As a young man, I had the rare chance to meet Billy Graham personally. I asked him what he would do differently if he could Iive over again. He replied that before becoming a Christian leader, he would have invested much more time in studying the Bible in depth and being discipled by a respected Bible teacher.
Bold as I was at that time, I replied that had he studied theology at the wrong place, he might have become a purely theoretical thinker, or a theological liberal, or something other than an evangelist known for declaring “The Bible says” as he whipped open his large Bible. Rev. Graham laughed but said that this must never be an argument against taking extensive time to thoroughly study the Bible, its message and its implications.
How true his message is for Christians in any leadership position, whether in church, business or politics. Those who carry a large responsibility are still fallible human beings, with all their weaknesses and facing all the typical problems of life. The greater your authority, the more wisdom from the Bible and the more discipling behind closed doors you need.
I attended all three of the International Conferences for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam (1980, 1983, 1986) that Rev. Graham initiated and his Evangelistic Association sponsored. At one of them I heard what I considered his most impressive speech, “The Life of an Evangelist”. He stated forthrightly that the main reasons for the failure of evangelists worldwide were money, sex and power. He urged the evangelists listening to him not to underestimate the corrupting role of hubris that can accompany influence, success and a high profile. And he made it clear that he was not just talking about matters of the mind and spirit, but about the very real attraction of the large red-light district in Amsterdam in which no one would recognize an evangelist far from home.
Yes, self-criticism is a must if you want to be an effective Christian, just as saying “I am a sinner” is the greatest of all self-critical acts. We must never think, “This cannot happen to me.”
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