Four Life Lessons from the Funeral of Cliff Barrows
Billy Graham’s long-time song leader and choir director remembered in North Carolina

I was at Cliff Barrows’ funeral.

In ways I did not expect, the service moved me. Surprisingly, it was not because of the music (although it was amazing), but because of the life that was celebrated.

I posted a clip of the music, and you can watch it here.

However, it was after hearing some of the tributes, uttered above the pine box that was—by Barrows’ request—his casket, I texted this to my new Chicago accountability group:

I’m at Cliff Barrows’ funeral right now, struck by how people talk of him—his character, how he loved his family, his integrity, he was not about himself, he focused on Jesus. One day, it will be us in the wooden box. May people speak that way of me—and of us. Anyway, it was on my heart and I thought I’d share it with my new friends.

I was struck by several things at the funeral. In short, Cliff Barrows’ death made me think about my life. That’s what the funeral of a good man does.

Here are a few things I was reminded of during the funeral, followed by some exhortations to follow.

1. Most clearly, Cliff was not about Cliff.

One of the speakers said that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association originally had the name “Barrows” in it. (According to Graham’s memoirs, it was called the Graham / Barrows Campaigns.)

As the speaker at the funeral explained, one of the business leaders/supporters suggested that the ministry would be more effective if named the “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.” Cliff quickly agreed and never spoke of it again.

Cliff was about the mission of Jesus Christ. He was a preacher who gave that up to serve on a team that already had a preacher.

Like Cliff Barrows, may we live our lives in ways that are not focused on ourselves.

2. Cliff was all about others.

Cliff wasn’t one of those important people who didn’t have the time or patience to deal with the “little people” (as some call others). He lived his life differently, taking the time to be with all people, making everyone he met feel special.

One of the speakers said he did not consider himself special, but treated everyone “specially.”

Throughout his funeral, people kept speaking of the random acts of kindness he would do for those he knew and those he met.

Like Cliff Barrows, may we live lives that bless others.

3. Cliff was in a community.

This was deeply convicting to me, and something I need more of in my own life.

Everyone has heard about the life-long partnership with a small group of leaders. Billy Graham, Barrows, Bev Shea, and Grady Wilson chose to do ministry together for decades, submitting to one another and making evangelism their common goal. (Their Modesto Manifesto story should be required reading for all in ministry.)

He was in community, and we need that as well.

Like Cliff Barrows, may we live our lives in deep community with others.

4. Cliff was about his family.

I’m struck by how his children spoke of him—tenderly and thankfully.

They knew him as a dad and eventually a grandfather.

Many well-known Christian leaders neglect their families for the work of “ministry.” But Cliff clearly did not. I am reminded that I need to spend more time with my family. And, I’m making some changes to do that.

Like Cliff Barrows, may we value family above ministry.

A Model for All

Cliff chose to be buried in a plain wooden box, covered with a blanket made from memories at Crusades over the years. It was not about him (hence the wooden box); instead, it was about Jesus and telling others of Him (the blanket covering the box).

I am so thankful for Cliff and the life that he led and the funeral which spoke quietly to my soul.

Every time I walk into my Wheaton College office at the Billy Graham Center, I see Cliff’s name as the entrance is in front of the Barrows Auditorium. And Lord willing, when I see his name, I will also remember the values he held dearly and the character of Christ he modeled.

And I will try and do likewise.


Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College.

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