Thursday, March 30, 2006

Eliminate the Negative, Accentuate Prosperity

Joel Osteen's Credo: Eliminate the Negative, Accentuate Prosperity - New York Times: "The news for Mr. Osteen has lately been very good indeed: two weeks ago he signed a contract with Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, that could bring him as much as $13 million for a follow-up book to his debut spiritual guide, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential," which, since it was published by Warner Faith in 2004, has sold more than three million copies.

To millions of Americans, Mr. Osteen is already ubiquitous. Lakewood's weekend services — one on Saturday night and three on Sunday, including one in Spanish — draw up to 40,000 attendees and are taped for broadcast in all 210 American markets, with an estimated seven million viewers a week.

The church, which was founded by Mr. Osteen's father, John Osteen, in a former feed store in the Lakewood district of Houston in 1959, is still run as a family affair. But unlike some scandal-tainted TV ministries, Lakewood issues financial statements notable for their accountability.

Collections at the church's service bring in close to $1 million a week, with $20 million or so a year more sent in by mail, said Don Iloff, Lakewood's spokesman and Mr. Osteen's brother-in-law. The money goes to pay the staff of 300, service the debt on the $95 million it cost to turn the Compaq Center into a church (now about half paid off), support ministries in India and elsewhere and buy television time around the country. Mr. Osteen stopped taking his $200,000 annual salary from the church after he sold his first book.

In "Your Best Life," Mr. Osteen counsels patience, compassion, kindness, generosity and an overall positive attitude familiar to any reader of self-help books. But he skirts the darker themes of sin, suffering and self-denial, leading some critics to deride the Osteen message as "Christianity lite."

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