Why He’s a Highly Regarded Preacher
No matter what cultural, denominational or racial background they may be from, people who attend a Sunday service at The Potter’s House cannot seem to resist coming back for more. This is probably because of two factors that grab their interest in T.D. Jakes: the welcoming and loving atmosphere that he brings in the pulpit, and the messages of faith, love and compassion.
Every time Thomas Dexter steps out and preaches to his congregation, he brings with him that demeanour that makes you feel like you are family; when he speaks, he does not just educate his congregation with the doctrines of Christianity on what you should do or not do—rather, he makes the Bible ‘practical’ by sharing it on a level that would speak to the person’s situation.
Ultimate Reliance on God
As a minister, Thomas Dexter never allows himself to think that he knows more than God. Because of this, even though he prepares a lot for what he is going to preach in every Sunday worship service at The Potter’s House, Thomas Dexter always depends on the Holy Spirit for the things that he would say. He states in an interview when he was asked about how the flow of his messages go:
“Stay right in that track and allow God to guide you. The Holy Spirit was given to us to guide us. I think that even as we minister we must be guidable and allow the Holy Spirit to influence. It doesn't matter what I have in my notes to say. It doesn't matter whether I get my favorite point in or not. I matters that I am guided by the Holy Spirit to that precise area of need in the lives of my congregation.”
Ultimately, T.D. never forgets to give glory to God, the one whom he says made every success in his life possible. Whenever he sees all of the things that God has done for him, he never ceases to be amazed because he recognizes that without God, he would never be where he is today. He says:
“It's really indescribable honestly because of where I came from. You would have to see where I came from to see where I am today. And to be blessed of the Lord to have added value to people's lives like that, it's incredibly gratifying. To have contributed something on such a level, that people would dignify your thoughts with their presence, is very gratifying. I never take it for granted and I'm always humbled by them.”
T.D. Jakes Early Biography
The extraordinary life story of T.D. Jakes began on June 9, 1957, when he was born to Ernest Sr. and Odith Jakes in Charleston, West Virginia. As the Jakes family lived during the time of Civil Rights Movements, Ernest Sr. had quite some difficulty in maintaining a good life for his family; in spite of their poor situation, Ernest and Odith never failed to provide for their children all the love and care that later on became significant in the paths that their children took for their own lives, more particularly, Thomas Dexter.
T.D.’s Parents, His Greatest Inspirations
Ernest, Thomas Dexter’s father, was a businessman long before entrepreneurship became a common thing among the African American community. One of the businesses that he established was a janitorial business which, starting out with a mop and a bucket, grew to having forty two employees that covered the entire Charleston area. Thomas Dexter’s mother, Odith, on the other hand, worked as an economics teacher and taught her children early on activities like cooking and sewing.
Ernest and Odith were lifelong heroes to the young Thomas Dexter, who greatly appreciated the sacrifices that his parents went through just so that he and his brothers could have food on their table and clothes on their back. Thomas Dexter also came to value the concepts of hard work and sacrifice, having seen a lot of it on his parents who raised him and his siblings to become productive and significant members of the society.
One of the greatest challenges that Thomas Dexter faced as a young person was the fact that he stuttered, making it difficult for him to properly communicate. And due to his skin color (the fifties were a time when racial discrimination was still at large, as the civil rights movement was still in its infancy), Thomas Dexter also experienced being discriminated by some of the white children in his community. Fortunately for him, however, most of the people in his neighbourhood were very kind and friendly to him, which developed in Thomas Dexter a love for people at an early age.
In spite of not having an ideal childhood, Thomas Dexter was comforted by the love and care that his mother and father showed him. When he felt like fighting back for the discrimination that he received from other white children, Thomas Dexter’s parents would always remind him to never allow what others say about him to determine what he would think of himself. These words stuck to Thomas Dexter, and has since lived his life based on this principle.
Growing up as the “Bible Boy”
Although Thomas Dexter did not have the standard educational requirement of his day (both because racial discrimination and his family’s financial state), he was fairly bright and intelligent, with his only problem being his speech impediment. He also had quite a charisma around him, as he was able to make a lot of friends during his childhood. He was also very opinionated and passionate, something that helped him grow to become a good speaker in spite of his speech impediment.
