New Year, Old Models: Top 10 Christian Leaders of All Time

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No matter what the denomination, some Christian leaders have had a huge impact on our community, our nation, and even our world.

Editor’s Note: In this feature Pam Williams lists what she believes to be the top 10 Christian leaders of all time. We invite you to share your thoughts, discuss, and add your own Top 10 in the comment section below. 

No doubt, the greatest Christian Leader of all time is Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior of the world. As time passes, we are blessed by the influence of certain other Christian leaders that leave a legacy unparalleled by any other. No matter what the denomination, most will agree that some Christian leaders have had a huge impact on our community, our nation, and even our world. As I look at all the Christian leaders that have been and even still are today, I have chosen those that I believe are ten of the most influential Christian leaders of all time.

Elder John Leland (1754-1841)

John Leland was a faithful minister of the gospel for sixty-seven years. Leland was what some would call a “circuit preacher,” traveling on foot or horseback from Massachusetts to South Carolina. He traveled more than a hundred thousand miles in his preaching journeys [1]. He was most famous for his plight for religious freedom in the United States of America. In 1787, Leland was a great supporter of James Madison as he pursued his election to the Virginia Convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution and to adopt the Bill of Rights. He endorsed Mr. Madison and convinced many fellow Baptists to do the same because he knew Madison would pursue a federal amendment for religious freedom. Elder Leland spent more than 60 years fighting for what has commonly been called “separation of church and state” in the United States today. Elder Leland wrote his own epitaph: “Here lies the body of John Leland, who labored 67 years to promote piety and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men.” [2]

William Carey (1761-1834)

A self-taught English cobbler, William Carey set out to evangelize the people of India. When Carey was called to missions, the vision of world evangelism was not clear in England. He was, in fact, considered to be the father of modern Protestant missions. Carey’s first six years on the field were nothing short of outrageously awful. He survived malaria, dysentery, and cholera. During his years in Bengal, he and his family tolerated inhabitable conditions, disease, grief, and wild animals. He buried 2 wives and one young child in the field.

  • Williams Carey was best known for penning the original translations of the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit, and parts of it into 29 other languages and dialects.
  • Carey was co-founder of Serampore College and a member of the Baptist Missionary Society.
  • One Famous Quote of William Carey is: “I can plod, I can persevere to any definite pursuit.”

Dr. Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)

Dr. Falwell had a vision to train young people for Christ. He was a faithful husband, father, and grandfather, as well as a servant for the Lord. In 1985, he hoped to see Liberty University train 50,000 students. Today more than 70,000 students are enrolled in onsite and offsite classes, thereby fulfilling his vision. Dr. Falwell often took heat for his pro-life, pro-family, and favor for a national defense stance but stuck to his guns. He was a strong supporter of seeing Ronald Reagan elected as President of the United States.

  • Dr. Falwell was best known for his radio and television ministry “Old Time Gospel Hour” and as the founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.
  • Dr. Falwell was also the founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA.
  • Dr. Falwell often said that his heart was to “train young Champions for Christ.”

Rev. Billy Graham

Billy Graham is an Evangelist, best known for his televised crusades. He preached the message of Christianity for forty years. He was advisor to several American Presidents. It is believed that he has led thousands to profess Jesus Christ as personal Savior.

  • Rev. Graham is best known for his worldwide evangelist crusades.
  • Rev. Graham is founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
  • Rev. Graham once said: “It is not the body’s posture, but the heart’s attitude that counts when we pray.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson

As a civil rights activist and minister, Rev. Jackson has been in the limelight for both for his accomplishments and for his controversial stand on popular political topics. He was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at his march in Selma, Alabama. And in the 1980s, he became the leading spokesman for African Americans.

  • Rev. Jackson is best known for his civil rights activism but also twice ran for President of the United States.
  • Rev. Jackson is founder of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition whose goal is to seek equal rights for African Americans and women.
  • One famous quote of Rev. Jackson is: “We must not measure greatness from the mansion down but from the manger up.” [3]


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Pam Williams Pam Williams is a wife, mom and grandmom. She and her Pastor-husband serve together at Selah Mountain Ministries in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a freelance writer and Christian blogger and hosts a weekly online radio broadcast as well. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Christian Education.Other interests include bird-watching, gardening, crafting and technology. Her motto is “Christianity is not for just once a week; Christianity is for Every Day.”

