94: Jud Wilhite

94: Jud Wilhite

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 94 •

Bestselling author, pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the largest churches in the U.S.

When I first decided I was going into the ministry I had major self-confidence issues. Could I do this? Could I speak? Would anybody care? I was wrestling with these issues and even thinking that maybe I should just do something else. This was around the spring of 1991, about two years after I came to faith.

Then I heard a pastor speak about Billy Graham, and what he said has stuck with me all these years. It seems that when Billy Graham was young he had the desire to preach, but nobody would listen to him. This was exactly where I was at the time. I had the desire and the passion to preach, but I also had fear and anxiety about it.

I later learned that when Billy Graham was young he would practice preaching to trees, and while taking long walks through the countryside he’d often sense God’s presence and would feel that instead of trees, his audience would one day be people.

That story showed me the importance of just doing something. I thought, if Billy Graham of all people can go out back and speak to the trees, then I can speak to ten elderly people at a little retirement community and find a level of contentment in that. And that’s exactly what I started to do. I started to go to a retirement area and lead a little service there for people. It was a catalyst for my preaching.

During these early years I was trying to figure out how to help people who wanted to become Christians. Different churches do things differently, as do different traditions, and I don’t believe there’s a right way and a wrong way for a communicator to invite somebody to place their faith and trust in Jesus.

I remember giving a message, and at the end of it, I said, “Well, if anybody wants to be a Christian, why don’t you stand up?” Nobody stood up. I waited and waited and still nobody stood up.

I walked out thinking, Well, that didn’t work. It was horribly embarrassing. And so I thought about Billy Graham’s approach — every head bowed, every eye closed. I’ve seen numerous pastors take that sort of approach at the end of a message, like Billy Graham would do at the end of a crusade.

So the next week I used that approach, and everything went so much better. People who wanted to take that step of faith in their life felt they could do it in a way that wasn’t quite so intense for them. After that, I never looked back.

Those early years were really formative for me. I can still see even today the influence Billy Graham had on me. I pretty much took Billy Graham’s playbook, and I still use it for the way that he invites people to come to faith and to accept Christ into their lives.

Whether I am preaching at one of our five churches or giving a talk on our online ministry, I still carry the inspiration that I received when hearing that story about a young Billy Graham speaking to the trees when he thought no one else would listen to him. It was really foundational for me. It inspired in me the realization that when you have something in you that you believe God has put there, you simply have to get it out. Even if you’re not sure that others will accept it. Like Billy Graham, you just think, “This is what I’m called to do,” and you have to do it.

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