Menu button

News

Billy Graham’s Beginnings in the Pulput

October 14, 2021

Billy Graham and two of his mentors, John Minder and Cecil Underwood.

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time Billy Graham was nervous about preaching. It was 1937. A young Billy Graham, who had begun attending Florida Bible Institute, was asked to deliver a sermon. Cecil Underwood, a lay preacher who was pastoring Peniel Baptist Church, asked Dr. Minder, the academic dean at Florida Bible Institute, if he would preach for him. Dr. John Minder was also Billy Graham’s mentor.

“No,” he answered, “Billy is going to preach.”

In Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just as I am, he shared how startled he was at this opportunity.

“I was stunned. My repertoire at the time consisted of about four borrowed sermons, which I had adapted and practiced but never preached…When I told Mr. Underwood that I had never preached a formal sermon in front of a church audience, he and Dean Minder both laughed. We’ll pray for you, said Mr. Underwood, and God will help you.”

Billy Graham agreed. He shared he was so frightened that he spent the night studying and praying instead of sleeping.

“When the moment came to walk to the pulpit in the tiny Bostwick Baptist Church, my knees shook and perspiration glistened on my hands. I launched into sermon number one. It seemed to be over almost as soon as I got started, so I added number two. And number three. And eventually number four. Then I sat down. Eight minutes – that was all it took to preach all four of my sermons!”

Billy Graham Ordained as a Pastor

October is pastor appreciation month. Before becoming an evangelist, many people may not know or realize, Billy Graham pastored a church.

Despite his initial nerves, Billy Graham pressed on, knowing God had called him to preach. Mr. Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist pastor in 1939 in the St. John’s River Association. He went before the ordination council to answer questions about his background and beliefs. Mr. Graham recalls that time in his autobiography, Just as I am.

“One brother took it on himself to probe a bit into my theological views. After all, he must have reasoned, they were dealing here with a youngster who only recently had seen the light and converted from Presbyterian to Baptist. I am afraid my patience fan short. ‘Brother,’ I said, ‘you’ve heard me preach around these parts, and you’ve seen how the Lord has seen fit to bless. I’m not an expert on theology, but you know what I believe and how I preach, and that should be enough to satisfy you.’”

Then, Mr. Graham’s mentor, Dr. John Minder gave him an incredible opportunity to be his summer replacement at the large Tampa Gospel Tabernacle. For six weeks, he preached at all the services and carried out all the pastoral responsibilities. He then appointed Mr. Graham to become his assistant pastor for the next year, while he completed his education.

Newspaper clipping ... Preaching.
Newspaper clipping, Gospel Tabernacle Selects New Pastor.

Billy Graham’s Pastoral Ministry

After graduating from the Florida Bible Institute in 1940, Graham attended Wheaton College. In the fall of 1940, the Tab was pastored by V. Raymond Edman, a professor of history and acting interim president of Wheaton College. When asked to assume the presidency permanently, Edman resigned his role at the Tab and recommended Billy Graham as his replacement. Already familiar with his preaching style, the congregation ratified the 21 year old Graham as their new pastor. Between September 1941, when he became pastor, and June 1943, when he graduated from Wheaton College, Mr. Graham preached at the Tabernacle over a hundred times. The Tab was a popular service for Wheaton undergraduates to attend on Sunday evenings, and many who saw and heard him preach there agreed that Graham’s style in later years remained much as the same as his student days.

Front of Western Springs Baptist Church.
After graduating from Wheaton College, Billy Graham was the pastor of Western Springs Baptist Church, Western Springs, Illinois. Western Springs Baptist Church

In 1943, after graduating from Wheaton college, Mr. Graham pastored The Village Church of Western Springs (now Western Springs Baptist Church) in Western Springs, Illinois. It was about twenty miles southeast of Wheaton. Mr. Graham felt his work at “The Tab” had been an extracurricular, part-time endeavor and was ready to consider a change. About to be married, he also began to feel the responsibility of supporting his wife, Ruth. He had preached there as a student, but in his enthusiasm, he forgot one thing – to check with his bride-to-be!

“She let me know in no uncertain terms that she did not appreciate such insensitivity. And I could not blame her. Both Ruth and I felt sure the pastorate would be a temporary thing.”

Indeed it was temporary, but those early years proved to help fine tune Billy Graham as a preacher – where he would then preach to millions all around the world.

The Legacy Continues

Did you know that Billy Graham’s grandson, Will, also served in pastoral ministry for several years before becoming an evangelist? But at first, Will was very hesitant to become a pastor. Learn why at billygraham.org/willgraham. Online he also shares four ways we can all support and encourage our pastors.

Will Graham at podium holding up The Bible.
Before becoming an evangelist, Will Graham spent time in pastoral ministry.