A couple of years ago, the eleven-year-old Scout patrol in our ward decided to join the troop at our district camporee. We were excited to have them join us but we were also a little nervous because by then we were very much a Scout-led troop and we were not sure the eleven-year-old patrol was ready for this.
During the Camporee, one of our eleven-year-old Scouts came up and asked me whether the eleven-year-olds should leave their campsite to join the troop to start participating in the competitions and activities for the day or whether they should finish cleaning up their campsite. This is one of those moments that tests us and our response will reveal how well our training has really sunk in. Fortunately, not only had I recently retaken the “Scoutmaster Position-Specific Training,” but I had listened to over 200 podcasts on the scoutmastercg.com website and I knew how to handle this question. My answer was, “Have you asked your patrol leader?”
This young Scout looked completely baffled. He knew I was the Scoutmaster and for five-and-a-half years before that had been his bishop. I was close to his family and he clearly looked up to me as a person in a position of leadership and authority. I was an adult, he was a kid. I could tell by the look on his face that he probably did not even know what a patrol leader was, much less who his own patrol leader was.
I walked him over to his patrol leader, who was just about as surprised and perplexed when I told the patrol leader what the question was and asked him if he could answer it. When I could see that the patrol leader had the situation under control, I walked away and let this young patrol leader actually lead.
I didn’t care what the patrol leader’s answer was. Whether the patrol leader told his Scout to stay in the campground and finish cleaning up before joining in the activities, or whether he told him they would clean up later and join the activities so they did not miss out, did not matter to me. What mattered was that these two young men understood that in our troop, and as long as the eleven-year-old troop was going to camp with us, the Scouts were the leaders of the troop, not the adults. We have confidence in our Scouts and they have real authority to lead.
I cannot tell you how many times I have asked that question, “Have you asked your patrol leader?” This question even made it on the Bryan on Scouting blog, “25 ways Scouters can make the most out of summer camp,” July 5, 2012. As time went on, the Scouts learned that it did no good to ask an adult how to handle a situation unless it was a true emergency, or safety was an issue, or a Church or BSA policy was being challenged. If not, our Scouts knew we were going to refer them to their leader. Not a leader in title only, but a true leader. Teaching, training and mentoring Scouts to be leaders takes time. But it is time well spent and will benefit these young men throughout their years in the Aaronic Priesthood, in the mission field and beyond.
With all of my years of experience in Scouting and in the Church, could I have given a better answer than the patrol leader? Maybe I would have taught them a lesson about “work first, play later.” Maybe I would have given this young Scout the blessing of an adult male example of how to do things. However, what would have been certainly lost would have been an opportunity for a young patrol leader at age twelve to grapple with a problem and solve it. When we train Scouts, then let them solve real problems as they arise, we have really trained a leader.
Agency is a catalyst for growth. Without it, there is no opportunity to grow. When we are told what to do and the consequences dictate our behavior, we are not making a choice based on our own moral compass. When we tell a young man he is not going to drive unless and until he achieves the rank of Eagle Scout, where is the motivation coming from? Are we training our young men how to make moral decisions on their own? Are we preparing them for when they leave home to go on a mission and away to school?
At some point in our lives, we can no longer live on “borrowed light.” Elder Orson F. Whitney said, ““The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. …If you don’t have it you will not stand; therefore seek for the testimony of Jesus and cleave to it, that when the trying time comes you may not stumble and fall.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 450, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson,152nd Semiannual General Conference.)
The “war in heaven” was fought in part over the seminal gospel principle of moral agency. “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;“ (Moses 4:3.) It is only through making moral choices that we can grow and progress and become like our Heavenly Father.
It has been my personal experience that when the adults run the program, young men develop a dislike for Scouting and we tend to focus on outward appearances (“…for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7). Young men focus on having fun with their friends. When we let them plan their own activities as long as they “do the things that Scouts do,” abide by the Scout Oath and Law and Church and BSA policies, they are happy to take on the natural challenges that come with running their own program. They willingly tackle difficult problems because they want to succeed at their own game. This creates the perfect environment for the type of mentoring, coaching, and training that maximizes the influence of a Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, or other adult advisor.
In many LDS Scout troops, there are only enough Scouts for one patrol. Even in larger troops with two or more patrols, the center of action should be at the patrol level, not the troop level. When a Scout asks an adult to solve a problem that a patrol leader can and should solve himself, the question, “Have you asked your patrol leader” will do more to teach young Scouts about the “Scout-led troop” than just about anything else we could say.
Please share your experiences, good and bad, challenges and successes, in the comment section below. We would like to make this a place where Scouters from all over the country can share their experiences and learn from and support each other.
-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.