European Community of Practice

 

Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Friends and Family,

During the last week of April, Susan and I had the pleasure of meeting several GCI leaders and spouses in Paris. We met with European Superintendent James Henderson (Shirley), National Ministry Leader of The Netherlands Frans Danenberg (Lamberta), National Ministry Team Leader of UK and Ireland Gavin Henderson (Sinead), and National Ministry Leader of France Marie-Angelique Alcindor Picard (Jean-Philippe). Husband and wife team, GCI Treasurer Mat Morgan and GCI Operations Coordinator Pam Morgan also participated in the meetings.

This was our first European Community of Practice meeting. A “Community of Practice” is a group of like-minded leaders who are working together to fulfill a shared vision, support one another, and share resources. These important gatherings are used to share news about our current status (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats); to share lessons we have learned, innovative ideas that may be of value to the group, and to consider ways we can bolster the ministry efforts across the region. We have six such groups in GCI.

This meeting took place in the Picards’ home, where we were given a taste of French life with many delightful foods in the comfortable environment of a private home. James started our time together with communion—always a good and appropriate way to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in our lives and ensuing discussions as we seek to follow him in caring for our churches.

Many gave reports about the status of our churches inclusive of challenges and opportunities. I dubbed 2019 my “Year of Discovery,” and during these meetings, I learned much about our churches spread across the European region (with more yet to learn). As much as growing in understanding of the state of our churches is part of my job, building relationships with the leaders is of equal importance.

Establishing relational chemistry is vital in establishing trust, and it takes trust to form meaningful working relationships that help us to collaborate and experience the synergistic energy of the team. Permit me to share a story that better describes relational chemistry (with permission from Marie-Angelique).

Shortly after James shared communion, the meeting moved to open discussion. Marie-Angelique, who is known for her honesty as much as for her gracious hospitality, openly stated, “We know Joseph Tkach, but you, we don’t know you.” I thought that was fair, and I decided to put my PowerPoint presentation aside. We spent time getting to know each other and I allowed the meeting to follow the course of topics most concerning to the group.

The day after our meetings, we attended the Paris church and celebrated with them in the new hall they were able to purchase. The hall is still being modified into a functioning church facility, but we are excited because it is in a wonderful part of the city. During the service, the members were provided headsets so the French-speakers would be able to hear an interpreter for my sermon message. However, the headsets were not working properly, and prior to my message, Marie-Angelique told me, “We will have to do this sequentially.” This meant I would speak a sentence or two in English and she would then translate in French. Though it seems awkward, the comments from many in attendance were overwhelmingly positive. It appeared to them that Marie-Angelique and I were giving the sermon as one voice and our rapport with one another was apparent. Chemistry and trust were being built.

I spent the final day with James recapping what we had heard and establishing provisional plans for work that he will attend to – though good, a supervisor’s work has no end. My work with our European brothers and sisters will continue as I plan to visit the UK in November. I will sit in as a guest at their Board meeting, and spend time with Gavin in their Home Office. I am also looking to returning to France in 2020 and spending more time in relationship building at their annual celebration in Evian.

I am discovering how wonderful our GCI leaders are, and I continually thank God that he has raised up such faithful men and women for such a time as this.

Praising God for faithful leaders,

Greg Williams

Celebrate Church

Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I recently had the opportunity to visit a church in the Carolinas and give the sermon. The main passage in the Revised Common Lectionary for that day was in Luke 15. This chapter has three stories about lost things.

Whether Jesus was talking about a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost son, he masterfully wove these stories together with the theme of rejoicing and celebrating by throwing a party.

After finding the lost sheep the Shepherd says:

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6 ESV).

After the woman finds her lost coin, she follows the same pattern:

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost” (Luke 15:9 ESV).

And it’s even a bigger deal when the prodigal returns home:

But the father said to his servants, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate;  for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:22-24 ESV).

The object of celebration in these stories is abundantly clear—the joy of a rescued sinner whose heart is turned toward his or her heavenly Father. And the earthly celebration is augmented by the party that is happening in heaven of the angels before the presence of Father, Son and Spirit. This is a good place to pause with wonder. When a person comes to their senses and understands their belonging as a son or daughter to the divine Father, that they are already loved and accepted in Jesus, and they take hold of this reality, the only response is to celebrate and throw a party.

