(Photo: The Christian Post/Scott Liu)
NEW YORK — Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, recently sat down with The Christian Post at the American Bible Society's Atrium in NYC to discuss the many projects he has lined up for this year, such as MegaFest 2013, his school of leadership (read more about that here) and a new talk show debuting in the fall on BET. The influential preacher, filmmaker and author also offered his take on the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmmerman case, the particular burdens he feels as a Christian minister and how he deals with critics.
Jakes, who started preaching in 1980 at a storefront church in West Virginia with just a handful of members, now leads a megachurch with four campuses and 30,000 members. In addition to his ministry work, Jakes is known for his best-selling books, box office productions and his humanitarian efforts. However, there are one or two things that ardent supporters might not know about the popular preacher, but which Bishop Jakes revealed in his exclusive interview with The Christian Post.
Below is an unedited transcript of CP's interview with T.D. Jakes.
CP: MegaFest looks like it's going to be crazy this year. You have so many great people participating, programs and features for the whole family. What should people expect from this year's MegaFest?
Jakes: The thing about MegaFest that's absolutely amazing is that you can tailor your experience to your taste. If you only want to go to the spiritual elements, and maybe you want to go to Woman Thou Art Loose and you want to hear Pastor Sheryl Brady or Dr. Jasmin Sculark, or you want to enjoy Pastor Joel Osteen, you can go to that. If you want to go to ManPower and experience just those elements, you can do that as well. So you can tailor that experience that you want to have. They also have events for teenagers, and we have events for children under 12. ...
The other thing that's really exciting is we have the Woman of Purpose concert and we've got everybody from Mary Mary to Brandy to Baby Face to Joe coming together. Jennifer Hudson just signed up to do it. We're doing a partnership with both gospel and R&B artists to support autism, and so we're partnering with Autism Speaks. It's a very, very needed cause and we want to reduce the disparities that exist, particularly in the African-American community where early detection is not really being taken advantage of.
Then, we're thrilled to have Oprah, who has agreed to bring her "Lifeclass" to MegaFest. She and I are going to tackle a problem that is eating the underbelly of so many communities, and that is fatherlessness. The stats are alarming with fatherlessness, it's escalating everywhere, and it is the impetus for which we're having problems in the penal institution, in the educational institution with teenage pregnancies and so forth and so on. To be able to declare my narrative from such a huge platform is a great opportunity, and I was glad that she would yield it to me so that we could have this discussion with a wider array of people and accomplish what I'm really trying to do for our community.
CP: You and Pastor Joel Osteen have two of the largest churches in Texas and in the nation. Have you two ever partnered on a such a venture before?
Jakes: Pastor Osteen and I have not done an event of this magnitude before. I'm thrilled to have him. He is just an amazing pastor in our country and a legend as it were. He and his lovely wife bring so much to the table for us. He doesn't go out that much, so to get Joel some place I had to twist the friendship button. I'm thrilled to have him and I think he's going to make a significant (contribution) as he and his wife share with us. I think he's going to be absolutely great.
CP: Talk a little about your new talk show on BET. How is the production coming along, and what can viewers look forward to?
Jakes: It's "T.D. Jakes Presents: Mind, Body and Soul." It's going to air on BET, it's going to be a weekly show, it's going to come on on Sundays and it will start this fall. I think people are really going to be amazed by it.
What it is for me is an opportunity to have a platform through which I can talk about things that might not be pulpit appropriate, whether it's the economy, whether it's gun violence, whether it's criminal justice, whether it's health, or grief management, or all of this array of things that don't always fit within the continuity of the church program, but will be great areas of interest to mainstream people.
I have interviewed, in terms of celebrities, everybody from LL Cool J to Marvin Sapp, so there is going to be some spiritual elements to it as well, and I'm excited about that. But to be able to share and to learn and to ask questions... I did a one-on-one interview with Steve Harvey. I did a town hall meeting on gun violence and murder in Chicago. It's going to be a lot of different discussions. I think that the one thing that they can expect from me, it will be uplifting, it will be entertaining and it will be intelligent.
CP: Obviously, you're used to being the one in the guest chair. Now you'll be the one in the interviewer's chair. How does it feel to be switching roles?
Jakes: It's a little different for me. I'm used to being the one being interviewed, and I have adjusted my remarks to that role. I'm a very curious person by nature. I've had 37 years of pastoral experience so I'm used to asking questions and counseling people. I think that I have an ability to create a comfort with people and to ask the kind of questions that get to the root of the matter. I hope in the process of asking questions and interviewing people, I also will be able to interject some wisdom, some thoughts, some encouragement and maybe even some prayer from time to time on a secular platform, that's my hope.
CP: The Potter's House is home to about 30,000 people. You have four campuses and you started the church almost 30 years ago. What's it like when you step back and see how far the church has come and grown?
