Scouting: A Model for Ministry

I am a Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop sponsored by multiple congregations (wards) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). I've been thinking a lot about creating an appropriate vision for what this unit should be and how I can create a plan for reaching this vision. This blog entry is an attempt to help crystallize this vision and plan.

The Boy Scouts of America provides program materials and resources to chartering organizations so that they can use these programs to accomplish their goals and objectives for the youth that they serve. While many chartered organizations establish Boy Scout troops simply for the natural character and leadership growth that Scouts learn as part of the experience of Scouting, the LDS church charters Scouting units with the express purpose of using Scouting as the youth ministry activity program. That is, our Scouting program is not an optional community activity that happens to meet at our church, it is our primary mid-week church activity program for our boys.

The purpose of Scouting for the church is described in the LDS Scouting Handbook:
Scouting can help young men and boys enhance close relationships with their families and the Church while developing strong and desirable traits of character, citizenship, and physical and mental fitness. Under priesthood leadership, Scouting can complement the efforts of Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Primary classes in building testimonies in young men and boys. Scouting under Church sponsorship should become an extension of the home, Primary classes, and Aaronic Priesthood quorums. Scouting functions as part of the Church’s activity program for boys and young men.
The Church Handbook of Instruction includes phrases that reinforce the idea that Scouting is an extension of priesthood quorums.
Where Scouting is authorized by the Church, quorums may participate in Scouting activities during Mutual. Scouting should help young men put into practice the gospel principles they learn on Sunday.
The bishopric organizes a ward Scout committee to ensure that Scouting functions properly as a supporting activity for Aaronic Priesthood quorums.

What is an Aaronic Priesthood Quorum?

In order to proceed further, I need to establish some context. The LDS church relies entirely on an unpaid and voluntary ministry. Ordinarily, we think of this in terms of leadership in that congregations do not have a paid minister but instead has a bishop selected from the lay membership of the congregation who voluntarily spends time aside from his family and vocation to lead the ward. But really, the ministry extends to all members of the congregation who are individually invited by the bishop to accept callings to serve.

Of most direct relevance, every man in the church is invited to qualify himself (through standards of personal worthiness) to be ordained to priesthood ministry. Indeed, we see the family and not the congregation as the fundamental and most basic unit of the church. Ideally, the husband and father of the family would be ordained to the priesthood to minister to his family and, in this ministry, lead them in righteousness. Furthermore, the priesthood is organized to minister and strengthen families and individuals in the church, so that every family and every individual has access to this ministry. This ministry takes the form of teaching, serving and blessing, following the pattern established by Jesus and his apostles of the New Testament.

Ordination to priesthood service comes with an associated priesthood office. All members with a given office are organized into a group called a quorum. The quorum is led by a quorum president, called from among the members "to sit in council with them, and to teach them their duty, edifying one another" (D&C 107:85-89). Quorum presidents and quorum members alike often struggle with how to minister effectively, perhaps because they have not yet seen the desired outcomes modeled effectively.

This is where we return to the idea of the Aaronic Priesthood quorum. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also ordains young men from the ages of 12-18 to priesthood office in what is called the Aaronic Priesthood, named after Aaron, the brother of Moses. This priesthood is considered a preparatory priesthood and has responsibilities that focus on physical ordinances (like water baptism and the sacrament of communion) and physical service (like cleaning the church building and maintaining the grounds). These offices also have associated quorums — deacons (ages 12-13), teachers (ages 14-15) and priests (ages 16-18) — with their correspond quorum presidents.

Individual young men receive training experiences in priesthood ministry. They regularly prepare and administer the sacrament (communion). Teachers and priests regularly serve as junior companions in ministering to families. They are often given service assignments and are encouraged to seek personal opportunities to serve others.

