Billy Graham preached to over 215 million people in more than 185 countries in his lifetime. His impact for Kingdom work is significant. Late in his life, he was asked how he would go about making disciples if he was the pastor of a church. His response is recorded in Robert Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. While you might imagine him teaching the basics of the Christian life to a packed auditorium, here is his somewhat surprising and refreshingly simple (but demanding) advice:
“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 laypeople who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two church that are doing that, 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 that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came to this personal interview and in the time he spent with his twelve” (103).
Graham knew that all the “decisions” made at his evangelistic events did not automatically lead to a life of actually following Jesus. A danger of Graham’s ministry was that his message could have unintentionally had the effect of stripping the fullness of Christian life down to getting personal sins forgiven in order to go to Heaven. That’s vitally important, but such a gospel leaves out all the realities of the Kingdom of God taking root on earth right now through a people — the Church — called to embody a cross-shaped way of life before we die.
I don’t fault Graham for this since he was fulfilling his call as an evangelist. The BGEA worked tirelessly to partner with local churches to begin the follow up ministry for those who made decisions at his events. He was a fisherman casting a big net and pulling them into the boat. Local churches and pastors needed to do the harder, more tedious job of cleaning them!
So, let’s give thanks for Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry, and take his words to heart as we pastors continue the vital work of making disciples after the example of Jesus.
Leaders: Who are your Twelve? Or maybe start with Three? Heck, find just one disciple willing to be led into this life of following the Way of Jesus, and give them everything you’ve got!
Disciples: Who is your rabbi/teacher? Have you approached a pastor, teacher or Christian mentor and asked them to help train you up in the Way of Jesus by giving you everything they’ve got? Find a small group of fellow learners and begin a more intentional process of discipleship!