More Michigan Pathfinders are choosing to remain in the Teens in Leadership Training (TLT) program. Pictured here are some members of Eau Claire Critters, a club that retains the most third- and fourth-year teens.

October 8, 2019

Michigan retains more Teen Leaders in Training (TLTs)

After years of fewer third- and fourth-year Michigan Pathfinder Teen Leaders in Training (TLTs) staying the course, new numbers are signaling encouraging growth. For the Pathfinder year that just ended, (2018-2019 school year), there were 14 fourth-year TLTs compared to 10 the previous year and just two in 2016. Third year numbers were a little lower this year, 21, compared to 25 the previous year, but still up significantly over the eight in 2016.

According to Craig Harris, Michigan Conference associate youth director, the jump is attributed to several factors. “We have been making sure the TLT’s are doing worthwhile work at the major events, such as Camporee, TLT Squared, Teen Snow Outing, Pathfinder Fair, Camp Meeting, and really encouraging/training the club and TLT directors to raise the bar in the local level leadership,” he said.


The TLT program was designed to challenge and empower teens with new and increased responsibilities, using six major departments: Administration, Outreach, Teaching, Activities, Records and Counseling. Within each of these are several service areas which must be completed, depending on the size of the club.


Harris explained that the highest retention numbers are coming from those clubs that fully embrace this philosophy of challenging teens in the mission and ministry of Christ.


One such club is the Eau Claire Critters. This year, a total of 18 TLTs completed the program, of which five were third-year and five were fourth-year participants, the most of any Michigan club.


We ventured to find out why they’re having this high level of success, in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging other clubs. Brandon Lubbert, club director for the last two years, said that it’s pretty simple: We give the youth a reason to feel invested in the ministry. “The club is run by TLTs,” he explained. “We make every effort to give responsibility to the TLTs and have them do almost everything. Adults are in the background providing help, if needed, and making sure things are running good.”


TLTs are responsible for teaching the Investiture Achievement (IA) curriculum, presenting worship talks, packing trailers, setting up and tearing down during camping trips. “Anything we can get them to jump into and do, we let them,” said Lubbert. “It’s their club and we want to encourage that ownership and leadership.” 


He recounted the time on a recent trip to Pathfinder Fair when their trailer lost a bearing. TLTs, along with the other Pathfinders, sprang into action, managing to unload the 8x10 trailer and stuffed all its contents on the bus, within 30 minutes. “That couldn’t have happened without their diligence and hard work.”


Eau Claire gives the Pathfinders plenty of opportunities to grow, and also space to fail. Caleb Capps, a fourth-year TLT who recently earned the status of Master Guide, said that although responsibilities were heaped on him, he always felt encouraged to do his best. “The leaders trusted me,” he said. “They count on me and trust me to get the job done.”


Leaders were willing to guide 19-year-old Caleb and whenever he erred in dealing with a situation, they pulled him aside and gently counseled him. “They’d say, ‘maybe you didn’t phrase that so well, you could say it this way.’” 


Caleb also pointed out that he even became a TLT he felt it his duty to give back to the club, since it was TLTs before him that gained his trust. “They made you feel really special and now I have to live up the high standard of those people older than me. I wanted to pass it forward.”


Standing on the shoulders of giants

Rahel Wells was the Eau Claire club director for 13 years, until relinquishing the role after her marriage. Rahel, now an assistant professor of Religion at Andrews University, credits the club with keeping her engaged in the mission of the church. Rahel was a young staff member in college when Gordon Atkins was Eau Claire’s Pathfinder Club director. He trusted her, at 25, to take on leading the club, and empowered her to lead the team. 


When she was club director, she learned that it was best to “treat the Pathfinders like you’d treat any adults,” she explained. “Give them free reign-- sometimes things flop --but more often than not they will step up to the challenge.”


Over the years, the club has hovered between 50 and 60 members, but despite those relatively large numbers Rahel says that having the TLTs take over most of the responsibilities, resulted in freeing her up to walk around and affirm the kids even more. “The church was started by young people,” she said emphatically, “and so there’s no reason we can’t trust these young people.”


Michigan Conference breakdown of TLT's over the last four years: 

Third-year TLTs:

2016 – 8

2017 – 13

2018 – 25

2019 – 21


Fourth-year TLTs:

2016 – 2

2017 – 5

2018 – 10

2019 - 14


Debbie Michel, Lake Union Conference associate director of Communication