Fulfilling My Duty to God
In the first entry, I told you something about my background and the history of the development of my philosophy. In the second entry, I told something about my views of the Aaronic Priesthood as a preparatory priesthood. I want to lay one more piece of foundational philosophy as we begin discussing issues of implementation. I would like to share a deeper view of my opinion on the Duty to God program.
The most frequent question or issue that seems to arise regarding the Duty to God program is how it correlates with activities for the young men. In fact, I personally am hard pressed to think of examples when I have heard other questions relating to the Duty to God program. It is possible that the reason for this lack of questions simply represents that other aspects of the program are well-understood. However, I fear that the opposite may be true, that focusing on activities is symptomatic of overlooking other fundamental aspects of the Duty to God.
Consider the structure of the Duty to God handbooks. In order, we find a message from the First Presidency, a page for personalization, a discussion of the preparatory priesthood which includes a summary of the eight purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood, an overview of Your Duty to God, a comment on the Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting, and finally the sections giving the requirements for the Duty to God certificates.
The introductory message from the First Presidency presents several insights on the institutional goals of the Duty to God program. (Exercise: Reread these two pages.) The first paragraph includes the motivational phrases "called to make a difference," "son of God," and "a wonderful force for good." The second paragraph provides a summary of specific activities by which a young man can magnify his calling as that force for good. The third paragraph explains that each young man has a responsibility to learn his duty and then to do his best to obey, with the Duty to God program as a resource and symbol of his efforts. The final paragraph teaches and inspires the young man, assuring him that the Lord will help him and reward him as he works to fulfill his personal mission on earth.
As we think about implementing the Duty to God program, I believe that we should consider how we might use these same ideas in helping young men fulfill their own duty to God.
First, we should inspire young men to recognize the importance of their calling to the priesthood. Each young man is a son of God. As such a son, he inherits the potential for divine attributes. Through the atonement of Christ, he may become an heir, even a joint-heir of exaltation. He was foreordained to bear the priesthood. With this holy calling, he has the power to act as an agent of Jesus Christ. These principles will help a young man exercise faith, leading him to reach his potential.
The Young Women Values illustrate this progression nicely. Each young woman learns to have faith in Heavenly Father, so that as a daughter of God she has a divine nature. With this background, the young woman recognizes her individual worth and develops knowledge. The young woman learns to act on this knowledge according to agency, making choices and receiving consequences according to her accountability. As she uses agency correctly, she learns to give good works. Her faith is strengthened and she commits her life to honoring the principles of the gospel, thereby developing integrity.
This principle of inspiring people by teaching them knowledge is founded in scriptural teaching. In Alma 31:5, we learn that "the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them." It also illustrates the influence of priesthood leadership: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile" (D&C 121:41-42).
I love the story in the Old Testament that illustrates when the Levites were called according to their willingness to serve God. Just prior to receiving the ten commandments, Moses received a promise from the Lord on behalf of Israel that "ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). But while he was on the mountain, the people rebelled against God and made for themselves idols of gold. When Moses went down to the people and discovered their wickedness, he "stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him" (Exodus 32:26). The Levites then obeyed the commandment to smite the wicked with the sword. Because they chose the Lord's side, the Levites became a consecrated people holding the priesthood and serving God. Israel was not a kingdom of priests, but a kingdom with priests.
In our day, the Lord has declared his desire that "every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world" (D&C 1:20). This is exactly the promise that comes with the priesthood, to act as an agent of the Lord and to speak in His name. As a young man learns the importance of his identity as a son of God and his calling as a bearer of God's holy priesthood, he learns that he can make a difference when he chooses to be on the Lord's side. "Who's on the Lord's side? Who? Now is the time to show!" (Hymn 260)
Second, young men need to learn the responsibilities associated with this high and holy calling. The Lord declares, "Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence" (D&C 107:99). In this same section, we learn that the duty of the quorum president includes the responsibility "to teach them their duty" (D&C 107:85). I find this parallelism interesting, that the quorum president has the duty to teach quorum members their duties and that the quorum members have the duty to learn their duties. The Duty to God program provides many opportunities for discussion of these duties, responsibilities, and opportunities for young men to serve in the priesthood. I believe that we should use this program to help implement both of these inspired directives, empowering quorum presidencies to teach quorum members their duties as well as empowering individual young men to learn their duties. Much of the later sections in this discussion will focus on ways we can accomplish these objectives.
Finally, the Lord has confidence in the abilities of the young men and, therefore, we should have confidence in them as well. We need to help the young men learn to rely on the Lord and His Spirit more than they rely on their leaders. The First Presidency explains, "He will help you as you turn to Him in prayer. Listen for the promptings of the Spirit." I am grateful for this lesson when I was a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. Related to this principle, young men need to learn that these promptings will be more effective when they are obedient.
