Annual Broadcasts
Seminary, Institute, and Other Things that Work

Seminary, Institute, and Other Things that Work

S&I Annual Broadcast 2023

Friday, January 27, 2023

President Steven J. Lund: Oh, what a joy it is to be asked to bear my testimony to you, whom I admire so much, today and to be sandwiched, as I am, between these two greatest teachers that I know, perhaps, in the Church.

I attended a lecture recently by Arthur Brookes, the Harvard professor. And he said, “You know, we put too much pressure on our teachers; we ask them to change the course of human history.” He didn’t know how true that was. Except, in your case, it’s not human history we’re worried about; it’s the eternities. So we do expect a lot of you and appreciate who you are and what you do and are insistent upon that outcome.

When I last spoke in general conference, I spoke of wanting to put my hands on the shoulders of an earnest returning missionary and press into his soul the impressions of my heart. With this assignment to speak to you came the suggestion that I do that here—that I sort of put my hands on your shoulders and look you in the eyes and express my feelings about your opportunities and about your challenges. Well, we’re not going to get that intimate, but maybe, given how I feel about you, if we did, what I would want to hear is what’s in your hearts that I should know.

I’m a product of early-morning seminary, taught mostly in a little portable classroom next to a California junior college. We were taught in turn by a Swedish convert wife of a member of our bishopric and then in later years by a successive pair of septuagenarian grandmothers—all three of whom were qualified mostly by that brand of consecration that got them up before 5:00 a.m. and by their absolute conviction about the veracity of the Restoration. Most of what I know about the gospel—and I mean this literally—most of what I know about the gospel, I learned in seminary. And most of the new things that I’m learning now about the gospel are simply rediscoveries of what they tried to teach me then.

So let us begin with the most important words that I can summon: thank you for what you do and what you are. Thank you for your willingness to do the inestimable work required to change your curriculum, your lesson plans, and your calendar to align with Come, Follow Me. Not many in the Church fully saw what was asked of you. Thank you for leaning so heavily into the oars to effect this change, knowing that you’re continuing to refine curricula. Your labors have begun to bear fruit.

One note arrived in our offices that tells a common story. It reads, “If I’m being honest, my family doesn’t usually have family home evenings. We don’t read our scriptures that much by ourselves or as a family or do gospel study together. We’re active in the Church; however, lately, since I’ve been in seminary, I’ve been able to share things that I’ve learned from seminary with them. I believe that seminary is helping to influence me to read my scriptures but also to help me influence my family too.”

Well, that was the hope, wasn’t it? The Church-supportedness would flow back to strengthen the home-centeredness of the Church. That process is part of the ongoing Restoration, and it is a protocol that works. The Church goes to great lengths in trying to understand what works and what doesn’t. You are actually at the vortex of several of the things that we know do create lasting connections with the Lord.

So while I have my hands on your shoulders—or around your necks, as the case may be—can I highlight a few things that we know work so that you can lean in where it matters most in your teaching? They say that the first ingredient to success is showing up. On average, youth who show up for seminary end up having better lifelong outcomes. They are more likely to become endowed, more likely to serve missions, more likely to marry in the temple. Those who attend four years of seminary gain a connection to the gospel that seldom breaks. Second, when youth pay a full tithe, they form a link with Heavenly Father that remains. Every time they obey that commandment and make that payment, a new bond of sacrifice and connection is created.

I hope that every seminary and institute teacher is constantly improving the way they teach the connecting power of tithing. My own father once asked me when I was about 10 if I always paid my tithing. I did. It was barely a thing, because not much commerce was happening on the dirt road where we lived. But he went on to say, “You know, if you decide to, you can live your life having been perfect at that.” He said, “One of my regrets”—this is my father—“was that when I was in the Navy on a ship for a few months there was no place to pay tithing, and I got out of the habit. I’ve been perfect ever since. But I’m ashamed of that period when I didn’t. If you decide to, you can be perfect at this.” Well, your students can be too.

The third thing I would call to your attention that really works is FSY conference. These FSY conferences are amazing. This past summer, many or most of 200,000 14- to 18-year-olds around the world came away with a richer and more motivating understanding of who they are and why the Lord asks what He asks. FSY is so successful that we’ve had to ask ourselves, What is that secret sauce? What is the FSY effect?

