Graham, who has led the Dallas-area Prestonwood to become one of the country's largest churches, thanked the congregation for the privilege of being their pastor yet made it clear that the celebration was not about him.
"I say this is a Jesus church; it's His church…. Our focus is on Him; He is the one we adore; He is the one we proclaim; He is the one we love," said Graham, 63, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2002-04. "All of this is for Him, and Him alone, for He is worthy of all our praise."
Graham recounted the story of the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem when He was going to give His life on the cross. People greeted Jesus with praise and adoration and "hosannas."
"That donkey was smart enough to know that the praise and the applause were not for him," Graham said. "I'm just a donkey carrying the message of Jesus."
In the quarter-century that Graham has led Prestonwood, much has changed. The church has grown from 8,000 members to more than 37,000 members and from one campus to three campuses, in Plano, Prosper and Dallas. In the past 25 years, more than 19,000 people have been baptized and more than 15,000 members of the church have served on mission trips throughout the country and world.
At the same time, however, little has changed.
"The message is the same," Graham said. "I'm still preaching the message of the Gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ."
Graham, in an interview, spoke about the past, the present and the future as Prestonwood's pastor.
BP: How would you describe the past 25 years at Prestonwood?
GRAHAM: God has exceeded all I could have ever imagined. … When I came to Prestonwood, I knew the promise for great growth. It was in a great community. When I got here, the people of Prestonwood understood that they existed for those who were not yet here. I found a congregation that was already growing and had just been through a difficult time with the resignation of the pastor. It was just a matter of allowing the church to heal and providing new leadership. It was risky. I was in West Palm Beach and our church was growing and I was hopeful to stay there for my entire ministry, but this call was so compelling, and truly the people of Prestonwood prayed us here.
There was never a strategic plan for this, no big vision. I remember one of the members of the pastor search committee asking me what would be my vision for Prestonwood, and I answered, "I have no idea. But I do know that if we preach and teach God's Word and are committed to reaching people for Christ locally, nationally and internationally, then God will help us to grow."
BP: How would you describe the relationship between you and the church family?
GRAHAM: I always have to be careful what I ask of our people because they are so ready to do whatever is needed to reach others for Christ. When we look at what God has done, this has not been the result of the work of a few but the sacrifice of many. We've had struggles along the way and difficulties to overcome, but every time, this church has responded to the challenge and the people have trusted in God and His faithfulness. The celebration of our church and what we've done together truly have been the work of the Holy Spirit and the faithfulness of God. I stand amazed at what has happened here.
BP: What is the focus of Prestonwood right now?
GRAHAM: Jesus said to be fishers of men, and we just keep a lot of hooks in the water. We refuse to be happy with where we are. Until the last person within the scope of our influence is won for Christ, our mission is not complete. We will continue to make the Great Commission our mission, so we will stay externally focused -- whether that is locally or expanding our global outreach.
BP: What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the Christian church today?
GRAHAM: Our greatest challenge is complacency and the lukewarmness that Jesus talked about to the church at Laodicea. I would also say we are facing great challenges to religious liberty, which will be increasingly more difficult on the church. But I am confident the message will prevail and the church will advance despite obstacles, but it's becoming more difficult and challenging in this generation. I don't want it to happen on our watch. I don't want to have to say to our grandchildren that we failed to stand up and speak up for the freedoms and faith that we hold so dearly.
BP: What would you like your legacy to be?
GRAHAM: I've always said that it's not about leaving a legacy but living a legacy. I want to be faithful with the resources God has given us -- "to whom much is given, much is required." I want my family and my children's children to carry on the message of faith. The apostle Paul said, "I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord." I want to finish my course with joy. Unfortunately, you see too many ministers who end up joyless in life. I want to be joyful in the ministry that I've been given and that I'm ready to pass the baton to someone else when the time comes.
GRAHAM: I don't have a lot of regrets. Sure, there are some things that I would have done differently but the good hand of God has been upon us and He's led us all the way. I've never wanted to do anything but be a pastor. If I had 1,000 lives to live, I would live every one of them for Jesus and doing what He called me to do.
BP: What are you thinking about in terms of the future for you?
GRAHAM: Games are won or lost in the late innings or in the fourth quarter. I want to finish well and be remembered as a person who was faithful to the calling God gave me so long ago. I expect to do more teaching internationally next year. I spoke in China, Romania and the Dominican Republic over the past year and will be going to India and Brazil in the coming year. We have great young ministers in place at Prestonwood, so I am able to go abroad to teach a new generation of leaders and train pastors on the mission field. It will become a natural transition when I'm no longer the pastor here. But I intend to keep preaching as long as God gives me breath.
Berta Delgado-Young is editor in Prestonwood Baptist Church's communications ministry. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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