By Joy Allmond
These days, William (“Will”) Franklin Graham IV works for the ministry began many decades ago by his famed evangelist grandfather.
But he didn’t get his start in ministry working for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) as an evangelist and director for the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.
He started out in local church leadership more than 20 years ago, and says his years as a young pastor were his greatest preparation for his BGEA role.
And it was through those formative years in local church leadership, Graham says, that taught him some of his most crucial ministry lessons. Here are several pieces of advice he offers to anyone in church leadership—especially those in early years of ministry
1. Delegate ministry tasks
Graham says delegating was one of the hardest—but most important—lessons he learned.
“I wanted to do everything,” he says of an early pastorate. “It was a church plant, so we were small, and we had to do everything. I thought I had to do it all because I was the one paid employee. I also just loved the work and didn’t want to hand things over.”
One day a deacon sat him and down and explained to Graham he needed to let lay leadership and volunteers do some of the work—work they had been gifted by God to do.
“I needed the reminder that God equips and gifts lay people,” he says. “It was a hard lesson to learn, but man, we did so much more after that because it wasn’t dependent upon my work; it was the body of Christ doing the work.”
2. Communicate effectively
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said something stupid and had to go back and apologize for it,” says Graham. “Not heretical or mean spirited, but taken out of context.”
Graham, who pastored while he was in seminary, said it was in the trenches of local church ministry that taught him how to deal with people and how to navigate conflict resolution.
“I got humbled through these experiences and learned to love people,” he says. “When I was pastoring, some of the most valuable lessons in interpersonal communication I learned was through just sitting on people’s porches and talking to them. As a church leader, this is a great skill necessary to hammer out issues before they get unmanageable.”
3. Be available for counsel and prayer
As a preacher of the gospel—and perhaps as a cue from his grandfather’s preaching style—Graham says he always gives an invitation.
“You never know what God’s going to do in someone’s life,” he says. “When I was a pastor at a local church and people came forward to pray, 99 percent of the time they weren’t coming forward for salvation—but to be prayed with.”
He tells the story of a time during his pastorate when his worship leader fell ill and needed to find a replacement. The substitute led a 55-minute session of congregational singing.
“Since we were close to being out of time for the sermon I had prepared, I decided on the spur of the moment save my sermon for the following week,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to rush through it. Instead, I gave the congregation a recap of my recent mission trip and talked about what God did.”
Even though he didn’t deliver a sermon, he still gave an invitation after his mission trip testimony.
“A couple came forward to give their lives to Christ,” he says. “It was as though God said to me, ‘It’s not about you or your sermon. I work the way I want to work.’
“I want to encourage young pastors top give an invitation—even if everyone in the audience is a Christian. You never know what someone is dealing with—even in a small church—and you never know how God might be at work in their lives.”
Joy is the executive communications manager at Lifeway.