys have fun.” So any other thoughts as far as how to hand over that autonomy to the auxiliary of Relief Society or the Elders Quorum?
Rob: To me, it’s got to be collaboration instead of control. As a parent, the command and control style of parenting doesn’t work with this generation. You are going to kill the relationship with your children. And yet, that’s what I grew up with is the command and control style. So sometimes we use those leadership experiences with the young adults, where you truly have to turn this over to them. If I had my way, I would have had young adults on the High Council, I would have had young adults in the bishopric.
But one thing we did is we released the senior sisters that were all married in our Stake Relief Society program. So I decided I was going to release them and call young single adults to serve as our Stake Relief Society. And I got some feedback from that, and people weren’t all that excited about it. I got approval from my Seventy because we felt like it was kind of outside of the box.
And when I called the Seventy up, his response to me was, “Why didn’t you do that a long time ago?” So I released them. And then I called all young single adult sisters, and they came to our coordinating High Council meeting for the first time. And they’re all sitting on the back row. Fifteen old men running the Young Single Adult stake, I got four sisters on the back there sitting around their hands during the meeting, and I’m trying to engage them.
But halfway through it, a topic came up that they then responded to, and it lit up those four sisters, and they just sat there and looked at us and said, “That’s not going to work. This isn’t going to work. You’re doing this and you’re pushing people away.” And they took the next 45 minutes of the meeting, and it was phenomenal to have them show us all this stuff we thought was so wise and wonderful for them to say, “This isn’t working, and you’re going to push people away. You’re going to have this and that.” It was great to see them have that. They want a seat at the table and they want to contribute.
Here’s what just blows my mind. We have some of them are returning missionaries so they have incredible experiences. Some of them are returning missionaries that are so mature and so deep in their thinking. The Lord used young adults to restore the church. I think we probably can trust them to run a Young Single Adult program. And so we just got to get out of the way and let them do some of that stuff.
Kurt: So can you call a young single adult to the High Council?
Rob: I’m probably on the blacklist at the church somewhere because I called [inaudible 00:42:50] in the Young Single Adult ward in our area, those wards are so large that a lot of times you could call a third councilor in a bishopric, which is unique. But that’s allowed. And the Young Single Adult programs it’s so big. But we were trying to do so many things. But one of the things that I wanted to do before I got released was to be able to call that third counselor in the bishopric as a young single adult. I really encouraged my bishops to have either the ward clerk or executive secretary to be a young adult. So once again in their bishopric meetings, they have that influence in their bishopric meeting.
But traditionally, it’s the bishopric, it’s the ward clerk, it’s the executive secretary are all old guys. And they’re making all these decisions, and then going to the Elders Quorum president or Relief Society president telling them, “This is what we’re going to do.” That should be completely opposite. And now that we don’t have high priests and elders anymore, tell me why we aren’t calling young adults on the high counsel.
I’ve had a lot of experience and Elders Quorum presidencies; I’ve had a lot of experience with leadership in the church. I will tell you without question, the best Relief Society president I’ve ever seen, the best Elders Quorum presidency I’ve ever seen were young adults. Without question.
Kurt: And like you said, you were willing to take some of these questions to your Seventy and say, “What do you think?” Is this good?”
Kurt: It wouldn’t hurt at least to ask for some of these things.
Rob: And more importantly, how powerful is it for these young adults to see that I’m their advocate? I’m standing up for them. And I’m saying, “Wait a minute, they can do this. And they can do that. And let’s stop talking about marriage. And let’s stop talking about that.” Imagine how well you can connect with the young adult when they start hearing someone of my age talk like that. Because now they feel like, “Hey, someone gets us, someone understands this, and someone sees a bigger picture. And finally, there’s someone who’s talking about marriage all the time, or they’re really focusing on the main problem.”
Kurt: That’s powerful. I had one more thought around that. I was going to say that even within the traditional context of having Elders Quorum president and Relief Society president that are generally Young Single Adult, just being more willing to hand over the autonomy there. [00:45:01] You have the keys as the bishop, but you know, just say, “What is it? What do you want to do?”
Rob: Let me give you an example of this. And I this is the direction you want to go because I have a thousand things I could talk about. But I hope this is interesting to people out there. But let me give you an example of giving them autonomy like that.
When I called the Relief Society presidency to Young Adults, I sat down with them and said, “Tell me what you think the number one issue we should be dealing with is.” They came up with several issues. But they said an important issue was that there’s a problem with young adult sisters and pornography and we’re not even talking about it. And they were right. Because I was the stake president when they made the change for sisters. And so I probably sent out my time with young adults. We probably sent out close to 400 missionaries. Lots of missionaries. And it was probably a 30, 70 split. 30 young men and 70% sisters.
So I interviewed a lot of sisters for missions. And I was surprised how common of a problem pornography and even masturbation were amongst the sisters. Do you think we’re talking about that at all in the church?
Rob: No way. Because in the church, it’s a guy problem. I’m not saying the church thinks this, but in the world, it’s kind of like an okay problem. It’s kind of what you expect guys to be struggling with. But a woman to have a problem with that, it’s horrible. Now if they have a problem with it, now they’re going to a male leader to talk about it. Can you imagine how hard that is for them? So my stake Young Adult Relief Society presidency in ward conferences would teach the ward Relief Society about pornography.