Thomas Dexter’s Christian background greatly influenced his principles and values in life. Thomas Dexter grew up in a Christian family in a neighbourhood full of believers as well, and got deeply immersed in the teachings of the Christian faith. Thomas Dexter’s faith is what he often cites to have held him together in very difficult situations throughout his life, and because of this as he grew more mature he also deepened his study of the Bible. Eventually, Thomas Dexter’s passion for God’s word would increase to the point that he would be used mightily to share the Gospel in his mid-teens.
Receiving the Call: T.D. Jakes Begins His Ministry
When he was seventeen years old, Thomas Dexter stated to have received a ‘calling’ from God to preach His word to people. It never occurred in Thomas Dexter’s mind how significant his ministry would be to the world later on, as when he first started he was quite nervous due to the problem with his speaking. However, in spite of this challenge, Thomas Dexter never allowed his speech impediment to dissuade him from going into the ministry, believing that since it was God who called him to do it, it was also God who would provide the things necessary for him to accomplish what he was called to do—to preach. And so, Thomas Dexter started preaching in street corners, sharing the Gospel with whomever he would meet. He would also practice speaking in front of crowds by first doing it to an imaginary congregation, which earned him the nickname ‘Bible Boy.’
Prior to going full-time into the ministry, Thomas Dexter worked several jobs to sustain both himself and his career as a minister. Having inspired by his father’s entrepreneurial skills, Thomas Dexter started working at an early age, delivering newspapers, selling Avon products or fresh picks from his mother’s garden. When he was in his early twenties, Thomas Dexter worked in one of Union Carbide’s chemical plants, while at the same time doing part time ministerial work for his local Baptist church as its music director.
In 1982, tragedy befell the Jakes family when Ernest died of a kidney disease. The death of Ernest caused Thomas Dexter to rethink his priorities, realizing that life is short and so many people are dying without knowing the good news (although Ernest died as a believer in Jesus Christ). This strengthened Thomas Dexter’s drive to go full time in preaching, and as such afterwards left his job so he could focus on his ministry.
Going Full-Time as a Minister
Thomas Dexter established the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith in 1980, but he did not work full-time on it until two years later. When the church first started, it had ten members from Thomas Dexter’s neighborhood. However, within a span of a few years, the church grew steadily that in five years, it was already around more than a ten times larger than when it started.
One of the greatest contributing factors to the growth of the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith was its cultural and racial diversity, something that was not very common in American churches during those times. In a decade where the blacks and whites were separated in church, Thomas Dexter and his congregation at Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith became a symbol of unity and acceptance, and drew people of all colors in with his messages of equality, faith, and the power of God working in the lives of each and every person.
This is what Thomas Dexter pointed out in an interview made with him many years later:
“God, when He gets ready to minister to us, does it by coming where we are. He came in the person of Jesus Christ to embrace the human experience and then offered the solution, and I think it is critical for Christian leaders that we don't lose touch with the people we serve. We have to do what Christ did. Sit where they sit, feel what they feel and then speak out in a deep sense of compassion because we are one with the people that we seek to minister to.”
In 1990, ten years after it was established, the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith grew from one hundred to three hundred members. Three years later, Thomas Dexter, along with his 300-strong congregation, moved into a renovated bank in Cross Lanes, where the church grew further, with the membership rising to over one thousand one hundred members. What was amazing with this church was, considering that their pastor was of African American lineage, the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith had a forty percent Caucasian membership, which proved just how the walls of racial discrimination had been toppled in this church.
The following year, in 1994, Thomas Dexter founded “T.D. Jakes Ministries,” a non-profit organization that not only utilized media to expand the reach of the preaching of the Gospel, but also reached out to the people in need and provided material resources for them. Since its establishment, T.D. Jakes Ministries has grown into a worldwide ministry, and has been significant in many African-based charitable projects, giving out millions of dollars every year for the benefit of the poor and the needy.
