Jeff Borders joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of 19, and since then has had many opportunities to serve in leadership roles including: Ward Mission Leader, Elders Quorum Counselor, Elder’s Quorum President, and Young Men’s Counselor. When not serving at Church, Jeff works as the Respiratory Therapy Manager and Clinical Informatics Specialist at a rural hospital, and the Safety Lieutenant for his local volunteer fire station. Jeff writes regularly for This Week in Mormons and Spokane Faith and Values, the Spokesman Review and Church Ensign. You can follow him at his website and Facebook.
“Let them lead? You’ve got to be kidding me. If I do that, nothing will happen.”
“Okay, I’ll let them lead, but I will just do these things to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
“I’ll let them lead and take a complete hands-off approach. Let them fly or sink on their own. They will learn that way.”
“Let them lead? I don’t even know how to lead, how are they going to know what to do?”
How many of us have had these, or similar thoughts in a youth calling? I remember serving in the Young Men program as the 2nd Counselor shortly after getting married. As a fairly new convert, never having been in the Young Men program, I just sort of went through the motions, following the example of the other Young Men leaders and doing my best.
I am embarrassed to say this, but I didn’t have meetings with the Deacons Quorum Presidency. Frankly, I don’t know if they even met. I wasn’t sure how to run a meeting, or how often to meet. We met as a Young Men’s Presidency occasionally and planned all the activities, and without fail that ended up being dodgeball nearly every week. Sure, we had an occasional different combined activity, but Deacons each week were either playing basketball or dodgeball.
I didn’t understand at that time how to help the youth lead, because I wasn’t sure how to lead myself. I don’t fault the leaders I’ve worked with, or those who called me to the calling. I was neck deep in the culture and the gospel and I was just trying to stay afloat. Eventually over the course of the years, I’ve been able to develop my own leadership skills and with those I’ve been more successful at working with the youth.
Some of the Greatest Leaders Were Youth
One doesn’t need to look very far to see examples of exceptional youth leaders. Mormon himself was only ten when he received his initial instructions about keeping the sacred records. Jeremiah was seventeen when he was called to the ministry, and Samuel was only twelve or thirteen. It should be no surprise that our youth today are capable of the same greatness as these examples.
President Nelson encouraged the youth by saying, “My dear extraordinary youth, you were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing.”
The Power of a Meeting
I can’t think of a single person I know who loves to have meetings, but meetings are a regular occurrence in our church. We don’t have to dread them. We can help our youth understand the power of meetings if done correctly.
1. Teach Them How to Run a Meeting
Do this by role playing and coaching, both one-on-one and in the quorum or class. Meet regularly for consistency’s sake. Even if there isn’t much to plan or discuss, presidency meetings are a great space for learning and working out the kinks of leading. Prior to COVID, our young men met twice a month following priesthood. This seemed to work best for youth, advisors, and the Bishopric. But regularly could mean different things to different ward or branch situations and the era of COVID; that could be regular Zoom meetings to keep the presidency connected and focused on their respective quorums or classes.
2. Set the Example and Let Them Learn
Elder Uchtdorf said the following: “You set the example and let them learn. Consider the Savior. He lets us do His work here in our different callings. He is patient with us. That is what we need to do with our young people.”
3. Keep the Meetings Short
We found that about forty-five minutes is perfect if we are meeting twice a month. That is just enough time to get the planning and discussion done without getting too distracted. If we are being honest with ourselves, most of our meetings in the church could be shortened. If we stay on an agenda and have the secretaries as the timekeepers, it can help keep the meetings to a manageable time frame. Which brings me to another smaller point: train the secretaries. This could be done by the advisor or even the executive secretary. Secretaries are critical to well-functioning presidencies and they need to understand their importance.
4. Let the President Lead the Meeting
Seems straightforward enough, yet we tend to think as adults that we know the best way to do things. We may have been in these leadership positions before and know how to run meetings. But taking over does little to promote healthy growth. Whether young men or young women, these presidents have been set apart and given priesthood authority to fulfill their callings. It can be hard to sit back and let a twelve year old run a meeting. Trust me, I’ve been with the deacons in some capacity for a long time, but it is also a great opportunity for growth. Give them permission to think outside of the box by being open to their thoughts and encouraging them.
5. Teach Them to Seek Inspiration and Act On That Inspiration
Going back to number four, these youth have been set apart to act in their appointed calling. We need to teach them inspiration comes oftentimes as we are acting. While it is good to pray over specific things, the Lord also expects them to act, make assignments, and delegate, because through their setting apart they’ve been given the authority to do these things. They need to understand that He trusts them to fulfill their callings and so do you.
6. Help Them Succeed
While we don’t want to take over, taking a complete hands-off approach and having an activity crash and burn does little to build up our young leaders. Asking leading questions when planning activities can help them see things they may have missed. For example, they may want to do a rock climbing activity. Leading questions you can ask may be: What kind of budget does that require? Does that have any special equipment or training? Who would you like to assign that to? When should we follow up?
7. It’s Okay if It isn’t a Complete Success
I’ve found that even when the plans for an activity aren’t completely fulfilled, the youth and the leaders still tend to have a good time. We usually make the best of any situation. And those things that may have been missed can lead to good conversation in our presidency meetings the next time we meet.
8. Love them where they are at
Every youth will lead differently because every youth is different. Regardless of anything going on in their lives, we will never go wrong when we express our love for them.
Adults Don’t Ruin Everything
Sometimes it seems in the effort to let the youth lead, we may encounter the idea that the adults will ruin everything if they get involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. It really is a partnership that develops between youth leaders and adult leaders as the two serve together.
Our adult leaders are critical to our youth programs. Adult leaders provide mentoring, guidance, and support as these future leaders of the Church learn how to lead. Just like the Savior does with us, great things happen when adult leaders and young leaders yoke themselves together in the work and the effort to build up the kingdom of God. We need their youthful energy, out-of-the-box thinking, and willingness to be open, coupled with our experience, practicality, and understanding of the Gospel. It is a synergistic relationship, not a competitive one.