Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Anglican clergy can learn from Billy Graham

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, "I love you." -Billy Graham

...And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
-From The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests, Ordinal.

Many "televangelists" have a bad name, as well many of them have deserved. Some have no scandals attached to them, but they come across as clowns, entertainers or as hustlers for money (robbing churches of the rightful pledges of their members). Some are trendy, or just plain weird. Billy Graham has never been like them; in fact his televised "crusades" were old-fashioned Baptist revival services; and that authenticity and genuine approach has come across with dignity that others have lacked.

Despite the obvious differences...

Yes, we know that our ministry, as Anglican priests, includes the east side of the rail, that is the sacraments; we do not wear Baptist vestments (suit and tie), and we know all of the things that create a gulf between us and them-not any specific "them," just, them. But, lately I discovered that a cable channel has been showing old videos of Billy Graham preaching in stadiums, some of which sermons I distinctly remember having seen, most likely before some of you were born. Despite the obvious differences between my Anglican ways, and the Baptist ways of Billy Graham, I recognize Someone else who was almost visibly present in Graham's Christ-centered preaching. That is, the Holy Ghost who Himself bears witness to Jesus Christ in power, animating any preacher who is not afraid to call "all men everywhere to repent."

It seems funny that Baptists and other revivalists have an "altar call," inasmuch as they have no altar. This really comes from us, however, because in every Holy Communion service we issue the true Altar Call, or the Invitation:

Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.

Yes, we are able to follow up with the Absolution, as priests, for those who confess with "hearty repentance and true faith." But, have we actually taken care in our sermons to speak directly and seriously so as to give genuine weight to the words of the Invitation before the General Confession? I believe our preaching should always be part of "the ministry of reconciliation." (II Cor. 5:18) To that end I suggest learning a few things about effective preaching from a world larger than merely our own ethos. Assuming we all have the maturity to appreciate the good things of wisdom, even from those who are not of our fold, I want to point out a few things that can be learned from Billy Graham. These relate only to one part of our ministry, but an important part, namely preaching.

1. Speak directly

No flowery language, no attempt to impress anybody with sophisticated and fashionable trends. And, please, no inspirational messages or sentimental rambling from personal anecdotes. Speak directly to the real need of people, in terms they appreciate and understand.

2. Speak with authority

Constantly, Billy Graham would say, "the Bible says..." Certainly, Anglicans can say that too, and we should say it often. In the pulpit we are supposed to present God's word, not our own ideas, not even our best ideas.

3. Speak with passion

Not feigned or false passion; but certainly with an inner fire that comes from within by the Holy Spirit.

4. Speak with urgency

If we are calling people to a serious encounter with God, (which, by the way, receiving the Sacrament always is, even to those who do not know the weight of it), we should have as much urgency in our sermons as Graham exhibited in his evangelistic preaching. "For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor.6:2) The message must be, as it has always been in Graham's sermons, Be reconciled to God through his Son right now-there is no later. We must take care that no one, especially those who hear us week after week, depart this life without real preparation. Have we presented both a sober warning and the mercy of God in Christ? If we preach to someone every Sunday for years, as he sits in a pew, and he dies unprepared, how will we answer for what we did with all that time, all those opportunities?

5. Call sin, sin.

And do not hesitate to go against the grain, against the zeitgeist. Do not fear, at times, to mention actual sins by name if need be, and to denounce their destructive and dangerous end.

6. Call death, death

Don't fail to remind everyone that we are all mortal. Not only was this characteristic of Billy Graham's preaching, strange as that was in modern times. This was characteristic of all Christian preaching through the ages until now. It is really the Catholic Tradition to preach with this reminder of the inevitable placed before all hearers. Today, however, we are afraid to spoil the fun. We do not want to ruin, by mention of death and dying, the warm fuzzies, as if church is about a nice cozy feeling; even though death is certain, and even though we know the remedy to it.

7. Stick to the main point

Do not get sidetracked in your sermons with anything that distracts people's attention from their greatest need, that is to be always reconciled to God, to know God, and to serve God; and do not distract from the central message of Jesus Christ. The pulpit is not the place for side issues. There is no sermon time to waste on the things of this world that passes away. This is the only way, by the way, for our sermons to be in true harmony with our liturgy-or have you not noticed?

