The article by Alexis Grant in Part One was very personal to me because I am a member of Lakewood Church. While there is no need for me to defend Lakewood or Joel Osteen, I would like to give my opinion on the subject because as you know, I am very opinionated.
There is so much controversy about Lakewood and Joel Osteen that it’s often frustrating for those of us who know the truth.
It is said that Joel doesn’t preach based on the Bible. Well, for one thing, he doesn’t preach, he teaches and he does a reading from the Bible and refers to the Bible often. However, if one needs “bible thumping”, his wife, Victoria, brings it in her part of the service. I am not the “bible thumping” type so honestly, I just tolerate that part of the service.
For those who believe that Joel and Victoria have built the church for the sake of personal wealth, let me correct that belief by informing you that neither Joel nor Victoria take a salary from the church. Their financial support comes from the proceeds of their books.
I have noticed that when Joel is asked about controversial subjects, he refers back to the Bible. While his non-committal answers may irk some people, I find it makes sense that he doesn’t piss on anyone’s beliefs or lifestyle regardless of his beliefs. In this way, he is able to reach a larger, more diverse audience with an offer of hope. Danny and I were members of a church that was a lot like Lakewood though small. There was no negativity, guilt or judgement from the pulpit. The only requirement was a belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins”. When we left that church due to its impending death based on the age of the majority of the members, we joined Lakewood. I will forever be grateful to my Houston hairdresser and friend for her offer to take us to a Lakewood service.
Lakewood is huge but not overly opulent. If the space wasn’t necessary, it would be overdone. However, the service fills up so fast that assistance in finding a seat is often necessary. The parking at the late service fills up to the point that parking is provided at a garage blocks away so it pays to attend the early service. Volunteers in the hundreds are there to make the service flow smoothly and offer assistance when needed.
Lakewood was once called the “Oasis of Love” and I can see why. Every race, gender preference, class and many nationalities are represented at each service. Each person is welcomed with a smile and offered a newsletter. No pressure is necessary because people attend of their own free will knowing they will find hope.
People who need personal relationships in their place of worship may not find Lakewood to their liking. Due to the size of the church, home groups have been established. I like autonomy with the ability to leave the building quickly but I do take many, many heart-warming smiles with me.
I also don’t like pressure to be involved in the workings of the church. In a smaller church, there is always a need. While volunteers are requested when there is a need, there is no personal contact from Lakewood. I did volunteer for crisis assistance for a while and went to Joplin, Missouri in the aftermath of their tornado crisis. I spent a week helping people by allowing them the opportunity to talk about what they had been through and doing data input. It was a rewarding experience. Lakewood has groups of volunteers who step up whenever and wherever there is a need or crisis. They were the largest financial contributor to the Katrina Crisis.
As with the author of the article, in the beginning, I felt uncomfortable with the praise part of the worship but I was so excited to be there that I decided to take what I liked and leave the rest. There is nothing extreme, its just that I was accustomed to a more conventional service. When first entering, the music is so loud it feels overwhelming but once your ears adjust to the volume, it is very uplifting. It grabs you and the need to participate is overwhelming.
Because we purchased 50 c.d.’s of Joel’s messages at a church dollar sale, we will still be able to attend services, well sorta. Any time he comes on television, we stop and listen. People do not “worship” Joel, they just believe in his messages. He is actually very shy and had no desire to become a minister. He was very happy being “behind the scenes working the sound system” for his father’s ministry. He agreed to step up when his father died and found that he actually had a gift. So you see, being a charlatan would not even be possible for Joel.
I realize that Lakewood and Joel Osteen aren’t for everyone, I am just asking that neither be judged based on comments by people who have never attended Lakewood Church or experienced Joel Osteen’s message.