You ask adult women in your life, your mom, your wife, others, when’s the last time they had a Relief Society lesson on pornography. Not how to protect your children, not what the problem with your men are, but with them how they can combat pornography, how pornography works with women, how does Satan step in. The fastest growing group of pornography problems is not the largest group. But the fastest growing group, middle-aged women.
So they went in and talked, and then I would stand up with the Relief Society president, the ward Relief Society president, I put my arm around her and I asked her, I’d say, “How many sisters in your ward have come to talk to you about any personal problems in the last six months? How many people? How many sisters do you think actually did that to Relief Society president?”
Kurt: That was zero, but I guess.
Rob: And I would say, “Listen, sisters, this is your leader. She’s been called to help you. And if there’s a problem with pornography or any problem, then you come to her and you talk to her.” We have this misconception in the church that as soon as someone starts talking about sins, what do we do?
Kurt: Oh, you got to talk with a bishop.
Rob: Right. We cut them off. I would say, “Let them vomit. Hold the bucket and let them vomit, and talk to them and have a conversation with them.” Then the Relief Society president, your next step is, we probably ought to get to the bishop. And you know how many sisters would say, “I’m not quite ready for that”? Is that okay?
Kurt: That’s okay.
Rob: That’s okay.
Kurt: When you’re ready.
Rob: Then Relief Society president, “I’m here for you. We’ll keep talking. And when you’re ready, I’ll walk you right there and hold hands, and we’ll make that happen. But when you’re ready.” And we just open that door. Every time we did that on the ward conference, the Relief Society president would call me afterwards, and within that first week, say, “I have had so many phone calls of sisters that just wanted to talk.” So you got to open that door.
This is what I love about young adults is they’re very vulnerable, they’re very open. And if you just create a safe environment for them to do that, they want to do it.
Kurt: That’s powerful. This is perfect. Going back to Doctrine versus cultures that you’re not advocating that you can suddenly make a Relief Society president a judge in Israel. But they can have the conversation and make a safe place so that at some point, the bishop is… that conversation is a little more realistic, rather than just burying them in shame, and then the conversation never happens at all.
Rob: And how relieving is that for them? On the other side, to the Elders Quorum president, to go and talk to the Elders Quorum president, sometimes that’s easier than talking to the bishop. Because this is the other culture that we’ve got ourselves into. How many young adults who are involved in serious transgressions in their lives, whatever it may be, you name it, don’t want to go talk to the bishop for what reason? They’re afraid they’re going to be excommunicated. They’re afraid they’re going to lose their membership. They’re afraid some major things happening.
And the council that I got when I was called to be the stake president, from Elder Snow, who at the time was a president of the Seventy, he told 17 stake presidencies that were being called, he said, “You cannot rescue young adults and then throw the book at them.” I’m telling you, I had a very few disciplinary councils in our stake because it was about loving and rescue and connecting. And let’s focus on that. And let’s once again change that that traditional cultural thing that you go in, and you’re going to have some harsh consequences that’s going to happen by going and talking to them.
Kurt: Then I guess some people would say, “Well, we’re being a little bit too soft on them.” How would you approach someone comes in, maybe they are having sexual relations with a significant other, whatever? [00:50:03] Like it’s not just pornography. Something like, “Whoa, this is significant in your spiritual progression.” What was your general approach to that?
Rob: Let me share a story that I think would answer that. I had a returning missionary or I had a missionary that made it seven days in the MTC. He wasn’t in my stake. He went through his home stake to get his call and left. He had a serious girlfriend all throughout high school, and come to find out he was having sex with her up until the night before he left. He went to the MTC for less than seven days and then confessed. Of course, what happens with that. He’s going to obviously get sent home. That’s the right thing to do. So let’s walk through what happened to this young man.
He had to talk to his branch president in MTC. When he confessed to his branch president, he had talked to the MTC president, then he had talked to a general authority, then he had to talk to his parents. His parents and I wish this was an exception because this happened, I saw a few times, sadly, that his parents when they were told what was going on, refused to come pick him up at the MTC because they were so mad or embarrassed. I don’t know what.
So his brother attending BYU picked him up and drove him back home up to northern Utah. He lived in a small community. And so, what do you do? What’s the first thing the brother does? He has take him to the stake president. I know the stake president. He was one of those that I worked with. I loved this man. But I can understand, maybe not handling that correctly because the conversation there was, “We talked dozens of times about your girlfriend, about this exact thing. I warned you it was going to happen. You lied to me.” And the conversation kind of goes in that direction.
So you can imagine how this young man’s feeling right now. Then he leaves the stake president’s house and he comes home. He’s the youngest of six siblings, all of whom are married. They’re all in the family room waiting for him. He walks into, I don’t know, the walk of shame, and the moms in the corner crying. And the mothers first words were, “What are we going to tell everybody?” An hour later, the bishop comes up. I know the bishop, also a great guy. He sits down with them in a totally sincere effort. I’m not slamming priesthood leaders here. It’s just—
Kurt: These are the difficult situation they face.
Rob: How do we handle that? Coming back to answer your question, how are you going to handle serious transgressions? Because we’re talking about a 19-year-old young man here. Wait a minute. This isn’t Rob Ferrell, 50 years old, been in leadership most of his life, lots of experience. We’re talking about a young man who’s 19 years old. A little different scenario.
