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Focus on building testimonies in young men

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Training for bishops in their responsibilities as presidents of the Aaronic Priesthood was presented by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop of the Church. Elder Holland, who is president of the Chile area, participated from Santiago, "thanks to technology," Bishop Burton said.

Their discussion centered on questions submitted by bishops.

Building Testimony

Elder Holland said, "Everything we do with the Aaronic Priesthood young men ought to focus on building their testimonies — their conviction that God really lives and that He loves them very much. . . .

"In our modern time I hope most of our young men have been able to see President Hinckley on the satellite system, read his talks in the Church magazines, and already have their personal testimonies that he is in every way a prophet of God. I testify that he is. These young men — and the young women too — must have these testimonies built during their teenage years. And one powerful way to assist them is to bear your own testimony to them — humbly, honestly, and often."

Earning Trust

Bishop Burton said, "When I had the great blessing of serving as a bishop, it was my experience that trust was earned as I spent time with our young people by participating in their activities, helping to ensure they experienced the joys of feeling the Spirit, and expressing love even though some of the things they did were not lovable."

A Key Responsibility

After encouraging bishops to delegate what responsibilities they can, Elder Holland said, "But presiding over the Aaronic Priesthood cannot be delegated. It is one of the key responsibilities inherent in being a bishop inasmuch as that sacred office is an office in the Aaronic Priesthood. So, no bishop in this Church can be true to his ordination who is not true to the Aaronic Priesthood office which he holds. That is not said to make anyone feel guilty. It is simply said to emphasize the paramount importance of the bishop's Aaronic Priesthood."

Effective Interviews

After a series of vignettes was shown that portrayed worthiness interviews, Elder Holland said, "What struck me, Bishop, was how genuine the stake president and bishop were in trying to get at what works, what makes these young men tick, what the real issues are in their lives. . . . When I was a bishop, and even now, I fear I talk too much and try to respond too much. I would have been much more effective in interviews to have listened — in dead silence if necessary — in order to convey that it is from the boys we want to hear, not from ourselves."

Also commenting on the vignettes, Bishop Burton said, "Did you notice that not one of the observations or questions could be responded to with one-word responses? Effective interviews are not one-sided conversations but rather a sharing of ideas, and expression of feelings or responses to inquiries carefully crafted. I also like the notion expressed by the bishop that as the conversation progresses he relies on the Spirit to prompt him in the direction the conversation should go."

Elder Holland responded, "I also liked the feeling portrayed when the president of the quorum, the bishop, knelt in prayer with one of his quorum members. The spirit a prayer provides cannot be replicated in any other way."

Saving Souls

Bishops have a special role and responsibility among the Aaronic Priesthood in the mission of saving souls, Bishop Burton said.

"Our young people must be strong in order to withstand the myriad of terrible evils which plague our world," he said. "Never before in the history of man have we been subjected to the constant bombardment of sinful practices from so many diverse sources. Holders of the Aaronic Priesthood have, by ordination, been extended the shield of ministering angels to assist them in resisting the buffetings of Satan.

"Bishops, you are uniquely positioned, because of your assignment, to help these precious young people keep their shields positioned in such a way that their defense will be strong. You can help them receive the spiritual nourishment they require in order for them not to weary in their constant battle with temptation. One of the ways this may be accomplished is to see that these young warriors are exposed to a variety of spiritual experiences during Aaronic Priesthood ministries. Their spiritual strength can be enhanced as they participate in presenting and blessing the emblems of the sacrament, as they baptize, ordain, home teach, participate in baptisms for the dead, care for one another, and reach out to render service."

Power and Authority of God

Noting the recent celebration of the 175th anniversary of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, Bishop Burton recounted the event as John the Baptist placed his hands on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and gave them the priesthood.

"With this priesthood restoration comes a significant responsibility," he said.

Then Elder Holland responded to the invitation to share his testimony.

He said, "Brethren, I am so grateful for the love God has shown me in my life. I had wonderful parents who loved me and saw that I got to church. Nothing can be more of a blessing to our youth than to be loved and taught at home. Helping me and my family were bishops and bishoprics, quorum advisers and Scoutmasters, Sunday School and seminary teachers who stood like sentinels all along the way, helping me gain a testimony, to be faithful, and to be raised up in the priesthood. But in all the help gleaned from these others nothing helped me more in helping myself than to have had the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon me and to have been ordained a deacon at 12 years of age.

"What a remarkable thing it is that such power and authority is given to boys who are technically not yet — at least not the younger ones — even in their teens. There's nothing like it anywhere else in the world, this urgent invitation to every boy to come forward and through youthful faithfulness hold the 'keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.' It overwhelms me just to say that again to you here today."