By Community Submission
Feb 14, 2016

An Interview with the Director of LDS BSA Relationships

Mark FrancisLast January, Kurt Francom, a leading LDS podcaster conducted this interview with Mark Francis, Director of LDS-BSA Relationships. He introduced the interview with this: “Today, I am proud to be an Eagle Scout. We’re going to talk about Scouting and how it applies to the LDS world and LDS leadership. In order to do that, I’ve invited Mark Francis to be interviewed and it really turned out to be a fantastic interview.

“Mark Francis is the director of the LDS BSA or the LDS Boy Scouts of America relationship organization and he is an employee of the Boy Scouts of America and has great perspective and insight about how the Scouting Program can most effectively be implemented to the LDS wards and troops. We talk about what the objectives are of an LDS ward or an LDS troop as opposed to a non-LDS troop and the intricacies and the uniqueness of an LDS troop. Also some of the false traditions that are out there that LDS troops fall into, motivating Scout leaders and just overall having a more effective experience with the Scouting program in your local troops, wherever you may be found. Here is Mark Francis of the LDS BSA.”

You can read that interview below or listen here:

KURT: I am currently serving as a bishop in an inner-city ward and so I don’t really have much of a youth program to speak of, let alone a Scouting program. We do have a Cub Scout Pack that’s kind of on life support right now, but we do our best there. Generally, Scouting issues and problems don’t usually come to the surface for me very quickly, but as through the community of Leading LDS, people pointed me to your website and said, “you’ve got to interview somebody from this organization because we would be interested in hearing that perspective.” I say that just because as we go through this I may sound like I’m unfamiliar with certain circumstances and scenarios, but that’s because I’m not currently blessed with the opportunity of having a strong Scouting program in my ward, but I think that will lend to other questions and information. So, Mark, what is your organization about? What do you do?

MARK: My office is a satellite office of the Boy Scouts of America National Office, which is located in Dallas, Texas. We are located here in Salt Lake City, and since 1951 the Church has had an agreement with the Boy Scouts of America to have a full time employee live here in Salt Lake City, representing the Boy Scouts to the Church. I spend most of my time working directly with the Young Men and Primary General Presidencies as well as some general authorities and many area seventies across the nation. So anybody who has anything to do with Scouting on a higher level, I spend my time working with them. In addition to that, I spend a lot of my time working with stake presidencies in different stakes across the nation.

KURT: Okay, so you are an official employee of the Boy Scouts of America, correct?

MARK: Yes.

KURT: Okay. Do you have a staff that you work with in your office or are you kind of the person that handles all of that?

MARK: It’s just myself and I have an administrative assistant, and we stay very busy.

KURT: You mentioned that your office is downtown across from the Church Office Building, maybe just geographically that’s convenient, but what’s the difference between your office and the office up by the University of Utah?

MARK: The one by the University of Utah is what we call a local council. That one in particular is the Great Salt Lake Council. Their responsibility is to administer Scouting in the local level, so they work directly with the local chartered organizations with the packs, troops, teams, and crews in a geographic area. So they’re dealing with the comings and goings of daily happenings of Scouting on a boy level. So the difference is I work for the national organization in Texas. So I’m looking at Scouting from a higher level, more of a relationship level between the two organizations.

KURT: And I would guess each area across the country has an office similar to the one up by the University of Utah, right?

MARK: Yeah; so for example here in Utah we have three local Boy Scout councils, one based out of Ogden, UT, one here in Salt Lake City, and then one based out of Orem.

KURT: What’s the general history of the relationship between the Scouts and the LDS Church?

MARK: I’ll start my comment by saying that last year I had a wonderful opportunity to work with the committee of historians from the Church and from Boy Scouts of America, and we actually wrote the history of the partnership between the two organizations. The history is called Century of Honor, it’s a book that’s available through amazon.com or you can get it at my office. We chronicle everything from the very beginning and as we were doing this research we actually went back to 1875 when Brigham Young noticed that there was really a need for the young men because by that point the young men were no longer having to go hunt and gather like they did in the pioneer times as they were crossing the plains. More of the boys were living in the city and there was a need for something for these boys to be doing that was active and that would stretch their abilities. So when the Boy Scout movement began in 1907 in England, the Church started to pay attention to this and they started to hear a lot about it, and because we’re an international church, there were pockets of Scouting showing up all over the world.

