By Brad Harris
Oct 05, 2015

Can a Bishop Lead the Way in Scouting?

BoyScoutsPreparesforPriesthoodServiceOur council has been pushing priesthood-driven Wood Badge courses for the stakes and wards in our area because they can have an amazing effect on the leaders and units involved. Just last month I participated in one for five stakes in the Great Basin area.

I saw stake and ward leaders catch the vision of Scouting and leave inspired to make the program everything it could be for their young men. It was a great event, but from my vantage point, there is no way to tell what the long term effect may be. I wish I could peer into the future to see how this advanced training will help to build boys’ testimonies and help them grow and prepare for missions; for surely, a well-trained leader can develop a program that delivers these objectives and more.

I won’t be in these units to see the changes they make, but the bishops, chartered organization representatives, Young Men presidents and others who attended Wood Badge will be there every step of the way. It is remarkable what a well-trained, inspired leader can do for the boys in his unit. And what better place for that leadership to start than with the bishop, who has special stewardship over the young men in his ward and works to ensure their spiritual and temporal well-being?

As a testimonial to training, one bishop in the Port Townsend Ward on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington shared this success story with Brad Harris:

I have been bishop almost six years. The Scouting program in our ward was non-existent when I was called and remained so for the better part of a year. The stake president came down with a directive that all bishoprics and Young Men’s presidencies were to attend Wood Badge…that was the turning point. Over the next two years all six of us attended Wood Badge. Since then, with calling changes and seeing the value of the program we have sent 14 people from our ward (including Young Women leaders) of 125 active members to Wood Badge. This made all the difference and has had a huge impact on the elders quorum.

No one (including myself) knew anything about Venturing or how it differed from Scouting and Varsity. We had a large group of boys coming up and we had to very quickly create a successful program to train both boys and leaders. By having the bishopric take the point (as the presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood, their taking charge was both doctrinal and it made sense. If you check your handbook the Young Men’s presidency are to assist the bishopric with the young men; it is clear the bishopric have the point position).The bishopric never miss a weekly activity or camp out.

Scoutmaster ConferenceAs far as having a boy-led program it was not for the first two years. It was most definitely a “follow me boys” as the leaders figured stuff out. However we now have nine priests who have been trained, lead activities and plan events independently. They have all been to Venturing Leadership Skill Course (now ILSC), Kodiak and Kodiak X. They have staffed these events on several occasions, and staffed Wood Badge and Kodiak Course Director Conference as well.

But the biggest change in our unit is the fundamental shift in attitude towards Scouting. Families are involved and are actively working towards Eagle much earlier. Our 11 year old Scout leader has four boys, all of whom are First Class and will be Star or very close to it (except the time requirement) by their 12th birthday. We have studied, learned and practiced the different programs. how does Scouting support the purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood and help young men become better missionariesBoy Scouts, Varsity and Venturing all have different focuses, purposes and ways of achieving those purposes. We realized early on if the bishopric was not on board we would not be able to affect change. Over the past few years we have also realized a few other items that give strength to the program and help its long term survival:

  • We don’t allow basketball for weekly activities.
  • We plan out all of our weekly activities one year in advance.
  • We make sure we have the resources from the ward budget or our fundraiser to accomplish the program goals.
  • We make sure all bishopric members and Young Men’s leaders attend roundtable every month

Another thing that was free and has paid huge benefits was finding a way to communicate with the youth. We use Google web tools. We have a website that we post photos, calendars, forms and videos on so the youth, their friends and family can see them. Once we post pictures from an activity it only takes a few hours for them to be plastered all over Facebook.

We don’t have the perfect program. We struggle and every so often have a real stinker of an activity. It is better than it was 5 years ago but we have a long way to go.

This bishop may still feel like he has a long way to go, but it is clear that his program has grown by leaps and bounds since the adult leaders committed to become trained and create a boy-led program. They have a program that is clearly changing lives. What has training done for your Scouting program?

Harris ThumbnailAuthor: Bradley D. Harris | Utah National Parks Council VP of Membership. He has taught Scouting education at BYU and is currently director of the non-profit management minor and the Nonprofit Leadership certification program at BYU. He is the author of Trails to TestimonyHis purpose is to train students to become leaders in the nonprofit and fundraising sectors.

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