Though we are sitting in her office, Anne Graham Lotz is beginning to preach, in the best sense of the word.
"You remember in the Old Testament when Elijah had the contest with the priests of Baal? And all day long they tried to get the fire to come down and they couldn't. And then Elijah said, 'All right, now it's my turn.' And he dug a trench around the altar and had water poured on the altar until the sacrifice was soaked, the wood was soaked, the stones were soaked, and water filled the trench?
"Elijah was making it impossible for anything to happen unless God did it. If God didn't send down the fire, that thing was never going to catch fire. He wanted all the glory going to God, so when the fire came down, everybody would know it was the Lord."
She pauses. "When I look at my life, God's given me many things, but he's withheld many: education—seminary or Bible training—many things. And he made me a woman. To be honest, there was a time before I started BSF [Bible Study Fellowship] when I wondered why God hadn't made me a man. If I had been a man in my family, I wouldn't have had to struggle with missed opportunities.
"I think the fact that God made me a woman is water on the altar. You can come to a Just Give Me Jesus revival and see what God does there. Nobody can credit a seminary, nobody can credit my being Billy Graham's daughter—I left home at 18. I just have to credit the hand of God in my life. Without God, it would have been impossible."
Lotz does not fit neatly into any stereotype of evangelicalism. She believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and also that she can "agree to disagree" with others on the meaning of certain texts. She believes women can be ordained, but has chosen not to be. Though she strongly defends a woman's right to preach, Lotz is not a feminist crusader; in fact, she thinks that "feminists have done us all a disservice." Lotz considers herself to be a teacher who happens to be a woman.
No matter the paradoxes, she has been successful by any standard. She has written award-winning books and preached to tens of thousands of people around the world. She acknowledges and has walked through the doors her family name has opened. She never went to college or seminary, but she has become a respected Bible teacher with several honorary degrees in her own right. Her AnGeL Ministries (the name is formed from her initials) will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, with many of the original staff still on board. She's known for her integrity, which, after 32 years in ministry, is no small accomplishment.
Henry Blackaby calls Lotz "women's spiritual statesman. She always speaks the truth in love; she's a great communicator. Her greatest desire is to honor God, not men," he says. "Many people could be used more [by] God, but they are distracted. She's very, very obedient, and God's anointing is on her."
She has peacefully defied denunciations of what she feels is her calling: biblical exposition in classic evangelical style and doctrine.
The most quoted descriptor of her gift came from her father, who called her "the best preacher in the family." While Billy Graham preached a salvation message to the unsaved, Lotz believes God has called her to bring revival and a message of repentance to those within the church. But those revivals are strongly evangelistic and begin with a message calling the audience to get right with God by accepting Christ.
"My aim is to know God and grow in that knowledge of him," Lotz says in her gentle Carolina drawl, which is peppered with words like "precious." "I want a relationship with Jesus that is contagious. I would like for people to see God in the broken pieces. I hope people look at my life and say, 'If God could do it for Anne, he could do it for me.' My daddy says that the only explanation for my ministry is the Holy Spirit. I agree."
'I Just Didn't Fit'
Joseph Stowell, former president of Moody Bible Institute and now president of Cornerstone University in Michigan, says, "I have always seen in Anne a blessed intensity that is always wrapped in grace and humility."
But Lotz says the public nature of her early life gave her a "strong inferiority complex. I sensed the pressure. But over the years I have worked through that, and have learned to live my life for that audience of One."
She accepted Jesus not at one of her father's crusades, but after watching King of Kings, a Cecil B. DeMille film, when she was about eight years old. Within a couple years, she had read through the Bible.
When she was 17, she attended a Chris-tian leadership conference. Bored with the conference lectures, she often cut out to hang with friends. "Everyone in my suite was praying for me because they thought I was 'carnal,'" she says, shaking her head and smiling ruefully. "I had modeled, bleached my hair, I wore makeup. I just didn't fit their image of what Billy Graham's daughter should be like."
Like her sisters, she married young, and had her first child at 20. Her husband, Danny Lotz, was beginning a dental practice.
Infertility, miscarriages, and depression made those years a dark season in her life. But in the mid-1960s, most women—especially good, conservative Christian women—did not work outside of the home.