But perhaps the greatest potential for training that is possible is the opportunity to learn how to function as a priesthood quorum — to sit in council together, to learn their duty, and to edify one another. In the hypothetical world, a typical Aaronic Priesthood quorum would consist of a number of young men ordained to an office. It also has fellowship responsibility for any young men who are of age to be ordained but are not yet, whether because of personal choice, worthiness, or not yet being baptized. The ideal quorum would have every member prayerfully concerned about one another's welfare.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once described priesthood quorums with the following quote:
It will be a marvelous day, my brethren—it will be a day of fulfillment of the purposes of the Lord—when our priesthood quorums become an anchor of strength to every man belonging thereto, when each such man may appropriately be able to say, ‘I am a member of a priesthood quorum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I stand ready to assist my brethren in all of their needs, as I am confident they stand ready to assist me in mine. Working together, we shall grow spiritually as covenant sons of God. Working together, we can stand, without embarrassment and without fear, against every wind of adversity that might blow, be it economic, social, or spiritual.

Scouting as a Youth Development Program

The Boy Scouts of America has the following vision statement:
The Boy Scouts of America will prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.
The founder of the Scouting movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell stated:
There is no religious "side" of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.

Let us, therefore, in training our Scouts, keep the higher aims in the forefront, not let ourselves get too absorbed in the steps. Don't let the technical outweigh the moral. Field efficiency, back woodsmanship, camping, hiking, Good Turns, jamboree comradeship are all means, not the end. The end is CHARACTER with a purpose.

Our objective in the Scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God's Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation.
The key lesson we should learn is that Scouting is not so much about what we might call scout-craft as it is about helping youth develop personal character, active citizenship, and balanced fitness. The scout-craft provides the framework in which we work to accomplish these aims.

For the sake of discussion, let us focus on a Boy Scout troop. (In addition to troops, we could talk about a Varsity Scout team or a Venturing crew. While the structure and implementation are different, the concepts are similar.) The troop provides an organizational structure in which the teaching takes place. The Boy Scouting program encourages the balanced use of eight methods to ensure that the organization can accomplish the aims of Scouting.

  1. Ideals — We want every boy to measure themselves against the standards of the Scout Oath and Law and strive to live up to that standard
  2. Patrols — Boys are organized into small units in which they have shared responsibility and leadership for the success of the group.
  3. Outdoor Program — The outdoors takes the boys out of their ordinary environment, provides a purpose for learning new skills and practicing group activity, and offers an opportunity to see the handiwork of God.
  4. Advancement — Ranks, merit badges and awards provide an opportunity for setting and achieving a progression of goals, giving the boys confidence and self-reliance.
  5. Adult Association — Boys will interact with Scout leaders, committee members, and merit badge counselors and will see that adults care about them and how they set an example of living the standards.
  6. Personal Growth — As they plan their activities, achieve their goals, and serve others, boys will see positive personal growth.
  7. Leadership Development — The Scouting organization puts boys in leadership positions and provides training so that they can learn effective leadership principles.
  8. Uniforms — Uniforms help boys see themselves as part of a bigger movement for good as well as provide a means to show that membership to others.
As should be clear, the aims and methods of Scouting are perfectly aligned with the goals and objectives of Aaronic Priesthood quorums. Both set values-based standards of behavior and character. Both center on the need for learning effective leadership. Both center on putting those values into action.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the ideal pattern is that every Aaronic Priesthood quorum has an associated Scouting unit so that the quorum president has a dedicated Scouting unit. Thus, on Sundays, the quorum can meet to learn the principles of the gospel. Then, on a weekday, the quorum works together in Scouting as their laboratory for working together and putting those principles into meaningful action.

When possible, it is suggested that a deacons quorum (12-13 years old) uses a Boy Scout troop, a teachers quorum (14-15 years old) uses a Varsity Scout team, and a priests quorum (16-18 years old) uses a Venturing crew. It is outside the scope of this entry to explain in depth, but this pattern provides a wonderful progression of leadership development.

Unfortunately, circumstances often seem to make this ideal hard to achieve. I find myself in such a circumstance where the number of boys in each quorum and available adult leadership have inspired the two wards (congregations) in my area to combine efforts. Even with combining four quorums, the size of my troop is under 10 boys, about the size of a single patrol.

