Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Duty to God Social Experiment

My ward, like many others, is having very limited success with the current Duty to God program.  It just doesn’t seem to be catching on. We hand out very few certificates…with most boys ignoring the program completely.  Our stake does an annual “Stake Duty to God” activity once a year (just had it in April) and as a ward we bring it up occasionally, which usually consists of asking the young men in priesthood meeting if they have any experiences to ‘SHARE’ with the group.  This is always met with awkward silence, and we move on. Most boys don’t even know where their booklets are, and parents don’t know what is going on.  It simply does not seem to be working.  It’s a shame really because there are valuable experiences to be gained by following the lessons in this booklet.

It becomes very easy to say “Well, the program is no good.  If it isn’t working then there must be something wrong with the program.”  I believe that this thinking is pretty wrong-headed.

I have a theory as to why the program is not catching on...I also have an idea of what to do about it. (I hate to bring up problems without offering a solution).  So here goes.

Let me say up front that I LOVED the former program.  If it needed changed I personally would have liked to have seen it become even more difficult (like Personal Progress), with even more requirements that really challenge young men.  When this new version came out I was less than excited.  It seemed too light and fluffy.  It took me a while to figure out what to do with it.  Now that I’ve seen what it can do, I’ve really come to love it as well. Make no mistake, it is far more difficult than the previous program.

So here is my THEORY as to why it is not working:

The biggest flaw I see in the current program is that it is too open-ended and self-driven.  This, coincidentally, is also what I see as the biggest strength of it as well. (A good friend of mine likes to say “God loves a paradox” and in this case it is certainly true.) The boys are expected to set out on their own to learn and set goals…something they don’t have to do anywhere else (not in school, not in scouting…nowhere),  and they simply don’t know how to do it.  Most of their parents don’t either.  This just isn’t part of our culture. 

We are taught that the focus of the program is not on checking off specific requirements.  The reality is that you are never done learning your Duty to God.  Rather a boy is supposed to focus on what he is becoming. To encourage this the reward portion of the program has been removed…consequently a big chunk of the motivation is gone. There is no longer a Duty to God award. (At first I really hated this idea, but I have come to believe that this leaves the door open for us to create our own “Duty to God Award” that best suits the needs of our young men – it takes creativity but you can come up with some good stuff).

At its heart this program follows the pattern of “Learn/Act/Share”. (I prefer to call it “Learn/DO/Share” because the acronym L.D.S. seems more fitting than L.A.S.).  According to this pattern, we LEARN certain things about a topic, then we set goals to ACT or DO with what we’ve learned, then we SHARE our experience.  As Latter-Day Saints I think we are awesome at learning.  We can cross-reference, investigate, study and uncover all kinds of information on doctrine and other Church topics.  I’d put us in the 90th percentile for that.  When it comes to “DOING” though, I think we slip down into the 20th or 30th percentile (which is below a failing grade).  Consider how many people show up to help clean the chapel when it is their turn.  Our SHARING isn’t much better.  Think about your monthly Fast & Testimony meeting.  How many people rush up to the podium to ‘SHARE’ their experiences?  Even worse…how many of them do we kind-of/sort-of mock because they are the same ones every time…  I’d put SHARING at a higher percentile than DOING/ACTING but not a lot (around 25-35%).

Why is this? Can’t we do better? What can we do?

What is the solution?

I believe that for priesthood holders the key is in ACTION (the heart of DOING). I believe that ACTION is where the power of the priesthood is manifest. Priesthood doesn’t work if it is not DOING something. If we were to GET OUT AND GET MOVING (or as Pres. Boyd K. Packer put it in his 100th anniversary of Seminary talk “with all they getting, get GOING!”)  I firmly believe that if we would DO more, then we would have more experience and with that experience comes a greater capacity to SHARE it. The problem that we run into here is that the Natural Man will resist action.  This is why most people don’t exercise…it takes effort and our nature is to resist anything that resembles work.  This is our first hurdle.

I also am not a big fan of asking boys to “SHARE”… “Sharing Time” is a primary activity and I think that in the boys minds it’s a little kid thing.  I once heard a friend talk about having a “Manly Minute” where each boy could talk about the good things that happened to them that week. I liked that idea and have tried it a few times and it seemed to work much better.  You are still ‘SHARING’ you just aren’t calling it that. There is no regulation in the program that says we MUST call it 'Sharing'.  This is the second hurdle, and it is contingent on the first.

So what do I recommend we do to get our boys DOING and SHARING?

