Yogi Berra, the famous catcher and manager of the New York Yankees, known for his malapropisms, said “You can observe a lot by watching.” During my many years of involvement with the Young Men program of the Church I have had the opportunity to watch a lot of LDS Scouting units in action. And I’ve observed a lot.
From my observations I’ve concluded there are two critical leader-specific elements that determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of LDS Scouting programs. I believe the extent to which these key elements are present in a ward’s Young Men program determines the extent to which boys want to be involved in Scouting activities.
I’ve concluded the two significant success factors in an LDS Scouting program are: 1) the perceived warmth, love, caring, and concern the boys feel from their adult leaders, and 2) the evidence of a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting experience. If the boys feel loved and there is a quality Scouting program for them to attend, the young men typically exhibit a high level of commitment toward Scouting. If the boys are not loved and the Scouting program is disorganized or nonexistent, the young men tend to drift into inactivity. An analysis of these two components shows there are four basic types of LDS Scouting programs with four likely outcomes based upon how the program is conducted by the adult leaders (see graphic below).
In LDS Scouting units where there is no perceivable love from the adult leaders toward the young men and little or no Scouting structure (Low/Low), most boys will eventually become disinterested and gravitate toward INACTIVITY. In this situation the adult leaders are often unreliable and attend only sporadically because they have no love for the youth or the Young Men program. Without a planned calendar the boys may not know what the weeknight activity will be until they arrive. Lacking a clear purpose, the leaders scramble to come up with activities merely to keep the boys occupied. Frequently the activity ends up being basketball or some other game. The lack of meaningful pursuits can result in young men becoming disinterested or apathetic about Mutual night. Some boys may avoid attending or even refuse to go because it is not worth their time. Others may attend grudgingly only after prodding from their parents or leaders.
The second type of LDS Scouting units I’ve observed is where very little love is shown by the adult leaders toward the young men, but there is a high degree of structure in their Scouting program with regimented rules and discipline (Low/High). The leaders have a well-defined Scouting program because the adults erroneously believe they need to be in control. These leaders seem determined to run their Scouting program by the book—while neglecting to allow the unit to be boy led—practically forcing the boys to earn merit badges and rank advancement. They expect the boys to be quiet and listen as Scouting skills are being taught. In this type of situations I’ve observed leaders who seem to expect the young men to enjoy Scouting, and they become frustrated when the boys don’t respond enthusiastically. Often this results in REBELLION from the youth as they resist the oppressive structure and disrespect their rigid leaders. This may cause the boys to disengage from Scouting activities or become openly defiant regarding planned events. Discipline problems can result when the boys feel pressured to participate by leaders who show little love toward them.
The opposite type of LDS Scouting unit is where there is a high degree of love between the adult leaders and their youth, but little or no structure to their Scouting program (High/Low). Like in the first example, the adult leaders of these programs have few preplanned activities and may exhibit a laissez faire attitude toward Scouting. The leaders enjoy having fun with the boys—which makes the young men like them even more—but the program is disorganized. Because the emphasis is on fun activities, the boys may become frustrated or bored when they are expected to participate in any of the Scouting aspects of the Young Men program. The boys may do the Scouting requirements in COMPLIANCE with the directives of their leaders or parents, but may be slothful in doing the required work unless coerced or incented to do so. Although the boys are “active” and show up every week to Mutual, they probably don’t see how the application of Scouting principles will help them become better missionaries, husbands, fathers, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders in the future.
The fourth category of possible LDS Scouting programs is where significant love is exhibited toward the young men by the adult leaders. These leaders also love Scouting, resulting in a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting experience for the youth (High/High). Since these leaders allow the boys to lead the program, there is a high degree of involvement from the young men who plan exciting activities that appeal to them, to less active members, and to their non-member friends. Adult leaders of these units understand the connection between the eight purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and the aims and methods of Scouting. Because the youth feel loved and understand the purposes of the Young Men and Scouting programs, they exhibit a stronger COMMITMENT to do what is expected of them. As they do so their testimony grows as gospel principles are learned through Scouting experiences. Young men in these programs are blessed to have leaders who understand their stewardship in molding young men who will be “true at all times in whatsoever thing they [are] entrusted” (Alma 53:20) because they have been entrusted with much during their Scouting experiences.
I realize the descriptions above of the four possible types of LDS Scouting programs are generalizations based on assumptions, but I hope they will cause you to reflect upon the Scouting experience you are creating for your young men. I hope you love the young men you serve. I hope you love Scouting enough to run a quality program. I hope you know you are called to bless the lives of the Lord’s precious young men by helping them to become valiant men of God.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- In which quadrant does your Scouting program typically fall?
- Do you love your young men? Do you love all of them?
- Do you love Scouting? Do you do your best to implement the program as designed?
- Do you have a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting program?
- What is the impact and result of the way your run your Scouting program?
- Do you see your role as a Young Men leader as a sacred stewardship from the Lord? Are you a wise steward?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“When local priesthood leaders get involved in the work of the Aaronic Priesthood, including Scouting, the work of the Aaronic Priesthood thrives, including Duty to God, missionary preparation, quorum service and quorum strength, individual worthiness, and preparation for temple marriages. When they do not, it normally results in a number of well-meaning parents and leaders who love the youth struggling to make the program work” (“Charles Dahlquist on why the Church sticks with Scouting, and so does he,” The Boy Scout: The Blog of the Utah National Parks Council, Jan. 10, 2016).
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.