A Leadership Assessment of Billy Graham


Many modern scholars spend their entire lives trying to determine whether true leaders are made or born.  While some make leadership seem effortless and natural, many others struggle to be successful leaders.  Even fewer leaders reach levels of greatness worthy of emulation or adoration by the world community.  I would argue that any leader chosen by God is, in fact, born for that purpose, and has the ability to become a truly great leader.  Billy Graham is one of these born leaders.   

To further His purpose in a leader’s life, God enables and equips him/her through various experiences throughout their lives.  While some are positive experiences, others bring them just short of the breaking point.  Both types affect every aspect of their lives, and through them, God develops better leaders.

Graham endured the same experiences during his life, and they helped shape him into a born leader chosen by God.  His cultural, personality, spiritual, and adult development greatly influenced many aspects of his life and ministry, such as his relational, paradigm, warfare, and holistic spiritualities.


As a young boy growing up in rural North Carolina, William Franklin Graham, Jr. hardly fit the profile of the influential evangelist we know today.  Despite the efforts of his Christian parents, his “worldly” ways were known to many in his local community.  In fact, a local church youth group considered Graham as too worldly to participate in any of the group’s activities.[1]  It seemed as if the religious diligence of his parents had no effect on the wayward youth.

Eventually, the young Graham accepted Christ and began the journey of becoming a minister.  However, despite his conversion, Graham still demonstrated a sense of rebellion during his college years.  He still desired to live his life according to his own terms instead of God’s, which plagued him into his college years.

This became evident during his time at Bob Jones College.  Its strict legalism failed to suit his idea of a fulfilling life, and he transferred to a more liberal Bible college in Florida.  Prior to his transfer, Bob Jones himself acknowledged God’s gift to Graham, and challenged him to allow God to use it.[2]  However, these prophetic words seemed to fall on deaf ears at the time.

One of the reasons Graham transferred to a Bible college in Florida was so he could date a fellow classmate.  He got caught up in trying to live life according to his own plan, instead of submitting to God’s will for his life.  However, after enduring her painful rejection due to his lack of direction and purpose, he decided to make something of his life and follow the will of God.[3]

Like all leaders chosen by God, Graham endured hardships, rejections, and disappointments throughout his young life.  The beliefs and values instilled in him by his parents, coupled with his life experiences, shaped him into the mature Christian leader we know today.  His development as a leader enabled him to accept his birthright as a chosen leader for God.


First, Graham’s cultural development greatly influenced his life and ministry, and enabled certain aspects of his paradigm spirituality.  According to Estep, culture consists of a collection of “ideas, experiences, and expressions” that form a collective viewpoint of the world. [4]  In turn, this viewpoint shapes the lives of those immersed within this culture.  In most cases, culture affects how people interact with each other, as well as drives predisposed assumptions about members of other cultures.  These predisposed assumptions attributed to culture then foster both positive and negative paradigms across many spectrums.

It is only natural for some of these paradigms to meld with an individual’s spirituality as well, thus affecting their paradigm spirituality.  Essentially, there are two perspectives that can define our lives:  temporal and eternal.  A temporal perspective views this present world as the end objective, while the objective of an eternal perspective is heaven.  In other words, while one perspective views the world as an end unto itself, the other views the world as a precursor to something greater.[5]  While one’s culture may imply a temporal view of the world, a paradigm shift must occur in order for us to see the world from an eternal perspective.

During the early years of Graham’s life and ministry, the culture in the South revolved around a vertical collectivism based solely on race.  There existed a hierarchy of power in which blacks were not an equal part of the collective whole.[6]  Since whites were at the top of this hierarchy, blacks had little control over their own lives and destinies.  This cultural hierarchy extended into the realms of religion and worship as well, which dictated that the two could not worship together in most cases.

Despite his upbringing in the segregated South, Graham was led by the Spirit to change his views on segregation. These changed views created a paradigm shift in the way he viewed life, which shifted from a cultural view to a biblical view.  He suddenly became aware of the equality of men in the eyes of God.  In his own words, “The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”[7]  Despite the negative influences during his cultural development, this paradigm shift enabled him to look beyond race and color with new Spirit-made eyes.  This enabled him to eventually reach millions of people of all races for Christ.

Later in his ministry, Graham’s ability and willingness to shift his view from cultural to biblical allowed him to see people as God saw them.  As his appreciation for humanity increased, his love for humanity also increased.  As a result of years ministering to the world, Graham grew to follow Christ’s example of loving all human beings.  He became aware that God’s family consists of people from all ethnicities, cultures, classes, and denominations.[8]  In a way, it was a brief glimpse of life in heaven.


Second, Graham’s personality development during the early years of his ministry directly affected his relational spirituality.  Based on Erik Erikson’s theory on psychosocial development, personality emerges through eight developmental outcomes, such as self-awareness and self-confidence.  If a person does not transcend each outcome, personality issues will carry over to the next outcome, thus becoming an obstacle to overall personality development.[9]  In turn, these personality issues can negatively impact our relationships with ourselves, others, and God.

One aspect of relational spirituality involves the ability to love ourselves correctly.  Unresolved personality issues create self-made obstacles that limit our potential to form productive relationships.  In order to resolve these issues, we must foster self-love by viewing ourselves through the eyes of God.[10]  There are no obstructions, such as personality flaws, in God’s view of us, and this view should become our own.  Once this occurs, we can finally put any personality flaws behind us and become the person God wants us to become.

