As we, the General Authorities, travel throughout the world, very often members of the Church, and particularly priesthood leaders, ask us, “What do you consider the greatest problem facing the Church?”
I usually answer, “Our major challenge for the membership of the Church is to live in the world without being of the world.”
I would like to emphasize that, in this day in which we live, the floodwaters of immorality, irresponsibility, and dishonesty lap at the very moorings of our lives. If we do not safeguard those moorings, if we do not have deeply entrenched foundations to withstand such eroding influences, we are going to be in difficulty.
The greatest safeguard we have in the Church is a strong, firm, committed, dedicated, and testifying priesthood base. I would like to suggest some ways in which we can have success in working with Aaronic Priesthood holders to help them plant their foundations deep in the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they might withstand the evils of our time.
First, I feel bishoprics must be encouraged in their responsibilities to the Aaronic Priesthood. If I were a bishop today, I would turn to my second counselor and say, “Your responsibility pertains to the ten deacons that we have in our ward. Your charge is to love them, to testify to them, and to ensure that when they are fourteen they are ordained teachers.” I would turn to my first counselor and I would say, “Your responsibility is to look after the eleven boys in our ward who are teachers. Use your ingenuity, but ensure that when those young men are sixteen they are ready and worthy to be ordained priests.” I would also tell my counselors, “The nine whom we have as priests will be my responsibility, as the scripturally mandated president of the priests quorum, to ensure that when they are in their nineteenth year, they will be ordained elders.”
Second, I would encourage local priesthood leaders to make the family their ally. A recent comprehensive study of Aaronic Priesthood youth, their activity and inactivity, reveals that the greatest single element encouraging them toward a heartfelt conversion to the gospel is the influence of the family and the home. Some families are inactive. I would like to make a suggestion by mentioning a simple method that Alvin R. Dyer used when he was a bishop in the Monument Park Ward. If he saw a youth whose mother or father, or both parents, were inactive, he would go to that home. He would say, “Brother and Sister Jones, you have a fine son, or you have a lovely daughter, who is going to marry in the house of God. Don’t put him, don’t put her in a position where he or she has to choose whether you are present for that marriage. Now is the time to prepare to be with your son or with your daughter. We extend an invitation to you to come out and participate in this great program provided by the gospel.” Alvin Dyer made it work.
Third, I encourage local priesthood leaders to call to service as Aaronic Priesthood advisers men who are models for the young men to follow. A returned missionary, fresh from the mission field, blossoming with testimony, is often such a model. A young Aaronic Priesthood holder can say, “That’s the type of man I want to follow.” For the same study I referred to earlier points out that the second most significant influence in bringing real conversion to our Aaronic Priesthood youth is the one-on-one influence of an Aaronic Priesthood quorum adviser.
The other day I was talking to a friend of mine, a podiatrist here in Salt Lake. I said to him, “Loren, I understand your son is going to follow you in your profession.”
He said, “Well, that was my plan, but his Scoutmaster and deacons quorum adviser is a pediatrician. Now my son is going to be a pediatrician.”
The influence of an Aaronic Priesthood adviser cannot be measured. All of us who have been mission presidents know that is true. If a mission president is an educator, many of his missionaries will want to be educators. If a mission president is a businessman, many of his missionaries will want to be businessmen.
We are setting an example, through that Aaronic Priesthood adviser. Let us make certain he is a role model worthy of emulation.
Fourth, I suggest that we tap the potential of the Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies. The scriptures outline the duties of the president of the deacons quorum, the teachers quorum, the priests quorum. I recall that when I was the second counselor in our deacons quorum presidency, I was considered a ward officer. At ward conference, when we sat on the front row of our ward officer’s meeting, I remember the stake president saying, “We will now call on Thomas Monson, the second counselor in the presidency of the deacons quorum of this ward, to give an account of his stewardship before the priesthood leadership of this ward.” Twelve years old, shaking like a leaf, I had to go forward to the same pulpit and give an account of my stewardship as the second counselor in the deacons quorum. We were taught responsibility, dependability, and accountability. We have not tapped that resource to a sufficient degree. Let us harness the energy of the deacons quorum presidency, the teachers quorum presidency, and the priests quorum youth leadership.
Fifth, I encourage stake presidencies to utilize effectively stake Aaronic Priesthood committees. I like a stake Aaronic Priesthood committee that has a list and knows the name of every holder of the Aaronic Priesthood in every ward they visit. I like to see a stake Aaronic Priesthood committee member come into a ward, sit down in the teachers quorum, and talk with the quorum adviser, the quorum presidency, and the first counselor in the bishopric about Robert Corbin, or William Pierce, or James Giles—not just three inactive or absent brethren. I have always believed that when we deal in generalities, we rarely have success; but when we deal in specifics, we rarely have a failure. Each one of these young men is worthy of individual consideration.
