Mac’s Message #18: The Patrol Method—A Leadership Laboratory

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire

As you look at the Scouting boys under your stewardship can you visualize them as future missionaries with supervisory responsibility as a district or zone leader? Can you see them as assistants to the mission president or, possibly, as a branch president or counselor in some remote location in a far-off country? How will you help your young men acquire the leadership skills they will need in these roles?

The Boy Scouts of America offers a wonderful incubator in which to nurture a young man’s leadership skills. It can be found in one of the Methods of Scouting—the patrol method.

I encourage you to organize your Boy Scouts into patrol units, even if there are only a few boys in your troop. Varsity teams and Venturing crews mirror the patrol structure and are equally effective in providing boys with leadership opportunities if you mimic the patrol method.

From experience I know boys love to be in charge. They enjoy working together, planning, and making decisions about the activities they will do and how they will do them. They are fully capable of sharing responsibility, resolving problems, working things out, and operating together as a patrol unit. Boys have a marvelous creativity and enthusiasm when empowered to set their own course. Most important, they form a bond of brotherhood, a sense of belonging, an esprit de corps, and unity of focus when organized into a patrol unit. This cannot happen if the adult leader is governing the affairs of the unit rather than the boys themselves.

There is something magical that happens when the boys huddle together to identify their patrol name, patrol motto, patrol yell, and patrol flag. I marvel at the democratic process when the boys discuss and then vote to determine these things. I’m constantly amazed at how innovative and imaginative they can be when they determine their patrol motto and design their unique patrol flag. Patrol identity is critical to creating patrol spirit and unity. Competition between patrols heightens the comradery boys feel when they experience a crucible of a specific challenge or test of their abilities.

The patrol method also provides great leadership training and skill development when the boys meet in regularly scheduled patrol meetings. With your help and guidance through proper shadow leadership (as has been explained in my previous messages), the boys will be fully capable of leading and participating in these meetings. It is here where boys learn the skills they will need as future missionaries—planning, organizing, decision-making, delegating, demonstrating authority, listening, and communicating. Through trial and error, the boys become more proficient in leading meetings that get results. Patrol meetings are precursors to the district, zone, and other mission-related meetings these boys will be leading a few short years from now. Scouting is the perfect laboratory to learn how to return and report on one’s stewardship.

When your boys camp as a patrol unit, they learn to share responsibility and hold each other accountable for assignments given. As they cook, clean, and live together on overnight and week-long summer camps, they feel ownership and pride in their camp area. They learn to live in harmony with other boys who have different personalities and habits. The patrol method is perfect preparation for mission companionships.

Of course, the key to successful leadership is the assignment and fulfillment of leadership roles. Each patrol should have a patrol leader and other designated leadership responsibilities, such as the quartermaster, scribe, historian, and patrol chaplain. The senior patrol leader (SPL) ought to be leading every troop meeting and overseeing the patrol meetings. In most cases, with proper mentoring, the SPL can instruct the boys on the skill development topic introduced at weekly troop meetings.

I’m very serious when I tell adult Scouting leaders that their role at troop, team, and crew meetings and outdoor activities is to sit in a lawn chair and marvel at what happens when the adult gets out of the way of the boys. If you fulfill your leadership role well—working with the SPL, team captain, or crew president before and after each meeting and activity—you will see how boys rise up as men of God and take upon them the mantle of leadership. You will see how exquisitely the patrol method prepares these young men to be missionaries and the future priesthood leaders of the Church.

Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Are your boys organized into patrols?
  • Have senior patrol leaders, assistant senior patrol leaders, patrol leaders, assistant patrol leaders, and other patrol leadership roles been assigned?
  •  Does each patrol have a unique patrol identity with a patrol name, motto, yell, and flag?
  •  Have you taught your boys how to lead patrol meetings? Are you letting the boys lead their patrols?
  •  Do you stay in your lawn chair and let the boys learn through trial and error?
  •  Are you briefing and de-briefing the boy leaders before and after activities to strengthen them in their leadership capabilities?

Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“The only way to develop leadership in a boy is to give him a chance to practice it. The patrol method provides this practice by placing upon the boys themselves the responsibility of running their own gangs, of making them—or breaking them. It gives the boys the opportunity to lead. It brings forward boys of decided leadership abilities and awakens in others their latent powers. It gives to all of them their chance.” (William Hillcourt, “The ONLY Method,”).

-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. Bill Chapman says:

    I love this post. it goes to the heart of scouting and how we, as LDS Scouters, can help achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through proper use of the scouting program. I am an LDS Scoutmaster trying to implement these principles and we are having great fun and progress but are still growing and learning.

    We had our Troop Meeting last night and, like all of our recent meetings and campouts, was clearly Scout-led. However, our SPL likes to be in the limelight, just like I do if I don’t check myself, and most of the meeting was him instructing/demonstrating fire building. We had 20 scouts (5 non-LDS) gathered around, somewhat noisily and at times rambunctiously, watching. I felt like our SPL spent too much time doing the demonstrations with the troop simply observing instead of engaging them in activities and “doing” what he was trying to teach them. He wanted to demonstrate fire by friction, but it has been awhile since we have learned/done that and he was – not unsurprisingly – unsuccessful. He turned to lighting steel wool and trying to get it to burn, then, at the suggestion of one of our ASMs, went into the parking lot away from the troop and lit a piece of steel wool looped around a rope and swung it in circles, which created a fireworks like display. The scouts seemed to enjoy it, but this activity took up most of our meeting. There were no patrol meetings or patrol activities but they then played a game, which all of the scouts enjoyed and didn’t want to stop when the meeting came to a close.

    I know I need to do some mentoring to help my SPL improve on what he is already doing. My question is, what is the best way to mentor so that I encourage, teach and inspire, without sounding critical and negative to my SPL? And, do I mentor the entire PLC or just the SPL and let him mentor the rest of the PLC? How much advice do I give him so he is not overwhelmed and think I am the enemy? Should I be meeting weekly or at some other regular interval with my SPL or PLC to do this kind of training? You ask whether I am debriefing our boy leaders before and after meetings to help them develop their leadership skills. Can you be more specific about how I and/or my ASMs should do that?

    I feel like we have a great thing going and don’t want to ruin it but I also want to help these Scouts grow and develop in their leadership skills.

    Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    1. JD says:

      Bill – Go RSM!

      My thoughts:
      You could point out your observations to the SPL (lots of boys standing around) watching and getting anxious. Ask him if there could be another way to accomplish the Training? Let him and his PL brain storm a bunch of possible solutions and solve their own problems.

      That is great that you have 30 LDS Boys. Having the SPL/ASPL show the PLS and APLs what they are teaching and then break them into smaller groups. You could have multiple stations where the boys rotate, etc. Either way, if you bring your feedback to the PLC Council and ask how they could improve, it helps them learn the process of “continual improvement”.

      You can ask what went right, and what could have been better. Rather than telling him where he could improve, help him “discover” it for himself. It takes patience but will help the boy much more.

      1. Mac says:

        Great questions Bill. Yes, you should brief your SPL before every meeting/activity and debrief with him after every meeting/activity. Daniel has offered some excellent examples of things to discuss in both of those short meetings.

        As a consultant I tell executives and managers when they are in coaching situations to abide by the following mantra: “Don’t put in; draw out.” Don’t talk. Don’t tell. Ask questions and listen. The same principle applies here. When debriefing, don’t put in; draw out. Draw out from the SPL his observations. Ask what he saw, heard and felt during the activity. Ask him what he thought the unit members saw, heard and felt during the activity. Ask what worked and what didn’t work. Or, as Daniel suggested and is taught in Wood Badge, ask what should he “start, stop and continue.”

        One of the reasons why you “don’t put in; draw out” is because “the answer is in the statement.” When you ask a question, listen closely to the answer. The answer to the problem is almost always in the response to your question. For example, if the SPL says “I think I talked too much,” the answer is for him to stop talking so much. If he says, “The other boys just sat there,” the answer is to get the boys involved. I know this seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people can state the problem but cannot figure out the solution. The solution is in the answer when one inquires about the problem.

