2017 LDS Mutual Theme: 5 Tips to Help the Youth Connect with the Theme
James 1:5-6, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
Every year I look forward to hearing the themes for the upcoming year! It is always interesting to see what our Church leaders see as relevant and important for the youth and primary to focus on. I like to imagine the kind of process that goes into selecting the theme. Can you imagine the kind of prayer, attention, and conversations that must take place? Wouldn’t it be so interesting and enlightening to hear our Church leaders go through this process?
In fact, that could be an interesting way to introduce the theme to the youth. You could have them imagine the following scenario:
Imagine that you are invited to go downtown to a special meeting at Church headquarters. As you arrive, you are invited into a room where there is a large table with youth from all around the world seated around. You take a seat with them and notice a set of scriptures and a thick notepad is placed in front of each seat. A man walks in and explains that you have been selected to be on a special youth committee that is to help select the 2017 mutual theme. He proceeds to gives you the following instructions:
“You are to consider the needs of the youth all around the world today. You need to think about a theme that can help them strengthen their testimony and be victorious against temptation which surrounds them. You are to take this set of scriptures and this note pad and return home. Start reading, and as you read each chapter, mark any scripture or any phrase that could inspire and strengthen the youth. Then, in your notebook make a note of the scripture and phrase that could be considered for a 2017 mutual theme.”
So you go home and you start reading. You start reading in the Book of Mormon and about how Lehi and his family lived in a world that was denying what the prophets were teaching. Could you find some relevant scriptures and phrases in that first chapter? How many phrases might stand out to you as possible themes to help inspire and strengthen youth just like you?
You continue on, chapter by chapter, marking and recording everything that stands out to you. You start seeing the scriptures in a completely new way as you discover how each chapter and each story has important messages to the youth. After a short while you complete the Book of Mormon. How many scriptures and phrases do you think you have found? How long is that list? How full is your notebook?
Then you start the Doctrine and Covenants. You are now reading section by section of direct revelation from the Lord. They are His words to His people. You start seeing message after message, phrase after phrase and you see how important each one of them are, and the difference each one of them could make. Your notebook is filling up quickly.
Then you begin the Old Testament. Then the New Testament. You have had to start a new notebook.
On a predetermined date, you return to Church headquarters to meet with the youth committee again. You enter the room and see that the others, just like you, have filled their thick notebook with phrase after phrase of possible themes. Excitedly, you start sharing with each other what you found. You discover that you wrote many of the same phrases as others and sometimes only one of you found a certain phrase as significant, but upon reflection you all would add their phrase to your own books. You shared and shared finding yourself loving each phrase you discussed.
After some time the man who originally gave you your assignment returned to the room. He told you that together you needed to make a list of 100 possible mutual themes. You all look at your books, each filled with hundreds, or thousands, of themes, and realize that was quite a task. So you each start flipping through your notebooks finding your very favorite, must-have themes. And you start sharing, discussing, and explaining until you all agree on a final list of 100.
The man returns to the room and asks you to now take that list and cross out half of the themes. That seems impossible! You see each theme as so important and crucial! How can you cross out half? But somehow you do as he asks and present him with 50 scripture phrases that would bless and strengthen the youth of the church.
The man returns and asks you to now narrow it down to 25. “How?”, you all wonder. Those 50 seem SO important to you. So again, you look at each phrase and ask yourselves, “which ones would be the greatest strength to the youth in this day and age?”. And you begin discussing, crossing out, and narrowing down this list.
Finally you have 25 and the man returns. “Now is the most important assignment of all,” he says. “You must now consider each of the 25 scripture phrases you have all agreed upon and pick ONE that could be the theme for the youth of the church all next year. This is a scripture that they can all learn of, memorize, and make a personal theme for the entire year. Which scripture could help them strengthen their testimonies and be victorious against the temptations that surround them?”
So you all look at your list of 25. You consider each one and the power it could have. You discuss, you share, and you listen to each other. Finally, after a long and meaningful discussion, you all agree on one theme that can impact the youth today. You think about your friends and the kids at your school and imagine what could happen if they each made that scripture a personal theme for the next year. You imagine the power it could have in their lives immediately and in their future. You start getting excited about that theme and want to tell everyone you know how important it is!
A few months pass by and it is the first Sunday of the new year and it is finally time to announce the new 2017 mutual theme to the youth in your ward. How do you hope they receive that theme?
Now, that scenario above is not how our mutual themes are selected. But, I like to let the youth feel what it might be like to select the new theme and to consider how important it is to see which theme rises above the rest and to give it the proper respect, effort, and attention. To make sure that this theme isn’t something that is merely mentioned and never thought of again. In fact, that would not be a theme – it would be more like a devotional. A theme would be a central and governing idea that would impact their choices and thoughts throughout the entire year.
When I taught seminary, I was able to be a part of training councils whose purpose was to assist in training the other seminary and institute teachers in the area. One important thing I learned from this experience was this: the information and direction we were receiving from those over the seminary and institute programs were always cutting edge and right on point. As part of training councils, we would typically receive the information far in advance, and we would work through it, understand it, and then determine ways to present and train the entire area. This, I learned, was the challenge. You can’t just let them know about the material, you must assist them in understanding, connecting with, and then being converted to what they are receiving.
