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CP Exclusive: TD Jakes Talks New Projects, Ministry Burdens and Handling Critics

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.

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