In 2019, the regional gatherings in the U.S. are being called Regional Celebrations. Though the past conferences have been good and informative, we want to go beyond conferring and sharing information; we want to join together in a spirit of joy and to have a festive spirit of a God-honoring party.

As believers, we have more to celebrate than any other people on earth. The sense of rejoicing over our salvation, over the relationships we share in the community of the church, and over our enduring focus is that we anticipate the hope of the lost sinner being rescued and participating in the party that happens on earth and in heaven.

A Healthy Church is a church that regularly celebrates and throws parties over people who were lost but now are found. Let’s continue to celebrate the Good News.

Party on, Church!

Greg Williams

Priesthood of All Believers

Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Martin Luther promoted the idea that every Christian believer is a priest regardless of his or her full-time occupation. He likely based this on the writings of Peter and Jude and from which comes the phrase, the “priesthood of all believers.” Ministry is for all of us. Therefore, if you are a Christian you are a priest.

Notice Peter’s words, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV).

We are all priests in that we join Jesus and participate with him in his active ministry to the world around us. As active participants with Jesus, we each play different roles as we are uniquely gifted. For example, not all Christians are called to preach or lead, yet we are all called to serve according to our giftedness. Notice what Paul says to the Christians in Rome.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)

God calls you to use your gift diligently and cheerfully. There is incredible joy in Christian service, and it is even greater when we experience this together in community.

You have probably noticed that we in GCI have been teaching and practicing “team-based” ministry. We believe we are better together. I recently heard Scott Ridout, President of Converge, make the statement, “Team will out think, out produce, and out live the individual leader.” That statement is confirmation of what we’ve been up to in GCI.

Our Media Team has produced some outstanding tools to help us better understand the concepts of team-based ministry. In the Team-Based Pastor-Led Prezi presentation, there is a slide that provides a macro view. At first view it may look like the solar system, and with further examination you see how multiple ministries flow out from the foundational venues of Faith, Hope and Love. This slide is only a basic beginning of what ministries could exist within the life of the church, and we encourage the local church to expand the expressions of ministry based on the unique giftedness of their members and the opportunities their context makes possible.

Our Lord has made you with a unique mix of spiritual gifts. When you add those gifts to the gifts of others in your fellowship group or congregation, much can be done. We can always do more together than we can in isolation because this is how God planned it. In his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul makes it clear that the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts and that Jesus is Lord over the church. The church is a body made up of many parts, and God has placed us within the body as he wills. All of this is for a common good, that the Triune God gets the glory and that the church is built up.

In our divine participation, we are also called to participate with one another. So, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to diligently and cheerfully take your place in the body and together, we can all take another step forward into Healthy Church.

Joining all GCI priests,

Greg Williams

Mother’s Love

Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Can a parent ever forget their child? In the time of Isaiah, Israel’s literal complaint was that God had forgotten and forsaken them in their Babylonian captivity. “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me’” (Isa. 49:14). I love God’s response: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15).

This most tender and affectionate picture that God gave, describing his love for his people, is one most of us can relate to—the picture of a mother’s love for her newborn child. After carrying a child in her womb for nine months, this new living creature, who is nourished and protected by her own body, is nursing at her breast. You can imagine the longing gaze shared between mother and baby. I can recall this very picture as I remember Susan with each of our three sons (doubly with twins Glenn and Garrett).

The wonder and sense of awe of mother to child are best expressed in the thoughts and response of Mary to her precious baby Jesus. The events of Luke chapter two are grander and greater than words can describe, but I shall give it a try.

At the birth of Jesus, in the humble setting of a stable, a visitation was made by shepherds who had been in the surrounding fields. They brought the tidings of good news—the Messiah had come. This was followed by a heavenly host of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

Can you imagine the conversation between the shepherds and Joseph and Mary as each of them recounted their encounters with angels? They confirmed that each of these angelic meetings and announcements was connected and pointed to the one truth—the incarnation of Jesus is real, and God truly is with us. Glory to God in the highest!

Then Luke 2:19 tells us: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” This became Mary’s private meditation and her treasured storehouse of memories for her son Jesus. Isn’t this what mothers do? Mothers relish the quiet moments with their dear babies; they remember all the details and intricacies, and they have an overflow of positive hope and promise for their dear child. This is the mother’s heart.