Jakes: Indescribable. It's really indescribable honestly because of where I came from. You would have to see where I came from to see where I am today. And to be blessed of the Lord to have added value to people's lives like that, it's incredibly gratifying. I don't think it's so much a numbers game for me. To have contributed something on such a level, that people would dignify your thoughts with their presence, is very gratifying. I never take it for granted and I'm always humbled by them. I love our church and our church loves me. That has been just a great experience because when you go on the road and you do whatever you do, you're only evaluated by the strength of that one message. When you're at home in your own church and you're kind of like dad, it's not performance based, it's "we appreciate you, your protection and your guidance." So you're not up under so much pressure to perform and I love it, I really love it.
CP: What are some of the challenges you might face as such a visible leader of such a large congregation? Do you ever feel burdened or like you want to take a long, long vacation?
Jakes: Yes, you definitely feel burdened. You feel burdened for people who are hurting. You feel burdened for the challenges of the times. It is an overwhelming, daunting task to walk around often in the cesspool of other people's pain. You go from one session to the next session counseling or interacting with people who are facing maladies and trauma beyond human comprehension, and then you add your own. That becomes quite a lot. But I don't do that alone. I've got a great team of pastors who surround me, and about 400 ministers who surround them and about 4,000 counselors who surround them. I learned not to be a one-man band.
I started preaching in a storefront 37 years ago and I was a piano player, and the chairman of the deacon board, and the usher, and everything else when I was starting with seven members of the church... So that propensity of being a hands-on person, I had to relinquish that and to delegate and to regulate the leadership of the church through the auspices of the people that God had given me. As I learned to do that, we've been able to manage our congregational needs and to serve them effectively. Doing, for instance, about 400 funerals a year, it's almost impossible for one person to do, and the grief counseling and all of that that goes along with it. God sends other people into the vineyard, and if you're a leader who is not intimidated and allow people to flourish in the roles God has given them, then you can embrace those gifts and not be intimidated by them and create a platform for them to use what God has given them.
CP: So you have a large support system so that it's not just you and 30,000 people. But what do you say to pastors that are feeling burned out, and have lost that passion and fire they once had for ministry?
Jakes: I know what it is to feel burned out on every level. I know what it is to feel burned out with a huge church, and I know what it is to feel burned out with a small church. It's a different kind of pressure, but it is just as intense one way as it is the other. I love pastors, and I love them and relate to them because I have done it on so many different levels. You do get burned out, and you feel guilty about being burned out. So it's one thing to be burned out, but it's another to feel guilty because you're burned out, because you feel like you should be everything to everybody. I remind people that Jesus gave his life for the people so that you don't have to, and to take some time away and refresh yourself. You're better rested than you are tired. You think clearer, you make less mistakes, you're less vulnerable. Take some time with your family. Take some time with your wife. Take some time with yourself, because even when you're with your children or when you're with your wife, you're still functioning in a role. You as an individual need to be replenished so that you can be creative and bright and funny and enjoyable to be around again. And if you need it, get it. I encourage pastors to find something that feeds you and feeds your creatively. For somebody it might be golf, for somebody it might be hunting, for somebody it might be sleeping. Find the combination that reinvigorates you so that you can continue to enjoy what you do because the moment you stop enjoying what you're doing, it starts to deteriorate.
CP: You travel a lot, so you've seen quite a bit, know quite a few people and have been exposed to many things. When you take a step back and assess communities of faith and Christianity in general in America, what are some things that you find troubling, and what kinds of things do you find encouraging?
Jakes: Let me start with the troubling first. I think that our country is becoming a lot more secular than its ever been and I think that there are a lot of contributing factors to that. In part, we have continued to keep our doors open as a nation and to embrace other people and other ideals and other philosophical religious aspirations, and in so doing it has neutralized some of the evangelistic identity of this country. And yet, it's appropriate for us to take in other people. But as we do that I think it changes the typography of what the terrain looks like for our faith. And as we accommodate them, I think it also affects how the church understands its role in its community, its role with its government, it has to be augmented. So many church members have been fed a steady diet: this is a Christian nation and the founding fathers were Christians and so forth and so on and so on. That sounds really wonderful. But we really don't challenge those ideas against what it means to have a democracy. I think that we're struggling to find out how to fit in with other ideals and not to always be able to dominate the conversation. So I think we're struggling not only numerically but philosophically — not theologically, but philosophically with our understanding of faith and government. Those things are interesting and sometimes troubling. How we go through the process and metamorphoses is quite painful.
The thing that I find most encouraging is, while social media can be a conduit of gross acridity, it can also be a link through which we can touch people who would not come to church. The stats say that people who go to church are dropping off, but I also realize that they may be dropping off in attendance but a lot of people are logging on, if a church is social media savvy. We call it bedside Baptist. They sit at home and log on the computer or even their cell phone and enjoy the service that way. At first, I found that troubling because the Bible says forsake not the assembling of yourselves together. I think you get something that you get at church that you don't get watching the screen, an intimacy, a touch, a sense of community that's very important. But ultimately, I've begun to recognize that if this is the way that we can go into all the world then we must embrace it rather than fight it, because you're going to be trampled by it if you resist it. I mean, Jesus went into all the world by foot and by camel. We're not doing that anymore. As we learn to reach into all the world through social media, I think that we embrace a younger generation that desperately needs our faith.
