On May 11, 2017 the First Presidency announced the discontinuation of Varsity and Venturing Programs in the Church beginning Jan. 1, 2018. In their letter they expressed appreciation and gratitude, as do we as a Young Men’s general presidency, to all adult leaders who have supported young men in these programs and the long-standing and continuing partnership with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada.
The Letter from the First Presidency and the information for the new activities program can be found at ymactivities.LDS.org. This site provides the purposes and guidelines for the Teacher and Priest Activity Program.
Joseph Smith, when asked how he successfully governed so many people, said, “I teach the people correct principles and they govern themselves” (Journal of Discourses 10:57-58). The brethren have provided the correct purposes and principles for a Young Men’s activity program so Young Men leaders can govern in their local areas. This gives local leaders the direction needed to provide meaningful activities that meet the needs of the young men. Young Men leaders should study these materials and become familiar and follow the principles and guidelines. The following three implementation suggestions should help in this process.
1. Counsel together.
Elder M. Russell Ballard’s wise direction on the use of councils is helpful for local leaders as they move forward with this activity program. “When stake presidents and bishops allow the priesthood and auxiliary leaders whom the Lord has called to serve with them to become part of a problem-solving team, wonderful things begin to happen. Their participation broadens the base of experience and understanding, leading to better solutions. People who feel ownership of a problem are more willing to help find a solution, greatly improving the possibility of success” (“Counseling with Our Councils,” April 1994 general conference).
Counseling should begin with the stake presidency, bishops and stake Young Men’s presidency to assess needs and priorities for the stake.
Ward Aaronic Priesthood leaders (bishoprics and quorum presidencies) and advisors could then counsel together to develop an activity program for 14- to 18- year-old young men having received counsel from the stake. Aaronic Priesthood leaders have priesthood keys for direction on what activities would best be suited for the local needs of the young men in their quorums. They are entitled to revelation in their respective stewardships and will provide leadership in counseling together to bring a unified decision that will bless the lives of their young men.
2. Identify local needs and resources.
There are many ways to identify needs and resources. It may be as easy as creating a simple survey and having it filled out by parents and the boys. When identifying resources, the entire stake should be considered a resource. The use of a simple survey like that found on LDS.org to all stake members may help find and utilize local people and resources. Look for equipment such as canoes, rafts, snow shoes, ice skates, etc. that individuals are willing to allow the youth to use. Additionally, look for skills or careers that could be used in the activity program such as auto mechanic, fly tying, rock climbing, etc.
Where possible plan for activities that are close to home. This will help keep activity costs down, reduce travel time and provide more quality time to be with the young men. Plan activities that are unique to your geographic area. Remember relationships with active parents, leaders and friends are critical to the conversion of young men. Activities with meaningful outcomes are more likely to result in close relationships.
3. Plan and develop an annual activity calendar.
Annual calendars help to ensure a balance of purposeful spiritual, social, physical, intellectual and service activities. They help to keep parents informed and families involved in upcoming activities. One youth conference or multi-day high adventure activity should be held each year. More may be held at the direction of local priesthood leaders. Combined activities with young women are encouraged. Mutual activities are generally held weekly. Make sure that the quorums are engaged in the calendaring process. This will allow them to lead as well as be vested in the activities that are planned.
The need for high adventure and doing hard things is ever present in today’s world. Make sure that these type of activities are still a priority and provide opportunities for young men to stretch and safely accomplish difficult things.
Ensure that teacher’s and priest’s quorum presidencies — under the direction of the bishopric — lead the planning and execution of activities. Help them to involve other quorum members in the planning so that the interests and needs of the teachers and priests are considered. Teach them to delegate responsibilities to each of the quorum members so all have some area of responsibility.
Please remember the goal of the new activity program of “building young men with strong testimonies in the Lord Jesus Christ, helping them magnify their priesthood duties, and preparing them to fulfill their divine roles as righteous husbands and fathers” is the primary focus. We are confident that as you use the Young Men 14-18 Activities Guidelines and other provided materials, counsel together, identify local needs and resources, and develop an annual activity calendar, you will achieve this goal.