Guest Post: Bring Back the Young Men Presidencies

by Anonymous

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.

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20 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    Funny. My hubs and I were talking about this exact issue today. My spin on it (not to pile on) is that in addition to the increase in work for the bishopric, this also takes away the already very limited attention the YW get from the bishop. The message sent to me was that the boys are worth more. Our bishop attended very few of our activities or lessons. But when he did, the girls knew it was important. Now, he will never be able to attend, even when the activity is still just as important. He will associate with the YM twice a week, and with the YW once a year at a 10 minute interview.

    • Post Author says:

      Bob, thanks for your comment. It’s outrageous that your ward’s YW are getting so little bishopric attention while the YM are getting so much. Something has seriously gone wrong if this change has created such a lopsided situation. In my ward, our bishopric is interacting with the YW to some degree (though not as much as with the YM) – mainly because we have a lot of combined YM/YW activities. And this is, in part, because the bishopric isn’t as good at planning ahead due to their numerous other duties. And so they often glom onto whatever the YW are doing and have the YM join in. At any rate, I think you pointed to a very important negative consequence of this change. Such a shame.

  2. Elisa says:

    Totally agree with this & Bob’s comment. It seems there are better ways to encourage bishopric involvement with the youth than getting rid of YM presidencies. Functionally, our YM “advisors” function as the YM presidency but then the bishopric just has to come to a lot more meetings, and honestly it is confusing. I’m in a YW presidency and it’s always confusing who my counterpart in the YM is. It creates more work for literally everyone involved.

    Also agree re seeing shifts in who is being called to the bishopric and they may not be the right fit for bishopric as opposed to youth programs, etc. It seems in my experience there is usually one counselor who’s the one who is good with the youth and fills that role. Now it’s like the entire bishopric has to do that.

    • Post Author says:

      Elisa, that does sound confusing and frustrating. I think our bishopric is taking a more active role in planning and directing some things for the YM. But maybe we (and they!) would be better off if they delegated more to the advisors. Though doing so sounds like it creates all sorts of other problems.

  3. E says:

    This change looks like a kind of a fiasco in my ward as well; and we are a privileged ward with a lot of talent and leadership experience. It’s too much for the Bishop and the young men are relatively neglected.

    • Post Author says:

      E, sorry to hear it’s been something of a fiasco. I imagine there are a lot of YM programs that are in quite a bit of disarray right now.

  4. Wendy says:

    Anonymous thank you for sharing your frustration and valid criticisms of this new policy. I want to echo Bob’s sentiment above. When reading your post the first thing i thought of—besides feeling solidarity with you having had a husband in the bishopric when my first child was born—was the message that this sends to the YW about how little they matter to the Bishop/bishopric/the church with all the extra time and attention being paid to the YM vs the YW by the bishopric.

    You’re right, it’s a shame and yet it’s typical of this exclusively male organization to prioritize the care of other males in the church system above the females (and the children, and any marginalized member). I agree with you that this policy change was likely an effort to try to impact the poor retention rate of young men in the church, since males are essential to run the church and females are not necessary given the power structure.

    • Post Author says:

      Wendy, thanks for your comments. I can see how this change could make YW feel less valuable than YM, given the lopsided attention being given to them. Though I have to say I’m actually one of those women that would prefer men to intrude less in women’s programs. Maybe that’s weird of me. But I actually like it when men stay out of women’s business and leave them run their programs as they see fit. So in my mind, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have bishoprics interacting less with YW than with YM. (Though since the change, my bishopric seems to be interacting more with YW since so many of the weekly activities are combined). I don’t know what’s better — tons of time and attention from the bishopric to YW or the bishopric staying out of YW’s business. I think I prefer the latter — though if YW feel slighted by such an imbalance, I would understand that too. It certainly does send a message as to who is important to retain and who isn’t.

  5. Kimberly says:

    This has been a difficult change for my family as well. When my husband was asked to serve as bishop of our ward, he was thirty and I was twenty-eight and we had a one-year-old and a two-week-old newborn and he was in the trenches of medical school, about to start his 80-hour weeks in surgery and internal med rotations. Three years into this calling, we now have three children and things have gotten a little easier but not much. It seems almost cruel asking bishops to shoulder more responsibility without giving them a reprieve somewhere—there are so many things that the Handbook specifies that ONLY bishops can do (hear confessions of sins, make final decisions concerning who will receive welfare assistance, conduct temple recommend interviews for first-time recommend holders, attend disciplinary councils, etc.). I wish that the Handbook would be changed to at least allow bishops to delegate some of their welfare responsibilities to counselors; that would make a huge difference for my husband, since most of the members of our ward live below the poverty level and administering welfare is a huge job.

