Youth Ministry

October 6, 2004 | 11 comments

President Faust told an interesting story about a ward that lost most of its Melchizedek priesthood holders (a military ward, perhaps?). The priests were left to run things.

Before, President Faust said, they had acted their age. They were slack and slovenly. Maybe they wrestled with doubts. Maybe they sloughed off churchgoing sometimes. But that all changed when the Melchizedek priesthood left. The priests got their own hometeaching routes. They took them seriously, and in turn they started to take ward problems seriously. Priest quorum turned into a real discussion of ways and means. President Faust says that the priests grew up, in maturity and in spirituality. The ward too. He says the members noted a unity they had not before experienced.

This same transformation in spirituality and maturity is fairly common among missionaries. In our ward the priests are pretty remarkable young men but they do their best to hide it. Only on cross-examination, for instance, can they be forced to confess to working on their Eagle. The new missionary in the ward, on the other hand, is quiet. He observes a lot. The veteran missionary is brash. He strides around introducing himself to people. He gently counsels and instructs if given half a chance.

The change is obvious. The reasons for the changes are obvious too. Part of it is that God makes the weak things strong. Part of it is that the human spirit responds to responsibility, to being the caregiver instead of the object of care. And part of it is that missionaries, and I imagine Faust’s priests too, get deference.

Let me explain that last remark a little. We often remark that missionary work puts an awful lot of responsibility on young male and female shoulders. We less often note that missionary work puts an awful lot of authority and respect on those same shoulders. Yet it does. If you think carefully, you’ll remember the unusual feeling from your own mission of having adults ask your advice and listen carefully to your counsel. You can also remember how it felt to have people feel obligated to help you when you asked, whether it be with rides or food or actually missionary work. Those were transformative feelings. The respect you recieved changed you as much as the responsibility did.

The formula God+respect+responsibility can work before the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, as President Faust instances. I wonder if there’s anyway to apply that formula to the youth? Too often the presidencies of quorums or the partnerships of adults are more training opportunites than they are real positions. If only we could arrange for the Melchizedek priesthood of every ward to disappear for awhile. We need some way to stop ministering to the youth and start letting the youth be ministers. If only it could be done.

11 Responses to Youth Ministry

  1. Matt Jacobsen on October 6, 2004 at 8:02 pm

    Great post, Adam. My mission experience goes along well with what you’ve described. It was truly humbling to have people treat me with such respect just because I was a missionary, not because they knew who I really am. It made me want to live up to that expectation.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve heard youth advisor’s say to the youth, “This is your quorum/class. You get to plan the experience of the youth. I’m just here to help where I can.” Too often, this rhetoric is not backed up with proper expectation. Sometimes the advisors actually know how to ‘train’ or ‘assist’ the youth and it works wonderfully. But usually the youth know that the adults will really plan things in the long run, so perhaps they feel that less is expected of them. Would the advisors risk too much by sitting back and letting the youth actually do more, and letting them fail miserably if they choose to do so?

    I read recently (on this blog, I believe) that it seems that modern culture is trying to take puberty, perhaps the most painful phase of a human life, and extend it further and further. Instead of starting at 12 and ending at 16, it now starts at 6 and ends at 26. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems we can’t wait for little kids to start acting older than they really are and yet we don’t expect youth to act like adults until they are a couple years out of college. Teenagers are capable of a lot more if they are given a chance and see a need for their own participation.

  2. Ian R on October 6, 2004 at 8:23 pm

    On my mission we would frequently do divisons (ie splits) with local youth. It would really fire them up. We would also take less active Melchesidec priesthood holders out knocking doors. Almost without exception they would be at Church the following Sunday.

    In general, one of the great secrets to the success of the restored gospel is the emphasis on doing. Having a lay clergy means everyone has the opportunity to be filled with the motivation and power Adam referenced. We say every member a missionary, but in a more general sense, every member is a minister too.

    The difficulty that so frequently arises is the concentration of real ministering into the hands of so few, leaving others only token responsabilities. This often happens because the few are the only ones who are willing to make a diligent effort, but sometimes it is just the result of a insecure leadership.