In 1910 Scouting was incorporated in the United States and the Church was very interested in it. They had a very close eye on it and they were very well aware of it. In 1911 the Church decided to start their own program, which was not uncommon at that time. People saw the Scouting program, so they created their own Scouting program based on the traditions of Baden Powell. So you have the Boy Scouts of America and then you have what we referred to as the MIA Scouts. What they were realizing in those early years is that boys were participating in both MIA Scouts and also signing up to be in Boy Scouts of America troops at a local church down the street. They didn’t really want their boys doing that. They would rather have them participating with them. So they started a serious investigation into the Boy Scouts of America, and then in 1913 they decided to do away with their own program called MIA Scouts and officially partner with the Boy Scouts of America.

So that’s kind of the historical perspective, how it began, and ever since then we’ve had a very strong relationship. One interesting side note: we’ve been partners now for over 101 years, and we have had consistent growth that entire time. Every year we have more youth registered in our Scouting programs. In 1970 the Boy Scouts of America as an organization hit a peak of about six million youth members and then ever since 1970 they’ve had a steady decline in total membership. But during that entire time the LDS Church as a partner with the Boy Scouts has had a continuous increase in membership. It’s been a very healthy partnership and the Boy Scouts of America are grateful for the fact that the LDS Church has a very thriving, robust and growing Scouting program.

KURT: That’s interesting, I didn’t realize the history of the MIA Scouts as an independent party from the Boy Scouts of America. One question that leads me to, just speaking from the youth perspective with young women, why didn’t the Church see the Girl Scouts of America or Girl Scouting as a resource? Maybe the principles didn’t match up as closely? Is that even a good question to ask?

MARK: It’s a fair question, but I actually don’t have any information on that except the only comment I would make is that the Church is aware of all of these other organizations, and for whatever reason the Church has chosen to not partner with them. As we both know, the Church has a very robust program for the young women.

KURT: Right, and that leads into another question. I should mention that as I was getting ready for this interview, in some of the groups I’ve created for Leading LDS on Facebook I asked what people suggest I talk about, and that was one of the topics that came up through that. Because of the influence that Scouting has on the Young Men’s program in a typical ward where there are merit badges involved and constant recognition and how it differs so much from the Young Women program, so that’s kind of what led me to ask you that. Any thoughts on that as far as the influence that Scouting has had on the Young Men’s program and differing so much from the Young Women’s program?

MARK: It’s an excellent question. I get asked that on a regular basis, also in regards to the primary girls because some people feel like it’s not equitable that the Young Men get this robust, expensive, program. I say the term expensive loosely, but that’s sometimes how people describe it. But when we look at it from a spiritual perspective, it’s really about the needs of the youth. The Church feels like the Boy Scouts of America is a program such that it meets the needs of the young men and for whatever reason, I don’t speak for the Church, obviously, but they haven’t chosen something similar for the young women. But I do want to stress, one phrase in the red handbook of instructions says that the Scouting program should be equitable, in reference to the ward budget. So then you have to say to yourself, “Well, how do we accomplish that?” and it really becomes a local decision. The bishop and the stake president need to sit down and counsel and decide how they’re going to do that. Again, it’s not about money, it’s about the needs of the youth. If the young women have needs that are not being met, then they need to counsel together and figure out what they need to do within the umbrella of what the Church has provided.

KURT: Perfect. Now, talk to me a little bit about the relationship between the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts of America. I know the Scouting program allows certain organizations like the LDS Church and I’m sure there’re other churches, specific Christian denominations that adopt the Scouting Organization as sort of the backbone to their youth program for the boys, and Scouting allows them to make certain tweaks and adjustments to fit their model, is that accurate?

MARK: That is accurate, and it all goes back to the beginning of the partnership. The Boy Scouts of America have a concept called the charter, which means they own the program, but they charter it to outside organizations to administer the program. So in the case of our Church, that’s exactly what they do. But the Boy Scouts, they partner with I think it’s 70 or 75 different organizations. About 70% of them are faith based, which are churches or synagogues or temples, and then the other 30% are made up of civic organizations and educational organizations like your Rotary Club, your Lions Club, your Kiwanis Club, and then what happens is that the organization becomes a charter with the Boy Scouts of America. They have some leeway. They can determine what parts they want. For example, in the LDS Church we don’t operate a program called Tiger Cubs, which is a program for first grade boys or boys who are seven years old. We start boys in our Church at eight years old. Another difference is we don’t have co-ed Venturing crews. In traditional Boy Scouts of America, the Venturing program is co-ed, but in our church the Brethren have chosen that it would only be the boys. Another big difference is we don’t camp on Sunday. Other organizations that partner with Scouting typically do their campouts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but our Church Leadership has determined that we wouldn’t do that. So the Charter allows us to do things that fit our organization and the goals of our organization.

