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Joel and Victoria Osteen talk evangelism, repentance and building the local church post pandemic

Joel Osteen
Joel and Victoria Osteen |

NEW YORK — Amid the societal loss, separation and loneliness exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, televangelist couple Joel and Victoria Osteen are on a mission to “recharge and renew” the Body of Christ and encourage greater involvement in the local church. 

The couple, who lead the 45,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, say that is the goal behind their "Come Home to Hope” event, held this weekend at Yankee Stadium after being delayed for three years due to the pandemic. 

“I think it's significant that after three years, we'd come back to the iconic stadium in the biggest city in America,” Joel Osteen told The Christian Post. “We hope it inspires people in their faith; let's start believing again, and dreaming again and hoping again … God, you’re good; life's good. Yes, that was difficult, but You’re still in control. And so that's kind of what this night is about. I just think God dropped it in our hands, and we took the step of faith, and you know what? God does what we can't do.”

The night will feature singing and worship from CeCe Winans, Tauren Wells, Lakewood music and more, along with an inspirational message from the Osteens. It will be, Victoria Osteen emphasized, “almost like a new beginning.”

“Let's recharge, let's refuel again,” she said. “If we don't get with it ... and just really take back our lives, we're going to be just stuck in perpetual problems. Because there's always going to be problems, but it's what we do with those problems, it's how we view those problems that make all the difference in the world.”

Osteen, a bestselling author whose sermons are seen on television by millions worldwide each week, estimated that about half of those who will attend the event won’t be churchgoers. The pastor expressed hope that the event would spark in that demographic an interest in the Gospel.

“I feel like my calling is to throw a wide net of hope to get people interested in the things of God,” Osteen said. “Most of the emails I get say, ‘I never watch TV preachers, and I don't like TV preachers, but I watch you.’ So it's just trying to let them know that God's got a purpose, God's got a plan, that they can forgive, they can break an addiction, they can reach their dreams, and then we pray that prayer at the end. So it's an opportunity for people that watch and listen to come.”

Osteen stressed that the event isn’t just about encouragement and positivity; it’s also an evangelistic event to call believers to “take a stand” for their faith. At the end of the event, Osteen said he issues a call to salvation.

“The ultimate, toward the end is, ‘Do you know Christ? Or do you need to recommit yourself?’” he said.

“Jesus said, ‘If you're not ashamed of me, I won't be ashamed of you,’ so that's the goal,” he added. “So at the end, I'll say, ‘I encourage you to get into a good Bible-based church, and many of you have come with somebody that attends a good faith-based church, why don't you get plugged into that church?’”

Joel Osteen Ministries is working with about 200 local churches with the intention of getting 20,000-30,000 attendees plugged into their local church bodies, the pastor said. He revealed that, like many churches across the United States, the pandemic hurt Lakewood’s church attendance, nearly halving pre-COVID-19 numbers. 

“My thing is, how do we build the local church? I’m a local pastor … so my thing is not coming in here trying to just make a splash, but I'm going to put people in local churches, and I think this is one of the best ways. A lot of these people that come here, they won't go to a church, not yet. They're not ready for it. But you know what? The little bit of influence I have, if they took the time to come here, I think that we can persuade them, and they'll feel that conviction to say, you know what? I’m going to get into a community of faith. So that's the goal.”

Victoria Osteen added that she and her husband challenge local pastors to gather and disciple new believers in their midst: “We're just here to plant the seed, water the seed, and then God brings the harvest,” she said. 

For the Osteens, ministry is a family affair. Joel’s father, the late Pastor John Osteen, founded Lakewood in 1959 before handing it off to his son in 1999. The Osteen’s daughter, Alexandria, is part of Lakewood music, a collective of worship leaders, musicians and songwriters from the church. 

Osteen said that he and his wife strive to “steward the influence that God has given” them, and that influence, Victoria agreed, begins in the home. She shared that she and Joel have always sought to be an example they want their children to follow, spending time in the Word and focusing on discipleship. 

“You can't minister to all these other people and not have developed a family that's strong and rooted and grounded in God,” she said. “I think sometimes we get so busy working for God … that we [forget] we have a responsibility to our family. You can get sidetracked in that area. I think first, you have to disciple your family before you can go disciple the rest of the world.”

Osteen, whose sermons are seen on television by millions worldwide each week, is aware that some in the Evangelical community criticize him for being too seeker-friendly or for preaching what they consider a watered-down Gospel. But according to the pastor, “there’s so much more to what they see on television.” 

“At home, after they give their lives to Christ, they go to a four-week, new beginnings class, and then we talk about what it means to live a holy life and what happened with the new birth and how you're a new creation,” he said.

Still, he sees his positive messages as a bridge to something deeper. Jesus, he said, didn’t stay in the synagogues; He went out to the people, told parables and related to them. The pastor shared that he hears from people of all different faiths who came to Christ after hearing his encouraging messages — sometimes after years of listening. 

“A lot of times, you have to have a connection with people before they’ll open their hearts,” he said, later adding. “That’s what I feel like I'm called to do, to have a relationship with them. Sometimes, they just see it as, ‘Oh, he's talking about forgiveness or, you know, being positive, thinking better. But I believe all those principles in Scripture, they help anybody, whether you're a believer or not, but the ultimate is to come to know Christ and to be in relationship with your Creator.”

Osteen contended that one definition of “repentance” is “to change your mind,” adding: “Every week, when I'm speaking on television, I'm trying to get people to change their mind, to know that God's for them, to see themselves as if made in the image of God, not unworthy, not a failure, to change their mind about ‘forgiven,’ to change their mind about living a life of compromise and addiction and not making good decisions. So it's just a different way to do it.”

“In one sense, I'm preaching repentance every week, because I'm trying to get you to change your mind into what Christ says you are and what the Bible says,” he continued. “This is what I feel like I'm called to do. I know it's more encouragement, but this is who I was before I was a minister; I didn't just change one day when I decided to start ministering. It’s just what was in me. I stepped into that never knowing stadiums would fill up. I don’t even know how this happened except the grace of God and the sovereignty of God.”

Victoria Osteen added that people are drawn to a God that is good, not one who is “judging everything you do.” 

“That's really our thing is that, yeah, it's tough, but you know what? God's for you and He can do things that you can't do for yourself. But if you don't come to Him and believe in Him, He won't be able to help you because faith is coming and believing and going to Him. That's faith right there: believing that God wants to help you.”

To tangibly bring hope to those struggling, on Thursday, Joel Osteen Ministries, alongside World Vision and several other ministries, distributed baby formula, diapers, wipes, and back-to-school backpacks to 300 mothers and children in New York. Osteen shared that in recent months, he’s also spent time in low-income areas in the Bronx, providing encouragement to local pastors.

“It's just a tough time. It's a tough life. They don’t have money, they don't have opportunity. It’s just tough. So I just want to let them know that God sees them, God cares about them and He can lift them up,” Osteen said. 

Several of those pastors, Osteen said, will be at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night for the Return to Hope event. The pastor hopes that they, like thousands of others in the audience, will leave believing that God is “good, that He's for them, that He hasn't brought them this far to leave them where they are.” 

“We're saying, ‘Come back to hope, come back to faith, come back to church, come back to believing again,” he added. “It’s time to come back to God, come back to faith, turn toward God. Yes. It's been hard. But you know what? Don't stop believing that when you come to God, that's when good things can happen.”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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