The bishop shows up and says, “Okay, Jake, here’s all the things we got to do to get you back in the mission field.” I get that. Not the time to be talking about that. This is on Friday. So Sunday now, he’s gone through all of that. Imagine the shame. I mean, it’s just overwhelming.
He’s in the church parking lot on Sunday, deciding whether or not he’s going to walk into the ward or not. Now, the inactivity rate of missionaries that come home early is off the charts, because of this exact problem. He’s sitting in the parking lot with the experience he’s had so far with priesthood leaders and family, and he’s bawling his eyes out in the parking lot because he’s like, “What am I going to say? What’s the reaction going to be? What are people going to think?” So he decides not to go to church and he gets in his car and drives off.
As he’s driving off, another young adult who knew him and knew a little bit about his situation, texted him right then, and said, “Listen, I think I know what’s going on. Why don’t you come down to the Young Single Adult ward? Nobody knows you. Nobody knows the situation. You just need to come to church.” So he does that.
And I happen to have the most amazing bishop in that woad who just put his arm around him and love him and welcome them him. Like I said, no one knows any of the situation. He decides to transfer his records to the Young Single Adult ward. So now he’s been home two weeks, and he’s now coming down to meet with me because we have some things to deal with.
You can edit this because I am not trying to bash priesthood leaders in the least bit. But we have to learn how to do things differently. And hopefully, we get to this doctrinal idea here in a minute. But I’m driving down to the stake center, I get a phone call from his stake president and said, “Okay, I understand Jake’s transferring his records into your stake and I want to make sure you’re clear what happened.” And he’s given me his detail.
And here is what he said. And this is free to be edited. But he said, “President Ferrell, I will allow this young man to come to your stake. Well, first of all, he can make that decision himself. I will allow him to come to your stake if you promise me one thing because I feel like the Young Single Adult stake is way too lenient, and just kind of brushes things under the carpet. [00:55:00] I want to be assured that we’re going to have a very significant disciplinary counsel for this young man.”
Really? That’s the focus? That’s what’s the most important thing? How about if we just forget about all of that and think about a 19-year-old kid whose world’s falling apart, who’s going through probably one of the most shameful thing any adult could possibly imagine going through. We don’t do that to the woman that’s having adultery in the ward – you know, announce it to everybody. I mean, this is horribly difficult.
So I’m a nice guy sometimes, and I just ay, “Sure, president…” and off we go. So I walk into my office and here comes Jake. Two weeks, he has told this story to branch president, MTC president, general authority stake president, family, bishop, my bishop and now me. Nine times. I don’t care if those are nine elder [inaudible 00:55:56]. Who wants to tell that story nine times?
So he comes in, he’s sitting there with his arms folded like he just does not want to be there. I said, “Jake, how many people have talked to you about getting back in the mission field?” And he tears up, and he says, “That’s all everybody’s talking about?” And I said, “Jake, how would you feel if I told you that I could care less if you went back to the mission field?” And he kind of laughed, he looked at me, this is exactly what he said. He said, “Well, you can’t say that. You’re a stake president.”
And I said, “Jake, I’ll go a step further. Jesus Christ doesn’t care if you go on this mission. And that got his attention. He looked at me like, “What?” I said, “Jake, the problem isn’t chastity. The problem isn’t you coming back on your mission. Here’s the problem, Jake. You have never felt the arms of Jesus Christ wrapped around you. You’ve never felt the power of the atonement. You’ve never felt connected with Jesus Christ. We’re going to forget about all this other crap, and we’re going to focus on you connecting with Jesus Christ. And you know what? We can forget about a disciplinary council for now. Let’s just get on our feet, and let’s not worry about that kind of stuff, and let’s just move forward.”
What do you think his reaction is? He is crying so hard in my office, it took him a few minutes to gather his emotions. And he looked at me and he said, “You know, I hear people talk all the time in the church about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have no idea how to do that. Can you really help me do that?” “Yeah.”
So we take the next three, four, five, six months working on that. Did he have some restrictions? Of course, he did. I would never in a million years, say, “Here’s what you should do in this circumstance.” Because every single person is different. I would have two people that had the same problems, and one might have probation and one might not. I could have two people have the same problem, and one might get to fellowship and one might not. But my goal is, what’s the most important thing here? I want that kid…That’s disrespectful. I want that young man to connect with Jesus Christ.
Then let’s watch what happens after that. He had some restrictions, and we worked together for an entire year, and he learned how to connect with Jesus Christ. He had phenomenal spiritual experiences. And after a year, what do you think he decided to do?
Kurt: Went on a mission. Going back out.
Rob: That’s what everyone says.
Kurt: And you didn’t mention it once during the whole year, I bet.
Rob: He came back to me after a year, and we’re trying to figure out what the next step is because he knew that’s the time frame we had to work with. He and his girlfriend had been morally clean and worked together on learning how to connect with Jesus Christ. He said, “President Ferrell, it’s been a year. I love this young lady. What would you think if I didn’t go on a mission and I got married in the temple instead?” What do you think I said?
Rob: “No away. That’s terrible. She should wait for you.” Once again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go on missions. I’m not saying that shouldn’t have disciplinary councils. Please be careful that what I’m saying is individualized, and it’s more about the connecting to Christ. It isn’t about anything else. And if we’re focused on that, then Jesus Christ is going to guide me as a priesthood leader on what’s the best thing to do. I’m not putting him in a box, and all we have to do this, this and that.
