Billy Graham Leadership Assessment


            This work is an assessment of how the human and spiritual development as outlined by the text of this class influenced the leadership of Billy Graham.  Using the work of James Estep and Jonathan Kim in their book Christian Formation:  Integrating Theology and Human Development, and the work of Kenneth Boa in his book Confirmed to His Image, different stages of human and spiritual development will be defined.  Those stages will then be illustrated in the life of Graham, using the work of Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley in their book The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham.  The goal of this work is a better understanding of the development of leadership using a Christian model and a better understanding of one of Christianity’s greatest leaders.

The stages of human development as described by Estep and Kim will first be presented and defined.  From this writer’s research, the stage most evident in the life and development of Graham will then be illustrated by examples from his life.  The stages or facets of spiritual development as described by Boa will then be presented and specific examples from the life of Graham given to show how his leadership was directly influenced by one specific facet.  Through this work, the gradual development of Graham’s leadership style will be specifically tied back to the text of the class.  Understanding the development of this famous leader can help the reader understand the potential development of their own leadership style and abilities.



            In Christian Formation, Estep and Kim outline nine dimensions of human or personality development grouped into three sections.[1]   The first section brings to life the first two of the nine, illustrating that theology and the social sciences can work as a team to help us understand the formation of a Christian’s spiritual.  Christian anthropology leads into the developmental theories of spiritual formation embraced by modern social scientists that form the “theoretical framework” used by Estep and Kim to present the remaining seven stages.[2]  The next four stages make up the more classical, well-known dimensions.  These are intellectual development, personality development, moral development and faith development.  Each is presented clearly from both a psychological and theological perspective.  The book blends the two perspectives well, presenting them at time as one idea, despite the significant differences between the two.  These four dimensions are well understood and widely accepted by many in both disciplines.  The last three dimensions presented are largely presented from the perspective of the Christian student or educator and have less wide spread appeal or discussion.  These are adult development, spiritual formation and cultural development.  All nine stages or dimensions of Christian formation as presented by Estep and Kim present pieces of a puzzle, which when completed, produces the final view of the spiritual formation of a believer.  To each believer, all are present to some extent.  Some will be more influential or important than others in the life of each believer based on their circumstances.

Of the nine presented, personality development seems to this writer as one of the most significant in the life and leadership of Billy Graham.  How a person’s personality is developed from birth to adulthood has great impact that that person’s spiritual formation.   Personality is defined as the “characteristic attribute of the human soul in its natural state”.[3]  It is the human side of a person that can be molded into the spiritual side.  In the life of Graham, this side is clear to see.

There are eight stages of personality development presented by Estep and Kim based on the work of Erik Erikson and others.[4] Each stage has an approximate age component and a corresponding faith correlation in the spiritual development of a person.[5]  Starting with infancy, personality begins to develop as self-awareness begins.  A person becomes aware of themselves and of others and begins to learn trust.  This foundation of trust may lead to the first formation of faith in another person or power.  The second stage is that of early childhood or toddler, learning to become somewhat self-autonomous; learning a bit about courage and independence.  Courage is important for a person who wishes to clearly develop a strong faith.  Third is the stage of early childhood or play where self-worth begins to develop.  Obedience begins to be understood and associated with self-worth.

The fourth stage is childhood or school-age.  Self-confidence begins to develop, building on the previous three stages.  The strength of that self-confidence will rely largely on the success of the previous stages.  The child begins to see him or herself as part of a society or group larger or different than their family.  Adolescence is the fifth stage.  Self-definition begins to develop.  This is seen by many as the most difficult and critical of all stages, when in fact, as presented by Erikson, this stage is built on the others.  The difference in adolescence is that the young child now begins to initiate their own development, relying not passively on others around them.[6]  This stage, moving from passive to active self-development, is vital in the successful transition into adulthood.  This somewhat confusing time of life comes to a close when self-identity begins to firmly development.  Until that self-identity begins to form the move into early adulthood is not possible.  It is at this point that many young believers begin to firmly grasp their faith as a key component of their self-identity.

