I had originally intended to write this blog message as the final post in my series on support roles for Scouting in the Church. But, in view of the numerous comments in the reply section of the last few blogs and my experience at Philmont this past week, I decided to address this issue now.
Since I started writing this blog over forty weeks ago I have received several phone calls and emails from readers asking for help with specific problems they encounter in their Scouting or Aaronic Priesthood calling. By far the majority of those calls and emails express dismay at the perceived lack of support the person feels from those in authority over them. Sadly, some have said they face actual opposition from their ward Young Men presidency, members of their bishopric, or stake leaders when they try to run their Scouting program the way it has been designed by the Boy Scouts of America and adopted by the Church. The lack of vision and understanding from priesthood leaders seems to be an overarching concern for too many adult Young Men and Scouting leaders in the Church.
As I have stated many times in my blog messages, in my opinion the greatest need in Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood in the Church is for all priesthood leaders to gain a personal vision and testimony of why these two programs are so intricately linked. My constant prayer is that all adult leaders responsible for the young men in the Church would receive a personal witness similar to the one I experienced and shared in my first blog message.
How does one give feedback to those in authority over them when one feels a priesthood leader is not fulfilling his role as one may hope? How does a person provide “corrective counsel” to priesthood leaders in the hierarchical order of the Church? Is this even possible without overstepping one’s bounds? Will the priesthood leader be receptive to the feedback?
Let me first state that priesthood leaders should listen to input from those they serve, for that is how the Lord has designed His Church. That is why there are so many councils at every level throughout the Church. The purpose of councils is to hear the input from others and draw upon the collective insight and experience of the council members. “Come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face” (D&C 50:10-11).
This scriptural instruction from the Lord provides you with the first indicators of how to offer your feedback to priesthood leaders—do it face to face, and be reasonable when you do it.
The best way I know to ensure you are reasonable when you address tough issues is to ensure you have the Spirit of the Lord with you before you open your mouth. My advice: “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” those in authority over you (D&C 42:14). For this reason I highly suggest you fast and pray for guidance regarding how to encourage your priesthood leaders to fully embrace Scouting. I testify the Lord will both tell you what to say and how to say it if you petition Him for guidance on how to approach your priesthood leaders.
May I also caution you not to buttonhole your priesthood leaders with your advice if you have within you a spirit of contention, anger, criticism, or complaint. The Holy Ghost will not be with you if you harbor these feelings. Please realize that it is impossible for you to inspire others to change their attitude or behavior if you exhibit a bad attitude or poor behavior. The way to soften the heart of another is to approach them in a spirit of love, kindness, gentleness, meekness, compassion, and charity.
Before you give someone feedback I also encourage you to take some advice from Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). If you feel overwhelmed in your Scouting or Aaronic Priesthood leadership role, imagine the burden members of bishoprics and stake presidencies must feel. They have a lot on their plates. They have a load of conflicting priorities. They cannot be experts in every area of their stewardship. They can only focus on a few things at a time. Not everything can be a high priority to them, even though the youth of the Church should be at the top of the list.
Therefore you must simplify what you want from your priesthood leader. You must be specific. You should know what actions you want the leader to take. And you must make the burden light. Present a plan instead of just pointing out problems.
May I suggest you consider the following before you talk to a priesthood leader:
- What do you want from the priesthood leader? What is your hoped for outcome from talking to him about your concerns?
- What actions do you wish the leader to take? Does he have to take those actions or could someone else do it? Perhaps all you want from him is permission for you to take action.
- What other responsibilities does the leader have in his life? Is his plate so full that dealing with one more issue would be overwhelming and demoralizing? Are there ways you can lessen his burden rather than adding to it?
- Knowing that most people can only handle one improvement issue at a time, what is the most important change that needs to be made? Is there a sequence for all of the other changes you want? Success breeds success. Let your priesthood leader work on one thing at a time. Celebrate his success. Then offer another suggestion for improvement.
- What is the leader’s perspective or understanding regarding Scouting in your ward? Does he recognize there may be a problem? What are his goals? What are his concerns, if any?
- How does the leader perceive his role in Scouting versus his role as the leader of the Aaronic Priesthood? Does he understand the link between Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood?
- Do you and the leader speak the same language? Are the things that are important to you important to him, and vice versa? Are the two of you on the same wave length?
- How can you best inspire the priesthood leader to gain a personal testimony of Scouting?
- What is the payoff for the leader to do what you want? What is in it for him besides more work?
I know as you prayerfully ponder these questions the Lord will guide you in knowing how to give feedback to those in authority over you. Consider how Christ might handle the situation. Consider how the general authorities handle similar situations. Typically they gently and humbly teach, instruct, admonish, and reinforce. They always talk encouragingly. They use scriptures, handbooks, and stories to make their points. They shed light through the Spirit. They are never critical. They are always positive, hopeful, and supportive.
Finally, remember that the bishop and stake president have been given the keys and authority to direct the affairs of the ward or stake. Even the general authorities offer counsel, but allow the local leader to make the decisions regarding how they will govern their Church unit, within the bounds of Church policies and the scriptures. Likewise, you can offer your input, but never force an issue or violate a priesthood leader’s agency. Once a decision is made, support the decision of the one whom you have sustained.
I bear testimony that as you prayerfully seek the Spirit, the Holy Ghost will enlighten your mind and broaden your understanding so you can view the situation with more than your individual perspective of the issues. If you have the Spirit with you, the Holy Ghost will soften both your heart and the heart of the person to whom you are giving feedback. Through the inspiration of the Spirit, the Lord will open an effectual door at the right time so you can discuss your issues without causing offense.
I wish Scouting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operated perfectly because I have such a strong testimony of the value of Scouting and its potential impact upon the lives of young men. I know Scouting can be a critical component in helping boys to become faithful missionaries, husbands, fathers, and priesthood leaders. I wish every Young Men and priesthood leader knew this. I wish all brethren would do their duty to God to the very best of their ability. I wish they would magnify their priesthood calling. I wish I had a magic wand to make everything perfect. But, instead, like you, I must continue to plug along, hopefully making progress one “convert” at a time.
May the Lord bless you that you may strive to do your best to do your duty to God by magnifying your priesthood and Scouting callings. As you do so I know you will be “sanctified by the Spirit” (D&C 84:33) and your “confidence [will] wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45) when you give advice and counsel to your priesthood leaders.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Do you know what you want from your priesthood leader? Do you know what actions you want your leader to take? Have you simplified those actions so the burden is light?
- Are your expectations of your priesthood leader reasonable?
- Have you sought first to understand by taking into consideration the priesthood leader’s perspective and understanding?
- Have you fasted, prayed, and counseled with the Lord regarding how to approach your priesthood leader to address your concerns?
- Have you mapped out a plan of what you will say in your feedback and how you will say it? Have you thought about how your priesthood leader will respond to your input?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves . . . . For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:16, 20)
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.