Pastors: Why You Shouldn’t Be Like Joel Osteen
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

I met Joel Osteen many years ago when he asked me to direct a series of TV specials featuring his father, Pastor John Osteen. We became friends, and when his dad passed away and Joel became pastor of Lakewood Church, I once again helped him create the television program you see every week today featuring Joel’s messages. Since that time, I’ve had an enormous number of pastors ask me questions like:

“Can you do for me what you did for Joel on TV?”
“How can I copy Joel’s TV ministry?
“What would it take to have the same size media ministry as Joel?”

My response is always the same: You’ll never have Joel Osteen’s media ministry or platform by copying Joel Osteen. I actually know pastors who have tried to hire members of Joel’s media crew, bought the same type of TV equipment, used his same media buyer and donor development advisors, and others from the team just to try to re-create Joel’s success.

It never works. As I write in my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media,” there are many things you can learn from a successful leader, but copying them shouldn’t be one of those things.

The bottom line is that we don’t need another copy of a leader that already exists – we need original leaders with their unique DNA, skills, gifts, calling, and purpose. Leaders like Jack Graham, Brian Houston, Erwin McManus, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Tim Keller, Rick Warren, Philip Wagner, and others didn’t copy someone else – they developed their own unique leadership style based on the calling on their lives and their personal gifts and talents.

Plus, you don’t have Joel’s global media platform, so copying his media buying, donor development, partner communication and other strategies won’t help either. You need a strategy that recognizes exactly where you are on your own journey and deals with the situation you’re in right now.

Plus, there are so many intangibles in the mix such as timing, the cultural moment, how audiences respond to your personal gifts and message, and more that it’s impossible to create a simple checklist that will take you where you want to go. Even secular TV networks who spend millions on audience research still have a high number of program failures every year.

But when pastors and leaders are willing to look at their own unique calling, resources, vision, and develop a strategy for expanding their message and ministry within that, that’s when we see the best results.

We never expected Joel’s program to take off so quickly, but one thing is for sure: He would have been willing to wait as long as it took. He understood that you can’t shortchange your purpose by copying someone else’s.

God wants to use you, not a copy of someone else.


Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at

Image courtesy Robert M Worsham, Wikipedia Commons

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