Next is the stage of young adulthood.  In this stage the young person starts to build a sense of self-competence.  This differs from the self-confidence of the childhood or self-definition of the adolescence stages. After starting to believe in themselves and their ability to operate in their defined world, they begin to develop skills with which to grow and succeed.  From a spiritual perspective this stage begins the awareness and development of a sense of personal intimacy with God and the need for that relationship.  This may also take the form of the building of “committed relationships with significant others” as well as with God.[7]  Faith begins to develop in this stage as self-surrender.[8]Young adults in this stage realize that independence relies in part on finding and growing mutually satisfying relationships with others or with God.  As the stages build on each other, the completion of this stage is vital to the progression to the next.

Next is the seventh or middle adulthood stage.  Self-fulfillment, based on the self-development stages completed earlier is the chief characteristic of this stage.  “Focusing on productive work and having meaningful family relationships” are the dominant behaviors of this stage.[9]  Spiritual development or faith development now starts to become unconditional.  These adults begin to follow God and develop their faith without looking for anything in return, from a sense of who God truly is in their lives.  In this advanced stage of personality and spiritual development, concern for others becomes more important than concern for oneself.  Fulfillment begins to be understood in a truly eternal perspective.

The eighth and final stage is mature adulthood.  Wisdom comes to these adults from their “culmination of personal and social experiences.”[10]  This stage is marked by a sense of “inner contentment”.[11]  A sense of meaning comes to these adults.  This stage is usually considered characteristic of older, elderly adults.  The earlier in life and adult reaches this stage, the deeper and longer their highest level of spiritual development will impact their lives and the lives of others.

Erikson’s stages of personality development and their parallel stages of spiritual development trace a life from infancy to the elderly years.  Each level of personal and spiritual development is clearly marked by different characteristics and behaviors.  Although each person will advance through the stages at a unique pace, the completion of each stage is necessary before moving to the next.  Let us now examine the life of Billy Graham and how these stages may be illustrated.



            Each stage of personality developed has been defined.  Here are examples of each stage in the life of Graham.  Each can be easily seen in the life of Graham, beginning with infancy and early childhood.  There is little detail available on these years in Graham’s life and it is barely mentioned in the class text of Myra and Shelly. What is remarkable about the infancy and toddler years of Graham is how un-remarkable they appear to have been.  In the first two stages of personality development where faith in others, trust and the foundation of personal courage begin to develop, Graham was raised in a two parent, well established household that provided all of these things.  His parents, William and Morrow were married for life, providing a stable and trustworthy foundation and home for their four children.[12]  Their family was strongly Christian, regularly attending and supporting the local Presbyterian Church.[13]  Every morning his mother read the Bible at the breakfast table.[14]  Graham learned to trust Christians, church and the Bible at a very early age, all of these things a foundational part of his infancy and early childhood.  Graham later remembered learning to recite John 3:16 before he was four years old.[15]  His parents were dairy farmers.  He would see independence modeled by his parent’s profession from an early age.

His personality would continue to develop in the early stages as self-worth; significance and obedience began to emerge as parts of his everyday life.  He was taught that he was an important part of the family farming unit from a very young age.  With over a hundred cows to milk by hand every day, every member of the Graham family was part of the team.  There was no machinery on their farm.  All work was done by hand.[16] It took all of them to get it done. He would learn self-worth and personal significance from his farming experience.  Obedience was also taught. Chores and farm tasks were not optional or negotiable.  Graham would later fondly remember the consistent and firm approach to discipline used by both his mother and father.[17]  Obedience was a normal part of everyday life.

