With the passing of Billy Graham, the curtain has closed on a great icon of faith and a model in leadership. Going by the tributes pouring in from across the globe, Dr Graham certainly touched millions of lives in a unique way. For a man who preached the Gospel in almost literally every corner of the earth, this is not totally unusual. What is special is the way he did it, with love and passion, both for his God and for His people. Though much has been said about the man, a few things are still worth repeating – things that made him stand out from the crowd. I will pick four.
First is Authenticity. In a world where many live double lives – where public and private lives are often totally diametrically opposed, Billy Graham’s was an open and transparent life. Those who worked with him testified to his simplicity and humanness in all his dealings. He readily acknowledged his weaknesses and repented of his mistakes. Indeed, he himself declared, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’” Sadly, that is a humanness many men and women in our time, and especially in our context, would rather not be identify with. We often put on this air of infallibility that unfortunately repels many because it is obviously counterfeit.
Second is Audacity. In all his preaching, Billy Graham spoke with forceful authority, irrespective of who was in his audience – paupers and presidents alike. He was uncompromising in declaring the truths of the Gospel that occupied three quarters of his long life. He was not afraid to speak of heaven and hell, and did not flinch from warning about God’s wrath for those who ignore His gracious gift. For Graham, courage and boldness were a hallmark of his life and ministry. He said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” And indeed, many a spine were stiffened whenever he took to the podium.
Third is Accountability. Billy Graham was well known for his scrupulous accountability and high integrity. The evangelist did not tolerate any appearance of evil or unlawfulness. He was particularly strict on financial fidelity and sexual purity. He was careful that he was never alone with any woman, to avoid any hint of sexual immorality. On matters money, he never handled any money in his huge evangelistic enterprise. Yet, he acknowledged that “There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.” He avoided the latter like a plague.
Fourth is Anointing. Billy Graham was distinguished by the clear evidence of God’s power and authority to do the work of the ministry – the anointing. When he spoke, men, women, and children were convicted of their sin and need for God. His altar calls were flooded with people in tears ready to repent of their sins. People rarely walked to his altar calls – they ran. It was an obvious evidence that he had a close walk with the God he preached. Lamenting the prevalent trend of many preachers to pursue wealth and riches, the great evangelist quipped, “The great question of our time is: Will we be motivated by materialistic philosophy or by spiritual power?” His own stand was obvious.
As we bid farewell to a great leader, the question that lingers is whether another like him will arise. There is absolutely no reason why not. In fact, with the crisis of leadership across the world today, many more should arise. Oswald Sanders correctly observes that God and man are constantly searching for leaders in the various branches of enterprise. However, this crisis is not because we lack people to take up leadership positions, but that we have an acute shortage of men and women with the character, the qualities and the commitment to true authentic leadership. The evangelist has left behind a legacy that extremely few of us – both in church and outside – can readily match. Yet, because he was human just like us, we can step into that space and be the men and women God and man are looking for. It would be the greatest tribute paid to this outstanding legend – Billy Graham.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM).