A Multi-Generational Priesthood: Teaching the Old Dogs New Tricks, While Training the Puppies

If you’ve ever witnessed a puppy enter the life of a mature dog, then you’ve witnessed a Fountain of Youth moment. The old dog often experiences a renewal of energy, playing in ways not seen in years. At the same time, when he’s had enough he attempts to curb the puppy’s boundless enthusiasm with a swat or a growl. The puppy quickly modifies his behavior or learns to duck and roll to avoid the heavy paw of age, but he doesn’t lose the energy of youth, despite the old dog’s best efforts.

We've had the opportunity to experience the human version of this generational dance playout in the weeks and months since the reorganization of the Priesthood was announced in April of 2018.

If we want a model for this re-organization, we can look to the Priesthood as practiced at the time of Alma the younger. Under Alma’s stewardship, the Priest did not esteem himself, “above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus, they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” (Alma 1:26)

This priesthood perspective and process was consistent with the priesthood leaders who had preceded him, including Benjamin, Mosiah, and his father Alma. These were men who labored for their own upkeep, that they might not become a burden upon the people whom they governed and served. More important than the economic implications, however, is the attitude that it exhibits. These were men who were driven by principle and an awareness of who they were in relation to their God and their fellow man. I think that it is safe to assume that when interacting with their brethren of the priesthood they did not perceive themselves as “better” than anyone else, even though they were called to lead and had received many powerful revelations from the Lord.

I believe that the consolidation of the High Priest Groups and Elder’s Quorums into one priesthood quorum brings us back to a time like that known to Alma and his predecessors, “and thus they were all equal.” The equality to which I refer has the potential of impacting how we view each other and work together as brethren of the Priesthood. It is interesting to note that the best times known to the Nephites were when they perceived each other as equals; there were no rich nor poor among them.

Again, I am not speaking of economics, but rather the bringing together of men who are equal but different. Men of experience (and we assume wisdom) with men of youth (and we assume energy and ideals), which has the potential of becoming an unbeatable combination. The One must be open to the inspiration received by the other, while the other must remember “upon whose shoulders they stand.”

How many men over the age of fifty have said of their youth, “if only I had known then what I know now?” How many men under 35 years-of age wish they knew more when facing their own challenges? Merging the quorums creates the potential of a youthful and wise collective, if we can learn to harness that energy. Believing that this is both inspired and possible, I see challenges and great opportunities that we face as bearers of the priesthood.

The Challenges:

  1. We must be vigilant not to over identify with our former titles and the stories we associate with those titles. Gone are the days of a 50-year-old brother saying, “I’m only an Elder” or a 29-year-old brother taking pride in the fact that he was ordained to the office of a High Priest before the age of 30. No longer can we use the Priesthood as a status symbol. As Elder Uchtdorf has counseled on two separate occasions, we must be careful not to “inhale.” (April 2017, General Priesthood Session)

  2. We must all be conscious of a psychological phenomenon called “transference,” where we unconsciously impose past relationships onto relationships in our present. In other words, the younger Elders must resist transferring their history with fathers, grandfathers, former Bishops, Mission Presidents, etc. . . . onto the older, more experienced members of their quorum. Likewise, the older Elders must resist transferring their history with sons, students, missionaries, their younger self, etc. . . . onto the younger, more idealistic members of their quorum.

  3. We must be conscious of the fact that age bias flows both ways. Those who are younger don’t understand what it’s like to be older because they haven’t been there yet, and thus must seek to understand and work with those who have an older perspective based on experience. Those who are older were previously young but can often be jaded by the realities of having lived a longer life, or worse yet, think they know it all, based on their experience.

In addition, both must recognize that the world that they knew or know, when they were/are say “30-years old” is different from that of their younger or older brethren.The one must learn to reconnect with the ideals of their youth, (or at least appreciate the youth and ideals that will now surround them) while the other must learn to appreciate the power that comes from living a long life and seeking the wisdom that often comes from such experience. As Elder Bednar said, we will need to develop an eternal “meekness,” knowing that there is always more to learn; even from someone who is 30 years our junior, or senior. (April 2018, General Conference, Saturday afternoon session)

The Opportunities:

Along with the challenges that this new structure will create, it also presents us with tremendous opportunities to create a multi-generational and multi-functional priesthood that can lead us boldly in to the “Age of Ministry” to which President Nelson referred. To go to this place successfully I believe that it is important to remember 3 key points:

1) Harness the best of the old and the young. To return to our canines for a moment, the mix of young and old, experience and ideals, wisdom and naivete will hopefully create a powerful synergy that will allow us to become the quorums God intends.

2) Have and hold on to a sense of humor. I remember how Ronald Reagan (and in so doing I am outing myself as to which priesthood camp I belong, at least chronologically), the oldest man to run for the presidency at that time, handled the issue of his age, and by inference his incompetency. In a debate with Walter Mondale, he responded to a challenging question regarding his age by saying, “I do not intend to exploit, for political purposes, the youth and inexperience of my opponent.”

That simple quip is credited with being a key element in turning the tide of the 1984 election towards President Reagan. At the time I was 25-years old and I remember thinking, “I want to be that quick when I am his age.” Well I haven’t achieved his age yet, but I’m getting closer, and now I will have the opportunity, within my priesthood quorum, to test my quickness (as well as not exploiting the youth and inexperience of certain members of my quorum).

One thing I can do to emulate the Gipper (for those of you under the age of 30, that was President Reagan’s nickname because of a character he played in a movie, produced before even I was born), is to keep a sense of humor during this transition and not take the growing pains we will inevitably experience personally. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be frustrating, which leads me to the last and most important point.

3) Remember whom we serve. If we are going to succeed at this we must remember what King Benjamin, King Mosiah, Alma the Elder, and Alma the Younger all knew and lived. They were in the service of their God and were here on earth to serve His children. Whatever differences may exist as a result of being part of a multi-generational priesthood (oh, by the way we always have belonged to a multi-generational priesthood, we’ll just be more aware of it now) and whatever friction or frustration may arise, we will succeed if, like Alma and his brethren we “all labor, every man according to his strength,” united under the banner of Him whom we serve.”