Joel Scott Osteen is a pastor, author and television host who leads America’s largest Christian congregation, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Through his weekly broadcasts that reach more than ten million people in over one hundred nations across the world, Joel has become a very significant and inspirational part of the lives of the millions of viewers who eagerly wait to see his program every week.
More than a Motivational Speaker
To his church, Joel is more than just an encourager—his simple, yet powerful words of faith and encouragement have uplifted the lives of the thousands of people that attend Lakewood Church every week. Joel’s messages that revolve around the hope that we have in God’s mercy and goodness have greatly revolutionized the way that Christians have looked at God for so many years.
Joel’s ministry has had an amazing influence to literally tens of millions of people around the world. In fact, he has received quite a number of recognitions as evidence of just how significant he has been to millions of people around the world—not just as a motivational speaker or author, but as a pastor and a man of God. He was once named as the Most Influential Christian in America by The Church Report, and was included in the 10 Most Fascinating People of 2006 by ABC News.
It is no surprise as to why so many people are drawn to Joel and his ministry. Dubbed as the “Smiling Preacher” (which has done him more compliment than criticism), Joel is a very optimistic person, and emits an atmosphere of kindness and happiness wherever he is. Whether on television or in the neighbourhood, Joel has always been described by people who know him as someone who is always cheerful, and never fails to cheer someone else up all the time.
A Positive Message of Hope, Love and Forgiveness
But what sets Joel apart from other pastors and makes him extraordinary is the kind of messages that he preaches on the pulpit every weekend at his church. While a lot of American pastors are known for their “hellfire and brimstone” sermons, Joel is very much the opposite because he never condemns nor criticizes people for the wrong things that they did; instead, his messages are about finding hope and a new beginning, letting go of the past and looking forward to the great life that God has already prepared for them.
In one of his sermons, Joel made this statement:
“Our attitude should be, I refuse to dwell on the negative things that have happened to me. I'm not going to go around thinking about all that I've lost. I'm not going to focus on what could have been or should have done. No, I'm going to draw the line in the sand. This is a new day and I'm going to start moving forward knowing that God has a bright future in store for me. If you do that, God will give you a new beginning.”
Having a positive outlook in life is one of the main things that Joel values, and this reflects on everything he does—whether preaching, writing books, going for interviews, or simply talking to someone on the street. For Joel, the world is already riddled with so much negative stuff, and that is why when they come to church, they should be hearing positive, faith-filling messages.
This is what Joel emphasizes in one of the interviews made with him:
“To me it seems like there's so much pulling us down in our society today. There's so much negative. Most of my messages are about how you can live a good life today in spite of all that. I'm not condemning people. I'm there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience and live a victorious life—the Christian life.”
As an author, Joel’s books have all been on the New York Times Bestselling list—from “Your Best Life Now” to his current book, “Break Out!” Combined altogether, Joel’s books have sold more than fifty million copies, making him one of the most successful Christian authors in the world. The messages of hope, having a bright future, and receiving the great things that God has in store for you that are contained in his books have become a significant part of the lives of the millions of people that have read his books.
Loving His Enemies: Joel’s Remarkable Trait
Like with many successful people, Joel has his own share of critics—even more compared to most Christian leaders. Throughout his career, he has been ridiculed, criticized and mocked by people who do not agree with the things he believe. But the amazing thing about this is that, in spite of all the negative things that these people throw at him, Joel never once answered anything negative or fought against the people who are coming against him. Instead, like he preaches, he goes the high road and forgives those who come against him and prays for them.
Joel said this in a message:
“If you want to get rid of your past, you've got to come up higher. Don't ever sink down to their level. Don't ever sink down to their level. Don't try to argue. Don't try to pay somebody back. Don't give them the cold shoulder. Be the bigger person. Overlook their faults. Walk in love. Learn to even bless your enemies. Somebody's talking about you. Somebody's doing you wrong. Just bless them and move on anyway. Let me tell you, in the long run, crows can't hang with eagles. You do that and you'll rise above all that junk.”
Ultimately, the most extraordinary thing that sets Joel apart from many is his amazing sense of humility. Amidst all of his victories and successes, he remains a humble and down to earth person, and never lets these things get into his head. To Joel, everything that he enjoys today is a result of two things: first and foremost is the favor of God in his life, and the second is the efforts and sacrifices of the people that came before him.
