Religion in America: What makes a televangelist tick?
It's only been six years since you first took to the pulpit.
I knowit's very overwhelming. It seems like just the other day I was working behind the scenes there at the church. It's just been an amazing roller coaster. When my father died, I had never really preached before and we thought if we could just maintaindaddy had a great church, 6,000 peoplewe never dreamed it could take off like this. Now 40,000 people come out every weekend for four servicesthree in English, one in Spanish . . . The transition to new building [the former Compaq Center in downtown Houston, which reopened as Lakewood Church in July, after a $93 million renovation] has been smooth. I think it sounds better, it all felt better to me right away. I mean, the old building was greatI grew up there and it was hard to leavebut this is a new beginning.
You famously dropped out of Oral Roberts University after a year and don't have the traditional training most peers do; what prepared you to pastor to so many?
I think I grew up in it. For 17 years I worked in television production there in the church and edited my father's sermonsevery sermon I read three to four times and edited down to timeand so I believe those 17 years I was being trained. I didn't know it, but I got all that in me. I'm certainly not against seminarymany of my friends have gonebut for me, this was the right path . . . People have asked me why I don't go back, but I just feel like this is where God has me and I feel good about it. I was pleased when I read recently that Peter Jennings didn't finish high school. (Laughs.)
So you believe in following your instincts?
I do think you have to follow your heart. I think that's how God leads younot in your headbecause, some thingsit didn't make sense that I would want to take over the church when I had never spoken but one time before, but I just knew down in here [motions to his heart] I was supposed to do it. This way, God gets the credit; he's the one who helped me with this.
Since the last presidential election, there's been a lot of talk about the intersection of politics and religion. You seem to shy away from the topicwhy?
It's been interesting, my dad was never involved in politics all those years, and when I search my heart, I don't have any leaning toward that eitherI don't feel like it's my gift at all. I do think it's important that people know where we stand on certain issues, and from time to time I'll make that clear, but it's not in my heart to be the one who's leading the pack in the political area. I have good friends who do and I support them and we know we have a part to play in that. But what I usually do around election time is we encourage people to vote. The thing that's interesting about Lakewood is that it's very diversethere may be as many Democrats and Republicans as Independentsand I feel like the message God's given me is hope and inspiration and how to live life, and I think the moment I go and say I'm a staunch this supporter or that supporter, I divide my audience . . . I tell people all the time, "We're not for abortion, I don't think that's best, I don't think gay marriage is best, but our doors are open to everybody." We have every kind come in.