Author: Hurst, Mark E.
Author: Mitchener, Charles E.
The Aaronic Priesthood is the basic organization for the young men of the Church, ages twelve through eighteen. The Young Men organization is an auxiliary to the priesthood and includes scouting and other programs designed to help with the full development of young male members of the Church, including spiritual, social, and physical aspects. Its purpose is to help each young man come to Christ through conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, understand the priesthood he holds, learn to give service to others, prepare to advance to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and live in such a way that will qualify him to enter the temple and become a worthy husband and father. Through priesthood quorum instruction and activities, including combined Young Men and young women activities, young men learn fundamental principles and have opportunities to apply them in their lives. The Young Men organization serves hundreds of thousands of young men in most parts of the world. Its literature is published in many languages and is adapted for use in various cultures.
The organization is under the direction of the bishopric or branch presidency in wards and branches, with assistance from a Young Men presidency comprised of adult advisers to the priests, teachers, and deacons quorums or others as the bishop may call. Young Men presidencies also function at the stake and general levels. The Young Men general presidency is comprised of members of the quorums of seventy and is assisted by a general board to develop programs and materials.
The Young Men groups are the priesthood groups, determined by age. Twelve- and thirteen-year-olds constitute the deacons quorum (Scouts); fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, the teachers quorum (Venturers); and sixteen- seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, the priests quorum (Explorers). Each deacons and the teachers quorum is presided over by a three-member presidency. The president from the group is selected by the bishop and he then selects his two counselors. The priests quorum is presided over by the bishop, and he selects assistants from the quorum.
Quorums meet individually or collectively, depending on the type of activity and the purpose of their gathering. On Sundays the quorums usually meet separately for lessons on gospel subjects. On one evening during the week, they may meet for activities, such as scouting, sports, service projects, or career education. Occasionally, all three groups meet together to perform service or to enjoy athletic or cultural events, either as participants or spectators. All activities are designed to help the young men become well-rounded and well-prepared individuals with self-confidence, motivation, and a desire to make a significant contribution to their communities.
Once each month, all three age groups meet together with young women from their ward or branch who are organized into similar age-group categories. These joint activities are designed to help young men and young women learn to work together, to respect one another, and to develop social and communication skills that will help them regard one another as individuals. In addition to the traditional activities of dancing and socializing, they solve problems together and overcome stereotypical gender images, while maintaining strong, independent gender identities. Individuality, creativity, teamwork, a sense of belonging, and unity are stressed by adult Young Men and Young Women advisers.
Primarily in the United States, but in several other countries as well, the Young Men organization uses the scouting movement as part of its activity program. Young men register and participate in scouting and embrace its values and principles while adhering to their own religious and moral code. They are encouraged to earn the Eagle Scout Award (or its international equivalent). In Great Britain and in other Commonwealth countries, many young men participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme or its equivalent. The Church also encourages young men to earn the LDS Duty to God and On My Honor awards, which are religious service recognitions.
LDS young men participate in a wide range of competitive and noncompetitive athletics as part of their quorum experience. Most Church buildings in the United States, for example, are equipped with facilities for playing basketball, and many have adjoining softball diamonds. In Europe, South America, and parts of Asia, soccer is a major part of the Young Men athletic program. Tennis, swimming, racquetball, squash, handball, golf, volleyball, and other popular sports are pursued as tournament events in many Young Men organizations.
In addition to athletic participation, young men are encouraged to develop interest in cultural events by participating in or attending theatrical productions or musical programs. Occasionally wards and stakes sponsor "road shows," in which the young men and young women of each ward write, produce, and perform short plays or skits. Young men may also participate in choral groups, comprised either entirely of young men or, more often, combined with young women, or with youth and adults, such as in a ward or stake choir.
In the decades since its founding, the Young Men organization has undergone many changes in structure, format, frequency of meeting, and leadership, but it has, for the most part, maintained its original purpose and direction: to provide for "the establishment in the youth of individual testimony of the truth and magnitude of the great latter-day work; the development of the gifts within them" (IE 1 [Nov. 1897]:3).
