If Will Graham had his way, he would be a small rural church pastor. There he enjoyed slowly teaching the Bible—preaching a chapter of God’s word each week—and growing gospel seeds in people’s lives.
But as the grandson of world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, Will has chosen God’s way instead of his.
“I have a burden in my heart to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. If that’s an arena full of people or one person on the street, I’ll do what God calls me to do,” Will says.
And so he’s followed in the footsteps of his late grandfather — who preached to 215 million people during more than 400 crusades — and his evangelist father, Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) — where Will is. Vice president and associate evangelist.
“God’s word has power. It’s not Will Graham; it’s not the preacher.” – Will Graham.
Over the past 16 years, Will Graham (now 47) has shared the gospel with over a million people at major outreach events on six continents. One of those continents is, of course, Australia. Nearly 6,000 people flocked to hear him preach in Kalgoorlie, in the Goldfields region of WA, the last time Will was here. After two years of pandemic restrictions this week, Will is back Down Under to preach in the only Australian state his father Franklin has not been to, Tasmania.
A ‘Tasmania Celebration with Will Graham’ will be held in Hobart on May 21, preceded by children’s and youth events. After this, Will heads to Launceston for a three-day celebration, May 27-29, with events for children, youth, and prayers, as well as live music from Christian artists CASS, The Afters, and Planetboom. The theme of Will’s conversations is particularly relevant amid COVID: “There is Hope”.
But despite the pandemic and whichever side of the world he’s preaching about—at home in the US, Australia, or elsewhere—Will says the message is always the same.
“The same needs, burdens – from the country to the city, they are all the same. Whether you’re in Dubbo, Launceston, Toowoomba, or Wollongong, it doesn’t matter. All these places have the same needs. You have to preach God’s word. God’s word is what has power. It’s not Will Graham; it’s not the preacher. It’s God’s word — that’s what changes lives,” he tells Eternity.
The grandson and son of a preacher man
Will lights up as he discusses his true passion and calling: Bible education. It is a calling that began when he committed to following Jesus at age five and was rekindled during his teens and then in Bible school.
Will’s claim is proven by his two siblings, who chose not to enter the ministry (although they now work in different roles for their father’s organizations). Preaching is naturally in his genes and played a big part in his childhood as his family traveled with his father, Franklin, to gatherings worldwide. But Will says he never felt pressured to do what his grandfather and father did.
Will’s love for teaching God’s word was fanned in flames during his eight years in the church ministry—six of which he spent pastoring a new church factory, Wakefield Baptist, in North Carolina.
“I never wanted to be a pastor, and it’s extremely hard work. But I enjoyed it. It was nice because I could keep preaching and preaching.
“I wish God would let me come back to it,” Will says of the Church’s ministry, adding, “I’m not sure if God will ever do that. I’m fine. It’s just that I love that part of my life; I still love going to the local Church and preaching and doing it consistently and reading the books of the Bible to leaf through.
“You see people come to know Christ and their lives change, marriages change, and you see that over time when you live together. If I come to Tasmania, Hobart, or any other city, I’m only there briefly, and I don’t see that progress.”
“Usually you lead people to Christ, but you never see the progress or the result.” – Will Graham.
He diverts the conversation to a case where he witnessed the fruits of a commitment to Christ at one of his events.
“A few years ago, when I went to Kalgoorlie, I met this young guy. I said, ‘Where are you from?’ He said, “Canada.” I was like, ‘Canada! How did a Canadian get out here in the bush?’ He said, ‘Actually, I gave my life to Christ at your event in Lethbridge [in Alberta, Canada, where Will preached in 2010]†
“I was like, ‘I remember that very well,'” Will continues. “His whole family had come forward that night [to commit to Christ]† He was in the ministry as a youth pastor there in Kalgoorlie.
“Usually, you lead people to Christ but never see the progress or the result. I got a taste of it in Kalgoorlie – I saw this guy on the mission field.
“Thank you, Lord,” Will says, “that was just a good way to encourage me.”
