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When you recognize your need, there will be no doubt about it

"What's that noise, Chief?"

"Kid, those are mine cables scraping along the hull."

 

As a young man, I became acutely aware of my need for a savior while serving aboard a submarine engaged in operations against the enemy.  I recall at the time praying, "God, if you are real, save me [from my current predicament].  If you do, I will go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life."

 

[Yes, I know; God is not in the habit of making deals, but that was the extent of my understanding at the time.]

 

I do not know how He did it, but I survived and made it back home in one piece. 

 

God always provides

 

Waiting for us in port was a new crewmember named James Martin.  Jim was a tall, olive-skinned Texan (or was it Arizonian?).  After Jim had been aboard for a few days at sea, it was clear that he exuded something from every pore--something from God and something I knew I needed.  He was very quiet, very soft-spoken, never got angry (that I could tell), and yet displayed a peace and strength that seemed to calm everyone in his presence.  Honestly, he even had a twinkle in his eye.  I was drawn to his presence and yet feared his company, knowing that my lifestyle and behavior would not meet his approval.  Despite my reservations, I could not stay away.

 

Jim and I often stood watches together.  [I have to confess: I made every effort to arrange my watch standing rotation to make sure that this happened.]  I was hungry for answers, but I did not want to seem so.  I would always ask a question of Jim concerning God, right vs. wrong, God's expectations of me, science versus the Bible, etc. using what I believed to be my best semi-interested, small talk-like tone and he would always answer the same way.  He would pause for some time--apparently in reflection--and then, with that twinkle in his eye, smile, and tell me where I could find the answer in the Bible.  He even provided a Bible for me to use. 

 

Each time, as I finished my duties, I would crawl into my bunk, pull out that Bible from its storage place immediately inboard of #3 torpedo tube, find his reference, and sure enough, the answer to my question would be there waiting for me.

 

This pattern went on for some time as our days at sea stretched longer.  I became increasingly convinced that the Bible held the answers to all of life's questions--certainly all of mine.  Little did I know that Jim was carefully steering me to scriptures that would also bring me closer to an understanding of the Gospel.

 

After one amazing 'ah-ha' moment while studying and reflecting on the references that Jim had provided, I got back up from my rack and went to find Jim.  I found him reading his Bible in a small, little used room in the bowels of the boat.  As he sat in the only chair and I sat on a stack of manuals, I confronted him with what appeared (to me) to be a miraculous discovery--that salvation was not accomplished by how I behaved!

 

I do not know how long we stayed there and discussed salvation and read verses.  I cannot even tell you the day of the week or even if it was night or day--it is immaterial under the water.  Nevertheless, Jim, with that ever-present twinkle in his eye, rounded out the remaining rough edges to my understanding and led me to trust in the Lord as God's solution to my sin problem.  I eventually returned to my bunk for a little rest before the next watch rotation, but I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep a wink.

 

I remember returning home from sea shortly after that and sharing with my wife what had transpired, the verses James and I discussed, and she too trusted in Christ as her savior. 

 

Then, as magically as he had appeared, Jim was gone, transferred to another boat or duty station and, I have no doubt, to another needy soul. 

 

The studying years

 

I spent the remaining four years of my Navy experience on that boat studying the Bible.  Sure, there were more of the same type of missions, but Ps.56:3 was never far from memory and fear was never a factor again.  Although a poor example of a Christian (and by most accounts--particularly mine--I still am), I did learn a bit while studying at sea.  God used that time to ground me in the basic doctrines of His Word and to this day I am convinced that either God showed me these truths or the devil did, because no one else showed any interest.

 

The search for a church

 

After being discharged from the service I relocated to a job in the southeastern U.S. and began searching for a church that believed in: (1) salvation by grace, and, (2) the authority of Scripture.  I was naive and had much to learn, but decades of experience in many local church pews has taught me the following:

  • What a local church says in its doctrinal statement and what it actually practices can be very different.
  • Many church leaders leave the impression that their degree in Biblical studies, or position in the church means that God has given them a little more Holy Spirit than He has given the 'average' believer.
  • 'Evangelism' is frequently used as a cover for increasing the church membership roles.
  • Too often, personal opinion, church by-laws, the latest fad author or movement, Bible college curricula, favorite Bible college professors, etc.  are substituted for scripture as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

 In summary, it may be said that nearly all churches today suffer from the same Gnostic influences as the early church.  I was naive to expect today's church to be any improvement over the early church, or that Satan was no longer at work undermining churches.