So I find myself asking the following question: How can I accomplish the purposes of the church in using Scouting when there is not a clear connection between individual priesthood quorums and the Scouting unit? It often feels hard enough just to implement something that looks like an effective Scouting program. These quorum presidents still need experience in exercising their priesthood responsibilities to guide their quorums, and a combined Scouting unit effectively divorces their quorum setting from the weekday activity.

Since this is also my church's youth ministry program, I worry about the balance between retaining and engaging the youth of the church, particularly if they would not independently join a Scout troop of their own interest. I want a program that can be successful at recruiting in the community while ensuring that it holds onto the diverse interests of all the boys from church.  The latter alone is a challenge.

Using Scouting as a Model for Ministry

As I was pondering this challenge of implementing an effective Scouting experience while also accomplishing the stated intent of the church in using Scouting for quorums to accomplish their work, I felt a spark of inspiration.
Organize the Scout troop to act as if it were a single quorum in the ideal setting.
Now there are some important distinctions. A core belief of our church is that a quorum president has a divinely-ordained responsibility to lead his quorum, and with that responsibility comes Heavenly guidance. The troop would be an earthly-established entity. Quorum presidents still have responsibility for their individual quorums, even if those quorums are interspersed throughout the troop.

But maybe it is possible to demonstrate explicitly in the troop setting how a priesthood quorum ought to function. I see key principles including basic leadership skills like using agendas, effective planning, and delegation as naturally occurring in Scouting. In addition, Scouting teaches the principle of servant leadership. This would be made more explicit as Christ-like leadership, following particularly the principles of effective priesthood leadership taught by the church. In addition, the principles of effective councils would need to be incorporated.

To make this work, the model for the Patrol Leader's Council (PLC) would need to be adapted from how it is structured in the Scouting literature. The precedent for this is that in the current church handbooks, where each quorum has its own Scouting unit, the PLC becomes an extension of the quorum presidency meeting. The key difference here would be that the PLC becomes a hybrid.

The Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) would lead PLC, modeling the role of a quorum president (even if he is not a real quorum president). All quorum presidents would also be invited, either by virtue of actually serving in Scouting leadership responsibilities or as part of the council (effectively, they would have a role as Chaplain's Aide). The meeting would serve three basic purposes.
  1. Discuss needs of individuals. This could focus on retention, activation, and recruitment, particularly in relation to how activities could relate to interests and skills of those individuals. It could also focus on advancement needs and personal goals that members of the troop have.
  2. Plan activities around purpose. Having discussed individuals and their needs and interests, appropriate activities can be planned.
  3. Assignments can be made to implement the plans.
To bring this back to individual quorums, quorum presidents would be asked to focus particularly on individuals from their quorums during the discussion of individual needs as well as providing input on how assignments might be made that strengthen their quorum members. In addition, they will be invited to apply these same principles in their own quorum meetings. The PLC would not replace the need for individual quorum presidency meetings. Ideally, quorum advisors (adults advisors to quorum presidents) would help make connections in the minds of the quorum presidents between what they seen happening at Scouts and how they should function in the quorum.

In order for this to work, adult leaders need to have a vision and commitment of both the Scouting program and the purpose and organization of effective priesthood quorums. The goal of the adult leaders is to turn all of the action over to the young men. This requires training and guidance. To make an LDS-specific comparison, the adult leaders play a role with the young men that is similar to the role a stake high counselor plays with an elders quorum presidency. Even though the high counselor serves at a higher organizational level, he does not actually have any direct stewardship over the elders quorum. He counsels and trains the actual leaders, his personal experience serving as a pool of knowledge for the leaders who often do not have similar experience.

Moving Forward

Well, that is my start of a vision for how I might be able to use the Scouting program as a model for ministry in the setting where my troop has multiple Aaronic Priesthood quorums. In order to proceed, I will need to see if this vision is consistent with the bishoprics of the two wards that are represented in this troop. Perhaps together we can formulate something that will work. But I will need support of other adult Scouting leaders who will also share the vision and commitment to see this succeed.

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