Dr. Sam Cathey
The first person Sam Cathey led to the Lord was his own father.
Sixteen-year-old Sam had preached his first sermon on the radio. Upon returning home, he found his father, 76 and crippled from a stroke, sitting by the radio after having listened to his sermon. "I knelt beside his chair and presented Christ to him, and he gave his heart to Jesus," Cathey recalled. "The next day, he walked the aisle in the First Baptist Church and that night was baptized. Four years later, he died to go meet the Lord."
In September, 1951, 17-year-old Sam, a high school senior, was called as Pastor of newly established Grace Mission. A missionary from the First Baptist Church of Camden, Arkansas, who had returned from China due to health reasons, had what Cathey called ‘a burning desire for missions’ and chaired a missions committee from First Baptist Church of Camden, Arkansas that started several churches in the county, including Grace Mission, where Cathey preached until May, 1952.
"They called me to pastor, but I was just the preacher," Cathey told this writer, in an interview with The Christian View. "I was a senior in high school, wrapped up in playing ball. But I would go and preach on Wednesday night and Sunday morning and Sunday night. That was God’s plan, because I was learning how to communicate the Word of God.
"People would brag on me and tell me how wonderful I was doing, but my home Pastor, Dr. T.L. Harris, would say, ‘It’s pathetic. You’ve got to work harder. You’ve got to study harder.’ He was not an encourager—everything but that. Twenty seven of us came out of the First Baptist Church of Camden, Arkansas as preachers. We all respected Dr. Harris, but I don’t know that any of us liked him, because he didn’t like us. He was ugly to us. I don’t remember one word of encouragement from him, ever. But he still had a profound influence on my life, because he believed the Bible and taught it to me.
"People say that God doesn’t use a dirty vessel. Yeah, he does. All of our vessels are dirty. Some are dirtier than others. But when any of us compare our vessel to Jesus Christ, we all come off dirty. But that may have been of God for him to be mean to us preacher boys, so we wouldn’t get cocky, so we wouldn’t get arrogant. We’d preach a sermon, and everybody would be bragging on us, and he would make a statement like, ‘Well, you’ve got a lot to learn, boy. Don’t think you’ve arrived.’ It would just take the wind out of your sail.
"He wasn’t an emotional encouragement, but I didn’t have any ill will toward him. The fact is, in the latter years of his life, even when he was in a nursing home, every time I’d go back to Arkansas, I’d make a special trip to my hometown to see him, because I was grateful for everything he did for me."
Cathey explained how he especially loved going to church when he was first saved as a young man. "I was so hungry for the things of God that, when anybody talked about the Bible or Jesus, I was a student," he said. "I hungered like you cannot imagine, and the reason I did was I had no family influence. My mother died when I was a baby. My daddy was 59 when I was born. I started preaching when I was 16, and he was my first convert, so I had gone through my formative years with no understanding of the philosophy of the Word of God. I was hungry—oh, my. Any kind of meeting anywhere, I’d go to it. That was all I wanted to do.
"My number one mentor, by far, was Dr. J. Harold Smith, a great man of God who came from Greenville (South Carolina) and migrated to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I lived in Arkansas when I started preaching. Everybody idolized J. Harold Smith, and I just fell in line with all of the rest of them. I got to know him personally and spent hundreds of hours with him. I preached three revivals for him when he was a Pastor. Everything he said, I hung my intellectual hope on, because this man knew God."
Another mentor, Cathey said, was Fred Hubbs, Executive Director for the Michigan Baptist State Convention. "I met him when I went there to pastor," said Cathey. "He had a lot of patience with me. He married Lu and me, and he and Shirley became good friends of ours. He’s gone to be with the Lord, now.
"A lot of people highly influenced me. I had my theological system formed by the time I was 18, at which time I went off to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. A fellow by the name of Lonnie Lassiter had an influence on me, and another fellow by the name of Tom Landers, who was our youth director, had a profound influence on the strength of my convictions.
"And then there was Joe Henry Hankins, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas in the early 1950’s. I probably attended a dozen of his revivals in two years. They called him ‘the last of the weeping prophets.’ He’d get to preaching, and, within five minutes, tears would be running down his face. He had a big influence on my life.
"Ed McDonald was the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Marlton, Arkansas, when I was a student and became youth director. He had been the state of Arkansas’ prosecuting attorney, and God called him to preach. He went to seminary and came back to pastor. He needed a staff member and called me. I stayed there 18 months and learned a good deal from him. He saw the ‘rough edges’ on me and ‘knocked’ most of them off."
