"Healing for America" Project
Story by Debra Matthews
Welcome! Here's another message in the "Healing for America" project. It's about the things that made Billy Graham pastor to a nation, and his lasting legacy.
Billy Graham's Greatest Legacy
Copyright © 2018 by Debra K. Matthews. All rights reserved
Few evangelists in history have touched the nations in the ways Billy Graham did. I had the privilege of attending or participating in four of his Washington Crusades over the years, as well as serving as a phone worker*, then a ministerial supervisor during some of the televised crusades. I got to know the secretary of one of the crusade directors over time, and learn much about how Billy Graham's operation worked. Staff called him Mr. Graham (he did not like being called Dr. Graham).
With his recent passing, people are talking about the millions of souls that came to the Lord through Mr. Graham's ministry, and yes, praise God for that. What few are talking about, though, is a different part of his legacy.
Most evangelists swoop down into a town, get people saved, and move on, leaving new converts to flounder and try to find their way alone. Mr. Graham learned early that there needed to be some kind of follow-up for new Christians finding the Lord in his meetings. He recognized and stayed with his calling as "the pediatrician bringing the child into the world". He got with people whose calling was helping new Christians get grounded in the Word, and built a two-fold follow-up program. People coming forward in the crusades spoke with workers, received a book about starting their walk with Christ, and were told they could do an assignment in it and mail it to the Graham headquarters and receive more materials.
At the same time, while the new converts started that journey, Mr. Graham had already laid the groundwork for local churches to work ahead of time, and to be ready to contact those same people who came forward in the crusade and invite them to church afterward. Mr. Graham didn't tell people "Go to my denomination". Instead, he encouraged them to "go to church somewhere next Sunday". He also invested heavily in training materials, as well as moneys left over from the crusade expenses staying in the local community.
I think the greatest legacy Mr. Graham leaves us is how he and his team invested in the local churches and in everyday ministers like myself. His teams went into a city months ahead of a crusade and brought hundreds of churches of many denominations together. Denominations had differences in minor details of doctrine, but all who believed in the death, burial and resurrection of God's Son were able to work together with the Graham teams. Without this solid network there to help new Christians grow in their walk with Christ, much would have been lost.
The Graham team taught programs like "Operation Andrew" -- named after Jesus' disciple Andrew who was always bringing people to Jesus -- that trained congregations how to reach out to their friends, neighbors and coworkers with the message of Christ, inviting them to the crusades, or to watch the telecasts with them. They worked with local prayer teams in the churches, too. The team said they could feel the power of the thousands of prayers that were going up all over the city in preparation and during the crusades.
Mr. Graham never spoke against pastors, knowing they were God's vessels to help the flocks grow in their knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ. He shared from his heart with pastors about the needs he saw in the church and the world. The foundation built into the local churches working with the Graham team so many months ahead was part of what made his message stick with so many hearts prepared ahead of time.
If a crusade was long enough, they would sometimes put on a Billy Graham School of Evangelism during the daytime. Young ministers like myself often received scholarships covering the cost of staying in a hotel to attend the school. To this day, I still remember attending the school in Spokane, Washington in 1982, the wonderful speakers from a variety of denominations, and the gentle kidding some of them gave each other. I remember one speaker from the Church of the Nazarene getting up to speak after a Baptist pastor. He joked it was appropriate following the Baptist, saying, "because in the Bible John the Baptist turned his ministry over to Jesus the Nazarene."
Part of the Graham legacy was shown when Mr. Graham was quoted as feeling it wasn't right that there were so many members of his own extended family teaching during the school. The head of the school told us he told Mr. Graham, "Sir, we aren't inviting them to teach because they are related to you. We have them speaking because they have so much to contribute on their own." That was a testimony to the impact that this man of great integrity and dedication had on all who knew him.
If you have a heart for evangelism, I highly recommend that if you can find a copy, you read the original biography of his early years in ministry, "Billy Graham, The Authorized Biography", by John Pollock (copyright 1966, 1969). It tells how his team and processes evolved, and how he brought so many people together in the great work God gave us to do on this earth. Learning about what shaped and motivated this great man of God can't help but touch your own heart and light a new fire of passion for God's service in your life -- continuing that great legacy.
(*See the story, "100 Guided Phone Lines")
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