What if I could tell you about a tool that has proven to be a key factor in keeping young adults faithful to the church after they leave home, go to college and launch families and careers? I think you should be interested.
When our son, Caleb, was nine years old, we attended our first Lads to Leaders convention. We knew little about the program and less about the convention, but we arrived at the Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tennessee about twenty minutes prior to the time Caleb was scheduled to participate in Oral Bible Reading, one of many non-competitive programs offered to young children. We had no clue how large the hotel was (and this was in the pre-Delta years), how complicated it would be to navigate the parking. gardens, hallways, and ballrooms of this place and how much would eventually be involved in what was to become, from this small beginning, a relatively large part of our lives.
Because, you see, we did not fully know, at the time, how large was the job—the job of keeping our children engaged and involved in the work of the Lord, while keeping their middle school and high school and college “garments” unspotted from the world. We did not fully appreciate how complicated it would be to navigate the corridors of their childhood and adolescent years while keeping their direction heavenward. We surely had no idea about how much would be involved, when all has been said and done, in raising kids for the Lord.
We had already learned, though, that no program, no eldership, no youth minister or youth group could have even a fraction of the influence that we, as parents could wield in the lives of Caleb and Hannah. Lads to Leaders cannot take children to heaven. Only parents, by the grace of God, get to influence children by direct imprint. They are primary shapers. No other person or program is even a close second.
Having said all of that, though, I need to tell you this. A study has shown that about 85% of children who are heavily involved in Lads to Leaders for a period of ten years while growing up, have remained faithful to the church into adulthood. While I did not conduct this survey and I do not know all about how the data was collected, I know about my own personal data. Both of my children were very heavily involved in the program for more than ten years. During those years we memorized hundreds of verses as a family as we focused on the annual goal of the Centurion of Scripture program. We learned to look for opportunities to serve as we seriously worked to be “Good Samaritans.” Our children learned how to write and deliver scripture-filled speeches to appropriate groups and they did it, not only at convention, but in various venues all through the year. They are still speaking regularly.They tried their hands at various art projects that lend themselves to teaching children or benevolence or illustrating spiritual concepts. They documented progress in scrapbooks that we will always treasure. They learned to use mass media venues to teach the Word and they immersed themselves in study in preparation for Bible Bowl competitions. They studied topically for topical Bible tests (The Pearls Project) and our daughter went to read the Word regularly to an elderly lady who lived on our street. They learned to direct a cappella songs and, in all of this, they learned about the role of women in worship and how important it is that women remain silent in worship settings, submitting to the authority of men.
Peripheral blessings of the Lads to Leaders program have been many as the years have gone by. We were blessed to be able to produce four editions of Hannah’s Hundred; Bible verses set to a-cappella music to help kids (and adults) memorize the Word (you can find them here). Our children were invited to speak for lots of different groups, including political and pro-life organizations as well as churches and youth groups.Both of our kids put together new programs for Lads to Leaders and presented them to the board of directors for incorporation nationally. They had the opportunity to write study books for teens in conjunction with these programs. Glenn and I have been blessed to develop the Keepers and Providers programs for Lads and watch our congregation’s children be excited to learn the skills that make homes better for Him. These are opportunities and blessings that came our way through our involvement with Lads to Leaders. Other families have been blessed in other ways.
The Lads to Leaders program is not magic. It cannot come into your church and “rescue” the kids who are spiritually malnourished at the hands of parents who are worldly and unconcerned about the future of the church or the salvation of their families. But, for those who are seeking first the kingdom, it can be a great tool for making Matthew 6:33 very practical in the family. It IS what you make it at home.
Some have postulated that kids who grow up in Lads are only meeting the challenges and doing the work for the sake of applause and trophies. However, statistics are proving that trophies and conventions are merely the motivational tools in early years that keep kids growing, training and tasting the satisfaction that comes from leading in service to the Lord. I personally know scores of kids who have gone through the program and emerged with skills that they use daily as they serve our Master with humble hearts. Once again, the focus and attitudes with which kids emerge depends almost entirely on the focus and attitudes of parents. That’s just the way the spiritual economy works. We get out of our kids what we, as parents, put into them. Lads just makes the organization, goal-setting and keeping on track a lot easier for parents who already have the dedication required to raise truly successful children. (The definition for true success is “living your life and going to heaven.”)
On that day 22 years ago, when we first walked into that room full of third-graders reading the Bible in front of that friendly audience, we had no clue how large the footprint of Lads would be on our family dynamic. But we are glad for that day.