More from Pam Williams or visit Pam at http://whatchristianswanttoknow.com

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  • rayhollenbach

    Just wondering if the Apostle Paul should’ve made the list, or Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, or John Wesley, or Ignatius of Loyola, or whoever the leaders of the HouseChurch movement are in modern China.

  • Geoff

    “Top ten leaders of all time” – without underestimating the impact of the ten names my initial impressions is that you are very short sighted and need more church history lessons.

    • http://twitter.com/thevivetv Rick Reynolds

      Do you seriously have to be rude?  What is wrong with some that they hide behind their computer and post rude comments! Regardless of your opinions I doubt very seriously if you would talk to anyone this way let alone someone else’s wife in public.  Come on bro I am sure you could use your communication skills & express yourself with a little more tact!

      • Josh Gaudreau

        Rick, why did you have to say “someone else’s wife”? Doesn’t the author have worth and deserve respect apart from her husband?

        • Mwmartens

          Lol…I think he was saying that Geoff probably WOULD show respect to someone else’s wife as well.  I could be wrong.

        • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

          Hi Josh, I was not offended … no worries

      • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

        Thank you Rick

  • http://twitter.com/IlliniPhil Phil Anderson

    Jesse Jackson???  Really???

  • Matthewwardparker

    Dude. Jesus was a Jewish leader. Also God incarnate.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      I am not a dude, thank you

  • Steve_Lee1

    Awesome leaders but maybe a touch to bias towards USA ?

  • peterhamm

    I think the church has been around a lot longer and in a lot more places and expressions than this (completely American) list suggests… Francis? Benedict (the monk, not the pope)? The Reformers? Mother Teresa? 

  • Ray

    The list seems heavily weighted to modern leaders, especially with the description “of all time” appended. While some, Billy Graham for example, can legitimately be included; I think the impact of some of those included is not going to stand the tests of time. Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Lewis et al, would seem to have been better inclusions. Nevertheless, thanks for giving us pause to remember those who have gone before and impacted the world we know as Christianity.

  • Justus

    I must be honest, I have not heard of many of the leaders mentioned in here, probably because I am South African. but I would have thought that Peter and Paul should have been in that list. I am reminded of the Wesley brothers, Charles Finney, Who, when he came into town, the crime rate dropped. What about Calvin, Luther, Tyndale, and William Carey, just to mention another few. Mind you I am glad you didnt mention them in the same breath as Jesse Jackson. The last mentioned have done more to bring a schism in the church than unite it

  • Scpcguy

    Jesse Jackson – I’ve never heard him life up Jesus Christ and I don’t know what church he pastored to get there or much that he’s done but he has been a “profiteer of the ‘gospel’ ”
    Also – John Wesley should be on the list – he changed the entire evangelical world – with Methodism – with all respect to Whitefield. As well probably should change title to some of my favorites – not ‘all time’ and Billy Graham has preached lOnger than 40 years. Just sayin…

  • Tracylmoore

    Jesse Jackson???  It might be good to do a little more study into this man’s life and impact.  We are not talking about those that God loves but the 10 greatest leaders of all time.  I can’t believe he would even make your short list.

    • Usermt3172

      I agree 100%. This guy is a national buffoon!!! Why do we put people that lack integrity on a pedestal… This is what gives Christians and Christianity a sour taste too so many!!!

      • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

        but you must agree Jesse Jackson was influential, right?  

  • winston white

    I think a worldwide broader view would have produced  a more convincing listing. I am a South African and know not of many of those mentioned, but not to say they are not worthy. I would have thoughrt names like Luther, Wesley and Spurgeon might be candidates for this list. But no matter each would have his or her own opinion. It is a a good incentive to remember those who served the Lord faithfully and whose example we should follow

  • Luke Isaacson

    Just thought I’d help you clarify John Wesley founded the Methodist, not Whitfield

    • Myke4173

      Bro Luke, actually the Wesley founded the Methodist “churches”, but Whitefield is the founder of the Methodist “movement”.

      • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

        thank you Myke4173 … very good student.  Now there’s some church history. 

  • DaveHaara

    If you take out Biblical leaders your list should include: Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Whitehead, Moody, King & Graham.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      maybe

  • MichaelD

    An article like this makes one wonder if there is an editor paying any attention. Lester Roloff as one of the top 10 church leaders of all time? The author has apparently never actually read a church history book. I think names like Tertullian, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards make a bit more sense than Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell.

    • Pastormarkhaines

      I agree!

    • Jake2011rt

      Falwell is a bit more deserving than Jackson. I mean he was the founder of the world’s largest Christian university. Spurgeon definitely should be on this list. He’s the prince of preachers.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Hello MichaelD, I am the author and this article is not about church history.  It is about Influential Christian Leaders … Not sure why the title was changed.  And oh, I have read church history and everyone knows those great names … I wanted to spot light the lesser known.

  • Pastorroger

    This list is funny. It would have been helpful for the author to provide some definitions of how she uses words like, “Christian,” and “Leader.”  

  • Mikeg

    Wow. I’m not sure which which unsettled me more — the fact that Charles Spurgeon couldn’t crack the Top Ten or that Jesse Jackson and Lester Roloff (and to a lesser degree, even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as influential a man as he was) did! Of course, it is your opinion and you are entitled to it and honestly, I’m not sure many would agree with my list, either! Thanks for sharing.

  • Donmiller1951

    We may never know this side of heaven who were the ten greatest church leaders of all time.  Their names may be only known to a few…and the Lord.  In fact, when we get to heaven, we may not even know then then, as their crowns will be at His feet.
    And to some others making comments, calm down.  We all have our opinions and should be able to express them in Christian love and respect.

  • Tbenale

    I think Mother Teresa should have been in the top ten list also.

  • Tcorwin

    This list is ridiculous. I lost a lot of respect for your ministry. I am sure this list is compsoed by someone who knows nothing of history.  Martin Luther lead the world for biblical and religious freedom and you put self righteous Jesse Jackson, who use to spit in the water glasses of customers, above someone of the caliber ot Martin Luther. Where is your brain, and are you editors just as ignorant?

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Please do not lose respect for this ministry.  This is my article and not necessarily the opinions of the publisher. Just to be clear, my original article had no numbers, none are above the others.

  • Preacher721

    Jesse Jackson does not belong on the list.  I can think of Dr. Mark Rutland currently President of ORU and all the work he has done over the past 40 years or so and the impact he has made is making, another would have to Dr. Paul Laverne Walker, pastor emeritus at the great Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta, GA over 60 years of ministry, 39 as senior pastor of that great church.

  • Totally amazed again

    This is exactly where this whole publication points. They are chasing a ball in the left field and the hit was to the right.  

  • Chad

    I think part of the problem here is the title: “Top 10 Church Leaders of All-Time.”  I’m sure it was done to get your attention (and seems to have worked).  The article itself states these are “ten of the most influential Christian leaders of all time.”  Now, I still disagree with a lot of the list, but my emotions are tempered.  With that in mind, for good or bad, Jesse Jackson is influential (although not a great church leader).  Others on the list, still probably don’t deserve to be there over others mentioned in the comments, but so be it.  This isn’t God’s list, it’s just another person’s.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Chad … YOU GOT IT! for good or bad, all of these men were influential and all Christians.

  • Pastorleo03

    I think some are overreaching the point by suggesting that the Apostles or Jesus himself should be on the list, I do believe that is a given, however that being said the author has a degree in Christian education, but has apparently ignored Church history or is floating some other agenda with this list, I do believe that St. Augustine, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards ect.. would be more appropriate for this list than many of those mentioned or the list should divided into two list one with the more modern church influences and one with the more traditional, or at the very least give the criteria for which the list was compiled. It seems to me that while some on the list are very public personalities they are not necessarily what one could consider CHURCH leaders, there is a very major difference!

