T.D. Jakes Feels Your Pain
Getting to Potter's House for Sunday-morning worship is no mean feat. Lines of cars spiral around the sprawling South Dallas estate, and the uninformed onlooker might think folks are trying to find parking for a football game, not a church service. Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly endless row of cars, one couple holds a tailgate party: ignition off, beach chairs unfolded on the side of the road, plates heaped with fried chicken and potato salad.
Before 1996, many of the churchgoers now tapping their fingers impatiently on their steering wheels would have been in bed sleeping late on a Sunday morning. But then Bishop T. D. Jakes, his wife Serita, and an energetic staff of 50 arrived from West Virginia and set up shop on property that had previously housed televangelist W. V. Grant's Eagle's Nest Family Church. The Jakeses christened their new church Potter's House—after Jeremiah's description of God as a potter who puts broken vessels back together—and the crowds started coming. Today Jakes holds three services every Sunday morning, with over 23,000 faithful filling the sanctuary and the overflow room, clapping and singing and worshiping. Each Sunday, middle-class crowds join men straight from prison and single moms trying to hold a family of five together on a shoestring income. They have come to find the Lord at Potter's House. Last year The New York Times included Jakes in its list of the five preachers likely to succeed Billy Graham. "Bishop Jakes has blessed us," says Freda Lindsay, cofounder of Dallas-based Christ for the Nations. "He is the biggest thing to happen to Christians in Texas in a long time. He might be the biggest thing to happen to Christians in a long time."
Jakes stays busy as an author, musician, and entrepreneur. He bangs out another bestselling book on his laptop computer, composes tunes for his next gospel CD, meets with right-hand man Nat Tate about the City of Refuge (which Jakes has launched to jump-start the strained economy of South Dallas), and cruises the Web with iFriendly.com, the "family friendly" Internet service provider Jakes is behind. Or, if Serita has anything to say about it, he might relax in his eight-bedroom mansion with their five children. The sales figures for his books indicate just how big Jakes is. Woman, Thou Art Loosed!—which sold more than 1.25 million copies through Destiny Image, a tiny charismatic-owned press—led to a seven-figure contract with the giant Putnam Publishing Group. The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord (1998), his first book for Putnam, immediately rose to the top of the bestseller lists. His latest, Maximize the Moment: God's Action Plan for Your Life, may repeat that achievement. Jakes seems to have forged a new mainstream market for African-American Christian books.
Phyllis Tickle, religion contributor for Publishers Weekly, says Jakes is the most important phenomenon in religious publishing in recent years. "He has managed to pierce the religious bestseller lists in both secular and religious magazines," Tickle says. "For Putnam to pick him up and for the general population to pick him up is remarkable. There seems to be in T. D. Jakes's body of thought something that bridges ethnic differences. That he has managed to do that with commercial success is very significant."
Jakes, 42, cuts an imposing figure. (It used to be even more imposing: You can read about his 100-pound weight loss in his 1997 dieting book, Lay Aside the Weight.) His stately baritone would probably get your attention if he were doing no more than reciting the Yellow Pages.