It should be noted that the BGEA considers the need for discipleship of new converts after the events. However, it leaves this work – “of prayer, training, outreach, and follow-up that takes place over 12 months” to local churches.
Will likens his role as an evangelist to that of a “pinch hitter” in baseball – a substitute who comes to punch for another player.
“That’s the guy coming in for the pitcher who can’t hit or something like that. I sometimes feel like that’s what I am in America—I don’t always have to preach,” Will says.
“I’m not trying to be the next Billy Graham; I’m just Will Graham.”
To compensate for this lack, he likes to hold devotional times for BGEA staff at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, North Carolina, where Will is executive director. Here he has spent the past nine years (yes, you read that right) teaching from one book of the Bible: 1 Samuel. Two months ago, he began leading the staff through 2 Samuel – a book he will spend five years teaching.
“I’m coming to the end of the second Samuel on my study,” Will says. “So [in staff devotions] I’m about five years behind where I am personally.
“The next book of the Bible, I think I’m going to go to Revelation – with the pandemic that’s going on, how the world is going to end and all that sort of thing.
“I was thinking of Genesis, but I thought it was 50 chapters. Not sure I’ll be here long enough to finish it! … I’m trying to do a chapter lesson session. So 50 chapters would be 25 years. I don’t think I can do that!” he smiles.
This pace suits his preaching style, which Will describes as “more like the older Billy Graham – a lot slower” than the blazing fast sermons of the young “Machine Gun Billy”. Of course, Will has received many suggestions to preach more like his grandfather and father. But he is very comfortable with his relaxed approach.
“I’ve heard many people say try it this way; you must get louder. But I’m just going to do it the way God gave me. I’m not like that. If I change it, I’m not authentic to who I am. ”
In Will’s official biography, he says, “I’m not trying to be the next Billy Graham; I’m just Will Graham.”
At the same time, Will shares many similarities with his “grandfather” and his father – one of which is that he is a natural storyteller. That ability makes his sermons connect.
“I’m just trying to find a story in the Bible and go through it. I think stories resonate with people. People love to listen to stories, and it’s hard to find storytellers these days,” Will says.
He’s just preached over lunch in Sydney for the Eternity interview and again shares Hushai’s story from 2 Samuel 16. The handful of verses about this man, described as “David’s confidante,” “really touched my heart,” he says. Will. It’s an Old Testament picture of our relationship with Jesus, he explains.
“I want to be like Hushai. I want to be a companion of the king. Hushai left everything behind for one reason: the king asked him. He didn’t count the costs…
“That’s what I want to be. If I want to be known as something, I want to be known as a companion of Jesus Christ.”
Will Graham preach at a Logosdor lunch in Sydney ahead of his celebrations in Tasmania?
Continuing the family business
Looking to the future, Will knows that evangelical preaching methods must change to reach younger generations. Before COVID hit, Will and his BGEA team had started planning online crusades.
“We are still figuring out what this will look like in the next five years…
“We still see great ministry, but we can’t keep doing it the way we’ve always done it. Are we always going to have Crusades? Yes. So we’ll have evangelists. But they can take a different shape and be more online.”
This is where Will’s 16-year-old son, William Franklin Graham V (Quinn), might even get into the family business when the time is right.
While his daughters Christine Jane (CJ, 21) and Rachel Austin (19) have shown no interest, Will says, “My son once said he wanted to be a pastor. But I do not know. Did that pull my heart? Yes. You want your son to do what you do when you think it’s good, and I believe what I’m doing is good.
“But at the same time, I don’t want to pressure him,” he adds.
“God has given him a gift. He is extremely smart. Computer programming is his thing. And so, man, there are leanings that God could use as a computer programmer for his kingdom. But we must wait and see what God has planned for him.”
Meanwhile, as Will prepares for his celebrations in Tasmania, he can hear his grandfather’s words ringing in his ears: “He would say to me, ‘Preach the cross. There’s power in the cross,” Will says. “Whatever book of the Bible you preach from, you can jump from many different stories, but you’re always headed for the cross. And that’s what my grandfather did.”