Associations for the spiritual and cultural growth of the youth began in the early days of the Church. In February 1843 the Prophet Joseph Smith authorized the formation of a Young Gentlemen's and Young Ladies' Relief Society, and in 1854, Elder Lorenzo Snow organized the Polysophical Society. As Church membership increased, various types of youth societies were organized. President Brigham Young, aware that these organizations were individually good but lacked unity and structure, organized the young men into one association, the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), in 1875 (CHC 5:480). President Young instructed YMMIA leaders to help the young men develop the gifts within them, stand up and speak, and bear testimony.
With the growth of the association, a central committee (later general board) was formed in December 1876 to oversee all ward YMMIAs, conduct missionary work among the young people, receive reports, and issue general instructions. The central committee recommended that an advisory committee be appointed with some General Authority members. In 1880, Church President John Taylor proposed that a general YMMIA superintendency (later presidency) be formed.
From 1876 to 1905, young men were called to serve full-time YMMIA missions to increase membership and assist local superintendencies. Because of rapid Church growth, this program was discontinued in 1905.
In the first YMMIA meetings, before class study was formalized, all of the young men met together, without regard to age, to hear the lesson. In 1900 a preliminary program of prayer, announcements, and singing was added. In 1901 the YMMIA was divided into junior and senior classes, and social and cultural activities were added to theological studies. An athletic committee, formed in 1909, brought outdoor activities into the junior program by fostering athletic meets. As the programs developed and as needs of the youth changed, Church leaders divided the YMMIA into smaller classes.
Until around 1900 the YMMIA met separately from the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA). Joining the YWMIA with the YMMIA to form the Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) was another step in strengthening youth programs.
In 1911 the Church formed the YMMIA Scouts, patterned after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), for young men ages twelve through eighteen. The YMMIA Scouts were later invited to be affiliated with BSA and were issued a national charter on May 21, 1913.
By the 1950s the activities of YMMIA, which included sports, dance, drama, music, and public speaking, were often conducted with the YWMIA as well. Athletics had become a major part of the program. From local stake tournaments, winners progressed to all-Church finals held annually in Salt Lake City. The All-Church tournaments were discontinued in the early 1970s.
The young men ages twelve and older were divided into five classes or age groups, including a Special Interest class for those twenty-six and older. The general level organization at this time consisted of a superintendency of five men and a general board of sixty to seventy men. The general level was financed by a general fund (paid by stakes based on YMMIA membership), sale of YMMIA materials, and investments. General board members instructed local YMMIA and YWMIA leaders.
The 1960s brought changes for both the general and local organizations. The responsibility of training local leaders gradually shifted to local priesthood leaders, significantly reducing the size of the general board and simplifying its responsibilities. The general fund was discontinued, and all finances were handled by the Church. Production and sales of materials were also centralized.
Early in the 1970s the YMMIA was divided into separate youth and adult organizations. In November 1972 the Church organized two priesthood-oriented MIAs: the Aaronic Priesthood-MIA for young men ages twelve through seventeen, and the Melchizedek Priesthood-MIA, or Special Interests, for unmarried men ages eighteen and older. At this time, the MIA became part of the priesthood and was no longer an auxiliary. The Aaronic Priesthood-MIA conducted lessons, service projects, and activities centered around the Aaronic Priesthood quorums.
In June 1974 the name Aaronic Priesthood-MIA was shortened to Aaronic Priesthood. For a time, the organization was under the jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishopric and there was no general presidency. However, in May 1977 the name was changed to Young Men and a general presidency was reinstated. In October 1979 the Church announced that the Young Men general presidency would be comprised of three General Authorities from the First Quorum of the Seventy. Since 1989, the small general board has been made up of the deacon, teacher, and priest committees.
Anderson, Edward H. "The Past of Mutual Improvement." IE 1 (Nov. 1897):1-10.
Strong, Leon M. "A History of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association 1875-1938." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1939.
Williams, John Kent. "A History of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association 1939 to 1974." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976.
CHARLES E. MITCHENER
MARK E. HURST