Joel Osteen was handling television production at his father's Houston church when the elder Osteen died of a heart attack in 1999. Osteen, who didn't finish college and never attended seminary, took over the pulpit with next to nothing in preaching experience.
Since then, he has built his Lakewood Church in Texas into the nation’s largest single-site congregation, with weekend attendance of 52,000. He also reaches millions through his sermons on television and satellite radio, and his books.
Lakewood Church meets in Compaq Center, the former home of the Houston Rockets and once the concert site for rock groups. The church is five times larger than when his father, John Osteen, died 18 years ago, according to Church Growth Today.
Osteen’s last speaking engagement in Sacramento was in 2006. Osteen, 54, always smiling, appears about once a month in a different city as part of his “Night of Hope” engagements.
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The pastor spoke by phone earlier this week prior to appearing Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. Tickets are on sale for $15.
What is a Night of Hope?
It’s two-and-a-half hours. There is a lot of music and inspiring stories. I tell my story about how I got started. My wife, Victoria, won’t be there, but she usually speaks about relationships. My mom tells how she overcame cancer. It’s not a church service. It’s different segments of inspiration. Toward the end I give a traditional, 30-minute message. And I do an altar call at every one of them.
Other preachers such as the Revs. Billy Graham and Greg Laurie have brought large crusades to Sacramento. How do you differ from them?
I know them both. Greg, a friend, is more evangelistic. My message is ‘How do we live the Christian life?’ and ‘How do we overcome?’ and ‘How do we forgive?’ Fifty percent of the people who come don’t go to church and were not raised in church. Somehow, I have had the ability to reach people.”
You don’t say much about hellfire and brimstone in your television broadcasts. Why not?
I think there is enough things in life pushing people down. You deal with health issues, financial issues. There’s negativity in the world. I tell them you can move forward. God wants to lift you.
Is there too much negativity in the media, from leaders, from the pulpit?
I think, in general, in life today there is negativity and divisiveness. There’s a lot to push people down, even from the social media being negative. I think that is why people respond to our message: because it is positive. Life is good. God is good. Today is a gift.
What’s it like to preach in Compaq Center?
I had season tickets there when I was in my 20s. I was there when the Rockets won the championship. It’s amazing. I never dreamed we would be there.
When Mr. Graham appeared here, it was come as you are. It was free. You charge $15 for a seat. Why?
It goes to pay for about half the cost of the event. The arenas ask us to because then you won’t have 40,000 people coming when there are 20,000 seats. What I don’t like is the scalpers.
What is the secret to your long marriage?
I think respect. We don’t always agree, but we try to keep our respect for each other. The other thing is to keep a sense of humor in the home. There’s pressure, raising of kids and such. It’s easy to get weighed down. We try to laugh together. We have been married 30 years today.