Leader's Insight: Redeeming the Ego
Editor's note: In recognition of the 50th anniversary of our publisher, Christianity Today International, we offer these insights from our founder, Billy Graham, from the book The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham (Zondervan, 2005).
Billy Graham's first executive committee chair, Bill Mead, told us about Billy's taking him along on trips to the White House. "Billy has that presence and humility. He commands respect from presidents, from Ike, Johnson—all of them!"
We were in Fred Smith's home, interviewing both Smith and Mead. Fred said, "Billy was humble but not intimidated."
We wondered how someone could be humble and handle the ego while becoming such close friends with presidents.
"The ego must be redeemed," Fred replied.
"Meaning, you must have a strong ego to lead, but something must happen to it?"
"Absolutely. And you can tell when someone allows God to redeem his ego."
The mix of Mead's words, presence, respect, and humility, seemed oddly juxtaposed. Having the charisma to command respect at the highest levels and the ability to turn hostile reporters into advocates would naturally inflate anyone's ego. Yet it's not only Mead and Smith who reference Billy's humility. As we interviewed many colleagues and friends, his humility became a constant theme.
Redeeming the ego. What did Smith mean? What has transpired in Billy Graham's psyche and spiritual life that has melded him into such a blend of world-class, driving visionary and meek, unassuming student?
One of the many brushstrokes in this picture is the way Billy views himself. We sat in Charlotte with Graeme Keith, treasurer of Billy's organization and a lifelong friend. Graeme got around rather quickly to Billy's natural humility. "I was on an elevator with Billy when another man in the elevator recognized him. He said, 'You're Billy Graham, aren't you?'
"'Yes,' Billy said.
"'Well,' he said, 'you are truly a great man.'
"Billy immediately responded, 'No, I'm not a great man. I just have a great message.'"
From those who have known him best emerges the picture of Billy's unfeigned belief that he was simply God's ambassador, carrying a message of love to the world. His oft-repeated remark that "my lips would turn to clay if God took his hand from me" gave him a sense that he was, to use Mother Teresa's description of herself, "God's pencil."
At the same time, his driving purpose added to the force of his personality and his commanding presence.
Billy titled his autobiography Just As I Am. It's the title of the hymn sung during his invitations to receive Christ. Those who have experienced the gentle, soul-searching sounds of thousands of voices singing the invitational hymn know its probing power and abject humility, "Just as I am, without one plea … "
In choosing that title for his own life story, Billy identified himself with every convert walking to the front and confessing sin and weakness. By that title he says that he too is the recipient of grace, and God has done all the work. "Most ...