It’s difficult for people to be neutral about Joel Osteen. The television preacher seems either to be loved or hated by millions of people, many of the latter having never heard or read a word of his.
“Everybody is going to have their critics,” Mr. Osteen said in a recent phone conversation. “It’s easy to get discouraged in life.”
Such candor may seem odd for someone whose Sunday-morning program is viewed by millions, or who regularly packs large stadiums and arenas. Having filled Nationals Park last year, he’s due to be at the Baltimore Arena on Nov. 15, and it would not surprise this observer to find that venue filled to capacity as well. (As this was written, Ticketmaster.com indicated seats in the “upper concourse” could still be had for the event.)
More accessible, perhaps, is “Break Out!,” Mr. Osteen’s new book, already No. 3 on The New York Times’ “advice” best-sellers list. The idea behind the book is to encourage readers to shatter beliefs that limit them and move forward toward their dreams.
Why a need to “break out”? According to Mr. Osteen, “I feel like a lot of people get stuck in life, put a lot of limitations on ourselves. … If you take those limitations out, you can go into the fullness of your destiny and go where God wants you to go.”
He added, “Life in general tries to push people down. You can have a good life and still get stuck. … But there’s things in us that we don’t know we have.”
Mr. Osteen himself is a powerful advertisement for such thinking: A behind-the-scenes television producer at Houston’s Lakewood Church, he spent the better part of two decades editing and producing television programs for his late father, founding Pastor John Osteen. The younger Mr. Osteen has often said he did not believe it was his gift to assume the pastorate, a role thrust upon him in 1999 when his father succumbed to illness.
Having only once stood in the Lakewood pulpit, Joel Osteen threw himself into communicating the Christian message, and found congregants and viewers so responsive that Lakewood was able to take over the 16,800-seat Compaq Center, a major sports arena in Houston. It’s the main Lakewood campus, and it hosts six weekly worship services, four in English and two in Spanish.
Mr. Osteen credits a positive attitude — and the decision to have one — as an essential element for anyone to fulfill their potential.
“I do think you have to get up in the morning — how you start your day determines what kind of day you’re going to have — and thank God for whatever you do have,” he said, “not just be overcome with the bad news, and becoming discouraged.”
In his sermons and in the new book, Mr. Osteen contends that a major part of life’s battles “takes place in your own mind.” He counsels those seeking success to “consider not just your circumstances, but that God is in control of your life.”
In a way, Mr. Osteen may well be preaching to himself as much as to any of us: “I try to live what I teach,” he said. “A lot of things come against us in life, but we should try to find something to be grateful for, and see each day as a gift. The right perspective helps you to keep your faith and the right attitudes.”
He added, “I would say this: You’ve got to start where you are. You have to be your best right where you are so God can take you to the next level.”
Such sentiments might seem to lack theological depth, but I would contend that having someone to cheer you on — even through the pages of a book — can often be a welcome relief in a world that sometimes seems determined to beat you down.
And, if Mr. Osteen’s recent reception in the hard-bitten precincts of New York City is any indication, he’s on the right track. Describing a recent visit to Manhattan, he recalled, “I can’t walk five steps without people thanking me.”
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at email@example.com.