Born in Conway in Faulkner County in central Arkansas, young Graham was baptized as a professed believer in Jesus Christ at First Baptist Church in his hometown. From there, his life took a steady course into Christian ministry that continued during his formative years in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1970, at the age of twenty, he was ordained pastor of his first church, married and halfway through Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors.
By 1976, he and his wife, Deb, had one son, and Graham was associate pastor of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth, pastored by G. Fred Swank.That year he also completed work for a Master of Divinity degree with honors from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Four more years went by, and Graham received a Doctor of Ministry degree in “Church and Proclamation.”
Graham began his ministry as pastor of East Side Baptist in Cross Plains in Callahan County, Texas (1970–1971). Following his associate pastorate at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church (1972–1975), he went on to pastor First Baptist Church in Hobart, Oklahoma (1975–1978), First Baptist Church in Duncan, Oklahoma (1978–1981), and First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida (1981–1989).
In 1989, Prestonwood Baptist Church, then a Dallas congregation with a membership of approximately 11,000, called Graham as pastor after its founding pastor, Bill Weber, admitted to an extramarital affair and resigned. As the church family continued to increase by some 2,000 members annually, leaders and members prayed, investigated, deliberated and finally, in 1999 built a new 7,500-seat worship facility, school and ministry complex on 150 acres (0.61 km2) in west Plano.
In 2006, Prestonwood opened its second campus in Prosper, near U.S. Highway 380 and Dallas Parkway. That same year, the church also completed a new children's wing and updated its facilities for PowerPoint Ministries, including an upgrade to High Definition (HDTV).
The church reached the 41,000-member mark in 2016, with regular attendance at worship services averaging about 17,000.
Graham has served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest American Protestant denomination, with 16 million members, and as president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference. Paul Pressler, the retired judge from Houston who was a leading figure in the Southern Baptist Convention Conservative resurgence in 1979, served in 2002 as the first vice-president with Graham as the SBC president.
Pastor Graham served as Honorary Chairman of the 2015 National Day of Prayer and is currently a member of President Donald Trump's Religious Advisory Council. He participated in the National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral the day after the inauguration.