A Tale of Two Williams

Both Wheaton College Grads. Both lived into their 90’s. Both in full time ministry. Both powerful preachers of God’s Word, and yet with very different visible results. One with the Lord now the other still preaching and writing.

One named Billy Graham, the other, Bill Standridge.

I’ve seen, among the many good ones, two disturbing reactions to the death of Billy Graham over the past week. On the one side, a very calloused outspoken rebuke of those who thank the Lord for the work He did through Billy Graham, because of his theological and ecumenical shortcomings.

On the other hand, an inability to recognize these shortcomings, but more than that, a magnifying of the man for the numbers he led to Christ.

That’s what made me appreciate Steve Lawson’s post last week, where he highlighted three lessons we can all learn. I’d like to add a fourth.

Bill Standridge was a brilliant man. A 4.0 student at Wheaton, he was part of the class of ‘47. A wonderful writer. A passionate preacher. But he made a decision, or I should say the Holy Spirit led him to a decision, that would radically change his life. After hearing a compelling presentation on the situation of the Evangelical Church in Europe, he decided to be a missionary to Rome, Italy.

This is, perhaps, one of the most difficult places to do missions on earth; the Reformation never happened there since most missionaries were literally killed by the Roman Catholic Church, and never made it past the Swiss Alps due to the fact that that the capital of Italy is Rome, home to the Vatican itself.

Billy, on the other hand, was also a brilliant man. Graduated as part of Wheaton’s class of ’43. And we all know of his remarkable preaching ability. He was a man whose theology was shaped in part by Charles Finney, who drove him to more of a popcorn type of ministry that lent itself, in turn, to bigger crowds and more on the spot decisions.

One goes to a country that is regarded as the graveyard of missionaries because of the lack of fruit, the other had a ministry mindset of gathering big crowds and encouraging decisions for Christ on the spot.

One with a long-term mindset, of going to a place where few men had been and ground was hard to plow, the other going to a place where many men had been, where it was ripe for the harvest .

Is one better than the other? Is one more worthy of praise?

There probably couldn’t have been a worse time in Evangelical Church history for Billy to die. Of course, he died just in God’s perfect timing, but with our mindset of big crowds = success, and many converts = the Holy Spirit doing work, it is easy to look at these two Bill’s as one being a failure and the other being successful. Most of the Evangelical Church wrongly believes that you are not being blessed in ministry unless you have a big church and your baptismal is always full.

If that were the case, then most preachers would be staying in America where there is an easier way of life and churches are bigger, rather than going to the ends of the earth where no man has gone before.

Their roads crossed one afternoon in Rome many decades ago. Billy had invited a few Italian Evangelical leaders to a meeting at a hotel. There he laid out a vision for a crusade that would be held in Rome a year later. He asked the men if they would join him. Every man except one said yes without hesitation. My grandpa asked a question, “would you partner with Roman Catholics?” Billy responded with a simple “yes”. My grandfather thanked him for the opportunity but explained that he could not join especially since so many of the people in his church had experienced severe trials since coming out of the catholic church and that in Italy partnering with Roman Catholics would prove perhaps even more harmful than in other countries.

Billy Graham never had a crusade in Rome. I’m not sure if it was because he felt that without my grandfather’s support it wouldn’t happen, or if perhaps he took his words to heart, but the crusade never took place.

I’m thankful for Billy Graham. I know that if you know me at all, you’re probably a little shocked to hear that. With my passion for Roman Catholics to know Christ, I have greatly struggled with Billy Graham’s decisions over the years to include cardinals and priests on stage at his crusades, and to have them receive contact cards to do follow up with Roman Catholics who had supposedly made decisions for Christ.  Hundreds of churches in America question why anyone would go to Italy as a missionary when they believe that Billy Graham said that they already have the Gospel.

That said, you simply can’t ignore the fact that many, many souls will be in heaven as a direct result of the Holy Spirit working through the lips and words of Billy Graham. And for this I am so thankful to God. Many people reading this post have benefitted greatly from the writing and words of Billy, and I’d be a fool to not be thankful for that.

But the lesson that we must remember is that faithfulness does not equal fruitfulness, at least not the way most people define fruitfulness. Neither does fruitfulness equal faithfulness.

If Billy heard the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” it is not because he led millions to a decision, or because he spent time with presidents around the world, it will ONLY be because his heart’s greatest desire was for Jesus to receive the glory.  And from what I hear, I believe that this was the case.

It is easy to look at the life of Billy Graham and think I wish I could speak to the millions he spoke to, I wish the Lord would use me like that. Less desirable for many young pastors would be to know that after 60 years of hard work, your church will have 80 people in it. That’s the case for my grandpa who just at the beginning of this year stepped away from being a pastor of his church. Over 60 years of faithful preaching. Over 60 years of faithful evangelism, and he has a church of just 80 people that though might not sound like much, has become a model church for many people around Italy, one that has produced quite a few elders, preachers, and missionaries. Over 60 years discipling men to become elders, speaking in conferences, and writing books and magazines that “only” a few thousand have read. And of course, there are many other ways that the Lord has used him, some that I know about but don’t have the space to write and the majority of which we will only find out about in Heaven.

And yet I am absolutely confident that both Bills will hear the words we all long for, “Well done, Bill, my good and faithful servant.”

My goal in writing this post is not to bring down Billy Graham down nor is it even to exalt my grandfather. My hearts desire is that we would all exalt Jesus Christ and in order to do that we must all check our hearts.

Don’t believe the lie that you have to lead thousands to Christ in order to hear Jesus call you His faithful servant. Don’t believe the lie that Graham was a superior man. He was a man with flaws, but one who depended on the Holy Spirit like the rest of us.

Don’t believe the lie that going to a harder place is somehow a lesser ministry. Don’t believe the lie that pastoring a smaller congregation is somehow a lesser blessing. Don’t believe the lie that being a faithful evangelist to your coworkers or to your children is somehow less important. We must be thankful with the talents the Lord gives us and be just as faithful to Him with them as if we had more. So, whatever the Lord gives you, be thankful and count your blessings, because it’s better than you deserve.

A tale of two Williams is a tale of two people with very different easily visible results in life, but of two men who have loved their Savior and who served Him faithfully.

Bill had his dozens, Billy had his tens of thousands. Blessed be the name of the Lord.



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