Well, I’ve thought and prayed and counseled with our Youth Leaders about what to do and I’ve come up with a plan…a sort of social experiment…that I’m implementing in our ward.  We are just getting started but I feel really good about the prospects and would like to invite you to come along for the journey as I post my progress here, and I would really appreciate your input.  The second reason that I’m putting these ideas on here is in hopes that you might find them useful and implement them too so that success with this program can spread.

As I introduced this idea to the boys and parents, I wanted to make sure that they understood this important point: that this program comes to us from a prophet.  It isn’t just a random thing, but it is direction that President Monson feels is important for YOU YM (and your families) today.  In the discussion that I held with our YM leaders about how we might improve our success with the program, one leader made a comment that “This just isn’t for everyone, and a lot of the boys just don’t want to do it”.  While I respect his right to this opinion and know that MANY youth leaders share his point of view, I would respectfully suggest that we first take a moment and review the story of Naaman and Elijah

You’ll recall that Naaman was a leader of the Syrian army, and he was a leper.  He sought out Elijah to be healed and was told to bathe in the Jordan River seven times and he would be made clean.  Angry and offended, Naaman took off for home and refused to subject himself to such humiliations.  But one of his wise servants asked him “…My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?  How much rather then when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:13)  he is basically saying “if the prophet told you to do something awesome, you’d have done it, so why not do the simple task he’s given you?”  So Naaman did it and the miracle of healing occurred.  So again I’d say A PROPHET HAS TOLD US TO DO OUR DUTY TO GOD…should we not then DO IT? Even if it just ‘isn’t our thing’? Or we don’t think that it matters? It is a small and simple thing we’ve been asked to do…but if we do it…miracles will occur. It is very important that every young man in the Church understand this principle.  It is  key to success.

So we decided in our council that the one really essential component to success with Duty to God is to have it working at HOME!  Mom and Dad must be involved or it will not work.

This gave me an idea…I took it to the Bishop and got his approval for it and last weekend at our Ward Fathers and Sons campout I issued a challenge to the dads.  The ward bought Duty to God books for every father and YM leader, and I handed them out and challenged those fathers to start doing the program themselves…and to establish a weekly time to go over their progress with their sons.  I suggested that this can be done as a part of family night, on Sunday afternoons, During your P.I.E.’s or even as a part of Saturday chores.  But it has to be consistent and it has to involve them both.  I suggested that their first assignment would be to fill in the page where their name goes and find out the dates they were ordained to the various priesthood offices listed there and put a photograph of themselves there.  When this is done they are to show it to me as a symbol of their commitment to do it.  They all agreed to move forward and work on the program with their sons.  Most seemed pretty excited about it and I have a few young men come later and ask me for books for their dad’s who weren’t around at that time.  I even offered to help them expand their books into journals (I’ll post here how to do that).

In addition I decided that another key for success is that the program needs to be driven from my level, in the bishopric, and should become a frequently discussed topic from me to the YM and their fathers.  I know that they’ll likely get sick of it, but it will either inspire them or make them hate me…well…I’m not here to be liked I guess…I am here to help our YM to become Warriors…and you can’t be a Warrior if you don’t know your DUTY.

To help with that, again I got permission from the Bishop, and I’ve established a bi-annual Duty to God camp.  Here is how the camp works:

  • It is done under the direction of the Bishopric with the help of YM leaders. (in our case, I’m in charge of executing the activity)
  • All boys and YM leaders are invited to attend
  • The primary focus is to do something that the boys will love and really enjoy. Something full of adventure. But…is must tie into a gospel message and a section of their Duty to God booklet. This is important.  IT teaches an underlying principle that learning the gospel and fun CAN COEXIST!
  • At each camp I issue a challenge to complete some part of the Duty to God booklet before the next campout, and then for the next activity we’ll reward the boys who complete the challenge.  Some of these activities include: running a 5K, summiting a local peak, canoeing, etc.  While the reward is for the boys who complete the challenge, we also have stuff for the other boys to do as well…it just isn’t as ‘high adventure’ as the other activity (or nearly as cool).
  • This “Challenge/Activity” pattern is repeated for each camp.  That way  the boys who get involved are doing at least two sections of their Duty to God each year…and they are also getting two camps in each year.

We’ve done the camp twice and it seems to have worked OK so far. We’ve had our hiccups getting it off the ground…again, I’m going to update this with our progress as time goes on.

Personally, I feel a strong need to make this program live more in the lives of the boys.  If my effort only ends in one boy completing his Duty to God then I will have considered this a success.