For one particular troop meeting, our patrol leaders’ council planned the skill instruction portion of our troop meeting to be on music. That sounded good to me until they told me that one of the instruments they would be giving instruction on was an electric guitar. We met in the Primary room of our building and they had selected two other rooms for other instruments. I could just see it now, our Scouts “rocking out,” playing an electric guitar with the amp up full blast and our stake president walking in and asking me, “Brother Chapman, what are these Scouts up to now?”
Fortunately, the Scouts assured me that they were not going to hook up the amplifier or turn it on. In same room where instruction was being given on the electric guitar, another Scout was teaching about the acoustic guitar. As you can see in the picture above, they went to a lot of work to prepare their presentations and did a great job. In one of the other rooms, a Scout was instructing on the bugle; in the third room, a Scout was teaching the piano. We adults had nothing to do with this. When it was over, we were proud of our Scouts and amazed at what they could do on their own. And, this was fun!
If the adults would have been in charge of this event, we probably would have brought in other adult “experts” to teach about different musical instruments. It would have been high-quality instruction and very educational. However, how do you think the Scouts would have responded to adults teaching compared to their own buddies teaching? These Scouts actually planned, prepared and executed everything that had to do with these presentations, including setting up the rooms, etc. This was the “patrol method” in action. How much did the Scouts who were teaching these workshops learn and grow as the instructors compared to how much they would have grown being instructed by adults?
Why is it so important to let the Scouts run their own troop? The answer is that the purpose of Scouting is more about spiritual growth than it is learning specific skills. Before there can be spiritual growth, there must be agency. Without the ability to make choices, we cannot grow. If we are forced to do something, even if it is right, our actions themselves will not help us in our eternal progression (D&C 29:39).
As parents, we are commanded to teach our children the doctrines of the gospel but we are not taught to force our children to do what is right (D&C 68:25). In part, the “war in heaven” was fought over this principle (Moses 4:1–4). Two plans were proposed: one would respect the agency of man at the risk of losing souls; the other promised perfection but would have given away our agency.
The advantage of the plan that would take away our agency was that not one soul would be lost. This plan was so tempting that one-third of Our Heavenly Father’s children chose this plan. So convinced were they that they were willing to rebel against their God and be cast out of His presence as a consequence of their rebellion.
Striving for perfection cannot be allowed to trump agency. “Agency is the power and freedom to make choices, right or wrong. Children are able to grow the most when they can exercise their agency. However, when they use their agency to choose the wrong, they limit their future happiness. To make choices properly, children need knowledge. They need to understand the alternatives, and they need the freedom to choose. As a parent, allowing your children to exercise their agency and choose for themselves is one of the greatest challenges you may face. Some parents force their children to do right, denying them the right of agency” (“Agency—The Key to Growth,” Family Home Evening Resource Book, (1997), p. 237, emphasis added).
There is risk in agency, as Our Heavenly Father well understood. However, “[o]ur agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again” (“Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life,” Elder Robert D. Hales, Ensign, Nov. 2010).
Scouting is an ideal training ground for preparing young men to fulfill the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood. By giving our Scouts a “laboratory” where they can experiment with their agency under the supervision of adults, their opportunities to grow multiply exponentially. These opportunities are much more likely to help them achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood than when we take away their agency in exchange for the “perfect” program. Agency is the doctrinal basis of this approach; the “patrol method” is how we do it.
-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, 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.