In January, 1955, 20-year-old Sam dropped out of the university and moved to Michigan. "I thought I was going to get a job, pay off the school, and then come back," he said. "When I got there, all of the Southern Baptist churches had me preaching revivals. I had gone for one month up to Saginaw, Michigan and started a Southern Baptist Church and then came back to the Detroit area and started preaching revivals."
Cathey met his wife, Lucille Lawson, in a church that called him as Pastor. "Her family had moved from Kentucky," he recalled. "I was nearly 21. She was 18. I stayed there for six and a half years.
"I went back to Arkansas to pastor the First Baptist Church of Bearden, Arkansas, 15 miles from where I was raised. The fact is, all of my brothers and sisters were raised in Bearden, but they moved to Camden, so the boys could play football. I stayed there six and a half years and finished my education. (After Ouachita Baptist University, Dr. Cathey would attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Immanuel Baptist Seminary.)
"I went back to Michigan, and pastored three more years," he said.
"Then, I went into evangelism. I moved to Oklahoma to be more centrally located, but then moved to Arkansas to be with three of my brothers. I then moved back to Oklahoma and pastored a church for seven and a half years before going back on the road again, traveling. We live in Oklahoma City."
Cathey said that his years as a pastor helped prepare him for evangelism. "No man ought to be an evangelist until he has pastored," he said. "You’ve got to know churches. You’ve got to know how they think. You’ve got to know how they feel. And you’ve got to know a Pastor’s heart. You’ve got to be able to listen to a Pastor just a little while and discern and ascertain the direction the church is headed, what the needs are, and how to speak to those needs. I really am not an evangelist. I’m more of a traveling pastor. A revivalist would be a better term for me, because I preach to God’s people all of the time.
"I pastored four churches, and, during the years I spent in the pastorate, I learned those things that enabled me to sharpen my tools to become an evangelist or traveling preacher."
Cathey was born the last of 13 children. "There were eight boys and five girls," he said. "I’m the last pumpkin on the vine. There are only two of us left. We’re just about to blow smoke in the devil’s face and go be with Jesus."
Cathey said that he is grateful that all of his siblings were saved. His living brother, John, he said, "might as well be a preacher. He has filled the pulpit at his church and does a good job."
Another brother, who died of a heart attack in 1965 at the age of 55, was a lay preacher, Cathey explained. "He would preach by invitation, but he wasn’t ordained, and he didn’t pastor," Cathey said. "He lived in Arkansas, and started three churches."
Sam and Lu Cathey have three daughters, Nola, Connie, and Sami, and six grandchildren, Amy, Tara, Taylor, Jenny, Chelsea, and Caleb. "They are probably the greatest grandkids in the world," he said. "There are those who try to claim that, but they’re mixed up," he said with a smile. "Those people are confused. They have never visited my grandkids, you see. If they did, they would understand that they have the second-best grandkids in the world. I tell everybody I wasn’t a really good father, because I didn’t know how to be. I didn’t have a role model. But I am, without a doubt, the world’s greatest granddaddy. I have six people who will verify that--my grandkids."
Cathey has authored five books.
His sermons, he said, come from his daily devotions. "I’ll be reading, and something will hit me, and I’ll get on the trail of that," he said. "A lot of my sermons also come from being inspired and spoken to, either by listening to another preacher or by reading a book. I really love books about the Scriptures. I read a lot from Charles Spurgeon. A lot of times, I’ll get a spark. I’ll get one line out of something, just one line, and a whole sermon will blossom in my soul from that.
"I’ve got Scripture that has spoken to me at particular important junctures of my life," Cathey said. "For years, my life verse was John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease. But when I got old, Psalm 71:17-18 became my life verse. Those verses simply say that I’ve gotten old, but I’m not going to go until I’ve taught the younger generation to fear God. That was a word to me, personally. I was 65 when that Scripture came alive to me.
"And I like Ephesians 3:20-21, which says, Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
Cathey said that blessings of being in the ministry include "seeing God touch people’s lives, seeing God save people and seeing God reveal to people how to think and how to live and understand the sovereignty of God and understand that the providence of God controls our life and that there’s no such thing as luck.
"I tell everybody that God’s got it rigged. You might as well do it God’s way, because He’s got it rigged. It’s going to happen the way He wants it to happen. That doesn’t destroy human responsibility. In my judgment, it augments it, because my knowing that God’s got something going tells me to get in on it. God takes bad things and works them to good. But He’s not surprised. He knows the end from the beginning.
"I guess the best blessing is watching God touch the lives of people. I live for that now."