When relating the story of my call to ministry, I often begin at age 16 on a mission trip to Wyoming.
When my parents relate the story, they begin with me at age 5 in the playroom.
It's a common theme: the ones who know us best & love us most figure out God's calling on our lives before we see the light. My ministerial colleagues share similar stories of their families smiling and saying, "I always knew this is what you would do."
On a recent Sunday-cation, my dad filled the pulpit in my absence. I returned to smiles and snickers and comments from the congregation: "We heard a story about you!"
I knew which story without asking.
When I was five years old, my parents could hear me "talking" intensely in the sunroom/playroom. Slightly concerned but mostly intrigued, they peeked through the sliding glass door and heard the following:
Today, children, my message is on the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus Christ.
I preached to a rambunctious "congregation" of stuffed animals and dolls. Curious George was always the most problematic because he was--well, curious. Sanctified Skunk was by far the most attentive, and I never had to correct the obedient Full Armor-dillo. Yes, I had a collection of Christian-themed stuffed animals. Covenant Cat, Holy Cow, Mercy Mouse, and Born-Again Bunny were also faithful members of the "church." Alongside Barbie and Ken, it was a pretty diverse group.
As for the "sermon," it was not my original creation. I was not learning words like "redemptive" in kindergarten. I was simply repeating what I heard John Osteen say.
I loved to watch the founding pastor of Lakewood Church each week. I liked the way he held up his Bible and invited "the people watching by television" to do the same. I liked how excited he got when he talked about Jesus and the way he stomped his feet when he talked about the devil. I liked the way he invited people to pray at the end of each broadcast. I liked the way he talked about his family.
My earliest memory of seeing a woman in the pulpit was John's Osteen's daughter, Lisa, at Lakewood Church. I thought she was super-cool. Once I was able to write complete sentences, I sent her a letter and told her how super-cool she was.
I don't remember if I expected a reply, but I sure did hope for one.
And I got one: a handwritten letter from Pastor Osteen's daughter. She was as kind in writing as she appeared on TV. I sent her another letter. She wrote another reply. We continued corresponding off and on for a few years. When I was 12 years old, we took a family vacation to Houston, and I finally met Lisa in person at Lakewood Church. Her mother invited me to sit next to her, and for a few seconds I was on the television show I'd watched for years.
Time passed. I realized that God was calling me into ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. John Osteen passed away in 1999. Joel Osteen became the lead pastor. Lisa remained on staff at Lakewood, and I had occasional correspondence with her during my college years. As I discovered my calling in the Church, I was truly grateful for the positive influence of the Osteen family on my life.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of services, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, New Revised Standard Version).
The churches that I serve are quite different from Lakewood Church. I no longer imitate the preaching style of John Osteen. My gifts are different from his. The United Methodist Church's denominational gifts are different from what non-denominational congregations like Lakewood offer. Yet the same Spirit of God works among us all.
I still listen to Joel Osteen but probably not for the reason many people do. I like to hear stories about his dad. I smile when he mentions his sister. I give thanks for him--but not because he's the preacher.
I give thanks because he was the cameraman.
Long before he was in front of the camera, Joel Osteen was behind the camera working to get his dad's and sister's messages on television. A five-year-old girl discovered her gifts because Joel Osteen used his gifts wisely. "The redemptive power of the blood of Jesus Christ" is a message that resounds through the years. How will you use your gifts to tell that story?
all good things to each of you,