I think this is something we can consider when thinking about presenting this theme to the youth. Help them become converted to the theme on their own. Help them see the relevance and significance of the theme. Help them see why it rose above all other possible themes, and how it could make an impact on their immediate and future lives.
Here are a few tips on how to achieve this:
Tip #1: First, become converted to the theme yourself
Study, read, and ponder about this theme yourself. Maybe even start a journal page somewhere and jot down your thoughts, impressions, and feelings about this theme, and especially consider what could happen if the youth truly focus on it throughout 2017. Really consider the impact this theme could have in their lives. That journal page will likely be filled up, over time, with priceless gems. And when it comes time to present this theme to the youth, they will feel the urgency you feel, which will cause them to want to learn more about it for themselves.
Tip #2: Study Elder Bender’s talk, “Ask in Faith”
You must, MUST, must read this talk by Elder David A, Bednar, Ask in Faith. This talk completely opened up my eyes to the possibilities of how this theme can impact the youth (and myself)! At first glance, this theme may seem like it is about prayer – and it is – but it is not just about saying our prayers! Elder Bednar really lays out what it means, and what is required, to “ask of God in faith”.
In fact, like last year, Hilary Weeks wrote a 2017 mutual theme song to go with this new theme. As she was first working through the lyrics she and I were communicating back and forth about them. I suggested that she might want to study Elder Bednar’s talk, because it brought me such clarity as I was working on our 2017 mutual theme teaching package at that time. The next day, I received a whole new verse of lyrics that reflected Elder Bender’s teachings and Hilary said to me, “I read the talk and the lyrics came easily.”
I know many youth leaders will have the same kind of experience as they consider how to make this 2017 mutual theme relevant to the youth the love and serve. Seriously, read that talk.
Tip #3 Teach about Joseph Smith
There is no better example of what applying James 1:5-6 to someone’s life can do than Joseph Smith. I wouldn’t make it a lesson about the First Vision, but rather, look what happened to his life when he needed direction and asked of God in faith, and then acted upon what he received! I would really lay that out – an insignificant, totally normal farm boy who ended up conversing with God, Jesus Christ, and angels. Who translated ancient records, restored the ancient church, built magnificent temples, etc… He is such a great example of what can happen when we ask of God and then act! Help them see Joseph’s story and then ask themselves this question, “what will my story be as I ask of God in faith?”.
What a question to ask! You could even break it down to more specifics, such as:
- What could happen this week if I ask of God in faith and act upon the impressions I receive?
- What could happen this month, or this year?
- One year from now, how will I change as a person, if I ask of God in faith every single day, and act upon the answers I receive?
Tip #4: Make it a true individual theme
One of the challenges of the youth theme is to know how to make it more than a one-time lesson, or a one-time special event theme. This will take a lot of planning and consideration, but what a difference it can make in the lives of your youth! Can you imagine if, because of this theme they really started to apply this principle to their lives like Joseph Smith did? The impact would be impossible to measure!
It would be good for the leaders to sit down and consider how to make this a true 2017 theme, not only as a youth program but to brainstorm ideas on how each of the youth could make it a personal theme. It could also be a good idea to give a lesson about the theme and then invite the youth to share ideas on how you can make it a true 2017 theme as a group and as individuals – they could come up with great ideas of their own!
Tip #5 Constant Follow-up
We all know many of our good intentions get overshadowed by daily demands. The youth have constant demands and distractions, so even though they may love the theme and intend to really apply it to their lives, they may need a lot of assistance to do so. Try to figure out specific ways that you can keep that theme constantly in front of them in a way that helps them remember what they felt and want to act on it. Here are some ideas:
- Do you have a group social media account such as Instagram? Create images with the theme on it that you can share a few times a week as friendly reminders.
- Have a different young woman share each week during opening exercises about how the theme is making a difference in her life.
- Invite a special speaker to speak about the theme and invite parents so they can know what their children are focusing on.
- Make a printable with the theme on it and encourage each youth to hang it in a prominent spot in their room.
- Use the theme for special events such as New Beginnings and girls’ camp.
- Plan mutual activities with the theme in mind. For example, you may take the Laurels and Priests to a local college for a campus tour. Then have a devotional where you discuss what they saw and learned and encourage them to do all the research they can about their different college choices, but then to ultimately take everything they have learned and “ask of God in faith” in order to make the choice that is right for them.
As a leader, the most important thing is to stay focused on the big picture. There will be ups and downs, things that work and things that don’t work. But as we consistently put forth effort, we will see success and the impact these themes and programs are having in the lives of the youth we love so much. And what a reward it will be when we see the power and effect of “asking of God in faith” is having in their lives. How sweet that will be!
Be sure to see our article: 8 Easy Ways to Implement the 2017 LDS Mutual Theme
Also make sure to see all of our 2017 LDS mutual theme printable theme helps here: 2017 young women theme helps . There is a teaching package, special event package, theme song, talk for youth, journals, banners and posters, and more!