CSB Ministries, founded in 1937 by Joe Coughlin as a weekly club program to better challenge his restless Sunday School class of boys, has grown and evolved to be a significant ministry to men and boys in both USA and Canada. From their website, here’s a little more about their history:
At first, they met for games and Bible study, but the young collegian [Mr. Coughlin] soon added crafts, marching and eventually a set of achievement tests based on a knighthood theme. He took the boys on hikes and cut notches on their walking sticks to indicate their particular accomplishments. More boys came and Coughlin recruited his friend, Warren Wigand, to help him. In the summer of 1938, Coughlin wrote a small handbook that outlined the ranks boys could achieve. A parallel girls’ program, eventually called Pioneer Girls, took root among Wheaton College coeds and became a partner in Coughlin’s mission.
One of the aspects of their program that I admire most is their “Herald of Christ” award. It really shouldn’t be compared to other youth program’s awards except to say that it represents the pinnacle of advancement within their program. However, it remains highly distinctive for a number of reasons which ought to be relevant to Christians:
- While there is a strong component of youth-led (self-led and group participation) advancement steps, it’s not solely a skills or learning award.
- There is a prolonged period of mentorship, bible study, scripture memorization, written reflections on select scriptures and a final 1000 word essay summarizing his personal reflection on his faith.
- There are two intensive service projects — one three month community service effort and another three month church ministry effort.
It is a rare event for a boy to complete this award since it requires a solid, focused commitment – especially for someone in their teenage years.
On June 12th, 2014, the 746th “Herald of Christ” award was presented. This award is far more difficult to complete and represents an amazing challenge as compared to the Hornaday Silver Award (1,100 awarded since 1914) or BSA’s Eagle (more than 2.3 million awarded since 1912). Admittedly, the CSB program draws fewer members than, say Boy Scouts of America or 4-H Clubs, but that does NOT undermine the genuine respect or admiration of the hard work and discipline needed to complete the award’s requirements.
The Bible talks about believers appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ (aka the Bema Seat Judgment) (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Cor5:10, et.al.) where we might receive reward/award for how we lived our lives. Paul talks about running a race to receive a prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-25) and reminds Timothy (2 Tim 2:5) that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
How we live our lives, how we choose what to pursue in our work, play and rest times, can directly serve God and fulfill his directives as delivered through scriptures or we can sit idly by (or overindulge in permissive activities that have little to no eternal significance) as time passes. We have a wide degree of latitude to pursue hobbies and such, but when we’re standing before Jesus (who gave His own life on your behalf) will we have regrets that we could have done more to spread the gospel message to our families, friends, community? Will we watch as all our vain pursuits are burned up by a consuming fire?
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 – “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
So, as a father of two sons and as an Eagle scout, I find myself pondering what I would do if I could start over and personally pursue a “Herald of Christ” award as a boy. I believe it’s clear that it would have helped me invest time and energy in my community, church and my personal relationship with God in a much more intimate way that could have had generational and eternal repercussions.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that my time invested in Boy Scouts was a wasted or an ill-conceived effort, or that it’s not a valuable experience — it is! Certainly, a Christian man can live a highly dedicated and highly effective, life accomplishing God’s plans and purposes whether he has ever pursued any sort of recognition award (or none at all), or by having participating in various programs (i.e. sports, clubs, etc.)
However, standing here with clear hindsight (and pondering about future hindsight in heaven) I still wonder if this alternate path would have paid much stronger dividends in my life than even the great experiences of participating in BSA, or other pursuits.
What can we do to encourage boys and men within the church to pursue Herald of Christ (HOC)?
First, churches need to “own the responsibility” of treating their CSB units as a full fledged ministry of the church, not merely a club that gets “rent-free” space in their building once a week. Youth pastors and senior pastors should be showing more than a casual interest in this youth discipling and evangelism program.
Second, the church and it’s unit team should recognize that CSB is actually a “Men’s Ministry” to the leaders, fathers and boys who are involved – not just a club that does sports, camps, or does crafty activities. All of the “fun” is with purpose and design to help shape responsibility, teamwork, self-esteem, self-awareness, leadership and spiritual development.
Third, the church MUST offer Battalion for junior high and senior high ages.
- This is the timeframe when most of the real work towards fulfilling the HOC award gets accomplished. Yet, many churches abandon CSB after sixth grade in favor of a co-ed youth group that is a bible study.
- The co-ed youth group has it’s place firmly established, but offering CSB is neither competitive to that program nor a distraction from it — they serve distinct purposes and may actually draw in greater numbers of participants in aggregate (some preferring one program over the other, but more coming through the doors of the church building than if only one program was presented)
- The co-ed youth group’s purposes are not defined as a men’s ministry, but teen boys do need this type of direction — to prepare them for becoming adult men, potential husbands, potential fathers. The time to get them ready is not the night before the wedding nor the night before they take home their first baby from the hospital!
Fourth, the church must support CSB fully. Shoestring budgets will hinder the ability of the team to provide a genuinely exciting program with a mix of activities to build and maintain interest. Running an effective CSB unit need not be a drain on finances either; however, access to craft supplies, photocopiers, bulletin announcements, etc. can go a long way to helping the leaders focus on the message instead of logistics.
Fifth, CSB’s support of it’s own program needs to continually be revised and expanded.
- Training and equipping new generations of volunteers builds a strong baseline of knowledge experts “in the field” This may be the responsibility of regional directors, but online presentations can help provide a ready reference throughout the year as volunteers may join at any time
- Publicizing HOC, it’s value, it’s benefits and equipping local churches to do the same will help attract new people (and more churches) to the ministry. HOC Award should not be a “best kept secret” from anyone.
- Adjust marketing efforts to help the local community (of non-church-attenders) recognize the value of getting their sons (and fathers!) involved at a local church. This approach doesn’t go around the local church’s back, but instead helps generate interest in the local church as a community resource. At the very least, help churches to see the value and provide them with resources that they can use to educate, demonstrate and excite.
As someone new to Christian Service Brigade, I’m sure I’ve left a lot uncovered, but the value of HOC is that it can:
- change a boy’s heart forever,
- help a boy become a Godly man ready for BIG challenges and opportunities
- affect multiple generations to come
- prepare a boy for eternity
- help a boy become closer to God in a way that can’t help but positively affect and influence others around him for the remainder of his life.