Mother’s Day is a special day that pays tribute to our mothers. Appropriately, it is celebrated in many countries around the world at different points during the year. In the United States and Canada, Mother’s Day is held on the second Sunday in May (May 12th for 2019). In some other countries, such as Argentina and Ethiopia, mothering is celebrated in the autumn. No matter what specific day or season, let me echo GCI’s deep love and appreciation for all mothers. We celebrate you for who you are and what you do to care for our precious children.

As beautiful a picture as a mother’s love paints, please know that the love that Father, Son, and Spirit have for every human being far surpasses even that. You are beloved by the majestic God of the universe, so on this Mother’s Day and every other day – “Be loved!”

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Greg and Susan Williams

When I recently toured the Holy Land nothing was more striking and mind-expanding than standing on the Mount of Olives and imagining the myriad of thoughts racing through the mind of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem in the final week of his earthly ministry.

He expressed this poignant lament – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 ESV).

Jesus expresses tremendous sorrow that Israel continually rejects God’s call for repentance and refuses to embrace the Kingdom of God. Even more personal is their rejection of him as their promised, true Messiah – even as he intermingled with them, displaying miraculous acts of incredible kindness, revealing to them the deep teachings of God, and sharing gracefully in all aspects of life.

The metaphor used by Matthew likens the Godhead to a mother hen (a rare biblical use of a feminine image for God). The image of a mother hen whose intent is to gather, nurture and protect her offspring. It fits well with Jesus’s words about his impending crucifixion – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32 ESV). Uniting all people to himself – in a relationship of total forgiveness and pure love – was his purpose then and for all time.

What did Jesus see from the Mount of Olives that day? Perhaps the temple, the center of worship, with people scurrying about from court to court attending to daily sacrifices? Did he envision through his eyes of deity the days of old with Abraham bringing Isaac to the altar for slaughter? Or was he looking forward in time, to the scenes I saw of the crowds gathered at the Western Wall in a cacophony of prayer? I believe it was all of the above, and more.

From our vantage point on the Mount of Olives we located the movement of Jesus from the area of the Last Supper and upper room from the south of the city, down into the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley (the garden of “thy will be done”). It was in the garden where Jesus was arrested. He was then taken back to the south of the city to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where he was tried by the Sanhedrin. There he was, beaten and spent part of the night in a cold, dark dungeon beneath the house. On Friday morning he was sent to Pontius Pilate at the Antonia Fortress on the north side of the temple mount; then he was bounced back to Herod at his palace in the city, and then back to Pilate before he was taken outside the city wall to hang on the cross from noon until 3:00 pm.

We could take in the geography of the events from the Last Supper, the kangaroo trial, the agony and eventual execution of Jesus from our vantage point on the Mount of Olives, and yet our view didn’t compare to what Jesus must have taken in from that same spot. The moment of his melting heart for Jerusalem signaled his passion and the salvific events that would unfold. Our moment at the mount was a restored heart that signaled our strong, uncontrollable emotion for acceptance – to embrace and worship the Jesus that has been drawing us all along.

May your Holy Week services and your celebration of Easter join your heart even closer to the one who conquered death and the grave, and who continues to draw all people to himself.

Holy Land

GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on Grace Communion International.
He shares the experience of a recent trip with work colleagues to the Holy Land – Israel. Dr. Williams reflects on the relational bonding that occurred and how we, as disciples, can do the same during this Easter season – inviting our friends, family, and neighbors to share in the experiences of Jesus’ life in our life.

Bondservant Leadership

Dear GCI Family,

Greg and Susan Williams

We are entering our first round of Regional Conferences – renamed “Regional Celebrations.” So, what’s changing? The emphasis is different. Rather than a focus on training, we will emphasize worship, inspiration and relationship building. There will be activities for families, youth, and all ages. No doubt, this will be a GCI good time!

The celebration will begin on Friday evening in your region and will end with a worship service and communion on Sunday. In addition, we will offer specific training for pastors and ministry leaders on Friday. (Check with your Regional Director for details.) This training will follow the theme of Healthy Leaders for Healthy Churches. In preparation for this time we ask that you and your team review and discuss the video series REAL Teams. U.S. Superintendent Michael Rasmussen and I are excited to join with your regional director in this day of helpful, valuable training.