        Here is an example: You said, “Do I mentor the entire PLC or just the SPL and let him mentor the rest of the PLC?” A great answer is in your statement. Mentor the SPL and teach him how to mentor the PLC. You said, “Should I be meeting weekly or at some other regular interval with my SPL or PLC to do this kind of training?” The answer, meet weekly until you feel confident the SPL can handle things on his own. Your weekly meetings may be lengthy at first. As the two of you get better in your meetings and in your briefing and debrieingf, these meetings will go faster and become less frequent.

        As to your question of “What is the best way to mentor so that I encourage, teach and inspire, without sounding critical and negative to my SPL?” Obviously, first ensure you never sound critical or negative. Encourage, reinforce and recognize your SPL often. Teach him using the EDGE method — explain, demonstrate, guide, and enable. Encourage the SPL to use the EDGE method when he is teaching the boys in unit meetings. If you have not been to Wood Badge, go. If your SPL has not been to NYLT, send him.

        The greatest work you can do as a SM is to teach leadership skills. The greatest joy that will come to you as a SM is when you sit back and watch in amazement at how wonderfully boys can lead boys when you teach them properly.

        You are on the right track. You are asking the right questions. Keep up the good work. And, hopefully, more people will add their suggestions to this discussion to help you even more. May the Lord bless you in your efforts to teach his “little ones.”

      2. Bill Chapman says:

        JD, where are you that you would recognize RSM?

    2. Mac says:

      I was in the Trapper Trails Council trading post yesterday and looked through the Senior Patrol Leader Handbook and the Patrol Leader Handbook. Both explain the briefing and debriefing process and offer suggestions for questions to ask. The handbook also outlines meetings between the SM and SPL and PLs. I think these handbooks will answer all of your questions. You may want to buy these two books ($12 each) and use them. I wouldn’t give the books to the SPL or PL. I would loan them to them to read. I have invested a lot of money in books I have given to the boys in my unit. They typically lose the books.

      1. Bill Chapman says:

        Mac, wow, “if all else fails, read the handbook.” Great idea. I do own them and found some good answers in them (see below).

        I am really worried about this problem because we have transitioned to a scout led troop and are seeing great success. But in the PLC after the meeting they talked about the problem of the younger scouts not listening to them and respecting them when they try to get order and they don’t know how to handle this. They have tried punishment (pushups, not getting rewards), rewards (candy), etc. all to no avail. My assistants and I have discussed this and can relate because if we were standing up there in front of 20 12-13 year olds, we would have the same discipline problems. I have been thinking a lot about this because we have such a great thing going and I don’t want to lose it.

        I stumbled across an old podcast on this very subject that was amazing. It was a question from the “What would you do?” section of Scouting magazine. Some of the points were:

        -BP talked about the difference between a commander, an instructor and a leader (more like a poet)
        -Scoutmaster Handbook, p.12:
        “A leader is best when people barely know
        he exists; not so good when people obey and
        acclaim him; worst when they despise him.
        But a good leader who talks little when his
        work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say
        ‘we did it ourselves.’”—Chinese philosopher Sun-Tsu
        -if we solve discipline problems by adults stepping in, scouts don’t learn to lead
        -if we use candy and rewards, we always need those nearby to have discipline
        -if we use punishments, they won’t come back
        -servant leadership is the key to our PLC solving these problems; they need to have faith in these younger scouts, listen to them, understand their world, help them solve problems and overcome challenges; we have to earn respect as leaders, it cannot be won by commanding it.

        This is discussion is found on (, podcast #55, about 5 minutes into the podcast and lasts about 10 minutes. It is the best guidance on this topic I have ever heard. I highly recommend it to all Scouters.

        1. Mac says:

          Bill, you just gave me another idea for a blog message — how to maintain control, order and discipline within a Scouting unit. Just two comments for now:

          First, I believe the SPL and PLs will figure out what to do as you continue to debrief them after each meeting. Perhaps they ought to discuss this with the other boys in the unit. Setting groundrules, including those for discipline, is an important part of the “forming” stage of your unit’s development.

