Countless books and blogs could be written about the many admirable qualities of Billy Graham. But to me, one of his most remarkable examples was the loyalty and teamwork of his evangelistic team.
As someone who has spent man decades with Christian churches and ministries, I assure you that this quality is extremely rare. Yet, while most Christian organizations are marked by a constant turnover of personnel, Billy Graham stood out in his ability to assemble a team that lasted.
For more than 50 years, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shay, and Grady Wilson were regulars in Billy Graham’s crusades. And associate evangelists Ralph Bell and John Wesley White each were with Graham for more than 30 years.
Although the fruitfulness of Billy Graham’s ministry can be attributed to many different features of his character and gifting, this issue of teamwork should not be overlooked as a key factor. As David observed centuries before, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…for THERE the Lord commanded the blessing” (Psalm 133:1-3).
It’s striking that Billy Graham’s team was marked by loyalty rather than “survival of the fittest.” In other words, he didn’t keep Cliff Barrows on the team because he was the world’s best songleader or MC. Nor did he continue to have George Beverly Shay sing because Shay was the most gifted soloist he could find. Though many organizations, whether secular or Christian, use a survival-of-the-fittest policy regarding those who will remain on staff, Graham chose to honor those whose lives were marked by faithfulness and commitment, not just talent.
Billy Graham could easily have found some more dynamic people to minister in his crusades, and eventually he did wisely incorporate some younger people into the mix. But he also built a team marked by faithfulness and longevity, held together by loyalty to his friends.
Faithfulness or Flashiness?
Many churches and Christian ministries have taken a different route. They promote whoever is the “hottest,” most popular, or “most anointed” at the moment. Older members of the team are shown the door in order to bring in sharper, flashier, less expensive, and younger workers. It’s a lot like an NFL football team replacing veterans with free agents, all the while trying to save money and stay under the salary cap.
Of courses, these Christian organizations have many spiritual-sounding explanations for adopting this worldly way of handling employees. “We think God has something better for you,” they piously explain. Or they say, “God is leading us to make some changes around here,” or “Your gifts would be much better suited for some other ministry.” But behind the facade of spiritual reasons, the true motivation is all about money and image.
When we are building teams in our church, ministry, or company, let’s learn from Billy Graham’s example. Let’s reward faithfulness more than flashiness. Let’s make our decisions based on fruitfulness instead of finances. And let’s value loyalty over image, for the Lord has repeatedly told us that loyalty is something He highly regards:
Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness (Proverbs 20:28 NASB).
He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor (Proverbs 21:21 NASB).
I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6 NASB).
What can you do if your organization isn’t yet marked by loyalty and a culture of honor? There’s still time to repent and ask God to help you follow Billy Graham’s great example. If you put a premium on faithfulness rather than flashiness, and on character rather than charisma, your team will stand the test of time.