Joel Osteen is an American author, preacher, televangelist, as well as the senior pastor at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Currently the Lakewood Church is the largest Protestant church in all of the United States. The story of how Joel Osteen became the voice of millions and the positive impact he has made worldwide did not start off quite like you might imagine. As if guided by God himself, Joel began his journey to the top actually refusing to follow this path. His unique journey is a testament to anyone who cannot see today how they are going to succeed, they just know that they are going to be a success.
The Joel Osteen Story Begins
Joel was born on March 5, 1963 to John and Dodie Osteen. His father John Osteen was the founding minister at the Lakewood Church in 1959. The church he founded was nondenominational, and was right in the middle of a predominantly African-American neighborhood. His following grew quickly because he would preach the message that all his churchgoers should have a deep faith, good health, prosperity, and more importantly a solid family unit. This message became the rallying cry of the Lakewood Church, as more locals began to flock to the church because of the unique message. By the end of 1979, the senior Osteen had grown his following at the church to over 5,000 members. Joel grew up listening to that message and was always a part of the church family activities, seeing firsthand the impact that his father’s message had on people of all races.
Joel Osteen’s Destiny Was Not Clear
While the Lakewood Church was growing, Joel was busy attending high school and feeling his way around as he tried to find the path in life he was destined for. Joel did not seem to inherit the appeal that his father had for getting up in front of large crowds and bringing people together. As a matter of fact, Joel was so shy that he never even attending the senior prom at his Houston high school. At a young age, it was clear Joel was excellent at sports, and he went on to pursue higher learning at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. He shocked both his mother and father less than a year after he left for college when he returned back home and suggested to them he set-up a television ministry at the Lakewood Church. The senior Osteen had seen firsthand how other preachers like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker would use the media pulpit to pander to churchgoers for contributions. He agreed to let Joel start the ministry under the condition that Lakewood would never use that pulpit for appealing for any contributions.
Working Behind the Scenes at Lakewood Church
Over the next 15 years, Joel immersed himself in the ministry and was the producer and director of the weekly Sunday service. The Lakewood Church service aired on a local Houston television station, then later it aired on the Family Channel. Joel would also travel the world at his father’s side, assisting in outreach work but all the while avoiding a much more active role. Joel was perfectly content and pulling all the strings behind the scenes while his father enjoyed all the accolades. During this time, his father would sit down with Joel and ask him to take the stage and deliver a sermon or simply speak at the many church services. Joel’s mother Dodie and his sister Lisa would regularly step up and enjoy speaking to the churchgoers. Each time Joel was asked to step up, he simply declined and stated that he was perfectly content in the role he was given.
The Path to God is Revealed to Joel
Joel was enjoying his position as the director of the televised ministry for the Lakewood Church, and he loved being able to work alongside his father during this time. Joel never wanted to be in the spotlight, he adored his father and would just stand back in awe as his father commanded the stage and grew the following on a global level. However, things were about to take a sudden change for Joel. In 1999 his father began to feel increasingly taxed by kidney and heart problems. As his health deteriorated that year, he found he was getting too weak to even deliver the Sunday sermon. On one occasion he asked Joel to please take his place and deliver the sermon that day. Again, Joel politely declined the invitation thinking his sister or mother would step up. This time however, something inside nudged Joel and he picked up the phone and called his father saying yes, he would give the sermon this coming Sunday for his father.
Standing at the Edge of a New Journey
When that Sunday arrived, Joel found himself more nervous than he had ever been in his life. He was terrified to get up in front of such a large crowd and what made things worse is he was even more nervous that he might let his father down. The morning of the sermon, Joel borrowed a pair of his father’s dress shoes to give him the emotional support he needed for this task. He got up on the stage before a crowd of 6,000 churchgoers, and quickly fell into the role of pastor. Joel’s sermon was not like his father’s and his style was noticeably different. Joel had a more affable and easygoing style that seemed to instantly connected with those in attendance. Eleven days after that sermon, John Osteen passed away from a heart attack. Joel was named as successor to his father’s legacy, and he accepted the role as pastor for the Lakewood Church.
The Light Has Been Revealed
Joel immediately took to his role as the pastor of the Lakewood Church, and the churchgoers saw something they could instantly connect with. The attendance numbers at the church exploded over the next few years thanks in part to Joel’s anecdotes from his personal life mixed in with the faith messages of his father. During one of his first sermons, Joel told the story about the hardships couples face in marriage, and suggested ways that could help them to strengthen their relationship. He then started incorporating more music into those sermons, allowing his guests to join in if the spirit moved them. His unique style was a breath of fresh air to the ministry, and his appeal connected him with a new audience of young viewers who traditionally were not a part of these type sermons.
