Compass Bearings: Billy Graham, Lon Allison, and You

I was invited to attend the private memorial service for Billy Graham. Well, as private as it can be when millions of others join by television.

It was not a particularly sad service. At age ninety-nine, Dr. Graham was in declining health and his passing was a release into the vibrancy of eternal life. I was grateful to represent the Covenant in remembering a humble person who loved family, lived with integrity, cared for the poor, opened early doors for integration, and unashamedly proclaimed the gospel of new life in Christ.

I sat next to my good friends Lon and Marie Allison. Lon, a Covenant pastor, was formerly the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He was well acquainted with Dr. Graham and has written a new book about his life.

Prior to that, Lon served as director of evangelism for the Covenant. He mobilized Bringing My World to Christ, a three-dimensional approach that became known as prayer-care-share: pray for the ones you long to see come to faith in Christ, extend care to them, and then have the eyes to see God-given opportunities to share the good news. Bringing My World to Christ helped shape, nurture, and spur on the Covenant’s heart for evangelism. The simple prayer-care-share rubric has been borrowed and used throughout the world by many other groups.

Central to the heart of the Covenant is to see people introduced to Jesus.

While variations on that approach have adapted through the years, our motivation has not. Central to the heart of the Covenant is to see people introduced to Jesus. Quite simply, our heart is that children, youth, and adults alike would know God’s love, grow in God’s love, and unleash that love to the world. I myself am one such person, having been introduced to Jesus in a Covenant church as a high-school student.

Through our Make and Deepen Disciples mission priority, executive minister Michelle Sanchez, and current director of evangelism Beth Seversen, we now call our relational evangelism emphasis BLESS. This spring hundreds of churches are presenting tens of thousands of names in hopes of seeing those named come to faith in Jesus. Encourage your church to participate.

While BLESS is ostensibly about how each individual might have the eyes to see the relational opportunities God opens, it is also about our collective mission. God has placed you in lives where he has not placed me, and vice versa. And on it goes until God’s kingdom is deployed into varying relational networks for God’s purposes.

Cumulatively we have more relationships, more cultural acuity, more socioeconomic diversity, more geographic spread, better insight, more expertise, more heart languages, and more responsiveness than we would have on our own. Because we are more, we can do more. And so my question: do you own the fact that God has strategically placed you where you are because he has something for you to do and someone for you to touch?

I have no question whether all our intentions are good. But as former Covenant president Milton Engebretson was fond of saying, “If evangelism is not the first priority, it will quickly become no priority at all.” He rightly observed that the press of other things will crowd out our efforts if we are not intentional.

As I prepare to retire this summer, my deep hope is that the temperature for evangelism will be strong and rising. I say this actually on behalf of those who do not yet know Christ—but who will as a result of faithful Covenant people. Prayer, care, share—and hang in there.

And would you pray for our good friends the Allisons? Lon has been diagnosed with serious liver cancer. The battle is mighty, and so he is battling mightily in the strength of the Lord. He will be blessed knowing of your prayers—and of your commitment to reaching out to those who do not yet know Christ.

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  1. Hi Gary, Having been raised in the Covenant Church, and for many years been out of contact with it due to my profession, we, my wife Louella and I are very happy to be back in fellowship with it. The Lord has blessed our fellowship in this church and we believe your leadership has been a very important part of what we are. God bless you.

    Paul and Louella Hanson

  2. Gary, Thank you for reminding us of the significance of lives lived intentionally loving those far from God in deed and word–integrating gospel restoration and gospel proclamation. May we live out the missional impulse of introducing people to Jesus that both you and Lon Allison faithfully embedded and fueled in our Covenant identity.

  3. When I was a lad, I saw a Billy Graham Crusade in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I believe he was living in Minnesota at the time. His audience and his platform were both integrated, which was a rare thing at the time. I greatly respected Billy Graham. I wish I could say the same thing about his son, Franklin, who moved south and appeals greatly to racists and bigots.

    I graduated from North College in 1963, and I loved my experience there.

  4. Thanks for this article, Gary. Our prayers are with Lon and his family. May our Lord’s healing peace surround him. Our prayers are also with you as you march on into your retirement; having been there for twenty years now, I can tell you that you will find many and, perhaps, surprising opportunities for serving our Lord. Yes, the pace may slow down a bit, but the opportunities will be there. May our Lord continue to bless and guide you in the time ahead.

  5. Thank you Presiedent Walter for your comments. Also thank you for your years of leading the Evangelical these years. As you now retire. I am sure you will be doing best what you do sharing the love of Jesus and inviting others to receive him. Reynold Samundsen

  6. Your leadership and observations are most appreciated. Thank you again for your impact on our lives. Our prayers and blessing follow you into retirement.
    Lon and Marie are also in our prayers as they face difficult and uncertain days. Thank You, Lord, for their continued fruitful ministry!

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