Well, part of it is unplugging participants from their day-to-day distractions for a week, which puts them in a highly teachable, focused frame of mind. And all the while that they are each peacefully at harbor like a child at home, they have to deal with you, with teachers and session directors, mostly from seminaries and institute, as you light their brains on fire with doctrine so pure and helpful that they incite a change of heart.

You provide them with the tools that they need when on Saturday they drive away into the cultural cataclysm that is their lives. Your lessons and example and every utterance will go into their life skills toolbox. For some of them, FSY may be their last best chance to make peace with themselves and with God. Thank you for your commitment to bring them your spiritual, intellectual, and pedagogical best. Our Church research confirms that one of the most powerful triggers of lifelong discipleship has been relationships with faithful adults like you who have figured out how to navigate life’s challenges and find joy in Christ.

About a month ago, President Bonnie H. Cordon and I were asked to report to the First Presidency on the FSY program and how it rolled out this past summer in the United States and Canada. We finished our presentation and responded to a few thoughtful questions about our plans to make further improvements, and the meeting seemed to end. But as we started to move from our chairs, President Nelson leaned forward, and he said, “We must teach them to pray.” We immediately sat back down again. He said, “We must teach them to pray, to whom they pray, and the language of prayer.” And then he went on to say that he was concerned that we may be becoming too casual in the way that we address Heavenly Father. And then he repeated the phrase “We need to teach them to pray, to whom they pray, and the language of prayer.” So let’s teach them to pray. Every time we utter a prayer, we are inviting Heavenly Father to intervene in our lives. Every prayer is a prayer for a miracle. Even prayers of gratitude hope to deepen our relationships with the divine.

So let’s turn to another instrument of testimony that works. The For the Strength of Youth guide. I’m sorry—For the Strength of Youth: A Guide for Making Choices, which teaches us to replace our focus on rules with a focus on our relationship with the Savior and becoming like Him. The old adage “What would Jesus do?” still remains a fantastic rule of life. The backdrop against which we will make our decisions is no longer a booklet; instead, it is our God-given mission.

President Nelson tells us again and again that the most important thing going on in this world and the reason that we were preserved to come into this world at this time is the gathering of Israel. So as we’re making decisions as to how we’re going to conduct our lives, we should be driven by the question “Is this decision going to help or hinder my ability to fulfill my mortal purposes?” As we strive to live the kind of lives worthy of the Lord’s battalions, we try to make our life’s choices align with our life’s mission.

The question for each of us is “Do we believe Christ as He reveals through His prophets our divine purposes?” Because if we believe Him, we’ll want to make great decisions. You of the S&I cloth are masters at helping them to answer that question. In a changing world, a list of strictures will not protect us, but gospel principles will.

The new For the Strength of Youth guide for making decisions asks our young people to get into the practice of approaching life through the lens of their spiritual sensitivities rather than through their highly suspect cultural sensitivities. This new FSY guide is something other than the next iteration of grown-ups talking to youth about values. Instead, it’s a reset of the way they approach their lives as they learn their true identity as sons and daughters of God—a God who has a work for them to do, who has sent them here for specific purposes that will give their lives pulsating meaning. Their feet will become planted on gospel ground.

This new guide for making choices is part of a decades-old revealed pattern driving us toward deeper spirituality; it’s the latest installment of a long arc of restoration that includes ward teaching successfully moving to home teaching and then to ministering—of family home evening instead of family night, of every member a missionary, of raising the bar, of elevating memorized missionary discussions with Preach My Gospel, and of replacing scouting and Personal Progress with Children and Youth—where youth are being asked to take control of their spiritual lives.

The new reading requirements for seminary are consistent with this principle-based, Spirit-guided approach. We have been moving more and more toward a higher and holier way of spiritually motivated decision making. It’s becoming increasingly important that our youth and we ourselves learn to decide how we should act by responding to holy principles rather than minding specific prohibitions. Our youth are already being confronted with moral questions that were not even questions a decade or three ago. If they’re going to be thrown off balance today deciding about tattoos, well, just wait to see what else the world is coming hammer and tong at them with.

President Russell M. Nelson explained how to make those decisions. You can’t just check a list. He taught, “I promise you that if you will sincerely and persistently do the spiritual work needed to develop the crucial, spiritual skill of learning how to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, you will have all the direction you will ever need in your life.”1

The story is circulating around about a 14-year-old who told her mother the day after general conference that the new booklet did not proscribe multiple piercings, so she intended to add some hardware to her ears on Thursday. The mother took a deep breath and reportedly told her, “Well, you know what our feelings are about that, but this isn’t about what we want you to do; this is your chance to ask what Heavenly Father wants you to do. You have got to do the work, do the research, pray about it, and wait for an answer.” Well, the 14-year-old found her answer, and the mother changed her life.

