8: Ken Blanchard

8: Ken Blanchard

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 8 •
KEN BLANCHARD

Bestselling author, business management and leadership consultant, co-author of The One Minute Manager and co-founder of the Lead Like Jesus ministries

In July 1957, just after I finished high school in New Rochelle, New York, my mother took me to Billy Graham’s enormous celebration at Yankee Stadium. An estimated 100,000 people attended, the largest crowd the stadium had ever held. The event was part of Billy’s New York crusade, in which he preached six nights a week for sixteen weeks in Madison Square Garden, reaching maybe two million people. The crowd at Yankee Stadium was so huge that people could not come down to the stadium floor to make their commitment as they usually did. Instead, people had to raise their hands.

My mom, who was faith-based and thought Billy Graham was special, made sure we left early so we could get in. Despite the numbers, the atmosphere was amazingly peaceful and polite, quite unlike the crowd at baseball games, where people did a lot of pushing and shoving and tooted their horns.

I am a very active believer now, but I was struggling with faith at the time. I was named after a Presbyterian minister and went to Sunday school. However, nobody got me too excited about Jesus when I was young, so in junior high I switched to the Methodist church because it had a better basketball team. I had drifted away by the time I was eighteen, but going to that meeting made me really think about my faith. Even though I had partly turned my back on the church, I had never turned my back on God. Hearing Billy’s love for the Lord and experiencing what he was doing at the stadium had a powerful impact on me. That fall, I went off to college and separated a bit, but I never forgot that time in the stadium and the way Billy Graham mesmerized the crowd.

My wife and I married when we were in our early twenties. We were idealists and, having witnessed a lot of hypocrisy in churches, we turned our backs on the church. I didn’t reunite significantly until my book The One Minute Manager came out in 1982. Spencer Johnson, my co-author, and I appeared on the Today show on Labor Day in 1982, and the next week our book made the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for two or three years. People started asking why the book was so successful, and I could only answer, “It must be God somewhere.” The book was wildly popular, and I knew it was not because of me. That’s when I remembered Billy Graham’s humility.

He is one of those people who act as if nobody else in the world matters when you are with them. He focuses completely on you and what is happening in your life. Some years ago, I was on a program with Billy and I had a chance to sit with him at lunch. I was traveling a lot at the time, and asked Billy how he remained so faithful to his marriage, given all his time away from home. He told me that his wife was his best friend. Also, he had a rule that he would never have lunch or meet with a woman without a third person present. He said he did not want to give even a hint that something was going on, which impressed me deeply.

My wife and I recently celebrated our fiftieth anniversary, and I have found that when you recognize your spouse as your closest friend, your relationship flourishes. My conversation with Billy made it clear that he and his wife were best buddies.

I saw Billy at a second crusade at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 2003 and once again, the atmosphere blew me away. It had been over fifty years since I had participated in one of those gatherings, and I witnessed the same peacefulness in San Diego that I had at Yankee Stadium. Though he was much older, Billy radiated the same spark, excitement, and compassion as when I first saw him.

In contrast to many other speakers, Billy’s sermons were never canned; they came from his heart. He loved God and Jesus absolutely and wanted to share that with people. He wanted everybody to have the joy that he felt in receiving the Lord’s grace and realizing that God so loved us that He sent His Son down to die for us.

I have been around only a few people of Billy’s stature who are truly selfless. No matter how many people admire him, he never lets that get in the way. He has remained a child of God. When he finally graduates, a lot of people in this country — no matter what their faith — will be sad, because they are raving fans of this humble man.

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