Note: All the opinions within this post are mine and not my husband’s.
In January of 2020, ward Young Men presidencies were eliminated, with bishoprics being given the charge of overseeing the Young Men’s program. When my bishopric first counselor husband told me this, I was concerned. Matt already had a demanding full-time job, three kids ranging from seven to thirteen, and a spouse who has her own job and research to navigate. How on earth could putting even more on the plate of the bishopric work? And would eliminating three leadership positions in the ward’s Young Men program be good for the young men?
Church leaders foresaw that this would be a burden on bishops and bishoprics. In a Church News article covering these changes (along with the welcome news that budgets for Young Men and Young Women would be equalized), Elder Cook is quoted as saying, “The bishop cannot delegate some responsibilities, such as the youth, being a common judge, caring for those in need, and overseeing finances and temporal affairs….These are, however, fewer than we may have understood in the past…. While only the bishop can serve as a common judge, these other leaders are entitled to revelation from heaven to help with challenges that do not require a common judge or involve abuse of any kind.”
Our ward has adapted in some ways, with our Relief Society and Elders Quorum taking on more welfare responsibilities. However, old habits die hard. Members often want to talk to bishopric members and bishopric members want to meet new move-ins in order to get insight into good callings for them, so some of these ministerial tasks that Elder Cook talks about being offloaded to Relief Society and Elders Quorum have not really happened in my area.
Whatever adjustments there have been in terms of ministerial load, they certainly have not been significant enough to balance out what Matt has had to take on with the youth. His church work has become significantly more time-consuming. He tries to go to most Young Men or youth activities (and there are a shocking number of them – even during COVID). He attends every Young Men lesson and teaches every sixth lesson. He goes to planning meetings with Young Men advisors to come up with activities for the Young Men to do. When COVID goes away, he’ll attend Youth Conference and Trek and who knows what else that crops us.
In short, he’s navigating two huge callings. Being first counselor in the bishopric is a serious time commitment with bishopric meetings, ward councils, meeting new member meetings, planning sacrament meetings, staffing organizations, and much more. Add to that the fact that he’s basically now a member of the Young Men presidency, and it’s just too much. I can’t help but wonder how bishopric members across the world are navigating this change, bishopric members that might not have the financial security and privilege that Matt has. If this is hard on Matt, how hard would this be on men who don’t have expendable time and who must scramble constantly to make ends meet?
I’m left scratching my head as to why this change was implemented. Elder Cook justified this change with a scriptural reference to D&C 107:15 which states, “The bishopric is the presidency of this (Aaronic) priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same.” However, back in Joseph Smith’s day, youth weren’t called to the Aaronic priesthood, so it’s doubtful Joseph Smith was envisioning bishops becoming youth leaders. I’m guessing President Nelson and the apostles thought that increased attention from the top guys in the congregation will help with male teen retention. But I’m not so sure about that. I would imagine that bishops are usually called for reasons other than being young, fun, outgoing, and creative with youth. If I were a young man, I’d certainly prefer active fun people to be in charge of the program, and not men that are already stretched thin from their other responsibilities.
I’m also concerned with how this policy might change the decision making that goes into choosing new bishops and bishoprics moving forward. If overseeing the Young Men program is a huge part of the bishopric’s job now, will stake presidents be more likely to call “fun” types to be bishops, in the hopes of catering to the ward’s young men? I’m not sure that the types of men that would make great Young Men presidents are always what we would want to be overseeing the whole ward.
As someone whose husband has been a bishop’s counselor or clerk for eight years out my oldest child’s fourteen years on this earth, I can see the advantage of having older men serving as bishops, men who are retired and don’t have caretaking responsibilities at home. They have expendable time and energy and experience. But they are not necessarily (no doubt there are some exceptions to this) the best options for overseeing the youth program. From what I can tell, our ward’s Young Women Program, which has a Young Women presidency as well as class advisors, is planning loads of creative activities months in advance (unlike the Young Men program). And no wonder – that’s a program that’s far better staffed than the Young Men’s, given that that presidency can devote itself to the Young Women program.
Now, to be fair, I can imagine a scenario in which it is beneficial for young men to have the bishopric in charge of their program. Perhaps in some places around the world, where there are only a handful of practicing men in the branch or ward, it would be advantageous to the young men (if not to the over-stretched bishopric) to have three of the most committed men focusing on the Young Men program. But for the many wards that do have men who can take on the work of the Young Men’s presidency, it seems advantageous to all parties have non-bishopric members fill those roles.
Bottom line: this was an interesting experiment, but it’s time to let wards bring back the Young Men presidencies. The pros to doing so are numerous, the cons few. Let’s not make the men who already had the some of the most time-consuming callings in the ward take on the double callings of acting as the Young Men presidencies as well. Let’s not shortchange our young men by handing the program over to men stretched thin already from juggling numerous other responsibilities. And let’s not shortchange our wards as a whole, as bishopric members reallocate time away from ministering to members and towards taking up the time-consuming tasks acting as Young Men’s presidencies.