    • Post Author says:

      Oh my gosh, Kimberly. Three children under five and your husband in med school, serving as bishop, and now serving as YM president?!!! And in a ward with a lot of welfare needs?! That sounds like it’s own special kind of hell. I’m so sorry you and your husband are dealing with this. Yes, something has to change. It’s just too much. The cost to young families is too high. One of my friends whose husband was serving as bishop when they had four kids under ten was appalled by the harm that calling did to her family and her children. I’m sure it’s not so terrible for some families, but I know it is for others. I’m sending you my best hopes and thoughts that it gets better for your family.

  6. Jan Signore says:

    Great insights into the effects of this structural change. My first thought after hearing about this change was the effect on our YW, less attention and focus from the Bishop. I hope they will reconsider quickly and modify/rescind this change. So hard on young families, and as so many commenters express, certainly not an efficient use of the abilities of many in so many congregations.

    • Post Author says:

      Jan, yes, I think a reconsideration needs to happen. There are so many cons from this change and so few positives. Even for the YM, whom they are trying to privilege, I just don’t see it as a great benefit.

  7. anon this time says:

    As a first counselor in a bishopric I agree with everything that has been said. It is a huge burden, how did a bunch of former bishops ever think that adding more to a bishop’s responsibilities would be a great thing? And it sends a terrible message, not just to the YW but to every adult in the ward as well: you aren’t the bishop’s priority anymore. Before you could see him as your personal advocate and voice in the hierarchy, you were a member of his ward, you were part of his flock.

    But there’s a new shepherd and he’s looking after the YM first so if you aren’t one of them, too bad.

    • Post Author says:

      Anon, yeah, I think you’ve pointed to something really important. I didn’t play this up in my post, but there really is a cost to so many ward members when the bishop and bishopric just don’t have as much time for ministerial work because of this change. Men only have a certain amount of time they can devote to churchwork, and something has got to give. For my husband, ministering to ward members has had to give.

    • Elisa says:

      I think this is an important point. The bishop should be the minister to the entire ward, and then delegate portions of that ministry to others (via Young Men’s presidencies, etc.). This creates a really weird situation where it seems like adults, as well as anyone else who is not a young man, don’t matter.

      I have been in so many meetings where people talk about how much the youth matter and how hard we need to work to retain them and how all our efforts need to be directed at that. I understand that. At the same time, as an almost-40-yr-old who has been active my entire life, I have seen *many* friends and family members leave the church as they approach mid-life and that’s not slowing down. I’m close to that too. And guess what happens to the children of parents who leave the church? I think it is a mistake to neglect any segment of a ward, including adults. Just because someone has made it to their thirties as an active member does not mean they are never going to leave.

      Likewise, I think the primary is getting such short shrift. In our modified Sunday schedule, there isn’t even a timeslot for primary.

      • Post Author says:

        “The bishop should be the minister to the entire ward, and then delegate portions of that ministry to others (via Young Men’s presidencies, etc.).” I think you are exactly right, Elisa.

  8. Lily says:

    Anon this time: That’s exactly what my 82-year-old dad said. “Well, I guess I don’t matter to the bishop anymore.”

  9. guest says:

    What I wished had happened is the YM and YW programs were dissolved and a Youth Program put in it’s place. One where males and females where treated equally in their spiritual, emotional, and social needs. We don’t need basketball for boys and temple marriage lessons for girls ad nauseum. We need to teach them how to be co-operative in the building of Zion. And then find really great co-ed (not spouses) leadership.

    • Post Author says:

      Yeah, most other church youth programs that I know of are are combined. It is really kind of strange that we do this to our youth. I can see the advantageous of a male/female youth group, where most activities are combined. And then I can also see the possibility of youth self-selecting into an extra female-only or male-only fellowship or ministry. I see that kind of thing in other churches I’ve visited — the women’s fellowship group, etc. As someone who likes female-only spaces, I’m sure I would self-select into one of those women’s or girls’ groups. I think there are advantages for people in subordinate positions in a community (like women in the LDS world) to have spaces free from those inhabiting the power positions.

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