  • Thomas

    Jessie Jackson should be out of this list.  

    • Chedlojr

      I agree!!!!

  • Dan Pressler

    What about Martin Luther (or any or ther other founders of the Reformation)? or is this a Top 10 AMERICAN Church Leaders?

  • Wes

    This list is not even close.  Not even in the ballpark.

  • Pack4ev

    Seriously?! Jesse Jackson?

    • Jessejacksontopten

      My thoughts exactly….

  • Pastormark61

    Without Adrian Rogers? No way!

  • Mark Gomez

    I am surprised by the list to say the least. I personally would not have Jesse Jackson on any list with any other Great Church Leaders. Even as a member of the civil rights movement he was not taken seriously. Mother Teresa could easily have beaten out some of the names you placed there. As others have mentioned, Martin Luther, John Calvin, St. Augustine, John Wesley, Dwight L Moody, etc. would be far more likely candidates. Perhaps it would help to have your criteria for naming the individuals you did place upon the list to understand how you came up with the list. Martin Luther did not simply fight the Roman Catholic Church, he literally changed the Western world with what was accomplished in the early stages of what became the Reformation. He changed all of Europe, changed what became history and continues to have rippling effects even to this date. So how did you determine these people as leaders?

  • ejkalkwarf

    I am very disappointed by this list.
    Jessee Jackson? Seriously?
    Why not add the Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

    • Guest

      I guess an African American is not good enough for the list.  After all, this country never need civil rights. 

      • Guest

        hahaha comments like these always make me laugh

      • Scott Schafer

        Is Martin Luther King, Jr. not “African American?”

  • Thomas Johnson

    Jesus is the Prince of peace we are followers of Jesus Christ there is no such thing in prince preachers I dont know what bible yall are reading but its not the same one that im reading these comment are crazy whats all the fuss about and what does mother theresha have to do with this REVELATION CHAPTER 22 VERSE 7 SAYS Behold, I come quickly blessed is he that keepth the saying of the prophecy of this book.

  • Jesse Jackson???

    Wow. I’m dumbfounded. This is the dumbest article I have ever seen. Jesse Jackson!? For real? AND above Billy Graham?? Where are all the CHURCH leaders like Martin Luther, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers??? What defined your criteria to compile this list??? Please let us all know. I am ashamed that Liberty University would even post a link to this article simply because Falwell’s name was mentioned. I would be ashamed for my name to be put ahead of all these other Church Leader’s names.

    • guest

      I agree with your main point. Jackson and King ahead of Billy Graham??? Seriously?

      • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

        There is no particular order to my article.  The numbers were added by the editor of this site.

  • Donn

    Lester Roloff? His fight with the Texas authorities, the state tried to keep him from physically abusing the childern in his care like denying them food, forcing them to sleep on the floor and of course whipping them.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Now Donn, I think you need to get your information right.  Sounds like you are spreading rumors.

  • Billgates

    I would have to say that this list is horrible. Just horrible. You might as well throw Joel Osten in the mix. 

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Billgates … really?

  • Lawyerbevil

    Based on the criteria or lack thereof utilized, I fully expected to see the “reverend” Al Sharpton and Robert Tilton on the list – i hate to be “rude” or critical, but when you come up with something like this, maybe you deserve what you get – I think Pam should stick to “bird-watching and leave this kind of endeavor to those who may be more familiar with church history

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Ouch!  But I do enjoy the birds. 

  • Chedlojr

    The only way I will accept Jesse Jackson on this list is if he start openly praising Jesus like I have seen Tim Tebow and Curt Warner do.  Jesse Jackson is an embarassment and should not be placed on any list of great church leaders.

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Quite frankly I had Jesse Jackson on and off the list several time.  He certainly has caused people to comment.  I like the idea of adding the other two … maybe I will write another list!  Thanks Chedlojr.

  • Maatwa

    I think we should not complain at all. This is according to the author of these article’s view. Let us not react in such way. Remember our creator has called us to be good servants. Then let us labor fallowing such great example inoder to increase God’s Kingdom. We are servants called to serve for the harvest in the fields is ready. Did you know that doing one on one ministry is equally important?   

