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The Unbearable Pressure to Do Great Things for the Lord

In a recent article for CT Pastors, Ken Shigematsu writes:

My mentor and close friend, Leighton Ford, was ambitious for God and he yearned to have a significant impact. After graduating from Wheaton College, he wed Billy Graham’s sister, Jeanie, and became part of the “royal family” of the Christian world. A rising star, Leighton began preaching in large football stadiums around the world. He was named Clergyman of the Year, and Time magazine identified him as the person most qualified to succeed his brother-in-law, Billy Graham.

Leighton’s son, Sandy, had become an accomplished track and field runner. Like his father, he aspired to become a minister of the gospel. Unexpectedly, he was diagnosed with a rare heart disease that caused arrhythmia. After an operation to address his condition, Sandy seemed fine. But then, while running shortly after his 21st birthday, the arrhythmia struck again. A few days later, he died on the operating table.

A few days after Sandy’s funeral, Leighton went to Sandy’s room near the university to gather his son’s belongings. As he looked over Sandy’s desk, Leighton found an unfinished poem. It was titled “To Dad, for his 50th birthday:

What a golden honor it would be to don your mantle, to inherit twice times your spirit. For then you would be me and I would continue to be you.”

Leighton wept. He thought of the mantle that would never fall on his son’s shoulders. But in the midst of his searing loss and pain, Leighton sensed the Holy Spirit calling him to begin a new ministry, one that would mean stepping out of the limelight. He felt led to invest himself into a small group of younger men and women to help them “run their race” for God through one-on-one spiritual mentoring.

Leighton, now in his 80s, has been blessed with many sons and daughters. He is no longer an A-list Christian celebrity, but his influence is deep and wide. And he is now truly content with his life and calling. As Sandy’s poem foretold, the mantle of Leighton’s ministry has fallen—not on Sandy, but on his many spiritual sons and daughters.


Ken Shigematsu, “The Unbearable Pressure to Do Great Things for the Lord,” Christianity Today Pastors (Spring, 2019)

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