KURT: Somebody inside the Church may be a newly called Young Men President or Scout leader, they may look at Scouting and find a lot of nuance with the program and how it fits into the priesthood program, and that may cause frustration, or they don’t understand why all these parts don’t fit, but would you say that we’re not necessarily unique? There are many other organizations that are dealing with the same kind of nuance, right?

MARK: There are. The more an individual comes to understand how the Church runs Scouting, the better their experience will be. There’s a very important document that everybody involved in Scouting that’s connected with the Church in any way needs to be familiar with. It’s called the Scouting Handbook for Church Units in the United States. It’s got a green cover, so frequently people refer to it as the green handbook on Scouting. It’s not a long document, it’s only eight pages, but it articulates some of those differences in terms of how we operate Scouting versus how other organizations might run their Scouting Program.

KURT: Now, obviously the Church has a long, strong tradition of calling people to certain positions, whether it’s in and out of Scouting or primary, or as the Scout leader. So in a non-LDS troop in other churches, or however you’d define a traditional troop, how are those leaders chosen? Are they called similarly or is there more of a volunteer process?

MARK: The best way to answer that is just to remind your listeners how our Church does it. Obviously, the bishopric determines who they will call to the various positions. Those calls are made through inspiration, they pray about it, they prayerfully consider who should serve, so hence we have a lot of movement. It’s not uncommon for leaders to change every year or two or three simply because there are a lot of needs in any given ward or stake, and the Church leaders prayerfully consider which man or woman needs to serve in the various capacities. So there’s a fair amount of movement. Outside of our faith, the units have a different process. It’s the unit committee that determines who their leadership will be. It’s not uncommon in that situation for the unit leader to stay in that position for many, many years. For example, a Scoutmaster will serve for 20, 30, 40 years as Scoutmaster. So you have a lot of longevity under that model and it works very well, but we have to recognize that in the LDS Church it’s not a possibility because of how people are called and released based on revelation.

KURT: So we do kind of have certain rules or protocols within a ward like if I move out of a ward, then they’re obviously going to release me from whatever calling I’m in, a Scoutmaster for example. From the Scouting perspective, I’m just guessing here, that seems a bit arbitrary and odd to release someone just for moving down the street. If they’re still local, they can still participate in that. That 20 year term is probably very rare in the Church. I guess my question is, is that just part of the adaptation of the Scouting program and the Church? Why do wards need to be defined by the boundaries of the ward in relation to the Scout troops and how they’re run and called?

MARK: Another great question. I’ve heard members of the Young Men General Presidency say on occasion that the LDS Church has more trained Scouting leaders across the nation than any other faith group because a lot of our leaders have been released, yet they’re still trained Scout Leaders. So even though you move and get released from being in Scouting in one ward and you move into another ward, it’s not uncommon that you would be called back into Scouting or, in your case, you’re currently serving as the Bishop, well some time down the road you’re going to be called into some other capacity that’s going to be working with young men. From that perspective, there are a lot of adult leaders that are highly trained in our church.

As far as the geography of the boundaries, the Brethren feel it’s very important that that group of boys interact with their quorum on a regular basis. So you consider Sunday; Sunday is a very important time for us. We have our sacrament meetings where each quorum has a very important role to play as it relates to the sacrament, then they have another hour during that three hour block where they sit and counsel as a quorum and have some instruction and exchange some ideas with their quorum members with the idea then that they would go on a mutual night some time during the week with that same quorum, have similar interaction with them in an effort to build comradery. If you look at the model of quorums, the First Presidency makes a quorum, then you’ve got the Quorum of the Twelve, they make a quorum. They’re very close. They work very closely together and the Church would like to see that same unity and comradery happen on a local level. If we mix people geographically, and don’t expect them to go to their geographic ward or Scouting program, they kind of lose some of that.

Now, with that said the green handbook on Scouting, which I referenced earlier, does allow for a bishop and stake president to determine that they’re going to combine with some other wards for a time simply because of numbers. For example, in your ward you have very few young men so therefore it doesn’t make sense for you to have your own troop. For a season your stake leaders and yourself may determine that you’re going to combine with some other wards for your Scouting efforts.

