WASHINGTON–They flocked to see him. From Maryland, Virginia, even Pennsylvania they came to see their favorite minister. Joel Osteen, the pastor of Houston-based Lakewood Church, is on tour.
His appearance last week at the MCI Center in the nation’s capital had the feel of a rock concert, complete with band, singers and clapping, screaming fans.
Osteen has gained popularity throughout the nation and around the world through his televised services from Houston every Sunday.
He’s taken advantage of the wave of appeal. He makes his sermons available for sale and has written a best-seller, “Your Best Life Now.”
Doreen Smith and her husband, Richard, were at the event because “You can never learn enough about God,” Doreen said.
The couple live in Lanham, Md., in Prince George’s County, and they attend the Victory Christian Ministries International in Washington, D.C., several times a week–Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Though they have their own church, they also watch Joel Osteen on his weekly television show.
“I like to hear him,” Doreen said.
“He gives you confidence, [makes you] capable of doing everything and anything,” said Richard.
Osteen’s focus during the evening iterated a few of his central themes. One is: “Be the victor, not the victim.” He told people not to dwell on their problems or their past.
“Don’t magnify your problems, magnify your God,” is another theme he professed. He said some people say they’ll wait until their problems go away, then they’ll be happy.
But, Osteen said you have to enjoy “the season you’re in now.”
Another nugget: “God meets us at the level of our expectations. If you expect big things, God will give you big things.”
Having a good attitude is the main thing. If you say negative things, you’ll have negative things, he said.
Positive affirmations are important, such as: “I am blessed”; “Everything I touch prospers and succeeds”; “God has a great plan”; and “Good days are up ahead.”
His message isn’t received as readily by ministers.
Pastor Mark Dunn of Chancellor Christian Church in Spotsylvania County thinks Osteen’s theology, stressing the power of love, is unbalanced.
Dunn said it’s important to include sin, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and that there are consequences to wrongdoings.
The founding pastor of a congregation of about 100, Dunn has discussed Osteen with his congregants, but hasn’t watched his telecast.
Osteen is “a caring, kind person. But I don’t agree with his philosophy. He focuses on the rosy side of things. The message of the Gospel includes sin so you can’t ignore it,” Dunn said.
However, the MCI Center audience absorbed every word.
“He makes me feel good about myself,” said Anne Moran, 47, from Fairfax. She came with her sister and four cousins. She said she watches Osteen every Sunday.
Traveling on a chartered bus from Waynesboro, Pa., was Vivian Biser, 76. She was sitting with her best friend, Gloria Stein.
“I love to hear the word of God,” Biser said. “I think that he [Osteen] really leads you in the right direction.”
She’s a regular watcher and also attends the Calvary Assembly of God in Waynesboro.
But not all fans are churchgoers. Darlene Ellis of Pasadena, Md., near Baltimore, was there with her husband, Robert, 49, her 13-year-old daughter and her 91-year-old mother-in-law.
Ellis was raised a Catholic, but no longer attends church. “I love Joel Osteen,” she said. “He gets me through the week. Sometimes I watch him in the morning and at night. The first day tickets went on sale, I got online.”
Osteen’s mother got her turn on the stage. Dodie Osteen is a lively woman who described how she survived liver cancer and said she owes it to the Lord. She was told in 1981 that she had only a few weeks to live.
One of the things she did that she thinks helped her to heal was to read specific Scriptures in the Bible every day.
In addition to his mother, Osteen’s wife, Victoria, also got a chance to speak. She says at home Joel is the same as he is in the pulpit. “What you see is what you get,” she said.
Osteen emphasized what a wonderful friend and supporter Victoria is. He also introduced their two children, Alexandra, 6, and Jonathan, 10.
The evening was punctuated with songs from a large ensemble of musicians and singers. The words were shown on the big screens around the arena.
Some of the crowd stood and swayed, clapping the beat. Almost everyone sang along.
In addition to his inspirational talk, Osteen gave an introduction to the beginnings of his ministry, how he took over the reins from his father of Lakewood Church.
His father was a minister and Joel worked with him behind the scenes for 17 years, he said.
He never envisioned himself in front ministering to a congregation–a congregation that now fills the Compaq Center, an arena that holds 16,000 people, the former home of the Houston Rockets.
When his father became too ill to work and then passed away, Osteen, at first reluctantly, moved into his place.
He acknowledged that he never went to seminary.
Pastor Tommy Winstead, of Abundant Life Assembly of God in Garrisonville, is a fan, but he sees a few flaws in Osteen’s theology and lack of formal schooling in a seminary.
A member of his congregation asked Winstead to read Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now,” so they could discuss it. Winstead enjoyed the book, but faults Osteen for his biblical interpretations. He said Osteen cites, in at least two places, Scripture from the Bible and quotes them out of context.
But, Winstead admits he’s being picky, and for the most part, his impression of Osteen is very positive.
Overall, he thinks, Osteen encourages people. “I find him to be very uplifting, very positive in his presentation,” he said.
With his boyish good looks, and humble approach, Osteen is packing them in, on tour and at home in Houston with his words of comfort and hope.
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