How Joyce Meyer Built a Worldwide Following

By telling darkest secrets, Meyer built world audience and lucrative ministry.

ByABC News
April 12, 2010, 5:54 PM

April 13, 2010 — -- At 66, Joyce Meyer is as close as it gets to being a Christian rock star. But she herself -- abused as a child, divorced young, a woman who admits to stealing from her boss -- says she is an unlikely success story.

People, women in particular, flock to Meyer's conferences on Christianity, which are peppered with down-home advice on how to live, love and work with God in your life.

"I tell people, and it's the truth, I could sit in my garage for a week and it won't make me a car," Meyer said. "And you can sit in church till your bottom is flat and that won't make you a servant of Christ."

Meyer's ministry has attracted millions of devoted followers through a successful TV show, a Web site, a radio show and Meyer's books. Her 80th title, "Eat the Cookie ... Buy the Shoes: Giving Yourself Permission to Lighten Up," is coming out today. She said she has sold in excess of 20 million books. Her headquarters in a sprawling complex outside St Louis was paid for with cash, she said.

It is in large part Meyer's honesty about her struggles that makes her so appealing to so many.

"I was in a terrible mess in my childhood," said Meyer, who calls herself a Bible teacher. "Just had so many devastating things happen to me; sexual abuse, verbal abuse, abandonment, just one mess after another. So let's just say by the time I was a young adult, I was really messed up."

The sexual abuse Meyer suffered at the hands of her father is part of her preaching, part of what defines her.

"The abuse started, I guess, around the time I was 5," Meyer said. "As I got older, it turned into, you know, him actually having sex with me. My own father raped me. ... I know it happened at least 200 times, so for me to stand here and say I'm of sound mind, I'm whole emotionally, I've been married to the same man for 44 years, I have four wonderful children, almost 10 grandchildren, and I'm being able to help people all over the world, God has done a lot for me."

One question that arises from Meyer's life narrative is whether we'd be talking about a Joyce Meyer Ministry without her horrible childhood, without the continual rape.

"I'm not sure we would be," Meyer said. "And I can tell you something even crazier. ... I used to say, of course I wish that would've never happened to me. But, and one day I just thought, you know, I can't even really say that anymore. Because of the deep need in my life, because of what had happened to me, I had to find help with God, no one else was going to help me. And the things that I've been through, and even being in this public position, the judgment, the criticism, the potshots that people throw at you, I mean other than my immediate family, I've had to find a way to go on in God."

Meyer said she believes her candor is a large part of her appeal, which she displays not just at conferences but also on her global television show.

"I think it's my transparency, you know people ask me about that and it's not something I do on purpose, it's just the way I am," she said. "It's what you get, you're not going to see me in my private life and find me very much different than right here talking to you. ... I don't have anything to hide, it's like, why not tell the truth?"