As we prepare to gather at the Regional Celebrations let’s ask ourselves, “What is the attitude of a healthy leader?” For the answer, let’s go straight to the leader of all leaders.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NASB)

Jesus took on the form of a “doulos,” a bondservant. A permanent role of service – in his case it was absolute subjugation to the will of the Father, fulfilling the divine purpose of humanity’s salvation and the ever-present vision of the kingdom of God.

Both Peter and Paul identify themselves as bondservants to Jesus; knowing that they were bought at the highest of all prices and that their position of servitude was permanent. They were totally comfortable with the title of bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Being a bondservant to Christ means that at some point in our spiritual development as we explore the magnitude of who Jesus is, and then who we are in him that we become sold out. It becomes our desire to serve him with all that we are. Our simple faith grows to a point we can truly trust and say, “I am his.” In other words, “I totally belong to Christ as his property, his doulos. Jesus Christ is Lord over all of me. He is my Lord and my Master, my Savior, my King, my Friend and there is no better place for me to be.”

This is the heart of a healthy leader – being sold out for Jesus. Of course, there is no way we would or could become bondservants to Jesus without him being the first and perfect bondservant. Join me in trying to wrap your mind around this – Jesus, God in the flesh, accepted the limitations of humanity, set aside his divine powers, and masked his glory in the role of a suffering servant. This is our King and Lord who lives and moves in us and beckons us to walk in his tracks.

No matter your title or position in GCI think deeply about your status in Jesus as a bondservant to him. This is where healthy leadership begins. I look forward to sharing more on this topic at the regional celebrations. See you there!

His bondservant,

Greg Williams

The Savior Complex

Dear GCI Family and friends,

Greg and Susan Williams

There are many people serving in ministry who are motivated by what may be called “good intentions.” What they may not realize is their good intentions may not fall in line with what Jesus exemplified for us in ministry. This can be the cause of much frustration in ministry.

We all realize people have inherent needs, and many go into ministry with the high aspiration of helping people in need. Some even go so far as entering ministry because they need to feel needed. Frustration occurs when you realize you aren’t enough – you can’t meet all the needs of all the people in your congregation, and you can’t have your own needs met. This is true whether you have 500 people to serve or 10 people. Don’t be discouraged, though—many in ministry face this at some point. Frustration can easily lead to burnout. If you are feeling this way, please talk to someone. You’ll realize you are not alone.

Part of the problem is that our good intentions can be founded on something other than Jesus. This happens when we believe – or are made to believe – that we should have all the answers, or that no one else can do the job as well as we do it. Statements such as, “You are the best pastor we’ve ever had and you have saved my life” or, “I don’t know what I’d do without you – don’t ever leave or stop being our ministry leader” can produce what is called the “Savior Complex” – the tendency to seek people who desperately need help and to assist them, often by sacrificing your own needs.

While this may sound noble, there are some real problems. First, the person being helped soon comes to expect the attention and help and does not take responsibility for their own circumstances. Second, the leader is taking on the role of savior that can only be filled by Jesus. As GCI pastors and elders, we don’t want members to view us as their rescuer; we are elders called to serve. We want them to always look to Jesus. We can listen, visit, encourage, teach, coach and pray with members, but we cannot do what Jesus does. He is the one who heals, redeems, forgives and saves.

Many of us have fallen into this way of thinking at some point in ministry. Don’t get discouraged or lose hope if the Holy Spirit is pricking your heart right now. Healthy church begins with healthy leadership, and our goal is to help all become the best expression of health we can be. To be healthy, we need to understand some of the pitfalls we face.

At the heart of the savior complex is the ugly human expression of pride. Pride is what causes us to stumble and fall (Proverbs 16:18). Pride, or arrogant eyes, is one of the seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). Pride was the undoing of Lucifer, and it is a subject worthy of our attention.

Pride seeks out the chief seats and the attention of the important people. In the British comedy series “Keeping Up Appearances,” Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) is constantly trying to gain social status and become part of the social elite. Unfortunately, she commits faux pas after faux pas and each episode revolves around her latest. The real tragedy is that her actions cause her to look past, or step on the weak and the less popular on her journey toward high society. We watch the show and laugh, while mindlessly getting drawn into the practice of being a respecter of persons. Pride wins the day.