So that’s what he decided to do. And the end of that story is pretty sad to me because about two hours later, I got a phone call from his mother who was yelling so loud at me, I could have put my cell phone down and walked into the room and still heard her telling me that I’m the worst stake president ever, how dare I tell her son not to go on a mission. She’s calling the First Presidency, and she’s going to get me released. I just thought, “Whoa, man.”
Of course, all year long, I wanted him to get back on a mission. Of course, I’m trying to help him get on his feet to make the best decisions for him. And so to me, I hope that’s a long way of answering your question, but… [01:00:03]
Kurt: That’s so helpful.
Rob: I had another sister that came in that had over 100 sexual partners. 100 sexual partners. And she’s coming in desperate at the bottom of the barrel. You tell me, what’s the best thing to do. When she’s sitting in your office, what are you going to do? Are you going to give her a lecture about the law of chastity? That isn’t going to work. Are you going to give her a lecture about pregnancy, venereal disease? That isn’t going to work. Are you going to strip all her right, so to speak? No.
The very first thing I got to do is figure out there is so much false doctrine in that woman’s life, I could help her figure out what the false doctrine is, and we’re going to start killing it. We’re you start destroying it. We’re going to start ripping it out of her life. Because the more we can do that, she’s going to feel connected with Jesus Christ. And these problems are symptoms of a deeper problem. And this is what drives me crazy about pornography. And you and I have talked about this a lot in the past. We are pounding the wrong drum on this. We have got to stop using words like addiction. You take a 12-year-old boy, and you say he’s addicted to pornography.
Once again, I’m not saying addiction to doesn’t exist. I’m not saying it’s not an issue. It’s a problem. But we use that word, especially in the church way too liberally. We put these labels on these young men. And then we are just focused on, focused on behavior, behavior instead of doctrine. Pornography is a doctrinal problem. And it’s not a matter of how many filters we’re going to put on, how we’re going to spy on them, how we’re going to lock this down, how we’re going to do this and that. It’s a doctrinal problem. So we can’t throw the book at them. I think we got to help them connect with Christ.
Kurt: I think that’s so helpful. Because in the handbook, chapter six why it talks about the disciplinary council, one of the reasons is to save the soul of the transgressor. But sometimes we feel it’s our duty to punish the soul of the transgressor. But what’s it going to take to save that 19-year-old boy to make sure…? I mean, he is at a pivotal point. And you talked about these early returning missionaries, I mean, they are at a crossroads. And you can either push them one way or the other. And really, it’s up to you.
Rob: If there wasn’t disciplinary council, I would always explain that properly, that let me explain to you what the disciplinary council is all about. This isn’t about why you want to take away your membership. If it’s a ward council, this is about a handful of men in your ward, who are going to go to bat for you. When you tell your story, you’re going to have five mentors in that ward, who will do anything and everything to help coach, you mentor you, help you connect with Jesus Christ.
I wouldn’t be afraid of that. I would you be scared to say, “I don’t want to go in there and do that.” Because we have somehow created this culture that if there are significant problems, they’re going to get excommunicated. I think we had three stake councils, the five years I was there, all ended up in excommunication. One was for murder. I think we probably have to have a disciplinary counsel for that. One was involving pedophilia. And I can’t remember what the other one was.
They were talking significant issues that, of course, that’s the level that we need to be talking about. We have lots of ward councils, of course, for that. But in a stake level, we did see a lot of those because it was more about, we can’t throw the book, we have to rescue. And I think if we had that message more, we’d have more young adults coming forward and saying, “Hey, I need some help. I need to learn how to connect with Christ better.”
Kurt: Going back to as far as doctrine versus behaviors, I think a church which there’s a reason for with temple recommend questions and whatnot, we can sort of get into this stage of behavior focused rather than doctrinal focus. So what did that look like interview to interview or week to week and lessons? How do we avoid slipping into that just, “Okay, we’re going to have a pornography lesson? We’re going to beat with this behavior, and stop it, stop it, stop it?” How do we avoid slipping into focusing on behaviors rather than doctrine?
Rob: Well, first of all, the bishop is so busy. That’s the number one problem, is that he doesn’t have time to develop multiple interviews and really develop those relationships. So especially in the Young Single Adult program, the bishops, counselors should be interviewing just as much as he is. And they’ve got to be at the caliber of a bishop. Of course, if there is transgressions that come up, that might need to be pushed to the bishop. But sometimes what I would go through the repentance process with them, and then I would look at my counselors and figure out who would be the best match. And I’m going to say, “Okay, they’re going to mentor you, doctrinally for the next six months.” And we’d have a program in place and how they would do that. That takes time to develop that. [01:05:00]
I believe we kind of got to get out of this idea of they come into confess or repent, then we have to jump right into, “Okay, here’s the consequences. Let’s go through a repentance process.” There’s time for that down the road. Let’s just make sure they feel safe. Let’s make sure they’re feeling the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s make sure they fit.
Kurt: That they want to come back.
Rob: That they feel connected. Because to me, I have asked this question a thousand times. What is the purpose of Satan? And we’re not clear on this. I hear all kinds of answers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone doctrinally give me a definition of what the purpose of Satan is? And you can think of lots of different things. What do you think is the purpose of Satan?
Kurt: To frustrate the plan of salvation.
Rob: Okay, but how does he do that? That’s a consequence of what he does. But how does he do it?
Kurt: He does that through temptation.
