Billy Graham’s First Sermon

If you are new to the task of preaching you can take encouragement from the following story. No matter how badly it goes, you never know. God might be preparing you to bring a generation from across the world to obedience to Christ!

In the early spring of 1937, at Easter, Dr. Minder invited me to accompany him on the 150-mile ride to his summer conference grounds at Lake Swan in northern Florida, a 150-acre property owned by his family. While there on a cold, blustery Saturday, we got together in nearby Palatka with his friend Cecil Underwood, a lay preacher who was pastoring Peniel Baptist Church five miles to the west.

Out of the blue, Mr. Underwood asked Dean Minder if he would mind preaching for him the following evening at a small Baptist church in Bostwick, for which Mr. Underwood had taken responsibility.

“No,” he answered, “Billy is going to preach.”

I was stunned. My repertoire at the timee consisted of about four borrowed sermons, which I had adapted and practiced but never preached. This would be different from the old Fellowship Club meetings in Charlotte, There I just got up and “let them have it.” But in a strange church – a Baptist one at that – what would I do?

When I told Mr. Underwood that I had never preached a formal sermon in front of a church audience, he and Dean Minder both laughed.

“We’ll pray for you,” said Mr. Underwood, “and God will help you.”

“All right,” I agreed rather hesitantly.

What else could I say to the dean of my school? But I was so frightenend that I spent the night studying and praying instead of sleeping. I did the same most of the next day, practicing aloud. By evening I felt confident that any one of my sermons should be good for atleast twenty or thirty minutes.

The meeting room was small, with a potbellied iron stove near the front to take the chill off that cold, windy night. The song leader, who chewed tobacco, had to go to the door every so often to spit outside; he could have used the stove just as conveniently. The congregation of about 40 included ranchers and cowboys in overalls and their women in cotton wash dresses.

When the moment came to walk to the pulpit in the tiny Bostwick Baptist Church, my knees shook and perspiration glistened on my hands. I launched into sermon number one. It seemed to be over almost as soon as I got started, so I added number two. And number three. And eventually number four. Then I sat down.

Eight minutes – that was all it took to preach all four of my sermons! Was this the stuff of which those marvelous preachers at Florida Bible Institute were made?

Billy, Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), 48,49


One thought on “Billy Graham’s First Sermon

  1. As a young preacher, this was such an encouragement to me. I was saved under the preaching of Billy Graham. He has always been a hero in my eyes. Sometimes when you set out to preach, you think it will go an hour, and it lasts ten minutes. You scratch your head afterward and wonder what happened to my sermon? I think the Lord does this to keep us humble 🙂

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