Monday, October 31, 2011


Last week was a little discouraging. I had hoped to begin training our new crew officers with the new Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews. We've been talking about getting this started for several weeks now, but we hadn't been able to because all the boys have been involved in cross-country at the high school. They've had a meet every Wednesday, which meant that they couldn't be around for our activities. Now that it's over, I had thought we could get started. I had two boys show up.

I tried giving them some training anyway, but the games don't work very well with only two people. It was discouraging. I know that they are busy young men--most of them were working that night--but it still got to me.

After we were finished we had a "committee meeting." I put that in quotes because there were only three of us--the committee chair, the scoutmaster, and myself. And technically, the scoutmaster and I aren't even on the committee.

I got really frustrated with that (I hope I didn't show it too much at the time) because our committee chair keeps talking about things that the committee can do to help, such as entering advancement reports, helping with fundraising, planning courts of honor, etc. The problem is that all we ever do is talk. We have the same conversations over and over and over and yet nothing ever gets done, unless I do it. With all the talk you'd think our chairman could at least get the committee together for a meeting, but that hasn't ever happened.

I was more than a bit discouraged. By the time I got home, I was fairly fuming. I'm afraid my wife heard more of it than any spouse should ever have to. Sorry, wife.

At first I was honestly tempted to throw in the towel and give up. I kind of wanted to call the bishop and tell him to find someone else to do it. But I resisted. I haven't given up hope completely. It has taken me a few days, and I still don't have the answers, but I do have something else. Perspective.

I'm sure everyone has heard the analogy about throwing a pebble in a pond. It creates ripples that spread across the surface of the water and have an impact far beyond the reach of that first small pebble. Well, I've been thinking about ripples.

On Sunday, the father of one of my former young men told me something I needed to hear. When I first started, that young man came home and said that "Brother Mathis won't let us do anything." Well, being the bishop, that young man's dad told him that I was following the rules and that he supported me 100%. Last week he was talking with his son again and the son commented about how much fun he had with the Priests, and with me.

I also had a visit last night from another young man I've been working with. Last week, this young man passed his Eagle Board of Review. At that time he told me that I was one of the reasons he finished. He visited me last night not as a scout, but as a friend. He and his dad were going around taking treats to their home teaching families and he thought about me. When we first moved into this ward, he and his dad were our home teachers, and they were the best home teachers I've ever had. Their assignment was changed about a year ago but he came last night anyway. We visited for a while and then he asked if there was anything he could do for us. I've been asked that question a lot, but never as sincerely. He really meant it.

That same young man has a twin brother. This is the one who really got interested in Venturing. He earned his Silver award and is currently working on the Sports bronze and the Trust awards. His leadership has really blossomed over the last year and a half or so. He even got several friends together and recruited leaders to create the first community based, co-ed Venturing crew in our district. He was elected as their first president. I told my Wood Badge patrol that he was the result of my ticket. That is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see happen. I can't take credit for everything, but I know I planted a few seeds and have had some role in nurturing them. And I hope that this Venturing crew is around when my daughter is old enough to join.

I've been thinking today about these ripples that are the result of my little pebble. There may be others. I hope more of my young men have benefited from my efforts. I hope I had some impact on our Wood Badge participants this year. I hope I've had a positive effect on those who come to round table each month. I've also thought about those who impacted me--most of whom probably don't even know it. I thought about my parents and their support of my Scouting as a boy. I thought the ripples that started with an unknown Scout doing a simple good turn in a London fog.

I also thought about my father-in-law who didn't get his Eagle because his leaders gave up.

So, no matter how frustrating things get; no matter how much the boys don't seem to care; no matter how much I have to do seemingly on my own, I'll keep doing it. Not for me, but for those boys. Because you never can tell what the result of those ripples will be. As the scripture says, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To be, or not to be... a merit badge counselor

I just got my wife signed up as a merit badge counselor. It made sense. As our ward's family history specialist she has taught classes at the local family history center and in our ward. She's good at it too, what with a degree from BYU in family history research. After hearing Elder David A. Bednar's recent conference address we've been discussing getting a class started for the young men and young women in our ward. Since there is a genealogy merit badge, we decided that we might as well get her signed up. That way, the young men can take this class and earn a merit badge at the same time. So we registered her as a counselor; it made sense.

This has raised within me the old debate about whether or not I should do the same. I could probably be reasonably qualified for several merit badges including bird study, environmental science, fish and wildlife management, mammal study, nature, plant science, and soil and water conservation. There could be a few others as well (family life, reading, hiking, camping, geocaching, etc) but I haven't looked into those much.

The committee chair in my ward thinks I should. One of his arguments was that if I was registered and we happened to be doing those activities anyway, I could sign off the boys for a merit badge. Pretty much what we were thinking about with my wife and her family history class.

But so far I've resisted; I haven't registered. Mostly because I have been a Venturing leader instead of a Boy Scout leader and merit badges are not a part of Venturing. I've thought that if I'm getting my young men to do activities and we can pass off requirements, those requirements will be for Venturing awards, not merit badges. As a Venturing leader I haven't wanted to get bogged down with merit badges. I haven't wanted to even think about it.

But then I question that decision. Maybe I could be a counselor and help some of the other boys. Just being a counselor doesn't mean I'd have to work on merit badges during our regular meetings. I could actually do it right and insist that the boys come talk to me and set up their own time to work on things and pass off requirements. Maybe I could be a resource to some of these young men. Maybe I could offer them a chance to work on some they wouldn't have thought about before. Maybe I could help some with a few that are required for Eagle.

I haven't registered yet. Maybe I won't until I'm moved from Venturing to Boy Scouts. But then again, maybe I should.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Patrol Method?

I have often heard that Robert Baden-Powell said something like "the patrol method is not a way to operate a Boy Scout troop, it is the ONLY way." (I have yet to see the actual sourcing on that quote, however.)  

I can see the point there. When used properly, the patrol method drives the entire experience. It's what makes Scouting really work. Maybe someday I'll actually see it happen. So far, my experience has been in small LDS wards where there are barely enough boys for one patrol. And the Scoutmaster usually doesn't know what the patrol method means. 

After attending Wood Badge, both as a participant and a staff member, I've seen how the patrol method can and should work. I would really love to see that actually happen in a troop.

That said, I don't think the patrol method applies to Venturing. I might cause a small ruckus in certain circles with that statement, but from everything I've read the patrol method is not a part of Venturing.

Let's review the methods of Scouting for a moment. Here are the eight methods of Boy Scouts, as listed by the National Eagle Scout Association (
  • Ideals
  • Patrol
  • Outdoor Programs
  • Advancement
  • Association with Adults
  • Personal Growth
  • Leadership Development
  • The Uniform 
Now let's have a look at Venturing's methods (see Venturing Leader Manual, p.2):
  • Leadership
  • Group Activities
  • Adult Association
  • Recognition
  • The Ideals
  • High Adventure and Sports
  • Teaching Others
Notice, there are no patrols (or uniforms, or advancement, but that's another topic). I pointed this out at my commissioner basic training a while ago and I don't think it went over very well. The trainer was of the opinion that "group activities" were the same thing as patrols. Well, maybe. But I don't think so.

Group activities can be anything. It could be the entire crew. It could be a smaller division within the crew. It could be an inter-crew competition. I suppose in a large crew the leadership might decide to break up the crew into smaller groups to facilitate meetings and outings, but that would have to be a decision of the crew presidency. And if a crew did that, they would have to create their own leadership positions, which is fine, but that's a decision to be made by the crew.

You could probably argue that dividing a crew into smaller groups to facilitate meetings and outings would actually run counter to the patrol method anyway. Green Bar Bill is supposed to have said that "a Troop is not divided into Patrols. A Troop is the sum total of its Patrols."

I have seen no official BSA publications anywhere (with one exception I'll get to in a minute) that say anything about patrols with Venturing crews. Not in the Venturing handbook. Not in the Venturing Leader Manual. Not in the Venturing Montly Program Forum (round table guide). Not in the Venturing Leadership Skills Course. Not in the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews. Nowhere in any official Venturing publication that I have seen is any mention of patrols. None.

I mentioned one exception. It is my 2011 Wood Badge Staff Guide. I don't have it with me, so I can't quote the exact wording or give the exact page number. There is a section that is talking about patrols, and their use at Wood Badge and there is a mention that the patrol organization can work as well for the dens of a Cub Scout pack, the squads of a Varsity Scout team, or the teams of a Venturing crew. And, if I remember correctly, that statement isn't even a part that is specifically shared with participants.

So, the only "official" mention of anything like patrols for Venturing comes as a passing statement in a document that most Venturing leaders will not see. Hmm.

I'll say it again. The patrol method is not a part of Venturing. Venturing is a completely different animal from Boy Scouts. It is different enough that most Scouters I know don't know quite how to deal with it. It gets a bit frustrating at times. But it is a fantastic program. I hope it stays around for a good long time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This weekend's activity

I have been trying to get my Venturing crew to have more weekend activities. I mean, what good is Venturing if you don't do stuff? Since our yearly calendar fell apart (we really need to do better with our presidency meetings) and we haven't finalized our new calendar, we've kind of been coasting. I suggested we do something for a weekend activity this month and the boys decided a hike would be a good thing to do.

We had planned to do a relatively short hike--maybe 2 miles round trip--but at least we'd be out doing something. We scheduled the day, planned to grill some burgers for lunch while we were up there, and got ready. But something unexpected happened. Nobody showed up.

I found out later that two of the boys got new jobs and had to work, a third hurt his ankle and couldn't go. One decided he needed to do homework, or something like that. One just didn't want to go, and one, who wasn't there when we planned the activity, was never told about it.

Maybe it's my fault--I did volunteer to lead this activity. Maybe I didn't do enough. But whatever the reason, the activity fell through.

But it didn't turn out all bad. I ended up taking my wife and daughter. We didn't do the hike, but we did go up and have lunch, and we had a wonderful afternoon together as a family. I realized that I should be doing that kind of thing with them more often. It really was great.

So, on Sunday, when I found out what happened to all the boys, I told them it was okay. In fact, I had such a wonderful day with my family that I actually thanked them for not coming. I hope that was an okay thing to do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Scout Leader Training

I've been thinking a lot lately about a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 107, verses 99 and 100:
99   Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
100  He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.
This applies to all church members in any calling, even Scout leaders. Let's take a closer look.

"Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty..." - Scouts and Scout leaders raise their right arm in the Scout sign and take a solemn oath to "do my best to do my duty." How can we expect to do our duty unless we know what it is? This requires that we receive training. Not just fast start and basic training. We need to attend Wood Badge and round table. These are, in my opinion, rather basic steps to understanding what our duty really is. Furthermore, we need to actually read our leader manuals. I know, that's a radical idea, but it works!

"...and to act in the office in which he is appointed." - LDS Scout leaders don't normally volunteer. They are appointed. The Lord knows you didn't ask for this, but He gave it to you anyway, and expects you to act.

" all diligence." - Let me again mention Wood Badge, round table, and reading the handbooks.

"He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand..." - I'm not going to try to describe what slothful looks like, but I think we've all seen it. But the part I find interesting is the not being counted "worthy to stand" part. Worthy to stand where? Does this refer to our eternal salvation? Maybe. Could it mean the temple? Maybe. I'm not suggesting Bishops should revoke a temple recommend if the Scoutmaster doesn't go to Wood Badge, I just think the wording in the scripture is interesting. We should keep this in mind as we go about our work.

"...and he that learns not his duty... shall not be counted worthy to stand." - There's that "worthy to stand" phrase again. Only this time it is connected not to the action, but the learning. He that learns not his duty.... How are you supposed to act in all diligence unless you learn your duty? Get trained! Please!

I know, in the church, we sometimes have a problem about calling Scout leaders and not getting them trained. Part of this is that the person extending the call doesn't know what the training is supposed to be. The new District Executive in my district has seen this problem and created a tool to help combat it. It is a checklist for new Scout leaders--their "Steps to Success." (Check it out, here.) In my opinion, this is a great tool that needs to be used more. I shared it with my bishop, who I hope shared it with my new second counselor in the young men. Perhaps I'll share it again in presidency meeting....