In the past 18 years since I've been married, my callings have most often had me serving and teaching the youth. Primary Chorister, Primary President, Young Women advisor, a member of the ward Young Women presidency, etc. Currently, I teach a 12-18yrs. combined Sunday School class in the ward, and serve as 1st Counselor in the Stake Young Women Presidency.
Naturally, childrens' understanding of the gospel increases as they grow older and can more fully comprehend the things they are taught. But throughout the time that I've worked with the youth, I've noticed a disturbing yet common thing. Too many of our children do not know the gospel.
Other than simple immaturity as a result of age and inexperience, a large part of this lack of knowledge and understanding appears to be the result of too many parents leaving the responsibility of spiritual training (or at least the bulk of it) to the Church, rather than accepting and embracing that responsibility themselves, even within families that appear to be fully active. Little or no meaningful Family Home Evening. Little or no family scripture study. Little or no parental gospel instruction, but rather an abdication of that instruction to the Primary teachers, the YM and YW leaders, Sunday School and Seminary teachers.
Sure, nearly all LDS children and youth can tell you who Joseph Smith was, that we don't drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. They can tell you the story of Nephi and the broken bow, that Jesus died on the cross and that during the trek West, Primary children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.
What seems to be lacking however, for far too many, is a true understanding of doctrine. They can tell you “facts” but seem to be without any meaningful comprehension of those facts. It's like they're simply regurgitating what they've heard a primary or YM/YW teacher tell them, but don't understand what it all means.
As part of Youth Conference this past weekend, we took the youth on an all day guided Church History tour an hour and a half north of Kansas City. Since we've taken our own kids several times, I anticipated some whining from the youth. “We've already done this a million times!”
But to my surprise, I heard no complaining, and they seemed rather excited about the trip.
We visited Richmond Pioneer Cemetary, where Oliver Cowdrey and several other early Saints were buried. We then went to Far West and saw the cornerstones of the temple which had been laid there. The guide told the magnificent story of how after having already left the area because of persecution, and settling in Illinois, the Elders in the Church returned to the temple site at Far West after midnight, despite any possible danger and threat to their lives, in order to fulfill a prophecy by Joseph Smith, that the men would leave for their missions to Europe from the temple site. Such incredible true stories of faith and being steadfast and immovable!
We then drove to Adam-Ondi-Ahman, the place where Adam dwelt after leaving the Garden. The place of that great gathering where those with priesthood keys will “return and report” to Father Adam, before the Second Coming of the Lord.
Then during our testimony meeting, I learned why the kids were excited about the trip. At least half of the kids had never been there. I was stunned. Many of these kids have lived here all their lives. They come from active families. Many of their families are very well off. They've been to Disney World, Sea World and Six Flags. Their parents have taken them to Europe, Mexico or Hawaii. But they've never been an hour and a half north to visit some of the most sacred land on earth? Why did it take a Youth Conference for these kids to experience this?
On a similar note, I was talking with a parent several months ago who asked if I knew when the next youth temple trip was. Her daughter had missed the previous ones because of sport and family activities. She was 14 now and hadn't been on a temple trip yet.
I told the mother I thought the next one was in November, but couldn't say for sure without looking at the Stake calendar, and suggested she and her husband take their daughter themselves instead of having her wait so long for the next trip. She looked at me with a perplexed look on her face and asked “Instead of going on the trip?”
I said, “No, not instead of. I mean you know, the next time you and husband go, just take her with you.” She said, “But isn't that what the youth trips are for?”
I was totally taken aback. Here's a 14 year old girl, who's never been to the temple. Her parents go often, yet it's never occured to them to take their daughter in the 2 years since she's turned 12?
Our son turned 12 on a Friday. At church two days later, he had his temple recommend interview. That Saturday we took him to the temple. He turns 13 in August, and has been to the temple 4 times. Once with the ward youth, and 3 times with us.
I don't mean this as a self-engrandizing “Look what great parents we are” pat on my own back. I was honestly thrown for a loop with this mother's response. Who's ultimately repsonsible for youth having temple experiences? The Bishop? The YW/YM president? The Stake or the parents? Just because the church provides opportunities for the youth to go to the temple, doesn't mean that it's the the church's responsibility. It's ours.
“Parents should not leave the training of children to others…
The Church auxiliaries are very important, and we should all partake of the blessings they offer. But we should never, never allow them to replace parents, to relieve parents of the responsibility to teach their children the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Spencer W. Kimball
Do our children understand the nature of the Godhead?
Do they understand their relationship to Heavenly Father and Christ and their divine nature as children of Deity?
Do they comprehend their eternal potential?
Do they understand the relationship of faith and works?
Do they understand their baptismal covenants?
Do they understand the relationship between those covenants and partaking of the Sacrament?
Do they have a testimony of living prophets and the Book of Mormon?
If the answer is yes, where did they learn these things?
Do they know and understand these things because we taught them, or because someone else taught them? Where has the bulk of their spiritual training taken place? At church once a week for three hours, or within the walls of our homes?
In The Family: A Proclamation to the World we read,
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Children are an heritage of the Lord ? (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness,to provide for…their… spiritual needs, to teach them to…observe the commandments of God… Husbands and wives mothers and fathers will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
How are we doing?