RETAINING YOUNG MEN
THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD COMMITTEE
OF THE WARRENTON, VA STAKE
Brethren, we have a retention problem--and it is not the one you are thinking about (convert retention). It is a much worse retention problem. Last month our Stake President reported that only 25 percent of the eligible young men in our Stake are serving/have served full-time missions. That is a 75 percent failure rate! As bad as our Stake home teaching percentages might be, this is even worse. We are failing to retain those who grow up in the church. We are fighting a war for the souls of our young men and are losing. Clearly, the Aaronic Priesthood's role as a Preparatory Priesthood is not having its intended impact in our Stake. Those who administer the Aaronic Priesthood need our help--in a major way.
II. THE ASSIGNMENT
Lynn Oliver and I received the assignment to answer the question, "what role, if any, does the Stake Melchizedek Priesthood Committee have to play in relation to the Aaronic Priesthood?" We will suggest three answers and make four recommendations.
III.FIRST ANSWER: HOME TEACHING AS MISSIONARY PREPARATION
The Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook lists 9 responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood for accomplishing the three missions of the church (see the bolded subheadings on pages 3 - 8). The number two responsibility (denoting its importance relative to the rest) is "Helping Families Prepare Missionaries." In this section it is suggested (among other things) that Bishoprics AND Melchizedek Priesthood leaders prepare young men to become missionaries through home teaching.
We would like to remind you that according to DC 20:46-59 Home Teaching is an Aaronic Priesthood responsibility. "The Priest's duty is to . . . visit the house of each member" and, "The Teacher's duty to watch over the church always." When a Melchizedek Priesthood holder goes home teaching he is carrying out an Aaronic Priesthood function. Unfortunately, many young men are denied the opportunity to fulfill and magnify one of their most important Priesthood responsibilities.
IV. SECOND ANSWER: MISSIONARY PREPARATION COURSES
As we mentioned earlier, the Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook lists 9 responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood for accomplishing the three missions of the church and the number two responsibility is "Helping Families Prepare Missionaries." This section of the handbook suggests that in addition to home teaching, Bishoprics AND Melchizedek Priesthood leaders prepare young men to become missionaries through missionary preparation classes (page 3).
The Brigham City Utah Stake has taken this responsibility to heart. For five years they have used a locally developed "Sons of Helaman" program for priest-aged boys. It is organized by the Melchizedek Priesthood under the direction of the Stake President. It draws on mature men for organizational and logistical tasks and on recently returned missionaries for teaching and fellowshipping tasks. The older Priests who have been through the program before serve as youth leaders. The curriculum is a very tightly integrated physical activity and missionary preparation class combination. The physical activities include some of the business world's "retreat team-building exercises" and the missionary prep class is what you would expect. They conduct the "Sons of Helaman" as a four day camp in the summer, with several preparatory camps/sessions in the spring. The 100 page manual is in my possession.
V. THIRD ANSWER: REFLECT AARONIC PRIESTHOOD IN ALL WE DO
The Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook lists 5 major responsibilities of the Bishop (pages 18 - 29). First, and most important is that of President of the Priests Quorum. This implies that a Bishop should be spending more than 20 percent (probably in the range of 25 - 35 percent) of his time on youth issues. When we interact with Bishops do we spend one-third of our time on youth issues? We should. Do we in our own meetings spend one-third of our time on youth issues? Maybe we should. The amount of time and energy we spend talking and doing particular subjects indicates the importance we attach to an issue. We need to raise the general level of talk and action on Aaronic Priesthood issues in everything we do.
In short, as we make a concerted effort to make this Stake, from top to bottom, a more family centered enterprise, we should at the same time give it a youth friendly atmosphere, that is obvious to those young people who desparately need it.
Brethren, these four recommendations may seem like overkill. However, desperate times require desperate measures, and we are living in desperate times. All of these suggestions are consistent with the scriptures, with the Priesthood handbooks, and the order of the church. The fact is that current practices are producing a 75 percent failure rate. Incremental changes to current practices will produce incremental improvements. If we want dramatic improvements, we must implement dramatic changes. These changes begin with a change in attitude. Rather than mentally dumping the problems of young men into Bishop's laps and not worry about them again until they surface as prospective elders, we must recognize our own responsibility toward these young men. Remember, if we don't work to keep them active now, we will be working to reactivate them in two years when they pass into the stewardships of the Elders Quorums anyway. Think of this a preventive maintenance on our Elders' Quorums. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
We leave these thoughts with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.