Rob: Even how does he do that? How does he tempt you?
Kurt: Through thoughts maybe.
Rob: I’m putting on the spot.
Rob: When I do it in front of people, I’m always on the spot.
Kurt: Sure. Sure.
Rob: If we don’t really know what the purpose of Satan is, how do we really truly help people. Because I would be so bold to say, Satan could care less about sin. Careless about sin. Sin is the consequence of what he’s trying to really do. Just like partaking of the fruit in the tree of life is the consequence of what Christ is really trying to do. And yet, we tend to focus on the sin all the time. And there’s that classic quote by Boyd K. Packer. That the study of doctrine will change behavior faster than the study of behavior will change behavior. And what do you think most people think that means?
Kurt: Focus on behavior.
Rob: But what do they think the study of behavior is?
Kurt: The study of…
Kurt: Oh, yeah, right.
Rob: It’s counseling. I would recommend young adults to counseling and therapy, which are you kidding me? How are we not embracing that? That’s got to be used way more than we’re using it. And I would have parents call me up and quote that to me, and say, “Mike is not going to therapy. The doctrine will solve problems.” But we don’t finish the whole quote. Because the rest of the quote that Elder Parker say is that the focus… How does he say it? He says that the focus of unworthy behavior leads to more unworthy behavior.
So he’s not talking about psychology. He’s talking about the focus of sin. And that’s where Satan wants us to focus. So you tell a young man, “You can’t go on a mission unless you’re clean from pornography for three months. So what do they do? They white knuckle it, and they’re clean for three months, then we sit on my missions, and they think that they got the pornography problem controlled. They’re not maybe as tempted in the mission field, it’s a lot better in the mission field, and they get home falsely thinking, “I’ve got this controlled.” And they get back home, and within days, they’re back in the pornography problem because we never really helped what the core problem is.
And if you look at Doctrine and Covenants Section 10 verse 63, I think the Lord gives you the purpose of Satan. I’m paraphrasing. I’m not quoting exactly. But it’s that Satan will stir up the hearts of men unto contention through points of false doctrine, or wrestling of whatever. But essentially false doctrine. So his purpose contention as a result of false doctrine.
So if I’m going to help somebody, I got to help them figure out where that contention in their life is. Because you know the young adults, like they’re not good enough, they’re not going to make it. I you know, the Lord’s disappointed in me, I’m a failure. I’m going to return to mission, I got these problems. How can the Lord trust me again? My mission was a waste because now I’m back in the problems again.” I mean, we just go on and on and on. But the biggest problem is they just don’t think they’re good enough. Because that creates contention. I get contention between two people. If you’re a Utah fan, let me tell you, we’re going to have contention.
Kurt: A BYU fan.
Rob: I get contention between people, but how do I have contention for myself? I don’t think we’re addressing this.
Kurt: So true.
Rob: I have contention like, am I a lousy father or a good father? Many times a day, I think that. Am I a good son of God that can be trusted, or my disappointment to God? The biggest question of that is, am I worthy? Am I not worthy? If you don’t have the answers to those questions, then Satan has you stuck in contention. If you’re stuck in contention, how good does that feel? It’s horrible, awful. So if I get you in contention, how easy is it now going to lead me to lead you to temptation? How easy is going to lead me to lead you to depression? It’s simple.
Kurt: You don’t even have to try it. The adversary doesn’t have to try.
Rob: So then as a priesthood leader, I come stepping in and you get a problem with pornography, and now what am I going to do? “Oh, well, we’re going to start giving the lecture on pornography. Here are all the things we got to do.” Well, pornography is not the problem. The contention is the problem. And until you address the contention, you’re never going to change the pornography. You might scare them enough, you might manipulate and shame them long enough that they’ll do it for a period of time so they can go on a mission or go get married in the temple or whatever, but you’re not really helping them with the contention. And so to me, that’s where I would start all the time is, where is the contention? Where is the false doctrine? And we’re working on that.
Then it takes time. And that’s the problem. We’re too rushed. We don’t have the time to get all of that. If we can get people to feel connection to Christ, because that’s what he’s… So it’s contention versus connection. [01:10:02] Christ wants connection. Satan wants isolation, contention, hiding, all that. So to me, I got to help anyone, especially young adults. Where is the contention in your life?
Let me give you an example. I can’t even tell you how many times I thought I was the worst stake president in the whole church. I mean, I would come home, I’m just thinking, “They’re going to call me up and say, we found you, you’re released.” I did not think I was a very good stake president. And I don’t think I’m a very good dad sometimes. That’s just constantly is what makes me feel I’m not good enough, I’m not going to make it blah, blah, blah, blah. The definition of worthy. How many people in this church do you think could stand up, give a one-sentence definition of what it means to be worthy and a scripture to support it so we know they’re doctrinally correct?
Kurt: Are you going to put me on the spot?
Rob: No. I mean, if you had time to think about it, you would nail it.
Kurt: Sure. Sure.
Rob: But just boom that fast. I would suggest, we don’t know that very well.
Kurt: But it’s a word we throw around a lot.
Rob: Oh, how about temple recommend questions. You can see yourself worthy in the house of the Lord? When you were a bishop, was that the hardest question for you?
Kurt: I think that’s one question people got hung up on the most.
Rob: Right. So, the why, it’s because they did not know the right definition of worthy. And to me, that is the single greatest cause of contention. Because if I’m constantly thinking, “Am I worthy enough or not? Am I worthy or not worthy?” If I don’t have the answer that I’m instantly in contention?
