Gigi Graham, the eldest daughter of Evangelist Billy Graham, shared her impressions of what a true leader looks like during this season’s first Christian Women in Leadership Luncheon hosted by the National Christian Foundation at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale in September. Witnessing her father’s life as a counselor to presidents and heads of state, Gigi said she realized “People are either leaders or followers. Daddy made a decision early on to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and it was a very strategic choice to be a follower first and let God lead.”
Speaking of her paternal grandfather, Gigi said, “He was a dairy farmer who led a simple, hard-working life. One day my grandfather decided to hold a revival tent meeting on his land. They prayed and out of that Daddy was raised up to go out around the world.”
Thinking back, Gigi said, “I never heard Dad criticize. If someone came to him with a critique, he did not get defensive; he listened for some way he might improve.”
An extremely humble man, Gigi said her father admits mistakes and asks advice. He looks at the big vision and allows others to do, keeping an eye on things but not micromanaging.
“When it comes to leadership, — whether it’s in a home, business, law firm or wherever — there is a focus needed. Daddy never lost focus.” As an example of this, Gigi shared that when they recently informed her father that he had received another award for his work, he replied, “We need to focus on the cross and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Women set the tone
“If it were not for having a strong woman by his side, my father could never have accomplished all that he did,” Gigi said of Ruth Graham Bell, her mother.
“The Bell women were all hard-headed, strong women who came up through the era of submissiveness,” Gigi explained. She remembered one time when Ruth said to her husband, Billy Graham, “I’d be embarrassed to admit I’d married a woman whose advice I couldn’t take.”
There was always a lot of humor, fun and adventure in the Graham home, according to Gigi. She credits her mother for being a tone setter in the home. “With all of the travelling that my father did, I never heard my mother complain. She would say, ‘Let’s prepare for Daddy coming back again.’”
An avid journaler, Gigi said her mother “shared with her pen the sorrows, doubts and discouragement, but with us she shared her encouragement.”
Facing depression and loneliness
As a mother and wife, however, Gigi admittedly faced her own struggles with depression and loneliness. “At first I felt guilty and shameful because as Christians why should we be depressed, but my husband explained it’s not a spiritual problem but a chemical imbalance. If you suffer, get help,” she advised.
Depression is often triggered by the loss of a friend, marriage or loved one and for some it is chronic. “If David had perfect peace, we wouldn’t have the Psalms,” Gigi reassured.
When speaking of her thoughts on the tragedy of suicide in the Christian community, Gigi said she believes, “Some God calls home and others He welcomes.”
Meeting challenges with love
How do the Grahams deal with challenges and failures? Gigi is quick to explain, “Our family doesn’t have a Teflon umbrella over it that keeps us from the darts of the enemy.”
Billy Graham currently has 41 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, according to Gigi, and she said “A family that big is bound to have some mistakes, failures and wrong decisions. As the patriarch, Daddy handled every situation with humility and graciousness. He was not judgmental. Over the years I would call to tell him things, and he would always answer with prayer and love.”
And the Grahams have had a few prodigals. Gigi’s brother, Franklin Graham, shares his journey in the autobiography Rebel with a Cause, and her son, Tullian Tchividjian, currently senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, once ran away from home as a teen and was found hiding behind a dumpster near the church he now leads. “God definitely has a sense of humor,” Gigi remarked lightheartedly.
In response to those who lose their way, Gigi said she believes, “It is our job to love, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and God’s job to judge.”
She learned that it is also important to be vulnerable. “When Tullian ran away, I was devastated. I wept on a park bench and prayed, ‘Lord, I need to feel your presence,’ but at that time I did not feel Him there.” In the next 24 hours as her friends heard the news of her situation, she received an outpouring of support from her church family. Finally she was able to pray, “Thank you for revealing yourself to me through the body of Christ.”
For those who have a prodigal child, Gigi recommends reading their stories in the book Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, written by Ruth Bell Graham.
Advice for leaders
As a final word of advice to women in leadership, Gigi recommends having a few white spaces available on the calendar so you can be available and always remaining approachable.
The next Christian Women in Leadership event will be held on November 14 at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale’s Global Event Center. Christian Women in Leadership is designed for women in leadership positions in the workplace, in the church and in the community to gather for networking, fellowship and to learn from godly speakers. For more information, visit www.christianwomeninleadership.com.