There are two types of knowledge: knowledge about something, and knowledge of something. Knowledge about something is learned vicariously through instruction, observation, and repetition. Knowledge of something is learned through personal, direct, firsthand experience.
Young men gain knowledge about Jesus Christ, gospel principles, priesthood duties, and character development by attending church meetings on Sunday. There boys typically learn about the important matters of life through “lectures” delivered in sacrament meeting talks, Sunday School lessons, and priesthood quorum instruction.
Knowledge of something comes when one lives it. Outdoor activities are opportunities for young men to practice what has been preached to them on Sunday. A young man may learn about the gospel in a classroom, but if he does not experience it himself and internalize it, he may not behave according to its doctrines. If the only opportunity to teach a boy to be trustworthy is to instruct him on Sunday about being trustworthy, he may never embrace that characteristic. A camping experience, however, provides many opportunities for a boy to show he is trustworthy. You can talk all day about the importance of service, but until a boy actually performs service to others he will never appreciate its value. It is not until one actually does missionary work that a boy feels the joy of bringing “one soul” into the kingdom of God. Boys gain knowledge of gospel principles when they actively participate in experiences where values are camouflaged in meaningful activities.
When properly applied, service projects, outdoor activities, and camping experiences are the laboratory wherein boys live the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and the values of the Scout Oath and Law. You are the lab instructor charged with teaching boys how to be successful as they experiment with their physical, mental, and moral development in their formative years. Sir Robert Baden-Powell said, “For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the forest is at once a laboratory, a club, and a temple.” He also explained, “The open air is the real objective of Scouting and the key to its success.” (Both quotes are found on oldsite.scout.org.)
When it comes to helping young men inculcate values, you cannot teach your boys by starting where you are; you must start where your boys are. Very few boys will show a natural interest in that which strong members of the Church know is important merely by listening to gospel lessons or sacrament meeting talks. That’s why you have to get the boys out of the classroom and into the woods. Monthly campouts, hikes, bike rides, or other outdoor activities provide the practical application of gospel principles in the laboratory of the real world.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Do you primarily offer classroom training and lectures to your boys or do you give them practical, firsthand, hands-on, life-changing experiences?
- Are your activities tailored to the skills, interests, and desires of your boys?
- Do you hold monthly outdoor activities and campouts with your boys? Are they scheduled on the calendar far in advance so the boys experience excited anticipation for the activity?
- Is the “laboratory” experience you provide for your boys filled with hands-on opportunities for the boys to dissect, examine, and test the principles and doctrines of the gospel?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“By the second night around the campfire, you have the most teachable, ready-to-learn, ready-to-listen-to-the-Spirit young men you will ever see. You won’t see them that way in priesthood meeting or at home or at school or on activity night. As a result, there will be an opportunity around that campfire for testimony bearing and teaching that will sink deep into their hearts and that they will remember for a lifetime” (David C. Pack, Why I Love 50 Mile Hikes, Ensign, June 2012).
-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.