A congregation that is close to my heart will be initiating its participation in Lads to Leaders in the coming days, and this event calls to mind how much Lads has done for me. As I enter my 21st year of participation, I would like to briefly describe the program and say why more congregations nationwide should consider participating.
Society has built-in mechanisms to assist and motivate young people in athletic, academic, and entrepreneurial achievement, but too often the church has slight and ineffective means to encourage Bible knowledge and spiritual achievement among children. Every congregation of the church should have a mechanism whereby it assists parents in promoting children’s spiritual development. In my opinion, the best such expedient is Lads to Leaders, a program that affords structure, content, and motivation, and can be tailored to the specific needs of each congregation as specified and directed by its eldership.
In Lads to Leaders, there are 37 categories of participation, through which children and adults learn what the Bible says and how to apply it in daily life and in the work and worship of the home and church. The events culminate at an annual convention in six cities (Atlanta, Dallas, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, and Orlando) where the participants’ efforts are celebrated and encouraged by thousands of brethren. Most (26) of the events are non-competitive, i.e., participants are evaluated, but not in comparison with others. Some (11) events are competitive. In my experience Lads competition has been friendly, mild, and profitable—always edifying and never discouraging. Consider in turn some of the benefits Lads offers:
Structure. Sometimes, although we want our children to learn God’s word and become spiritual leaders, we’re unsure how to start and to keep going over time. Lads event rules have been carefully designed for maximum long-term benefit, by church leaders who have experience in working with young people and parents. Consider the event called “Debate.” Here, students study an important proposition, such as “The use of mechanical instruments of music to accompany the worship of God by His church is not authorized by His Word,” in preparation for organized, formal (mock) debates. And, in the event called “Good Samaritan,” students habituate service by systematically learning what they can do for others and then scheduling it. Lads systematically connects adults who have expertise in a particular activity with students who are interested in that area. For example, song leaders train the participants in the event called “Song Leading,” and public speakers train the participants in “Speech.”
Content. Lads has a strong focus on quality, biblical curriculum that serves as the foundation for several events. For example, in the event called “Headed to the Office,” students read a book by Glenn Colley on how to prepare to fulfill the biblical qualifications for eldership, and complete projects that help them develop the requisite characteristics. A new event called“Keepers” helps girls to develop the attributes of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, including homemaking skills. Other events (e.g., “Centurion of Scripture,” “Bible Bowl”) challenge participants—including adults—to memorize Scripture.
Motivation. Part of Lads’ structure is a system of competition and recognition that keeps children working. As a young Lads participant, I would not yet be all the way home from the Lads convention before I starting working on my speech for the next year’s convention, because I wanted to win the trophy. Before long, I stopped caring so much about the material reward and cared more about the intrinsic rewards of writing and delivering my best possible speech. Nonetheless, competition was a critical stimulus in the early stages. Just as children are motivated by getting a star sticker on a chart for attendance or good behavior, a trophy in a contest goes a long way toward showing a child that a difficult task is worthwhile.
Individualization. Autonomous congregational leadership is fully in control of how its membership utilizes Lads. The events and all material supplied by Lads are, like Sunday school curriculum, tools at the disposal of congregations and families. Folks can participate in as few or as many events as they like, and can choose whether to attend the convention.
Whatever service I am able to render in the kingdom is largely the result of the training provided to me by my parents and other mentors in the context of Lads to Leaders. I am honored to continue the tradition by mentoring students in the program. Begin to use Lads to Leaders at your congregation today. Contact me if I can help get you started.