WHOEVER DESIRES TO BECOME GREAT AMONG YOU SHALL BE YOUR SERVANT.
We hear them everywhere people crying out for worthy, inspiring leadership. They freely acknowledge the dearth of it. In a time of stress such as ours, people in business, politics, the military, and even education are increasingly citing a religious personality, Billy Graham, not only as a living American legend but as one of the world's outstanding leaders.
Yet this man, as I have indicated, commands no armies, rules no industrial empires, and makes no claim to political influence. How can he be so widely honored as one of the most respected figures of the twentieth century? Why, in a day of antiheroes, has he become a hero? What brought it all about?
The world has its explanation.
"Cream rises to the top."
"Deserve success, and you shall command it."
But the Bile has a different answer. It says that when a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.1 And Billy Graham reads his Bible.
Millions of young men and women are starting out in life today with an intense desire to be leaders. They are pumping iron, taking seminars, joining groups, reading books, and watching films that
depict strong, domineering, even brutal men and women who battle their way to mighty achievements. Oh, to be on top! Oh, to command!
Jesus, the greatest leader of mankind in history, had an answer for all such seekers. You will find it in the New Testament, in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. This passage relates that two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, went to Jesus and asked Him for positions of leadership. They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."2
That is, of course, precisely the worst way to go about becoming a leader. Jesus knew what the sons of Zebedee were really looking for. It was power power as authority and power as sheer strength. He also knew that their request would certainly create dissension among His other disciples. He wasted no time in answering to the effect: "I'm sorry, men, it's not My department."3
Then summoning the rest of the disciples, Jesus set forth for all time His divine criteria for true leadership (Mark 10:35-41). The rules are quite simple. Jesus said that in the world the "great ones" exercise authority and lordship ("lord it over") other people. Then He added, "It shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all."
Jesus not only talked about leadership, but He also set His men an example. At the Last Supper He girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples' feet obviously the role of a menial servant. Then after the Resurrection, when His disciples had returned to Galilee and had gone fishing, He quietly appeared on the scene and cooked breakfast for them.
Such activities are not listed in any textbooks on leadership that I know of, but they are found in the Bible. What do they tell us about Jesus as a leader? They show that He loved His team, enjoyed fellowship with them, and would do almost anything for them. In no way did He consciously elevate Himself above His men in a physical sense. He was no demagogue. On the contrary, He went out of His way to show willingness to serve His friends. The result was an amazing upsurge of loyalty among the eleven disciples. Remember, these
eleven were not always models of support toward Jesus. They doubted Him, denied Him, and left Him; but He bountifully forgave them. The temple guard told the truth when he said, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"4
At times when Jesus was teaching, His words must have had an unforgettable ring. Matthew wrote, "The people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."5 Matthew was describing his Leader in action.
Far be it from me to compare Billy Graham (or anyone else) to his Master, but I wish I could describe to you how Billy Graham preached the Gospel when he was in his thirties and forties and fifties. A biographer, William Martin, wrote of "the clenched fist, the pointing finger, the ambidextrous slashes, the two-pistol punctuation, the riveting effect." Stenographers have reportedly estimated that he spoke 240 words a minute.6 Yet the foregoing description utterly fails to capture his passionate sincerity.
Those of us who heard him then remember the mind-boggling way he proclaimed the Gospel. His air of authority seemed invincible. From the day he started to preach, Billy Graham said what he meant and meant what he said. He talked, and still talks, about repentance for sin and godly sorrow. He talks about the blood of Christ, shed by our Savior to make atonement for our sins. He talks about Jesus Christ risen from the dead, about the Holy Spirit, and about the return of Christ in glory. He doesn't mince words or qualify meaning. John Stott, chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen, states it better that I can: "There isn't an iota of hypocrisy in the man. He is real. I sat in Harringay [Arena] night after night asking over and over, 'What is the reason?' I finally decided that this was the first time most of these people had heard a transparently honest evangelist who was speaking from his heart and who meant and believed what he was saying."7
Let me tell you some stories about Billy Graham that bring out different aspects of his leadership.
In the summer of 1967 I was with Billy during his crusade in Winnipeg, Manitoba. During that week our team attended a dinner party that had been arranged in a hotel for a large number of Billy's
Canadian friends and supporters. We all sat at small tables, a team member at each one. During the meal Billy came around to each table, introduced himself, and shook hands with everyone.
Later Billy stood and introduced all the members of the team in glowing terms. Our Canadian friends were informed what "out-standing: individuals we were, for Billy spared no adjectives in his generosity. I meanwhile was asking myself, "Why does he do that? We're not that remarkable. He is the one who is remarkable, we should be introducing him. But that was Billy's way. He was always taking the spotlight off himself and putting it on someone else. One result naturally, we all felt great.
Allan Emery, president of the board of directors of the Billy Graham Association, is quoted by biographer Martin as saying, "Billy has one of those rare qualities that the greatest of leaders have that of being able to share the glory. He never stints in the praise he gives anyone."8
Put this down for leadership: A leader cares about his followers and builds them up. He draws attention to them, not to himself. That's Billy.
In another crusade a young man told me he wanted to meet Dr. Graham. He said he was interested in becoming in international evangelist, and he was keen to learn from Dr. Graham how he could do it. I told him I would try to help him that the members of our team would be at a certain house after that evening's meeting, and perhaps Billy could go there and could spare a moment for the young man.
About 10:30 that night at the private home, the doorbell rang, and our host said someone wished to speak with me. It was the young man. I told him if he would kindly wait just outside, I would see what I could do.
When I told Billy that a young man who wanted to become an evangelist wished to speak to him, Billy immediately got to his feet. He said with a smile, "That's what I'm here for." When we reached the door, no one was there! We walked down the sidewalk toward the street. Finally a car door opened, and the young man condescended to emerge and come halfway up the sidewalk, where the interview took place.
"How can I become an international evangelist like you?" he asked.
"I have no idea," said Billy. "I never in the world expected to become an international evangelist. That's God's doing, not mine."
"How should I go about it?" the young man persisted.
"Just pray. Get a couple of your friends to pray with you. Ask your pastor to pray with you. Put it all in God's hands. It's His decision."
By this time I felt we had been gracious enough and suggested we return inside. When Billy and I reentered the house, he thanked me for what I had done. I wasn't too happy about it. If the young man ever became an international evangelist, I missed it somehow.
Put this down for leadership: A good leader will go out of his way to help people even when they don't deserve it or seem to appreciate it. That's Billy.
While at Decision, I published a speech by a prominent Christian citizen. I had not heard the speech, but my associates had. When the text came across my desk, I deleted two controversial paragraphs because the gentleman expressed an opinion that I knew Billy Graham did not share. I was ever conscious that it was Billy's magazine I was editing. A galley of the article was sent to the speaker for his approval. He sent it back insisting that I reinstate the two paragraphs, or else he would withdraw it from publication altogether.
We were now approaching a deadline involving millions of copies of our magazine. It was too late to talk to Billy. Accordingly, I did what I had to do went to press with the two paragraphs deleted.
When this issue of the magazine appeared, a copy was sent to the author of the article. He did not respond to me; instead he called Billy Graham. In due course I received a telephone call from Billy. He told me the man said I had disobeyed his explicit instructions.
Instead of chiding me, Billy defended me. As I remember, he told me he had said to the gentleman that he had the highest confidence in me as his editor. He had seen me under pressure "hundreds of times," and He had always found me acting with integrity. He apologized and called the whole matter unfortunate, and that was it.
What a relief! I knew those paragraphs had no business appearing in Billy Graham's magazine. But Billy said something else to me before he hung up: "Next time, Woody don't get caught so close to the deadline. Protect yourself."
Put this down for leadership: A good leader supports those he leads, takes their part, and if possible defends them, even when it's inconvenient to do so. That's Billy.
I have watched people stand on Billy's crusade platform and have heard them say things I knew he didn't agree with things that made me almost cringe. I have watched other people take advantage of Billy's platform to advertise their own ministries at length and never mention Billy's generosity. In every case Billy overlooked the matter and acted the perfect gentleman.
Put this down for leadership: A good leader overlooks the things that don't matter, even when they annoy him. He saves himself for big issues. That's Billy.
Once in Minneapolis at a staff meeting I heard him explain how he operates as a team player. He said he knew other evangelists who hired people and then spent time continually checking up on the employees. His own method, he said, was to invite a man to take an assignment, pray with him, and hand him his task, and then let him fulfil it. ("Turn him loose," was Billy's expression.) He said he expected to hear good reports of the person's work and its results and almost invariably he did.
Put this down for leadership: A good leader has absolute confidence in the people working on the team and gives them freedom to work. That's Billy.
When the twentieth century reached the three-quarter mark, Billy Graham and his team spent five days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This evangelistic crusade set attendance records that are still unbroken. On Sunday, October 6, 1975, a total of 230,000 people filled the Maracana, the world's largest stadium, to hear the Gospel preached. It was among the most bubbly, joyful meetings in the history of evangelism. When the choir sang, the audience joined in. When the soloist sang, the audience applauded each verse. When someone on that platform prayed, they all prayed. Several bands kept playing
intermittently throughout the afternoon, often at the same time, whether they were supposed to or not.
Neyde dos Santos, a resident of Rio, and her son were a part of that vast audience. As a young married woman, she had heard Billy fifteen years before in 1960 when he had spoken at a Baptist World Alliance rally in the Maracana. At that time she had yielded her life to Jesus Christ. Two days later she gave birth to a son. In appreciation for what God had done in her life through His servant, she named her son Billy Graham dos Santos.
Five months before our team arrived in Rio, Billy dos Santos, now fourteen years of age, went forward himself to receive Jesus as his Savior at a service in the First Baptist Church of Niteroi, pastored by Dr. Nilson Fanini, the crusade chairman. By October 1975, when our crusade began, young Billy had already composed several hymns.
I was introduced to Neyde dos Santos and young Billy at the Maracana Stadium amid the huge crowd. I thought that Billy senior ought to know about his young namesake. Russa Busby, our team photographer, helped me steer the young Billy to the platform, where he was warmly welcomed by the evangelist. We obtained a fine photo of Billy Graham standing with his arm around young Billy Graham dos Santos in front of 230,000 people.
Put this down for leadership: No matter how important his or her duties may be, a leader will always try to find time to do small favors for ordinary people.
To sum up, leadership is a function, not a title or a list of qualities. Author Fred Smith says that one is only a leader if people are following him or her.9 If no one is following, there is no leader. Billy Graham is a leader of millions, but like his Master, he seeks to make himself last, not first.
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1. Proverbs 16:7. In the excerpt from Cardinal Newman's speech, p. 187, he refers to this proverb as "the maxim of the ancient sage."
2. Mark 10:37.
3. Cf. Mark 10:40
4. John 7:46
5 Matthew 7:28-29
6. William Martin, A Prophet with Honor (New York: William Morrow, 1991), 162-63.
7. Ibid., 595.
8. Cf. Ibid., 652.
9. Fred Smith, Learning to Lead (Dallas: Word Inc., 1986). See also "Power in Your Life," Decision, June 1963.
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