CP: During Pastor Rick Warren's appearance at the Hillsong Conference in Sydney, the host Pastor Brian Houston said to him the following: "Someone with your influence even in secular America, let alone the Church, and of course you always develop critics … not everyone loves what we're about. Most pastors have to deal with both accolade and criticism." Pastor Houston described these situations as "character tests." How do you, Bishop Jakes, deal with these character tests?
Jakes: If the critic says something that challenges my approach, then I ingest, digest and appropriate it. If I sense that the critic is just being critical or cynical or narrow minded, I disregard it. I focus on what I've been called to do. I feel like Nehemiah, that as a leader when you're doing a great work you can't come down. But if you've been misunderstood and you can give clarity, then do so and move on. Some people use the issue to attack you rather than to attack the issue that bothers them. They choose to attack an individual rather than an idea. The difference to me between constructive and destructive criticism is those people that attack the individual at the expense of their idea rather than to talk to the individual like "you're my brother and I love you, but what do you think about this idea?" Speaking the truth in love is a dying art. Because people can be just as vicious as they want to be on social media and feel safe to let their true selves out, you have to develop a thick skin to that. I've learned to do that, I'm very comfortable with that, it doesn't bother me at all. Everybody has critics. The bigger your platform, the more critics you're going to have. More means more. You can't have more of this and not have more of that. You're going to have more of everything if you get into the realm of more.
CP: You're an excellent communicator, preacher, teacher, savvy businessman, humanitarian, writer, filmmaker, husband, father, and now a talk show host (and forgive me if I've left anything out). You're in your mid-50s and have accomplished so much. What motivates you to keep going and pushing and reaching?
Jakes: At this point in my life it is not about what I have accomplished. It is about what I can pass on. It is about legacy. It is about helping the next generation find their voice. I'm enamored with the next generation. I'm fascinated by them. I have sometimes been frustrated by them. But I'm also fascinated because I think that we have something that we can help them with. I'm beginning to better understand where they are and how they got to be where they are. I want to hand them the tools I wish I had been handed. I want to forewarn them of the pitfalls and I want to leave some clues behind through which they can expedite the process and accomplish their dreams. Whether that's in the kingdom or in life or in Congress or in business, in any dimension I want to be the wind beneath their wings. I don't think that everybody should be in ministry and I don't think that everybody is called to minister, but I do think that the minister can help you to find your purpose and celebrate that purpose even if that purpose is secular.
CP: Touching on a current event or cultural issue... The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case has obviously been a very divisive issue even in churches, among Christians and even in families. There's the whole element of race or racism, it's real for some people and some people don't see race at all in the case. There's obviously some hurt and confusion all around. How can people go forward now? What kinds of things should Americans be thinking or saying or doing to bring about healing and reconciliation?
Jakes: I think at this point, seeing as there's nothing that we can do about the verdict, whether you agree or disagree with it is now irrelevant that it has been rendered. I think the most important thing for us to walk away from it with is that it was through the Travyon Martin-Zimmerman case that we were forced to talk about race and culture. I think the important thing for all of us to understand is that just because you live in the same house with someone, doesn't mean you're having the same experience. Just because you live in the same country with someone, doesn't mean that your experience is their experience. The notion that all of us are having the same experience because we're breathing the same air is totally erroneous, whether you're talking about (ethnicity), culture or generationally. If we can stop thinking that our opinion is law, if we can stop writing the books we read and forgo being a teacher just for a moment and not tell other cultures what it's like to be them, then maybe we could learn something from each other. But we will never learn from each other if we're so busy teaching that we won't take training.
CP: What's one thing about you that people don't know and might be surprised to learn? Such as, for example, a pet peeve, secret hobby or a particular quirk...?
Jakes: I have two Roman Cane Corso dogs. The boy is called Bentley and the girl is called Sabel. They're huge and just as loving as anything you ever saw. They'll come in my room and knock me down and tussle with me because they're as big as I am. They are the most amazing things because dogs love you unconditionally and always are glad to see you. For me they're very therapeutic, and something that you couldn't work out with any human being, you can spend an hour playing around with the dogs and all of a sudden it doesn't seem nearly as worrisome and you get a peace from it. I greatly enjoy them and very few people even know that I have dogs.
CP: Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
Jakes: I'm working on a book and I don't know for sure what I'm going to call it yet, but I had an experience in South Africa in the jungle on a safari whereby I begin to realize that everything in life is a jungle. Politics is a jungle, business is a jungle, medicine is a jungle, anything you work in, they have rules like a jungle. I want to craft that into a book because I think many of us have to survive in dualities. We live in two different jungles, and what you're applauded for in one jungle gets you devoured in another jungle. I want to teach tips and techniques (on) how to survive when you live in several jungles.