Joel Osteen Answers His Critics

Tells Byron Pitts "We're Not Perfect"

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This segment was originally broadcast on Oct. 14, 2007. It was updated on June 5, 2008.

Every once in a while, a preacher breaks through and catches the attention of the public on a national level. Joel Osteen has done that, as Byron Pitts first reported back in October.

He is the most popular preacher in the country, his services seen by over seven million viewers on TV every week.

Nine years ago Osteen was virtually unknown even in his own church in Houston. A college drop-out, he worked behind the scenes producing his father, Pastor John Osteen's, television ministry. When his father died, he stepped out in front of the camera and started to catch on. So why are so many people flocking to Joel Osteen?

Osteen's service is an uninhibited celebration that's part rock concert, part spectacular. There are no crosses, no religious symbols whatsoever. It's all taped and broadcast around the world. His service is seen in 100 foreign countries and is the most watched religious broadcast in America.

"You get ten or fifteen thousand people that are excited about God. They're from every race and every denomination and every background. They wanna be here, they weren't drug to come to church. And so there's something about that. It creates an attitude of expectancy. And we cheer and we shout and there's joy. And I try to leave them better off than they were before," Osteen tells Pitts.

They come by the thousands to nondenominational Lakewood Church, a former basketball arena in Houston, Texas, filling it to the rafters. They come hungry to hear first hand Joel Osteen's message of empowerment and inspiration.

"My message is a message of hope that God is a good God, and that no matter what we've done, where we've been, God has a great plan for our lives. And when we walk in his ways they can take us places we've never dreamed of," Osteen explains.

Osteen preaches his own version of what is known as the "prosperity gospel" -- that God is a loving, forgiving God who will reward believers with health, wealth and happiness. It's the centerpiece of every sermon.

"I want you to get a bigger vision. There are exciting things in your future. Your future is filled with marked moments of blessing, increase, promotion. God has already ordained before the foundation of the world, the right people, the right opportunity. Time and chance are coming together for you. Why don't you get your hopes up?" Osteen tells his audience. "Why don't you start believing that no matter what you have or haven't done, that your best days are still out in front of you."

It's an appealing, comforting message, and he follows it up with advice.

"If you're not making as much progress as you would like, here's the key: don't lose any ground. Keep a good attitude and do the right thing even when it's hard. When you do that you are passing the test. And God promises you your marked moments are on their way," Osteen says.

"You said 'I like to see myself as a life coach, a motivator to help them experience the life of God that God has for them. People don't like to be beat down and told 'You've done wrong.' What do you mean?" Pitts asks.

"Well, I think that most people already know what they're doing wrong. And for me to get in here and just beat 'em down and talk down to 'em, I just don't think that inspires anybody to rise higher. But I want to motivate. I wanna motivate every person to leave here to be a better father, a better husband, to break addictions to come up higher in their walk with the Lord," Osteen says.

"I mean is that being a pastor or is that being Dr. Phil or Oprah?" Pitts asks.

"No, I think we use God's word. I think the principles that you hear Dr. Phil and some of those others talk about many times are right out of the Bible," Osteen says.

"Do you ever fear with this message of optimism you may be misleading some people? That some people think, 'Well, gee if I just think positive things about my life will turn around.' And for some people that never happens," Pitts asks.

"Yeah, I don't fear it because we don't just teach that. Cause I teach that even in the tough times you have to embrace where you are. Know that God's giving you the strength to overcome. You can even be positive in a negative situation and it will help you stay filled with hope," Osteen tells Pitts.