The Graham Standard (a tribute and challenge)

Today marks the memorial service for one of the most renowned preachers of the Gospel this world has ever known. Equally, he is one of the most influential spiritual leaders that has graced history. Billy Graham set the standard. And, though he was certainly imperfect, he perfectly lived a life worthy of reflecting, remembering, and repeating.

I never had the privilege of meeting him personally, but I did meet Franklin (his son) in a small prayer group before his evangelistic event several years ago in Oklahoma City – indelibly impacted by his genuineness and simplicity of faith. And, Michelle and I have had the pleasure of visiting the Billy Graham Training Center (The Cove) in Asheville, North Carolina. Though I never stood in a room with this giant or shook his hand, his life embodied a transparency that even those like myself, who didn’t know him firsthand, could, at the least, remotely emulate. Here’s a list of eight challenges from Billy Graham’s life:

Live and lead with passion.  Bill Hybels, in his book Holy Discontent, writes, “What must have been churning and burning inside young Billy that compelled him to rent that very first stadium in order to host his very first crusade where he asked people by the thousands to give their lives to God?”  Do you live and lead with passion?

Live and lead with integrity.  In an opinion article by NBC on February 23rd, Randall Balmer, wrote, “Billy Graham exemplified what evangelical Christianity could be – and too often was not.” He continued by writing,

“For anyone who has lived through the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, it is not difficult to identify Billy Graham’s most remarkable accomplishment. Over the course of a public career that lasted more than half a century, no one has credibly charged Graham with scandal.”

Are you living and leading with integrity?

Live and lead with hope.  It is no secret to anyone who knows of Billy Graham that he preached and shared continually on the themes of heaven, forgiveness, love, mercy, acceptance, and the Cross – all pointing not to endlessness or despair, but hope – hope in Christ – which could be found by calling out to Him alone.  Does your life live out and lead out in hope?

Live and lead with humility.  The title of his autobiography is Just As I Am, which was the name of the song he used to call sinners to repentance at the end of his Gospel meetings. It’s the message of his book that communicates how he is the example of that song. It is recalled that when his ministry headquarters were dedicated, he conveyed publically that day that he cringed every time he heard his name called in something that had been the work of God through the years.  Are you living and leading in humility?

Live and lead with longevity.  He died in his 100th year. Success truly isn’t found in how you start as much as how you finish. In their book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley talk about Billy’s “laser focus” and “lifetime of persistence” that characterized his ability to stay the course for the long-haul. Mr. Graham set that standard for his generation.  How well are you living and leading with longevity?

Live and lead with love.  Love was his message. More specifically, Billy Graham preached, “God loves you.” One writer said that some of his methods were questioned – such as inviting preachers with different theological persuasions to sit on the platform with him at his crusades. Why did he engage in such controversial approaches? It did it because he was driven by love and not differences.  Does your living and leading unquestionably reflect God’s love?

Live and lead with innovation.  In the book The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, the authors write, “Billy’s associates insist his drive to innovate was rooted in his calling to reach out to others with God’s love. What else, they ask, could motivate him in the 1960s to don sunglasses, shabby clothes, and a baseball cap to mingle in New York City among protesters of Students for a Democratic Society? Why else would he walk into a music store, load up on rock albums, and then sit down at his Montreat home to hear an unfamiliar generation’s coming-of-age anthems? Graham left his generational comfort zone because he believed in his message and loved those who needed to hear it.”  How well are you living and leading in creativity?

Live and lead with succession in mind.  According to an article published in Citizen Times on February 25th, all five of the Graham children have had their struggles with God, faith, and family, but now are remarkably following in the footsteps of their parents. Ned Graham is a pastor who prints and distributes Bibles in China. Franklin Graham is head of a Christian relief organization as well as president and chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Gigi Graham is the eldest child and an inspirational speaker and author of several books. Anne Graham Lotz, the second-eldest child, is a renown Christian speaker after years of teaching Bible classes. Ruth Graham, who for years went by the nickname Bunny, is founder and president of Ruth Graham Ministries, which is based in Waynesboro, Virginia. According to the article, “There are 19 grandchildren, many of whom are carrying on the Graham tradition of Christian ministry and mission work.”  What are you doing to live and lead with succession in mind?

While Mr. Graham’s body lie in honor at the United States Capital Rotunda on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his speech to reflect on his life, said, “His fame never overcame him. Billy knew better than anyone that fame and an impressive Rolodex weren’t the real standards of success. His aim was simpler: sharing the good news with as many souls as he possibly could.” There it is…he was known, in fact, to have a standard. It was a standard for success. It was a standard to live by. And, no doubt, for the ages – for every spiritual leader – it has become the Graham Standard.

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