KURT: What would you say about, like you gave the example of my ward, that is an option to combine troops. As I’ve heard from others who live outside of Utah, sometimes they get this feeling that these are great ideas and great rules and scenarios that would work within the Utah, Idaho troops, but outside of that it becomes very difficult to do because wards are spread out and the youth are limited to run such a vast program in their ward and then they’re seeing non-LDS troops that are working quite well and they have more resources because they’re not limited by the arbitrary ward boundaries. What would you say to those outside of Utah? Do you see a difference in troops that are in Utah where the concentration of LDS members is higher than outside of Utah?

MARK: Yeah, you certainly do. Let me attempt to answer it in a couple of ways. First off, in the green handbook on Scouting Section 8.4, its topic is combining Scouting Units. It says, “combining activities for small units during the week may be authorized by the Stake President so long as each ward maintains a properly registered unit. Each is staffed with adult leaders and retention, recruitment, and activation efforts are maintained by each ward or quorum.” So what that tells us is it’s okay if they combine their efforts, of course that’s under the direction of their stake president, as long as they maintain their own unit identity and specifically that that ward, even though they might only have two or three boys, their main responsibility is retention, recruitment, and activation in an effort to maintain their quorum identity. So it’s okay if they combine outside of the Utah, Idaho area as long as the wards maintain their own charter or their own unit number, and then get together for the weekday activities.

The other way I want to answer this question is that sometimes people lose sight of the reason that we’re in Scouting. They compare us to units that are not of our faith, that are robust. They have that Scoutmaster who has been there for twenty or thirty years, they’ve got forty or fifty boys, they’ve got four or five patrols. That’s great, and that works well for them but that’s not necessarily our goal. Our goal is to train that young man, to prepare him for the Melchizedek Priesthood, to prepare him to serve an honorable and full time mission, to prepare him to become a worthy husband and father. We have different objectives.

If we look at it more from a spiritual or a church perspective, we can see that maybe the size of our unit isn’t as critical because we have different objectives. Now, you weave into that the idea that outside of the Utah/Idaho area, and some cases within Utah, you may have those of other faiths participating in our Scouting programs and that’s wonderful. We still have the same objectives for those boys. We want them to become worthy husbands and fathers. We want them to become participatory and contributing citizens as they grow up.

KURT: That’s a good way to look at it, just the fact that there are different objectives and just because we are a part of the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t mean we all have the same objectives. Those other troops outside the LDS faith, they don’t have anything else that’s supplementing the development of the young men, where we have the Young Men’s Program where the Scouting Program is supplementing some of that training and vice versa, that the Young Men’s Program is supplementing some of the training of Scouting. That leads into the next question I have. What should Church leaders or Scout leaders do when a parent sees a robust troop down the street that’s not LDS and they want to join that troop because they feel like their boy will get a better Scouting experience?

MARK: Certainly, a parent has that right. We know that the most important entity in the world is the family. If the parent feels that that’s going to be better for their son, by all means. What I’ve seen some parents do that have that strong feeling is that they multiple register their son. So their son is actually part of the LDS troop as well as a part of the troop down the street so he is able to participate with both. I would caution parents that do that to be careful not do draw too many comparisons with boys who are active in the LDS Program because sometimes I see that it becomes a very negative thing instead of an uplifting, strengthening thing. They focus more on the differences instead of what their boys are gaining from the experience.

KURT: Yeah, it goes back again to the objectives that you brought up. Sometimes the parents may forget what the goals are that we’re trying to do inside the Church with the Scouting program as opposed to those other troops that don’t have the same objectives.

MARK: Yeah, and I’ll tell you, whenever you have a group of adult leadership who really have a vision of what Scouting can do for boys, it doesn’t matter if they have one boy or fifty boys. However many boys are in that program are going to have a great experience because that group of leadership has a vision of what those boys can become.

KURT: Great. And I want to get into that, kind of how do we develop the leaders that ward leaders call, but before we move on from this comparison of LDS troops and not LDS troops, do you see very many false traditions that raise to the surface within LDS troops that need to be addressed more or that Scout leaders need to be more aware of?

