Maybe You Should Partner With Joel Osteen (Or At Least Pay Attention to His Ministry)
Editor's note: When should you partner with another church leader? When shouldn't you? It's an important discussion to have as we seek unity in the church and, at the same time, seek to uphold the gospel.
I am a pastor serving temporarily at Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. Yes, Lakewood is also the name of another Houston church pastored by the famed Joel Osteen, but no, this is not his church. To the many who regularly call us, looking for that church, looking for that man, I tend to be clear that our community is different: this is a Methodist church, we are not located in the former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and Lakewood was our name long before it was his…please feel free to visit us, you are welcome here!
As is evident, I am fairly defensive about this. Joel Osteen is neither a person I would typically want to associate myself with in ministry, nor a person from whom I want others learning too much. In the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the evangelical world Osteen is prodigal. Maybe not to the extent of those who wear a suit and tie, name tags, and go knocking door to door but not too far from it. His gospel is dangerously thin, lacking healthy doses of some pretty fundamental things like sin and repentance. His sermons are eerily akin to positive, inspirational talks; they are pseudo-sermons, something far short of the full proclamation of the gospel.
But Joel Osteen’s reach is undeniable. His church is the largest mega church in North America. His weekly sermon broadcast hits the television screens of over seven million Americans each week. Osteen was identified as the most watched inspirational figure in America by the media tracking powerhouse, Nielsen Media Research. Osteen’s 2004 publication, Your Best Life Now, was #1 on the New York Best Seller List for over 2 years.
At a recent weekend event in a local Houston prison, I introduced myself as a pastor from Lakewood United Methodist Church (I was intentional in my differentiation). In almost every single following conversation with an inmate it was assumed that I was actually part of Joel Osteen’s church, (most of these guys couldn’t even pronounce Methodist). It wasn’t only that these fellows knew about Lakewood and knew Joel Osteen’s name, it was more – they had family members that attended there, they were proud to have at times watched the broadcast themselves, and they were obviously impressed by Osteen’s preaching, repeating phrases like ‘going for the victory’ or ‘living in God’s blessing.’
As much as this made me want to watch an Osteen sermon, deconstruct it, and cry heresy another thought occurred to me while sitting in that prison; while sitting in that prison enjoying one of the most wonderful experiences of sharing the gospel with some of the most receptive and honest people I had sat with in a long time: maybe I should just partner with Joel Osteen instead.
Before I am written off, allow me to offer some thoughts on why this actually is not that ridiculous of an idea:
These lies are told every day all around our country, and people are believing them.