So, these are things to learn from one of the finest preachers in modern history, a master orator, and certainly a Christian man who has earned the respect of all.

Here is one example, from 1959.


Fr Odhran-Mary TFSC said...

To me ... one of the biggest "turn offs" to use is: "The Bible says..". I agree with you that we need often to preach the word; however, there are two issues that I deal with in each sermon.
1) We compartmentalize too much. We hear something and then place it on the shelf as the talking head says:, "Now this!" In addition we easily place on a shelf Bible verses, when they are identified by chapter and verse.
2) The feminist movement attacked ALL writings done by males and has left us with no written authority to which we can appeal. The Bible was "written by males and is biased".
I attempt to get around the compartmentalization by rewording biblical Truth into my language patterns and without reference to its source.
As an example: "The sky is blue". You and I both learned that from our parents, who said nothing then about the source of their knowledge.
Most of what we know and believe in life is accepted by simple declarative sentences without reference to source.
I do have a parish member who wants to know the source. The poor man is Jesuit-trained and asks after Mass where I got such and such. I tell him, because I know exactly where I got it (I preach the propers).

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I say it in a round about way, as my written sermons show; identifying the book and writer. But the effect of authenticating what we say with scripture is akin to the old prophetic formula: "Thus saith the Lord." For us it is equal to this, and also equal to saying "the Church teaches," which means the same thing (I Cor.2:16).

poetreader said...

I always found two distinct approaches, each of which has ots place.

One is the expository, a lesson in which the focus is understanding a given passage of Scripture. When this is one's objective, one must stick close to the text, probably point out chapter and verse, and very likely encourage the hearers to follow along in the Bible. I feel this is more appropriate in a class designated as instructional, but then again, it remains true that for most of our people, the Sermon time is going to be the only opportunity for this kind of teaching.

The other I might call hortatory -- the proclamation of the Word of God as given in the text. The preacher internalizes what has been read, and speaks its message, mot necessarily in direct quotes, but with the same authority with which the Holy Spirit has spoken through the text.

Mr. Graham, though salting his preaching (to my mind a bit too liberally) with "The Bible says", was consistent in the second pattern, becoming the fleshly instrument of the Spirit to speak the very message heard in Scripture. His preaching was effective, not because it was brilliant (It wasn't), but because it was subject to the leading of the Spirit, and thus filled with His authority.

Thank you for bringing up this example. We can learn from it, and desperately need to.


Fr Tom McHenry said...

Fr. Hart, I would like your permission to use the list of points that you made in this post as a part of the course on homiletics that I teach at the Harry B. Scott School of Theology for the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States. I believe it will be of great value to the students preparing for ordination in DMAS.

Thank you for posting this.

Tom McHenry+

poetreader said...

Fr. Hart is away for a few days. I'm sure he'll be responding when he gets back, But let me join you in expressing appreciation for a helpful piece that should indeed get wide circulation.


Canon Tallis said...

Billy Graham was very big when I was in my teens and early twenties and I found his preaching style extremely irritating then - and still do. But the advice which Father Hart extracts from Graham's preaching is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone. But when I played the Youtube extract my distaste for Graham was back in full force.

poetreader said...

Style, of course, is a matter of taste, personality, and background. I happen to find the style of most Anglicans a little off-putting, but realize that that is more a measure of me than it is of the preacher. The real questions, as discussed by Fr. Hart are of content and as to whether the preacher is engaging the audience that he has. Everything else is esthetics.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. McHenry:

Please feel free to use whatever you consider worth using. On the right side, if you scroll down you find that under preaching we have 6 entries (only 6?). My 2 on "Preaching: Why we do it" might contain a few useful things; especially since I wrote them mostly to instruct Anglican clergy on preaching in mind of the purpose of the Holy Communion Service.

Canon Tallis:

Frankly, I have never heard anyone say he disliked the man's style before. However, millions were attracted to it, and they heard undeniable, universal, timeless truths as a result.

