EXCLUSIVE: 7 Questions with New National Day of Prayer President Kathy Branzell
An author and grassroots leader, Branzell follows Ronnie Floyd, Anne Graham Lotz and Shirley Dobson in leading the ministry that mobilizes prayer events across America.
This week, prayer leader and educator Kathy Branzell has been announced as president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDP). Dr. Ronnie Floyd steps down from the national ministry on May 17, following two years in the role.
The transition for the evangelical nonprofit group comes as planned after the May 2 national prayer observance, in which millions of Americans participated.
Floyd was named president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on April 2. The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He also handed off leadership of multi-site Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas.
“Kathy Branzell has been a longtime member of the Board of Directors of the National Day of Prayer,” said Ronnie Floyd in a statement to The Stream. “She assisted me for the last few months in our development ministry. When the Lord called me to this new assignment with the SBC, I knew it meant [stepping] away from serving with NDP.
“The Lord has blessed [NDP] in an unprecedented way over the last two years,” he added. “We are praying for a successful transition as Kathy leads.”
Having raised two children with her husband Russ, Branzell lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She plans for the prayer ministry to continue as a remote team, as several NDP staff are based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her fifth book, a devotional entitled An Invitation to Prayer (BroadStreet), released last month.
“Kathy is a great choice,” said Shirley Dobson, in an interview at the recent U.S. Capitol prayer event. Dobson served as NDP chairman for 25 years, stepping down in 2016. “She is a young woman of prayer who has a lot of energy. She knows all the volunteers, national area leaders and the 50 state coordinators. I’ve always lived by the slogan Where God guides, God provides — and he will provide for her.”
In a phone interview from Atlanta, Branzell spoke about why she was chosen, the impact she has seen from prayer, and her vision for the national ministry. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
‘I Know Your Name’
Previous National Day of Prayer leaders were named Graham, Dobson, and the late Vonette Bright, which are household names among evangelicals. Why were you chosen to lead for the season ahead?
Kathy Branzell: I asked God the same thing! The executive board of the National Prayer Committee came three times to ask me to be the next president.
All three times, I said: “No, I’m nobody. I’m not a Bright, or a Graham, or a Dobson, or a denominational leader like Dr. Ronnie Floyd. Nobody knows my name. Go back and pray.”
On the third time, they said: We keep going back and praying, and we keep getting your name and face. Why don’t you go pray? God has told us, so he’ll tell you. So I did a four-day fast and prayer time.
That fourth day, I was face down on the carpet. I prayed: “Lord, nobody knows my name. This ministry needs people of great influence.” And very sweetly, God whispered: I know your name. I know your name. He said it twice.
God uses the weak and foolish, and I certainly have that résumé. But what God has given me is the gift of relationship. I love people deeply. Over the last 20 years, he has blessed me with so many relationships — getting to know the coordinators, staff and partners of this ministry.
I think that’s why the board chose me. They know I love God, the National Day of Prayer and the incredible team that he has knit together.
Teaching By Example
Could you share some of your story as an educator and ministry leader?
Branzell: For ten years, I taught everything from kindergarten to college. The running joke in my family was: Can you not use a lesson plan for more than one year at a time?
We didn’t understand why God had me leaping all over different grades. When he called me to start teacher prayer groups in public schools, back in 1999, then I could see. It’s so much easier to minister to people in places where you’ve been and to speak into situations you’d had to walk out in the classroom.
After starting FACE, Fellowship And Christian Encouragement, I was invited on to the National Prayer Committee. We continued to grow. Shortly after we began our ministry, Focus on the Family had their one and only Teachers in Focus conference. We got invited to be a resource table, which we couldn’t believe. In one weekend, we were spring-boarded into 27 states.
I was drinking from a Holy Spirit fire hydrant throughout our journey with the educator prayer groups. When we turned it over to Christian Educators Association a few years ago, it reached the point of having over 137,000 members. As we look back on the path we followed, we see God ordering our steps.
Newcomer With A Track Record
What initiatives have you led for the National Day of Prayer during recent years?
Branzell: Being on the National Prayer Committee, I kept asking: How can I serve? I was tasked with leading several things when coming on the board.
We did four Pray for America bus tours, and I had the privilege of arranging three of them. Our first one in 2013 was 100 days, going coast to coast and visiting 35 states. Our focus then was on churches, pastors and government. We visited a lot of state capitals and congregations on that journey. I met many of our coordinators and prayer warriors in all the states.
The second one was focused on arts, entertainment and media. It was 35 days, finishing up in Hollywood. We brought in hundreds of our coordinators and saturated Hollywood in prayer. We were invited onto movie studio lots and TV production offices. Christians in the industry spoke to us and taught us how to pray for leaders and impact in that sphere.
“So many students were praying from their dorm rooms, believing to see revival on their campuses — starting with them.”
The third one I participated in was the education tour, which is near and dear to my heart. We went to 52 campuses in 56 days, including Harvard, MIT, Yale, West Point and Clemson. We went to state campuses and the major Christian campuses including Liberty, Wheaton and Trinity.
It was quite the journey getting to spend time with that next generation. So many students were praying from their dorm rooms, believing to see revival on their campuses — starting with them.
When A Teen Receives Cancer Diagnosis
In the midst of these events, how have you seen prayer make a difference in lives and society?
Branzell: We have seen thousands of answers to prayer. Remember, so many prayers are spoken: Lord, protect us from—. We pray over medical diagnoses, we pray over prodigals, all sorts of situations. Sometimes things we were praying against don’t come to pass, where God guards us. We’ve also seen many answered prayers where God takes us through a situation.
I remember the day my son Chandler, then a junior in high school, was diagnosed with a very rare form of blood cancer. We were at Children’s Hospital in Denver. The doctors were apologizing that they had to give him this horrific news. They said they’d do everything they could to try to save him.
Chandler looked at me and looked back at the doctors, and said: “Either way I win. If by the miracle of medication, God allows you to cure me, then he gets the glory. If Jesus chooses to bring me home with him, then that’s the bigger win. Doc, if that’s the decision Jesus makes, then you don’t get the guilt either. With either outcome, all glory goes to God.”
I watched him pray, and we walked that journey together. We prayed his will be done in Chandler as it is in heaven. Today, he is cancer-free. Peace and steadfastness in the Lord made all the difference in the world. God answers prayers across the nation every single day.
A Culture Drowning in Rage
What do you see as the biggest issue facing the American church today?
Branzell: We have lost the ability to have Christlike conversation and civil discourse. Even just a few years ago, you might have been at my house. We’d be having some iced tea on the front porch and debating an issue we disagreed on. We could agree to disagree. I might stand up and say, Do you need some more tea before dinner?
Now, sadly, we hear so many stories of people saying: Get off my front porch. Give me my tea glass. You’re no longer welcome at my dinner table. We even hear about that within families.
We need to go back to praying and loving one another. What if we prayed about our opinions? We need to understand that prayer is a biblical conversation, not a political affiliation. Let’s not let the enemy get those mixed up in our minds.
Expanding the Vision
Any observer would notice a lot of silver hair at NDP events. How do you plan to make leaders in younger generations a vital part of the National Day of Prayer?
Branzell: Many of our over 50,000 gatherings are the next generation. The silver hair tends to be in Washington, D.C. Part of that is because they can afford it; Washington is a very expensive place to come and stay for a week.
But we have to remember that Washington, D.C. is one of tens of thousands of prayer gatherings that happened across this nation on May 2. Even at the national observance, through the miracle of technology, we connected in with Nick Hall and Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. There were many millennials worshipping and praying.
“The next generation is filled with the Holy Spirit and passionate about prayer.”
The next generation is filled with the Holy Spirit and passionate about prayer. I want to hear more from them and spotlight what they’re doing. Maybe we’ll talk less about Washington, and more about the whole nation and all the prayers being lifted up. We need them.
We would be foolish if we thought there was one generation, one ethnicity, one gathering, or one person that could call this nation to prayer. The Body of Christ is beautiful in reflecting every nation, tribe and tongue.
Jesus never called us to go it alone. He never sent his disciples out alone. We will continue to reach out to every community and all denominations, because we’re all the Body of Christ.
Power of a Praying Mother
With Mother’s Day on the horizon, how has prayer been a part of your life as a mom?
Branzell: In every breath! I prayed for my children before they were born, as God was knitting them together. I prayed as I rocked them to sleep, for them to love God first, and for their someday spouses.
With friends and sports activities, we’ve had prayer times. We’ve been very involved in church, leading Bible studies. And we also had Jesus conversations at the dinner table and in the car. You sure have to pray your way through middle school!
My two kids are now adults, and I’m still praying. My son and I were both carried through and healed in our cancer journeys.
Prayer has always been our go-to in any conflict or friendship drama. It continues to be a big part of our lives. Many moms I know would say Amen to that.