Joel Osteen Takes on the World
As Joel Osteen became more recognized globally, his following continued to grow, His messages were often inspirational, unlike the traditional sermons many young viewers were used to hearing. They connected with his messages because he would always include a funny personal story from his own life experience that would strike a cord with his viewers. Sprinkled in each sermon, Joel would urge his churchgoers to have faith in God because it will guide you to the right path in life. As Christians, Joel would not point out the shortcomings in anyone without first showing fault in himself. He would regularly explain instances where he lost his cool, where he made mistakes, and where he made mistakes in his marriage. This connection allowed followers of different faiths to see a human side to the pastor, and his following was now invested emotionally in the Lakewood Church.
Time to Let Go of the Past
Over the following five years, Joel Osteen saw his church following grow exponentially to the point that they easily outgrew the facility in which Joel’s father called home. As the old adage goes, “you can’t keep a good man down.” That church his father founded all those years ago was just too small to handle the growing amount of new followers that wanted to be a part of the sermons each Sunday. The audience was now a unique cross-section of seniors, teenagers, and singles of every race and economic background. Joel faced a huge problem at this point in his life, he would need to move to a larger facility, but he wanted to do things on his own terms. Joel was not willing to pay the price for a new facility if he believed they wanted too much money for the property. So he sat back and decided to let the Lord lead him to the right path as He had always done in the past. If Joel was going to open a new church, it had to be built to honor his father and carry on the tradition his father started all those years ago.
The Answer is Right There in Front of You
Joel fell in love with the arena that the basketball team the Houston Rockets called home. This facility was enormous, able to house all the new people who wanted to attend his Sunday sermons, and had the potential to become one of the most glorious facilities in the world. The Compaq Center was the perfect home for the Lakewood Church, but the sale was not so cut and dry. He was only willing to offer so much money for the property, and he would not waver on that price. The municipal authorities did not like his original offer, so Joel used his incredible negotiating skills to explain in layman’s terms how by letting the ministry take over the facility today, the city of Houston would benefit many years down the road. Joel used a philosophy from his book, stating to just get in the place first, negotiate the terms later. His amazing presentation won over the city, beating out a very affluent real estate developer, and is now the new home of Lakewood Church.
If You Build It They Will Come
Almost 45 years after his father opened the Lakewood church to a handful of local residents, in 2005 Joel Osteen opened the new Lakewood Church in their new location. He spent more than $90 million dollars to renovate the arena, and it is now able to seat over 16,000 patrons during his Sunday sermons. Joel continues to carry on the tradition his father was so adamant about, that family relationships are the most important thing and should be nurtured until they form a strong and unbreakable bond. Joel’s brother Paul, who he frequently pokes fun at during his sermons, is a successful surgeon that gave up his practice to be a part of the Lakewood Church. Joel’s wife Victoria is also a regular target of the humor he sprinkles during his sermons. She can be seen by his side at many global events and will often take the stage herself to deliver messages of faith, love, and happiness. Joel’s mother, Dodie, today still gets up and speaks at Sunday services. Joel and Victoria have two children, Alexandria and Jonathan, who also take very active roles in the Sunday services at the Lakewood Church. Jonathan plays guitar and Alexandria has beautiful singing voice.
Connecting With a Brand New Audience
The reason that the Lakewood Church continues to grow each year is due directly to the messages that Joel preaches each week. His unique stories and philosophy resonate with a new generation, and his personality is a breath of fresh air as new viewers welcome him into their homes each Sunday. He has a way to tell a story about shopping at the store in dirty clothes and somehow intertwining a message that presents both vulnerability and ancient Christian traditions in one. He somehow tells his story, preaches his message, and in the end the churchgoer feels happy about that journey. He says repeatedly in his sermons that prosperity simply is not about money. He reminds his followers to get into a good bible based church and improve that relationship you have with your wife, your children, your friends, and your coworkers. He is also an advocate for having a healthy body, something you don’t regularly hear preached in church.
Joel Osteen and his entire family have had an inspirational and emotional impact in the hearts of his millions of fans. In addition to speaking his message at the Lakewood Church, in 2005 Joel wrote the book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential“, which was not just an immediate sensation. It remained on the New York Times list of the bestselling hardcover advice books for well over a year. Today Joel Osteen can be seen on many cable television stations, or speaking live around the world during his Sunday sermon. He has come a long way since that shy teenager who politely refused to stand in front of 5,000 churchgoers to deliver a Sunday sermon.