Imagine that Billy Graham were you pastor. Imagine he was 30
years old. How do you think he would go at it? I think we would all
agree he’d do a great job. How do you think he would approach being
pastor? (Hint: keep reading and he tells us.)
He would preach great sermons
For starters, we all know he’d preach great sermons. Probably
lots of evangelistic sermons, although, if he were a pastor, he’d
probably preach a lot of other sermons as well. His sermons would be
great for at least three reasons:
Billy Graham has God-given talent and a clear anointing
that only comes from God. There are some things only God
can do. Only God can give us talent and spiritual gifts. Only God
can give anointing–what the the old preachers called unction. We
might say, some preachers just got it. Few people throughout church
history have demonstrated any more God-anointed giftedness than
I think Billy Graham would work hard at each sermon.
something curious that happens when someone is really good at
something–they make it look easy. They might make it look so easy
you think they are not working hard at it. This is rarely the case.
People who are really good at almost anything have both God-given
talent and they work at it really hard. But, they have one other
I think Billy Graham would hard at improving his
preaching. I think
he would understand the pivotal role that quality preaching plays in
the overall health of the church. I think he would take
responsibility for constantly improving his preaching. I think he
would listen to CDs and podcasts on preaching, read books on preaching, and
attend seminars on preaching. He would likely do what my friend Sam
Shaw used to do when he was my pastor–he would ask me ever week to
communicate with him in writing as to how that sermon could have
been better. Often, the sermons were so good I could not see any way to
improve them. But, he would nearly always ask. Sam had a relentless
hunger to get better at preaching. The best of the best always do.
They are not good just because God blessed. They are good because
God bless AND they worked hard at it.
Good preaching makes a HUGE difference. I was recently honored to
serve at New Vision Baptist in Murfreesboro, TN. Worship attendance
has doubled twice in the last five years. Why? Great preaching.
There may be some other reasons, but that is nearly always part of
We don’t hear about this at church growth conferences as much as
we should. Why? Well, when Rick Warren or Billy Hybels tell you how
to grow a church, it comes off as being something less than humble
if they tell the truth: "Preach as well as I preach and you will
grow a church as I have grown it." We can’t all preach as well as
Billy Graham, we can all work at it.
Billy Graham would experiment with all kinds of innovative ways
to spread the gospel
Because we see Billy Graham in the sunset years of his life, and
because he is such an icon, we often miss seeing what an innovator
Billy Graham was an innovator. He tried all kinds of things from
radio and TV to satellite to using contemporary music bands in his
crusades to making movies. Billy Graham epitomizes innovation.
Paul talked about this:
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a
slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those
under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am
not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having
the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s
law), so as to win those not having the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become
all men so that by all possible
means I might save some. 1 Cor 9:19-22 (NIV)
In an often overlooked command, Jesus admonished us to be shrewd:
"Therefore be as shrewd as snakes
and as innocent as doves." Matt 10:16 (NIV) Shrewd–not just
spiritual–shrewd. One dictionary has it, "denotes practical skill
or acumen." The church growth movement was criticized for its
ruthless pragmatism. Pragmatism does not sound all that spiritual,
but there is a place for it.
Nehemiah struck a balance in one of my favorite verses in the Old
Testament. "But we prayed to our God and
a guard day and night to meet
this threat." Neh 4:9 (NIV) Notice the word AND. We tend to go one
way or the other. We are either so practically minded we build a
church that could run without God, or, we are so heavenly minded we
are no earthly good. Nehemiah found the balance: he prayed to his
God and posted a guard.
Billy Graham tried all kinds of innovative things as an
evangelist, and I think he would have done the same thing if he were
your pastor. But, what else would he do? Fortunately, we don’t have
to guess. Bill Graham tells us.
Bill Graham would get a small
I have just re-read one of the most influential books of my
formative years in ministry: Robert Coleman’s The Master
Plan of Evangelism. First
published in 1963, this short book has sold 3 million copies and is
still selling well enough to stay on the shelf of your average
Lifeway store. It is a classic. Billy Graham said of it, "Few books
have had as great an impact on the cause of world evangelization in
our generation as Robert Coleman’s
The Master Plan of
Evangelism." If you have not read it, run, don’t
walk, to get a copy. If you have read it, you probably said to
yourself when you finished (as I did), "I need to re-read this book
every few years." Maybe now would be a good time.
In this classic book, Robert Coleman argues that Jesus’ plan to
reach the masses was to concentrate on the few. Jesus gave a
disproportionate of time to his small group–His disciples. Jesus’
primary ministry was that of small group leader. If you think small
groups are not important, look to the example of Jesus and
reconsider. As time
went along, He seemed to spend more and more time with the inner
circle. Billy Graham says he would follow Jesus’ example.
"It is not without great significance that the
leading evangelist in the world today, Dr. Billy Graham recognized
the tremendous potential of this plan when used properly in the
church. In response to the question, ‘If you were the pastor of a
large church in a principle city, what would be your plan of action?
Mr. Graham replied, "I think one of the first things I would do
would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve people
around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price! It
would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with
them everything I have, over a period of years. Then, I would
actually have twelve ministers among the lay people who could in
turn take eight or ten or twelve people and teach them. I know one
or two churches that are doing this and it is revolutionizing the
church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time
with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact,
every time he had a great crowd it seems to me there weren’t many
results. The great results, it seems to me, came in this personal
interview and in the time he spent with the twelve."
If you are a
pastor, you might consider the advice of Billy Graham.
If I were a pastor, I’d add one more tweak to this plan. I’d pick
people who were already the organizational leaders of the
church–I’d pick Sunday School teachers. I’d teach the teachers and
let them teach the masses. I’d study books like John Maxwell’s
25 Ways to Win With People
and The Master’s
Plan of Evangelism.
I am considering doing a group study of this classic book as soon
as I am finished with the John Maxwell study. I’d like to hear
from you. Email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if that would serve you.
(Don’t rely to is email; those nearly always go to my spam filter;