Joel Osteen was born in 1963 in his hometown Houston, Texas as one of the five children of John Osteen and Dolores “Dodie” Pilgrim. Although their family was poor, Joel and his siblings spent their entire childhood experiencing the love and care of their parents, who were devoted Christians and wonderful people to those around them.
John Osteen: A Hero to His Children
John, Joel’s father, was a son of a poor cotton farmer and came to know Jesus Christ in his late teenage years. He became a member of a local Southern Baptist congregation and eventually rose through the ranks and became a minister. Prior to meeting Dodie Pilgrim, John entered into a relationship with another woman in which he had a son named John Hillery, Jr (Justin). When the relationship ended, John was distraught but found a new beginning in Dodie. He was able to return to pastoring and take care of his son.
Founding Lakewood Church
After a ‘Holy Spirit’ experience, John started looking at the Bible in a whole new way, and started believing in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, prosperity and principles that were more akin to the ‘charismatic’ movement. Eventually, John and Dodie volunteered to leave their Southern Baptist congregation and started Lakewood Church in 1959 at an abandoned feed store.
Throughout the following years, Lakewood Church, under John’s leadership would grow to have six thousand members. Dodie bore John five children, of which Joel was second to the youngest. The others were Paul, Lisa, Tamara and April.
John and Dodie had such an amazing influence in their children’s life. Being a pastor, John was Joel’s hero, and was looked up to by his children for his being ‘real’—what he preaches, he practices. In an interview made with Joel many years later, when he was asked if he was always a Christian, he simply answered:
“I have always believed. I grew up, you know, my parents were a good Christian people. They showed us love in the home. My parents were the same in the pulpit as they were at home. I think that's where a lot of preachers' kids get off base sometimes. Because they don't see the same things at both places. But I've always believed. I saw it through my parents. And I just grew up believing.”
Joel’s Childhood to Teenage Years
In contrast to his father’s ‘on fire,’ confident and people friendly attitude, the young Joel was quite shy and reserved. Excelling in sports and other extra-curricular activities, Joel did not desire to be in the spotlight, and often preferred to work in the background, helping his team to achieve victory.
As a student, Joel had an incredible memory, and excelled in his studies with ease. When he studied at Houston high school, Joel was active in sports, regularly playing baseball or football with his friends. He was also actively engaged in church activities, and in time developed an interest in broadcasting, something that he would later on fully come into.
Finding a New Passion: Joel’s Entry into Television Production
After graduating from high school, Joel moved to Oklahoma to study at the Oral Roberts University. During his time there, Joel became very fascinated with the whole idea of starting a television program, and started to shift his full attention to media and broadcasting. When his father John announced his decision to take the ministry of Lakewood Church nationally, Joel decided to quit school so he could help his father by starting their very own television ministry.
When Joel was interviewed about the experience that made him decide to be a television producer, he said:
“Back in college, I’ll never forget taking a tour of the Oral Roberts TV studios and being overwhelmed with the power of television to reach millions of people. I applied to work there just pulling camera cables on Oral’s program, but before a job opened, my father made the decision to take his media ministry national. I jumped at the opportunity to help, although I have to admit, my mom wasn’t too happy about my leaving college!”
That decision to leave school and start the television ministry was the best decision that Joel made, because many years later, the experience that he got from working as the producer of his father’s television ministry would help him when he finally embraced his destiny.
And so, Joel approached his father with the proposal of going into television, to which John agreed only upon the stipulation that the church would never use its media to ask for contributions or appeal for funds. This was because of John’s wariness of the ‘televangelists’ (a term used for pastors or church leaders that are on television) who were using their own television ministries so they could solicit donations.
This was a decision that Joel carried on for the rest of his career. In an interview made with him years later, Joel stated:
“We don't ask for money on television. We never have. Since my dad started. I started a television ministry for my father back in '83. That was one decision we made. We just don't ask for money. We never have, we never will.”
Behind the Scenes
For the next fifteen years, Joel worked behind the scenes in the Lakewood Church television ministry, and spent hours editing his father’s sermons and cutting the videos to ensure that his father would look the best he can in front of the television audience. Through that constant work of production, editing and designing, Joel learned so much about doing sermons that it later on helped him when he took over Lakewood Church.
This was what he recalled when he was asked how his work as the producer for the church’s television ministry helped him when he became a pastor:
“That experience taught me two things: First, I learned how to structure a great sermon through editing. To get the sermon down to TV program length, I learned what was essential and what could be edited out. Second, it taught me to spend more time preparing my own sermons, so I do the editing on paper ahead of time rather than cut things out later. I can’t express just how much editing those hundreds of messages from my father taught me about preaching.”
