In an effort to better serve and communicate with LDS leaders, our Council has focused on six pillars that tie Scouting to LDS beliefs and goals. These six pillars work to ensure that Scouting helps young men build testimonies, learn to serve others, prepare to serve missions, gain confidence by learning to do hard things, learn life skills by example, and learn who they are as Scouts and sons of God.
For many Scout leaders it can seem overwhelming to integrate all of the different components that make a unit work successfully as both a troop and a quorum. So what does a successful LDS troop look like? And how can resources from both the church and the Scouts help you get there?
Here are three major resources that will help you and your youth create a program that builds better young men:
Scouting’s Journey to Excellence
First, Scouting measures unit success based on the Journey to Excellence (JTE). This is essentially the job description of a Scout leader who is successfully implementing Scouting and bringing the six pillars to life. These scorecards measure how often and how well units do certain things, like go camping, do service projects and have patrol leadership meetings. Units that are doing these things, especially at a gold level, are far more likely to be meeting the aims of Scouting and using the Scouting program the way the church intends.
Because Scouting in the LDS church differs from other units in the nation, the Scouts and the church have produced LDS Journey to Excellence Scorecards to help LDS units meet their goals both in Scouting and in the quorum.
Of course, this doesn’t make JTE the only measure. According the LDS JTE overview,
“For units chartered to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, JTE serves as an indicator of the effective use of Scouting in support of the Primary and Aaronic Priesthood. As such, it is an important aid to adult Scouting leaders in assessing overall quorum and Primary support to youth members. However, achievement of a JTE level does not guarantee that Church objectives are being met, and, conversely, progress toward Church priorities such as Duty to God does not necessarily mean that the Scouting component is being effective.”
JTE is an excellent indicator of effective Scouting. If you keep track of your JTE scores to find where you are lacking and plan for the coming year, your program will grow stronger. Of course, it is still up to youth and adult leaders to ensure that the immeasurable goals, like character development and spiritual growth, are being met.
Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews
The second resource is the new Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews that gives suggested activities and topics for 36 months of program in your unit based on skill level. Built into these program features are suggestions and activities that can help you meet your JTE goals.
So if you want to get a jump start on your troop’s goal for short-term (overnight) campouts this year, you should do the camping program feature early in the season. This will give your Scouts the experience necessary to have fun, safe and successful camping trips.
The program features are all about experiences, so for your troop the main event of this program feature is an overnight camp to practice everything they learned this month. Teach your Scouts to love camping and you won’t have any problem getting them to plan anywhere from four (bronze level JTE) overnight campouts to nine (gold level, and what we should all be shooting for).
Come, Follow Me Curriculum
Both of these resources are enhanced and made more meaningful by the third resource, which is the LDS Come, Follow Me curriculum. These weekly Sunday lessons teach youth about essential gospel topics while practicing learning and teaching skills that will help them in their spiritual growth.
The first part of every Come, Follow Me lesson is designed to help students make connections. The section starts with this paragraph:
During the first few minutes of every class, help the youth make connections between what they are learning in various settings (such as personal study, seminary, other Church classes, or experiences with their friends). How can you help them see the relevance of the gospel in daily living?
You can better drive these lessons home for your youth if you do a similar exercise during your Scout activities. Show the youth that the gospel has relevance in everything they do and their faith, understanding, and resolve to do right will grow.
3 Resources in Action
So if you were to integrate all three of these resources next month, what would that look like? Let’s say you know you want to be a gold unit for the short-term camping goal. With warmer weather you can really get the boys excited about being outdoors, so they’ve chosen the camping program feature to focus on in April. They’ve planned a month’s worth of activities that teach camping skills and will culminate in the main event—an overnight camping trip.
With this early camping trip you have the opportunity to set the pattern for the other eight trips you will complete this year to meet your JTE goal. Campouts are an incredible opportunity for you to get the boys away from the distractions of everyday life and focused on important things. They’ll challenge themselves, become more independent, deepen friendships, and learn from the examples of their peers and leaders.
You can also use this opportunity to work on other elements of your JTE goals. While learning about proper fire and oven use, have the boys practice requirements for the cooking merit badge. Call the place you’ll be camping to find out if they need service done the weekend you are there (cleaning up trash, clearing campsites, etc.). Bonus, troops that do fun activities and go camping have better membership retention rates and attendance.
Most importantly, you can make each campout a spiritual experience. One Stake leader emphasized the importance of this in a survey about Scouting in LDS units: “Bearing our testimonies around the campfire: If we take our young men to outdoor activities and forget to have them bear their testimonies around the fire, we’ve missed the purpose of Scouting.” Use the quiet majesty of nature to teach the Scouts about their divine identity and potential and give them the chance to bear testimony and reflect on spiritual truths.
April’s Come, Follow Me topic for the youth is apostasy and restoration. You can make these topics more meaningful to your Scouts by tying them into your activities and campout as well. You can do this really well by incorporating object lessons and discussions into your activities. The more you create these opportunities the more likely the youth will be to take the reins and make these connections themselves.
Sample Object Lesson: How is the Apostasy like your Campfire?
One of the suggested weekly meeting plans in the camping program feature is all about fire and camping stoves. As you teach your Scouts about tinder, kindling, and fuel, you can also teach them about apostasy and restoration. Start by building a fire in the middle of the pit made up of several sticks or logs that meet in the middle. Explain that when Christ set up his church on the earth, all the essential elements of the gospel were contained in that church. The large fire and the light it produces are like the light of truth in the church of Christ.
When Christ and his apostles were killed, however, there was no central church built on revelation to keep the truth centered. So people started taking bits and pieces of the church that they felt were most important and founding their own (Pull the logs out from the center to the edge one at a time, saying some focused on baptism being done a certain way, others claimed Priesthood lineage, others focused on faith, or grace, etc.). Point out that each of the logs is still burning, because they still have a partial truth, but none is as bright or full of truth as the whole fire, or church was.
Be sure to ask meaningful questions. Let the Scouts teach themselves. “Can you see the effects of this apostasy today?” “How can you know you have the whole truth?” “How can revelation help fix this problem?
This leads easily into talking about the restoration and bringing your fire back to the center while adding new logs for modern day revelation and truth. Apostasy is difficult to understand, but all Scouts love fire. Bring the two together and they will understand and remember the principle far better.
Have you used any of these resources in your troop? Tell us about it!
Author: Maria Milligan | Grant Writer, Utah National Parks Council, BSA