In the childhood stage of Graham’s life, he began to see himself in situations and groups outside of his family or church.  Seeing himself as part of the church unit had been a part of his development from very early in his life. At times as a young child he would begin to find his own way in different groups or situations where his parents would allow.  Myra illustrates one example of this in the family visits to the local grocery store in Charlotte where they lived.[18]  The store owner, Bill Henderson loved to tell Bible stories.  Graham loved to hear them.  As a young child Graham loved to hear the stories on shopping visits.  Later as a teenager and young adult he would return to the store, “sit on a crate” and let the store owner teach him scripture and lessons from the Bible.[19]  Graham began to see himself at an early age in social settings outside of just his family and be very comfortable in those settings.  These skills brought him into the adolescence stage of his development, where his self of self-identity continued to develop.  His self of independence also continued to develop as he earned extra month going door to door as a Fuller Brush salesman, becoming “one of the best they’d ever had.”[20] He was not a shy adolescent.  And as a “farm boy” in the Depression era, he learned that hard work and self-confidence were a needed combination for success.[21]

Graham’s faith also developed in his adolescence.  It was at age 16 that Graham was converted.  Although he was known as a very well-behaved teenager, the outcome of a strict Calvinist/Presbyterian home, sermons at a revival meeting led by Mordecai Ham on personal sin convicted Graham and led him to a personal salvation experience.[22] This experience was truly an extension of his personal development up to that time, led by family and extended church family.  Ham was preaching in Charlotte but Graham had no plans to attend.  A family friend, perhaps on the encouragement of Graham’s mother, told him if he would attend the crusade with him, he could drive them both in the friend’s truck to and from the event.  Graham had no car of his own and this was a big treat for him.  While at the meeting he was convicted of his personal need for salvation and accepted the invitation.  When he returned home with the news, his mother and father “rejoiced!”[23]  In his adolescence, his personal faith began its lifelong journey.

Young adulthood found Graham at college.  He would attend three universities where his personal and spiritual development would continue.  He started at Bob Jones College then transferred to Florida Bible Institute where he would finish a bachelor’s degree in theology.[24]  Graham’s two years at Bob Jones are the source of much controversy.  There are many differing accounts of the reason he left for Florida.  Graham himself never confirmed the reason. In this period of the development of self-competence and intimacy with God, it is apparent that Graham made the decision based on his personal needs and ambitions.  Regardless of the reason, his move shows his focus on his personal development, which is typical of this phase.  After Florida Graham attended Wheaton and graduated with a degree in anthropology [25]  It was at Wheaton that he met his wife and also had his first experience with the media, preaching on the radio every week.  This was where his lifelong partnership with singer George Beverly Shea was born.[26]  Graham’s sense of self-competence continued to grow as he left Wheaton and his only church pastorate to become a national leader of Youth for Christ.[27]  From the child of a dairy farmer to a leader in one of the nation’s largest Christian movements was a tremendous accomplishment for  a young man of twenty seven.  His next steps would take him into the development stages of self-fulfillment identified as middle adulthood.

It is difficult to put ages to the life of Graham that identify middle and late adulthood.  For an ordinary man, this would be simple.  Middle adulthood would be measured by the years of the highest career development and accomplishment.  Late adulthood would be marked by a slowing of activity and retirement. The slowing is hard to find in the life of Graham until his much later years.   From his first national platform with Youth for Christ at age twenty seven, Graham would develop into a worldwide leader of the evangelical movement well into his eighties.  His period of self-fulfillment is known by any Christian who lived between 1945 and today.  Great crusades in London in 1954 and New York in 1957 would have been crowning achievements for any evangelist.  But those achievements continued through 2000 in Amsterdam on the other side of the world.[28]  In 1994, at the age of 76, more than 80,000 people nightly crowded into Cleveland stadium to hear his message.[29]  Faith as unconditional caring was shown by his passion to speak to all people of all ages, all backgrounds, and all cultures during these years typically called middle adulthood for most men.