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Thanks Maatwa

  • Michaeljona58620

    The writer is certainly limited in her knowledge of the Church. What happened to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Pope John Paul, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young?

    • Asasdf

      Maybe since they said Christian leaders they left Joseph Smith and Brigham Young off. Mormonism is a cult, Sola Scriptura…..don’t bring another book to the party and call it Christianity. Closed canon, no additions……But I have to say this list is ridiculous. 

    • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

      Hi Michaeljona58620, Thank you for your reply.  What happened to … Please know that my list was huge and I purposefully included men who were less known to most.  Those that I listed nor neglected to list really has nothing to do with my knowledge of the Church.  Again, thanks for taking the time to comment here.

  • surprised_guest

    Evan Roberts anyone?

    • Dave

      William Booth, Spurgeon, Smith Wigglesworth, William Seymour would have been more likely candidates in my view.

  • guest

    What about John Witherspoon? He trained numerous men who helped form this nation, and was the only clergy man to sign the Declaration of Independence.

  • ExplorerDad

    While I will make an effort to refrain from rancor, I do have to agree in principle that that there likely would be others that I would have chosen instead of Jesse Jackson and Dr. MLK Jr.  That is not to say that I do not respect the efforts and most of the values that they promoted.  I simply have a hard time, given the scandals that remain.  Likewise, I would have to agree that Dr. Roloff, whose core value of keeping the state out of Church and their ministries I espouse, does not rise to the same standard that I would have leveraged.

    If I were to replace those three (just because they are outliers), I would add Bob Jones Sr., Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon.  Though, evan as I write, I question myself and I wonder if perhaps Polycarp or Martin Luther, or Menno Simmons belong there instead…

    All in all, I applaud the author’s bravery in posting such a polarizing list.  I mean if we can’t agree on Ford vs. Chevy…how will we agree on a top 10 Christian Leaders of all time list.  Thanks for the lively discussion.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidSillaman David Sillaman

    Not on the list and not in any of the comments….How about the Apostle Paul being number one after Jesus. He only wrote half the new testament….

  • Bjbarlowe1

    I think you should rethink the title of this list. The best of all time? Maybe the best of the last 200 years. What about Paul or Peter or Augustine or Aquinas or a bunch others. 

  • Bjbarlowe1

    Or Martin Luther for that matter. 

  • Bjbarlowe1

    Or Calvin! …but I do go on. 

  • Broadcastchurch

    Can’t believe Luther or Wesley didn’t make the list!  Both started “movements” that led to thousands of Churches!  Had to be good Church leaders!

  • Theperfectwife2

    The Apostle Paul, Simon Peter, Stephen…. I have no doubt you know the rest….

  • gabsterworld

    Pope John Paull II is missing…

  • http://christianityeveryday.com Pamela Rose Williams

    WOW!  Lots of comments. Thanks for stopping by and posting your opinions.  This article is my opinion and was meant to point out Influential Christian Leaders. Keep in mind not all Christian Leaders have influenced the cause of Christianity for the good. That’s why it is important to keep in mind that people are watching.  What are you doing for Christ?  Is it for good or for bad?

  • St.Christopher_93

    How about we not crucify the author for her opinions? Maybe the reason you haven’t heard of some of these is a personal problem. This her opinion! Personally, I definitely believe that, aside from biblical figures, popes, and Luther; Graham, Moody, Spurgeon, Finney, Wesley, Calvin, Falwell, King, and even Joyce Meyer (primarily for making strides in womens ministry and reinventing the idea of female evangelists) would be my top 10 list. However, that is my opinion! Momma always said, “opinions are like onions: only the braver attempt to cut into them.”  

  • Pastor Tom

    Pamela,
    Thank you for your positive response to those resorting to cutting responses.  May Christ’s love continue from you.

  • nadobabo

    Please remove from the list those with ‘Reverend’ – the title which belongs only to God. ;-< 

    Instead why don't we accord them an ostentatious one 'New Pop'  – e.g. New Pop Jesse Jackson, etc. ;- )

  • Brandon Roberts

    seriously no spurgeon

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