MARK: Without really having time to think through the question, the initial thing that comes to mind in terms of false traditions, is that sometimes we get individuals who are so passionate about Scouting. They eat it, they drink it, they sleep it, it’s their life. They have every patch, they’ve been to all the camps, they know all the songs, they know all sorts of intricacies, and they lose sight that it’s much more to our Church than that. This is an effort to strengthen our young men. So the false tradition comes in when they get so caught up in the mechanics of Scouting and their passion for it that they lose sight that this is about boys and what boys are becoming. We’re simply using the Scouting program as a tool to strengthen our young men.

KURT: That was one concern that somebody mentioned in my discussion on Facebook about this. Some mentioned how sometimes it feels like Scouting becomes about the leaders rather than about the boys, and I don’t know where blame lies for that but that is kind of a perception that’s out there. Maybe it’s the local leaders’ mistake or maybe there’s a culture in Scouting that leads to that, I don’t know.

MARK: There might be but, again, we’ve got to remember that it’s about the boy and this whole concept of boy leadership or boy-led programs is powerful. This is not an adult training program. This is a youth training program that’s overseen by adults. Sometimes people get that flipped around, and they lose sight of that. Hence, the adult does everything and the boys don’t gain what Scouting has to offer in terms of that boy-led concept.

KURT: Let’s move on to kind of the motivation of Scouting in regards to the people we ask to serve in those callings. I enjoyed my Scouting experience and I benefited from it, and I have every intention to make it a paramount in my home as my young son and maybe there will be more sons down the road as they grow up. My mother told me that I didn’t have to go on any more Scout camps as long as I got my Eagle Scout, and that was kind of my motivation, because I don’t really enjoy camping, and being out there and doing these merit badges wasn’t really my cup of tea, for lack of a better Mormon analogy.

So if some day I’m called as a Scout leader, of course I’ll say yes. It will get me outside of my comfort zone. I’d love to participate in the development of those boys, but I think there are a lot of people who are called as Scout leaders who try to do their best, but there’s that motivation component. This can be applied to anything in the Church and this is really the essence of why I started Leading LDS, to figure out how to motivate people to go out and home teach, to motivate people to magnify their callings and in Scouting. How do you motivate people to be an exceptional Scout Leader?

MARK: I love that question. The Church operates four different types of Scouting programs. We’ve got Cub Scouts for the younger, primary aged boys, Boy Scouts for boys 11-13-years old, Varsity for 14-15-year-olds, and Venturing for 16-17-year-olds. Most of what you just described is the traditional Scouting program for Deacons. That’s where they’re supposed to learn their basic camping skills, their hiking skills, their first aid skills, their swimming skills, actually the 11-year-old program and the traditional Boy Scout program for Deacons. That’s kind of a three year program. So as far as motivating leaders, it takes a special man to take over leadership of the 11-year-olds and that group of Deacons because they have to be very interested in that outdoor experience. It’s really where the magic happens for that age group.

Cub Scouts isn’t so much on the outdoors, it’s more on the indoors. There still is a fair amount of the outdoors, but they don’t do the camping component. But what I want to touch on here is the Varsity and Venturing programs. Varsity is Teachers Quorum, Venturing is Priest Quorum. These programs are really geared toward whatever the interest of that group of boys is. Again, that’s sometimes where leaders lose sight of the real importance of this. That Varsity and Venturing Program does not have to be heavy outdoor, high adventure. It could be something much different than that depending on the interest of that group of boys.

The Boy Scouts have a very calculated way to help figure that out in terms of boy leadership and sitting in their different meetings determining what they should do for the next couple of months. So the motivation, I think, for Scouting is really allowing the boys to make those kinds of decisions. That even applies to the Deacons Quorum. The 11-year-old program is much more defined because it’s under the auspices of the Primary, but the Deacon, Teacher, and Priest program, if done correctly, and allowing the boys to really make decisions, most adult leaders could easily jump behind and take it forward because they can clearly see they’re helping boys become what they should become.

KURT: Interesting. So maybe I had the experience I had just because those leaders in my troop growing up were more focused on the traditional, outdoor way to do Scouting? Do you see that a lot where that’s just what they think they’re supposed to do as a Scout leader?

MARK: Yeah. And really, that is the Deacons program but the Teachers and Priest Quorum programs don’t have to be that. Some of the people who are passionate about the outdoors, that’s what they create it to become but so many times, it’s not boy-led in that case. The boys aren’t really even asked. They’re told, this is what we’re doing. This is what I enjoy doing.

KURT: So what about the parent involvement? I know some Scout leaders get to a point of begging for help from parents. What message would you have for parents of Scouts? What involvement should they have or be expected to have?

MARK: I think that the parents, if we really understand the green handbook on Scouting in terms of how the Church wants it to run, the parents’ role is to be the parent. They’re always invited and always encouraged to be a very active part of their child’s life. Even if it’s not their calling, if they want to go on a camp out they certainly can express that interest. Of course, the Church has some guidelines in terms of women camping, possibly a topic for another time. But the way that I’ve seen it run most effectively is when a ward has a very strong and robust Scouting committee. Referring back to the green handbook on Scouting, in Section 4.3 it talks about Scouting committees. There’s actually five paragraphs that outline the responsibilities of those committees. If those committees are really functioning, the unit leader isn’t ever found in a position where he’s begging anybody to do anything because that committee exists to support that leader, to make sure he has the resources he needs to be successful.

KURT: How should a bishopric, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America, go about helping someone who’s not overly excited about serving as a Scout leader? How should they help them to get trained and get them going on the right track so that they really enjoy it?

MARK: The key to that is to help them from the very beginning understand why we have a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America. It’s not about camping, it’s not about knot tying, it’s not about merit badges. It’s about helping boys to become what our Heavenly Father wants them to become. So the Church has some excellent resources on the Young Men’s website. There are some excellent training videos to help a quorum understand how to properly function. Once that quorum understands their roles and responsibilities as boy leaders, considering that the Deacons Quorum President and the Teachers Quorum President have priesthood keys, then the idea of participating actively in Scouting becomes a passion. It becomes what they want to do because they want to help those boys to be successful with their priesthood responsibilities.

KURT: Any words of advice to bishoprics out there that are needing to call a new Scout leader? What should they consider? I think a lot out there just look for those who have been a Scout leader before. Any ideas of what makes a good leader?

MARK: I think from a bishopric’s perspective you’re looking at the whole picture. The bishopric has a lot of responsibilities and a lot of callings they’re trying to fill, but when it comes to our youth, when it comes to our young men and young women, we need to be very prayerful to consider individuals who 1. relate well with youth, and 2. that have a real strong testimony of our Heavenly Father’s plan, for lack of a better term. That’s not to say you can’t call a less-active individual into the Young Men, but I wouldn’t put them in the key positions, I’d call them as assistants. The key leadership of the Young Men and Young Women programs need to be those individuals who really clearly see what this is all about, not necessarily somebody who’s passionate about Scouting. I can take an individual who has a strong testimony and conviction of the importance of priesthood and help them gain a love for Scouting. It’s difficult the other way around. If they’re just so focused on Scouting it’s hard sometimes to bring them back to the spiritual perspective of what is more important.

KURT: I think that also goes for other distractions of really good things that are in the Church that distract people from the real objective of what our Father in Heaven’s plan is.

MARK: We could spend all day in meetings, we could spend all day talking about it but at the end of the day we’ve got to go out and do something. We’ve got to spend time with kids. You brought up home teaching earlier, we can talk all day about it, we can have lots of presentations on effective home teachers but until we make the effort to actually go out and develop relationships with people, it’s not going to happen. That’s the same with young men in Scouting. Again, it’s not about the mechanics of Scouting, it’s about young men. If that adult leader doesn’t relate to youth, doesn’t care about them, doesn’t see what that youth can become, it does become very difficult. It becomes very mechanical and, frankly, very stressful and overwhelming.

KURT: Any other words in relation to the responsibilities of Stake and Ward Leaders that we haven’t covered yet?

MARK: I do. The Church offers a training for stake presidencies every year at Philmont which is a property owned by the Boy Scouts of America near Cimarron, New Mexico. It’s a week-long training taught by the Young Men and Primary General Presidencies. It’s an incredible experience for stake presidencies to really catch a vision of what this is all about because they’re being taught by the top Church Auxiliary Leaders over the Young Men and Primary. It’s every summer, it’s offered for two weeks, and we have capacity for 320 priesthood Leaders and their families, so every summer we have about 1,200 total people who come during the course of those two weeks.

My office is the office that administers the registration process for the Church. If the entire stake presidency comes, the president and his two counselors, they can bring their stake Young Men’s president and their two high councilors, one assigned to Primary and one assigned to Young Men. If the entire stake presidency is not able to come, the high councilors and stake Young Men’s president can still apply, but they’re not accepted until February, when the Young Men’s General Presidency looks over the registrations and determines how much more space they have. That is an excellent opportunity for people to really catch a vision.

