WASHINGTON – Debt, an unmotivated staff and personal spiritual struggles are not foreign to pastors.
Even the highly popular Bishop T.D. Jakes has had his share of tough times before growing his now 30,000-member megachurch and building a successful media empire.
"I've seen debt ... eviction notices," Jakes told thousands of people Wednesday, the opening night of his Pastors and Leadership Conference, at the Washington Convention Center.
Pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Jakes addressed criticisms about his wealth, referencing claims that he "just popped up here all of a sudden [and] everything became easy" and that he is "preaching for stuff, preaching for money."
In response, the megapastor said critics have caught only the last 10 years of his ministry and not the first 22.
"People come in and they want to be an expert on who you are, but you are not who you are based on what happened at the end. You are who you are based on the foundation that [was] established," he emphatically stated to a supportive crowd.
Jakes subscribes to what critics call the prosperity gospel, a highly criticized theology that teaches wealth is a sign of God's blessing. He told Religion and Ethics Newsweekly last year, however, that he doesn't think there is such a thing as "prosperity gospel."
"It's just a tag that we put on an extreme point of view," he said in the 2007 interview.
Despite the criticism, Jakes has a worldwide following and has influenced millions with his messages, conferences and books.
Thousands of pastors from around the country, some from overseas, signed up for Jakes' leadership conference this week to catalyze change in their ministry and to hear "the incomparable" Bishop Jakes, as a press release stated.
"I believe God is ready to take your ministry into areas and places that it has never gone before," The Potter's House pastor told them. "Many times we have to break the parameters of people with limited thinking who only expect you to minister within the vacuum of where they met you ... they don't understand the breadth of what God has called you to."
Also acknowledging the frustrations pastors and other leaders may have with ministerial, financial and personal matters, Jakes assured them that frustration is not a bad thing.
"Pearls are made from irritation. If you don't go through periods of irritation, you have no pearls to pass for anybody," he said, paralleling irritation with frustration. "When you're called to greatness, there will be an irritation that occurs in your spirit when you do not see the manifestation of what God has for you."
Further drawing "hallelujah's" and excitement, Jakes emphasized they won't remain in frustration or in debt.
"God will not leave you in debt, He will not leave you empty, He will not leave you hurting, He will not leave you operating in the red – not spiritually, not financially, not emotionally, not intellectually."
"God is going to balance your books this week ... You are going into a state of restoration."
But in order to see such change, they have to bring about the change themselves.
"Your breakthrough is up to you," Jakes told them. "You have to be aggressive. Nothing is going to happen until you move. You're waiting on God to move but God's waiting on you to move."
He urged the pastors to prepare for big things because "God responds to capacity."
"When your breakthrough comes, it's bigger than you think."
The Pastors and Leadership Conference continues through Saturday with workshops and sessions featuring the Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake and Pastor Paula White, among others.
Next month, Jakes will lead his first ever MegaFest International in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his ministry will set up hospitals and conduct a "MegaCare" campaign. Since its launch in 2004 in Atlanta, MegaFest has reached more than 700,000 people from around the world.