Bishop Thomas Dexter Jakes is a popular religious leader for the black American community. He is known affectionately as the “shepherd to the shattered” for his humanitarian work and compassionate personality. He is the founder and pastor of Potter’s House, which is a rapidly rising Church in the country with more than 27,000 members. Bishop T.D. Jakes’ is also an acclaimed author with more than 2 dozen books to his credit. They cover a wide range of subjects including philanthropy, religion and business.
His latest book titled ‘God’s Leading Lady: Out of the Shadows and into the Light is a work addressed to women. Bishop Jakes’ unique scholarship applies the distilled wisdom of the scriptures to contemporary problems and issues. Talking about the trust behind his books for women, Bishop Jakes notes
“The secret to being able to help people is to be a good listener. In the book, I serve as counselor, as a male best friend, as a big brother, and even sometimes as a father.
And I’m shocked to find there are many women, both aspiring to success and already successful, who have never had those roles fulfilled in their lives–perhaps because they grew up with absentee or distracted fathers, or because the men in their lives are focused more on amorous intentions than on building a wholesome friendship.” (Jakes, 2002, p.24)
Bishop Jakes can be considered to belong to a long line of illustrious African American community leaders, going back a century and a half.
In his life and work we see semblances of the same spirit that moved Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Whitney Young Jr. While there is a common current with preceding leaders, he is also distinct in his promotion of ‘Entrepreneurial Spirituality’. This concept tries to fit the best tenets of free-enterprise capitalism with the principles of Christian faith. He also breaks away from other African American clergy in instituting a nondenominational church called the Potter’s House. Although a product of the Civil Rights movement, T.D. Jakes has carved a leadership style that is his own. He has also devised new methods of public organization.
“He can turn an ordinary sermon into high theater. Perhaps you’ve seen his rapt face ministering to hurting women. People know him best, he says, for his gospel of healing. But that’s just one aspect of his pioneering ways. His Potter’s House is a techno-church, with innovations from pews equipped with outlets for laptops to live broadcasts to home viewers to satellite links to prisons. He is an entrepreneur, playwright, best-selling author and composer. He is a motivator, encouraging his members to buy stock and build wealth.” (Starling, 2001, p.108)
Bishop Jakes is also a businessman and has established a profitable multimedia conglomerate called TDJ Enterprises, which manufactures books and DVDs and an array of other faith-based articles. He is also a “respected entrepreneurial trailblazer. As CEO of TDJ Enterprises L.L.P. (previously T.D. Jakes Enterprises Inc.), Jakes is a New York Times best-selling author; founder of the Grammy Award-winning record label Dexterity Sounds; and founder of his own film company through which he’s produced three faith-based films, including his new release, Jumping the Broom, in theaters May 6th this year” (Smith, 2011, p.120)
Under the auspices of his church he conducts mass congregations where oceans of people gather to hear his message about self-healing and economic empowerment. He also talks about how a personal surrender to Lord Jesus Christ is the only possible way through which people could remedy their problems. T.D. Jakes is different from other prominent black leaders in that he transcends political divisions and preaches an inclusive gospel. For example, leaders like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama belong to the Democratic Party, whereas those such as Condoleezza Rice and Alan Keyes belong to the Republican Party. By virtue of staying away from political affiliations, Bishop Jakes can appeal to people from the Left and the Right. It is this bipartisan appeal that has made him an accepted figure to hundreds of prisoners across America, who receive his inspirational messages through satellite links to their prisons. (Starling, 2001, p.109)
His international viewership is also growing each day, as he takes his Television Evangelism to Europe, Australia and Africa. In Africa, T.D. Jakes is also involved in many philanthropic projects such as construction of schools, medical facilities, irrigation and drinking water projects, etc. It is for this far-reaching influence and respect that he has earned that “he has been sought out and asked to stand with both Bill Clinton (in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal) and George W. Bush (in the wake of Hurricane Katrina) when those presidents needed a black man of God at their side.” (Pappu, 2006, p.93)
While Bishop Jakes may not be a household name among Caucasian Americans, he is one of the most influential community leaders for blacks. In fact, he has now replaced even Jesse Jackson in terms of reach. The African-American radio host Tom Joyner, whose show reaches several million people and is broadcast on 110 stations, may speak to more black Americans on a daily basis compared to Jakes, but even he admits the latter’s level of influence. As he notes, “If you’re an African-American anywhere in this country, the chances are you’ve been touched by at least one level of his vast ministry.” (Pappu, 2006, p.92) While his popularity is at an all time high, there are aspects of his personal mission that has drawn him into controversy. One such is his espousal of what commentators call Entrepreneurial Spirituality, which promotes a message of personal prosperity.
T.D. Jakes if one of those rare religious leaders in the country, who openly brag about their wealth. Having accumulated vast amounts of wealth through his various business initiatives, Bishop Jakes flaunts his riches before his congregation as a proof of his faith. But this has attracted a lot of criticism and rebuke from liberationists, who argue that the prosperity gospel being marketed by T.D. Jakes with its focus on individual excellence ignores “the structural constraints that prevent thousands of oppressed individuals from excelling”. It further evades challenging powerful institutions and those who run them: