An international Bible teacher and daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz has spoken in arenas, prison cells, stadiums, sanctuaries and seminaries. In the last five years, she has led 23 of her “Just Give Me Jesus” events, calling the Church to revival. She conveys that same message in her latest book, I Saw the Lord (Zondervan), a March release. Recently, she sat down with Outreach to talk about heaven, hell and what she believes is the Church’s greatest outreach killer.
Outreach magazine: As a whole, how is the Church doing in terms of outreach?
Anne Graham Lotz: I feel like some churches have great vision to reach their communities, and then there are other ones that just give to their denominational missions project and check “outreach” off the list.
I see a lot of creative outreach happening outside churches in national parachurch ministries. But what’s thrilling is seeing the number of grassroots ministries, like Mary Judd, a Christian lady in a run-down house in downtown Raleigh, N.C., who one day, out of concern for the homeless people on her street, invited them in for a sandwich. Pretty soon, she’s got a line of people; then it turns into a major thing where she’s feeding people 12 hours a day.
So, I just see lots of outreach happening. But sometimes, it’s not from one particular church. It may be a ministry someone has on his or her heart—they start it, and different churches or businesses fund it. That kind of creativity and partnering excites me!
OM:: What are some of the obstacles holding the Church back from being more effective at outreach?
AGL:: The thing that kills our outreach is our lack of real conviction that when someone steps into eternity, he either goes to heaven or to hell. I think a lot of people in the Church are not even convinced that hell exists. And I don’t think many people really believe there’s a heaven. So sharing the Gospel is not of imminent importance to them. If we really believed that the people we loved—our family members and friends—were headed to eternal “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” wouldn’t we be sharing Christ with them?
Last year, I interviewed with the A&E Network for a documentary on hell and Satan. They did a pretty fantastic job of teaching people things they’d have to see on TV to learn. When is the last time you heard a message on hell in church? No pastor in any church I’ve ever gone to has preached on it.
Deep down, I’d like to see us come back to the basics and examine what we believe. Do we really believe the Bible? Do we really believe in the reality of eternal judgment?
OM:: Why is this a major problem today?
AGL:: I’m not sure, but I expect you can trace it back to seminaries, back to our own conviction and our biblical illiteracy. Churches aren’t discipling people.
About 30 years ago, I started a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) group in our city, Raleigh, where we have churches on every street corner. We now have 10 classes of 600 to 800 people each. And other classes have spun off from BSF—a men’s class of 700, a women’s class of 400, etc. So the discipleship and Bible-teaching is happening outside the churches. Even the big churches in our city—you might find one or two that are actually teaching the Bible in weekly elective classes. But the rest of these classes are all discussing books about the Bible or biblical themes or self-help. They’re not really discipling people.
I think it was John Stott who said that he was grieved because “the Church worldwide was a mile wide and an inch deep.” We don’t know what the Bible says. We don’t know what we believe. And so we aren’t convinced heaven and hell exist.
OM:: If you could tell pastors one thing, what would it be?
AGL:: I think the biggest problem in the Church is that we’ve lost our vision of who God is. We don’t have any awareness of His holiness, and therefore, we don’t have any awareness of our sinfulness. The biggest problem in the Church today is sin.
I’d tell church leaders that we should all be yielding our lives totally to the Holy Spirit so that we’re completely surrendered. The Holy Spirit’s on fire for the Gospel, so if we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, then we’ll be on fire for the Gospel, too. And that starts with the leader. A leader who’s filled with the Holy Spirit will lead a church that’s on fire for the Gospel.
I just think the Church today is in desperate need of waking up—a fresh encounter with the living God who transforms lives.
When that happens, we’ll not only get ourselves straight with Him, we’ll get ourselves straight with each other. And we’ll start caring about people because God’s heart is broken for a lost and dying world. And if we share the heartbeat of God, we’ll share a heartbeat for those who don’t know Him. We’ll care whether or not they’ll be with Him in eternity or in hell. We’ll have that sense of urgency for telling others about Christ.
OM: : What keeps the fire of outreach lit in your own life?
AGL:: One, my devotional life. I maintain a personal relationship with the Lord so that it’s fresh. Two, I read Scripture every morning and try to apply what I read that day. Three, God gives us experiences from time to time that just help to ignite that fire.
For me, it was Sept. 11 and seeing those towers come down. I was watching it on TV, hearing the commentators say that 50,000 people worked in those buildings. I thought about the fact that I was watching 50,000 step into eternity and wondered how many of them didn’t go to heaven because their friends were so politically correct that they didn’t tell them about Jesus. They didn’t tell them there was a heaven—and a hell.
You talk about lighting a fire. That week, I flew to Houston to speak, and I witnessed to an airport security guard who said, “This is the first time anyone has ever said that to me!” Everybody I encountered, I told them about Christ. I mean everybody. … And I’m sorry that I’ve sort of settled down since then because it’s hard to maintain that level of intensity.
Last year, I went to Rome for the Pope’s funeral. I saw all those people who were just so excited they knew somebody who’d gone to heaven. And they’d say things like, “I hope I’m going to heaven,” or “I really want to go to heaven, but I’m not as good as he was.” They had no assurance, no confidence—just hoping they’d be there if they did as much as they could, as best they could.
I came back from Rome saying, “Lord, please give me strategic opportunities. Open the door for me in a broader way, so I can tell people that the price has been paid. From the cross Jesus shouted out, ‘It’s finished!’ Let me tell them they don’t have to add one more thing to His finished work. Let me tell them they can have assurance that they’ll be with You in heaven.”
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