Canon Tallis said...

Fortunately, Father Hart, not everyone was or is. And you are right, they did hear timeless truths, but nothing which I had not heard from the pulpits of my favorite parishes in what was then the diocese of Oklahoma but they also did not hear all of the Truth which God gave to us in the person of His son.

I do not know if you are aware that one of the ways in which Baptist preachers who frequently occupied what had been Anglican churches before the American revolution (their clergy being loyalists who run for either Canada or back to Britain) was by what we would consider bizarre behavior in the pulpit. They would roll their eyes and adopt peculiar postures so that what you got was as much entertainment as religion. I was made aware of this in researching my families history and wanting to know what happened to the churches were my first ancestors to be born in this country were baptized and married. I am certain that a bit of this has been carried down to more than a few Baptist preachers that I have watched and heard.

But speaking of preaching, In my college days we had a great chaplain who was half Yugoslav and half Greek. He wrote his sermons in French and preached them in English which you would never have believed unless you saw the manuscript from which he preached. He found on the radio a black preacher whose style was so like that of Chrysostom that he would pull me out to the one place where you could be really sure of getting that radio station. Now those sermons were wonderful and my first suspicion was that they were simply copped from those of the great saint, but Father George who had read the whole corpus in Greek said not. So great preachers are where you find them.

I am looking forward to one day sneaking into the back of St. Benedict's and hearing you preach. Your sermons read well but my bet is that they are much better heard than read.

Nonetheless, to misquote a former bishop of Oklahoma, I would rather be a doorkeeper in the poorest and most miserable of Anglican parishes than dwell in the tents of Billy Graham forever.

Anonymous said...

Billy Graham's "style" needs no defense, particularly from me. But I will break my self-inflicted silence simply to say how much I admire the man and how grateful I am for his long and fruitful ministry. In my youth (which was not all wild and misspent) I spent a couple of summers and many winter week-ends hanging around Montreat NC where Billy and Ruth Graham made their home, near Ruth's parents, Dr and Mrs L. Nelson Bell. Seeing him up close was unforgettable. Unlike so many celebrities, he was a humble unassuming preacher. When I was waiting tables at Assembly Inn, I once had the honor of serving him. Being physicially close to him gave me a certain sensation which I have felt only one other time in my life. That was only last year when I had the awesome privilege of almost 10 minutes conversation with Fr Benedict Groeschel. Anglicanism had given me the name of this sensation: I knew I was in the presence of great sanctity. In those days Billy and Ruth kept a large furry dog which they called Belshazzar. I also had the honor of being barked at by Billy Graham's dog one morning when I walked by his home. (That was before he built the place in a more private location near the top of the mountain overlooking Montreat.)

Billy has sometimes made mistakes (who has not?), his trusting friendship with Nixon being the worst. But a long public career of more than 50 years with no personal scandal is rare. Perhaps his greatest positive achievement is his insistence on financial openness and accountability (a lesson he evidently learned from Reinhold Niebuhr).

And for what it is worth, in the pulpit I regularly use Billy's signature cliche "The Bible says." Listeners are free to disagree, but at least they know Who they are disagreeing with.

John said...

Billy Graham is an excellent preacher who built a business around his gift. Please note that his ministry is called "Billy Graham Ministries" and that it is controlled by himself and his children as a closely held business. His successors are his children. He is a "ministry" made millionaire. Many non-denominational churches are following his business model and doing quite well.

poetreader said...

Actually, that's not quite fair. You are quite correct that the model for such a ministry doesn't fit all that well with traditional/scriptural ministry patterns, but is is, especially in his hands, intended to serve the church (as he perceives the church to be), and to send converts to actual churches.

If only others would follow what you call his "business model" in the way he follows it -- that is to say with complete openness and integrity in financial matters and with no more than moderate returns for the leader. What business leader would so arrange things as he has that a board of Trustees he neither appoints nor controls has sole custody of the pursestrings. He receives a salary, (mosest, rather than exorbitant, and lives modestly) and reimbursement for strictly reported expenses. as determined by that board, which is not composed of family members.

