“Unto the Rising Generation”


Neal A. Maxwell
This is an edited version of an address given by Elder Maxwell on 6 April 1984 at the Friday evening leadership meeting associated with April general conference.
We must do more both to create and use soul-shaping experiences in the lives of our youth. In the allocation of your precious time and talent, be generous with the rising generation.

We are here tonight to talk about the central concerns of the Kingdom, including the rising generation of Church members and the need for their full conversion.

We have long heard, and believed, that the Lord has reserved special spirits to come forth in the last days of the last dispensation. The Church’s rising generation of young men and women are a part of that vanguard. Reserved by the Lord for this time, they must now be preserved by parents and prepared for their special moment in human history! They have been held back to come forth at this time, but now they need to be pushed forward to meet their rendezvous.

The first thing to be said is also the most obvious: if we wish to help the youth of the Church, the best thing we can do is to help their parents. This is why the challenges of activating more of our adults and preparing more of our youth are so tightly intertwined. Said one way, if parents sneeze, their children may get pneumonia! Hence, the best medicine is always preventive medicine.

Furthermore, this rising generation is the first generation to be reared in a time when society’s other institutions, previously supportive of certain moral standards, have been largely neutralized, or worse, secularized. This rising generation, shorn of such external support systems, must therefore believe “because of the word”—and behave because they believe! (See Alma 32:13–14.)

As we all know, current film, music, art, and theater too often promote drugs, alcohol, pornography, and promiscuity. This is not simply a temporary tidal wave which, ere long, will pass. It is the wave-tossed secular sea itself! And that tempest will not subside until He comes, and all the winds and the waves, once again, obey His will!

Hence, this is not a time for busy or preoccupied parents to leave our youth unloved, unattended, or untaught. These special spirits deserve better than such parental disregard.

Since we cannot always adequately influence the external world in which we live, we should make our homes real Latter-day Saint homes. Parents should see to it that the music, films, and literature which are in our homes reflect a true Christian culture. Parents cannot count much on the media to uphold traditional standards. On the contrary, greed and lust are combining, reconstituting their ancient alliance, only now on an almost global scale!

Parental time with youth is vital, therefore. Whether in activities or discussions, the family circle should be, at one and the same time, a circle of friends. Families which work, pray, and play together will usually survive spiritually. Let us, as parents and grandparents, so love, tutor, and train our youth that the sweetness they experience in their Latter-day Saint homes will, thereafter, make the world taste sour to them!

Wise and loving adult leaders of youth have always been needed, of course, but with so many broken and deficient homes, and with even good homes needing reinforcement, such leaders are desperately needed now! Better to spend time with youth rather than just in behalf of our youth.

A study was completed a year ago of Aaronic Priesthood young men. The findings no doubt apply with equal validity to our young women. We learned that young men born in the covenant, or sealed to their parents, are five times as likely to serve missions and be endowed themselves, and three times as likely to be married in the temple as other young men in the Church.

The lesson is obvious!

Let’s remember that Church programs are useful and helpful scaffolding in soul shaping, but are not substitutes for righteous parents whose influence is several times more significant than the best of programs!

Programs are means, not ends. They are somewhat like the crowing of the reminding rooster which created a moment of spiritual recognition for Peter. (See John 13:38; Matt. 26:75.) But the rooster was only a means. Otherwise, to induce spiritual resonance the Church would quickly make a very heavy investment in roosters.

Parents are and will be our greatest asset in developing religious commitment among youth. Therefore, more must be done to see that programs are not competitive with the parental roles and responsibilities.

Brethren, not only are we to honor our fathers and mothers individually, but institutionally!

Meanwhile, let’s not get quite so caught up in the administrative acronyms and jargon either. Such is manager’s talk—not shepherd’s talk. Too often, a young person’s outward non-compliance with Church standards, or his seemingly confrontive questions, or his expressed doubts get him quickly labeled. The results can be distance and, sometimes, disaffiliation. True love does not like labels! However youth define their problems, for them, these problems are real; canned answers will not do! One wonders how many prodigals felt put off before they went off.

Happily, a young man or woman from an inactive home who gets on that strait and narrow path later becomes a parent who breaks the cycle of inactivity, just as President Kimball urged. We never save simply one soul!

Thus, the one-on-one moment of quiet caring or encouragement with parents or an adult leader is vital. No stake and ward calendar, however busy and filled with activities, can substitute for such moments.

Youth are not unlike prospective converts. There are those critical moments when their souls begin to tilt—toward the Lord or away from Him. These moments of decision cannot always be created, but when they occur, they must not be wasted. More often than not, these moments will occur in quiet and reverent conversation with parents, grandparents, a bishop, an adult leader, or a righteous peer.

Real shepherds will sense that a moment of significance is at hand because real shepherds care for, feed, and watch over the flock constantly:

“And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 23:4.)

In fact, did not Jesus counsel Peter to feed His “lambs” as well as his “sheep”? (John 21:15–16.)

There is no human condition in which the unconditional love of a true shepherd is wasted.

Besides, life is not lineal, it is experiential. Clocks and calendars are merely a convenience. We must do more both to create and use such soul-shaping experiences in the lives of our youth.

Thus, as you deploy your precious manpower and womanpower, please remember this special generation of destiny! We plead that in the allocation of your precious time and talent, you be generous with the rising generation. We plead for youth and leaders who are portable preachments and walking sermons!