The sickness of pride also causes us to dwell on the shortcomings of others – often with contempt, irritation, frustration, or judgment. When we do this, we are looking on them as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16 “from a worldly point of view,” and not seeing them as other human travelers who are also under the shed blood of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and work through challenges and misunderstandings with our brothers and sisters, but we do so with Jesus in the bigger picture.

Recognition and confession of pride is the beginning of the healing process. While it seems to be easy to see pride in others, pride within ourselves is not so readily identified. Pride is insidious; it is the fuel that fills our earnest need for attention and respect, and therefore it is hard to detect its stronghold in our lives. Pride has an insatiable hunger for attention and respect; it’s easy to be fooled and call this an internal drive. (I see it more frequently in myself than I want to admit)

One of the greatest pitfalls is that pride is the enemy of humility and teachability. We use the adjective “stubborn” to describe pride because it is hard to shake off.

In the October meetings with our GCI leaders we focused on how our roles are to be as “bond-servants”; not thinking of ourselves as executives or superiors. We don’t ever want to be filled with anything but humility and love for others. We often pray together for God’s intervention and blessing.

Even if this does not seem like a battle you are fighting, please swallow any pride and join me in setting this matter in its proper place – before the eternal throne of justice and mercy. Let’s confess and pray the words of David recorded in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!

May we be humble and teachable people in GCI as we continue our quest for Healthy Church!

Always praying for humility,

Greg Williams

 

 

Healthy Church

Dear GCI Family and friends,

Greg and Susan Williams

Health is a relative term. According to the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This is an important distinction – especially as we focus on Healthy Church.

We all experience the ups and downs of health in our physical bodies. My very first week of serving as president was likely the busiest and most demanding of my life. Among the ceremonies and retirement parties, there were a number of planning meetings accompanied by informal breakfast and lunch meetings. The dinners included rich foods, robust wines and always some fancy, hard-to-say-no-to dessert. The physical, mental and social challenges were at an all-time high.

I came out of that first week with my heart full due to the overwhelming high support I received; I also came out with my sinuses and lungs filled with congestion due to the long days and late nights. My second week as president involved a lot of hot tea, vitamins, chicken soup, and extra rest. This experience gave me even more thought on the concept of healthy church.

You are aware that I have been preaching and promoting healthy church, and we are just beginning to focus on what this means. Caring for our bodies and caring for our churches have many similarities. The ebb and flow of how we manage our work schedules, our diets and workout routines is a good platform to convey my thoughts. Let’s ask a couple of important questions:

What is the activity level of the church? Almost all our churches host a weekly worship service (some fellowship groups meet less frequently). So, what is the activity level during this gathering? Does the worship team have to come early to get their worship set together, or have they met at some other time during the week? Do we spend too much time on announcements because this is the one time to communicate with the members, or is communication happening through the week with emails or posts on the church’s website? Does fellowship go unusually long because we only see each other at worship services, or do the members’ lives intersect during the week between services? Are the majority of leadership meetings held on the day of services or do these meetings take place on a different day? (Video conferencing can be utilized when it is simply too hard to physically meet.) When do outreach activities and community-building events like picnics, campouts take place? Working toward and creating a balanced rhythm to the overall schedule is crucial to church health.

What is the diet of the church? Ultimately, we should be feeding on Jesus, the Bread of Life. This is why we have some of our best writers creating sermon outlines for the cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). We believe that preaching through the Bible over a three-year process creates a steady diet that is nourishing to all church members. We also promote the practice of Bible-based Small Groups because the diet of one weekly meal needs to be supplemented.

What is the spiritual exercise of the church? Exercise (working out) for Christian believers is tantamount to becoming equipped for Christian ministry. This can include formal education – I highly recommend our stellar institutions of Grace Communion Seminary and Ambassador College of Christian Ministry. Learning the art and skills of Christian ministry is more caught than it is taught, so we also strongly suggest the practice of mentoring. It is imperative that veteran ministers and ministry leaders pass along their skills and knowledge for the perpetuation of the church. If you are a veteran please find an apprentice to invest in, and if you are a new believer then search out an area of service that fits your personal interests and latent skills and dive in.