The other thing I want to mention is the green handbook on Scouting has several sections about the stake’s role in this and how they can very effectively serve. In Scouting they have a term called unit commissioner, and the green handbook clearly states stake Young Men’s presidency serve as unit commissioners, but in Primary it could be the Primary presidency or somebody else who the stake presidency designates. What unit commissioners are to the church are similar to what a home teacher is to a family. They simply are there to offer support, assistance, guidance and help. So if the stake can strengthen their unit commissioner organization, that’s probably the very best thing they can do to strengthen Scouting within the stake.

KURT: Going back to that training you mentioned, what sort of costs are involved to be a part of that? I assume this is for leaders all across the country?

MARK: Yeah, it’s for leaders all over the country. The LDS weeks that I’m describing are just for stake presidencies. Philmont offers other trainings throughout the summer that anybody could go to. It’s not cheap. There’s a registration fee and then, of course, the cost of travel. The green handbook on Scouting in Section 2.1 says, “Stake and ward budget allowance funds can be used for adult Scout training.” So that same concept is applied to this, that the stake budget can be used to cover the cost of registration and travel expenses going to Philmont. One other side note there: Philmont is for families. The idea is that the stake leadership brings their wife and their children and they have an incredible experience. Some people describe it as kind of a Disneyland experience because there’s something for the entire family to do. Of course there’s a cost associated with each family member and the cost is reflective of the age of the participant. Overall, this is an incredible training and something that I recommend highly and, frankly, we fill it up every year and usually end up with a waiting list of 100-200 people that want to come, so it’s definitely in high demand.

KURT: Is this the type of training that will be made available around the country as the program grows? Why the limiting factor to it if there are so many stakes and stake presidencies?

MARK: There are a lot of factors that go into that because of the size of the Philmont property. We can only have about 160 priesthood leaders each week plus their families. We have capacity for about 700 people to stay each week and that’s including families. There is talk about doing some Philmont similar type of experiences in other parts of the nation, but there’s nothing on the drawing board right now. The Boy Scouts of America do own another property in West Virginia called the Summit, so there’s a lot of hope that someday there will be an LDS week type of experience out there, but nothing on the horizon.

KURT: If stake presidents want to learn more about that, is there a link on your site or the Church’s site? Where would they go to do that?

MARK: There’s a link on both. They can go to my site which is ldsbsa.org and right there on the home page you’ll see where it says Philmont. Click on that and it will walk them through the process. Stake presidents receive a formal invitation from the Priesthood Department every September, so they should be aware of it. They can also find out about Philmont through the priesthood website which is lds.org/aaronicpriesthood.

KURT: I’m sure I could find some links on your site that I can put in the notes of this recording. We just have a few minutes left. I don’t know if there’s anything we skipped that you really want to talk about. One area I want to just briefly ask you about, kind of in the realm of future of the Boy Scouts of America. I have to ask you the eye-rolling question but there are always these live rumors that of course you would love to kill forever. Everybody, as things shift think someday the Church is just going to move away from Boy Scouts of America and do their own thing because now we have the resources and we can do a much better job. What would you say to those individuals? I don’t in any way want to speculate what the Brethren or the General Presidencies are thinking about, but those ideas and rumors are out there. What do you generally say when you hear that?

MARK: First off, I would hope that we would all recognize that the Brethren are very well aware of the whole situation and they’re obviously aware of the cost. They’re well aware that they could do it themselves but for now this is what they have chosen for us to do. So I hope that we would all be faithful in following our Church leaders. And I promise you that if the time comes when they choose to not partner with Scouting, the Church will have its own program that will still be focused on young men and helping them to become what our Heavenly Father wants them to become and at that point, if it ever happens, I hope that we would still just as faithfully follow the Brethren.

I get nervous when people speculate and say, “Well I’m just going to wait until they pull out,” because we’re missing a great opportunity. Right now this is what the Brethren have asked us to do, so let’s faithfully do it. Let’s sink our teeth in and let’s do everything we can to follow the council of our Church leaders so that when a change comes, if the change comes, we will have that same attitude about whatever else they ask us to do. Sometimes the negative attitude people carry with them. They’re in a bit of an illusion thinking that their attitude will change if the circumstances change. My fear is that their attitude will be the same and they’ll hope for something different than what the Brethren have. That would be a false tradition in my opinion.

