In 2004 it was my privilege to serve as co-chair for the Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade–a season of intense labor by a marvelous committee who choreographed a host of events beside the massive meetings November 18-24, 2004. Though Dr. Graham appeared to be stymied, crippled by a mid-May fall that broke his pelvis, with untiring commitment to the regimen given to him and an unflagging passion to preach the Word of God, the evangelist preached to 312,500 over four days with 12,539 decisions for Christ registered!
While I have been involved with Mr. Graham in a number of ways and events over the years of my ministry, this is the first time I ever had continued “up close and personal” contact—for the better part of a week, in this case. It was, frankly, unsurprising to have confirmed what most would think: “What you see is what you get!” He is the real deal—as genuine as the gospel and a pure as gold.
I was 15 when I first heard of Billy Graham, when word of the spiritual breakthrough in his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade began spreading across the United States and around the world. From that day to this, there is a Christlike “changelessness” to the character of the man and his ministry; a constancy in integrity and selfless servanthood that will model for generations to come what church leadership should look like.
This trustworthiness did not evolve by accident, or without a specific pursuit of goals. Graham’s code of personal values and ethics in ministry have brought phenomenal trust and respect by the general public, even through the seasons of cynicism the church in North America has navigated over the past 20 years. It’s worth examining his ethics again, to see how this leader established patterns of conduct and ministry, both public and private, that have produced a track record of fidelity in every arena of life and service?
To cut to the core of Billy’s values, you can find their essence in two biographies of his life. Though the books were published 26 years apart (John Pollack 1966, William Martin 1992), they report the same abiding values pursued by Graham and his team; values that became fixed in place in 1948 following a rather unfruitful crusade in Modesto, Calif. Local unresponsiveness brought the team’s self-examination, resulting in a focus on six things. Let me briefly summarize them.
- Money. Since the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed in 1950, Billy has never accepted a love offering or an honorarium for work in his crusades. He would later accept pay for a syndicated newspaper column and royalties from some, but his salary for his evangelistic ministry was set. He began with a salary of $15,000 per year, a wage comparable to prominent urban pastors in this country. The same standard has continued to guide any upward adjustment for inflation.
- Sexual Morality. Candidly acknowledging their vulnerabilities to their own humanness and to the possibility of false appearances or wrongdoing, Billy and the team set strict basic rules to protect themselves: (1) Keep in close proximity to one another on the road; and (2) never, for any reason, be alone with a woman, however pure the intent.
- Sensationalism. A study of the preaching, writing and evangelistic style of Billy Graham reveals a remarkable absence of the superficial, of hype, or of pandering to the crowd or playing to the grandstands. Even in the early years, when his own youthfulness and beginnings as a youth evangelist showed up in a more dramatic delivery, his communication consistently avoided exaggeration or “slick” remarks.
- Hyperemotionalism. It is interesting to observe Billy Graham’s balance in this respect. For my part, as both an Evangelical and Pentecostal, I am grateful for his middle of the road stance between the extremes of intellectualized sophistry and emotionalistic folderol. He is not afraid to confront people with the eternal issues of heaven’s promise and hell’s judgment, yet I’ve never heard him become either syrupy on the one hand or mean on the other.
- Avoiding digressions. Billy Graham has written on prophecy, yet he has never been caught up in sign-seeking or date-setting. He has been at the center of our nation’s moral and civic consciousness, yet never been snagged by a single social or political cause–never digressed into a distracting focus on any moral or doctrinal issue. Rather, “The Bible says,” has been his badge of authority all of his ministry.
- Commitment to the whole church. He has always insisted that all churches, leaders and ethnicities be welcome–indeed, solicited and encouraged to be involved in his crusades as partners for the sake of evangelism. His largesse toward the whole Body of Christ is summed up by Cliff Barrows: “He genuinely loves them and has sought to learn all he can from them; instead of criticizing their ministry, he tries to be sympathetic with the problems they face.”
Psalm 37:37 says, “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.” Being instructed by that exhortation from God’s Word, it’s helpful to have a steady point of reference for follow-through. For that reason, I’ll say again, “Thank you Lord, for a man named Billy.”