No, I do not think it is a proper ministry model for the Catholic Faith, but neither would I want to call ot a 'business" -- now, some of the other "evangelists" who have tailored their operation to look superfically like his -- that's another matter. Not all are as uproight and respectable as Mr. Graham.


Anonymous said...

Mr Pacht: I appreciate your defense of Billy's financial integrity (who can John be thinking of? Jim Bakker?)
but I am puzzled by your statement
"I do not think it is a proper ministry model for the Catholic Faith." Something similar was said about Francis and Dominic in the Middle Ages, and later against George Whitefield and John Wesley.
(We know what a loss to Anglicanism ocurred when the hierarchy refused to acknowledge the ministries of Whitefield and Wesley)

I have discomfort with much of Billy's theology (particularly his Arminianism and non-sacramentalism)
but I don't get your objection to his "ministry model." Without a similar "ministry model" Christianity would never have penetrated China, India or Africa.

Billy has consistently tried very hard to work in cooperation with local churches, including churches very different from his own Baptist tradition (for example, RC's and Episcopal churches), much to the dismay of conservative fundamentalist churches who would like for him to be "fundamental, dispensational, KJV only."

Perhaps you have an objection which has eluded me. If so, I would be willing to consider it.

poetreader said...

My comment was not intended to disparage Mr. Graham and his ministry, but to indicate that the ministry model, good so far as it goes, falls short of a Catholic model. The non-sacramentalism that you reference produces a highly individualistic piety, which, though he is conscientious about directing converts to churches nonetheless makes this to be a free and largely meaningless choice of one or another 'brand'.

The model of a ministry sufficient unto itself is not really very similar to that of Francis and Dominic, both of whom were intentional in seeking episcopal approval and direction, nor is it like that of the first century, which was always subject to the Apostles. Wesley sought to work with the bishops, and had he been accepted, without a doubt would have strengthened Anglicanism, but, when rejected, he evolved a separated and thus less Catholic ministry. That wasn't what he wanted.

I am glad Mr. Graham has been doing what he is doing, but if the church were one as she is called to be, his ministry model would have to be much different, and an Anglican called to a similar ministry to his would of necessity conduct it quite differently.

I hope that clarifies what I said.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

He is a "ministry" made millionaire..
Again, that is simply not true. As ed wrote, Billy Graham's salary was established early on, at his request, at a level that made such a resulting fortune impossible.

The Graham family, however, always had been wealthy, and that was true before his public ministry.

Anonymous said...

Your response only compounds my confusion. What do you take the Catholic "ministry model" to be?

Please note I did not say BG's "ministry model" was the same as that of Francis and Dominic. I merely pointed out that a similar criticism was lodged in the Middle Ages. It is to the credit of the papacy that it ignored that criticsm, as Francis and Dominic were a great blessing to the Church. Many RC bishops have sat on BG's platform, with no apparent discomfort.

I am unclear as to what you have in mind with this expression "ministry model." Please be patient with me, I am only trying to understand.

John said...

I appreciate the responses to my financial critique of Billy
Graham. I do not quarrel with his success or how he handles the money of "his" ministry. My greater concern is that he has appointed family members to succeed him at the top of his organization. This kind of nepotism is a concern to me.
Now if one were to examine the financial structures of at least one continuing church (not the ACA), one would find church funds held in trust accounts segregated and designated to members of the family of an archbishop etc.,. Makes Billy Graham's nepotism seem acceptable
I have learned to do one thing during my years as a priest and a financial advisor. If you want to find the truth, locate and follow the money. As the Bible salesman in "O Brother where art Thou" says: "It's all about the money".

Fr. John Westcott

poetreader said...

I'm not sure why we are so determined to wrangle over the way in which a good and Christian man is attempting to follow God. His ministry is what he claims it to be, no more and no less. He does not claim to be following a Catholic model (and would probably be mildly offput if such claims were made for him). It's not a Catholic model in that it is indifferent to the sacramental dimension of the Faith and entirely separate from Apostolic order. I can't envision a Catholic Christian pursuing ministry in the same way that Mr. Graham does. This is not necessarily a criticism, other than of the sadly splintered state of Christianity in our era.

