Scouting provides Aaronic Priesthood leaders with a valuable ally in their efforts to build faith in the young men of the Church.
"Scouting helped hold me to the Church," said Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy in a recent Church News interview. "I'm sure it's done the same for hundreds of thousands of others during a period of time when they love the Church, but don't know very much about it and don't always have enough faith to win the battle of life."Elder Featherstone is both president of the Young Men organization and chairman of the Church Scouting Committee, and he feels wards in the Church should view the programs with the same unity of purpose that the Church had when it called him to the dual positions. "There is a real priesthood purpose in Scouting," he said. "It goes hand in hand with priesthood programs."
One step to achieving this unity, he added, is through effective organization at the ward level. "We would hope in some in some instances, for example, that the Young Men president would also be the Explorer advisor. The program is not so sophisticated that a president of the Young Men, who is also the priest's quorum advisor, could not also be the Explorer adviser. He shold be. Other men can be called to assist that leader with his priesthood or Scouting duties, if needed."
In addition to the obvious planning and correlation advantages to having a single leader, Elder Featherstone said a more subtle benefit can be derived, as well.
"The lesson on Sunday can teach the skill and the principle, and then we apply it on a week night," he said. "If on Sunday we talk about missionary work, what if on a week night we had the missionaries come in to teach portions of the discussions for a few minutes, and then have the young men go out with them to help with a lesson in an investigator's home. Imagine how much more meaningful that Explorer activity would be."
If Elder Featherstone seems to be particularly emphasizing the Explorer program, which involves priest-aged young men, that's his intent. "More than the other Scouting programs," he said, "the sad thing is that in the Church we don't have as many young men as we would like who are involved in a solid Exploring program with a committed leader.
"Frankly," he continued, "one reason we have Exploring in the Church is to help prepeare a young man for his role as a father and patriarch in the home and as a future missionary for the Church, as well as for his career. Exploring, when carried out as intended, is simply a full package of these kinds of activities."
Elder featherstone noted that Church attendance of young men has increased along with the number of registered Scouts. "In the United States and Canada, the percentage of young men attending Church in 1978 was 51.6 peercent. At the end of 1986 it was 58.4 percent. That's pretty impressive."
Additionally, h pointed out, more than 90 percent of LDS young men who earn the Eagle rank in Scouting eventually serve a mission for the Church.
But, he emphasized, spiritual development through Scouting activities comes only when leaders consciously seek opportunities to teach gospel principles. "I guess the greatest teaching momemts I've had with young men have been at an encampment, or floating a river, or at night sitting around the campfire.
"In my mind's eye I can see myself floating down the middle fork of the Salmon River with three other men, one of them my son, and talking about very sacred and important things in a setting where they were listening and really intereste," Elder Featherstone added. "I think they would probably not forget those kinds of lessons."
For the Scouting program to fulfill its true purpose in the Church, a young man must see that spiritual matters are important to his Scout leaders.
Much of a Scout leader's responsibility, then, is to open the door for spiritual experiences for his young men. Elder Featherstone declared. "Every day or night while out on an outing, we ought to have a spiritual experience with the boys. If we don't have an experience they'll never forget, but we really haven't administered the Boy Scout program in the Church. Scouting should help cement a boy's faith in the Church and bring him in close."
Bishops should choose Scout leaders who will run this kind of a program. Elder Featherstone feels. "I think Scoutmasters should be worthy members who really love the Lord. They should also care about young people, be willing to put in the time and stay in the calling long enough so they can really be effective."
Elder Featherstone summarized Scouting's role in the Church this way: "It is part of the activity program for the Aaronic Priesthood. It's a wonderful program for young men that the family can slip right into like a hand into a glove.
"But, above all, young men love it."