This week we learned that an amazing servant of God had died. A man who had strongly influenced us and countless others. His passing was lovingly described in a good old-fashioned way – ‘Reverend Sam has passed into glory.’ The added words spoke so meaningfully of this totally dedicated minister who was a legend in his own time – ‘The Reverend has left behind an incredible legacy! His reward will be outstanding.’
For decades Sam Workman (83) was best known in his homeland of Northern Ireland for his sterling evangelist ministry and caring for people. He also touched the lives of many in England, Australia and elsewhere. Thousands were led to Christ through his commitment to seeing people saved and lives changed.
His story is this, after graduating from a ‘tough’ live-in Bible college – he would often remind us that fifty years ago students were sent out at weekends with only a quid (British slang for a £1) in their pockets for food and to fend for themselves while taking opportunities to minister the gospel – Sam Workman only knew one thing: That he just had to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus.
This would lead to taking on a daunting challenge – accepting the call to a Congregational church of only 20 people and a great but empty building with a huge debt of £16,000 (a lot of money back in the sixties) and threatening bank foreclosure.
Those were scary days for that church on the verge of closure. Taking on a new minister was really a last ditch stand. But for visionary Sam Workman, with an unbreakable trust in God’s word and faithfulness, it was an opportunity to go forward and build for the future.
Any minister today daring to take on such a challenge would follow what most churches would do … frantically start repeated programs of coffee and cake mornings, jumble sales, target-sign financial goal drives and other fund raisers.
But Sam Workman didn’t promote such things 60 years ago – they were secular and left no room for the Holy Spirit to work and demonstrate God’s power. Instead he flatly refused to go down that track! He simply believed in the power of the gospel to change not only lives but situations as well.
‘The Reverend’ was small in stature, hence the fond colloquialism of ‘The Wee Man’ but he was big in his faith and in believing the word of God. Church planting, church growth seminars, leadership training was unheard of back then. But Sam Workman knew and believed this: If church people were right with God and living holy lives; if there was no discontent, bickering, backbiting or fighting – God’s resources would come through and meet the need! He was a living example to all. (Photo: Sam Workman, 2008)
Sam knew only one way of changing the situation – preach the gospel. And that‘s what he did…no fundraising activities. And instead of foreclosure, the church grew at an incredible rate. With solid Bible teaching and clear gospel invitations – not to come to the altar but individually into his vestry behind the pulpit immediately after the service – people started getting saved. In turn they brought others along to find salvation.
And then, through the Wednesday ministry of a low-key, dedicated electrician – not a credentialed minister, but someone released into his God appointed ministry – believing in God’s word on divine healing and the power of prayer, incredible healings and miracles took place in that same vestry. People would even drive from 50 miles away to be prayed over.
Later the church’s secretary told a local paper: ‘The Reverend did nothing but preach the gospel – no fundraising activities. People flocked in. He had a weekly Bible study of over 300. In every sense of the word, the church has become one of the strongest in Northern Ireland. We’re now getting 600-700 in each Sunday morning and evening service.’
New halls were built for the growing Sunday school, youth, Tuesday evening Bible study and kids’ junior prayer and Bible study night. Additional balcony seating had to be added and a manse was built – and the church was not in debt!
(Photo: The church sign depicts the heart of Sam Workman’s ministry)
Even after several years the church didn’t have a pastoral or visitation team or offices like today’s churches. Sam Workman lived up to his surname – he worked hard and long hours for the kingdom, as he’d been taught in his Bible college days. Yes, there was an non-salaried secretary, deaconate, youth leader, Sunday school superintendent and such but his dedicated servant of God virtually did it all. Many times some sick or troubled person that had been visited was heard to say, ’The Wee Man called today, prayed and blessed me. I’m feeling so much better.’
Sam’s reputation spread and he received many invitations to take evangelistic crusades in his own country and elsewhere. Countless received Christ, broken marriages were restored, Christians were encouraged to read and understand the Bible and follow Jesus more closely.
Young people, youthful parents – such as we were back then – were inspired to step out in faith and believe that we too could serve God in meaningful ministry ways. Personally we will never forget the dark days when Maureen was dying. We felt so alone with no one to share with and uncertain about the future. Sam visited us one evening and prayed quietly but strongly against the illness.
Then he looked into Maureen’s eyes and spoke prophetically over her regarding a teaching and prophetic ministry, then did the same for both of us. Although we didn’t understand it all at the time Sam’s prophetic words came about …Maureen was miraculously healed and as we trusted the Holy Spirit he has taken us around the world and given us many opportunities to teach the word, move in the anointing and bless many.
Why are we recalling all this, apart from honouring an outstanding servant of God? Threefold…
1) Every Christian needs someone to look up to and imitate. Paul urges this in 1 Corinthians 4:16 and Hebrews 13:7 Mge instructs: ‘Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all.’
2) Leaders need to have personal confidence in God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit; knowing that no matter how insurmountable church and life problems seem, if we stick to great biblical truths and principles such as Matthew 6:33, ‘Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be yours as well’ the breakthroughs will come – to God’s glory.
3) We’ll soon be remembering the most important of all church celebrations: Easter. This is when we remember the greatest example of all, the one who with Spirit’s supernatural did it all himself, who knew the call of God on his life and against all odds followed without question. In doing so Jesus accomplished so much, reaching out to everyone he encountered, overcoming Satan, establishing God’s plan of salvation, birthing the church and anointing his followers with authority and Holy Spirit power to see people’s lives changed.
We’re not all meant to be a Sam Workman or a Billy Graham. But if we are willing to receive some ministry vision from God and dare to go for it with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, we too could become legends in our own time as we take examples from such dedicated ministers and obey and follow Jesus.
In law a legacy is a gift. To those we help receive salvation, achieve breakthroughs, and get a life, we’re leaving a legacy. What greater gift can you give people you encounter than that of discovering Jesus and the freedom to live life to the full?
Yes, there’s work involved, hard work at times. But remember … it’s only in the dictionary that we find Success before Work!