Another fundamental: the igniting in our youth of a love for the holy scriptures is to ignite a fire that will probably never be extinguished. After all, our youth can take their scriptures and their understanding thereof with them long after parents, bishops, and advisers, of necessity, are left behind.

Have all of you fathers given at least one father’s blessing to each of your sons and daughters? Is it a tradition in your homes? Do the fathers in your stakes and wards understand the privilege and dignity attached to the giving of such a sacred blessing? I am so grateful to my convert father for his father’s blessing pronounced upon my head.

The vital transfer of spiritual power and responsibility to the rising generation seldom occurs when fathers are too busy for such blessings, and mothers are too busy for meaningful gospel conversations—too busy, even in Church work. Parental genes do not infuse either Church doctrine or history.

“And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” (Judg. 2:10.)

What our youth need to know about their “noble birth right,” we must teach them. Furthermore, there is a critical, formative time when the tablets of memory are soft, but the hardening can occur so quickly:

“And there was also a cause of much sorrow … ; for behold, they had many children who did grow up and began to wax strong in years, that they became for themselves, and were led away.” (3 Ne. 1:29.)

Mercifully, even faint memories can rescue. Such was the case with Alma. He remembered, in a moment of truth, the earlier but evocative words of his father about the coming of an atoning Jesus. (See Alma 36:15–22.)

Enos, who was well taught and apparently more receptive than Alma, remembered, “I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints.” Such words had “sunk deep into [his] heart.” (Enos 1:3.)

The striplings were not the last youth, either, to be greatly blessed because “they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” They did “not doubt our mothers knew it”! (Alma 56:47–48; see also D&C 46:13, 14.)

The rising generation can also affect, adversely or affirmatively, the older generations:

“And thus … [they] began to decrease as to their faith and righteousness, because of the wickedness of the rising generation.” (3 Ne. 1:30.)

Leaders, we know you can’t do it all!

Most moments give us, at best, fleeting choices and opportunities, as Church leaders, to choose between emphases. Like Mary, may we more often choose the things of most worth which shall not be taken away from us, and not get too caught up in Martha-like administrative anxieties and chores! (See Luke 10:38–42.)

Incidentally, our research also shows that bishops are most effective when they do these fundamental things, such as one-on-one interviews. Bishops are least effective when they involve themselves with only the nuts and bolts of program management.

Our Church programs, of course, sometimes produce important moments of caring, of needed conversation, and a sense of belonging. But a good Scoutmaster who teaches a young man how to make fire without matches will also be concerned with starting another and much more important kind of fire! Besides, we won’t need to make fire without matches in the next world, and usually not even in this one.

Let us not entertain our youth out of fear that we will lose them; they can spot that behavior a mile away. In that sense, some of our youth are so much done for, they are almost done in! If youth are too underwhelmed, they are more likely to be overwhelmed by the world. Functionally, how many deacons and teachers quorum presidencies consist of merely calling on someone to offer a prayer or pass the sacrament? Brethren, these really are special spirits, and they can do things of significance if given a chance!

I close with an autobiographical note. First, in remembrance of special parents who both taught and showed me the way, but also in remembrance of others: Brother Alexander was my aging, white-haired teacher when I was a deacon. He was an English convert and wore thick-lensed eye glasses. He had important qualities, but he was not really a boy’s man. I can still see him sitting before us deacons with his chin resting on his cane, speaking in earnest and clipped English. Actually, he preached to us, and a bit too much at times—probably because he had once reportedly trained for the ministry in England. In fact, he even gave unrequested encores at fast and testimony meetings. But through it all, I knew he really cared for our souls and that he really believed! This was his message, a message I’ve never forgotten.

Soon I was a junior ward teaching companion to a Brother Wohler who spoke in a strong, German accent. He, too, preached to me and to our families. He, likewise, made regular orations in our fast and testimony meetings in which there was an almost unvaried roster of speakers. Brother Wohler would have been genuinely puzzled by the concept of two-way communication. But again, he, too, really believed. I knew he knew!

As a teacher, for a fleeting few months, my instructor was young Stephen Monson. He was decent, gentle, and fine. I also knew he really cared for me. Later, when he was a navigator in a B-17 and was killed in the air war over Europe, I was very saddened, but Steve Monson had shown me glimpses of joy.

About then into my life came a capable young bishop, M. Thirl Marsh, who, with able counselors, cared for me and for all the youth in Wandamere Ward. The radiance of the gospel showed in his life, in his family, and in his face—whether we were working together on the welfare project or sitting in sacrament meeting. He was serious about joy, but his gospel mirth abounded, because Bishop Marsh loved the Lord, life—and me!

Now, our beloved leaders, will my grandchildren, as teenagers in a much more vexing world, be as blessed as I was with behaving and believing leaders? Will yours?

One final thought: just as the rising generation is here, now, by divine design—so are we who have been placed just ahead of them. Our lives and theirs have and will intersect many times before it is all over, and not by accident. It was thirty-seven years ago now that as a young missionary my life intersected with that of an Apostle. He toured our mission and, most unusually, participated in my call as a district president. Briefly, I felt his influence, tender touch, and imprint then. Today, I have felt them even more. He is my quorum president, Ezra Taft Benson.

God bless us with a sense of being about Our Father’s business and with a keen sense of trusteeship for the rising generation.

[photos] Photography by Grant Heaton