We’ve been talking about a book by Kenda Creasy Dean which suggests Mormon teens and teens in black churches are more likely to be strongly committed to their religions that other teens. One thing the author says we have to do is to make sure teenagers have a personal testimony, not just one borrowed from someone else. She says Mormon teens have that.
How do Mormon teens get their testimonies? From the time Mormons are preschoolers, they’re told they need to get their very own testimonies and they’re taught how to do that. Read this lesson manual for teachers of teenage Mormon girls on testimony. You’ll see that they are taught why they need a testimony, how to get one, how to strengthen it, and what to do with it once they have it. Mormons don’t believe teens automatically understand they need a testimony, so they tell their teens and help them to get one. They believe teens, and even children, are old enough and wise enough to do this.
In the past posts, we learned that Mormons give teens a lot of opportunities to learn about their religion. You can’t get a testimony of something you don’t know anything about. We also found out teens get a lot of chances to serve in the church, which helps them feel connected.
But did you know Mormon teens also help to lead their church? Doing this helps them strengthen their testimonies and gain leadership skills for the future.
The Young Men’s program and the Young Women’s program are run by the teenagers. They have adult leaders, but those leaders are supposed to provide shadow leadership. That means they are there to guide and to help the teens understand what to do, not to actually run the program. Of course, they have the final say, but they let the teens do as much as they can alone. Each class has a three person teen presidency plus a teen secretary who run the program. The president is chosen by the adults for her leadership skills and her good example to others. She prays to choose the others. The presidency changes often, giving many teens a chance to lead. There are often other programs they lead too, such as planning the annual camp.
The teens are taught to plan their activities by asking a simple question: What do we want to have happen in the lives of our classmates? For instance, they might have a new classmate who is in a wheelchair. Perhaps they noticed some of the teens feel a little uncomfortable around her. They decide that what they want to have happen is for the other teens to understand her disability and to become friends. They plan a disability awareness night with that girl’s help and include things like wheelchair races and a wheelchair decorating activity. They carry out the activity and then evaluate it to see if it did what they wanted. If it didn’t, they try to figure out what went wrong so their next activity will be more successful.
As they run their programs, they know they are a part of the success of their church. They have a stronger commitment to their religion and, as they pray for help with their jobs, they strengthen their testimonies.
Mormon teens are encouraged to share their testimonies with others. One thing the study found was that many teenagers don’t know how to talk about their beliefs. Mormon teens are taught how to do that from preschool years. They know many of them will go on volunteer missions as young adults and even those who don’t are encouraged to talk to their friends about their religion. The more they teach it to others, in church classes, talks (sermons), and informally, the stronger their testimonies become.
How do Mormon teenagers get their testimonies?
As we mentioned earlier, they first learn about their religion. Then they’re taught to put it to the test. If you read that serving others is a good thing to do, then go serve and see how it makes you feel. If you feel peaceful inside you know you’ve done the right thing because Satan can’t bring true peace. Pay your tithing (ten percent of all you earn) and see how that makes you feel.
The most important step is to pray. Only God can give you a sure answer you can trust about which church is true. Any human can be wrong, even people who love you and want the best for you. So Mormon teens are taught to go directly to God for their answers. They first decide for themselves what is true. Then they kneel down and ask God to confirm their choice. If they feel peaceful and have a warm, loving feeling in their hearts, they know they were right. If they have a negative feeling, they know they need to start over.
Sometimes, of course, they don’t get an answer at all. God doesn’t answer every prayer instantly. Sometimes he wants us to keep studying and to keep asking Him. How badly do we really want to know the answer? Enough to keep at it for a long time—even a year or more? Mormons call this slow process learning “line upon line.” Sometimes God answers our prayers a little at a time. Instead of saying the whole Church is true, He might let you know the Church’s teachings about families being forever are true. Then He might give you a testimony of tithing. If you accept these answers and put them into your everyday life, God knows you are ready for even more responsibility, so He will tell you more.
And that is the critical part of the process. Once God tells you what is right, you’re expected to actually do what you are taught. Mormons don’t believe in “Sin on Saturday, Sermon on Sunday.” You’re supposed to be a Mormon every day all day, always thinking about it and always living it. It might seem overwhelming if you’re used to treating God like a butler.
The author of the book says teens tend to treat God like a butler—someone who is there when you need him and out of sight and mind when you don’t. Mormon teens don’t see God or Jesus Christ that way. They believe God is always with them and they should be in a constant conversation with Him.
What do you think? Do you want a real testimony of God? Give it a try and see how it changes your life.