To the casual observer, the formats and approaches of Lads and LTC seem strikingly similar. A closer look reveals differences:• Organization:
A single national body coordinates the Lads conventions. Independent boards oversee each LTC convention.
“We’re a lot like McDonald’s,” Mike Horn, Lads’ field services manager, told church leaders in Indianapolis. “If you go to McDonald’s in Indianapolis, Detroit or Montgomery, Ala., the french fries are exactly the same.”
On the other hand, Henderson said LTC extends the concept of congregational autonomy to the regional conventions.
“We’re not here to oversee everybody else,” he said of the North Texas LTC. “We want each convention to be able to make local decisions.”• Competition:
In competitive events, Lads awards first-, second- and third-place trophies.
LTC uses a ratings system — gold, silver and bronze — whereby any number of participants can attain the highest medal.
“One of the things we felt strongly about, and I feel strongly about, is that there’s enough first, second and third places in the kids’ world, on the soccer field and such,” said Rusty Maynard, co-founder of the Midwest LTC and youth minister for the Center Road Church of Christ in Kokomo, Ind.
On the other hand, Johnson said competition allows the “cream of the crop” to rise as Lads produces top-notch preachers, song leaders and other high achievers who excel at Christian universities.
The Lads director stressed that a majority of pre-convention events — such as service projects — are non-competitive. Those who do win trophies one year are moved into a “Winners Circle” the next. That ensures that a first-time participant won’t compete against someone who already has won a trophy.• Categories:
Lads conventions do not include drama and choral groups. Such groups comprise a major element of most LTC conventions.
“Our training is specialized toward service in the church,” Johnson said of Lads’ reasoning. “In the church, you would not have a choir.”PROPER FOCUS?
Some churches opt not to participate in either event.
“We prefer ministry training that culminates in a role, not an event,” said Brandon Baker, youth and family minister for the Western Hills Church of Christ in Temple, Texas.
“While the goals of programs like LTC and Lads to Leaders are to equip and integrate students into the ministries of the church,” Baker said, “many students and children become focused on the annual trips, competition and awards.”
However, Stephen Lindenberger, youth minister for the Northwest Church of Christ in Canton, Ohio, said the Lads convention rewards young people for hard work throughout the year.
“Here at Northwest, we don’t emphasize the ‘winning’ aspect of Lads to Leaders,” said Lindenberger, who spoke at the Indianapolis convention. “We want them to do well because they love the Lord, not because they want a trophy.”
Malik Danzy, who attends the Northwest church, has Down syndrome, but that didn’t keep the 8-year-old from participating in oral Bible reading and song leading.
“Even with his special needs, we want him to be a strong leader in the church,” said his mother, Trina Danzy.
Sarah Palmer, a member of the North Central Church of Christ in Indianapolis, said the Midwest LTC has made a profound impact on her children.
“Studying Romans in 2011 brought our two oldest girls to the decision to be baptized,” Palmer said of Rachel, 12, and Annie, 11.
Katie DeVore, 17, a member of the East Peoria Church of Christ in Illinois, has competed in song leading, speech, puppets and other events at the Lads convention in Indianapolis. She has served as a hostess who congratulates younger winners as they rush on stage to receive awards.
“In the church today, we focus so much on training our young men and looking for them to be good Christian men, to be song leaders, preachers, deacons and elders,” DeVore said. “In Lads, I used to be upset that I would never be a song leader or a preacher or lead a congregation as an elder.
“Not anymore,” she added. “I am blessed to be a woman. I will have the privilege of loving a husband, raising children and teaching other women to glorify God. Lads has taught me that and so much more.”
For years, Shannon and Susan Houtrouw’s two oldest children worked on Bible Bowl questions, Scripture memorization and service projects for the Midwest LTC.
Now, Daniel Houtrouw, 19, is a freshman at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., on a full-tuition scholarship.
His training and service through LTC “are all beginning to pay off,” said Shannon Houtrouw, a member of the West Kalamazoo Church of Christ in Michigan. “I am eager to see where the Lord takes him in the future and beyond.
“Grace has also turned out to be a lovely, God-fearing young woman,” Houtrouw said of his 16-year-old daughter. “And even though both these teenagers have been attending public schools, by the grace of God, they have been unwavering in their commitment to Christ.”