Please understand when I promote the vision of Healthy Church, I am not intending any church to assume the label of being unhealthy. All churches go through ups and downs as they attend to their health; good health is an ongoing process. When we write about church health or create ministry tools for you to use, it is based on our desire to provide support that assists you toward better health. Better ministry practices implemented over time will yield better church health. Every congregation and fellowship group is important to us and we pray all of GCI is on a path to better health.

My sentiment to you is the same as the Apostle John’s to Gaius, a beloved church member in Ephesus –

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John :1-4 ESV).

As you continue your faithful walk in the truth, which is your walk with Jesus, I will constantly pray for your congregation to be healthy and prosperous in your collective efforts to point others to Jesus.

Working toward better health,
Greg Williams

In His Steps

Dear GCI Family,

Greg and Susan Williams

While touring the most popular attraction in Charlotte, I was struck by some coincidental characteristics between myself and the personality for whom the museum was honoring. The video film introduced our main character as, “A southern farm boy from North Carolina who became a gospel preacher and worldwide evangelist.” You may have guessed that I was touring the Billy Graham Library and my “aha moment” was, “Hey, I too am a southern farm boy from North Carolina, and a preacher of the gospel.” It feels good to associate with the likes of Billy Graham (though I don’t have any notions of filling stadiums as he did).

Over the course of the tour I saw more insights into Graham that intrigued me. He had a friendly relationship with every US President from Harry Truman forward. There were pictures of him playing tennis and golf with a few presidents. There were other shots with him at retreat sites or their personal properties, like Lyndon Johnson’s farm in Texas, or George Bush’s vacation home in Maine. Billy Graham was active, athletic and a rather “normal” guy who was good company to presidents and ordinary people alike. I aspire to be rather normal myself.

During his long and storied life of 99 years, Graham displayed humility. He readily admitted that his wife Ruth was a better Bible student than he was. He touted Ruth as being his chief spiritual counselor throughout his ministry. Again, I felt a kinship with him knowing just how important Susan is to me.

Another similarity is that Billy Graham’s greatest attribute was pointing others to Jesus. At his best, Graham was simply reflecting the Jesus in him. More than any aspiration to be like Billy Graham or any other spiritual leader, my greatest aspiration is to be like Jesus. I’m sure this is your aspiration as well.

In several gospel accounts, Jesus was a regular party guest, and I bet he would have fit very well into the social scene of spending time with the presidents of our modern era. Both Matthew and Luke identify Jesus as a “friend of sinners,” and they add glutton and drunkard to their critical review. Ironically, the “friend of sinners” label was meant as a criticism and yet it is one of the highest compliments awarded Jesus. I hope the same label will be awarded to the leadership of GCI. It is a mystery how religious people want their leaders to be other-worldly instead of approachable and likable.

The apostle Peter challenges believers to be like Jesus and to follow in his steps. In his first letter, he reminds us we have been called to be like Jesus in our patient endurance, especially in the light of unmerited suffering. What!?! How am I supposed to do that in a world that has programmed me to stand up for my rights and to fight back against any type of abusive treatment? It is only in the vicarious humanity of Christ that I find the strength to walk in his steps; it is Jesus who has saved me from sin and death, and only him living in me can empower me to endure the struggles of this life.

Following in the steps of Jesus is different from the typical protégé coming along behind a senior mentor and trying to follow his or her pattern of life. Following Jesus is also more than reading about Jesus in the pages of the Bible and then, through our determination and human effort, striving somehow to be like him. Following in the steps of Jesus means actively walking with him, in communion, continually relying on him, and becoming more and more like him in this Christian journey known as sanctification.

The bottom line is that Jesus is more than a historical example. He is the God-Man who is real, relational, and desires to make his home in every single human. Following Jesus means more than admiring him and hoping to be like him. It means participating with him and coming to the realization that we can do all things only through him (Phil 4:13; John 15:5).

From this southern farm boy who shares some commonalities with the late Billy Graham, allow me to echo the sentiment of pointing you to a day-by-day vibrant relationship with your Lord and Savior, Jesus. As the great evangelist said, “I have never known anyone to accept Christ’s redemption and later regret it.”

Walking with him,

Greg Williams