Friday, February 08, 2008

    Joel Osteen and Authenticity in Youth Ministry

    Anyone catch the recent 60 Minutes interview with Joel Osteen? I've said before that I think he is sincere in his efforts but it would probably be better if he would just drop the pretense of being a pastor and give into his wish to be a full-fledged self-help guru. He admits that he has no formal theological education and doesn't feel really qualified to interpet the Bible for others. So he sticks to a simple brand of Christianity that conveniently sidesteps mention of sin and redemption.

    Now, I'm no fire-and-brimstone kind of guy, but I do think that the reality of the human condition is that we fall short of what we were created to be and the gospel message is that God loves us in spite of these shortcomings and calls us to a new way of life. But that message doesn't play too well to the masses. So Osteen tends to make life look big and shiny and tidy on his tv broadcast. And no where is this more obvious than in his perfectly delivered sermons (this guy can really preach!). This is why I found it so interesting in the 60 Minutes interview when he revealed that he spends Wednesday through Sunday of every week crafting and memorizing his sermons for the tv taping (what pastor do you know who can give that much time to a sermon?). And even with all that prep, he still makes mistakes in his speaking. But, through the magic of TV, they edit together his identical sermons from the first and second service into a seamless, polished, and perfect sermon that . . . never actually happened (see the "Making it Right" video clip here). All of which gives gives the impression of a polished, smiling, perfect preacher who is the living embodiment of a polished, smiling, perfect brand of the prosperity gospel.

    I've written before about my concern for the need to be authentic with youth. They need to know that those who lead the church are just as fallible as they are, just as prone to sin, just as in need of someone to point the way. Kids don't need a polished, smiling, perfect youth minister. They need a fellow "sinner" who makes mistakes, too, and will walk with them as a companion in all the messiness that is life.



    Travis said...


    While I agree with you that we need to be authentic with youth ministry, I also believe we need to show a good example to our young people by speaking well of other ministers of the Gospel. Young people see so much fighting, murmuring and backbiting in the church amongst the people of the church the last thing they need is for their leaders; people they love, trust and look up to writing blog posts that tear down unity instead of building it. While I don't always agree with Joel Osteen's methods I agree with Paul when he says in Philippians 1:18 that if Christ is preached whether for selfish gain or with sincerity we should rejoice. Also who are we to judge the true intent of anyone's heart. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and was disappointed to read that your post talked about authenticity at the expense of a fellow minister.

    Brian said...

    Thanks for commenting and glad you enjoy our blog. I hoped that what I was conveying in the post was not some judgment of Osteen himself, but rather a commentary on the approach he and his producers take with the public face of their ministry. Personally, I find Osteen engaging and likeable, even though I certainly don't agree with some of his theology.

    Dj said...


    Wow, I came away reading something completely different than you did. I didn't find Brian's post at all judgmental.

    Brian said...

    Hi DJ.
    Well, I guess that is always the challenge of the written word. It's hard sometimes to interpret intent or inflection. Each reader sees the message from their particular vantage point. I certainly was being critical, but hope in the positive sense of the word.

    Anonymous said...

    With all due respect, I think it takes quite a bit of discipline and preparation to remember a 25 minute sermon. Not only is he committing that sermon to memory, but he is doing book appearances, philanthropic appearances, and supporting non-profit agencies in their efforts through appearances and commercials.

    I find it VERY spiteful and bitter when I hear other ministers of the Word of God berate the good works of Minister Osteen just because it is not the way "they" would lead their church. Especially, given that he passes no judgment on the way they choose to preach the Gospel. He clearly defines his ministry as one of upliftment and does not want to pass judgement on anyone given that this world is so full of people who do (case and point; this blog).

    Again, I'm not trying to say that your opinion is not shared and appreciated, but I think it's very dangerous to think that there is only one way to share the works of Jesus Christ.