My Visit with Billy Graham: Lessons in Leadership and Life

Earlier this week Nellie Jo and I went to visit Billy Graham in his home in Montreat, North Carolina. Though it was not my first time to meet with the famed evangelist, this visit seemed especially poignant. Perhaps the poignancy of the moment related to the visit in his home. I have never been to the mountaintop cabin that he and his family have called home for so many years.

Then again, this was my first visit with Mr. Graham since his beloved Ruth died two years ago. Her photos and keepsakes are visible throughout the home. This visit was certainly different for that reason. Still again, my time with Billy Graham was poignant because he is in his twilight years. He will be ninety-one in November.

Looking to Learn

I am a student of leadership and life. I have so much to learn. I still make so many mistakes. I still have a long way to go.

So in the visit I had with Mr. Graham, I wanted once again to glean from his life, his wisdom, and his experience. My quest was not disappointing. To the contrary, I came away realizing that I had been on the mountaintop in more ways than one.

Lessons Learned

The brevity of this article does not allow me to write a leadership treatise on Billy Graham. Indeed an entire book would not likely be adequate. Allow me then to share some reminders I gleaned from my visit this week.

A life pleasing to the Lord is a life of integrity. The name of Billy Graham inevitably reminds us integrity. His is a life that did not compromise morally. It is a life that has been above reproach financially. And his is a life of incredible honesty. Leadership at any level cannot begin to function well unless the leader has integrity.

Our first ministry is to our family. The home of Billy Graham is a home of love. It is the place where Billy and Ruth Graham raised children and welcomed grandchildren. At one point in my visit with Mr. Graham, he pointed to a portrait of his late wife Ruth. With tears in his eyes he said, “I can’t wait to see her in heaven.” Thank you, sir, for reminding me again of the priority of family.

Listen to critics, but don’t dwell on them. In my position, I am subject to criticisms more often than I like. Indeed I am pretty thin-skinned, so it is an area in which I constantly struggle. So I asked Mr. Graham how, in a lifetime of international ministry and scrutiny, he dealt with the constant stream of criticisms. He smiled at me and simply said, “I ignored most of them.” While he never implied that he was blameless, he knew that dwelling on criticisms would distract and harm his ministry. So he simply moved on.

Humility is one of the greatest virtues of leaders. He has counseled presidents and kings. He has preached to millions. Volumes have been written about his life and ministry. Some have seen him to be the world’s most influential person of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet in each of the times I have been with him, I have witnessed one of the most humble men I’ve ever known. Billy Graham never thinks too highly of himself. What an incredible example he is.

All that really matters is Jesus. Mr. Graham preached about Him for most of his life. The message of the gospel is the heart of his ministry. He understands the brevity of life. And he knows, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.

Thank You Billy Graham

I left his home reluctantly. I did not want to impose on his hospitality and generous spirit, but I did not want to leave.

So as I departed, I reflected on my time with Billy Graham. And I reflected on his life and ministry. I know I will never come close to becoming the man he is. Still, I can learn. I can learn so much.

I can learn to love my family and others with a greater love. I can learn to have a greater humility, understanding that I am nothing without Christ. I can learn that the simple things in life are those that really matter. And I can learn that this life is not about me. It’s all about Jesus.

That is the life of Billy Graham. That is the type of life I desire to have.

Thank you, Mr. Graham.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your humility.

Thank you for your life.

Like many, many others, I am blessed to know you.

Posted on September 16, 2009

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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1 Comment

  • Am also a student of leadership and life and needed so read what i just did on billy graham. These are examples to emulate if we are to stand through it all focused and bring glory to the kingdom of GOD