Although our 12-13-year-old Scouts are not directly affected by the recent changes in “ministering” in the Church, they are definitely affected by the principles underlying these changes. When a historic change in church policy or practice is announced, it is tempting to focus on the mechanical aspects of the change to make sure we are doing things the “right way.” However, to fully understand an important revelation such as this, we need to understand the “why” before we approach the mechanics.
First, I would like to dig a little deeper into the talks and materials relating to this change to search out its purpose and the principles upon which it is based. Then, I will make a case for how these principles should encourage us to move away from the adult-led troop and towards the Scout-led troop.
A couple of weeks ago at the 188th Annual General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced “two significant organizational changes . . . designed to help everyday Latter-day Saints in congregations throughout the world minister more like Jesus Christ.” (Mormon Newsroom, April 1, 2018) One change is that “ministering replaces home teaching and visiting teaching.” (First Presidency Letter, April 2, 2018)
The purpose of this change was to make a shift away from an emphasis on methods and towards a greater focus on the ultimate aim we are striving to achieve. No longer will priesthood holders be reporting on the number of visits they make. Instead, they will be reporting on “their service and the needs and strengths of those for whom they have been invited to care.” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” ministering.lds.org)
In making this shift, Elder Holland taught us that as the Church matures spiritually, we need to move away from the “mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be With and Strengthen Them,” 188th Annual General Conference) Elder Holland contrasted this new emphasis on the aim of ministering with the attitude characterized by the bumper sticker he saw which read, “if I honk, you’ve been home taught.” Elder Holland described this change as a move away from the “I made it through the door by the skin of my teeth” and towards a more “gospel-based concept of ministering.”
To understand the importance of this revelation, we must understand the difference between a method and an aim or a purpose. “The primary purpose in this ministering idea will be, as was said of the people in Alma’s day, to ‘watch over their people, and … nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.’” (Ibid) A visit is a method of achieving that purpose, but the visit is not the purpose itself. “What matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location. What matters is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment ‘to watch over the church always.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Emissaries to the Church,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2016, 62)
Similarly, in Scouting we have both methods and purposes. The purposes (or aims as they are called) are “character development, citizenship training, and personal fitness.” (Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 1, 10, Boy Scouts of America, 2015)
In our desire to see tangible, measurable results, sometimes we trade an aim for a method. How many times have we heard, “the main goal is for every young man to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout before he turns 14,” or something like that? Or, no drivers’ license until you have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout? To make the method of advancement our aim is like making monthly reporting of home teaching our goal instead of ministering.
Advancement is an important part of Scouting. However, it is important to note that it is one of the eight methods of Scouting (adult association, advancement, ideals, leadership development, outdoors, patrol method, personal growth, and uniform), not one of its aims. (Ibid) When we trade one of Scouting’s aims for a method, we trade down. In the short run, focusing on one of the methods as if it was a final destination may improve the outward appearance of the Scout or troop. However, we are in the business of saving souls, not creating good reports or outward appearances.
I have personally observed Scouts under the adult-led model and the Scout-led model. It has been my observation that when the adults are running things, they are typically emphasizing advancement, skill instruction, and outward achievements. This appears much like the “mechanical, function-without-feeling” approach Elder Holland suggested we move away from. Scouts respond to this kind of system by doing what they are told to do but without feeling the Spirit or having any change of heart. And they often develop a negative attitude about their experience with “Scouting.”
When the Scout-led model is followed, Scouts start having fun and learning things as a part of the process and achieving advancement as a byproduct, not a destination. They start telling their friends how much fun they are having running their own troop and the enthusiasm and energy multiply. Scouts are much more teachable and their hearts are more open to conversion when they are having fun. When they have to solve problems running their own troop, they begin to develop character and we achieve the aims of Scouting and begin to achieve the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood.
-Bill Chapman is an attorney and lives in San Clemente, California, loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, hike, and do anything in the outdoors. He has been a Scoutmaster three times, served in numerous unit, district, and Council positions in the BSA and served as a co-instructor at Philmont. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.