Let me give you an example of that. As a stake president, one night I had a long night. I had a young man that I didn’t know at the time, but came into my office high on drugs. I’ve been working with him for a year. Came home early for his mission, major family problems, just really a tough situation. Totally consumed with contention. So he comes in my office, he is swearing and yelling at me, he’s standing up in front of my desk. I mean, he’s yelling so loud, everyone in the building can hear him.
Kurt: I’ve been there.
Rob: And so, I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. Oh, my young adults waiting for me on the hallway don’t think it’s me yelling at him.” But he’s like dropping the F-bomb and stuff. He grabs my scriptures that I have so well marked up. He grabbed my Book of Mormon that is, I’m telling you so precious to me. He picked it up, and he threw it at me. Then he stormed out of my office swearing all the way down the hallway.
Well, the next young adult comes walking in. You know, I go out the hallway, try to lighten it up somehow. I don’t know what I said. But the next thing a young adult walks in, and she looked at me, I’ve been working with her for a long time on contention, and she said, “That didn’t go very well tonight, president, did it?” I said, “No.” And then she looked at me with total seriousness, and she said, “It’s about to get worse.”
And I said, “What are you talking about?” And she pulls a letter out, and she says, “Here’s a letter to the First Presidency to have my records removed from the church. It doesn’t work. This gospel just makes me feel horrible and beats me up. I feel constantly terrible. I’m done.” So she walks up.
The next young adult comes walking in. Tim was returning missionary, he’d been home probably three or four months, struggling with a love chastity problem with his girlfriend. He comes walking in, sit down on my chair just starts crying. I’m like, Tim, what’s the matter?” He looks at me and he says, “She’s pregnant.” Well, that’s my night as a stake president. Young adults, I had been putting my heart and soul into, and I feel like I failed all three of them. So how easy is it going to be for me to walk out of my office that night thinking, “I’m a terrible stake president.” I’m instantly in contention.
So now I travel over here to my dental office because I’m so busy as a stake president. It’s midnight, and I’m going to sit here watching or writing and charts to get caught up and I turn the TV on. So I’m flipping through channels, and I come across an old rerun of law and order. It’s all about rape and murder and horrible things. What do you think the chances of me watching that TV show, what do you think it’s going to be if I’m in that mindset that I’m a terrible stake president? Do you think I watched the TV show?
Rob: Oh, Kurt. Come on.
Kurt: I’m just thinking like if you already feel bad about yourself maybe you’re like, “Well, I’m going…
Rob: I totally watch the TV show.
Kurt: Okay. And you got so much to do….
Rob: The question you have to answer is, why would I watch the TV show because being a stake president is a big deal? I mean I’m determining if someone goes on a mission or not, gets married in the temple, or their membership in the church. I messed that up. I feel like I’m personally responsible for that. So if I’ve concluded that I’m in so much contention that I’m a lousy stake president, that’s a big deal. Watching a TV show, that’s inappropriate compared to that?
Kurt: Not a big deal.
Rob: Not a big deal. So do you see how simple? It’s simple. I watched the bad TV show. So I go home that night, and I feel so bad about watching the TV show name and didn’t say my prayers. I climb into bed and watching the bad TV show actually confirms I really am a lousy stake president.
Kurt: So much shame that the adversary is piling up.
Rob: So what do we do? I wake up the next morning, and I say to myself, “I will never watch a TV show like that again. Ever. I will never do that. Lord, I promise I will never do that. Until two days later, when the young adults yell at me again, or I have a bad night. And then I’m back in the cycle. And so if I think the problem is watching bad TV shows, I’m never going to change the problem. [01:15:02] The problem is, I’m stuck in contention thinking I’m a lousy stake president.
Kurt: The self-worth, right?
Rob: Well, being a son of God, a daughter of God is a big deal. And if I think I’m a disappointment to Him, looking at porn, that’s nothing. Doing this, that’s nothing. Then I go to a priesthood leader, and what do they pound?
Rob: The behaviors instead of helping me figure out where are the problems with contention.
Rob: And to me, that was the single greatest thing that I would train my bishops in my stake is you got to be focused on how do we help them discover false doctrine, how do we help them connect with Jesus Christ. And there’s always time for disciplinary counsel if we need to. There’s always time for that down the road, but let’s not start with that.
Kurt: So true.
Rob: I had a young adult that came in to talk to me, she’s probably 28 years old – and tell me if you don’t think this is a common problem for young adults – she said, “I was raised in a strong family, but I could tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever really had any great spiritual experiences growing up.” Do you think that’s a common issue with you?
Kurt: Yeah, totally. Absolutely.
Rob: Okay. “So then I get out of high school and I’m in college, I’m trying to build my testimony and everyone tells me the best way to build my testimony is to do what?”
Kurt: Read scriptures.
Rob: Go on a mission.
Kurt: Oh, go on a mission.
Rob: “So I go on a mission. I feel the pressure that I should do that so I go on a mission, and I get called to a really hard mission. The language was tough and the work was dead. And I had a really tough mission president.” Think that happens?
Rob: She said, “I came home from my mission. And I learned some things and I had some experiences, but it wasn’t the experience I thought it was going to be. So now I’m home as a return missionary, and I’m still having problems.” What’s happening to the contention?
