I have watched many people give their tribute to “America’s Pastor”, Billy Graham. Tears have welled up in my eyes as I have heard TV News Show hosts tell about how their lives have been affected by Dr. Graham. Some even used their celebrity to preach the Gospel. On TV.
This is my tribute.
During my Junior Year(?) at UNC-Chapel Hill, several student ministries began to meet together to plan for Billy Graham to come deliver a “lecture series” in Carmichael Auditorium (where basketball games were played back in the day). It was during that time that I witnessed a secret key of the success of Dr. Graham’s ministry.
Leighton Ford was Billy Graham’s brother-in-law and was involved in Billy’s ministry. Leighton’s son Sandy (Graham’s nephew) had been a student at UNC-CH. Sandy underwent surgery for a rare heart disease in November, 1981 and died soon after his surgery. He had just turned 21. I heard that Sandy had been involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which probably laid the foundation for the rest of this story.
My timing may be off, but as I remember it, about two years later, a former roommate of mine was asked to spearhead the lecture series. He coordinating with student leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I was involved with “Crusade” throughout college, though not the particular event. But even as an outsider to the event, I saw a glimpse of behind-the-scenes picture that few others in America have ever seen, or known of.
This “secret”, “behind-the-scenes” “key to the success of Billy Graham’s ministry was very simple. At the conclusion of each lecture, an altar call would be given and students would begin making their way down to the area in front of the platform. The first students who began to “walk the aisle” were not going down to the floor-level of the auditorium to be saved. Instead, these were the students who were already Believers and had been trained on how to lead another student to Christ. They were the students who would help new converts to complete the information on the “contact cards” and turn them in to other event-coordinated students. Then the magic happened.
Dr. Graham insisted that every student who made a decision and filled out the contact information on the card be contacted in person by a another student who had been trained in follow-up. Within 24 hours. Every day of the event. There were thousands of students in Carmichael Auditorium each night.
This “secret” wasn’t the crowds that made decisions. The secret was that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was about making disciples, not counting decisions. The key isn’t getting someone to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, or be baptized. The key was that the decisions being made weren’t the end of the ministry; they were the beginning of the ministry. The goal was to plug these decision-makers into the ministries sponsoring the event so that the new converts would become disciples.
I have heard that the follow-up plan used on our campus was the same that was used wherever Billy Graham preached.
For this, among other things, I thank God for the Biblical wisdom of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
I was privileged to take part in a meeting today that many from my first pastorate will find very good. First, a little background.
Like many Baptist Churches, Bethel Baptist Church formed as a split from another church. After meeting at several locations in Weatherford, the church body obtained property just off FM920 northwest of downtown Weatherford in the late 1970s. Several men served as pastor of the church as the attendance numbers ebbed and flowed.
In late June/early July 2007, I received a call from the deacon chairman asking if I was available to preach on the following Sunday. The one-week invitation turned into an interim position which turned into my first pastorate which lasted just over six years. We had good days and we had bad days. Although our numbers were shrinking, our depth was growing.
In October 2013, we knew that we could no longer to afford to keep the doors open and it was clear that God was leading us to close the doors. Our bylaws stated that the building and property would be given to the Parker Baptist Association, so after removing my library and other personal items, we handed over the keys to my long-time friend and fellow seminary student, John Thielepape, the Director of Missions of Parker Baptist Association. During our last meeting, some members voiced fears that the Association would quickly dispose of the property, putting to death the legacy of our church. But I knew it would be OK. I reiterated that God was leading us to do this and that I trusted John and the members of the Association’s Executive Board.
A few months later, God opened doors (literally) for ministry to continue at the property. Among other ministries, MercyHeart, a ministry founded by a friend of mine began ministering to the Parker County families of inmates on Tuesday Nights. A local church had sold its property to developers and the new building wasn’t ready to move into, so they began to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, bringing their air conditioners to replace Bethel’s broken units.
After serving in several interim pastorates in Parker and Wise Counties, this past July I was called to be the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, five miles north of Weatherford. Yesterday, John (back from a sabbatical) called to welcome me back to the Association and to tell me of the meeting this morning. The meeting would consider the proposal to enter a lease-to-purchase agreement with a young church. A related proposal would take proceeds from the lease payments to designate for funds for church planting and missions. John said he’d like for me to be there.
Today’s special Called Meeting of the Association’s Executive Board required 20 attendees to form the Quorum. I was the last person to walk into the meeting and signed the attendance sheet in the twentieth position. We had a quorum. Both proposals passed unanimously.
I must give a big shout-out to the Parker Baptist Association Executive Board and its Director of Missions, my friend John for their wise stewardship of the property and their vision of extending the ministry on the property.
Those who feared the worst in closing the doors of our church should feel a great peace because God continues to use our former church building to do ministry and extend His Kingdom. And that’s a really good thing! God is good!
Please join me in praying for Pastor Joel Kindberg and Grace Covenant Church as they begin ministering to the people of Weatherford from their new address at 201 Kathey Street in Weatherford. MercyHeart will continue their ministry alongside Grace.