Seven years ago, Joel Osteen was running the cameras at his father’s Houston church. Then his father died of a heart attack. Osteen, who didn’t finish college and never attended seminary, took over as pastor.
“It was just something that I knew on the inside that I was supposed to do,” recalls the soft-spoken Osteen.
It turns out Osteen has a natural gift for the pulpit. His message of positive thinking and living is just what the congregation wanted — Lakewood Church is now the largest church in the country with 40,000 people attending, over four services each weekend.
Osteen, a regular on religious broadcasting, has been called America’s “most-watched preacher.”
“I’m amazed by it all,” says Osteen, referring to his rapid success. The pastor spoke by phone before his sold-out speaking engagement that was scheduled for Friday night at Arco Arena.
Osteen, 43, has a folksy, friendly style. Always smiling, he delivers upbeat, can-do sermons about living to one’s potential.
His best-selling book based on a series of sermons, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” (Warner Faith, $19.99, 320 pages), has been a best-seller since 2004. Osteen’s follow-up book could reportedly earn him as much as $13 million.
But Osteen says his ministry has never been about the money. “I’ve never asked for money on TV — neither did my father — and I never will.”
Although he urges believers to develop “a prosperous mind-set,” Osteen says it is not accurate to describe him as a prosperity preacher or someone who preaches about material wealth.
“My father came out of the Depression and he rose up out of that. What I’m telling people is that God has something big for you and it’s possible for anyone to grow — and I don’t mean just financially, either. It could be in your marriage or in your other relationships.”
Aware of the skepticism surrounding televangelists, Osteen releases financial information about the church.
Lakewood Church, which meets at the Compaq Center, former arena of the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association, has about a $75 million budget this year, according to Don Iloff, church spokesman. Collections taken at worship services bring in about $1 million a week; an additional $20 million is mailed in. Osteen no longer takes his $200,000-a-year salary from the church.
“We have nothing to hide. I’d rather put it all out on the table,” says Osteen. “God has blessed us.”
Osteen’s message of challenging oneself is something that has worked for him. The preacher’s son says that being a pastor didn’t come easily for him. Naturally shy, he says, his dad tried for years to get him to speak on Sundays but he didn’t want to. He was comfortable being the behind-the-scenes guy.
“I never thought it was in me,” says Osteen. But when his father died, he says, he knew he was meant to became pastor.
“I just knew,” he says.
Osteen remembers delivering his first Sunday sermon.
“It was nerve-racking … but I believe that God puts things in you that you don’t know you have, and that you have to put your faith in him.
“So I did.”
Almost immediately, Osteen’s sermons struck a chord.
“My guess is that people are looking for something hopeful and practical. These days, there’s a lot of negativity in the world, and people want an alternative.”
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