          Second, when I was a scoutmaster I ensured that I was the only one who would handle serious discipline problems. I did not delegate this responsibility to any of my five assistant scoutmasters or to any of the youth leaders. I found most serious problems could be addressed through a one-on-one discussion with the boy. However, 20 out of 24 boys in the troop were on medication for ADHD or other chemical imbalance problems. Consequently, we had some serious control issues.

          For serious infractions I implemented the card system that is used in soccer. I would first “blow the whistle” and warn the boy. This was the boy’s “courtesy warning.” If the same serious off-purpose behavior continued, I would “yellow card” the person. The boy could get two yellow cards before I “red carded” him if the the behavior continued. A red card meant the boy was suspended from the unit for 30 days. He could not attend ANY meetings or activities during those 30 days. At the end of the 30 days the boy and his parent(s) would have to appear before the troop committee and scoutmasters to petition for reinstatement. He would have to show that he had learned from the experience and would not commit the infraction again.

          I will tell you that this process ALWAYS worked. Several boys received yellow cards, but I only red carded one boy the entire time I was scoutmaster. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I had 12 non-LDS boys in the troop. Surprisingly, an LDS boy was the one red carded. My rule was pretty strict. The “not attend ANY meeting” consequence included on Sunday (probably wrong, but I had the Bishop’s support). The member boy who was red-carded was very active, but very ill-behaved. His father was one of my assistant scoutmasters. The mother was the troop committee chair. I went to the father and mother to get their support before I red-carded their son. They handled the situation perfectly and kept their son home from Church for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days, the boy and his parents petitioned for reinstatement. It was a wonderful experience. The boy’s behavior improved dramatically. He earned his Eagle. He went on a mission to Peru. He married in the temple and now has two kids. He is a great husband, father, priesthood leader, and employee. Exactly what the Scouting program is all about.

          1. Bill Chapman says:

            Mac, thanks for sharing your thoughts and I agree it should be covered in a post. In the podcast discussion on, someone commented that in large active troops they have never seen a discipline problem. The host agreed. Can that be true? Why would that be? I have attended only one troop meeting of a large non-LDS troop and they were very lively but always under control. I think they had such a culture established and the youth ran everything so it looked very natural. I saw a PLC of a different large non-LDS troop and the adults were in far corners of the room while the youth ran the meeting on their own. Again, lively discussions, but no discipline problems. Any thoughts?

          2. Mac says:

            Having witnessed several large non-LDS scouting units, it has been my experience that they typically run the program the way it is designed by the BSA. Because of that, they have a quality program. I believe boys respond well to structure. I believe it’s the structure of the program that saves them from discipline problems (see my next blog message #19), and the fact that it is “run by the book” (with an SPL, PLs, Patrol Leader Council, etc.), that causes there to be few or no disciplinary problems. I’m not sure the size of the unit matters. If this is true, LDS units will have fewer disciplinary problems as they become more proficient at running their Scouting program as designed by the Boy Scouts of America.

            I also believe that as an LDS boy matures spiritually, he tends to be better behaved. If this is true, adult Aaronic Priesthood leaders would also be wise to run their priesthood quorums and quorum discussions as designed by the Church. This is why teaching the Gospel in the Savior’s way through “Come Follow Me” is so important.

            There seems to be a theme to my response — and to my blog messages. Do it the Lord’s way! When you do it the Lord’s way the boys are greatly blessed and the leaders have fewer problems. Where leaders have problems, in my opinion, is when they stray from the Lord’s program by either being too lazy or too obstinate.

            Please do not interpret my last comment as meaning there is no room for exceptions or adjustments, but if exceptions are made they should be done carefully under the inspiration of the Lord and with the direction of priesthood leaders who hold the keys and have the gift of discernment.

          3. Mac says:

            Let me add one addendum to my comment about discipline. Perhaps another reason why non-LDS units have less disciplinary problems is because the adult leaders are volunteers who want to be scoutmasters and the boys attend Scouting because they want to be there. Again, the lack of discipline problems may not be tied to the size of the unit. LDS Scouting leaders are “called,” rather than volunteers, and attendance at LDS Scouting programs is “mandatory” if a boy wishes to be involved with the Church.

