Saturday, January 5, 2013

The REAL Problem with Scouting in the LDS Church

I've been fairly heavily involved in LDS Scouting for about fifteen years now. I've served at the unit, district, council, and national level. I've worked alongside parents, merit badge counselors, BSA employees, camp staff, senior council and national volunteers, and of course youth. At this point, I'm ready to make a full declaration of what is wrong with Scouting in the LDS Church.

Let me first make two key observations.

1. The LDS Church's involvement in Scouting is not accidental. In fact, the opposite it true. The LDS Church supports Scouting as a result of revelation. President Benson clearly stated in 1978 that Scouting is an inspired program for our time. (Scouting and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint, Appendix A)

2. The Scout program works. Many prophets have testified to Scouting's efficacy, including most recently President Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. In 1996, President Hinckley stated:
"I love the Scouting movement. The promise of the Scout Oath and the 12 points of the Scout Law direct young men along the path of being prepared for the 21st century. They provide a solid and powerful magnetic force toward development of a well-rounded and noteworthy character that counts. If every boy in America knew and observed the Scout Oath, we would do away with most of the jails and prisons in this country." (Scouting and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint, Appendix A)

President Benson passionately stated that Scouting was "not on trial" affirming that it "builds men of character and spirituality and trains them for citizen and leadership responsibility. Scouting teaches a boy to take care of himself and stand on his own two feet." (Scouting and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint, Appendix A)

Then What's the Problem?
So, if Scouting is an inspired program that works, what does my 'full declaration' of what is wrong with Scouting consist of? One simple truth - we don't implement the full program. 

From my observation, many wards and stakes treat Scouting as if it were a buffet dinner, taking a little of this, a portion of that, and a side of something else. They implement only some of the program and then proclaim, "It doesn't work! We've tried it!" They indict the program as a failure when in fact the failures arises as a direct result of the elements of the program they did not implement.

Let me illustrate with a few examples of perceived problems within Scouting that arise from our 'selective implementation'.

An eleven-year-old leader complains that the boys won't sit still for the Scout lesson.
He fails to use the Troop Meeting Plan which divides up a meeting into seven parts and keeps the boys moving from one element to the next.
A Scoutmaster experiences burn-out after less than a year in his calling.
The ward fails to provide a fully-staffed Troop Committee to support the Scoutmaster in all tasks that don't involve working directly with boys.
Young men complain that Scouting is too much like school with 'lessons'.
Adult advisors fail to use the patrol method and involve youth leaders in decision making.
A Bishopric second counselor is concerned that the ward Primary Presidency aren't involved in the Cub program.
He fails to hold monthly Key Scouter meetings to engage all ward stakeholders in understanding and supporting all levels of the Scouting program.
An advisor struggles to engage members of the Teacher's Quorum in mutual activities.
The Varsity Team focuses on merit badges which are more suited to Deacon age young men, rather than running the purposefully developed Varsity program.
New Young Men advisors struggle to understand their role in the programs they are assigned to.
The stake fails to provide leader-specific training and recruit Unit Commissioners to serve as consultants to each ward unit.
Parents prioritize sports activities over Scouting because their son doesn't seem to be learning anything.
Adult advisors fail to recognize the role of Priesthood keys held by young men and the requirement for Scouting to be youth led.

The dangers of the 'buffet-method' of Scouting are self-evident in the poor levels of engagement that are characteristic of too many wards. President Larry Gibson of the General Young Men Presidency warned of this in a recent Ensign article, when he said:

"Many Young Men leaders in the Church understand the [Boy] Scouting program; fewer understand the Varsity and Venture programs. We encourage Varsity and Venture leaders to implement these excellent programs. They have been well developed and are some of the best tools anywhere for teaching leadership and self-reliance. Because we use the sacred funds of the Church to register our young men as Scouts, we need to make sure the Lord is pleased with how we use what we purchase." 

In addition, President Gibson's admonition cautions us that we will be held accountable for the choices we make about implementing the full Scouting program, and supporting it with our best efforts. So, no more buffets!


  1. You've missed some key issues: [1]Scouting leaders assume that they know what to do because they were Scouts once. Scout meetings are not about Merit Badges, they are about activities that build leadership, character, teamwork, and planning weekend or long-term events. They don't go to training because they assume they already know it, but they're wrong. [2] Ward leaders don't take the time to explain the expectations when they issue a call. They ask, 'will you do it' without explaining what needs to be done. The call should include the expectation to attend training (up to an including Woodbadge), Roundtables, etc. [3] There is little, if any, use of youth leaders. The adults plan and execute instead of teaching the youth to do it. This stems from their lack of understanding of the program (see #1 above). I have seen this even after adult leaders have attended training.

    The bottom line is that they don't implement it because they don't understand it, and don't want to understand it.

    1. Agreed Gischian! I could easily have added your list to mine. Do you have any additional thoughts on how we solve those issues?

  2. Well said! Being from the south, where ward and stake resources are at a minimum, and the cultures that you have delineated persist, we struggle with similar issues.

    I have chosen to attend as many council training sessions as I can and enjoy the rapport developed with non-LDS leaders and learn from their programs and methods.

