So, here are my rambling thoughts (BTW - I do have to say these posts have taken me away from my children far more than any church activity or any "learning for myself" activities lately...hahahah, love it!):
I do not think the problem lies with church leaders...it lies with THE FAMILIES! Mother and Father are primarily responsible for the nurturing of their children. We all know/agree with this, but when I see the youth programs fail is when I see the parents behind the scenes not doing their part, thus proving that it's not the programs entirely at fault. Even Elder Gene R. Cook once gave us permission to "skip" church activities if they don't meet family needs. In his book, Raising a Righteous Family Unto the Lord, he told about how his family missed several ward functions in a row. One of the leaders (maybe the bishop?) came up to Elder Cook expressing concern that the family wasn't doing well...when in reality they were doing much better because they hadn't attended the event.
The foundation must be there, or must be built afterward. Too many youth have cried in Nauvoo and thought they had a testimony. The leaders think the same way.
This reminded me of a talk by Lili Anderson entitled Three Realms of Law, Light and Life (much better reading than Misfit's stuff IMO). In there she says:
Many of you young women may have noticed that almost every year at girls’ camp are some girls who seem to come primarily to give the leaders grief. They break rules, they don’t show up when they’re supposed to, etc. But on the last night of camp, at the “testimony bonfire,” they often bear testimonies that seem quite sincere and emotional. They may say things like “I love my mom and dad, even though I don’t usually do what they say. I love my sister, even though I treat her badly. And I love all of you, even though I was a jerk all week.” You can see the puzzled expressions around the campfire wondering if such expressions are genuine, not wanting to be skeptical but neither wanting to be naïve. Personally, I believe the feelings expressed in such moments are sincere because the Spirit can touch anyone who is receptive. Nevertheless, in many cases, those spiritually charged moments pass quickly and are not followed up with the “trenchwork of the terrestrial.” It becomes very important then for us to be able to distinguish between solid, consistent progression toward the celestial and what we might term “the natural man on a good day.” (bold added)
A testimony is most likely to be forged in the everyday activities and teachings of a family, not at The Event. In many ways, the youth program when operated in this fashion is actually attempting to take the place of the family, not support it.
THUS the family is where the foundation lies. If the foundation is strong at home, it doesn't matter what the activities are as long as they are within the standards of the Church (Handbook, For Strength of Youth, scriptures, etc.). We need to be careful not to be prim, stoic and serious all the time either.
And to answer Andrea's question So how to advance the valiant ones without losing the ones who are along for the ride? I don't remember the exact quote, but I believe it was Marion G. Romney who said that youth are ready and wanting the doctrine. They don't need the fluff and the distractions from the spirit (see Teaching No Greater Call). I also believe that the Spirit is the Spirit. Emotion is not always the Spirit. "The fruits of the spirit are love, peace, joy...." If the activity provokes good, long-lasting effects, great.
Developing talents and appreciation for cultural arts. [This one would be very hard to do without going against the standards of the church]
There are actually some very wholesome cultural arts events that can and should take place within the standards of the Church. Cultural arts is not taking them to the latest #1 movie at the theater.
One last thought on EFY and whatnot. I have been to Education Week (an event sponsored by the Church) and I have been to Time Out for Women (a Deseret Book sponsored event). What a difference!! Though I was touched by some of the stories and thoughts shared at Time Out for Women, most of it seemed to be a promotion for those speaking and their products. It was a "stir their emotions" type meeting. I have gone back and forth on the EFY thing. Sure I think it's good. I went to one and had a blast when I was 15! Is it necessary for my children to go in order to gain a testimony? Heavens no. I have a friend who loves John Bytheway and he generally makes me cringe a bit because of the Mormon hero status he has seemed to acheive. Whatever. But, if he's the one to get my struggling youth back on track, he may become my hero as well. :-)
It all goes back to where the foundation needs to come from and Sister Anderson sums it up so perfectly I want to repeat: It becomes very important then for us to be able to distinguish between solid, consistent progression toward the celestial and what we might term “the natural man on a good day.”
P.S. (because I can't stop "talking")... I am concerned that the youth may not be learning leadership skills and youth leaders are getting more stressed out than needed because the leaders are doing all the work the youth should be doing. My own soap box topic. And this whole topic has made me want to evaluate better what activites I "make" my kids go to vs. letting them choose. What if you let them choose though and they go to none of it? Church is obviously not an option....but what about the rest of it?