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February 27th, 2018

I have heard or read several times in the last week that the late Billy Graham was “America’s Pastor.”  My response is that those who say that either don’t understand what a pastor does or don’t understand Billy Graham.

As of March 1, 2018, I’ve served as Corinth’s pastor for 25 years.  I know what a pastor does, and I love doing it.  The idea that anyone could function as pastor to a whole nation misconstrues the personal relationship required to equip Jesus’ disciples in the messiness of community.

This is not at all to diminish the life and legacy of Billy Graham.  What he was, was “America’s Evangelist” for at least half a century.  He was uniquely called and gifted by God to do one thing well.  The suffix “ist” denotes a practitioner, a specialist.  Billy Graham was sometimes criticized by apologists or therapists or scientists because he didn’t do their thing well.  He would humbly agree.

An evangel-ist understands the centrality of the evangel, the good news.  Billy Graham kept his focus on the essential message of the Christian faith – every one of us is separated from God by sin, God provided a remedy through the cross and resurrection of Christ, and we receive the gift of salvation by faith that changes everything.

Billy Graham knew what could inhibit evangelism:  denominational differences, racial and ethnic superiority, political and social agendas, unwillingness to adapt to new technologies, and the loss of personal and organizational integrity – perceived or actual.  He sometimes faltered and he knew it, but he constantly evaluated his ministry against one standard only: how can we better do the work of an evangelist?

My evangelical pedigree was shaped by Billy Graham’s legacy – among other things, reading Christianity Today magazine and earning a degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary that bears his signature as Founder.  My best takeaway from America’s Evangelist, however, is to live fully into the one thing to which God has called me – to be Corinth’s Pastor.

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