            I’m sure this will open up a lot of additional discussion, so probably ought to be saved for a future blog message.

  2. Daniel says:

    Great post Mac. Thank you for the encouragement.

    Bill, I love your comment. Understanding how to facilitate boy led through shadow leadership is truly an art in my opinion (and one I am not great at yet).

    Right now the best practice that has helped me with facilitating boy led is by meeting with my boy leader before and after every meeting possible. In those meetings I try to prepare really good questions. For example, I would be very curious what your SPL would have said after the meeting if you asked him one of the following questions:
    -What do you think was the boys favorite part of this activity? Why?
    -What surprised you about how this activity went?
    -If you were to redo this activity what do you think you would do differently?

    It is also remarkable to have these conversations before the meeting. For example:
    -Show me your agenda for todays meeting
    -What do you think the boys will be thinking or feeling during (that) part of the meeting?
    -I’ve noticed that sometimes they boys get restless if they have to listen too long do you have any thoughts on what we can do to break it up for them?

    Just a quick example, we had our PLC at a members house and there were a number of boys around the table then some others sitting further back. The SPL struggled to keep these boys engaged in the meeting. After the meeting I did a quick “Start, stop continue – what should we start doing that we aren’t, stop doing that we are and continue doing that went well?” I was shocked at his response. We shouldn’t meet around the table rather we should meet in the living room so everyone feels like they are part of the meeting. We made the change the next month and ever since. Big improvement.

    One of the things you mentioned in your post is that your troop didn’t get to plan during the troop meeting. Our troop really struggles with this but I would LOVE to get it implemented. Right now it is super difficult to get them to break up into patrols for 10 minutes to prepare and plan for upcoming meetings/campouts. Does anyone have any suggestions for this? It seems like a really difficult habit to change.

    One option is to just let them fail because they didn’t take the time to plan. However we still feel embryonic on the whole boy led thing. I see shadow leadership as a continuum. Some shadow leaders are very hands off and in my opinion let the boys flounder. Others are basically the leader and do everything. I am seeking a middle ground. I want to provide structure to them then work within. So how can I help them see the value of weekly short planning meetings?

    1. JD says:

      Daniel –

      As a PL I loved to plan (and still do). I also knew that most of my fellow members did not, so it was always like putting teeth to get it done. Boys want to be physically active and Planning is a mental activity.

      We had a tradition. We would do our opening, then a small activity/game (Initiative game) then spend a few minutes planning so we could get to the rest of the activity. “First Things, First”. That way we got everything we needed, done. The boys could usually spend hours on some of the activities. It is hard to pull them away once they are engaged in a great activity.

  3. Dan says:

    Yes, the patrol method is an inspired piece of scouting designed to build boys in important ways. My own boyhood experience with it was wonderful but it was in a non-LDS troop. We typically had around 20 boys divided into 2 or 3 patrols. An older boy (15-17) served as SPL. When we broke for our weekly “patrol corners” wonderful things happened in terms of boys planning, assigning, controlling (or trying to) the group, etc.

    Some aspects of our LDS implementation of the scouting program have continued to stymie my attempts to recreate this model in any of the units I’ve worked with. Perhaps someone has some solutions to these?

    1. Small groups. Rarely can a typical deacons’ quorum realistically support more than a single patrol thus our troops are really a patrol. Without multiple patrols there really is no Senior Patrol Leader role at all since he is a leader of Patrol Leaders. Also, without multiple patrols the Interpatrol Activity is moot. I tried to overcome this by splitting my 6-boy troop into two patrols with one PL also serving as the SPL. It was awkward at best.

    2. Homogeneous age groupings. My boyhood troop ranged in age from 11 to 17. The older boys were looked up to and admired. They wielded tremendous influence among us younger boys. When they sang some goofy song, it was suddenly cool to do likewise. When they showed you how to sharpen an axe, that was how to do it! In contrast, my current scout group of 11-year-olds sees only a bunch of 11-year-olds each week besides me and my assistants. I have no experienced advanced boys around to pass things off to or to teach skills or to simply lead by being there and being engaged. Sure they see them at a distance but the intimate weekly close-up and practical association is not there. The older boys miss out on some great leadership opportunities as well.