Establishing the Potter’s House
In 1996, Thomas Dexter once again took a leap to higher ground when he and his family, along with the fifty-member staff of the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith and their families, left West Virginia and moved to Dallas, Texas, where Thomas Dexter established The Potter’s House, a multi-racial and non-denominational church. Within two years of its establishment, The Potter’s House grew amazingly; from seven thousand members, by the end of the nineties it grew to over fourteen thousand. To accommodate the growing population of the church, Thomas Dexter and his team at The Potter’s House agreed to build a larger sanctuary. Costing around forty-five million dollars, the 5,000-seat sanctuary was completed in 2000 and began to house the worship services of The Potter’s House.
From then on, The Potter’s House began to explode in growth, expanding to various areas in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. Since 2000, The Potter’s House started to establish satellite churches, and by the end of 2010 already had campuses in Fort Worth, North Dallas, and even in Denver, Colorado, with membership sky-rocketing to over thirty thousand. The Potter’s House became one of the most important faculties in the city of Dallas, not only serving the spiritual needs of the people that attend it, but also the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of not just believers but also people from all walks of life.
A Message of Love and Faith: The Reason behind the Amazing Growth of the Potter’s House
Throughout his years in ministry, Thomas Dexter has always focused his efforts to making sure that his church does what it is supposed to be doing—being a home for the hurting and the helpless. In an interview with him, Thomas Dexter said:
“My assignment is to open the door of the Church for hurting people and refocus what the Church was meant to be in our society. The Church has become stereotyped as a 'spiritual club' for elitists and yuppies who portray themselves as persons who 'have arrived.' I believe the Church was meant to be a hospital for hurting people.”
Probably one of the most amazing things that has made Thomas Dexter a very inspiring and influential preacher is his love for people, no matter how good or bad society may see them to be. For Thomas Dexter, Christians should act like Jesus did—loving to the sinner, no matter how bad of a thing they may have done. This is shown in an interview made with Thomas Dexter, when he was asked whether or not he would pray for a criminal who took the life of her own child:
“One thing that is so wonderful about the grace of God is that it does not stop at the doorsteps of the frailties of men. As horrific as circumstances may be in anyone's life—I've worked on death row. I've worked with people who were incarcerated. I've worked with child molesters. I've worked with people who have murdered people and so forth and so on. It's not my right nor my privilege to judge them, but to minister to them where they are and to show them the grace and the love of God, even when they do things that are deplorable or despicable, even when they face things that are horrific.”
T.D. Jakes, the Bestselling Author
Since the early nineties, Thomas Dexter has established himself as one of the bestselling authors of the African American community. He has written around fifty books throughout his lifetime, and together his books have sold more than a million copies; his most popular book, “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” not only sold over eight hundred thousand copies (making it the third best-selling religious book in 1996), but it also spawned a musical album that not only won the Golden Dove Award but was also nominated for a Grammy Award.
T.D. Jakes’ Conferences
Since 1999, Thomas Dexter has annually held “Megafest,” a revival event that draws more than one hundred thousand people every year. The success of Megafest not only spawned a series of annual conferences for men (ManPower), women (Woman Thou Art Loosed), teenagers (MegaYouth) and children (Mega Kidz), but also established Thomas Dexter as one of the most successful preachers in the United States that he was called ‘the next Billy Graham’ in 2000.
When Thomas Dexter was asked in an interview about the beginnings with one of his annual events, Woman Thou Art Loosed, he stated:
“The WTAL started out as a Sunday school class. It was supposed to be one class for about forty women. I was inspired to do it because I had counseled so many women who were going thru similar devastating childhood issues and scars that were affecting them in the current context of their lives. I decided to bring them together in a Sunday school class because I believe that there are Biblical answers to all of the sociological ills that we face today.”