    Good Thread Adam.

  3. D. Fletcher on October 6, 2004 at 8:29 pm

    I tried to make a similar point, some threads ago, that (I think) an important aspect of missionary work, perhaps its raison d’etre, is the training and growth of the missionaries themselves. I was, of course, laughed off the web for advancing such a liberal idea.

    This is an excellent post, though. Good job, Adam.

  4. Alison Moore Smith on October 6, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    Hello all. My husband served a mission in Samoa. In Samoan culture missionaries are revered and treated with great respect. This makes quite an impact in a part of the world where children are given little deference or position. One day a boy is eating outside the hut, the next–as an elder–he is sitting by the chief eating the respect part of the feast. My husband was made an honorary chief while serving as well.

    I am sure that this effects these young men in many ways both positive and negative.

  5. Rosalynde Welch on October 6, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Adam, I like your point, and I like your idea of “transformative feelings.”

    And I hate to bring the issue round to gender again, but what about the girls? Deference, not merely authority, is the catalyst of those transformative feelings, you suggest–but surely that special deference (above and beyond the deference we owe all humans simply for being God’s children) stems from the authority, both administrative and ministrative. At the present time, girls have very little necessary function in the church, and even less formal authority, so it’s hard to imagine a situation in which those transformative feelings of deference might be gently rain upon the Laurels.

  6. Adam Greenwood on October 7, 2004 at 12:03 am

    I wonder, R. Welch, if the psychological needs of women are the same as those of men in this regard. Certainly, if we speak only in general terms, both sexes need responsibility and both sexes need respect. But I wonder if the kind of respect and responsibility that comes with, what would you call it, formal status? is more necessary or less dangerous to men as a class than it is to women as a class? I don’t know, and I’m open to being told otherwise, though unless the source is fairly authoritative :o I’m probably going to keep thinking it’s possible.

    I notice that girls get a taste of responsibility at least through babysitting. I’ve noticed that babysitting seems to do good things for young women. In the same way, I notice that young men benefit from doing lawncare or some other sort of self-directed job at some point. Fast food and other adolescent jobs do teach responsibility, but not nearly as well. Neither of these are really avenues for respect though, I acknowledge that.

    M. Jacobsen (how very French!) is right that i’m really calling for an end to adolescence. We Americans end childhood too soon and start adulthood too late. The Saints have not gone untainted.

    Missionary splits are just about awesome. The South Bend ward does three nights of splits a week. No one looks forward to taking their turn, but the experience itself is holy. Everyone stays on afterwards at the missionaries apartment talking animatedly because everyone is in high spirits. The work has an almost tangible spiritual power and so do the missionaries, even the stumbling ones.

  7. drex davis on October 7, 2004 at 9:13 am

    I just stumbled onto this blog and recognized names familiar to me from my college days – Jim Faulconer and Nate Oman – hello to you both!

    I find this discussion interesting as I interact with a lot of LDS youth in interesting environments. I manage an indie-rock band called Before Braille, which happens to be a composed of return and prospective missionaries, so I have an opportunity to observe LDS youth in environments that provide both positive and negative influences. I have been both concerned and encouraged by what I see among our youth, and in youth-in-general. I’m interested in exploring how both the entertainment contents and formats our youth experience impact their spiritual development.

    Adam said, “We Americans end childhood too soon and start adulthood too late.”

    Seems paradoxical, but it in a way I can see what you’re saying, if that’s indeed what you are saying.

    Too many young people are encourageed (via a youth consumer-culture) to participate in pseuo-adult worlds. However, the activities they are pursuing are usually centered on adult-level “pleasures” not adult-level responsibilities. So they end their childhoods too soon.

    However, these same young people stay steeped in this “enjoyment without responsibility” for periods long beyond when they should be assuming the growth-providing burdens of adulthood. Frat-boy sorority-girl mindsets last not only through college (longer than it should, if it should occur at all), and on into the lives of many thirty-somethings and beyond. So they begin adulthoold too late.

