Billy Graham had experienced success as a Youth for Christ evangelist when, at age 31, he was ready to launch out on his own. In 1948 he met with three men who would be his partners in evangelistic crusades, Bev Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows. In a Modesto, California motel, he challenged them to take one hour, go to their rooms, and come back with a list of any possible problems that could sabotage their effectiveness.

When they returned, their lists were remarkably similar. Their discussion led them to agree on a set of standards designed to protect the integrity of their ministry. Their pact, although never published, came to be known as the Modesto Manifesto. And observing those guidelines kept Graham from corruption and scandal for almost six decades after that.

Three Temptations

The Manifesto’s key points are still significant for Christian leaders today.

• The group admitted the ever-present opportunity for sexual impropriety. Graham decided from that time forward he would never be alone with a woman other than his wife—not at a meal, not at a meeting, not in a car. Not only would this keep him accountable, but it would also quash any possibility of false accusation.

• The group set standards for handling and distributing money. Although they depended on donations for their salaries, they would not engage in manipulative offering appeals. And they set up systems for financial accountability.

• And then they considered how easy it would be to exaggerate their accomplishments, especially attendance at their crusades. So they set a policy to accept police estimates of crowd sizes, even if they felt sure the numbers were larger than the official count. And they did not label every responder to the invitation hymn as a convert, but instead simply as an inquirer.

As my personal Bible study took me to Genesis 3 a few weeks ago, I remembered the Modesto Manifesto. Graham and his team, perhaps inadvertently, agreed to protect themselves against the three temptations that undid Adam and Eve.

Eve wanted to taste the fruit, with its promise of a delicious thrill.

She saw that it was beautiful, and she wanted it for herself.

She knew it would give her wisdom, making her like God.

Toward the end of the New Testament, John mentions these same three temptations, calling them the “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). If one of these doesn’t get you, Satan will surely test you with another of them. And if you don’t believe you could fall, you’re probably most vulnerable of all.


Call It What It Is

God warned us about these three because he knows they can be the undoing of any believer. Including Christian leaders. Maybe especially Christian leaders.

I’ve seen so many leaders fall in the last five or six years. I understand how it can happen. The leader gets so wrapped up in the work of ministry, he forgets what and who the ministry is for. I know from my own experience how easy it is to read Scripture—even to teach and preach Scripture—but not to engage with it personally.

I’ve seen this happen with volunteer leaders in the local church. Here’s a guy who was positive and engaged, and now he has become critical and hostile and maybe absent. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, he’s trying to hide from God and deny his sin.

We all come up with excuses. We try to blame others for our choices or call our sin something else. But Mark Moore, in his Core 52 Bible survey, calls sin mutiny.

Maybe the defense against falling to sin is calling it what it is. It’s not just a bad choice. It’s not just a little slip. It’s not just me being me.

Sin is a repudiation of God’s right to set the standards and make the rules for my life. It’s mutiny.

God will forgive it. He forgave Adam and Eve. But they had to bear the awful consequences for their failure while they remained on earth. The same always happens to us. And that’s what I’m remembering again as I consider the temptations that could have undone Billy Graham if he had let them, temptations to a mutiny that confronts me—and every Christian leader—every week.