"My mother drew her strength from spending time in God's Word and in prayer, and I knew I just didn't have the discipline to do it," she says. "I wasn't coping, I was losing my temper … I felt inadequate, like I just wasn't a good mother—and I wanted to be."
Lotz says she pleaded with God for both help with her parenting and an opportunity to serve him outside of her home. In 1975 she heard about Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), a class for women that used a highly structured study method.
She wanted only to attend, so she waited a year, hoping someone else would teach the class. When no one stepped forward, she agreed to teach it at the church she and her husband attended in Raleigh.
The class immediately filled with 300 people and had a waiting list. Initial interest may have been due to curiosity about Billy Graham's daughter, who up until then had never done public speaking. She used to get so nervous before teaching, she says, she would throw up.
But the class continued to grow after the initial curiosity wore off. Lotz attributes the growth to the transformation in her own life. "I was not just sharing Bible knowledge," she says. "I was learning and growing and applying and living it with passion and conviction, and I think they could see that I not only taught it but I believed it. I was experiencing it and they wanted to, too."
Her parents weren't as enthusiastic. Lotz says Ruth Graham "did not approve, and she let me know it. She and Daddy both. Because in those days, a woman's place was in the home."
One day, however, she looked up to see her parents seated in the audience. "I just had to take a deep breath. I stopped and introduced them to everybody and went ahead with my message."
Seeing women reading their Bibles and taking careful notes, as their daughter had taught, touched her parents. More importantly, when they went back to Anne's home afterward, "My house was clean, my children were well behaved, which was a miracle that day," she laughs. "But after that, they completely reversed themselves and became very supportive."
She taught BSF classes in Raleigh for 12 years, during which time she began receiving invitations to speak elsewhere, including at international pastors' conferences.
As she and her ministry developed, Lotz sought out the friendship and advice of other trailblazers.
Audrey Wetherell Johnson, the founder of BSF, initially took an interest in Lotz "because I was Daddy's daughter," she says. When Johnson died, Lotz went to her funeral and stayed at Johnson's home that night. "I got on my knees in her bedroom, and I remember asking God, 'If there is a mantle, a little bit of her, I want it.' She had a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus."
Lotz quotes Stephen Olford's statement, "There is no preaching except biblical exposition," as one that has shaped her own teaching.
"I think people sometimes try to put their hand over God's mouth" by pulling verses from all over the Bible, she says. Her sermons are deftly woven with personal, folksy stories, honest confessions of her own struggles, and powerful oratory that unapologetically calls her audience to confess sin and get right with God. When she asks them to stand if they want to repent, hundreds do.
Lotz's pulpit style reminds some people of Johnson's. Many others notice similarities between Lotz and her father, including their hand gestures and intensity, their smiles, and the way they pronounce the name "Jeee-sus."
"I don't try to speak to people's heads," she says, even though she challenges her listeners to study the Bible diligently. "The first time I spoke at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's 1983 International Conference of Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, I saw the other people who had been invited to speak. I decided right then and there, I wouldn't try to do what I can't do, which is speak from my head and try to impress everybody. So I decided I would just speak to the hearts of those who were gathered."
That address was later described by Billy Graham biographer William Martin as "a stunning display of a genetic gift for capturing the attention of a gathered assembly."
After her annual Filling Up to Overflow seminar at the Cove one year, a pastor stood up and told her, "I learned more in this weekend about how to preach a biblical message than I did in four years of seminary."
She was invited last November to speak at a pastors' conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, where 200 pastors, mostly men, learned the Bible exposition method she teaches in her Overflow seminar.
Preaching for Women
When some pastors expressed concern about Lotz preaching to men at her revivals, she says, "I went to the Scripture, and I had to really pray that through. And God was very clear. Men could come and be on the periphery and be blessed. God would be there for them, but they were not to be the target. I read John 4, where Jesus reaches Samaria through one woman at the well."
She dismisses comparisons to Kay Arthur, Joyce Meyer, or Beth Moore, saying she respects them all but that they have different ministries from hers. Meyer's and Moore's more topical approach to Bible study and broader, more publicized ministries do not have much in common with AnGeL. Arthur's ministry, while it doesn't involve revivals, is more similar in sensibility and purpose; Arthur is also primarily a Bible teacher who conducts classes based on videos of her teaching.
