One of my best friends was recently called to be a Young Men President. I have been thinking about him a lot, and we haven't had much time to talk, so I am writing down some thoughts to share with him that are based on my past experience as YM President, and as Bishop. Feel free to eavesdrop - hopefully my friend won't mind.
Congratulations on the new calling. It is one that will impact your life forever. Over the next few years you will let a bunch of boys into your heart, and for the rest of your life you will worry about them, and hope for them. And that's a good thing. I've been blessed with the opportunities to serve with the Young Men - three times in Scouting, once as a YM President, and as a Bishop. I figure I've spent well more than a decade serving in the YM program. That gives me a long list of things I have learned. Sadly, the list contains as many things that I think I did poorly, as things I did well. I will share both.
Before you get started - these are just my unsolicited thoughts. I am not your Bishop. I am also not the Holy Ghost. I am not one of the young men holding Aaronic Priesthood keys. I am not one of your counselors. That select group are they who need to help guide and direct you in the work you are undertaking. But I know you know that...
1) You were called to be the YM President because the Lord and the Bishop trust you implicitly. Be careful - when I was bishop sometimes the level of trust I had in my YM President caused me to withdraw and leave it in his hands. Even though we had one of the best YM presidents I have ever seen, I should have been more involved. The Bishop holds the keys to the Aaronic Priesthood, and has charge over those young men. When I was involved in things like presidency meetings and planning meetings, good things happened. If you don't get frequent PPI's - request them.
2) Serve more with the boys. It is easy to have service opportunities when there are a lot of Eagle projects going on, but I wish that I had dragged more boys out of bed at 6:00am to go do hard, sweaty, blister-making work for the benefit of others. We are raising a generation where many don't know how to work hard.
3) I used to think that there were two extremes in leadership styles: On one end you have those who love the boys with all their hearts and focus on those relationships to the detriment of the program, and on the other end you have those who focus on the quality of the program instead of the relationships. I had come to the conclusion that the place to be was somewhere in the middle. Since then, I have decided that I was describing a flawed spectrum. Of course you have to love the boys with all your heart - but one of the ways you show that love is by running a well-planned program. I would be hard-pressed to make the claim that I love the boys completely if I can't be bothered to plan and prepare for them.
4) Spend personal time with the "one" - let others worry about the 99. Do this as prompted, and in counsel with the key holders in the quorums.
5) Take advantage of the newness of the moment. Everyone in your ward loves you. You have a tremendous amount of goodwill. You are also new in your calling. A new guy can sit down in a home with a boy or a family and ask ANYTHING. If it is too personal, they will think - "oh, he's just new." Your "ignorance" gives opportunity to ask questions that would appear meddlesome in 6-8 months. Now is the time to make changes, ask hard questions, extend invitations and challenges, etc.
6) Don't worry about FUN. Fun happens - you don't need to plan for it. A bunch of boys can have as much fun building a fence for a widow as they can playing basketball. Plan activities that are of worth, and fun will follow. (Read this)
7) The mission is not the only goal of an Aaronic priesthood holder. Melchizedek Priesthood comes first, then the temple endowment, then the mission. Don't scrimp on the first two and focus solely on the mission.
8) As we have talked about, Helaman didn't raise the boys in his army. Their mothers did - probably with some help from their fathers. You have your own army of boys, and you can help them and lead them, but ultimately it is the parents job to raise them. However, it is OK for you to be involved. It is OK - if you feel so inspired - to go into the home of a struggling boy and talk to the parents about it. It is also appropriate for you to shout from the mountaintops the importance of FHE, family prayers and scripture study. If you can help the families - you can help the boys. Ward Council is a perfect place to bring these issues up and to enlist the help of the HP, EQ and RS. Be vocal.
9) Always take consecrated oil with you when you go on an activity - you never know.
10) Be tight with the stake YM president. One of the strangest things that I encountered when serving as bishop is that the Stake Youth leaders never consulted with me about what I felt the youth needed from them. Remember, the bishop holds the keys - the stake youth leadership is there to support. Work to be on the same page with the same goals. If they conflict, speak up.
11) Develop and teach shadow leadership skills with the other adult leaders. Yes, I'm sure that all of you could do a better job of planning and executing things than a 13 or 15 year-old boy, but that doesn't make it right. Respect their authority as key-holders. We can talk later about shadow leadership, and it will take hours. (But I have a few tricks...)
12) Ignore anything an everything I've just said if it conflicts with counsel you have received from the Bishop or the Holy Ghost.
13) Enjoy. These boys will be "yours" forever. Twenty years form now you will get a thank-you-note from one of your goofy deacons who lets you know that he is still true to the faith, and you will weep with joy.
My best to you - I know of no other man on the earth who has a better heart, or is better prepared for this than you are.
PS: If you ever need me on Wednesday night, I'll be home. (Hehehe)