Just about everybody has heard of Billy Graham, but what about Chuck Templeton? What about Bron Clifford? Have you ever heard of them? Did you know that they were also packing our auditoriums in 1945 when Billy Graham first preached to large crowds? I want to share with you some thoughts prompted by Pastor Tommy Barnett of Phoenix. All three of these young men rose to prominence in their middle twenties. One seminary president, after hearing Chuck Templeton – a brilliant, dynamic preacher – called him the most gifted, talented young preacher in America. Templeton and Graham became very close friends. They started preaching together with the Youth For Christ organization. Most observers thought that Templeton would be the one who would go to the top. One magazine wrote a feature article calling Templeton the “Babe Ruth of evangelism”.
Bron Clifford was another gifted, young fireball evangelist. Many believed that Clifford was the most gifted powerful preacher to come up in the church for many centuries. People lined up for hours to hear him preach. When he went to Baylor University to give a discourse, they actually cut the ropes off the bells of the tower. They wanted nothing to interfere with his preaching. For two and one half-hours the students of Baylor sat on the edges of their seats as he gave a dissertation on “Christ and the Philosopher’s Stone.” At age 25, Clifford touched more lives, influenced more leaders and set more attendance records that any other clergyman in American history. National leaders vied for his attention. He was tall, handsome, dashing, sophisticated and intelligent. Hollywood actually tried to cast him in the lead role for the famous movie, “The Robe”. He seemed to have everything.
Graham, Templeton, and Clifford launched out of the starting blocks like Olympic gold medallists in 1945. Why haven’t you heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? The answer might surprise you.
By 1950 Templeton had left the ministry. He pursued a radio career. He became an announcer and a newscaster, telling the world that he no longer believed Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He became an atheist. By 1950, this future Babe Ruth of preaching was not even in the ball game!
By 1954 Clifford had lost his family, ministry and health. Eventually he lost his life because of addiction to alcohol. Financial irresponsibility left his wife and their two Downs syndrome children penniless. This once famous preacher dies of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 35 in a rundown hotel on the edge of Amarillo, Texas. He died a pitiful, dishonorable and unsung death. Some pastors from Amarillo, Texas got together and collected enough money to buy a cheap casket. They shipped his body back to the East Coast, where he was buried in a pauper’s cemetery.
In 1945 all three of these men with extraordinary gifts were preaching for the purpose of multiplying the church by thousands of people. But within 10 years only one of them was still on track for Christ.
In Christian life it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish! A recent survey shocked me; it reported that only one out of ten who start in ministry at the age of 21 serve the Lord to age 65. They fall away from ministry due to immorality, pride, discouragement, liberal theology and a love for wealth and the things of this world. Here is my question to you today –
WILL YOU FINISH STRONG FOR CHRIST?