The late adult or mature adult stage in the life of Graham came very late in comparison to most men.  At the same time, many of the characteristics of the late adult phase can be seen though out his entire life, just emerging strongly toward the end.  Called a phase of unconditional caring by Estep and Kim, this behavior was shown by Graham in his behavior decades earlier.  In the founding of Christianity Today in the 1970’s, he insisted that “to lead and love” unconditionally be the overriding themes of the publication.[30] At a time in Christianity when divisiveness was the theme of many leaders, Graham chose unconditional acceptance as the theme of his ministry.  Clearly toward the end of his active ministry, those around Graham and even those of us who observe him from a great distance could see that his life was marked then by that “deep sense of contentment” described by Estep and Kim.[31]

Billy Graham’s personal and professional life clearly illustrates the steps of personality development and Christian formation outlined in the class text.  From infancy to late adulthood each phase is easy to see and illustrate.  While there is some blurring of the stages, especially in the middle to late adult years, it is a great learning experience to study the life of this great man from this perspective.



            In his book Conformed to His Image, Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, Kenneth Boa seeks to “present a synthetic and comprehensive approach to the spiritual life” for the aspiring believer.[32]  His twelve facts of spiritual development are  the steps of a “journey into spirituality” for any believer.[33]  They may also be used as a tool of critical analysis to better understand an individual’s journey.  Such is the case with Graham.  His life fits many of the twelve steps of facets Boa describes.  To this writer, it fits best with Boa’s model of spirit-filled spirituality.

There are three phases in this facet or model of spiritual development.  They are easily seen in the life of Graham.   The three phases are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, developing the gifts of the spirit and showing openness and discernment in balance.  Boa’s view is that the role of the Holy Spirit in the development of a Christian’s life is often “neglected as a central dynamic of the spiritual life.”[34]  This was clearly not the case in the life of Billy Graham.

The three phases are simple and easy to understand.  This is a facet of spiritual development that a Christian deliberately chooses to develop.  Choosing to develop the intimacy with God and biblical skillset needed to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit is the first phase.   One then chooses to bear witness to Jesus Christ.  One chooses to apply the “redemptive work” of Christ in their personal life and in the lives of others.  One chooses to work to help form Christlikeness in the lives others.  These three choices lead to walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second phase is developing spiritual gifts, recognizing the personal gifts and talents God has given and working to use and develop them to their full potential.  Boa illustrates the twenty most commonly accepted spiritual gifts from Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.[35]  He illustrates steps for discovering, developing and using the gifts.  Many people have one.  Some have a combination of several.  Graham clearly had many.

The third phase of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit is developing a complete openness to the “surprising works of the Spirit” as well as discernment for the truth of those works.[36]  One must listen to the spirit and understand what it is saying.  There is a balance in the “continuum” of the Holy Spirit and the written word of God.  Seeking this balance is the final step in fully empowering oneself in the power of walking in the Holy Spirit.  These three phases are seen and illustrated by Myra in the life of Graham.



            The first stage of spirit-filled spirituality is walking in the power of the spirit.  To say that Billy Graham had the power of the Holy Spirit seems a meek understatement.  This man is responsible for setting the stage for hundreds of thousands of people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  That could have come from no other source than the power of the Holy Spirit.  But this work requires specific examples from the life of Graham.   “From the beginning, his spiritual power has come from prayer and the Bible.”[37]  This quote came from T.W. Wilson who worked with Graham from the very early years of his ministry.  There are many other early references to the power of the Holy Spirit in Graham’s life.

In 1946 he toured the British Isles.  During a meeting with Stephen Olford, a Welsh evangelist, Graham proclaimed for all to hear that his heart was flooded and empowered by the Holy Spirit.[38] “My heart is so flooded with the Holy Spirit!”[39]  “I have it!  I’m filled.   This is a turning point in my life!”[40]

The second stage of spirit-filled spirituality is acknowledging, developing and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Graham exhibits many of the biblical gifts.  This writer struggles with make a list of just a few.  He clearly exhibited Service, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Distinguishing of Sprits, Apostleship, Helps, Administration, Evangelism and Sheparding from Boa’s list.[41] Graham was hesitant to dwell on his gifts.   He developed his gifts through formal education, lifelong personal study and being mentored by many great leaders over his lifetime.  His formal education has already been discussed.  His lifelong personal habits of prayer and Bible study are well known.  “Billy’s marching orders came from hours of prayer and studying the Scriptures and praying with those who shared his convictions and were in the trenches with him.”[42]  He was also well known for his openness to mentoring from anyone who followed God in their life and had something to share.  His inner circle included successful businessmen, musicians and theologians.  Their common characteristic was a love of God and a life-long pursuit of his work.  He allowed others with what he thought were greater skills than his to be his teachers.  He learned business practices from businessman Bill Mead, presentation skills from evangelist Cliff Barrows and ministry logistics from Grady Wilson.[43]  Graham was a life-long student of his gifts.