After returning home from my mission I joined the United States Army. I reported one day to the Oakland Induction Center, where I was processed into my new military family. My newly assigned friends were as different from me and from each other as you can possibly imagine. But 24 hours later, we had all received identical haircuts and dressed in identical uniforms. And as we walked into our barracks that night, we all looked like Clean One owners. During the next months of training together, I was never able to tell who had been who in that menagerie that was the induction center. We trained together and complained together and confided together, and there were no -ites among us. I learned a lifelong lesson about the significance of uniforms: what we wear can divide or can unify. Clothes speak to whose side we’re on and what might be expected of the wearer.

I just read of a Marine medic who’d been in a firefight in the Middle East who carried several wounded Marines to an air evac helicopter and then returned again to the field and returned with another wounded soldier. Some local allied soldiers jeered at him: “Hey, Marine”—and they meant that as an insult—“Hey, Marine, didn’t you notice that you’re carrying one of the enemy?” He simply said, “Hey, I am a Marine; didn’t you notice that he’s wounded too?” His uniform stood for something transcendent.

The prophet has invited these youth into the Lord’s battalions. When you join an army, you don a uniform. When there is peril or disaster, a battalion’s uniform tells the population that help has arrived, righteous armies liberate the oppressed, flowers are thrown in their path, there are tears, help has arrived. Missionaries wear uniforms; God’s army can do best what it is sent to when it stands out a little from those they are sent to lift and to free.

The handbook says, “He knows”—speaking of Heavenly Father—“He knows you can make a difference in the world, and that requires, in many cases, being different from the world.”2

While still in the Army, my friend Rich and I went on leave and ended up in Jerusalem. And as we walked through the streets of Jerusalem in Levis and golf shirts, an Arab shopkeeper commented that we were with the BYU Jerusalem Center. We told him that we were not; we were just a couple of American soldiers.

“Yes, but you are also with the Jerusalem Center.”

“What makes you think that?”

“We can see it in you a block away.”

We looked at each other; we looked just like the Israeli Defense Force Soldiers that were walking past us wearing the same clothes that we were wearing—same haircuts, same everything. But apparently there was something.

Throughout the ages, the Lord’s followers have mostly lived among other peoples with different cultures and values and priorities. So how do we respect our neighbors while also purposefully living the gospel’s unique culture? We are asked to be a light unto the world as the Lord gathers Israel this last time in preparation for His return. Members of the Church often bear light that’s invisible to ourselves but discernable to others. I suppose it’s the Light of Christ that they can see, sometimes dimly but definitely shining through our fallen selves. Christ, after all, is the strength of youth. Anything we do to distract from or diminish or camouflage or hide that light frustrates the purposes of being born at this time.

The For the Strength of Youth guide can help us to bear that light as we seek inspiration on how our unique, divinely appointed purposes can best be fulfilled through our life and our lifestyle decisions. Being sent to stand as God’s peculiar people is a compliment. It may mean standing out from the crowd as we broadcast through our choices whom it is that we follow. Our task in Church education and in the Children and Youth program and in the kingdom of God on earth is not only to keep this generation from losing its faith and slipping into lifestyles unworthy of them; the prophet is calling for young men and young women with the capacity to be about the regeneration of the world.

The Lord’s prophet is calling for women who can stand up and lead in a world of many women who will properly insist on taking their rightful place in the world, intending to be relevant and impactful, but for many of whom religiosity seems to be at cross purposes to their meaningful aspirations. And still the women of Zion will clothe themselves in the power of godliness and will move the center.

And He needs us to build men of great power, acquiring all of the attributes of sons of God described in scripture. Does earth life only get one Captain Moroni? That’s not what I hear President Russell M. Nelson saying when he speaks of this royal generation. He exclaims to them that “our Heavenly Father has reserved many of His most noble spirits—perhaps … His finest team—for this final phase. Those noble spirits—those finest players, those heroes—are you!”3

So thank you again for the indispensable force toward lasting conversion that you are to the youth of this the Lord’s Church and kingdom. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.