Young Men Activities without Venturing

On May 11, 2017, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints   announced that wards would no longer use the Varsity Scout and Venturing programs for young men in the church. The transition date is stated as January 1, 2018. Rather than dwell on how sad this announcement makes me, I want to turn my attention to the positive emphasis the announcement makes in relation to reaching out to our young men aged 14-18.

The new directions for activities are not new but are instructive for seeing the vision of what our modern prophets and apostles are wanting to establish for our youth activity programs. These directions are broken down into principles and guidelines. Preliminary to these principles and guidelines is a vision statement.
Building young men with strong testimonies in the Lord Jesus Christ, helping them magnify their priesthood duties and preparing to fulfill their divine roles is the purpose of the Young Men’s 14-18 activity program. Activities should provide opportunities to be with youth, connect them with heaven, and let them lead.
This vision statement points out several key items. The purpose of the activity program is to build strong testimonies of the Savior and to prepare the young men for their divine roles. The activities accomplish this by providing opportunities for youth to interact with one another, opportunities that the youth will feel connected with heaven, and opportunities for the youth to take the lead.

I can whole-heartedly sustain this vision.

Moving next to activity principles, we can see an expansion of the principles on which this vision should be implemented. The following bullet points are taken from the First Presidency letter's appendix. These principles can be directly tied to the vision statement.

  • Provide belonging and support by strengthening quorum unity and building relationships with peers, leaders, and families (see Handbook 2, 13.1). 
  • Provide experiences that help young men fulfill their Aaronic Priesthood duties and their divine roles:
    • Accomplish the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood (see Handbook 2, 8.1.3). 
    • Develop temporal and spiritual self-reliance skills, such as time management, budgeting, and simple home and mechanical maintenance (see Handbook 2, 6.1.1). 
    • Engage in becoming good citizens (see Handbook 2, 21.1.29). 
  • Be planned and executed by Aaronic Priesthood quorum leaders, with support from adult advisers (see Handbook 2, 13.2). 
  • Provide a balance of opportunities to serve others and to develop spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually (see Luke 2:52; Handbook 2, 8.13.1; 13.2.6). 
  • Follow all Church safety and other policies and guidelines (see Handbook 2, 13.6).
Rather than try to point out exhaustive connections between these principles and the stated vision, I will focus on a few points.

First, the final objective in the vision statement that the youth should take the lead is reinforced by the third bullet, that activities should be planned and executed by quorum leaders. It must be emphasized that these quorum leaders are the quorum presidency, which are young men. Adult advisers provide support. Having adults plan and run activities has long been a short-coming of how Scouting programs have been implemented in the Church. Scouting has always been intended to be a "youth-led" program, but it is too easy as an adult to see awards or events as the desired outcomes and feel that entrusting the youth to achieve those outcomes is going to result in sub-par or failed results. These guidelines emphasize that youth leaders need to plan and execute the activities.


Second, two of the bullets (second and fourth) focus on the type of activities that should be planned. These connect to the vision statement's call for activities to prepare young men for their divine roles, which includes preparing for missionary service, marriage and parenthood, and life-long service in God's kingdom. This connects strongly to the call for activities that develop temporal and spiritual self-reliance skills, becoming good citizens, and finding opportunities to serve others.

The call for developing in a balanced way spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually directly references the Savior's childhood as described in Luke 2:52, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." The leading phrase in the bullet is to create a balance of opportunities. I have, for a long time, felt that one of the key needs of any program for the teen-age youth is that activities must provide balance. The Varsity Scout and Venturing programs were designed to facilitate this, but too many wards (my own included) do not succeed in implementing these aspects.

Finally, let us move to the additional guidelines for activities.

The first guideline: "Develop an annual calendar to ensure a balance of purposeful spiritual, social, physical, and intellectual activities." This guideline emphasizes both the need for a balance in activities and also the need for planning. Planning is necessary to put together an annual calendar.

As I think about it, the second guideline is perhaps one of the most significant insights that needs development. "Combined activities with young men and young women are particularly beneficial for
youth ages 14 and older and could be held more frequently than once a month." This is not a new guideline. I can easily imagine different combinations of quorums and classes that might plan to do activities together, whether to learn a skill, to improve on talents, or to visit a place of interest.

The third guideline states that one youth conference or multi-day high adventure should be held each year (emphasis added). In addition, it suggests 2-3 overnight activities are encouraged. This guideline indicates (at least to me) a reduced emphasis on outings. Big high adventure outings by young men might well have been one of the most significant discrepancies between opportunities provided for young men and young women. Reducing an emphasis on outings reinforces the need for balance apart from traditional scouting skills.

The fourth and fifth guidelines emphasize a need for local leaders to review the specific needs of members in their area. Some areas might have difficulty in travel and so fewer meetings might be held. In addition, youth might be actively engaged in other activities (including Scouting) and so ward mutual activities might occur less frequently.

As I've reflected on the changes presented by the First Presidency with an aim to discover the vision behind the change, I feel like my eyes have been opened in a positive way. I know that these changes can and should inspire us to do a better job of providing meaningful, balanced activities for our young men that will prepare them for their divine roles and strengthen their testimonies of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, I am still somewhat saddened to see the elimination of the Venturing (and to a lesser extent Varsity Scouting) from the Church's activity program. I have long had a personal vision that these programs could implement exactly these outcomes. From my study of the principles of Scouting and the Church, I have thought that priesthood quorums should always have been looking at these needs and then using the Scouting tools to accomplish their goals. However, this implementation has been very difficult and so many leaders have not seen these connections.

The Mormon Newsroom has a FAQ on these changes. In response to the question, "Why is this change occurring?", we get the following answer:
In most congregations in the United States and Canada, young men ages 14–18 are not being served well by the Varsity or Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the Church. This change will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs while providing activities that balance spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men.
I sincerely hope that as leaders, we will be personally inspired by the inspired vision of the First Presidency regarding helping quorum presidencies and class presidencies plan meaningful activities that will prepare them for their futures.

I continue to believe in the Scouting movement and see it as providing so many powerful tools to implement these same goals. I am saddened that as a church we failed to implement the program in a way that would accomplish our goals. At present, Cub Scouting for boys aged 8-10 and Boy Scouting for boys 11-13 continues. The church sees these programs as meeting the needs for those ages.

The Boy Scouts of America uses a charter model. Our wards are chartering organizations and by chartering units with BSA, we gain access to the program and resources of Boy Scouting and can then use those programs in a manner that will accomplish the goals and purposes of our chartering organizations. The Church has always intended that Scouting was a tool to accomplish divine purposes rather than using the church to provide a Scouting experience. This has worked well for the Church and for Scouting, I think.

For families that might want a "Scouting" experience, it is much less clear that the Church can provide that type of experience. I have my personal testimony that what the Church does provide is inspired. I also have my personal testimony that what Scouting provides as a complete program in the broader community is also inspired and does a great work. I look forward to continuing my personal commitment to the Scouting program.

Yours in Scouting,
Brian Walton



Comments

  1. Well written and great thoughts Brian. Thank you. -Michael Swinson-

    ReplyDelete

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