- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2024

If Joel Osteen has said it once, he’s said it 999 times: “I’d like to talk to you today about” a Bible verse or Christian subject.

On Sunday, Mr. Osteen will deliver his 1,000th sermon in the pulpit of Lakewood Church in Houston — the nation’s largest megachurch, which seats 16,000 at each service.

But he says never expected to be a preacher, even as he marks 25 years as Lakewood’s senior pastor.

“I just never knew this was in me,” Mr. Osteen said in an interview.

His father, John Osteen, founded the Lakewood congregation 65 years ago in an abandoned feed store, and Joel worked as a television producer for the church. The elder Osteen asked his son many times during those 17 years of television production to “step up and minister for him,” but Joel Osteen declined, thinking he didn’t have the training his father possessed.

John Osteen died in January 1999.

“All of a sudden, when my dad passed, I felt like I knew I was supposed to step up,” Mr. Osteen said. “I didn’t know if I could do it, I didn’t know people would listen, I don’t know if I’d be any good, but I thought I’m going to take that step of faith.”

Lakewood has grown exponentially under Mr. Osteen’s leadership. His sermons are broadcast weekly to millions on television and continuously on a SiriusXM satellite radio channel.

Additionally, his Joel Osteen Ministries places weekly sermon recordings on local TV stations after the Sunday evening news program, offering what Mr. Osteen says is a message of hope in response to the usually dismal headlines.

He also has written numerous bestselling inspirational books and has conducted sold-out “Night of Hope” events at Yankee Stadium and other large venues.

“It’s the amazing goodness of our God, of how he puts things in us that we don’t know we have,” he said. “That’s why it’s been so easy for me to encourage people that [they] have gifts and talents and God knows how to open doors that we can’t open.”

Mr. Osteen has his fans: 27 million people follow him on Facebook, 10.1 million on X and 3.5 million on YouTube. He also has his critics, who label his sermons “Christianity lite” and say he proffers a “prosperity gospel” that emphasizes rewards in this life over spiritual gains.

But Max Lucado, an evangelical pastor and author with more than 125 million books in print, disagrees with the detractors. He has preached several times at Lakewood and said Mr. Osteen has a specific target for his messages.

Joel has a word for people who don’t like the church,” Mr. Lucado said in an interview. “He’s trying to talk to the person that is turned off from church, turned off from religion, and he’s just trying to tell them the simple message of hope.”

Coming up with those simple messages is a multistage process, Mr. Osteen said. He begins with Bible study and note-taking on Wednesdays, followed by more study the next day.

“On Friday, I get up and I type it like I’m going to talk it, so I’ll write every word down,” he said. “I get it memorized and I give it on Sunday.”

He said he’s unlike other preachers who extemporize from a written outline.

“I’m much better when I write it down,” he said.

Mr. Osteen says he has “grown considerably” since that first sermon in Lakewood’s old sanctuary. He personally greets 500 visitors to the church every Sunday after the 11 a.m. service, and dealing with people over the years has shown him that “everybody’s fighting a battle” in their lives, he says.

“There’s no perfect theology that fits every person,” he said, so he tries to make his messages “maybe more loving, understanding, compassionate” than he had at the outset.

Lakewood’s three-year struggle to acquire the former Compaq Center, where the nonprofit had to surmount objections from the Houston City Council and opposition by a property developer, is another source of inspiration for his sermons, Mr. Osteen said.

“It prepared me for where I am today, meaning that there are big challenges out there, but we have big opportunities,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is you don’t fight the closed doors, the disappointments and the people that come against you. You let God fight those battles. You stay in faith.”

Asked if he hopes to equal the 1,500 “Hour of Power” television sermons delivered by the late Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller, whose Crystal Cathedral in California was the Lakewood Church of its day, Mr. Osteen said he might surpass it.

“I would love to keep going,” he said. “I feel young. I feel healthy and you know, I feel honored to be able to share. Every morning I get up and say, ‘Lord, thank you for the honor of giving me a platform and people who want to listen.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2024 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide