Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell drew heavily on his military training to inform his views about how to train and motivate young men. He had been in war with young men barely older than Scouting age, and had found that through training they could become resilient and inspired men. To those who would train such youth, he said, “Success in training the boy depends largely on the [leader’s] own personal example,” (“Pearls of Wisdom—Quotes from Baden-Powell”).
For two weeks in June and July 2016, over 300 priesthood leaders converged on Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. Many brought their families, as if in response to the general’s call to set an example of lifelong learning while striving to become better leaders.
Classes and workshops at this expanded Priesthood Leadership Conference were taught by the general presidencies of the Primary and Young Men, Young Men general board members, and professional Scouters. The conference activities were designed to invite creative and inspired responses to issues and opportunities confronting the modern Scouter or Church leader.
The purposes and mechanisms of Scouting were explored in detail to help align Scouting and priesthood initiatives around the building of faith and spiritual identity. Many stories emerged. A bishop from Colorado told of worrying about a particular priest. He had an impression to have a load of rocks delivered to his house. He hired the boy to help him wheelbarrow the pile to the other side of his yard. He then ‘changed his mind’ and they moved them to a third location providing many more hours of time to work and talk. Some years later, when the boy returned from his LDS mission, he said that what had turned his life from his early patterns was “a pile of rocks.”
The encampment at Philmont was an opportunity for leaders to fully engage in a secluded, uninterrupted setting to contemplate the importance of their individual stewardships. They learned to follow President David O. McKay’s admonition: “There is no greater responsibility in the world than the training of a human soul.”
Aside from formal instruction, Philmont training also invited leaders to do some of the things that Scouts do to build righteous routines and holy habits. Many engaged in hiking, rafting, singing, skits, handicrafts, and sports, all in the majestic southwestern setting of the Philmont Ranch.
Young Men General President Stephen W. Owen and his wife Jane seemed to agree with General Baden-Powell’s advice that “We do not want to make Scout training too soft” (“Pearls of Wisdom—Quotes from Baden-Powell”). They led two excursions of leaders to the summit of the “Tooth of Time,” a historic mountain peak landmark. The first weeks sojourn included the Primary general presidency and a drenching summer downpour in the middle of the six-mile assault, with the always-hoped-for result of closer relationships of trust garnered through shared adventure.
Training moments were rich and plentiful. Brother Owen reminded leaders that our youth programs are about changing these boys during their pliable years of 8 to 18 when they have the courage and humility to improve themselves. “It is better to train boys than to mend men.” He went on to say, “When people get to be our age they don’t usually change much.”
In another setting, Brother Owen spoke for 30 minutes to a group of stake presidents and YM leaders about magnifying their callings by being good dads and good sons, seeking their fathers’ blessings, and giving priesthood blessings to their sons.
When leaders were asked to consider what they might do differently upon returning from their Philmont experiences, one leader recited a refrain from the hymn, “Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things.” He continued, “I’m going to go home and stop spending so much time on things that don’t matter.”
Sister Joy Jones, Primary general president, told of meeting with Elder Craig A. Cardon of the Seventy as he returned from service in Africa. He told the Primary presidency that after serving in Africa he now sees things through “African eyes.” Sister Jones expressed the feelings of many as she said that having spent this time at Philmont with consecrated members striving to serve our youth with their whole hearts and minds and strength, she will now return home to see the world through “Philmont eyes.” I hope that we, too, can learn from experiences (such as the Philmont adventure), and as we work with and train our young men to become tomorrow’s leaders, we can teach them to see the world (and themselves) through enlightened eyes.
Contributed by: Steven J. Lund, Young Men board member