Brethren, I am indeed grateful for the opportunity to be with you this evening. I want to thank Heavenly Father for this opportunity and experience. My prayer is that my words and thoughts will be useful and helpful in building up and strengthening young men.
My assignment is to discuss what we are doing in our ward to activate young men of the Aaronic Priesthood.
First, every ward needs a Sister McManaway.
Let me tell you about Sister McManaway, our Young Women president. Bishops, I hope that you have someone like her. When she read that a bishop’s most important responsibility was the youth of his ward—well, she believed that. When she pointed it out to me, I told her I believed it, too. She said, “You don’t act like it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you never do anything with the youth. You never interview them. You never come to opening exercises, and all during our meeting you interview adults.”
One day Sister McManaway knocked on my door and said, “Look here, bishop, I have a book for you to read. You don’t have to read it all, just the parts I’ve underlined.” It was a book by Elder Vaughn Featherstone entitled A Generation of Excellence.
First I read the underlined parts, and then I read the entire book. That book had a great impact on me, and I’m grateful that Elder Featherstone took the time to write it. But equally important, I’m grateful to Sister McManaway for caring enough about the youth to say, “Bishop, you need to read this book.”
I used to home teach a sweet, older sister. She had the ability to flat tell you how she felt about things. One evening I told her how much she meant to me and that I loved her. She leveled me when she replied, “Talk’s cheap.” Maybe in dealing with my youth I’d also been guilty of some cheap talk.
Second, use your priesthood executive committee and Relief Society.
As our bishopric has turned more of our attention to the youth, the responsibilities and the sphere of influence of our priesthood executive committee and Relief Society have increased, particularly that of our elders quorum president. Their support has been characterized by 90 percent visiting teaching for the last two years and home teaching that has steadily improved until it also is at the 90 percent level. Without such support, we would not be able to put the youth at the top of our priorities.
Third, fill your youth program with quality people.
It has been said that, as you organize a new ward, you first identify your best man and make him your Scoutmaster. Our Scoutmaster is a former bishop. Our Young Men president is a former high councilor. All of our leaders in the Young Men organization served full-time missions; all hold temple recommends. Brethren, don’t sacrifice here. I don’t know where to tell you to sacrifice, but don’t do it here. Put truly fine people in your youth programs.
Fourth, don’t overlook your Primary.
Please don’t overlook your Primary. Select your Cub Scout and Blazer leaders with the same care and concern that you do for the Young Men organization.
When our young men turn twelve, they have already been introduced to the priesthood. A firm foundation in Scouting has been established through the Cub program, and eleven-year-old Scouts have already made significant progress on their way to the Eagle Award.
Fifth, encourage a tradition of Eagles.
There is nothing like a little success to breed even more success. The tradition of Eagle Scouts in our ward goes back to when our ward was first organized. It is something I have gratefully inherited.
There is something satisfying to the soul to see teachers and priests still working on their Eagle badges. One of my first assistants in the quorum earned his Eagle just before his eighteenth birthday, but he earned it. It was great. I love to put my arm around them at their Eagle courts of honor, embarrass them a little, tell them how great they are. It’s the only time they really listen to me.
Sixth, strengthen your tradition of missionaries.
The lists of Eagles and missionaries almost read the same. But there are additional names, such as Elder Doug Blincoe and Sister Karen Baughman. Each has been a member of the Church less than eighteen months, and both are now serving full-time missions. The spirit of missionary service can do much to strengthen your youth programs.
Seventh, review stewardships.
It’s important that the youth leaders have an opportunity to report on their stewardships. Personal priesthood interviews usually are accomplished by the bishopric member responsible for that class or quorum, but each quarter I like to sit down with the quorum and class presidents and review their stewardships with them. This provides me an opportunity to learn how they are doing and at the same time to strengthen, encourage, and train. I also extend the calls to the presidents and act as voice as they are set apart.
Eighth, conduct regular interviews.
One of the best means that a bishop has to get to know his youth is the interview. Each youth is entitled to two quality interviews each year, one by the bishop and the other by the bishopric member responsible for that age-group. Each interview is important; it can cover their goals and their progress. Needed counsel can be given.
Don’t hesitate to invite those who are inactive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised a number of times. In fact, several annual interviews have been an important first step in the activation process.
Ninth, encourage participation in seminary.
I’m convinced that seminary is the single most effective tool that we have for bringing youth to the understanding that Jesus is the Christ.
As Brother Mike comes up in a minute to speak—and Mike, I want you to know how proud I am of you and how much I enjoy working with you—he will give you an example of the key to activation. That key is that one touches the life and heart of another who is having difficulty by exercising a spirit of love, concern, and patience—sometimes a lot of patience.
There are many elements that can go along with this great key to activation. We’ve discussed several this evening. But none of these things in themselves will replace the key. We’ve had great activities, like our bike trip from Kirtland to Dayton. As much as safety would allow, they followed the course the Saints took when some of them in 1834 moved from Kirtland to Jackson County. Each night the boys heard stories from diaries of the Saints. After pedaling for some fifty miles each day, the boys had a better appreciation of the early Saints.
Because of this experience, much growth took place. The importance of teamwork was better recognized and testimonies were strengthened, but the most significant thing about this trip was the total involvement of several young men who before had stood on the periphery of quorum activity.
We have done some unusual things, too. We had two priests who just couldn’t seem to overcome the allure of bed on Sunday morning. They had great difficulty in coming to priesthood meeting. We decided that, if they wouldn’t come to priesthood meeting, then we would take priesthood meeting to them. After deciding which of the two young men to visit first, we left the meetinghouse and went to the first home.
I want you to know, brethren, that I was really concerned about how the father of that home would feel about all of us being at his house at 8:00 a.m. In fact, as we were waiting at the door, I was thinking that it sure would have been wise if I had called him the night before and told him what we were going to do.
The father answered the door, and we explained our purpose. Brethren, he couldn’t have been more gracious. As we climbed the stairs, we found our brother sleeping as only a young man can sleep. I will never forget how totally surprised he was when he awoke to find us all around his bed. Well, we had a great meeting, complete with business, a lesson, and some concluding thoughts on activation.
We decided we had hit upon a rather effective activation technique. We also decided to use it next week on the other young man. During the week the word about what we were going to do got out. Next Sunday, for the first time since I had been the bishop, 100 percent of our quorum members were at priesthood meeting. I can report to you that one of these young men is presently serving a full-time mission and the other will soon be serving.
Remember the sister that I used to home teach? The one who told me that talk is cheap? Brethren, don’t be guilty of cheap talk concerning your young men. Get involved, activate them, establish one-to-one relationships with them. It’s a great key to activation. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.