    I have been a scoutmaster for seven years, and I am finally breaking some of the old traditions. I believe the key to a good scouting program (where young men stay interested until mission age) is a good outdoor program, and lots of activities that challenge their skills and abilities. One "standard" we have broken is the "Weekend - Fri-Sun" campout. We generally would not attend weekend long camp outs due to Sunday involvement, but after discussing this with the leaders of the activities, we stay until late Saturday night, and then pack up and go home. We never travel after midnight, but we generally are at home between 10-12 pm. This has helped our young men feel part of the council. We have also worked with trainers to offer "Non-Sabbath" training, which is generally done in summer, or school holiday weeks - this includes Leave No Trace, Wilderness First Aid, and BSA Lifeguard. OA has also been a good outlet for our older scouts, since we don't have the resources to fund a Troop and a Team or Crew. One last step we have taken is to do a lot of "high adventure" trips, which include canoe/kayaking, backpacking, and fifty milers.

    It has taken me a long time to create this kind of troop, and I can honestly say that local church training, local church leaders, and local LDS scoutmasters, have done little to motivate, encourage, and train me. I have traveled out of region for Wood Badge, Leave No Trace Master Educator course, and National Camp School, which have helped me understand how to tailor scouting to our area.

    I have had four sons go through the southern LDS scout program and it was lackluster, and they have no interest in scouting as adults, and no fond memories to speak of as we gather as a family. I was in a branch where there was no scouting unit, and finally after many years I am enjoying scouting, and my scouts are enjoying it also.

    1. Thanks for being such a dedicated Scouter! I love your late-end for Saturday nights.

      I also thin you make a great point about it taking years to build new cultural norms. That's one reason why tenure in our callings is so important!

  3. hmmm, you must have been involved with the same units I have been involved with. lol! You nailed it. The two comments are also excellent. I recently attended a class where the teacher said the LDS church scouting program is full of "false traditions".

    All we can do is keep trying and support each other. We may not be able to reach all of the boys but the few we do reach we can impact for good. Thank you for your efforts!

    1. Lol, these problems seem pretty pervasive, but that also means that solutions can be universally applied, right?! So, what are your thoughts onhow we move forward?

  4. This is great! I have been a Scoutmaster in a Michigan ward for almost two years and I had these problems, too. We have overcome many of these and are overcoming the others by doing this:

    1. Having a "Trained" adult staff. The Bishop should make it very clear when extending callings, that all YM leaders will be trained and actively involved in Scouting.
    2. Except for a few minor changes in the Scouting program (i.e. leadership positions with the boys and adults are called, not elected/volunteers), LDS units should be running a traditional Scouting program.
    3. Read what the general authorities have read about the Aaronic Preisthood program and do as they instruct.
    4. It's OK to talk to and be mentored by non-LDS Scouters. They are often a wealth of info and you can tailor the program to include "Duty-To-God" and the Mutual program.
    5. Run a boy-led program (patrol method) - Your Deacon Quorum President, for example, should be leading his quorum and the SPL should be leading the scouting program.
    6. A fully trained and committed YM leader will stand in the corner and let the young men run the program.
    7. Educate the parents at the changes you are going to implement and get them on board as well.

    The LDS-BSA program is well thought out and inspired, but the culture must change, at the unit level.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Marc. You're my kinda' Scouter! Your comments are spot on, and are of benefit to every unit I've ever associated with!

  5. May I suggest one more reason that scouting is sub-par in LDS units? The whole "calling" issue. How many people are asked to lead in Scouting and they only say yes because "you shouldn't say no to a calling"? Those who are "voluntold" in this manner NEVER really get the vision of Scouting. They never commit the time or resources required to do it properly. The program isn't done right, which means the boys are not getting the full benefit of the program. I suggest CORs ASK people if they would like to help with Scouting, with full disclosure as to the expectations and job description, instead of "issuing a calling". Better to have someone actually think about it and say yes of their own "free will and choice" rather than give someone a job with a vague idea of what is required and then find the person overwhelmed with a responsibility they can't handle.

    1. I'm not sure that I agree with he blanket statement that "Those who are "voluntold" in this manner NEVER really get the vision of Scouting." My first exposure to Scouting was through a calling and I'd like to think that I've caught the vision!

      However, I do agree that full disclosure is a requirement for effectively extending a calling. I'd also like to think that those who refuse to get trained, etc, would be replaced quickly.

    2. Typically, those who refused to get trained continue until boys drop out or lose interest. Or worse yet, accept mediocrity in both themselves and the Church.

  6. I was a scout in an LDS scout troop, and have worked with LDS scout troops, both in the northwestern and southeastern US. I now sometimes wish that I had been a member of a non-LDS scout troop as a youth, and had worked with non-LDS scout troops as an adult. The main problem I saw was that boys who were not interested in scouting were still almost forced to participate. Those who were genuinely interested in scouting were provided with a watered-down version of scouting, that uses the quorum method, rather than the patrol method, where the leaders are elected, and not appointed. I also believe that adult leaders should be pure volunteers and not "called".