Staying true to his calling as a follower of Jesus Christ, Thomas Dexter has not only preached on pulpits but actively reached out to the troubled and hurting. Since he started in his ministry, Thomas Dexter has been active in joining charitable activities to reach out to various members of his community, such as drug rehabilitations, relief operations and recovery programs. One excellent example of this is in 2005, when he personally accompanied President George W. Bush to Florida to visit the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2009, Thomas Dexter was invited by the then-elected President Barack Obama to lead the early morning-prayer service which was held at St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. Since then, the two men have developed a strong friendly relationship to the point where Thomas Dexter is today one of President Obama’s spiritual advisors.
In 2013, Thomas Dexter came together with very well-known pastors such as Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, as well as very famous celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Baby Face and Jennifer Hudson in that year’s Megafest conference. While he received criticism from some legalistic Christian churches for having invited ‘secular’ people in a ‘Christian’ event, Thomas Dexter simply defended this action by stating that he would rather have these people attend a Christian conference than somewhere else, where they could receive the love of God and be changed with His transforming power.
As much as Thomas Dexter celebrates the successes in his career as a pastor, author and producer, he never once made these things comparable to the success that he has in his family life. Thomas Dexter was married to Serita Ann Jakes (nee Jamison) in 1981, and has since stayed strong in their relationship. And like with every married couple, Thomas Dexter and Serita went through a lot of storms and challenges (such as the car accident that almost killed Serita in 1981 and the surgery she underwent in 2012 to repair a herniated disc) but has remained in love with each other, proving that a Godly marriage does work. Serita bore Thomas Dexter five childen: Jermaine, Jamar, Cora, Sarah, and Thomas Jakes, Jr.
Today, Thomas Dexter continues to do what God has called him to—preach the Good News and love people. Through the ministries that he supports and works with, Thomas Dexter has made a significant and positive contribution to the lives of millions of people around the world, by not only teaching them the word of God but by being an example of a person who through faith, diligence and hard work, became all that God has called him to become.
“Many people who come from different ethnicities have faced hard times before. We don't want to go back to that, but that can be the catalyst of a wellspring of strength whereby we can nestle together, we can strengthen one another, we can get together and build ourselves up. And I really do think that we will survive whatever life throws at us, as long as we stick together and keep our faith in God.”
Films Produced and Starred In
- 2004: Woman, Thou Art Loosed
- 2009: Not Easily Broken
- 2010: Munya
- 2011: Jumping the Broom
- 2012: Sparkle
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- TD Jakes Ministries
- The Potter House and its various ministries
- Mega Care
Awards and Achievements
- 1997: Received the Key to the City of Dallas
- 1999: Received the Living Legend Award from the National Professional Network
- 2001: Named America’s Best Preacher by TIME Magazine
- 2002: Received the Chairman’s Award from The National Religious Broadcasters
- 2002: Received the NAACP Image Award for Best Gospel Album – Contemporary (The Storm is Over)
- 2002: Received the Stellar Gospel Award for Best Gospel Album – Contemporary (The Storm is Over)
- 2004: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture (Woman, Thou Art Loosed)
- 2004: Received the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album (A Wing and a Prayer)
- 2004: Received the NAACP President’s Award
- 2005: Received the NAACP Image Award for Best Independent or Foreign Film (Woman, Thou Art Loosed)
- 2005: Received the Chairman’s Award for Community Empowerment by 100 Black Men of America, Inc.
- 2005: Received the Trumpet Award
- 2006: Received the Quill Award in the Religion/Spirituality Category (Mama Made The Difference)
- 2007: Included in the 50 Most Influential Christians in America by The Church Report Magazine
- 2008: Received the President’s Award from Essence Magazine
- 2008: Received the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award
- 2008: Received the Heroes in the Struggle Award
- 2009: Inducted into the International Black Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum
- 2013: Received the BET Award for Education
- 13 Honorary Degrees and Doctorates from various universities
Wikipedia (T.D. Jakes)
Answers.com (Gale Contemporary Black Biography: T. D. Jakes)
Preaching.com (Preaching To Mend Broken Lives: An Interview With T.D. Jakes)
CNN (CNN LARRY KING LIVE: Interview with T.D. Jakes)
The Christian Post (CP Exclusive: TD Jakes Talks New Projects, Ministry Burdens and Handling Critics)