Bishop T.D. Jakes is a force of nature whose ministry has spanned the globe through his various entities, including his film, television and digital companies.
His overpowering presence is not hard to notice when he enters the room, but his magnifying personality is what draws many admirers to his warm spirit.
His ministry, The Potter’s House (TPH), was founded in 1996 and is currently 30,000 members strong, not including the millions of followers around the world. From the man who sealed his theatrical, film and television empire with “Woman Thou Art Loosed” to creating TPH campuses in South Africa and Australia—his upcoming Megafest is expected to attract about 100,000 attendees.
The Chicago Defender sat down with Bishop Jakes for a candid conversation about the highly anticipated four-day conference being held from June 28 through July 2 in Dallas.
What makes this year’s Megafest in Dallas very special?
It’s designed so that you can tailor your experience to what your interests are. We’ve got the international faith and family film festival so we’re doing a lot of entertainment. The for-profit company is a film production company so our relationships with Sony and various production houses out of L.A. have created opportunities for us to bring in actors and entertainers.
Newly released or yet-to-be released films are centered around family friendly or faith content.
We’ve got another section that’s focused totally on entrepreneurship and it is for all ages. We are very interested in the trends amongst African-American women going into business more readily than any other people group. We’re looking to enhance that experience because they are struggling to stay in business. We’ll be bringing in lenders and teaching techniques that will help them to be more proficient at doing the business that they’re doing—not just women, but men as well.
We’re also looking at junior high and high school-aged kids who have entrepreneurial instincts; the ones who have the best ideas can win up to $15,000. We’ve got $50,000 in reserve to help them fund a business so that we can point them towards their entrepreneurial pursuits. We’ve got a comedy show featuring Cedric the Entertainer and Nephew Tommy, and a whole bunch of other comedians are coming together to provide some comedy relief for the experience.
There’s the McDonald’s Gospel Fest and we’ve got regular ministry and spiritual empowerment programs running simultaneously throughout the city. And, we’re just a few weeks away. I’ve been busy pulling all the final details together for that.
Chicago has many faith leaders with mega congregations. Who are the key pastors you’re working with from here on this year’s Megafest in Dallas?
I’ve worked with Pastor [James] Meeks throughout the years. This year we have Pastor Bill Winston, who’s going to be speaking, along with Pastor John Hannah, who’s doing a midnight prayer for us.
One of the first events I took on the road was to Chicago; we were at Johnnie Colemon’s church—the late Johnnie Colemon. So, I’ve been coming to Chicago a long time, got a lot of friends here and love it here. Chicago is number four in the nation in support for Megafest so being here is my way of saying ‘thank you to Chicago’ to how they’ve supported me down through the years.
We’ve seen your film production company grow in the last few years. How important was it to branch out with your message through film?
Probably long before you knew who I was, we were coming to the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago doing Gospel plays. We started off doing Gospel plays and then migrated over to film through working with Reuben Cannon during “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” which originally was going to be done for television and then we entered it into the Magnolia Film Festival. We won the film festival and after we won the film festival, we went to screen with it and that started a whole new world for me.
People need to hear from us, and rather than complain about what we don’t like about Hollywood—I’d rather get out there and tell my own stories. Do things that are fascinating to me and see if there’s any interest in the broader market for it.
When I do get to sit down and eat chicken wings, it’s with ordinary people, and nobody really knows it because I think that the mistake about me is that I see myself as very ordinary. I realize I’ve been blessed to have an extraordinary life, but I see myself at my core as a very ordinary, fried okra-type person. My mother is from Alabama and my father is from Mississippi. I grew up in poverty. I have not forgotten where I came from. I love people, I’m curious about people, I’m fascinated about all types of people and I think my ministry has benefited from that.
We’ve seen other church leaders crossing over on the political side endorsing political candidates. Where do you find yourself when you’re at that crossroads of deciding whether you should cross over that line?
Let me first say I have no desire to run for office, I love myself too much to go through that. Secondly, more importantly, I really don’t feel like I’m called to do that, and I think that our country really needs its best and brightest who are called to do that. I have avoided endorsing candidates. I’ve seen it backfire so much that I’m a little antsy about doing that. I have been aggressive about endorsing issues—I feel most comfortable supporting policies and issues rather than politics and individuals.
How do you also encourage young ministers to follow a path of integrity, accountability and sincerity, dealing with people from all areas and backgrounds?
I think that showing love to people—we may not always agree with people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be loving and love. When you start talking about integrity, I don’t really think about our perspective about others. I think it’s about our introspection of ourselves. What I have learned—time depends on where that person is in their life at that time. There’s a lot of difference between accountability to a minister who is 25 and another minister who is 75. They’re at a different stage of life.
What is the first verse or saying that comes to mind when you wake up in the morning?
One of my pep phrases is ‘you’ll win if you don’t quit.’ I think that most people fail because they gave up too soon, and sometimes you don’t win until the last inning of the game. But you’ll never find out if you quit first, and I encourage myself with that every day. It’s very important to me. The second thing that I say to people is that all of us who have something– whether it is a platform, influence, money or whatever it is–we have an obligation to make sure a percentage of that goes back to other people.
When we leave the door open for who’s next—I think it’s important that you hold yourself accountable to that. Giving is better than receiving, and if you really have received a lot, you have an obligation to give a lot.