CBN.com How would you like to attend a church with 8,000 people? Pastor Joel Osteen has four services that large every week at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Lisa Ryan recently visited Joel and his wife, Victoria, in Houston to find out what draws the crowds.
Pastor Joel Osteen makes you feel good. He’s positive. He is encouraging. That’s what draws some 30,000 people a week to Lakewood Church in Houston. It’s also why Osteen’s new book, Your Best Life Now, is on the New York Times bestseller list.
Osteen’s father, John, founded Lakewood in 1959. He pastored the church for 40 years until his sudden death in 1999. Joel never wanted to preach. He never went to seminary. He loved running Lakewood’s TV ministry – from behind the scenes. When his father died, Joel sensed an overwhelming call to the Lakewood pulpit.
LISA RYAN: It is amazing that your church has grown in the last six years from 8,000 to 30,000 people. How do you account for the growth that you’ve had? What draws the masses?
JOEL OSTEEN: I don’t know if it’s one thing, but I just think people respond to hope and encouragement and that atmosphere of victory in the celebration we have each week. There are so many things pulling us down during the week. They want to come and get something to lift them up.
LISA RYAN: I was amazed to see how much family has rallied around you in the last six years. It’s not just Joel Osteen. Your entire family has rallied around this.
JOEL OSTEEN: That’s right. My brother Paul, he came back. He left from being a surgeon for 17 years in Little Rock. He came back home and he shares up there. He and my sister Lisa, they alternate on Wednesday nights. And, of course, Victoria’s involved in all the services. You saw my mom up there. We just believe it’s not a one-man show. We’re all called to do this.
VICTORIA OSTEEN: I love the fact that we’re still just normal Joel and Victoria and our children and our dog, and we can still have fun. That is miraculous to me. God is wonderful. He has a good life for people, and I don’t think He wants us to be burdened down. I think our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. I think we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re just pushing forward.
LISA RYAN: With a church the size of yours, how do you meet the individual needs of people?
JOEL OSTEEN: The key, we believe, is to get more people involved. We have about 3,000 or 4,000 volunteers. We try to get everybody involved like that, and we have a lot of organization in terms of hospital ministries and care groups and cell groups.
LISA RYAN: Joel, before your father’s sudden passing, did you have a desire to preach or be in the pulpit or pastor?
JOEL OSTEEN: I never had. My daddy tried to get me up to speak for the 17 years that I worked behind the scenes, but I never had the desire. Naturally, I was nervous and kind of shy. I just didn’t want to do it. When my father died, it sounds kind of simple but I just had the desire to step up and pastor the church. It was what I was supposed to do. I just took that step of faith. Looking back now, I don’t even know how I preached back then. I didn’t know how to preach, necessarily, but God just gives you the grace to do what you need to do.
LISA RYAN: [to Victoria] Did you believe that this was something he could do? Did you encourage him?
VICTORIA OSTEEN: Yes, but I am Joel’s biggest fan, and I’ve always been Joel’s biggest fan because I, being his wife, know what’s inside of him. I could see more than he could see. We can’t always see what we can do, but someone who’s close to us can.
LISA RYAN: Did you have an inkling when he walked into your family’s jewelry store 17 years ago that this was the man for you?
VICTORIA OSTEEN: Not at first, but after awhile. It wasn’t that it wasn’t love at first sight, but I was just cautious. It didn’t take long to realize. What I did know about him was that he was everything that I wanted in a man. He came from a good family. He had great character. He was kind and he was considerate, yet he was strong. After 17 years, going on 18 years -- and that’s thrilling for a wife to say -- he still surprises me. He still excites me. My respect level -- and I’ve always said this -- goes up, up, up every year, and I love that.
LISA RYAN: [to Joel] Your book is doing extremely well. It’s been on the New York Times bestseller list. You’ve sold over 1.5 million copies, soon to be 2 million. Why did you decide to write a book?
JOEL OSTEEN: I just wanted to get the message that God had put into my heart into another form, because I knew the print media would reach a different group of people.
LISA RYAN: You talk about the power of thoughts and words. How do you stop the runaway thought life?
JOEL OSTEEN: I don’t think it’s enough just to get rid of those thoughts. You need to replace them with something else to dwell on. I like to replace them with what God says about me or with God’s Word. I think the first thing to do is to be aware that you can choose what you’re thinking about and that your life is going down the path that you’re thinking. So many people are looking at what’s wrong, and I try to encourage them to look at what’s right in their life. A lot of people have it a lot worse than you do. So, it’s just a matter of choice.
LISA RYAN: There are always critics whenever there is any success. Your critics say that you’re light on theology, that it’s a simplistic, merely motivational message. How do you respond to that?
JOEL OSTEEN: I made a decision when my father passed away that I was going to be who God made me to be and not try to preach like my father or somebody else. I feel like what’s come out of me is the gift God has given me just to encourage people, to help them know that there’s a better life. I don’t argue when people say that my message is simple, but I believe Jesus’ message was simple. Jesus didn’t go around condemning people. The Bible says it’s the goodness of God that leads people to repentance.
LISA RYAN: Some people would say that it’s just positive thinking. Is there a Biblical foundation for positive thinking?
JOEL OSTEEN: Well, I think there is. It’s more than positive thinking because it’s backed up well by the Bible. It’s faith-based, positive thinking, but there are principles -- I’ll be the first to admit -- that will work for anybody if you put them into practice. People sometimes say, 'Well, Joel, you’re so positive. You’re too positive.' But you know what? The Bible says, 'Rejoice in the Lord always.' Paul said, 'I’ve learned how to be content in every situation.' That tells me that even in the tough times, I can say God’s got better days ahead and I can be positive even in those times.
LISA RYAN: What’s in store for the next generation of Lakewood?
JOEL OSTEEN: That we would really be able to help change the culture and not just a Christian or a church group of people. Let’s start affecting our whole city, and maybe we can affect the whole nation, the whole world. I’d like to affect it with the fact that God is a good God and He’s on your side and He’s got a good plan for you and when you put your hand in His, great things can happen.
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