One of the important ways that young men need to rely on the Lord is in their setting of goals. The First Presidency writes, "Work with your parents and leaders as you set goals and strive to achieve them." It is my personal conviction that the goals in the Duty to God program are intended to be personal goals by the young men. I emphasize this because I have a strong worry that by considering the goals as requirements to accomplish as a group, the young men will never learn the important skills of talking with the Lord to set goals and then exercise their faith to accomplish these goals.
I emphasize the importance of these goals by considering how these sections are discussed in the literature of the Church. In The Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth, we read "The goals and requirements of the program are outlined in the Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God guidebooks for deacons, teachers, and priests. Young men work with their parents and priesthood leaders to set and accomplish goals leading to the Duty to God Award" (p 9). This parallels the discussion in the guidebooks themselves, where some requirements are considered Family and Quorum Activities whereas others are called Personal Goals. Again, from The Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth, we see that the family and quorum activities are considered as goals "in a family setting" and "in a quorum or Mutual setting", whereas the personal goals are "to accomplish individually" (p 9).
The individual guidebooks give specific counsel relating to the setting of these goals:
"Ask your parents and quorum leaders for help in setting these goals. Set your goals prayerfully. Be sure to choose challenging goals that will help you reach your potential" (Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God, p 8). The guidebooks give some excellent questions to consider when setting these goals. (Exercise: Read the guidebooks, pages 8-9.) The personal goals focus on four different areas of personal development: Spiritual; Physical; Citizenship and Social; and Educational, Personal, and Career. These four areas parallel the development that the Savior demonstrated, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52), which appears on this page in the Duty to God guidebooks as the scripture reference.
Setting goals for personal development help a young man to learn the importance of exercising his agency. "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward" (D&C 58:26-28). In his great conference talk, "Boys Need Heroes Close By," President Kimball stated, "Accept the reality that personal improvement on the part of each priesthood holder is expected by our Father in heaven. We should be growing and we should be developing constantly.... It is most appropriate for Aaronic Priesthood youth, as well as Melchizedek Priesthood men, to quietly, and with determination, set some serious personal goals in which they will seek to improve by selecting certain things that they will accomplish within a specified period of time. Even if the priesthood holders of our Heavenly Father are headed in the right direction, if they are men without momentum they will have too little influence" (Ensign, May 1976, p 45).
I have deep concern whenever I hear of implementations of the Duty to God program that bypass this important step of setting personal goals. Remember, the Duty to God Award is a symbol of a young man's preparation as discussed in the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. The specific activities are not necessarily the most important aspect of the program; the development and exercise of faith by the young men is fundamentally more important to nurture. However, I do not believe that this means the activities discussed in these personal goals should not occur in group settings. Many of the goals described in the Physical Development area naturally work into group activities, and others even require the involvement of a group. I believe that this apparent contradiction is resolved if the activities are motivated to help individuals accomplish their personal goals. It is when the activity is divorced from prior establishment of goals by young men that I fear the program is being improperly used.
The Young Women program uses the Personal Progress Award program. The Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth has an interesting way of discussing the importance of keeping this program individualized: "Personal Progress activities may occasionally be held at Mutual. Such group activities should be planned prayerfully and selectively to ensure that the Personal Progress program remains personal for each young woman" (p 18). The equivalent section for the Aaronic Priesthood of the Guidebook (p 11) emphasizes that Mutual activities should be planned around the four areas of development with a consequence that young men will be assisted in completing their goals. While I will not argue that this discussion opens the interpretation that activities can focus on specific goals, I would simply assert that the same activities would be more effective if extra effort occurred in preliminary stages to help young men set personal goals and then, as a quorum working to help another member, an activity was planned to help accomplish that goal.
While I am discussing the Duty to God program, I would like to highlight one additional area where I have noticed some misunderstanding—the Duty to God Service project. Originally, the service projects were given minimum time limits for the young men. I think that many interpreted this as meaning that the young men needed to do service hours. Shortly after the program was implemented, the time limits were eliminated from the program. Check your collection of guidebooks to see if you will need to correct this. You can verify the new policy by checking the Church's website. The intent of this service aspect is not simply to accomplish service, but for the young man to identify and implement a meaningful and significant project for his family, ward, stake or community.
Finally, young men should feel themselves growing as a result of their efforts in the Duty to God program. The First Presidency concludes their statement by saying, "You will feel a great sense of accomplishment as you fulfill your duty and prepare for the exciting challenges of the future." I believe this statement. I know that as young men exercise their faith by working on goals motivated by their desire to serve the Lord, they will learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit and will find their testimonies and abilities growing.