Reaching people around the world through his television ministry, Joel Osteen embraces even more— including nonbelievers—with his powerful personal-development message.
I am sitting in the coveted front row of what used to be the Compaq Center, former home of the Houston Rockets. The stage is brilliant with multicolored lights. Guitarists, a bass player and other musicians in jeans are warming up. Three singers take the stage and the crowd of nearly 16,000 cheers as the group begins to sing along with a backup choir.
No, I’m not watching Lady Antebellum, the country-pop crossover band. I am, however, about to see one of the greatest crossover successes of our generation: Joel Osteen.
As the praise music concludes, Osteen’s wife and co-pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Victoria Osteen, takes the stage. She welcomes everyone and then tells the story of a trip to Italy she and Joel took when they were newly married. They wanted to get Joel’s father, John—then the pastor of Lakewood—something special.
They selected a gleaming pair of crocodile shoes. “He loved them,” Victoria says. At that point, she is silent as she gives the crowd a moment to remember John, who died in 1999.
But one week before his death, his younger son, Joel, preached his first sermon. Victoria says he was scared, so he slipped on his father’s crocodile shoes.
“He wasn’t trying to fill those shoes,” Victoria says. “He wore them because they gave him strength.” Osteen wore his father’s shoes each time he spoke at Lakewood for the next two years. Then one day, he said to his wife, “Victoria, I think it’s time I get my own pair of shoes.”
Osteen had found his voice.
Today, Lakewood Church draws about 43,000 worshipers every weekend and 10 million television viewers around the world. The TV ministry that reaches 12 million homes in the United States and more than 100 nations worldwide was Osteen’s idea.
He and his four siblings had grown up in their father’s church. During his one year at Oral Roberts University studying radio and television communications, Osteen called his dad with the idea of increasing church attendance by putting Lakewood on TV. They started on one local station and one national cable channel in the early ’80s.
In his book Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week , Osteen says he worked long hours on a strategy for radio broadcasts as well, but his father, then 75, rejected the idea of more long hours. “I was so disappointed,” Osteen says. “I considered leaving to pursue my own opportunities.” But he stayed, working on the television broadcasts and developing his marketing savvy. Two years later, his father died. “I realize now God put those dreams in my heart for my own ministry,” he says. “It just wasn’t the right time.”
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