Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Figurehead Founder Part 1 of 4

To glimpse Graham's dynamic leadership style, look no further than his founding of Christianity Today magazine.
Billy Graham was the founder of Christianity Today magazine.
To most people, that fact brings little more than a shrug. Billy's biographers chronicle many significant achievements, and founding CT is one on a long list.
But go back 50 years to the context in which he founded CT, and the case could be made that this particular achievement was both unique and improbable. How likely is the following scenario?
A young evangelist, best known for preaching to large crowds and often accused by academics and mainstream church leaders of oversimplifying the gospel, dreams of founding an "intellectually credible" publication. From a broad constituency of fundamentalists and evangelicals distrustful of scholarship, the then-38-year-old evangelist convenes a diverse group of national leaders, including titans of business, renowned scholars, and influential ministers. Their goal: to produce a thoughtful publication rooted in historic Christianity to address "the current crisis." At its launch, they distribute it "fortnightly" to all clergy and theological students in the nation, gaining wide impact and recognition. Described for decades afterward as a cross between Time and The Atlantic, it immediately exerts significant influence both nationally and internationally.
So what transformed Graham's improbable idea into a reality? Was this a perfect storm of positive dynamics, or a driving force moving mountains against all odds? Where did this self-described farm boy get the vision and passion to launch CT, and how did he persuade so many to give so much to sustain it for the next five-plus decades?
The Missing Rallying Point
When the trustees of Christianity Today brought me on as CEO in 1975, I was aware of Billy's connection with the magazine but not his role as founder and sustainer. At that time, the magazine was in a financial crisis. The board realized that its hybrid nature—"intellectually credible" yet widely circulated—presented huge editorial and marketing challenges. Should its readership drift dramatically lower to concentrate on a smaller market?
We met as trustees in the Airlie Center in Northern Virginia to evaluate CT's mandate. Harold John Ockenga was then chairman, although he often made it clear that CT was "Billy's magazine." Reaching deep into his battered brown briefcase, he searched for and finally surfaced his copy of Billy's original speech outlining the vision for CT. Ockenga stood and read the entire text.
As soon as he finished, one trustee exclaimed, "That's it!" Said another, "Remarkably prescient. That's still the essential CT, and should continue to be." For the next four decades, Graham's paper provided a detailed mandate for the magazine.
Where did that paper come from? Billy recalls in his autobiography,
About two o'clock one night in 1953, an idea raced through my mind, freshly connecting all the things I had seen and pondered about reaching a broader audience. Trying not to disturb Ruth, I slipped out of bed and into my study upstairs to write. A couple of hours later, the concept of a new magazine was complete. I thought its name should be Christianity Today. I worked out descriptions of the various departments, editorial policies, even an estimated budget. I wrote everything I could think of, both about the magazine's organization and about its purpose. … I wanted it also to be a focal point for the best in evangelical scholarship, for I knew that God was already beginning to raise up a new generation of highly trained scholars who were deeply committed to Christ and his Word.
Harold Myra was named publisher of Christianity Today by Graham in 1975. Myra retired as executive chairman in 2007 and is coauthor of The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham (Zondervan).

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