This Series of Blogs provide vignettes of the early pioneers of The Muscular Christianity Era - Faith-Sport Integration who laid the foundations for the Modern Day Sports Outreach Movement
GEORGE WILLIAMS - THE FOUNDER OF THE MOVEMENT
Little notice was taken when George Williams was born October 11, 1821 the youngest of 8 sons to a farming family in Somerset, England. Williams has fared little better in the 20th century as few take notice of him now. He lived an obscure & nondescript life through his early teen years and obscurity has returned as he has faded from recognition again. While quite well known in England during the latter half of the 19th century - including being Knighted by Queen Victoria in 1884 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the YMCA - Williams is not currently recognized nor does he receive his just due for his role in pioneering the methodologies which are the heart and soul of most Sports-based Para-Ministries and many Local Church Sport Ministries since then. Moreover, his influence is wielded far beyond sports ministries and can be detected in nearly every Para-Ministry that exists today. Those who serve in ministry at the beginning of the third millennium probably didn’t recognize the name of George Williams and certainly can not articulate his contributions to ministry, but there are few people who have had more of an influence upon ministry, evangelistic efforts and society in general. This obscure farm boy and his ministry principles need to be revisited by anyone doing Sports Ministry, or any other ministry for that matter, in the 21st century and beyond.
THE EARLY LIFE OF GEORGE WILLIAMS
It was said of George Williams that he inherited his cheery and winning manner from his mother and his indomitable will, quiet determination and unquenchable enthusiasm from his father. These were all fired by the surroundings of the rough farming life and community his family existed in. While a product of the farm, George was not long for the farming life. He quit school at age 13 to join in the farming efforts of the family, but his older brothers were less than enthralled with his farming skills. His fate was decided the day he overturned the hay wagon and found himself in the ditch with the hay, wagon and horse. Shortly thereafter his father made arrangements for George to be apprenticed in the town of Bridgewater to a draper. Being dropped off in a strange town with no family was a traumatic experience for the young teenager, but it was the necessary first step towards a personal encounter with Christ and his subsequent life’s calling which would ultimately change the face of the city of London, the entire country of England, and ultimately the world.
THE ENCOUNTER WITH CHRIST THROUGH PEOPLE
While George encountered the general forms of religion his day had to offer, it was not until he came face to face with other apprentices, who lived lives demonstrably different from his own, that it became apparent something was missing in his own spiritual life. It was not the words which were spoken to him about faith by his new acquaintances, but rather it was the words which were absent from their vocabulary that had the most impact upon this young farmer’s son. (B)
Up to this point in his life George believed his casual interactions with religion were satisfactory, but now he realized how shallow his faith was compared to those around him. His language was profane compared to fellow draper apprentices and whereas his religious activities were relegated to traditional and social festivities or Holy days, he was now confronted by the faith of those whose relationship with God ran deep. He witnessed for the first time people who lived out their faith each moment of each day. Not only was this living example of Christianity the catalyst in the awakening of his own faith as a teenager, it was to also become the driving force in what was to become his life’s passion - the YMCA. George Williams understood and practiced “Lifestyle or Friendship Evangelism” a century before books were written about it. He became a pioneer for relational evangelism and this became the model for YMCA work for the next 100 years. (C)
While it was the lives of other apprentices which arrested George’s mind and heart it was on a cold winter's evening at the Zion Congregational Church in 1837 that George knelt and prayed to receive Christ as his personal Savior. Nothing is recorded or remembered about this evening other than the name of the minister, Rev. Evan James. James was a man of no great reputation or talents other than faithfulness in carrying out his call. This is understood in the accounting Williams’s grandson records which is a glowing account of Evan James:
George Williams is the brightest gem in the unfading crown
of a simple country minister of the gospel, who, in the com-
mon round of his work, without taking special thought or mak-
ing special appeal, was the means of leading him to the master.
May there be millions more men like Evan James, and millions more of common everyday apprentices who quietly go about their lives, lovingly leading others to the Savior. (D)
This encounter with the risen Lord inspired George to a whole new purpose for life. While he spent the rest of his years as a successful and prominent businessman, his passion became winning young men for Christ. While it was through the influence of the common folk at Bridgewater that Williams became a follower of Christ, it was through the ministry of Charles Finney and Thomas Binney that a deeper spiritual formation began to grow. It was also through Finney that Williams came to understand practical theology and evangelism. It was through Binney that he learned how to attract others through love.
Consult the discussion in the introduction of this book concerning Para-church terminology.
J. E. Hodder Williams, The Life of Sir George Williams (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906) p. 10.
 See note A and each subsequent note indicated by a Capital letter at the end of this blog series for special points of ministry application.
Williams, p. 30.
This blog is an excerpt from a future book "Surrounded by Witnesses" by Dr. Greg Linville. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville and other local church Sports, Rec & Fitness Ministers are archived at: http://www.csrm.org/blog/