Kurt: It’s growing.
Rob: It’s getting deeper and deeper. So then what do we tell her to do? “Oh, well, you need to get married.” So we put the pressure sure of marriage.
Kurt: The next behavior that will fix it, right?
Rob: Right. And how much pressure do we have on young adults to get married? How many young adults are getting married too fast, too quick? They’re not going through the process. They’re just thinking, “I just got to get this done. I got to do this.” Divorce rates among young adults is higher than most people think.
So she gets married, and she kind of probably rushed into that. It was probably a little too quick. She gets married in the temple. And eight months into her marriage, she finds out this guy’s addicted to video games, he’s playing eight hours or so a day, and he starts slapping her around a little bit. So she’s like, “I’m done.” So she walks away from that simple marriage, and she said, “I’m done with the church.” She walks away.
She went out into the world, and she tried everything the world had to offer. And she did that for a couple of years. And now she’s sitting in my office, and she asked this question. She said, “I could find no joy in the church.” Do you think we sincerely have young adults, any adults…? I mean, we have a lot of people, I think in this church that would say they have a hard time feeling joy in the Gospel of Jesus or in the church.
She said, “I couldn’t find joy in the church and so I went out tried the world, I couldn’t find any joy there. So president Ferrell, where do I find joy?” That’s the kind of conversations we got to start having. Because that’s real. And how do you answer that? So I looked at her and I said, “This is going to sound crazy to you, but we have to find joy in being lost.” She looked at me like, “What are you talking about?”
And this is where I think we got to start using the doctrine to help connect people. Because let me just back up. What is the definition of worthiness that we talked about? How can we nail that down? Do you think God defines that somewhere in the scriptures and He wants us to know that?
In Section 10, probably my favorite sections, but section 10 verse 63 is the contention verse. Then 67, I think you get the answer of what it means to be worthy. Then 68 is even more of a powerful scripture. And that Scripture says that Christ just gave you his definition of worthiness. He explained what his doctrine is. The next verse, he says – and I’m probably not getting it word for word – but essentially, it says, “If you add anything more or less than this, then you’re not of me, you’re not at my kingdom, and you’re against me.”
Kurt: Wow. Pretty clear.
Rob: Kurt, could you imagine if Jesus Christ walked into this room and looked at you and said, “Kurt, you’re not part of this kingdom, you’re not part of me, and you’re against me”? That would rip your heart out. I want to think that that seems kind of harsh that it almost doesn’t sound like the Christ that I know. Why would he talk like that? Because what he is saying is if you change my doctrine, if you add to it, or you subtract from it, if you change my doctrine, you now are believing in false doctrine. If you’re believing in false doctrine, you’re going to be stuck in – what? Contention. If you’re in contention, Kurt, can you feel my love? [01:20:02]
Rob: Kurt, if you’re not feeling my love, can you help other people feel it?
Rob: If you’re not helping people feel it, are you building my kingdom?
Rob: That’s a softer way of saying it, but I think that’s what he’s saying. “So don’t change my doctrine or you’re going to get stuck in contention.” And so what says doctrine? Verse 67, it says, “Behold, this is my doctrine.” It’s five words. It’s not a list of 14 pages of all the things we’re supposed to do in the church. It’s repent, and come unto me. That’s it. Nothing else.
So Tim returned to mission and got his girlfriend pregnant. Could Tim be worthy at that moment? Here’s the thing I struggle with doctrine in the church. We make it black and white. Either you have charity or you don’t have charity. You have faith or you don’t have charity. That’s what Satan wants us to believe. Doctrine is progressional in nature. My obedience grows over time. My level of charity grows over time. My faith grows over time. Let’s stop making it so black and white. Let’s help people progress in whatever principle of the gospel we’re in.
So it’s progressional in nature. So if I am repenting and progressing, is Tim worthy to go to the temple after telling me his girlfriend’s pregnant? Probably not. Is he worthy to take the sacrament? That’s going to be an individual situation. Maybe for a period of time, he’s not. But I will tell you, is that young man repenting? He’s in my office and he’s scared to death he’s going to get excommunicated. Returning missionary, that’s what he scared about. We’re not going excommunicated him. That’s not going to happen. And if it is, I’m telling you, priesthood leaders, you got to rethink our approach because it’s about connection right now.
Tim’s repenting. He’s coming and talking to me about it. Is he coming into Christ? I’m asking Tim these questions, he’s looking at me like, “I’m not repenting. Did you hear what I just said? I’m not coming into Christ?” I said, “Wait a minute, Tim. You’re talking to me, and you’re trying to figure out a solution. You are repenting and coming into Christ. So Tim, here’s the deal. You and I are going to kneel down and we’re going to pray to our Heavenly Father, and we’re going to stay on our knees until you feel the love of Jesus Christ, wrap his arms around you and tell you, “It’s okay, Tim, are going to get through this.” You’re repenting, you’re progressing, therefore, you’re worthy to feel – what? My love. And that’s what we’re going to be helping young adults with.
Let’s make that connection. Because Tim has that experience, and he gets to pop his knee, let’s go to war. Let’s figure this out. Because now I’ve got Christ at my side instead of contention feeling like I’ve disappointed him or I’m a failure or I’m going to lose everything.
Kurt: And love is moving that process forward.