    In various training situations from Fast Start and Leader-specific right up to Wood Badge, we teach Baden Powell’s vision of the Patrol Method then send the leaders back to their own units where, in my opinion, it just doesn’t work. Sure, parts of it can be applied and good comes of it but I’ve always held that we’re missing out on some important growing experiences for our boys just because of the above-mentioned difficulties in fully applying this very important Method.

    1. Daniel says:

      Hey Dan,

      I really sympathize with your post. I went to Woodbadge and came back fired up to implement the patrol method more fully. It is, at times, disappointing to see all of the administrative decisions that keep this from happening, such as breaking up our young men into different programs.

      Right now I think there are two approaches for the typical ward with an average deacons quorum.

      1. Is to combine all the young men and have multiple patrols within the troop.
      2. Is to try to grow organically to build a troop of sufficient size to implement the program as designed.

      Our plan right now is to start with #1 and then move toward #2. Last year we kept all the YM together. We ran it as a troop and had each quorum as their own patrol. I think it was successful as we gained 5 boys. Now we are working to break off the Ventures to do that program while we stay together with the 11 year olds and teachers. I am hopeful that over the next year or two we can break off the teachers and have enough boys to run a full-fledged multi patrol troop with just 12-13 year olds.

      1. Mac McIntire says:


        I would encourage you not to combine the EYO boys, who are in Primary, with the Deacons and Teachers, who are in the Aaronic Priesthood. The Church handbooks are very clear in cautioning units against this. Combining them would make it difficult to separate the boys on such policy issues as camping. For example, EYO boys cannot attend more than three one-night overnight campouts nor can they attend summer camp. EYO boys are encouraged to meet in the day rather than at night. So meeting with the other boys for Mutual would not work out. There are many reasons why the Church policies on EYO Scouts keep the boys separate. As always, I encourage all adult YM leaders to follow the policies.

  4. Bill Chapman says:

    Dan, I have observed the same thing in all my years in LDS Scouting. In our ward, before I became SM, they combined two wards and after I was SM, we combined the third ward in our building. We have about 6 non-LDS scouts who heard in the neighborhood about the troop and have joined. The last 2 troop meetings, we have had 20 scouts, almost all in at least a BSA shirt and parents tell me their sons now want to put on their uniform and are enjoying scouting. Our SPL is a non-LDS 15 year old who started with the ward Cub scout program and has continued on since then. This is specifically approved for 11 yr old patrols in the LDS Scouting handbook and our bishopric and stake presidency have approved it for our troop(s).

  5. Bill Chapman says:

    Is it true that in the church we should have a goal that every young man should become an Eagle Scout? If so, how can we have a scout led troop?

    It seems like if the goal is Eagle Scout, we have to spend most of our time working on merit badges taught by adults in a classroom like setting which seems very different from a scout led troop.

    The sample agenda of a troop meeting both used by the BSA and the church, where you have skill instruction, an interpatrol activity and patrol meetings, you can get some advancement, but does not seem likely to produce all Eagle Scouts. When we have forced merit badges on the scouts, they lose interest in scouting. When they run things they love it, we have had lots of non member young men join the troop and they are achieving the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood (preparing for missions, fatherhood, etc.)

    Recently, they have been struggling with how to keep the other scouts from being too rowdy and have been learning about servant leadership. If they had been in merit badge classes I don’t think they ever would have had to learn how to deal with these problems and how to overcome them

    When we have merit badge classes, which are necessary for advancement, the scouts are not running things, the adults are. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Mac says:

      Hi Bill,

      I’ve been holding back hoping others would respond to your concerns and give their views so I’m not the only opinion expressed on these matters. You’ve express several concerns in your comment. I want to address them individually.