Aside from producing the weekly television broadcasts of his father’s preaching, Joel was also actively engaged in evangelism, and often went with his father in his ministerial travels, more particularly in India, which John held in deep regard. On several occasions, John asked Joel if he wanted to deliver a sermon or speak in a part of the church service (like what his mother Dodie or sister Lisa would regularly do), but Joel always denied these requests, wanting to simply work in the background.
A Miraculous Incident: The Healing of Dodie Osteen
In 1981, the Osteen family encountered a seemingly insurmountable obstacle when the doctors gave them the terrible report that Dodie only had a month to live because of her breast cancer. Although John and his children were greatly distraught at this news, they chose to believe in the goodness of God and prayed for Dodie day and night. Miraculously, Dodie was healed of the disease, an experience which Joel cherishes up to today.
In 1985, Joel met Victoria Iloff, the daughter of an army mathematician and a jeweler, when he went into their shop to buy a battery for his watch. From that time on, the two started to develop a friendly relationship, which then grew into romance. They married in 1987, and currently have two children, Jonathan and Alexandra.
During the mid-to late nineties, John’s health started to rapidly decline that in early 1999, he had to stay in bed for weeks to rest. In September of that year, Joel finally fulfilled his father’s request to speak in the pulpit, where he delivered his message for the first time. While nervous and ‘wearing a pair of his father’s shoes’ for emotional support, Joel’s message was warmly received by the congregation.
Called Into Ministry: From the Background to the Spotlight
A week later, John died due to cardiac arrest, which greatly devastated the entire Osteen family and the members of Lakewood Church, who at that time were worried about the future of the ministry due to the sudden loss of its beloved leader. Sometime later, however, the leadership team of Lakewood Church announced that Joel was going to take over as the new senior pastor of the church.
This move not only surprised Joel (who had only spoken once in his whole life), but it also in a way worried him because of the number of responses that church critics made about the decision to have him become the senior pastor (some of the critics stated that Lakewood Church would now go down in numbers because Joel was not suited to become a preacher). However, through the encouragement that he received from his family and friends, as well as that motivation on the inside that was telling him how he was meant for this, Joel got over the fear and anxiety and stood up to take over as the new head of Lakewood Church.
Joel described this in an interview years later:
“I worked with my dad there at the church. He tried to get me to minister. I didn't have it in me. I worked behind the scenes. I loved doing production and things. But when my father died, I just knew—I don't know how to explain it, it sounds kind of odd, but I just knew down to here I was supposed to step up to the plate and pastor the church. And it was odd because I had never preached before. But I just knew I was supposed to do it.”
Joel and the Growth of Lakewood Church
Little did Joel’s critics realize just how powerful God was going to use him as a pastor. In a few short years after Joel was appointed as the senior pastor of Lakewood Church, membership started to rise in such a fashion like no one has ever seen before—from a weekly attendance of eight thousand, it rose to more than thirty thousand people per week, a number that made Lakewood the fastest growing church in all of the United States.
A Message of Hope for the New Generation
Much of the reason behind the growth of Lakewood Church was because of the kind of message that Joel preached to his congregation. In contrast to the more traditional styles of preaching that contained a lot of doctrine, Joel’s message was light, inspirational and practical, and answered the very questions of modern society’s dilemma.
And while Joel did receive a lot of criticisms for his ‘supposed’ lack of using scriptures and doctrines, Joel never once shifted away from the calling that God placed in his heart—to encourage and to uplift people. He said in an interview:
“There's so much negativity pulling people down that I think they respond when you say, 'You know what: God's not mad at you; He's on your side, He's got a good plan for your life, and when we obey what He wants us to do, we're going to prosper.'”
Overtime, the church attendance overgrew the facility that was then being used by Lakewood Church, which was an eight-thousand seater campus. Looking to find a new place to worship, Joel and his leadership team at the church sought lands to buy so they could build a new property. However, doors always seemed to close for them, as none of the lands they were looking forward to buy actually agreed.
Finding the Perfect Place in Compaq Center
In spite of the frustration, Joel remained faithful that God was going to give them a new place to worship. In late 2004, Joel saw this come to fulfilment when the Houston Rockets announced that they were going to move from the Compaq Center to the larger Toyota Center. The acquisition was not easy, as there were a few people who tried to stop Joel and his team at Lakewood from acquiring the facility for the use of the church. After a period of struggle, and by ‘God’s marvelous grace,’ the Compaq Center was leased to Lakewood church, where they finally moved in in 2005; eventually, the Houston City Council decided to sell the property to the church in 2010.