  7. I just discovered this blog post by googling "LDS scouting challenges." I'd like some advice on how to strengthen the scouting program in my ward, here is some info on myself and ward/troop for context:

    I moved into my ward 8 months ago and was asked to serve as assistant scoutmaster, which I gladly accepted and have been doing for around 6 months. Last night I was asked to become the scoutmaster and a new assistant is being called to help me. The man I'm replacing loves scouting but has been pretty much running the program by himself. The scouting committee has one member, the chair, and he was recently released due to health issues which had been preventing him from really doing anything for quite some time. The bishopric member who is the chartered organization rep doesn't do the rechartering, they actually pushed that onto the scoutmaster on top of all of his other non-scoutmaster duties. The troop isn't youth-led. When boys turn 14 and move on to varsity and then venturing, their scouting experience practically stops, with one or two exceptions. NONE of the boys 14+ attend courts of honor or participate in any official scouting event. The YM leaders of the older quorums are registered scout leaders but are untrained and do not focus on scouting. Parents view the scouting program as the responsibility of the scoutmaster. Our deacons quorum currently has 5 members and will soon be down to 4. Only 2 eleven-year-old scouts are coming up in the next year, and I doubt either of them will have their first class ranks by that time.

    I hope I've painted a picture you can somewhat understand. Basically I'm becoming more and more involved in a program that is pretty ineffective and lacks support at pretty much every level except the scoutmaster, and even that position needs some strengthening, which I hope to accomplish. I have recently finished my leadership training through my local council, but would really appreciate advice on what I can do to get my unit better up to speed.

    My initial thought is to employ the patrol method ASAP and to try to talk to parents. We also just got a new scout committee chair and want to meet with him to make sure we are on the same page and encourage him to get trained. Any ideas on other specific things I can be doing, and ways I can encourage my priesthood leaders to be more supportive without them feeling like I am stepping on their toes? I am frustrated with the lack of scouting support BUT I don't want to come off as the guy who is trying to ruffle feathers or seem like I am telling them they are terrible at their job.

    1. Thanks for your post. I am right in your place but with a slightly bigger troop. I will be leading a troop meeting tomorrow night where we as a troop will be discussing the Patrol Method and I will be handing the troop over to the SPL and PLs while training them to do their duty and hopefully see them grasp what their troop can become. The mayhem may be mighty but I am excited for the prospects. I too hope that someday I get a functioning committee. Our committee chairman hasn't held a meeting in 6 months even though I have repeatedly asked for monthly meetings. It is difficult. We just got a new bishopric who want to do the right thing and consult with The Lord which is currently leaving me in the lurch while they decide who should do what. Oh well, I will continue to work and magnify my calling and pray that The Lord will bless our troop.

  8. I had my first son in both a church troop and a community troop. The advantage I saw in the community troop was that the parents were able to stay involved as leaders as long as they still have a boy in the program (and beyond) rather than the revolving door of 'church calling' leaders. There is more continuity and seasoned, trained leaders who really want to be there. My second son was in only the church troop. Sadly, it was not as great an experience as his brother had.

  9. You are so right!!!!! Scouting in my home Ward has become a bit of a joke.

    Despite having stellar kids and a stellar ward, there is just a major problem. However, having grown up in a Ward with a STELLAR program, I just think this is a tragedy. The problem? The Ward leaders could care less about scouting and they don't implement it the way it was meant to be implemented. They do some fun high adventure stuff, but there is a LOT of burnout and merit badges are seen as a complete waste of time.

    The other thing I would add to this is volunteer service. I understand the Church is a Church of assignments and acceptance, but it really does not work with the scouts. In my opinion, scouting should be something that adults should be encouraged to volunteer.

    Most important, I also think there is a HUGE disservice to the young men to split up the scouting troop activities and camps between the deacons, teachers and the priests. Again, scouting should be YOUTH LED and YOUTH DIRECTED. How do you do this when the oldest kid at your camp is not even 14 or an Eagle?

    My point: there is FAR too much overlap between the Young Men's Program -- which is divided into quorums -- and the scouting program that should be a chance for the the ENTIRE TROOP to participate and lead.

    When I was a kid, I can't help but feel like our ward scoutmaster did it "right." Teachers, priests and deacons would occasionally do things on their own as part of their Young Men's Quorum's, but Troop meetings and at least two campouts were more or less required for the entire troop. And, yes, that meant full uniforms and well organized patrols within the troop.

    I can still remember going to the annual summer camp each year with the TROOP. As a young scout, I remember looking up to the older boys who were preparing to graduate from high school and going off to college or serve missions. Later, I remember the experience of being a 17-year old Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow, and troop leader leading and guiding much younger troop members. That is REAL leadership opportunity you can't duplicate. In the end, adult leaders did almost nothing other than show up at the campout because all the REAL work was being done by 15-17 year old eagle scouts (i.e., the patrol leaders) and the 12-13 year old younger quartermasters. Maybe you also had a few deacon's quorum leaders involved in patrol leadership, but they were usually the very mature boys. This is how scouting should be run.

    EVERY LDS scoutmaster and bishop should be REQUIRED to read this article.