In the early 1940’s, three young preaching dynamos lined up at the starting block of evangelistic preaching. The trends for those times ran in the direction of large campaigns, which attracted thousands for as long as a week at a time.
Critics called Chuck Templeton, the “Babe Ruth” of evangelism. One seminary president marked him for greatness, calling him brilliant, dynamic, and “the most talented preacher in North America.” A 1946 article published by the National (US) Association for Evangelicals featured his ministry as one of five most successful in the past five years.
Others believed Bron Clifford to be the most powerful preacher in many centuries. Once, when addressing students at Baylor University, the president had the school’s bells turned off so nothing would distract listeners from Clifford’s two-hour lecture.
In his book “Lead On,” author John Hagee notes that by age twenty-five, Clifford had “touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records” than any other preacher in history. Tall and attractive, Hollywood unsuccessfully tried to woo him into a starring role in the movie “the Robe.” National leaders, too, courted him.
Like the others, the third young preacher attracted large, spiritually hungry crowds. But Billy Graham also spent much time in the quieter pursuit of establishing boundaries for both life and ministry. Because they worked jointly in the organization Youth For Christ, Graham and Templeton became good friends, but of the three, Graham was considered the least.
Templeton proved a disappointment to his lauders. By 1950 he’d abandoned preaching for a career in broadcasting and commentating. He eventually lost his faith entirely and became a prominent atheist.
A few years following his sudden rise to the top as the evangelical sweetheart preacher, Bron Clifford left his wife and two Down’s Syndrome children to work as a car salesman. An article by Mike Fehlauer in Ministry Today reveals that shortly after, Clifford died in a drunken stupor in a “sleazy motel room in Amarillo, Texas.”
Though he passed on to be with Jesus Christ at age ninety-nine, Billy Graham remained the best loved and most widely known evangelist in history. In 2008, his lifetime audience for his radio and television broadcasts topped 2.2 billion. He has preached live to more than 215 million people in over 185 countries and territories. His son Franklin Graham took on his father’s mantle and is an evangelist in his own right. He has counseled and befriended almost every US president serving during his adulthood. Though not without critics or self-confessed faults, Graham has finished the way he began—well.
At the end of each life, career or year, what matters most to God and for eternity is not what we’ve been or done—it’s what we’re being and doing right now. And as Christ-followers, when it comes to influencing people around us—nothing else matters either.
No matter our beginnings, we all can finish well. How are you doing?
2 Timothy 4:7 KJV
(7) I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Hebrews 12:1 KJV
(1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience THE RACE that is set before us,
By Apostle Edward Ssewanyana
Founder and General Overseer of Worldwide Apostolic Church, Kitintale
Chairman Edifire Ministries.