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Article Originally posted on Christianity Today


Billy Graham was perhaps the most significant religious figure of the 20th century, and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn continue to shape the 21st.

During his life, Graham preached in person to more than 100 million people and to millions more via television, satellite, and film. Nearly 3 million have responded to his invitation to “accept Jesus into your heart” at the end of his sermons. He proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history. In the process, Graham became “America’s Pastor,” participating in presidential inaugurations and speaking during national crises such as the memorial services following the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

“He became the friend and confidante of popes and presidents, queens and dictators, and yet, even in his 80s, he possesses the boyish charm and unprepossessing demeanor to communicate with the masses,” said Columbia University historian Randall Balmer.

Billy Graham was born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, attended (briefly) Bob Jones College, graduating from Florida Bible Institute near Tampa, and Wheaton College in Illinois. He was ordained a minister in the Southern Baptist Church (1939) and pastored a small church in suburban Chicago and preached on a weekly radio program. In 1946 he became the first full-time staff member of Youth for Christ and launched his evangelistic campaigns. For four years (1948–1952) he also served as president of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis. His 1949 evangelistic tent meetings in Los Angeles brought him to national attention, and his 1957 New York meetings, which filled Madison Square Garden for four months, established him as a major presence on the American religious scene.

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Graham appeared regularly on the lists of “most admired” people. Between 1950 and 1990 Graham won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s “Most Admired” list more often than any other American. Ladies Home Journal once ranked him second only to God in the category of “achievements in religion.” He received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1996).

Sherwood Wirt, who for 17 years edited the Graham organization’s Decision magazine, described one Scottish minister who made this observation about Graham: “My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own ‘committedness’ to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do.”

Graham was a model of integrity. Despite scandals and missteps that toppled other leaders and ministers, including Graham’s friend Richard Nixon and a succession of televangelists, in six decades of ministry, no one ever leveled a serious accusation of misconduct against him.

That’s not to say he wasn’t seriously criticized. Some liberals and intellectuals called his message “simplistic.” Some fundamentalists considered him “compromised” for cooperating with mainline groups and the National Council of Churches.

His moderate anti-segregationist stance during the Civil Rights era drew fire from both sides: white segregationists were furious when he invited the “agitator” Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at the 1957 New York City crusade; civil rights activists accused him of cowardice for not joining them on protest marches and getting arrested for the cause.

In 1982, when he visited the Soviet Union, agreeing to preach the gospel at the invitation of the government, he touched off a firestorm of criticism. Despite having met with The Siberian Seven, Pentecostal dissidents who were seeking political asylum, Graham was quoted as saying he “had not personally seen any evidence of religious persecution.” Some called him a “traitor.” But he insisted he would go anywhere to preach as long as there were no restrictions on his freedom to proclaim the gospel. He returned claiming he saw the hand of God working in the Soviet Union. He was fiercely attacked for being naïve and “a tool of the Soviet propaganda machine.”

By 1990, however, after the fall of the Soviet Union, his prescience was vindicated when then-President George H.W. Bush said to the National Religious Broadcasters, “Eight years ago, one of the Lord’s great ambassadors, Rev. Billy Graham, went to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and, upon returning, spoke of a movement there toward more religious freedom. And perhaps he saw it before many of us because it takes a man of God to sense the early movement of the hand of God.”

Perhaps Graham’s lasting legacy was his ability to present the gospel in the idiom of the culture. He did this brilliantly, making innovative use of emerging technologies—radio, television, magazines, books, a newspaper column, motion pictures, satellite broadcasts, Internet—to spread his message.

In the 1990s he reengineered the formula for his “crusades” (later called “missions” out of deference to Muslims and others offended by the connotation). His standard “youth night” was revolutionized into a “Concert for the Next Generation,” with Christian rock, rap, and hip-hop artists headlining the event, followed by Graham preaching. This format drew record numbers of young people who cheered the bands and then, amazingly, listened carefully to the octogenarian evangelist.

In addition, he helped launch numerous influential organizations, including Youth for Christ (he was the first full-time staff member of this entrepreneurial and innovative organization), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today. The ripple effect of his shaping influence extends to such schools as Wheaton College in Illinois, Gordon-Conwell Divinity School in Massachusetts, Northwestern College in Minnesota, and Fuller Seminary in California. His encouragement and support helped develop the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Greater Europe Mission, TransWorld Radio, World Vision, World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

He brought the global Christian community together through international conventions: a 1966 Congress on World Evangelism in Berlin, the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, and three huge conferences in Amsterdam for itinerant evangelists in 1983, 1986, and 2000, which drew nearly 24,000 working evangelists from 200 countries.

In many ways, Billy Graham both formed and embodied the evangelical movement. Theologian J. I. Packer attributes the evangelical “convergence” to Graham. “Up to 1940, it was every institution for itself. There wasn’t anything unitive about the situation. There were little outposts of resistance trying to keep their end up in face of the liberal juggernaut. Increasingly, from the 1950s onward, evangelicals came together behind Billy Graham and the things he stood for and was committed to. It continues that way to the present.”

For many, however, William Franklin Graham won’t be remembered for these accomplishments. He’ll always be “Billy,” as he preferred to be called. He titled his autobiography Just As I Am, a reflection of his humble spirit, taken from the hymn sung most often when he invited people to come forward and receive God’s love.