When asked if she labels her Just Give Me Jesus events "revivals for women" to make them more palatable to her detractors, Lotz replies, "I'm just maverick enough that I wouldn't care if it was palatable to them. It's a free event; we won't turn anyone away. But in response to those concerns, I focus on women."
Still, she is often invited to preach at churches as a guest speaker, where she unapologetically calls men and women to repentance and revived faith.
Lotz notes wryly that no one has ever pointed to her lack of education, only to her gender, as a barrier to preaching.
"I'm not asking to be a preacher or senior pastor or even an elder; I just want to present the gospel, and I do it in an arena, not in a church building," she says. "I do ache for a lot of women who are so faithful. They love their churches and are trying to serve within the framework, but they are bound. And they are really hurt.
"Some pastors who have questioned [my preaching] have listened to me and have to realize that God can use a woman," she says. After her message at Amsterdam '86, an African pastor approached her, telling her he had been praying and fasting for a word from God at the conference. He had been through days of workshops and messages, and had heard nothing until Lotz's message. "He told me, 'All through your message, God spoke to me,'" Lotz recalls. "His eyes got real big and he said, 'I can't believe it was through a sister.' So he's going back to his church in Africa, and now he knows God speaks through sisters."
AnGeL Ministries' offices are tucked away in a modest, one-story building in an office park in Raleigh. The organization has only eight paid staff members besides Lotz and her personal assistant, Helen George, who has been with Lotz since the BSF days.
When she incorporated AnGeL Ministries in 1988 (a time when the evangelical world was rocked by the scandals of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker), Lotz made the organization a nonprofit. "I wanted people to know that I was up front and above board," she says. "I still don't take a fee or a salary. If a group gives me an honorarium, I take it for AnGeL Ministries, not personally."
In the late 1990s, AnGeL was growing, but Lotz's personal life was stressful. As was her habit, she turned to Scripture. A personal study of the Book of John revived her relationship with Christ and eventually became her book Just Give Me Jesus, published in 2000. She sensed God calling her to offer Just Give Me Jesus revivals for others who were also longing for that renewal.
Lotz wanted free admission events in large arenas. When she consulted other ministries that did large events, they were skeptical. That was eight years and 35 countries ago. Thousands of people have come to Christ or rededicated their lives to him as a result.
Lotz gets invitations to speak all over the world, but accepts only a small percentage of those invitations. The process of setting up a Just Give Me Jesus revival is "not for the faint of heart," says Carole Inman, AnGeL's director of ministries. The process of praying, gathering support, raising money, and so on seems to slowly weed out those who are not ready to give that kind of commitment. It can take as long as two years, said Inman, "but it will also be the most thrilling year of your life, a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
A group who inquires about having Lotz speak is told that its first step is a "focused period of prayer," often lasting several months. They pray not about whether Lotz should come, but for revival in their city.
Last April, Just Give Me Jesus was held in Des Moines, Iowa. "Women from across races, denominations, from all different churches experienced personal revival," Inman says. "After the revival, we had 150 follow-up Bible studies. Every church hosts at least one. Shortly thereafter, many of those study sites were completely flooded; others were hit by tornadoes. And we just felt that God had brought revival to Des Moines to strengthen them for those trials. Revival is a movement of God. It's thrilling."
The struggles and thrill of seeing God work have deepened her faith, Lotz says, and given her what she calls "my magnificent obsession," which Abraham also had—to be a friend of God's. Her next book, a spiritual autobiography based on her sermons, is due for release in 2009: The Magnificent Obsession: Knowing God as Abraham Did.
It is that obsession that keeps her going.
Lotz says she has no plans to slow down. "When would you stop this?" she says, gesturing around the office of AnGeL. She admits that sometimes the international travel and the work of writing and speaking wear on her, but she finds it immensely satisfying. "I also enjoy just being at home. I could downshift so fast. But I feel driven and compelled to serve the Lord, because I want to know him. There are days it is sheer joy, but hard work."
Keri Wyatt Kent (keriwyattkent.com) is the author of six books, a speaker, and freelance writer. She lives with her husband and two children in the Chicago area.
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AnneGrahamLotz.com offers more information about Lotz and AnGeL Ministries.
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