KURT: Me being somebody who is extremely passionate about leadership and leadership development, that’s the one hallmark of my Scouting experience I look back to. It kind of planted those seeds of that passion in me of what it means to be a leader. I always want to portray Leading LDS as a resource that strongly supports Scouting. As we go forward, Mark, there’s a lot more we can talk about and details we can discuss. I’m shocked we haven’t even mentioned the phrase “Friends of Scouting” in this whole interview but that’s quite a topic to talk about. I want to be kind of an asset for you. Again, I don’t represent the Church just like you don’t and I’m just a third party organization but nonetheless we’re a community of people that really want to understand how to be better leaders and understand how we can push the Kingdom forward in our capacities and in our callings. Any final thoughts you have or things we should probably make sure is addressed?

MARK: Let me just share two things with you. President Thomas S. Monson, who we all love and we appreciate his life of service and what he’s taught us about reaching out, has been on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America since 1969. He’s still a member of that board today. That shows us some great commitment because we all know how busy he is but yet he still feels that Scouting is important.

Touching on that concept of the rescue which President Monson has taught so clearly for so many decades, that’s one of the other critical aspects of Scouting. We need to really have a focus of those young men who are less active who come from difficult home situations and those boys in our neighborhoods who are not members of our faith. Scouting can really touch those boys’ lives in miraculous ways.

When I think about leadership, I think about those boys because those boys need leadership, they need a man of God who has a vision, who loves them regardless of their situation, regardless if their members of our Church, regardless if they’re active or not. That a man who really loves those boys and is willing to give them a mountaintop experience that they can hang their hat on and someday say to that man, “Thank you. You made such a difference in my life during those years.”

I always come back to that concept of the Rescue when I think of Scouting because I think Scouting is a great tool to help us to make sure that all boys, not just the active boys, but that all boys have a wonderful childhood, youth experience because there’s a bunch of caring adults who want to help them out.

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One thought on “An Interview with the Director of LDS BSA Relationships

  1. Steve Faber

    I think this is a really good interview. I hope many readers/listeners take advantage of its message. I enjoyed reading it first, then listening to it, to let the concepts sink in.

    The most interesting take-away for me was the discussion on false traditions. It’s interesting to draw comparisons to what is said in the podcast, and to one of the false traditions that I think persists and is sometimes regarded as either a primary goal or THE goal in LDS scouting: a boy getting his Eagle.

    I think the author touched on this false tradition and did not even realize he was doing so when he said at the introduction, “Today, I am proud to be an Eagle Scout.” Or perhaps he was indeed aware as he later commented that his mother would no longer require that he go camping IF he earned his Eagle, to highlight that perhaps he and his parents thought the end goal of scouting was for him to get his Eagle. I think too many parents, including myself, sometimes get distracted from the true goal by setting false traditions such as “you can’t do/have X, UNTIL you get your Eagle.”

    Not that being an Eagle Scout is a false tradition at all, or not a worthy goal, nor to discount the worth of the effort or outcomes involved in a young man pursuing the rank of Eagle. I’m an Eagle, my brothers are Eagles and I have two of three sons who are Eagles, the last of whom is part of the basis for my thoughts in this post, causing me to consider my motivations and actions in relation to him becoming an Eagle Scout.

    My point is that a young man attaining the Eagle rank is NOT the goal of the LDS church in relation to scouting. In fact, a boy could grow up through the ranks, participate in all the activities and meet all of the requirements to become a great Eagle scout, and still be unprepared for priesthood service in the mission field, in his future quorums and becoming a worthy husband and father. I’ve personally seen this in my family growing up, as a father, and as a Scoutmaster and COR in my home ward.

    One thing Mark did, as do many of our LDS leaders, is to point us back to the handbooks when we have questions, specifically the green scouting handbook. There’s not a single mention of “Eagle” in the handbook. In fact, I was surprised to see the only mentions of “Advancement” are related to 11 year-old scouting (focusing on the skills for the First Class Scout rank), and optionally in Venturing ‘if” rank advancements are being pursued. Do a search on LDS.org for “Eagle”, and see what you find.

    Kurt’s questions and Mark’s comments offer great perspective to me. I think sometimes I get hung up with the “mechanics” of scouting as I try with my best intentions to “effectively implement” scouting. Sometimes I forget and lose sight of the true goal. I’m appreciative of Mark’s tone and focus on what is most important in the LDS-BSA relationship.

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