Sixth, I believe we need to harness the power of tradition. President Ezra Taft Benson and I were in Dallas, Texas, a few weeks ago and heard John Sloan, a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, relate an incident which occurred at a gigantic celebration for Scout leaders in California. The man conducting the celebration introduced the commandant of the Air Force Academy as their speaker, saying, “Here is the commandant of the Air Force Academy, where they have the finest buildings, the newest campus, the most up-to-date trappings of any military institution of learning in America.” The commandant stood to speak and said: “I appreciate that we have the biggest budget, we have the finest teachers, we have the most modern campus and the most commodious buildings, as compared particularly to Annapolis or West Point. But one thing we lack: tradition.”
We must develop a tradition of success in the Aaronic Priesthood, for young men like to have goals, and they like to succeed. When I was a youth in Salt Lake City, we all knew that the ward to beat in basketball was the Edgehill Ward. They had a tradition of victory, and it was a much greater source of satisfaction to get into competition against Edgehill than any ward in the city.
I remember when I was called to be the president of the teachers quorum. In the room where we met there was a collection of framed standard quorum awards on the wall. Each year was identified individually with little framed certificates. The bishopric, as they sat down with me, said, “Brother Monson, we welcome you as president of the teachers quorum. During your administration we hope that you too will provide our ward with a little plaque showing that the boys, the young men over whom you preside, have a testimony of the gospel, have demonstrated activity, have complied with the commandments of the Lord, and are worthy to be ordained priests as a result of your presidency.”
I considered very carefully that unbroken string of success. I needed no other motivation. I was not going to have a void on the wall of that room for the period that I served as the teachers quorum president.
During World War II, the British Navy had the responsibility to steam into Athens and there relieve the British troops who were being hurled back into the sea. It looked as though it would be fatal for any ship to go under that withering fire. But Admiral Cunningham said, “The Navy has a tradition: We do not leave the Army stranded on the beachhead. It takes the Navy three years to build a new ship; it will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. Full steam ahead.”
I hope we can build an Aaronic Priesthood tradition in the wards of this Church which will provide the vision and the fire our young men need. They wait to be challenged, to succeed, to win. They want to work, they want to win, they want to follow “Formula W:” Work Will Win When Wishy Washy Wishing Won’t.
Seventh, I suggest that we involve the young men themselves. Coming to Church is not adequate. We must provide our young men of the Aaronic Priesthood a faith-building experience. They are entitled to have the opportunity we have had to feel the Spirit of the Lord helping them.
I remember when I was asked to give my first talk. I was given the liberty of choosing any subject I wanted. I’ve always liked birds, so I thought of the Seagull Monument. In preparation I went to Temple Square and looked at the Seagull Monument. First of all, I was attracted to all the coins in the water and tried to figure out how to get the coins out without being seen. Then I looked upward at the seagull perched atop that monument and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a pioneer watching the first year’s harvest of grain being devoured by crickets and then seeing those seagulls descending upon the fields and eating the crickets. I loved the story, and I sat down with a pencil and wrote out a two and one-half minute talk. I’ve never forgotten the seagulls. I’ve never forgotten the crickets. And I’ve never forgotten my knees knocking together during that two and one-half minute talk. I’ve never forgotten the experience of letting some of my innermost feelings be expressed verbally at the pulpit. I would urge that we give the Aaronic Priesthood an opportunity to think, to reason, and to serve.
I spoke of Alvin Dyer earlier. He’s the only bishop I’ve known in the Church who had a quorum of forty-eight priests. How many of those priests do you think went on missions? Forty-six. How many do you think were married in the temple? Forty-seven. I take my hat off to a bishop who understands his God-given responsibility as the president of the quorum of priests. In his ward, Brother Dyer had a little program called “No Lights Out.” On Sunday night the lights in the bishop’s office were not extinguished until he had a report concerning the whereabouts of each young man and each young woman during that week and for that Sabbath day. One young lady expressed it all: “It was wonderful to know that somebody cared for me.” I think we can do a better job of letting our young people know that we indeed do care for them.
In conclusion, there’s an old song from my youth: “Wishing will make it so.” It’s not true. Wishing will not make it so. The Lord expects our thinking. He expects our action. He expects our labors. He expects our testimonies. He expects our devotion. There is no project which will bring greater satisfaction than working with the Aaronic Priesthood of this Church. Let us build our priesthood base. It will be the foundation of our future.