Joel Osteen tells Newsmax that Pope Francis' message of inclusiveness and efforts to reach out to people from all walks of life through Christianity aligns with the Texas pastor's ministry.
Osteen, on the road promoting his newly published book "Break Out,"
had high praise for the Pontiff.
"What I like about the Pope is he talked about wanting to include all people and not try to push people away from our churches," Osteen told Newsmax TV reporter John Bachman.
Editor’s Note: Do You Approve of Pope Francis? Vote Now in Urgent Poll
"For awhile, that's what it seemed like. We're trying to make our churches smaller and smaller and telling people, 'You can't come.' Our message is inclusive, that everybody's welcome. Our message is, 'We're blessed to be a blessing.' God wants you to increase so you can help others, help lift the fallen and be good to mankind."
The leader of Lakewood Church in Houston said he agrees with Pope Francis' observation that Christians increasingly seem to be turning their focus toward material things.
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"I'm probably biased because I come from a church and from a ministry where I see people reaching out, giving, thousands of volunteers just touching the community," Osteen said. "So, there's always people that are not focused on others, but I see a lot of people that are just willing to give the coat off of their back to help others."
The Pope's recent, politically charged writings about capitalism and growing economic inequality in the United States may have struck a chord with some parts of society, but Osteen said he stays away from such themes in his church.
"To me, everybody's got to run their own race, so he's doing what he feels good about," Osteen said. "My thought is to – I stay away from politics because my church is probably half Republican and half Democrat. I don't know that, but it's very diverse, and so the message I'm trying to bring forth is much bigger and broader, and to me – and my dad was the same way, and others – that when we go down the political road, we start excluding the people we're trying to reach."
Bachman asked Osteen about the issue of inequality and whether he agrees or disagrees with the Pope.
"I don't think that I know the answer to that, but I see – of course, I'm an optimist – I see things getting better," Osteen said. "The world in one sense is going down the wrong path, but I see people coming up higher, and so I believe things are going to be better."
Joel Osteen Ministries is also getting better, he told Newsmax. The congregation at Lakewood Church has grown.
"One thing that we do – it's not just our church – but we try to make Christianity, faith, relevant and practical," he said. "Another part of it is that it is positive. I mean, there's a lot of things beating people down already. I found most people already feel guilty enough.
"They already know what they're doing wrong. Not everybody, but most. Our message is try to make it practical, relevant, how do I forgive? How do I have a good attitude? How do I reach my destiny?
"If there's some times when we don't change, and it's just all doctrine, and it's just, 'I'm going to be beat down, I'm going to feel guilty,' that's maybe what pulls some people away."
Bachman told Osteen about a new Pew poll that said one-third of adults age 30 and younger are religiously unaffiliated – the highest percentage ever.
"Another thing, quoting that poll, though, too: Today, people don't really consider themselves religious," Osteen explained. "Maybe everybody that comes to my church may not say I'm religious, so I may not fit into that poll."
Many things are occurring outside Joel Osteen Ministries that are causing more congregants to join Lakewood Church, he said.
"Everything is tied around the ministry, but, you know, we're always looking for new avenues that are outside the church world," he said, referring to media, movies, different kinds of television programs and an appearance at Yankee Stadium in June 2014.
"People like me grew up in church, but I want to reach the people on the streets of New York here that tell me, 'Hey, Joel, I'm not a religious person but I do watch you.' And so, that's who we're going after."
One of his ministry's goals going forward is to reach even more people, he said.
"It takes a lot of money to run the ministry, so it's just continually trying to stretch our faith and believe for big things," he said.
"One thing I've learned is, you know, a lot of times we pray over our food, and we pray for protection, and that's all good, but just think, if you're going to become all God's created you to be, you've got to pray for your dreams, your goals.
"Sometimes we think that's being selfish. I can't be greedy. God's got bigger things to deal with. But when you pray for what God's put in your heart, it shows that you have faith in him. So, that's part of breaking out. Believe bigger, pray bigger."
So long as a ministry is managed correctly and its pastor stays grounded, there's no limit to the number of congregants who can join, Osteen said.
"It's up to that individual to not let it get too big," he said. "See, that's important to me because it helps me when I write my messages to know who I'm talking to. So, when I'm at these book signings, you know, I hear the challenges, I hear the victories, I hear their stories.
"Even back at home after every service, I'll spend an hour of greeting visitors and any of the members that want to come through, but that really helps you to know, helps you to stay grounded. I don't know if it can get too big if you manage it right.
"It's interesting because we started with a church of 90 when my father [John Osteen] founded it," he continued. "I wasn't alive. So, it started as just a very small church. I mean, when I grew up, I knew every family there. There were 200 people there.
"But it's not like we tried to make it a big church. People just kept coming. We didn't think we should push people away. So, you know, there's pros and cons. The con is I don't know all the congregation. I can't go to the baseball games. I can't do all their weddings. The pro is there's a lot to offer. We have thousands of volunteers. There's resources.
"So, there's both sides of it. I have friends that pastor a church of 100, and I believe they're doing what God's called them to do, and our big church, I believe that's what God's called us to do."
On-the-road events such as the one at Yankee Stadium enable television viewers from different places to experience Joel Osteen Ministries live, he said.
"It's a lot more than the 30-minute television message that they see," he said. "So, there's a bigger connection with the ministry and me with them as well, but also it gives people an opportunity.
"At the end, I ask them if they want to make Christ their Lord, give them an opportunity to stand for their faith, to make a public declaration. A lot of these people, they don't go to church. I mean, more than 50 percent. So that's why we've continued to do it, because they'll invite friends and family members and, at the end, sometimes 70, 80 percent will stand."
He said he likes traveling with his message because the format is different from that of his church services.
"So, at our church, we'll have 30 minutes of singing at the beginning," he explained. "I don’t do that on the events on the road because people just sit and watch. They think this is a concert, whereas it's geared more in like eight- or 10-minute segments of different stories and different parts of faith, forgiveness, letting go of the past . . . so it's more produced to a two-and-a-half hour event."
Editor’s Note: Do You Approve of Pope Francis? Vote Now in Urgent Poll
When Bachman asked Osteen about critics who say the ministry doesn't pay enough attention to repentance and asking for forgiveness for having sinned, Osteen answered that he doesn't focus on critics.
"There are consequences," he said. "So, the point is about, sometimes, your circumstances, you're going to say, 'I'll never get out of debt, or I'll never get well, the medical report,' but you know what? We believe God can do anything when you choose to believe, but I don't really focus much on the other critics.
"I just try to run my race, and it seems like a lot of people coming to know the Lord – I think last year or last couple of years we've seen over 1 million – stand in our stadium events to know Christ.
"So, the Bible says it's the goodness of God that leads people to repentance. Oh, you know, there's a theory about you can beat people down and make them feel unworthy, and some people may need that. I like to tell people, 'You know what? God's for you. He's got forgiveness for every mistake.'"
Even though he grew up in church, he never thought he'd follow in the footsteps of his father, Osteen told Newsmax.
"I never thought I'd be a minister," he said. "I always thought I'd be behind the scenes. I love doing television production, producing, editing, things like that. It's just amazing when we go to these arenas, and I'm amazed that so many people come out, especially when I never dreamed I'd be doing this."
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