A feature article in People Magazine was a big deal for Will Graham three decades ago when his father, Franklin, showed up at his elementary school class to take him to a family photo shoot for the publication.
Although Graham doesn't like to read his "own press," the evangelist grandson of renowned Billy Graham admits that appearing in this week's edition of the celebrity-focused magazine was also "huge."
Two other third-generation members of the Graham family are in Christian ministry as well. However with lesser known last names, People may have decided to stick with a name everyone knows in choosing to do the story on him, Graham said.
"I think they decided there might be a bit of a disconnect between [the cousins'] last name and the Graham name so I think that kind of led to me by default," Graham, 37, told The Christian Post Friday. "It's not that I am any better than my cousins or anything like that, but I think it's just because my last name was easier for other people to understand when they read it – the connection with my grandfather."
The People interview with Graham was done in October and only now published. While getting the word out to the media about the People feature on him and his evangelism, the humble preacher from North Carolina said he feels "like a fish out of water."
"This isn't my territory. I'm very grateful for being in People magazine – it's huge, but it's just not something I'm used to," he explained. "I know this doesn't sound right, but I don't want to believe my own press. It feels very awkward for me to read my own press. I have read this (People article), but normally I don't read it."
In the early '80s the magazine did a story on his dad, also an evangelist who now leads Samaritan's Purse.
"My father came and got me out of school, which was a big deal because my dad never came to my school," he recalled. "He took me out of class, which I thought was kind of special when my dad showed up in my classroom."
Graham and his father are part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a worldwide ministry that includes stadium outreach events much like those done by their famous patriarch.
BGEA events led by the younger Graham will be in Texas over the next couple of weeks, then in Canada, and Australia.
"Obviously, my granddaddy has done it longer than anybody else out there right now. Not that he's behind the pulpit anymore, but he's been behind the pulpit almost 70 years of his life," he said. "He's got a lot of experience on what to do and what not to do. With that experience we have a great team that's learned over the years how to do things better."
Asked about how he engages today's culture, much of it exposed in People, when reaching out to people for Jesus, Graham said, "I always try to make sure that anything I'm preaching on is relevant, especially in my illustrations and examples about what is going on in the world today. I'm not sure I'm the best at it. There are a lot of better ones than me. I guess I can maybe start flipping through the pages (of People) here and start looking for other sermon illustrations."
He was asked by CP to describe his preaching style.
"In all honesty, people ask me if I am more like my granddaddy or my dad. I hope I got the best of both of them. They both preach very similar. We preach from the Bible. We try to always use current events, what's going on, to help illustrate the points that we are talking about in the Bible because we believe the Bible is very relevant to each and every generation," he explained.
"So, I'm not sure if there is a set pattern I follow after, but obviously my dad and my granddad had a huge influence in my life just because I've been around them so much. I'm sure that by default I kind of follow after them, but I am not trying to pattern after being another Billy Graham or pattern to be a Franklin Graham," he said.
"It's just when you are related to them and hang out with them, naturally those kinds of things rub off on your life. I'm grateful for great role models."
Describing his upcoming evangelistic events, Graham said his theme is always the same – "Jesus and what He did upon the cross and how that changes everything in our life."
"He's willing to forgive us of our sin if we come to Him by faith and believe that He did this for us and accept it. Jesus will change everything in your life. He will give you a new hope, a new beginning, and a fresh start in life. I just want to take that and point people to Jesus because I can't save anybody," he said.
"There's nothing that Will Graham did to help anybody. I just want to point people to Jesus. He's the one that died for our sins, died on the cross in our place. It's because of what happened on the cross that we can have eternal life.
"When I do my preaching I always try to literally always go to the cross – get there as fast as I can," he added.
While Graham does not like to go public with his political opinions, he did tell CP that the state of the nation is "kind of a mixed bag."
"Obviously, what we see on the TV, probably both [political] sides see a lot of things going on that they don't like. Whether it's politically, economically, whatever it might be, there's a lot of things that people are getting upset about and I think that's why it's even more important to preach the Gospel," he insisted. "At the same time, I see a lot of great things going on, especially among churches, among Christian people.
"There's a lot of good things going on and a lot of times the focus is on the bad things, and that's understandable," he said. "I just keep pointing people back to Jesus. He can make sense of a lot of the garbage in our life and stuff we have to go through."