Preaching Success: Joel Osteen Teaches Positivity

How Pastor Joel Osteen built America's largest Christian congregation.

ByABC News via logo

Oct. 15, 2007 — -- Thousands gather weekly to the religious arena known as Lakewood Church in Houston, but no one sits down. Instead, the worshippers clap, jump and sing with enthusiasm and love for God and their pastor, Joel Osteen.

The popular pastor's message of prosperity and forgiveness attracts massive crowds. Osteen, who has gained international prominence as a pastor and best-selling author, has turned the church into the country's largest with more than 40,000 members. His followers flock to hear sermons laced with themes of faith and positivity.

"Every morning we need to let go of the mistakes, disappointments and the people that hurt us," Osteen said on "Good Morning America" Monday.

Each week millions see Osteen's sermons, which are broadcast in nearly 100 nations. And in Houston after each session he greets the hundreds of guests waiting to meet him. He hugs his parishioners, signs books and Bibles and even shares stories with them.

"It helps me to stay encouraged," he said. "I love to hear the stories. You know, when you get up some days and you don't feel like doing it or you hear some criticism, I think, 'Well, you know what? We're making a difference.' And I just remember some of the stories that those people have told me, and it's very rewarding. It's very humbling."

In addition to preaching, Osteen also just has published a book fixed on seven principles on how to become a better person. "Become a Better You" is his second book.

"I hope to reach everybody," Osteen said. He said he writes his books for people who are not necessarily used to going to church.

Using positive preaching in his book, Osteen hopes to teach people how negative outlooks beget negative outcomes.

"One of the main keys is to be grateful for what you have," Osteen said. "It is easy to get discouraged," and that will attract more negativity, he said.

But not everyone agrees with Osteen's sermon subjects or style. Critics have called it "Christian light" and said it is too simple.

"To me, Jesus taught people to live the Christian life, and that's what I'm trying to do. It doesn't seem light to me when I do it," he said. "I just feel like that's when I'm at my best, when I'm encouraging people and letting them know that God's on their side."

The job of leading his flock began as a family affair. His father founded Lakewood in 1959 in an old feed store.

As the congregation grew, Osteen worked behind the scenes for the family's televised broadcast. Then when his father died eight years ago, he became the church's pastor.

Osteen said he was initially nervous about heading the congregation. He was afraid to get up in front of the audience and didn't want to be a pastor. But that soon changed.

"When my father died, I started off wearing his shoes," he said. "I feel like it took a few years to find out how I was supposed to present it," he said.

But now, Osteen believes he is serving God's purpose for his life.

As he takes that journey his wife, Victoria Osteen, walks alongside him. She, too, is actively involved in the family business of faith, serving as the church's co-pastor.

The two first met by chance.

"I met her in her mother's jewelry store," Osteen said. "I went in to buy a battery for my watch and there she was."

Osteen said when he first saw Victoria he thought she was beautiful.

"I sold him a watch, and he says I've been taking his money ever since," joked Victoria Osteen.

The couple wed in 1987 and have two children.

"I knew it was meant to be and … you know, it's just … God's blessed us in our life," Osteen said.

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