A Night of Hope

By CHASE CUNNINGHAM
The Voice-Tribune Intern

Joel Osteen and his ministry will share their spiritual message with the city of Louisville during a Night of Hope event at the KFC Yum! Center on Sept. 5.

During the two and a half-hour service, Osteen’s wife Victoria, also a minister with their Lakewood Church, will speak. His mother will share her story of overcoming cancer as well. Local ministers will have a moment to voice their thoughts and prayers. “The whole night is tied around hope,” Osteen said. “God is for you. Good things are in store.”

Osteen believes his central concept is “a great way to live a better life,” and that it is just as relevant to secular audiences as religious ones – in fact, over half of his audience does not identify as churchgoing. In the past 10 years, over 2 million people have attended one of Osteen’s Night of Hope events across many different countries.

Osteen’s digital and broadcast following is even stronger. Over 12 million American households watch his program each week, and millions more key into his Podcasts, online stream and emails.

According to the New York Times, Osteen is one of Twitter’s most influential people, with almost 3 million followers. The Times have also listed Osteen repeatedly as a best-selling author.

John Osteen, Joel’s father, started Lakewood Church in 1959 with a 90-member congregation. His son returned after college to produce and broadcast the services. When the father suddenly passed away of a heart attack in 1999, Joel felt commanded to take charge of the ministry.

“I knew down deep I was supposed to step up and pastor the church,” Osteen said. “I had never ministered before and never wanted to be a minister. I didn’t think this was in me, but somehow I just had the desire.”

Osteen believes his years spent producing the church’s services were “all part of God’s plan.” Today, he still edits his own sermons. “I don’t think I would be where I am without that production background.”

It didn’t take long for Osteen to find his rhythm. Today, the Lakewood community is 43,000-strong and fills the former Compaq Center in Houston, Texas for seven weekly services. The facility was purchased from the Houston Rockets in 2003 and renovated to the tune of $105 million.

“I never dreamed it would grow,” Osteen said. “I feel very blessed and honored to be where I am. That’s part of our message: God’s dream for your life is bigger than your own.”

Osteen credits the message’s infective positivism, which is difficult to find in media today, with his success. “I think life pushes people down enough, and our message is about lifting people up,” Osteen said. “I think that’s one reason it draws people from all walks of life.”

All kinds of people – not just Christians – can expect an extended hand from Osteen. Practical advice and encouragement are the “starting point” that comes before conversion and doctrine with the Lakewood ministry. Religious semantics are not to be bothered with.

“I’ve tried to make the Christian life relevant to people that weren’t raised like me,” he said. “How do you forgive? How do you have a good attitude? How do you have a good self-image? I think that applies to so many people. I’m trying to plant a seed in people’s hearts and uplift them in some way.”

For Osteen, the Christ-like life exists in basketball arenas and baseball stadiums, not only behind closed church doors. The Night of Hope format was “designed for people that weren’t raised in church,” Osteen said. “When Jesus was on the earth, he went to the marketplace. He was called a friend of sinners. He went out to where the people were.”

At the end of the day, Osteen still considers himself a traditional minister, and a continuum of his father’s message. However, not everyone in the Christian community is supportive of Osteen’s message and ministry. Some rebuke it as “prosperity gospel” and claim that it only offers a false guarantee of success due to positive spiritual living.

Osteen doesn’t see himself in the light cast by others. “Half of my message is about overcoming obstacles and how you get through these tough times,” he said. “I believe prosperity means to have good relationships, to have good health, to be able to pay your bills, to be a blessing to other people.”

“We teach the Bible, we teach the scripture. We just do it in a practical, relevant way,” Osteen said. “Whether you’ve been in this all your life or you’re new, I think you’ll get something out of it that you can use that week.”

Courtesy Photos.