Mac’s Message #54: How Acquiring Merit Badges Helps Prepare Young Men for Missionary Service

by | Sep 28, 2015

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire

Last week I shared with you the lamentations of a former mission president’s wife who said far too many young men enter the mission field without being spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared for missionary service. This week I wish to share more of her concerns and show how acquiring specific merit badges can proactively alleviate these anxieties.

I was greatly surprised that she said many young men enter the mission field not knowing how to ride a bike—or not knowing how to ride a bike safely. She spent a great deal of her time consoling missionaries who had suffered cuts, scrapes, and bruises from falling off their bikes. Many missionaries know little about bike safety and frequently end up getting “doored” by parked cars. Consequently she had to repair a lot of torn pants. She also expressed dismay that missionaries often don’t know how to repair their bikes when they break down. Sounds like the Cycling merit badge should be required for future missionaries.  

A lot of missionaries don’t know basic vehicle maintenance for their mission vehicles, even though they could have taken the Automotive Maintenance merit badge in Scouting. The bane to mission transportation coordinators is spending precious mission dollars paying for unnecessary, expensive repairs because young missionaries failed to properly maintain their vehicles. Such neglect can cause missionaries to lose their car privileges, forcing them back to riding bikes—which is another reason why the Cycling merit badge is important.

Some young men are not physically ready for their mission. Some are unable to depart on their mission until they lose weight. Others struggle with the rigors of walking or riding bicycles all day. Perhaps this is the reason why physical activities and sports are the core of Varsity Scouting and Physical Development is an entire section of the Duty to God program. The Athletics, Personal Fitness, and Sports merit badges have obvious value when one realizes they are important mission preparation tools.

Cooking is another skill young men need to learn, “particularly how to cook inexpensive, realistic, healthy foods,” the mission president’s wife explained. “Young men need to learn to eat more than just junk food. They need to be taught what to shop for and how to shop. They need to be physically taken to a store and shown where the healthy food is located. And they need to know how to comparison shop. They need to know how to shop for cheap, but healthy, food. Most important, they need to learn how to live within a budget.” The Cooking merit badge can teach a young man all of these things, if taught with future missionary service in mind. LDS Scouts might be less inclined to plan and prepare simple meals—like hot dogs—merely to pass off the merit badge requirement if they knew the cooking skills they were acquiring were vital for their mission.

Speaking of food, she also carped that missionaries are too finicky when it comes to food. She said young men need to “learn how to eat anything that is placed in front of them and do it without asking questions or making inappropriate comments that hurt their host’s feelings.” And, she emphasized, future missionaries need to be taught proper table manners, “especially regarding burping.”

Just think how many Scouting activities and merit badge requirements address these concerns. The Cooking and Camping merit badges and some of the Tenderfoot, Second, and First Class rank advancement requirements are ideally suited to prepare future missionaries to fend for themselves in the kitchen. The Personal Management merit badge shows young men how to live within a budget. Joint activities with the Young Women can teach young men better manners. Making sure the boys cook for themselves on campouts will teach them to eat anything, when there is nothing else to eat other than what they have cooked.

Young men also need to learn how to get along with others, particularly potential missionary companions who may come from diverse backgrounds, customs, and cultures and have a broad range of personalities.  As a Young Men leader you have wonderful opportunities to teach boys how to deal with other people. Many merit badges put boys in situations where they have to work well together to succeed—Backpacking, Camping, Canoeing, Climbing, Cooking, Hiking, Kayaking, Orienteering, Scuba Diving, and so many others. Overnight outings and other activities are the laboratories wherein young men learn how to work through their differences. They learn tolerance and respect for each other. They learn to help and support one another. Hopefully, through Scouting they learn that that the twelve values of the Scout Law are the behaviors they should exhibit toward their missionary companions and those they serve on their mission.

There is a reason why you should take your boys on monthly overnight campouts or activities, and it has little to do with Scouting and a great deal to do with life. Your young men cannot learn properly if you neglect providing them with the opportunities that have been specifically designed to teach them the skills they need to succeed on their missions. Look at the list of current merit badges and note how many can help a boy overcome the challenges of his mission. Scouting is more than just an activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood. Boy Scouting provides young men with the basic survival skills they will need on their missions. Varsity Scouting prepares them physically with its heavy emphasis on sports. And Venturing, where young men lead high adventure activities, is the finishing school that teaches priest-age boys to be mature leaders on their missions. Everything in Scouting is perfectly designed to prepare young men to faithfully serve the Lord in fulltime missionary service.


Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Can you see how the merit badges required for Eagle rank perfectly match the “survival” needs of a missionary?
  • Have you noticed which other merit badges will help prepare your boys for their missions?
  • Are you proactively offering these merit badges to your boys?
  • Do you help your boys see the future purposes of the knowledge and skills they learn by acquiring merit badges?
  • Are your activities and monthly campouts tailored to better prepare young men for full-time missionary service?
  • Are you providing your boys with opportunities to work together as “companions?”
  • Do you see how the Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, and Venturing programs are designed to incrementally prepare a young man for his mission?


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“And that [the young men] may grow up in thee, and receive a fullness of the Holy Ghost, and be organized . . . and be prepared to obtain every needful thing” (D&C 109:15).


-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.