It was 29 years ago when I met Dr. Billy Graham. I had prayed a youthful prayer for ten years asking God that I might have one minute with my spiritual hero. That moment came on Oct 12, 1989.
John and Margaret Maxwell invited Patti and I to the 40th anniversary celebration of Billy Graham’s Evangelistic Crusades, sponsored by the Salvation Army.
The time with John and Margaret was wonderful, and the dinner celebration honoring Dr. Graham was amazing. But a private moment with Billy Graham was, to a young pastor, a once in a lifetime gift.
The photo in this post is a special one to me. My spiritual hero and my leadership mentor. (No comments on the glasses or mustache.. hey, it was the 80’s!)
The evening was fast-paced and there were probably 50-75 reporters pressing in on the famous evangelist before the celebration started. Somehow in all the hustle; John, Dr. Graham and I ended up in a private room for several minutes together.
Here’s what struck me in the moment. I was a “kid” pastor, not known to anyone, and Dr. Graham treated me like I was the most important person in the world. After talking with John, he was fully focused on me, very kind, and asked me couple questions about what I did at the church. He looked me in the eyes the whole time and called me by name as we left. The impact has never left me.
My following reflections come with deep appreciation and gratitude.
4 Leadership Lessons:
1) The power of showing up is immeasurable.
The first time I heard Billy Graham live was in 1976 at a Crusade he and his team did in San Diego at Jack Murphy stadium. I was in college and signed up to serve as a counselor for the altar call.
The Crusade team organized several training sessions and the one I attended had about 75 counselors in attendance. We all took notes and were surprised at the end to see Dr. Graham walk in, thank us, and pray that God would use us in a powerful way, then quietly leave the room. He didn’t have to do that, but he showed up.
The encouragement and inspiration that came from his five minutes in the room, changed the room. As a young leader, it changed me. A leadership moment I never forgot.
2) Integrity carries its own legacy.
Billy Graham would never suggest he led a flawless life, but he lived such a public life that we were privileged to see how a Godly man maintained a life of character above reproach till his last breath at 99 years of age.
Dr. Graham sat with kings and presidents for more than 50 years! He kept an incredibly full schedule and was sought after by countless dignitaries for his counsel. His opinion mattered.
There were times of immense pressure and he made thousands of decisions, any one of which could have tarnished and diminished his integrity. But he held steadfast to his biblical values and true to his word.
I don’t think Dr. Graham had a special secret. I think he just got up every day and decided to live that day fully for Christ. Those daily decisions produced a lifetime of integrity.
The expectation is not for you or me to be a perfect leader, we will make mistakes, but we need to live a life of consistent integrity. A life of integrity brings credibility to your leadership.
3) Singular focus on a clear purpose has compounding results.
Dr. Graham has said, “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe, comes through knowing Christ.” (Dr. Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and is executive director of the Billy Graham Center.
The power of knowing your calling and purpose cannot be overestimated. The compounding results from a life given to a singular focus is staggering.
Dr. Graham preached to over an estimated 200 million people, (not including radio and film), in over 400 crusades, in 185 cities. (Dr. Stetzer) Those are breathtaking numbers for which heaven rejoices. Millions know Jesus from that singular focus to a purpose.
It’s not likely that we will realize those numbers, but my hunch is that if we had lunch with Dr. Graham today, he’d say that it’s all worth it for just one. But if God is given the opportunity to multiply those Kingdom results beyond just one, why not go for it?
4) Declaring the name of Jesus keeps us connected to Kingdom authority and eternal results.
There are many ways to become lost as a leader even if you declare Jesus as the reason for all that you do. But there is (obviously) something uniquely powerful about the name of Jesus and speaking His name daily provides a strong guidepost for living.
Whether you are in a ministry meeting, teaching leadership or communicating the weekend message, the name of Jesus has a certain way of keeping us aligned with the core of the Gospel and the focus of the Great Commission.
Dr. Graham never wavered from lifting up the name of Jesus. He was well aware, and said it often, that it was the person of Jesus and the power of Scripture that provided all the results in his evangelistic ministry.
There was never a hint that Billy Graham leaned into his own talent or ability. He knew the only real source of authority for eternal impact. This is a profound leadership lesson that we can be tempted to violate.
Dr. Graham’s life and legacy remind us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We can do nothing of eternal value apart from Him.
Thank you, Dr. Billy Graham.