The new Duty to God program is an example of the Lord “raising the bar” for our youth. With this renovation of the program young men are provided opportunities to act more as agents for themselves unto the Lord rather than be acted upon as passive participants in and partakers of the gospel. What do I mean by this?
When I was a young man the Duty to God program was this: go to church, go to seminary, give talks on occasion, be involved in your quorums, and be a worthy bearer of the priesthood. Those are all wonderful duties but there was little choice in the program – either you did it or you didn’t. In an interview just after I turned 18 my Bishop said, “You did everything for Duty to God” and I received the award. I really didn’t have to go out of my way to earn it. Because there was little choice in the program, it was what I call a GPS Duty to God program – do this, turn here, drive 6 years, merge right, and arrive at your destination. You didn’t really have to think or act for yourself; you in some ways were acted upon. Then the Duty to God program changed. There were checklists and projects and “choose 8 of the following 13” activities to do. The program was very involved and, frankly, sometimes overwhelming – manageable, but overwhelming. It was inspired and taught the young men a lot of good skills and traits but it was still basically a GPS Duty to God program – you drive along and turn when the pleasant voice tells you to turn. There were a few more choices but the program was largely set and scripted.
Now we have the new program. The new Duty to God program takes away the step-by-step directions and leaves much of the decision-making to the young men as they follow the Spirit and seek input from parents and leaders. The destination is known and there are guideposts but the GPS is turned off; it is up to the young men to create their own paths. With the new program the preparing, planning, and travelling of the journey are as important as arriving at the destination. It doesn’t matter if you drive a Porsche or a Pinto or if you take a freeway or a scenic byway as long as you drive the Lord’s way. The goal is to build righteous men who are independent agents and who know and serve the Lord.
The new Duty to God program is founded upon the Lord’s principles of learn, (plan and) act, and share. You learn something, do something about what you learned, and then return and report. That’s like life – I don’t just mean our mortal life. In the pre-earth life we learned, in this life we are doing, and in the next life all of us will return and report on our activities of mortal life. That is the Lord’s pattern of growth.
Now that we’ve learned, let’s move on to action, or at least plans for action. Quorum meetings and mutual activities are a great time to help young men learn and fulfill their duties to God. Ideally, what we talk about in quorum meeting on Sunday will be reinforced in some way during mutual. This is not always possible but with planning ahead the young men should be able to fulfill a Duty to God activity: learning, acting, or reporting about their actions. We need not make the Duty to God program the entire focus of mutual but we can easily devote at least one activity per month to it.
How can we accomplish this? First, I’d like to borrow a question from Elder Bednar about planning mutual activities. When planning we should ask: “What are the things that should happen to the [young men] as a result of this activity?”1 In other words, what is our goal – our desired outcome – for the activity? Even more than that – what is our goal for the young men? This is where the Duty to God program enters in – it provides such goals as: serve others, live the Word of Wisdom, learn about careers, learn about missionary work, and so forth. But in order to answer Elder Bednar’s question we phrase the goals differently. For example, if we want to have an activity focused on the Word of Wisdom, the goal for the activity could be to have the young men make a strong commitment to live the Word of Wisdom. Now we have our desired outcome. With the destination in mind, it should be easier to think of ideas for activities. Here’s one quick idea: the young men could play basketball or some other game but with modifications. The “smokers” can only play on their knees; the “drinkers” have one arm tied behind their backs; the “fruits and vegetables” get an extra point for every basket they make; and so on. This might be slightly cheesy but my point is that with a goal in mind a fun activity can also be memorable, educational, and even converting if it invites the Spirit. Leaders need to be “clear about the ultimate objective and the target and the mission”1 so that the young men can better plan and plan better mutual activities.
Elder Hales said, “Church leaders regularly plan priesthood activities and Scouting pow wows and encampments—but do those activities always accomplish their most important purpose? I have learned that what makes a priesthood or Scout activity most meaningful to a boy is not just getting a merit badge but having the opportunity to sit and talk with a leader who is interested in him and his life.”2 Are we focusing on what’s important?
The Duty to God program is about effecting change in the lives of the young men. After all, nothing in the Church is about the programs – it is about the people. A stake priesthood meeting, for example, is not done so the stake presidency can check an item off their to-do list; that meeting is held so all can learn their duties as priesthood holders. People, not programs, are the Church. The Duty to God program was made for the young men; they were not made for it.
The Lord said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100). So we must all learn and act and I will add, share in order to be found worthy to stand.
The Aaronic Priesthood holders here in this room will be among the future leaders of the Church. How can they lead if no one teaches them? Elder Ballard recently said this to church leaders: “We try to teach every leader that one of your primary responsibilities is to raise up those that’ll be…better leaders than you ever were”3. This is where the Aaronic Priesthood and the new Duty to God program come in. Just as 40 years in the wilderness prepared the Israelites for the fruits of Canaan, just as the Mosaic Law prepared the Lord’s people for the coming of the Messiah, just as John the Baptist cried as a lone voice in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Savior, the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is the forerunner – the schoolmaster – that helps train young men to be faithful followers of Christ. The Duty to God program is designed to help prepare young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood and the blessings of the temple because these things lead them to Christ. I pray that we take the things we learn in this meeting and from the Spirit and share them with others in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.