Billy Graham's Impact

Billy Graham's Impact

Posted on March 03, 2018


Since Billy Graham’s death last week, I have been reflecting on his impact – not only generally, but on me personally. As a freshman at Taylor University, I preached my first sermon, where three people surrendered to Jesus at the invitation. Preaching frequently throughout college and seeing people responding to the invitation, I gradually realized God was calling me as an evangelist. Certainly, Billy Graham was an incredible role model, though also daunting!
In my 20s, I studied his life, their organization’s biblical principles, and during seminary served as Executive Director for one of their films, The Prodigal, mobilizing churches across Chicago’s north suburbs. Over the years, I visited key Graham locations like the site of his historic 1949 Los Angeles crusade, the Billy Graham Center’s museum and archives in Wheaton, their training center at The Cove, the Billy Graham Library, and their offices in Charlotte last November. I will always remember his longtime personal assistant driving my wife and me in Mr. Graham’s personal car around his hometown (Montreat, NC) and showing us his Montreat office, and inviting me to take a picture sitting in his office chair.
I’m thankful for these behind-the-scenes glimpses of their ministry, their team, and his life. My two most poignant memories surround two events: 

1. Amsterdam ’83: In 1983, my wife (Dawn) and I were invited as participants to an international conference for preaching evangelists organized by Billy Graham’s organization. Over 4,000 attended from 130 countries. There, as we heard biblical messages on the life and ministry of the evangelist for the Church, God confirmed to Dawn and me that I was called as an evangelist, and someday I would serve full-time as an evangelist. At Amsterdam, I met Billy Graham personally, and he spoke encouraging words to this young evangelist! I still have a banner from Amsterdam ’83 hanging in my office as a reminder to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), our conference theme.

2. Charlotte Crusade 1996: At this crusade in his birthplace, one evening I sat on the platform behind him as he preached. Seeing thousands of people coming forward in response to the invitation moved me deeply.

Over the past 25 years, Billy’s brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, has been a dear mentor to me. I have heard Leighton share countless stories from serving 30 years with Billy as an evangelist, and now I serve periodically with Leighton, training mentors for emerging evangelistic leaders and communicators.

Through these life-shaping experiences, here are 6 qualities I have observed from Billy Graham, which apply to you and me as Jesus followers:

  1. A Servant-hearted Team: Serve in community, not alone. Having met or known several of their team, they were high-capacity people with Kingdom-minded servant hearts. Some had led major companies, and each had unique skills, but all were focused on the gospel and served with humility, equipping believers and building the local church.

  2. A Bridge-Builder: Billy Graham brought people together from a wide diversity of denominations, ethnicities, and social or political views… all to proclaim hope in Jesus Christ. He took attacks from both the left and the right, but generally stayed above the chaos. When facing immense criticism in England before his 1955 historic London crusade, he met with C. S. Lewis and John Stott at Cambridge University, the only time all three of them met together. Recently I visited that room during an evangelistic mission week at Cambridge. In that meeting, C.S. Lewis said to Billy Graham, “You have many critics, but I have never met one who has met you personally.”

  3. A Clear Message: His message was clear: “God loves you, and through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you can experience new life.” To him, the gospel answered the deepest questions and longings of the human soul, addressing barriers of the mind, heart, and will.

  4. A Convicting Invitation: Obviously he had a special gift from God for inviting people to surrender to Jesus’ leadership in their lives. There was a special conviction and pleading, but mixed with love. Standing near the stage at the Charlotte crusade, my brother and I looked up at the big screen showing Mr. Graham’s face during the invitation. My brother, Dave, had managed musical artists in Nashville, negotiating major contracts. When he saw Billy’s face, Dave told me, “I’ve only see THAT look one other place in my life. It’s in the boardroom when the multi-million-dollar deal is on the table, and this is my final offer. Will you take it?” I thought, through the cross, the priceless deal is on the table, and God allows us to offer it to others. We must invite response with love.

  5. A Growing Leader: Following his talk on leadership at a university, Leighton Ford was asked, “How would you describe Billy Graham’s leadership over the years?” Leighton replied, “He has been like an arrow. He kept his point sharp – his calling was to be an evangelist, not a social activist or politician or other things offered to him. But over time, he grew in the breadth and depth of what that meant – broader in addressing racism, segregation, Apartheid, and the nuclear arms race, and deeper biblically and theologically.

  6. A Humble Character: He solely wanted to exalt Jesus Christ, not himself. He was others-focused and gracious. At his press conference for his 1999 Indianapolis crusade, he shook every person’s hand and thanked them for coming. People told me how moved many in the media were by his graciousness. He and Ruth were ordinary people, as I was reminded when riding in his car in Montreat with his personal assistant. The car stopped in the middle of the street because Ruth was driving toward us. Both got out of their cars and talked. She was simply on her way to a picnic with her grandchildren, like any of us!

So, what does that mean for us? Often people ask, “Who will be the next Billy Graham?” In one sense, no one. He was a unique leader for his unique time, just like others before him. In another sense, all of us are! At Amsterdam ’83 he was asked that question in a press conference, but later he told all 4,000 evangelists, “YOU are!” All of us, in all of our places of influence, can be faithful witnesses of Jesus with the same truth and love that Billy modeled.
When news of his death broke, Megyn Kelly asked this probing question on the Today Show, “Who is there today with his kind of messaging that is uplifting, joyful, faithful, helping me get reconnected with God without shaming or guilting me, who is non-partisan, full of love, not covered in scandal, and not trying to rip me off?”
Today, we need many new and diverse voices to communicate privately and publicly with the same spirit as Billy Graham – full of love, thoughtful, Jesus-focused, addressing brokenness from sin in all its forms, and with integrity and humility. I have seen many younger leaders doing just that, even this past month at week-long evangelistic mission weeks at Cambridge University in England and the University of Florida with Ravi Zacharias team members.
Today I have renewed my own commitment to communicating the truth of Jesus with love and grace in this generation and mentoring others to do the same. Our world – our friends! – desperately long for hope only found in Jesus Christ. Let’s be those gracious signposts pointing to Jesus!

Hear More

Last week, Mark shared even more of his story on our podcast, Between Sundays. Hear what Mark has to say.

Listen to the Podcast
Mark Slaughter is a Grace Partner, and has been an evangelistic communicator for 40 years. The past 28 years he has served as an evangelistic speaker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, speaking on college campuses as well as at churches and conferences.


Mark, thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. Absolutely well said

Posted by Bruce Beck on March 4, 2018 @ 9:45 am

Ran across your blog and really appreciate your comments regarding Billy Graham. May God continue to bless you in your ministry.

Posted by Jan Myers on March 3, 2018 @ 7:57 pm