Ever since Billy Graham died, the question of a successor has inhabited the minds and curiosities of many folks. But another question has also been making the rounds, will there be another Billy Graham? Of course the predictable responses focuses on the changed media environment that might prevent such a pivotal figure to be raised up again or the changed social environment that might make it hard for even a worthy figure to gain the ear of the people. What I find most curious is not if there will be another Billy Graham but why we think we need one singular individual to rescue us from the abyss of skeptical modernity, individualism, secularism, preoccupation with sex and gender, immorality, and despair? Do we not already have the One whom God has raised up to rescue us from our enemies without and within?
It is great to have profound and eloquent leaders who can sense the moment, reach into the hearts and minds of people, galvanize support, and lead us to a better place. I am not against such leadership. But such leaders come along once in many generations and, it often seems, they are more rare in modern times than before. Do we wait for another Billy Graham? Do we sit on our hands until another national figure comes along who can bridge the divides with a voice and presence to unite us? Does the Church sit in limbo until a mighty figure arises who transcends denominational divisions?
Speaking in general here, I wonder if we do not over estimate the impact of a single leader and under estimate the impact of many faithful folks regularly gathered around the Word and Table of our Lord and seeking, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to live in Christ the new life He has given them. I personally long for the days when we had leaders who could galvanize the attention and point the Church to the urgent cause before us. I know in my own denomination we had some mighty figures in our past. But I also know these were not isolated people. They did not live or act alone. There were many anonymous folks through whom the impact of these leaders was measured and it was and still is easy to over estimate the impact of the one and underestimate the impact of the many whose names and work we do not know.
There was no Walther or Behnken or Luther who brought me to the waters of baptism and saw to it that I learned the Catechism and Scripture and was brought to the Table of the Lord. My parents, extended family, Sunday school teachers, and pastor did that. The most profound shapers of my spiritual life as a child and youth and young adult were not people who held official offices or whose names were even known beyond a fairly small circle of people. In that, the situation has not changed today.
Though many place great expectations on our big name leaders and hold them responsible for things beyond their power and blame them when things do not go as they should, the real work of the Kingdom is done locally in homes where faithful parents teach their children well and in small classrooms where Sunday school teachers teach the great stories of the Bible and in hours spent memorizing the catechism and in the many Sundays in the pew (where Word, liturgy, sermon, and sacrament provide profound catechesis) and in conversations with the saints whose word and example testifies to Christ.
I am not saying we do not need great leaders. We do. But the future is written not by great leaders but by faithful single people, faithful spouses, faithful parents, faithful church workers, faithful volunteers, and faithful servants of Christ wherever God has placed them. Once we begin to believe this and act accordingly, the work of the Kingdom will not only benefit but we will have better leaders because we will be shaping them starting right now before anybody knows who they are.