      I know you have a well-run Scouting program in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, because I follow Troop 736 on Facebook. So to some extent I’m puzzled by your comments. For example, I’m sure you know that the real purpose of Scouting in the LDS Church is to bring young men to Christ (Mac’s Message #9). Eagle rank is not the pinnacle achievement in LDS Scouting. Sadly, some YM leaders push eagle rank so strongly their singular focus distracts a boy’s attention from the things that matter most in a young man’s development. Attaining Eagle rank is a bonus; it is not the ultimate objective of LDS Scouting. In my opinion a YM leader does not fail if his boys don’t become Eagles; he only fails if he hasn’t done all he can to help his boys gain a firm testimony of Christ.

      I’m also sure that you know merit badge requirements don’t need to be accomplished in a classroom setting. In fact, most merit badge work should be done far from a classroom. I admit that even I have taught too many merit badge sessions in a classroom. Your comment forced me to look at the current 135 merit badges. As I looked through the list I realized that ALL of them have significant components that should be done outside of a classroom. Even the citizenship merit badges would be better taught in real-life situations and locations rather than being stuck between four walls. We need to get our boys out of the classroom and into the community and outdoors.

      As to your comment about “forcing” merit badges on the boys, I hope that would never happen — even with the required merit badges. There are just too many merit badges for boys to choose from to think that a leader must force merit badges on a boy. I see merit badges as 135 things a boy can sample to see if he likes doing it. Perhaps there is a future career or hobby hidden in a merit badge. Perhaps there is an untapped talent that will be discovered when a boy is exposed to a merit badge. Leaders shouldn’t “push” merit badges on boys; instead, they should let the merit badges “pull” the boys toward them.

      When I was a Scoutmaster I had several boys who felt they could never acquire merit badges or achieve rank advancement because it took too much hard work. These kids were inner-city kids who came from single-parent families. They did not have the support of a father to help them with their advancement. So I went through the Boy Scout Requirements book and identified the merit badges I thought were easy to earn. I put together a list of “50 Easy Merit Badges” and gave the list to each boy. I watched as their eyes lit up at the possibility that they could earn fifty merit badges. That’s a lot of recognition for not a lot of work. Realizing this, the boys were eager to dive in and start doing the work. The greatest value of the list, however, was how it stimulated the boys to work on harder merit badges. It inspired them to go after rank advancement—to even pursue the Eagle rank.

      I think the most important part of your comment is the apparent conflict between an adult-led Scouting unit and a boy-led unit. We know the sample agenda used by the BSA and the Church does work, and it does create Eagles — even when the boys are leading the meetings — because it has worked for many well-run Scouting units — particularly non-LDS units. The key to a boy-led Scouting unit is planning, preparation, and follow-up through shadow leadership (Mac’s Message #14). I agree that boys may not learn to deal with unruly boys if the adult leaders are always in charge. That’s why the adult leaders need to get out of the way and let the boys lead — even during merit badge “classes.”

      Again, Bill, I know you know all of this because your statement is true that when the boys run things they love Scouting. This is why I hope adult YM leaders will see the importance of implementing all of the components of the Lord’s Scouting and Aaronic Priesthood programs. This is why I take so much of my personal time to testify in these messages of the vision and value of Scouting. I appreciate so much the questions and comments expressed in replies to these blog messages because it helps all of us to learn together. Thanks for being a part of this great work!

  6. Bill Chapman says:

    Elder Tad Callister, says that while serving as a mission president, he observed a dramatic increase in the spirituality and leadership skills of young men during their mission years. He observed at least three key factors that contribute to such dramatic growth in the those years:

    (1) we trust these young men as never before,
    (2) we have high but loving expectations of them, and
    (3) we train and retrain them so they can fulfill those expectations with excellence.

    He then suggests that if we were to apply these principles to deacons quorum presidents, we would see that accelerated growth occur much earlier in their lives. I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can apply these principles to Scouting, the patrol method and the strong emphasis in some areas in the LDS church on advancement?

    1. Mac says:

      Wow! What a great descriptor of what LDS Scouting is supposed to be like: 1) trust your young men to lead, 2) have high expectations of them, and 3) train and retrain them through direct training and shadow leadership.

