The first time I heard Rev. Billy Graham preach the gospel I was fifteen years old. I went with my parents and members of our church to an arena in Washington, D.C. for one of his crusades. Although I did not surrender to the gospel that night, I heard the gospel in a way that I could clearly understand it. That night, I believe God began a two-year process of drawing me to Him.
The next time I heard Rev. Graham was in Louisville, Kentucky at the inauguration ceremony for Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. in the fall of 1993. Dr. Mohler had just become the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had answered a call to ministry and was a first semester M.Div. student in the pastor track at Southern. That night Billy Graham mentioned that Southern was founding a new school of missions, evangelism, and church growth which would be named in his honor. I knew at that moment that God was calling me to change to an M.Div. in evangelism.
Throughout my studies at Southern and in the various ministry capacities in which I’ve served, Billy Graham has been the key role model for me in ministry. Although I’ve never spoken privately with Rev. Graham, like many, his ministry has had a profound impact upon my life as a minister of the gospel. Here are five lessons that I’ve learned from him and sought to apply to my ministry:
Preach the Word
Early in his ministry Rev. Graham wrestled with the authority of Scripture and challenges from friends and acquaintances about hard sayings of Scripture and how Scripture and science related to each other. Graham made a decision that he would accept the authority and veracity of the Bible by faith even if he did not always understand difficult passages of Scripture. If you watch or listen to one of his sermons, you will hear him repeatedly say, “The Bible says.” He vowed early on to preach the Word of God and to preach it with authority.
Focus on the Gospel and Keep it Simple
Billy Graham had an unswerving focus on the gospel in his ministry and preaching. He did not allow political or cultural events to distract from pointing people to the message of the gospel. His sermons articulated the gospel in a simple, but not simplistic, way that enabled a wide range of his hearers to understand. He called for audiences to respond to the simple gospel message he preached. His focus on preaching a simple gospel message yielded the fruit of thousands of people coming to Jesus Christ.
Guard the Integrity of Your Ministry
Graham’s guidelines for ministry enabled him to maintain his integrity at a time when other evangelists and pastors fell from the ministry due to moral failures. Graham decided early on in his ministry that he would operate with financial integrity and not handle money directly. He decided that he would not meet alone with any woman other than his wife. He was careful not to speak negatively of other pastors or ministries but strove to cooperate with local church pastors from across the denominational spectrum. Finally, he exercised candor in publicity regarding the number of people attending his crusades and referred to the people responding to his invitations as “inquirers”.
Spend More Time in Study of Scripture, Prayer, and With Family
When asked what he regretted and what he would change, Billy Graham said that he would spend more time studying the Bible, pray more, and spend more time with family. He realized that the demanding speaking schedule he maintained throughout his ministry took time away from these three areas. His response to this question had a powerful impact upon my ministry.
Find Unity in the Gospel with Pastors and Evangelists From Other Denominations Who Are Seeking to Advance the Kingdom
Graham crossed denominational lines, partnering with other pastors and church leaders in order to advance the gospel in cities around the world. He did not allow for doctrinal differences to overshadow the unity he had with other believers in the gospel. This openness to working with people outside of his denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) allowed him to cast the gospel net over a wider area. He chose to focus on what he and Christians from other denominations had in common rather than to fixate on their differences.
I am thankful for the life of Rev. Billy Graham and for these lessons he taught me from his ministry. I’m most thankful that he is now experiencing fully the joy of the gospel he preached as he is in the presence of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Tim is the Associate Professor for Youth Ministry & Missions at Anderson University and is the Executive Director of Youth Ministry Round Table. He is the author of No Better Gospel and the coauthor of the upcoming Raising the Bar 2nd edition.