The latest stop on Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen's "Night of Hope" tour brought him to the Times Union Center in Albany, his first visit to upstate New York, where 12,000 people gathered last week for an inspirational sermon and praised the minister for not being "preachy."
Osteen has arguably the biggest congregation in the United States – the 49-year-old Texas pastor brings together 40,000 people weekly at his Lakewood Church, and he has been a big hit touring around the country as well. The "Night of Hope" events, which he leads alongside his wife, Victoria Osteen, have brought him even more media attention, but along with it have also come many questions and comments about his style of ministering.
"He has a practical message, he speaks in a personal way and he's not preachy or theological," noted Pastor Phil Munsey of Life Church in Irvine, Calif., highlighting the straightforward but powerful appeal of Osteen's sermons. A TimesUnion.com report revealed that Munsey has traveled for many years with Osteen and is chairman at Osteen's Champions Network, a group of 500 pastors nationwide who are part of the Osteen team.
Osteen's sermons are often focused heavily on encouragement and inspiration, and his intent is to make everyone in the audience feel like they are blessed by God regardless of what is currently going on in their lives. He usually skips over talking about highly controversial topics or preaching about sin, which has been credited to his widespread national appeal. According to the TimesUnion.com report, nearly half of the attendees at the Times Union Center event did not even belong to a church.
Before a "Night of Hope" sermon in Hawaii last month, Osteen addressed directly accusations that he preaches a "watered-down" version of Christianity that does not adequately cover the "fire-and-brimstone" rhetoric on which other preachers sometimes focus.
"Our message is God is good. He's on your side and he wants you to live a blessed life. Part of message too is that even if you've made mistakes you can get to where God wants you to be," the pastor explained.
"I think I do talk about the negative things and adversities but the Bible says it's the goodness of God that leads people to repent. I believe there's enough pushing people down. I like telling people you may have made mistakes, but God can forgive you," said Osteen.
At the Albany event, many attendees also shared how comfortable Osteen's motivational sermon made them feel.
"There are a lot of people here who are searching and are hungry for this message," expressed Linda Smith, a retired state worker from Altamont. "Joel has the gift of encouragement," she shared, revealing that one of Osteen's past sermons in New York encouraged her to reconcile with her estranged husband.
"God is a popular guy and because of what Joel preaches, it makes him popular as well," summed up Ryan Sluus of Clifton Park, N.J.