Billy Graham – passing the torch to the next generation
The funeral service of Billy Graham – America’s Pastor is being held today. Graham passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. He was 99 years old.
The private service is expected to draw over 20,000 people, including President Donald Trump.
Graham possessed a cross cultural reach between all people – he was considered a spiritual guiding light to millions through his evangelicalism, while also providing counsel to several U.S. presidents. Graham was also a New York Times Bestselling author.
Billy Graham is important to me for many reasons, not the least of which because I am someone who feels the same cross-cultural call of God on my life. On my TV show, Outside the Box, with Sheldon Neil, as an author and itinerant speaker, having held revival services in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and now getting ready for a week-long crusade in Kenya where crowds of up to 6000 are expected this summer.
The impact of Billy Graham’s ministry continues to blaze trails of inspiration for so many; and his God-given work has served as an inspiration to me. I’m grateful for Billy Graham’s life. When I think about his legacy, I ponder how others of my generation are taking up the torch in spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
I contacted one of my friends Logan Gates, itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias Ministries for his thoughts on what the next generation can take away from the life of Billy Graham.
SN: What did Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry mean to you? How did it impact you?
LOGAN: While I never heard Billy Graham speak in person, I don’t think I’m exempt from his impact. I was once at a large conference in Kenya with church leaders from my denomination from around the world, and they asked from the stage for those who had come to faith through the ministry of Billy Graham to please stand. To my wonder, there was the sound of creaking chairs all across the auditorium, as hundreds of men and women came to their feet, many with white hair, now senior leaders in the church I had been raised. It was a moving moment. It made me think about my own decision to place my trust in Christ when I was a teenager, and how it had been in response to the witness of older Christians in my church, many of whom I now saw had been led to Christ by Billy Graham a generation earlier. In a way I realized my own faith could be traced back the faithfulness of this man, a spiritual “grandfather” to me. I’m not sure if I would have heard the good news of Christ had it not been for his ministry to so many who would, in turn, share that message with me.
SN: We live in an increasingly pluralistic society, in which people become increasingly suspicious of Faith. What do you think it was about Billy Graham that his work was made possible to cut through people’s hearts to bring millions to Christ?
LOGAN: I think several aspects of Billy Graham’s work made it possible for him to connect with so many people, including many who were suspicious of faith. Near the top of the list would have to be his integrity. In an age where it seems we hear about the moral failings of church leaders left and right, Billy’s character and humility stood apart. What shined through his preaching was his genuine care for those in the audiences, and for their souls, for them to be made right with God. I think there was also something about the simplicity of Billy’s message. Conversations about faith can often be long and winding; Billy went right to the centre of the matter, our hearts before God and the good news of the cross. I think this helped him connect with people no matter what education or career they had. Here was a message that was, like the angel Gabriel said, “good news for all people.”
SN: What can millenials and cohorts belonging to generation z take from the evangelistic work of Billy Graham, in a present age so vastly different from what was?
LOGAN: In our generation identity is something we craft for ourselves, and we avoid any generalizing labels that box us in. In light of this, I think we should be taken aback at the undeniably global impact of Billy Graham’s ministry. Here was someone whose simple message of brokenness and grace, of forgiveness and hope, resonated deeply with people of vastly different cultures, faiths, and walks of life, to the point that today all around the world there are people who can point to a moment when Billy Graham’s preaching led to a radical change in their lives, when they placed their trust in Christ. I think this says something at the level of anthropology that challenges our narrative today – that though we are all different from one another, there are common threads of humanity that tie us together. I think Billy helped us see that one of those threads is our collective longing for God and our search for Someone who can love us, forgive us, and give us hope beyond the grave.
SN: We live in the social media age where more and more interaction is done online. How do you think the social media phenomenon would have served Billy Graham’s ministry as a resource if at play during the heights of his ministry?
LOGAN: While Billy Graham wasn’t too active in our social media age, his ministry did span across another pivotal transition in the media world: the introduction of television. That medium extended the reach of Billy’s voice over time to millions of people around the world. I’m sure if Billy were still speaking today, social media would carry his voice to millions more (I bet he could give a great TED talk!). At the same time I think Billy would have pushed back against some of today’s social media culture. I think he would have spoken about the way our phones can sometimes pull us away from the things that really matter – our friends, our families, and God. Along those lines I think Billy would have talked about how in Jesus, God came near to us, and at great cost to himself created the possibility of restored, real relationship with Him.
Sheldon Neil with files from Susan Ponting