“Message from the First Presidency: Preparing Our Youth,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 2
Wherever one travels in the Church today he is faced with deepening concern about the future of our Latter-day Saint youth. The concern is warranted, since the future of the Church is bound up in our youth. It is they who will soon be presiding over families, quorums, stakes, wards, and auxiliaries.
Clearly, what we do now, or do not do, by way of preparing them will affect their capacity to lead the Church and to love their families, the gospel, and the fellow Church members.
There is timely counsel for both old and young in the apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12.)
We love the youth of the Church; and we say to them, as Paul said to young Timothy, that they will be happiest if they are examples of the believers. The future of the Church is secure, but it will be even brighter if our youth in their word and in the conversation show forth the charity and purity that can only come from one who is a believer.
If anyone questions the importance of the youth to the Church, he should note the following information prepared by the Church Historian’s Office from a large statistical sample.
Over fifty percent of the members of the Church are age twenty-five or under. There are as many members of the Church from twelve to twenty-five years of age as there are from thirty-six years up. And if one wishes to view the years from sixteen through twenty-five—probably the years of greatest stress and most crucial decisions—that group comprises over twenty-three percent of the total membership of the Church.
You can sense from the statistics alone the immense challenge we all have, for this large group of young people will eventually serve and guide the kingdom during very critical years. We all must do a better job of preparing them than we are now doing.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the home and family are the key to the future of the Church. An unloved child, a child who has not known discipline, work, or responsibility, will often yield to Satanic substitutes for happiness—drugs, sexual experimentation, and rebellion, whether it is intellectual or behavioral. Our intensified efforts around family home evening, which we have not only urged you to hold, but concerning which we have supplied more and more help, hold much promise if we will but use these opportunities.
There is no better place than in the home to teach and learn about marriage, love, and sex as these can properly combine in a sanctified temple marriage. There is no better place to deal with the doubts of our young than where there is love—at home. Love can free our youth to listen to those whom they know they can trust. Our curricula, quorums, and classes should supplement the home, and where homes are seriously defective, we will have to compensate as best we can.
When Jesus said of the first and second great commandments, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” he uttered one of the greatest insights in the course of history. For it is on these commandments that we should not only build all our teachings, but it is also by their guiding light that we should direct our organizations and cultivate our correlation of programs.
Can a child come to love his neighbor unless he has known love himself? Can a young person who has never been trusted learn to trust? Can a boy who has never known work or responsibility see how those vital traits are needed to hold our whole society together? Can a girl who has not been a part of honest, candid discussions of gospel principles in her home cope with the criticisms of the world and the intellectual assaults on her religion? Can a young man who must ask his father to stay away from the son’s temple marriage because his father smokes (even though father had obtained a recommend) have full respect for a bishop who winks at this noncompliance in order to be “nice” to a family? Without experiencing a gospel principle in action, it is much more difficult to believe in that principle.
We must remember that in some of our young, the offense over adult hypocrisy is not always their desire to “get something on us,” but a deep sense of disappointment. They truly want us to be what we pretend to be, because when we are, it is a testimony to them that we really believe.
We must be more willing to give our youth appropriate responsibility. President Joseph Fielding Smith, who presides over us, knew responsibility at an early age, and so did his father, President Joseph F. Smith.
God has often given special chores to selected young men. Much of youthful boredom and restlessness stems from the lengthened years of study and dependency before full responsibility and opportunities for service occur; our young want to be doing things and achieving things. They must be prepared, of course, but there are many things they could be doing as they mature if we will match the opportunities for service in our Church programs with the aspirations of our youth.
In a time that we have been told would be much as in the days of Noah, we must help our young to learn how to make right choices, to grow in justified self-esteem, especially when they can be under the direct influence of the home, where family love can make repentance both possible and significant. The environment of our young outside the home and Church will often be either empty, so far as values are concerned, or contain ideas that contradict the principles of the gospel.
It seems clear to me that the Church has no choice—and never has had—but to do more to assist the family in carrying out its divine mission, not only because that is the order of heaven, but also because that is the most practical contribution we can make to our youth—to help improve the quality of life in the Latter-day Saint homes. As important as our many programs and organizational efforts are, these should not supplant the home; they should support the home.
Unlike some in the world, we do not want to engage in worship of youth by imitating them and by being so anxious for them to like us that we compromise our own integrity and individuality. Nor do we want to be like others in the world who, because of the actions of a few young men and women, would forsake all the young. As in all things, the teachings of the Master must guide us. We must be wise, not naive. We must love even those who abuse and misuse us. We must be uncompromising as to principle, but quick to love and to forgive. We must be ready always to give others, including the young, reasons for our own deep commitment to the Savior and his kingdom.
May we so serve, love, and lead our young members to prepare them for today and for the future.