      The difference, however, between a life in the mission field and life in reality is missionaries, and their leaders, are focused full-time on missionary work. Adult Young Men leaders and boys in the Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting programs are not totally focused on YM endeavors. There are no senior companions to train the “greenies.” There are no zone or district leaders to teach the junior leaders. There are no zone conferences where the boys get together for a day of training each month.

      Adult YM leaders have a limited time to be an effective influence for good in a young man’s life. That’s why I so strongly encourage them to use every Sunday quorum meeting, quorum presidency meeting, weeknight activity, and monthly outing to the fullest extent possible. Leaders cannot afford to let one opportunity go by where they had no planned purpose other than that of entertaining the boys.

      I would hope adult YM leaders heed the advice of Elder Caliister and train, retrain, and retrain again and again their boys in their priesthood duties.

      1. Bill Chapman says:

        As always, your comments are very insightful and inspired, Mac! As you note, there definitely are differences between full-time missionaries and young men in the Aaronic priesthood in terms of the amount of time they dedicate to full-time service of the Lord, training opportunities, etc. However, as you also mentioned, I can think of no better way to prepare our young men for the mission field than to start earlier and applying the principles Elder Callister taught us about, specifically, trusting them, having high expectations and training and retraining them to do what they should do.

        Not to mention the fact that when one of the Lord’s anointed makes a connection that we might not have seen on our own and applies a principal to help us magnify our callings, we should pay close attention to and heed that counsel. Now, I just wish there was a way to get your message out to a broader audience.

        By the way, yesterday in Stake Conference, our Stake President told us that he previously attended the LDS week at Philmont with his wife and only child living at home but confessed that he be did not invite his counselors or the stake young men’s president because he was reluctant to ask them to make the sacrifice of time, travel and expense associated with attending Philmont. He said during his training at Philmont, he frequently heard something that he wished he could have turned to his counselors who should have been sitting next to him and to whom he would have said, “let’s try that at home.”

        Therefore, he told us yesterday that he has repented of his error and invited both of his counselors and the stake young men’s president and their spouses who have agreed to make the journey and attend Philmont this summer.

        In an earlier priesthood leadership session, there was a presentation of things we are doing good in the stake and things we could do better. One of the things listed as something we are doing good is “Scouting (Eagles),” again reinforcing the idea that we should use metrics like the number of Eagle Scouts in evaluating how we are doing in scouting.

        I assume you are intimately involved with the LDS Philmont session each summer but correct me if I am wrong. If you have any influence and would be so inclined, could you help bring the messages that you share on this blog, specifically about using the patrol method and not sacrificing the Scout led Troop in order to increase the number of Eagle Scout awards given out? Where I live, the concept of focusing on young men achieving the rank of Eagle Scout is so pervasive and heavily emphasized and I hear literally nothing about the patrol method or the Scout led Troop. I think in some areas of the church we need a huge paradigm shift and better vision of what scouting is all about and the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood.

        Let me know what you think.

  7. Mac says:

    How unfortunate your stake president missed a wonderful opportunity to have the Holy Ghost inspire his entire presidency at the same time regarding the things taught at Philmont. I know they will have a lot to talk about when the counselors and stake YM president return from Philmont.

    Unfortunately, I am not involved with the Priesthood Leadership Conference at Philmont. I wish I were. It is a wonderful experience. I would love to be a regular part of it. I’m sure, however, Mark Francis, director of LDS-BSA Relationships, will read your comment and consider your suggestion. I will refer him to your comment in case he misses it.

    On the topic of an over-emphasis on advancement to Eagle rank; I agree with you. I will address that in my blog message #29 and will re-emphasize the true purpose of Scouting in the LDS Church. .

  8. Bill Chapman says:

    I just listened to a very interesting podcast discussion by Clarke Green (you can go to the archives – – and scroll down to podcast 138 and the discussion starts about 12 minutes into the podcast). Clarke is not LDS but makes some very powerful points about the importance of the merit badge “process” as opposed to the “efficiency” of having merit badge classes which, as you have pointed out, minimizes or eliminates the opportunity for a Scout to interact with an adult and learn how to set goals and use more of his own initiative. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments by others about the pros and cons of holding “merit badge classes” during troop meetings as the most efficient way of maximizing advancement.

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