Over the past three years I’ve heard many men discuss their vision for, or understanding of, Trail Life USA. Some I met while helping build curriculum, some I met at the National Conference and many I met through social media by blogging and responding to feedback on my blog articles.
Each of us came from varied backgrounds, contributing a unique perspective based on personal experiences, family heritage, and distinctive doctrinal positions. In common, we all share a love of being outdoors, camping, hiking and adventuring. We also admire the design of the scouting methods – their ability to teach young men to develop resilience, respectful assertiveness, selfless service, a fire for personal growth and pursuit of a meaningful relationship with God.
At the end of each conversation, we recognized that we had more in common about things that really matter and our differences were mainly in style or habit. This was a marked contrast to our prior experiences in a well-intentioned organization who left the definition of “God” to the individual.
This is one of our organization’s greatest strengths. We share a common yardstick – defined by God, not us.
How is this helpful in deploying our program?
First of all, all youth are welcome to participate. We don’t require participating youth or their immediate families to believe our tenants of faith, but simply acknowledge that we will present our faith as part of how we operate our program. Our faith is, or at least ought to be, central to how we live our lives and while I’m not perfect in my understanding or execution of my faith, it is part of my identity and my struggle to grow.
There is something genuine to letting trailmen know that I struggle to grow as an individual – that there are times when I would rather do the convenient thing than the right thing. More importantly, when I choose right over convenient I also reap a greater reward than I would have imagined, and when I choose poorly, there is a road to reconciliation with God called repentance.
Secondly, I appreciate the opportunity to share my faith practice as part of the expressive message of our program, and I will respect each individual’s own heritage and tradition, too. This is in line with other church ministries – all are welcome on Sunday morning, but we might not elect to appoint someone who doesn’t share our beliefs to become our pastor, priest or ministry leader. Why not accept “good people” just because they don’t believe the same things? Because faith matters transcend agreeing on how to set up a campsite. It’s not a matter of taste or style, it’s a matter of eternal life or death. Leaders are influencers who craft and communicate a shared vision. If the leadership team doesn’t agree, it’s effectiveness is undermined and chaotic.
Third, by focusing on our common Christian faith, the message consistency is greater, the practice is natural (sincere) and far less messy than creating a new brand of religion called “interfaith” which manages to pretty much offend everyone while satisfying no one. Pluralism (all paths towards understanding God not only may contain truth, but are equally true) leads to confusion. When each and every individual defines morality for themselves, we each create our own measuring stick. Suddenly a “yard” isn’t simply 36 inches, but 32 for one person, 37 for another, 35 for a third. Under that scenario, agreeing on the simple definition of the square footage of a room will yield a divergent range of results since we’ve each defined the dimensions differently with our unique yardsticks.
Fourth, each unit has flexibility to adjust the volume of the faith development components of the program. Some will emphasize it more than others by incorporating more of the “optional” programs and others may focus more on the camping and hiking. I characterize this as adjusting the volume, not choosing to incorporate faith or not – faith
is “baked in” to the program just like carrots are incorporated in carrot cake (it’s woven into the very fabric of what we do.)
At the National Convention, we embraced the phrase “Honoring the Legacy, Raising the Standard.” We acknowledge that the genesis of Trail Life USA grew out of our shared experience from the prior organization, but we’re trailblazing into new territory with God as our supreme trail guide. Let’s continue to raise the standard as we move forward into this new season of outdoor adventure and as we continue to welcome new families into the program.