And for millions, his humility before the Almighty encouraged them to approach with that same spirit.

Click to visit the Billy Graham memorial site

This year the Lord blessed Pathway Learning and opened amazing new doors for future ministry–including serving church leaders in Muslim West Africa and the persecuted, underground church in East Asia.

The global need to help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities has never been greater.

Millions of under-resourced church leaders around the world are not equipped to develop churches that transform lives and communities. By God’s grace and with your support, Pathway Learning is helping more church leaders develop churches with effective ministries of evangelism, discipleship, and mercy/justice than ever before! The critical need and demand for more help is staggering!

As we approach the close of 2017, watch this brief message (1:50) from Steve Childers as he shares some of our new initiatives around the world and how you can be a part of our global outreach in 2018.

Steve Childers preaching in one of the most influential, underground churches in East Asia


Steve Childers, President of Pathway Learning

Forty years ago, Steve Childers became the founding pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, serving there from 1977-1982. Steve began helping start Heritage in August 1977 with, what The Daily Oklahoman called, “a small, faithful band” of mostly elderly people who refused to leave their rapidly declining neighborhood near downtown Oklahoma City. Their church was called Northminster Presbyterian and they had been without a pastor since 1964. Their membership had dropped from more than 700 to a handful of 13 faithful people[1] who were meeting together every Sunday afternoon in their almost empty sanctuary for worship, bible study and prayer.

They also refused to give up their vision of having a theologically conservative, evangelistic, Presbyterian church, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) denomination, that would truly serve their deteriorating, multi-ethnic, high-crime area of the city. Just before they were about to be told to disband by retired pastor Robert Cox, who’d been sent by the RPCES to evaluate them, Cox received a phone call from a young man named Steve Childers, who just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a business degree.

Heritage Presbyterian Church in 1977

Bob and Steve began meeting in the basement of the old church building, that was literally falling apart, to talk and pray about the great need for a new church in that community. Rather than telling this small band of faithful people to disband, Bob recommended they call Steve to help them start this new church. With no seminary education, he accepted their invitation a week later.

On August 13, 1977, The Daily Oklahoman reported the story with the headline, “Congregation, Pastor Looking for a Miracle,” quoting Bob Cox saying, “I think there is potential here, but maybe the only possible answer is a miracle.” Bob then left Oklahoma City to return to his home in Alabama. Steve began serving as their full-time “Student Supply Minister” on August 17, 1979, according to the terms of his call these people wrote by hand on a piece of notebook paper:

[Steve is] to teach in Sunday School, conduct the Sunday morning worship services, have the responsibilities of the midweek bible study and prayer meeting and serve in a pastoral capacity for all members and friends of the congregation, especially the sick, feeble, and sorrowing, following up all contacts brought to his attention. Weekly remuneration for his ministry shall be $50 per week salary and $25 for pastoral expenses.

Childers preaching at Heritage Presbyterian in Oklahoma City

Almost two years later, the new Heritage Reformed Presbyterian Church was formally received into the RPCES denomination and Steve Childers was ordained as their first pastor. On April 1, 1979, The Daily Oklahoman reported this story with the headline, “Ordination Rites Slated For Sunday,” quoting Bob Cox again. But this time he said “It’s a miracle that he’s here.” Steve continued serving Heritage until 1982 when he and other church leaders determined the church was healthy enough for him to leave to attend seminary. During that year, the RPCES merged with the PCA to become one denomination.

After seminary, Steve was the church planter and founding pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Plano (North Dallas), Texas from 1985-1995. For the next 22 years (1995-2017) he was a resident practical theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, teaching courses in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church renewal, leadership, and missions.

Steve earned Masters degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, and a doctorate from Reformed Seminary in Orlando. He has also done doctoral studies in global mission and leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission in Pasadena. He and his wife, Becky, live in Orlando, Florida, and have three daughters and three grandchildren.

Training the Trainers in a Pathway Learning cohort course in Muslim West Africa (French)

As Steve traveled overseas as a seminary professor, he learned there are millions of church leaders around the world who don’t have access to high quality, seminary-level education. In response to this critical need, he founded Global Church Advancement, continuing today as Pathway Learning, with the mission to provide these under-served church leaders the training and tools they need to develop churches that transform lives and have a lasting impact on their communities.

Drawing on the latest educational technology, Pathway Learning provides a blend of online and onsite courses that increase the effectiveness of church leaders by providing them access to affordable, seminary courses–where they live, in their language, and for their culture. This allows them to receive their necessary education and credentials without leaving their families and the churches they’re serving. Pathway Learning courses include biblical, theological, and practical studies.

In June 2017, after 40 years of ministry on the field and at the seminary, Steve began serving Pathway Learning full-time. This year Pathway Learning is launching courses in English for North America, courses translated into French for West Africa, Mandarin for South Asia, Japanese for Japan, and Italian for Western Europe. The goal of these projects is to develop an effective, scalable model for educating under-served church leaders. To date, Pathway Learning has helped train thousands of church leaders from more than 300 denominations representing over 50 countries in 7 languages on 5 continents.

Steve is looking for prayer and financial partners to help him bring this solution to many more church leaders around the world. To learn more about Pathway Learning go to

[1] This core group included Jim and Irene Franklin, a retired machinist, Jim and Lucille Donnell, a retired truck driver, Humphrey and Jennie Bard, a retired newspaperman, and several widows.

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