A Conversation About Youth Disaffection from Religion
By Ken K. Gourdin
In a thread about youth disaffection, both from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and from religion in general, I wrote:
For what little my input (as a non-parent) may be worth, I don’t want to be seen as trying to put lipstick on the pig of youth disaffection and dissociation from religion. Yes, it is a serious problem, for parents in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as for those of other denominations. That said, the Church of Jesus Christ and its leaders ought not be too eager to “solve” the problem by acceding to the direction of the prevailing winds on social issues. The Church is what it is precisely because of its willingness to take what are seen as unpopular stands on those issues. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” wrote the writer of Proverbs [. This scripture, of course, says nothing about a temporary departure or detour from the path when one is young.
We should reach out to those who become disaffected, with minds open enough to realize that if we saw the world as they do, if we gave utmost priority to the things that they do, likely, we would make the same decisions that they make and have made. At the same time, we should continue to have open arms and open hearts, ready and willing to welcome them back, if-and-when they choose to return. Whatever misgivings they may have about the unwillingness of the Church of Jesus Christ to compromise on fundamental, core doctrine, they may well realize that the only safe place, not only spiritually speaking but also, in a large sense, physically speaking, is among their fellow Saints. But if the Church of Jesus Christ compromises too much after the fashion of the world, there will be no safe place left for them to return to.
Later in the thread, I wrote that I feel that part of the key to retaining youth in full fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ is full and effective implementation of the Church’s Sunday School youth curriculum, Come Follow Me. For more information on that curriculum, see here (this and all other links last accessed March 21, 2017): https://www.lds.org/youth/learn?lang=eng.
Those who are hardest to love are, whether they want to admit it or not, those who are most desperately in need of that love. More than one General Conference address has featured the miracle that happens when a teacher takes a genuine interest in a hard-to-love student and actually ministers to that student in a leaving-the-ninety-and-nine-and-seeking-the-one sense. And it sounds to me as though your ward “gets it”: It’s extremely difficult for one to demonstrate genuine love, interest, care, and concern for one’s students if one confines one’s interactions with them to asking “canned” questions from a lesson manual, or even by sticking slavishly to an outline of the sort provided in Come, Follow Me. I think one completely misses the boat if he says, regarding Come, Follow Me, [Sigh!] “Same ol’, same ol’!” Come, Follow Me miracles aren’t based on the “black letter” words on the page: They’re based on “between the lines” Spirit-led learning by teachers, and among teachers and students. The miracles happen outside of class, and inside of class based on what one has done to prepare (using the “Sunday School” answers) by studying one’s scriptures, praying about what one has studied to know how it applies specifically to his students in particular, and to one specific student, praying for his students by name, (as you mentioned) holding teacher councils to discuss effective teaching/ministering ideas and what to do about challenging students and situations, and so on. That kind of preparation leads to interactions in which the Spirit whispers to one “in the very hour, in the very moment” what he should say and do [see, e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 24:6 and 100:6].