Your Best Life Now: Joel’s Bestselling Debut
In 2004, Joel wrote and released his very first book entitled, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.” The book, which contained a summary of Joel’s faith-filled and inspirational messages, quickly rose through the ranks of the New York Times Bestselling list in a very short span of time, making a record as it became the fastest-selling non-fiction book in all of publishing history. Your Best Life Now was both a critical and financial success, in spite of some criticisms made against it due to Joel’s lack of scriptural quotes.
When he was interviewed about his book, Joel said:
“I think coming from the Christian base, and I think the fact that I don't know, it's a book of encouragement and inspiration. And to me it seems like there's so much pulling us down in our society today. There's so much negative. Most of my book is about how you can live a good life today in spite of all that. So I think that had a big part of it.”
The success of Your Best Life Now spawned a series of books in the next decade that equally became critical and financial successes. “Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Everyday,” Joel’s second book, was released in 2007 and immediately rose to the top of the New York Bestselling list, and received praises from literary critics for its inspiring theme. The book discussed how God wants you to keep on improving, and how you can rise higher and higher every day.
Joel’s other equally successful books consist of: “It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor” (published in 2009), which talked about the steps on achieving one’s highest potential now; “Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week” (published in 2011), a book about how each day is an opportunity to be joyful; and “Break Out!: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life” (published in 2013), which discusses how God created us to become above and beyond what the world can offer.
Criticisms and Attacks
In his many years of being a pastor, Joel has often been criticized in preaching ‘prosperity theology,’ for his uplifting messages of how God wants you to have more and enjoy more in life. However, unlike the so-called ‘prosperity preachers,’ Joel’s emphasis on prosperity is beyond money—it is about living a fulfilling, and successful life—including your health, your family, your relationships, and your finances.
Joel said in an interview about him being called a prosperity preacher:
“I get grouped into the prosperity gospel and I never think it's fair, but it's just what it is. I think prosperity, and I've said it 1,000 times, it's being healthy, it's having great children, it's having peace of mind. Money is part of it; and yes, I believe God wants us to excel...to be blessed so we can be a bigger blessing to others. I feel very rewarded. I wrote a book and sold millions of copies; and Victoria and I were able to help more people than we ever dreamed of. But when I hear the term prosperity gospel, I think people are sometimes saying, "well, he's just asking for money.”
Recently, a story on Joel’s ‘alleged’ rejection of his faith in Jesus Christ circulated on the web, sparking a huge controversy amongst his followers and critics. When the spokesperson for Lakewood Church became aware of the hoax, he immediately made an announcement confirming that Joel has not, in any way denied his faith, and is still devoted to his beliefs.
You will be amazed to find that when you step inside Lakewood Church, you see people from all walks of life—blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians. This is what makes Joel and his team at Lakewood extraordinary; they create an atmosphere of acceptance that draws people, no matter what background they may have.
Joel Osteen is extraordinary as a pastor and as a person. His positive outlook in life due to his faith in Jesus Christ has helped him overcome any negative circumstance, no matter how bleak that situation may have been. Joel epitomizes the kind of life that a Christian should have: blessed, loving, honoring God in every way.
“I'm for everybody. You may not agree with me, but to me it's not my job to try to straighten everybody out. The Gospel called the good news. My message is a message of hope, that's God's for you. You can live a good life no matter what's happened to you.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Stephen Ministries
- Lakewood Church and its numerous ministries
- Joel Osteen Ministries
- Feeding Families
- The Beacon at The Dunn Center
- The Mission of Yahweh
- Blessings in a Backpack
- Celebrate Recovery
- Numerous organizations around the world
Awards and Achievements
- 2006: Included in the 10 Most Fascinating People of the Year by ABC News
- 2006: Named as the Most Influential Christian in America by The Church Report
- Holds the record for the largest Christian congregation in the United States (Lakewood Church)
- Included in the 100 Most Influential Preachers in the World
Wikipedia (Joel Osteen)
Encyclopedia of World Biography (Joel Osteen)
Ministry Today (Joel Osteen: Gospel Communicator)
CNN (Larry King Live: Interview With Joel Osteen)
CNN (Piers Morgan Tonight: Piers Morgan Interviews Joel and Victoria Osteen)