Biography of Pastor Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen (born March 5, 1963, Houston, Texas, U.S.) is an American televangelist, theologian, speaker, and author who attracted millions of followers with his simple and positive sermons and his best-selling books.

Joel is the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and author of the New York Times bestselling book Your Best Life Now. He is a proponent of the word of faith movement and prosperity gospel.

Osteen’s parents founded the nondenominational charismatic Lakewood Church in Houston in 1959. His father, John Osteen, was pastor and over the years had built a regional following. In 1981 Osteen left Oral Roberts University after less than one year of study to help his father develop Lakewood’s growing national television ministry, working behind the cameras as a producer of the church’s broadcasts.

Osteen was born in Houston, and is one of six children of John Osteen and Dolores ("Dodie") Pilgrim. His father, a former Southern Baptist pastor, founded Lakewood Church (of which Osteen is the current senior pastor) in the back of an old feed store.

He graduated from Humble High School, a public high school in the city of Humble, Texas, in 1981, and attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he studied radio and television communications but did not graduate.

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In 1982, he returned to Houston, founded Lakewood's television program, and produced his father's televised sermons for 17 years until January 1999, when his father died of a heart attack. His father always encouraged him to preach, but Joel would politely decline time and time again until one day in October 1999 when his father was admitted to the hospital with kidney complications. Joel finally agreed to preach the next Sunday, and his father passed the following week. Joel’s first sermon was the last his father ever heard. Joel and his wife, Victoria, were suddenly thrust into full-time leadership of Lakewood Church.

After his father’s death in 1999, Osteen took over as head pastor. Under his leadership, Lakewood soon became the largest and fastest-growing congregation in the U.S. He rapidly expanded the church’s media presence by purchasing advertisements on billboards and in other venues, doubling the church’s budget for television airtime, negotiating with different networks for optimal time slots, and targeting the largest media markets. Within a few years his weekly television broadcast reached households in more than 100 countries and became the top-rated inspirational program on the air. His 2004 book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, was a best seller.

In 2005 Osteen conducted a 15-city U.S. tour, preaching to large crowds at virtually every stop. That year Lakewood opened a new 16,000-seat megachurch in Houston’s Compaq Center, a former basketball and hockey arena. Weekly attendance at Lakewood rose from 6,000 in 1999 to more than 50,000 by 2016. In addition, by 2018 the televised services attracted an estimated 10 million viewers weekly. During this time he published a number of books, including How to Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day (2007), Think Better, Live Better: A Victorious Life Begins in Your Mind (2016), Blessed in the Darkness: How All Things Are Working for Your Good (2017), Empty Out the Negative: Make Room for More Joy, Greater Confidence, and New Levels of Influence (2020), and Peaceful on Purpose: The Power to Remain Calm, Strong, and Confident in Every Season (2021).

An affable youthful-looking man who earned the nickname “the smiling preacher,” Osteen typically avoided dense or orthodox theology in his sermons. Instead, he delivered simple upbeat messages that emphasized his oft-repeated belief that “God wants us to have a better life.” While this approach struck an obvious chord with the public, it also drew sharp criticism from those who viewed Osteen as little more than a motivational speaker offering a watered-down interpretation of Christianity. Others accused him of promoting a “prosperity gospel” designed to justify the accumulation of wealth. Osteen responded that he wanted to remain focused on the “goodness of God” and that he did not define prosperity in purely materialistic terms. He defended Lakewood’s unabashedly commercial approach to attracting new members, arguing that churches that opposed “changing with the times,” as he put it, risked losing members or folding altogether.

Osteen lives in the Houston area with his wife Victoria and two children, Jonathan and Alexandra. Critics have decried his lifestyle as "lavish" pointing to the fact that he lives in a house valued at over $1 million. Supporters, however, say that his income is largely the result of his book sales and state that he declined to take his 2005 annual salary of $174,000 as pastor of the church, in order to use the money for other ministries. They also point to the church's charity work, particularly during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison. According to Lakewood, the church donated over 1 million dollars to flood victims in one year alone.

According to several sources, Joel has become the most watched inspirational figure in America, and in 2014, SiriusXM launched Joel Osteen Radio (Channel 128), a channel dedicated to the inspirational messages of Joel and Victoria. Additionally, over the past eight years, more than 2 million people have attended Joel and Victoria’s Night of Hope events across the U.S. and around the world.

During the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Osteen received significant criticism for not making Lakewood Church, a 606,000-square-foot, 16,000-seat former sports arena, available as an emergency shelter for those displaced by the storm. On August 27, posts from the church and a Lakewood Church associate pastor's social media accounts stated that the church was "inaccessible due to severe flooding," and associate pastor John Gray posted further, "If WE could get there WE WOULD OPEN THE DOORS." Lakewood spokesperson Don Iloff later described floodwaters as one foot from spilling over the facility's floodgate and surging into the building. He also stated that pictures showing Lakewood free of flooding were taken on Monday, after the flood waters had lowered.

Osteen disputed the claim that flood waters closed the church, saying "the church has been open from the beginning," and, "[w]e've always been open ... How this notion got started, that we're not a shelter and we're not taking people in is a false narrative." This contradicted his earlier statement that the church would open when other refugee centers were full. On the evening of August 28, it was announced by Lakewood that it would open at noon the next day as an available shelter to storm victims and emergency personnel, which it did.

On August 15, 2018, less than a year after Harvey struck, the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed a day in honor of the assistance of Lakewood and Osteen in rebuilding efforts across the Houston area.

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