 

Those experiences have not diminished my view of the importance of Christian fellowship within the context of a local body of believers.  However, over the years I have shifted my reliance away from the local church infrastructure as a means to accomplish the great commission and towards the position that it is the personal responsibility of every believer to be involved in the salvation and growth of others.

 

The ministry begins

 

The first step in that direction occurred with the formation of a prison ministry at a receiving and evaluation unit of the state prison system.  Despite the total lack of formal biblical education, Workman Ministries was successfully used by God to save enough inmates to fill a two-story cellblock the first year.  By the second year, word had begun to spread so that inmates were frequently familiar with Workman Ministries through tracts and discussions before I met them.  Rather than make my job easier, though, it increased the demand on my time considerably as more people sought answers the same way that I had sought answers from Jim.

 

Because of the role of that particular prison unit, the inmates were expected to stay only a month before being transferred to another facility.  Past murderers, rapists, alcoholics, and drug users who were now new believers stayed only a short time before being transferred.  I was confident that God could provide for their future growth, but as the number of converts began to swell in the second year I became convicted that there was more that needed to be done and more than I could handle alone.

 

Workman Ministries makes its first growth spurt

 

Mike Browning, a man with a heart of gold, then joined to make it a team effort.  In addition, it was then that Workman ministries also began to produce topical study materials using nearly one thousand pages of notes built up during the submarine years and after.  Although the effort was aimed at edifying the prison converts, the materials also received some attention outside the prison within the local community.  While some of the attention took the form of negative criticism (primarily from churches that taught works for salvation and from Bible college students who thought that 'lay' members hadn't been properly trained for ministry work) the materials did find a niche among believers who felt as I did--that Christian growth was, first and foremost, a function of the Holy Spirit (and who didn't mind occasional spelling and grammar errors).


How are these materials intended to be used?

 

The materials consist of topical studies ranging from scriptural doctrines to religious cults to personal insights.  The materials cover the basics of the topic and, frequently, the routine arguments for, or against, the positions held.  The studies are not exhaustive and you are certainly encouraged to study the topics further. 


What if the reader has questions, ideas, comments, or even complaints?

 

As always, I welcome all comments, suggestions, reasonable requests, even mail from people who do not agree with the materials (after all, you don't answer to me for what you believe).  I am well aware that no ministry, including this one, is omniscient and under God's guidance all the time.  Much has been and will continue to be gained through constructive criticism.  Consider this an open invitation to such criticism.

 

A special note to Christians

 

No one ever said it was easy to share the Gospel.  However, I would like to encourage you by what I learned about my salvation experience.  God doesn't leave you on a long lease to accomplish His work.  While you are enjoying fellowship with Him, He is right there next to you, guiding your every step.  When the Holy Spirit has successfully prepared someone to hear the Gospel, then God will use you to meet that need. Despite all the trappings of the daily life that make it difficult to hear that still, small voice, He is always alongside to comfort and guide you.  No, God isn't watching from afar when you witness; He is right there with His arms wrapped around both of you.

 

How do I know?

 

Simple.  Jim Martin experienced the same difficulties that we all have when we witness, but if you asked us each what we experienced I'm sure it would go something like this:

 

While Jim prayerfully considered which verse to share--I saw only Jesus. 

 

When he agonized over his own sin and his worthiness to act on behalf of God--I saw only Jesus. 

 

While he struggled to discern when to push and when to stop, I was oblivious to it all--seeing only Jesus.

 

Think about that next time you feel led to share the Gospel, won't you?

 


Your servant in Christ,
Brian


Postscript

 

No, I did not go to church every Sunday as I had promised God.  I am just glad that God knew more than I did about my needs.

 

About Jim Martin.  No amount of thanks will be sufficient for his willingness to act in accordance with God's will.  Moreover, that was not a twinkle in his eye.  I now know I was seeing a tear of joy each time Jim saw me draw a little closer to God.  Sure, I know it was God working through him, but he had to make himself available.  So, Jim, if I never again see you this side of heaven, thank you, thank you again for being there. [And thank God for sending you!]

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