Mr. Graham is what he is, and from that standpoint has been doing a better job than one could reasonably expect, and has indeed been pointing unbelievers toward the Cross.

We can certainly criticize his theology as, in many respects inadequate, and his ecclesiology as quite incorrect, but questions as to his integrity have often been raised and invariably exploded.. Frankly, I know of very few dioceses or parishes within the Catholic tradition that show a financial integrity anywhere near the level his irganization has consistently showed.

Nepotism, BTW, is only wrong when it becomes a vehicle for abuse. Is a relative, merely as relative, necessarily to be barred from a position merely because of his bloodline? I should hope not. If there are no abuses to allege, his family is as qualified to succeed him as anyone else (if, of course, one grants that an organization established to support an individual ministry should outlive that ministry - which proposition I find doubtful).

This thread began with an examination of the man;s preaching and its value in giving us pointers. I'm puzzled (actually not - as this kind of ad hominem objection is all too common) as to why it has devolved into criticism of a good, if somewhat misguided man. Can we not just take his example when it is helpful and recognize where the value for us ends?


Anonymous said...

Mr Pacht: Who is wrangling? You still have not told us what a "Catholic ministry model" is, although you seem quite positive that Billy Graham does not have one.

poetreader said...

Once more, to repeat two points I've made at least twice in this thread:

A Catholic ministry model is sacramental. Mr. Graham's is not.

A Catholic ministry model submits to the bishops and structures of a real and living ecclesiastical body in the Catholic tradition. Mr. Graham's does not.

He is what he claims to be, operating honorably within the parameters he recognizes, parameters in which 'denominational' connection is unimportant, and not within parameters he does not recognize, in which such things do matter a great deal.

Francis and Dominic did conduct ministry in a way much like Graham's, but were fully Catholic, fulfilling both of these criteria, believing it to be necessary to do so.

I don't expect that of Billy Graham, but I do expect it of anyone entering such a ministry as a Catholic Christian.


Anonymous said...

Where is it written that a ministry must be "sacramental" for it to have a "Catholic ministry model"? I once knew two Dominican priests who worked as professors of speech and drama at Catholic University. They concelebrated daily in their Priory, but that was more a matter of priestly spirituality than of their apostolate. I knew another RC priest who worked as office manager in a medical clinic serving the poor. These were all fine devout orthodox men, but the sacraments played little if any role in the service they rendered to the people of God.

Submission to "bishops and structures"? What ecclesiastical structure is this blog subject to?
Are you guilty of a non-catholic ministry model?

Many RC religious priests carefully arrange their lives to maintain low profile and minimal contact with the hierachy. Billy Graham, OTOH, has been a model of accountability in every way.

I have known quite a few RC priests who go from parish to parish preaching retreats and days of recollection, carrying on a ministry which is very much like Billy's. They just draw smaller crowds.

Since you admit that Billy doesn't claim to have this "Catholic ministry model," what was your point anyway? This phrase "Catholic ministry model" is just jargon anyway.

Canon Tallis said...


I think it would be more correct to say that the model of ministry conducted by St Francis and the Franciscans and St Dominic and the Dominicans was papal rather than Catholic. Both intended to escape the necessity of Catholic obedience to the local bishop by placing themselves and their orders directly under the authority of the bishop of Rome. The intent of this was to make themselves and everything which they did extra diocesean, i.e., they were not under the authority nor subject to the discipline of the local bishop.

The old concept of a monstic had an implied concept of stability, a right to remain in the house in which you were professed all your life. This essentially began to end with the Cluniac version of the Benedictine Rule in which the abbot of the mother abbey ruled all others.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Whereas Billy Graham did not administer the sacraments, we have the grace and commission to offer that east side of the rail ministry, as I said. But, we must never presume to know where sacramental grace is withheld. For such a limiting knowledge we have no revelation. We are commanded concerning what to do, and given promises to assure us of efficacy; but never are we told that God limits his merciful workings of grace within some narrow space.