Rob: So back to this sister that’s telling me that she can’t find joy anywhere. And I tell her, “You got to find joy in being lost. She’s looking at me like, “Well, what does that mean?” And I tell her the story about my little girl. We’re at Disneyland, she’s probably six, seven years old and we lost her. And we are freaking out.
Kurt: I’ve been there.
Rob: We’re screaming, yelling—
Kurt: Nothing like that feeling.
Rob: I’m running through the crowd knocking people over. And I come. If you know, Disneyland, I’m making the corner right around the teacups, I’m heading towards the carousel, and off to the side, I see my little six-year-old and she’s off to the side. Everyone’s just walking past her. She has got these huge crocodile tears dropping on her shirt. Her lip is just trembling. You could not have the appearance of a greater example of being lost than seeing that little girl’s face.
The second she heard her daddy yelling her name, and she turned and she saw her dad, knocking people out of the way, running to her as fast as I could. The second she saw that, what do you think happened? You couldn’t describe the look of joy any better than that. So I couldn’t it help you with adults. My job as a priest leader is I kind of help you hear he’s crying. He’s yelling for you in the crowd. I got to help you see that he is pushing people out of the way. He’s coming for you. Let me help you connect with Christ. And let’s forget about the sin, let’s forget about all the challenges we’ve got. Let’s start figuring out what’s the source of contention, and let’s start killing that with correct doctrine.
This sister is just having an amazing spiritual experience. We get done. We talked for an hour we get done. She’s walking to the door, she’s opening the door, she closes the door with her hand on the door handle there, and she looks at me and she said, “President, we haven’t even talked about all my sins.” I said, “Yeah, plenty of time to talk about that. The most important thing that happened tonight, happened. You have finally felt that Christ is out there yelling and calling for you and wanting to be in your life.”
And then she said an amazing thing to me. She said, “But President, I have never had a stronger feeling to repent than right now. Can I do that?” Do you see the order of things?
Kurt: Yeah. It totally changes.
Rob: Because she felt the love of God. So now she wants to change. So yeah. Cancel, my next appointment, let’s sit down for another hour and let’s just vomit it out. Let’s get it out. [01:25:01] And now it’s a totally different approach that, Kate, you’re still going to commit those sins because this isn’t going to stop tonight. This pattern of contention is so deep in your life; you’re going to continue having these problems. Do we talk like that? Do I tell the young man who’s coming in with pornography, “you’re going to continue looking at pornography and it’s okay”? I’m not giving you permission to go do that. I’m not telling you to go do that. But the reality is, that’s not going to change until we start pulling this contention out. And it’s going to take some time.
So you got to be patient with the process. And let’s go through that process. And that’s going to continue. Because what happens is they come in and repent, and then they mess up that night. And you think they want to go talk to the bishop again?
Rob: No. I’m talking way too much.
Kurt: Now, that’s powerful,
Rob: That’s what I think we’re doctrine versus behavior. And especially in the young adult program, you got to have that organizational structure there, and then we got to have the right priesthood leaders that know how to help these young adults connect with Jesus Christ.
Kurt: Wow. This has been fantastic. We’ve probably gone on more. And I think there needs to be a part two or three to sum up this. But as we wrap up, let me just ask you. I love how you started with saying that you see yourself as an advocate to young single adults. So my last question is, your advocacy and being an advocate for young single adults, how’s that made you a better disciple or follower of Jesus Christ?
Rob: I have probably learned more about discipleship from young adults than anywhere else in my life. Because to me, I see some of these young adults that are so hungry to find Jesus Christ, and we have failed in helping them do that. We focus too much on this long list of things. So I steal all kinds of insights from young adults all the time because I’m helping them turn to doctrine so that when they study doctrine, they will have their own spiritual experiences, and they’re coming back to report that to me. And I have found this with my own children.
So for example, we don’t have time to share another story, but an example of I would use the miracles of Jesus Christ. I would say, “Okay, here’s three miracles, which one sounds appealing to you?” And I’d have them pick a miracle. Then I’d have that young adult go back and answer three questions.
The first question was, if you were that person in the miracle, and Jesus Christ laid his hands on your head, how would you feel? What would that feel like? I want you to come back and I want you to tell me what that would feel like. Second question is, we don’t have the rest of the story. What happened to all these people after the miracles? Won’t you love to know what the rest of the story of these people? So I want you to think about if that was you, how would that impact your life? What would you do differently as a result of that? And the third thing I would do is, I would say, “I want you to come back and give me personal application of how that miracle relates to you.”
See, I’m not solving the problems. I’m not telling them, they got to do this or that. They are feeling the love of Jesus Christ. So they’re now asking me, what can I do? I’m going to have you assign this miracle, I’m going to have you read this, instead of me just jumping into “You got to read the miracle of forgiveness. You got to do that. ” I’m just given this checklist of things to do.
So they come back to me, and I would look at them and say, “I’m still in that. I’m using that in a talk. That is so good. That insight is so powerful.” And to me, that’s what I have found, probably more than anything else is using that doctrine because it helps both of us. We’re in the spirit’s presence. I’m learning and teaching, you’re learning and you’re teaching. And that’s has changed my impact as a father. That has changed my impact as a leader in the church. It’s changed my impact as a doctor or a surgeon in my dental practice is that ability to focus on what’s the contention, and then letting people go and try to figure that out with some mentoring and some guidance of how to do that. And then we come back together, and we learn from each other from that. So that’s probably the greatest takeaway I’ve had from my experience with young adults.