This past week, the First Presidency made Church history. Again. In a letter dated Friday, December 14, Pres. Nelson and his counselors announced that young men and women’s quorums and classes will start following the same advancement pattern as Sunday School classes. Meaning everyone will transition to the next quorum or class at the beginning of the year. For example, if you turn 12 in 2019, you will be in the deacons’ quorum at the start of the year. And priesthood ordination will follow. No more waiting until you are 12 years old to receive the Aaronic Priesthood– from now on you will be ordained to the priesthood office at the same time as your fellow quorum members on the January of the year you turn that age. So be prepared for a lot of 11-year-old deacons passing the Sacrament in January!
Pres. Nelson is really on a roll. Someone joked that Pres. Nelson is like Marty McFly from Back to the Future. He’s asked to play something and decides to play a rock song from the future (one of my son’s favorite songs: Johnny Be Good). Right before he starts, he casually tells the confused 1950s band accompanying him to “watch me for the changes and try to keep up.” Like those surprised musicians, we in the Church are all watching the Prophet, keeping an eye on the changes, and trying to keep up, and enjoying all the great stuff we’d never heard before.
But ultimately we know it’s not President Nelson making all the changes. It’s the actual Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ that’s furiously pouring nitrous into the engines of the Church. We really are accelerating. The Lord is indeed “hastening his work.” And more and more, it’s the youth that are standing (or running) at the forefront of this great hastening. Consider all we’ve seen in the past few years:
- The lowering of the missionary age (18 for boys, 19 for girls)
- The implementation of Come Follow Me (years before it was introduced to adults)
- The introduction of wallet limited use temple recommends youth should always carry with them (like adults)
- This new change in age requirements for priesthood and young women’s class advancement.
Just think of it. As Satan has been inspiring the youth of the world to keep putting adulthood and responsibilities off farther and farther into the future, the Lord has been doing the exact opposite: giving more and more responsibilities to younger and younger ages of the rising generation.
Several years ago, a member of our teachers’ quorum heard someone at school talking about one of my friends in the ward. The classmate was recounting in an amazed tone, “That guy is like super Mormon. He never swears, never cheats, and is really nice to everyone. And guess what? Someone else told me his church made him a priest when he was just sixteen years old! A sixteen-year-old priest, can you believe it?”
Sure it was funny, but that surprised kid has a point. Through all dispensations of the Gospel, access to the Priesthood was extremely limited to just a few souls on earth at a time as far as we can tell. In the Mosaic dispensation, it seems the Lord opened t up a little so at least the Levites could hold some form of the Aaronic Priesthood. We suppose that after Christ came, that expanded even further, but when Paul addressed the teachers, priests, and deacons of his time, I doubt it included many 12, 14, and 16-year-olds. I don’t think it’s a stretch to speculate that God has never given so much responsibility in His kingdom to so many young men and young women as He has in this dispensation. And now He’s asking them to do even more. To step up to the plate and take the reigns even earlier. President Nelson gave them a charge a few months ago:
My dear young brothers and sisters, right now I am preparing for the day when I will be required to give an accounting to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to President Brigham Young, and others—and ultimately to the Lord—about my stewardship as God’s prophet upon the earth today. I do not want to be asked, “Brother Nelson, why were you not more clear with the youth about their part in gathering Israel? Why were you not more bold in enlisting them to participate?”
So, now I am inviting every young woman and every young man between the ages of 12 and 18 in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to enlist in the youth battalion of the Lord to help gather Israel.
So what’s the takeaway for us? Don’t discount the youth of the Church. They are so much more capable than we often give them credit for. For example, in one of my previous wards, the Bishopric was having a difficult time trying to find someone to fill the positions of chorister and choir director for the ward. Not for lack of musical ability in the ward, but everyone that seemed a good fit was needed elsewhere. One of the counselors suggested the name of a fifteen-year-old young man in the ward. The spirit of revelation filled the roo, and they knew that was the right choice. That young man magnified his calling wonderfully, directing the ward choir as well as the congregation on Sundays, all while taking music theory and choir classes in high school. He brought an enthusiasm and a drive to the calling that blessed the whole ward.
Another example: I was called to start home teaching when I was 12. And it wasn’t with my dad originally– it was with the second counselor in the Bishopric. And, as in many wards, the members of the Bishopric in this ward were assigned some difficult case families that required some extra ecclesiastical attention. I don’t necessarily recommend that every member of the Bishopric be paired with a deacon companion– it makes for a lot of awkward moments when sensitive matters come up and everyone stares and you and sometimes asks you to leave the room for a few minutes. And it makes spur-of-the-moment blessings really hard for the senior companion. But it was a helpful experience for me to see a little bit of how the sausage is made, so to speak– to see how ward leaders do their jobs.
One more example in the same vein: My wife and I were surprised by a call from the stake for me to serve in the presidency of the Spanish branch. I was 22 at the time. I had been home from my mission 9 months and had been married for 6. I felt woefully inadequate. I was going into a Spanish with about 10 countries/accents represented (including one Chilean sister who always spoke like an auctioneer) armed with barely little more than a high school Spanish vocabulary. But I learned to work and serve and help the work along. And that experience in the branch presidency changed my life. It changed how I saw the world, how I interacted with others, and how I viewed callings. It was what I needed. And I hope I was a benefit to the branch as well.
What’s my point in all this? Paul counseled Timothy to “let no man despise thy youth.” I wonder if we are “despising our youth” in a way when we ignore them or don’t think to include them when we need something done. With only 3 or 4 positions in a quorum or class presidency to fill, there are a lot of excellent young men and women who are available to step up to the plate and pitch in with zeal and energy you won’t find from many members. It is my opinion that they are the most underutilized resource in the Church. There are a lot of callings and assignments they can fill and magnify if they are only asked to do so.
Remember, Joseph Smith was 14 when he saw God the Father. Mormon was only 15 when he was tasked to lead the Nephite armies in their final war. The youth have tremendous potential. If we try to utilize them, we may find ourselves surprised and amazed, like the Nephites at the time of the stripling warriors, to find that they are just the answer we needed:
And now behold, as they never had hitherto been a disadvantage to the Nephites, they became now at this period of time also a great support.