The Reverend Billy Graham, “America’s pastor”, died on February 21, 2018 at the age of 99. Most of us grew up knowing this man and church leader. His legacy stretches across multiple generations and continents.
While I am not a Billy Graham expert, I would offer a few simple observations about his role as a leader.
He embraced innovation. I remember watching his crusades on television as a child. He also used radio to spread his message. At the time, both of these technologies were still in their infancy and frowned upon by many church leaders. Dr. Graham included popular music stars on his stages and frequently appeared on TV interview shows. Leaders who recognize the power of innovation are often more effective. Their enterprises are frequently more successful as well.
He had a singular focus. Dr. Graham’s purpose in life was to help people find a personal relationship with God through knowing Christ. He never wavered from this focus in his life and ministry. It is estimated that Dr. Graham preached to over 200 million people (excluding radio and film) in over 400 crusades that covered 185 cities. Leaders with a focus will always find more success in leveraging their reach.
He was a man of character. Unlike many other leaders, Dr. Graham’s fame never led to impropriety or infidelity. His lifestyle was modest. He practiced daily devotions. His organization was sound financially. Character is one of the best indicators of leadership.
He was a gifted communicator. His unique southern accent never impeded Dr. Graham’s message. He spoke plainly but never in a demeaning way. His vision was bold and inclusive. He exuded confidence yet was personally humble. His wit and wisdom made him a persuasive speaker. Leaders who expect to be successful must master the art of communication.
Every successful leader will also have faults. Dr. Graham was sometimes considered too political because of his relationship with 12 presidents during his lifetime. Bible scholars considered him naïve about theology and political dynamics. While these may have limited some of his ministry effectiveness, his life will not be remembered for these perceived “shortcomings.”
When a leader of Dr. Graham’s stature passes from the scene it is tempting to look for a replacement. Great leaders know it is their unique blend of talents, personality, and character traits that will make them successful. There is only one Billy Graham. There is only one you.
Dr. Graham found a way to use his gifts and it changed the world for the better. What will you do with yours?