For Graham, one aspect of his personality had the potential to hamper his abilities to minister to the world.  His personality as a young kid was starkly different than the world-renowned minister and evangelist we know today.  He was so shy as a young boy that he refused to speak in front of his classmates.[11]  Without overcoming such a debilitating personality flaw, Graham could never become the minister that he is today.

One way Graham’s personality flaw of extreme shyness hindered his ability as a minister stemmed from the center of his ministry.  In a way, his shyness and difficulty speaking to people forced him to focus more on himself than others.  He lacked the self-confidence to speak in front of others, which could potentially prevent him from fulfilling his Godly purpose.  However, that changed during his ministry in England, where he received the fullness of the Holy Spirit.[12]

By fully submitting control of his life and ministry to the Holy Spirit, his ministry became centered on others rather than self.  This transformation is one of the key aspects of relational spirituality, and the result was phenomenal.[13]  Since his focus was now on reaching others, instead of his own disability and limitations, he was finally the minister that God saw in that small shy boy from the South.  The Holy Spirit was able to transform his personality flaw into an instrument of God, and change the dynamics of his personality.[14]  He was finally able to fulfill his role as a minister of God through the fullness of the Spirit.


Third, Graham’s spiritual development directly affected his warfare spirituality, and enabled him to become a great Soldier for Christ.  Spirituality encompasses the many facets of our life, including our present reality and the supernatural dimension of our being.  For a Christian, it represents our lifelong goal of resembling the life of Jesus.[15]  The closer we get to a resemblance of Him, the stronger our spirituality becomes.  With this strengthened spirituality comes an increased capacity for spiritual power, which is a critical component of warfare spirituality.

When dealing with warfare spirituality, spiritual power is everything.  Those areas of our lives experienced through deliverance and healing provide a starting point for the development of this power.[16]  Out of the ashes of conquered hurts and afflictions rise the makings of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ for the Devil.  These experiences are testaments of the awesome power of the living God.

Even during the early days of his ministry, Graham fully understood the three-front war raging in the world.[17]  However, even though he knew of the ongoing war, he felt that his spiritual arsenal was incomplete.  He felt unprepared for the war he knew was looming ahead for him as an evangelist for God.  However, God knew exactly which weapon Graham needed to achieve his ultimate objective.

During a mission trip to England, a Welsh evangelist influenced Graham’s spiritual development in a most profound way, and showed him the missing weapon in his spiritual arsenal:  the fullness of the Holy Spirit.[18]  As mentioned above, this fullness of the Holy Spirit transformed Graham into the anointed evangelist capable of reaching millions for Christ, thus creating a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ to Satan and his futile efforts to destroy humanity.

Another aspect of his spiritual development that enabled his warfare spirituality was his development of an extensive battle plan.  This battle plan enabled him and his ministry to withstand many of the worldly and fleshly temptations that plagued the evangelistic community through the avoidance of any instance of compromise or suspicion.[19]

As with any large-scale military operation, a synchronized battle plan ensures the overall success of the operation.  Graham’s battle plan ensured the success of his ministry, and created a powerful defense against Satan’s minefields.  In addition, combined with his fullness of the Holy Spirit, it enabled Graham to develop an unstoppable war machine for the advancement of God’s kingdom.


Finally, Graham’s adult development directly affected his holistic spirituality, thus enabling him to fully mature into an influential evangelist of God.  According to Peter, adult development, as well as spiritual growth, consists of a supplementation to faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, with love being the ultimate by-product.[20]  These tenets foster Christian adult development, as well as the development of holistic spirituality.

In turn, holistic spirituality enables a mature Christian adult to fully integrate Christian principles in his/her daily lives.  A meaningful relationship with Christ becomes the central focus that connects all aspects of his/her life.  In essence, Christ shifts from being a component of the adult’s life to being the center.  From this new center, a renewed sense of purpose emerges which affect every thought and action.[21]

In studying the many aspects of Graham’s life and ministry, we can observe his many different areas of adult development, and how each area contributed to his holistic spirituality.  By following Peter’s ‘roadmap’ for Christian development, we can follow Graham’s holistic spiritual development during various stages of his life.  According to one of Graham’s key employees, leading with love set him apart from many other leaders.[22]  This testimony demonstrates the level of his holistic spirituality, and his wholehearted application of Peter’s Scriptural principles.  Graham truly made Jesus, and His love, central in all aspects of his adult life and ministry.


In conclusion, the cultural, personality, spiritual, and adult development of Billy Graham greatly influenced his relational, paradigm, warfare, and holistic spiritualities.  These elements of Christian formation drove Graham’s spiritual formation, and, in turn, transformed him into the great spiritual leader predetermined by God before his birth.  Christians can confidently assert that some great leaders are born and led by the Holy Spirit through each phase of their lives.  Ultimately, they become the leaders that God provides to his people to further his kingdom, and Billy Graham is such a leader.


1. Nancy Gibbs and Richard N. Ostling, “God’s Billy Pulpit,” Time Magazine (November, 1993): 2,,9171,979573-2,00.html (accessed May 10, 2011). 

2. Ibid., 3.

3. Ibid.

4. James E. Estep and Jonathan H. Kim, Christian Formation: Integrating Theology & Human Development, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 275.

5. Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 60.

6. Estep, 278.

7. Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 137.

8. Ibid., 316.

9 Estep, 102.

10. Boa, 35.

11. Myra, 20.

12. Ibid., 22.

13. Boa, 25.

14. Myra, 20.

15. Estep, 239-240.

16. Boa, 351.

17. Ibid., 329.

18. Myra, 22.

19. Ibid., 55.

20. Estep, 220.

21. Boa, 213.

22. Myra, 315.

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