The final facet of spirit-filled spirituality is developing openness and discernment of the power of the Holy Spirit.  “Spirit-filled spirituality is concerned with the work of the Holy Spirit in the people of God” according to Boa.[44] There must also be a balance between the charismata, or spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit and the absolute truth of the written word of God.[45]  This balance sounds simple but is delicate to manage and difficult to develop.  It comes from the experiences and perspectives of the person.  Graham’s Calvinist upbringing and conservative evangelical education early in his life gave him a firm foundation in the written word.  His life of travelling and ministering all over the planet game him a truly global perspective.  In the end, he moved easily between the leading of the spirit and the word of God, often in the same sentence.  Graham knew his position was to present the written word, the law of God and its path to salvation.  The Holy Spirit would do the rest if he did his part correctly.   “People are really not listening to me” he would say.[46]  Graham clearly had that balance of openness and discernment in his ministry.

The spirit-filled spirituality path to Christian formation is illustrated well by the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  He sought to walk in the power of the spirit, developed his spiritual gifts and balanced the spirit and the word effectively in all he did.  This is a path to understand and implement in this writer’s pursuit of spiritual development.



            The life and ministry of Billy Graham are clear illustrations of the journey of human and spiritual development illustrated by the texts of the class.  His personality development illustrates step by step the process described by Estep and Kim.  His spirit-filled spirituality seems to come straight from Boa’s text.  Graham’s life is also a map of a spiritual journey on this Earth.  From his birth to dairy farming parents to his prominence as the world leader of evangelical Christianity it is clear that God had a path for him to follow, each step building on the previous step.  All should be thankful that he followed the path, took the journey and blessed us all in the process.














Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Website, <//>, Accessed 3/1/2013.


Boa, Kenneth, Confirmed to His Image, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001.


Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic        Press, 2001.


Estep, James R. and Jonathan H. Kim, Christian Formation:  Integrating Theology and Human    Development, Nashville, TN:   B&H Publishing Group, 2010.


Myra, Harold and Marshall Shelly, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham,  Grand Rapids, MI:              Zondervan, 2005.









[1]James R. Estep and Jonathan H. Kim, Christian Formation, Integrating Theology and Human Development, (Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic Publishing, 2010),  6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 100.

[4] Ibid, 101.

[5] Ibid, 116.

[6] Ibid, 105.

[7] Ibid, 105.

[8] Ibid, 116.

[9] Ibid, 105.

[10] Ibid, 106.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Website, <//>, Accessed 3/1/2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Harold Myra and Marshall Shelly, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2005),  109

[17] BGEA Website.

[18] Myra and Shelly, 275.

[19]Ibid, 275.

[20]Ibid, 109.

[21]Ibid, 110.

[22]Ibid, 319.

[23] BGEA site.

[24] Myra and Shelly, 138.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid, 41.

[27] Ibid, 40.

[28] Ibid, 71.

[29] Ibid, 307.

[30] Ibid, 318.

[31] Estep and Kim, 106.

[32]Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 16.

[33] Ibid, 19.

[34] Ibid, 289.

[35] Ibid, 307.

[36] Ibid, 316.

[37] Ibid, 289.

[38] Ibid, 23.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid, 307.

[42] Myra and Shelly, 45.


[43] Ibid, 40-43.

[44] Boa, 317.

[45] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic Press, 2001),  220.

[46] Myra and Shelly, 195.

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