    I believe the forms of entertainment young people experience today are a real cause of this. The predominant forms of entertainment are individual and isolated – non-social. For the last couple of years I served as counselor in a Bishopric and part of my responsibilities included supervision of the Young Mens program. I was disturbed by how much time the young men spent watching cartoons, playing videogames, and chatting on the Internet: activities that are mostly solitary and idle. And when they’re not “solitary” (i.e. chatting on the Internet), they are relations mediated through technology – impersonal and idle.

    When I was going through the young men’s program, by and large my peers and I didn’t have these distractions. We did have video games, but I don’t remember spending enormous amounts of time and money on them. We spent our time riding bikes or skateboards, playing sports, or gathering and playing board games in social groups (unmediated by technology). We INTERACTED with one another. Our bodies also looked different – there wasn’t much to do indoors. Being outdoors, we naturally used our bodies more – we were more . . . lean. You didn’t see many overweight kids.

    I just see such a difference is so many of our youth these days.

    Back to my involvement with live music. One aspect about the live music scene (and any appropriate gathering of youth) I really appreciate is that (provided the environments are healthy) young people have the opportunity to both share talents and support one another in their talents, in a social environment that promotes social interacion, and (often) political/social/communal involvement.

    In the church we are very fortunate to see youth activities and programs that by their very nature both oppose and provide alternatives to entertainment content and formats that alienate youth socially.

    Coming full circle, I hope, back to the point of this thread – young people (both in and out of the job)do respond surprisingly well to responsibility, though our culture at large seems determined to keep people in perpetual childhood – and modern entertainment only reinforcs this.

    Has anyone else had recent thoughts about this? (Or are there other earlier threads about this to which I could refer myself?)

    Please forgive the rambling nature of this post and any spelling errors – it’s early here.


  8. Adam Greenwood on October 7, 2004 at 10:30 am

    Wow, Mr. Drex D. If my throw-away lines elicit this kind of elaboration I will have to throw away more of them.

  9. MDS on October 7, 2004 at 11:01 am

    I doubt that babysitting is an adequate proxy for priesthood service. The obvious concern of the Church about the loss of young women at the time of transition to Relief Society would hint at this. The point of Elder Faust’s talk, I think, is that the young men are best helped to grow and advance when they are given real opportunities to help fulfill the mission of the church, to bring souls to Christ. This is probably most easily accomplished through Home Teaching, when senior companions give meaningful assignments that allow the young man to practice teaching the gospel and ministering to others. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see whether the Relief Society transition would be made easier by assigning the young women as visiting teachers from age 14. That way, just like priesthood advancement, the transition to RS wouldn’t be viewed as joining a new and foreign organization/environment, but would instead be a natural progression within an already closely knit group. (Sharing opening exercises between the groups might be nice too). I know of one ward where the Priests had lots of elderly shut-ins to visit on Sundays in order to share the sacrament. Rather than allow this to be an exclusively male assignment, the ward assigned young women to go with as well in order to share a spiritual thought, take a copy of the sacrament meeting program, make sure the elderly were aware of any new developments in the ward (births, deaths, birthdays, mission calls) and share their impressions on the sacrament meeting talks or testimonies that had been given. I know these young women felt needed as they shared in the mission of the church.

  10. Laura on October 7, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    Adam says: “But I wonder if the kind of respect and responsibility that comes with, what would you call it, formal status? is more necessary or less dangerous to men than it is to women? I don’t know, and I’m open to being told otherwise, though unless the source is fairly authoritative I’m probably going to keep thinking it’s possible. ”

    Are you saying that respect, responsibility and formal status are dangerous to women? That they are less dangerous to men? That men need respect, responsibility and formal status more than women do?

    Just me guessing, and I’m sure you wouldn’t call me an authoritative source, but I would suspect that Margaret Thatcher, Golda Maier and Nancy Reagan would not say that respect, responsibility or formal status is particularly more dangerous to them than to the men they worked with.

  11. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    we appear to be playing ‘Telephone.’


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