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Bishop T.D. Jakes on investing in Black communities


It's Easter Sunday, and for the people in the seats of the Dallas megachurch The Potter's House, the message will surely be about salvation and resurrection. T.D. Jakes established The Potter's House in 1996. Over the years, it's become one of the country's biggest churches and Jakes one of America's most influential religious leaders.


T D JAKES: I know you think you got saved at the altar, but the truth of the matter, you got saved when you started moving in His direction. I got up an hour early 'cause I'm after Him. I came to church because I'm after Him. My body told me to stay in bed, but I'm after Him. My flesh...

RASCOE: But as Jakes likes to say, don't put a period where a comma should be. And so there's T.D. Jakes, comma, entrepreneur. He has long been an author and done TV and movies. He won a gospel Grammy in 2003. The new push is in real estate. His company recently bought 95 acres in southwest Atlanta. And while this venture isn't connected to The Potter's House, he does see it as an extension of his faith.

JAKES: The problems in most major cities, as I talk to mayors, is that the people who serve the cities - police officers, nurses, janitors, what have you - cannot live in the cities - firemen - that they serve in. So this is a common problem, not just to Dallas and Atlanta. It's not a unique problem. It's a serious problem in a lot of areas.

RASCOE: And so - you know, you look at Redfin. There's a house near the area that was, like, 44,000 in 1995 - 235,000 last year. So how will this development make sure that the prices of the houses are in a way that are affordable for those police officers and nurses and etc.?

JAKES: Well, we're going to have a wide range. When you say mixed-income, that you want to cover the waterfront, there are going to be some low-tech, low-income housing developments. A certain quota of those homes are going to be more affordable than others. I'm a big fan of mixed-income housing because sociologically, when you build all low-income housing, we've already done that. We've seen that movie play out, and it didn't have a happy ending.

MICHAEL PHILLIPS: Our mission is to do well by doing good.

RASCOE: Michael Phillips works alongside Bishop Jakes as chief operating officer.

PHILLIPS: Every facet of our business, whether we're making movies, whether we are making music, whether we are doing an event or a venture, it's all centered around doing well by doing good and the social impact it's going to have as an outcome, as a metric of return for us.

RASCOE: So this idea has been around for a long time, and I know about T.D. Jakes - about the movies produced and things of that nature. I guess, is real estate - has that always been a part of this, or is that a new part of the venture?

PHILLIPS: No, real estate has always been a part of the enterprise. Our media company, Dexterity Media, where a lot of our movies come out, has always been a part of the enterprise. Our - Dexterity Sounds, our music division, has always been a part of the enterprise.

RASCOE: But that enterprise operates in the marketplace - capitalism, winners and losers. It can be a far cry from the pulpit of a church and the Bible's lessons on charity and works of mercy.

PHILLIPS: You can't be philanthropic without being entrepreneurial. If you're going to help people, you're going to have to be entrepreneurial to be able to have resources to be able to help people. The two go hand in hand.

RASCOE: American evangelism is littered with the names of high-profile leaders who fell short of their calling when they strayed too far into the secular world. In fact, Jakes bought the building that would become The Potter's House from a televangelist who had been convicted of tax evasion. Bishop Jakes, though, says whatever he does is rooted to the same mission. Whether preaching to thousands from the altar, connecting through the pages of a book or the tracks of an album or making deals in the C-suite, he says he remains rooted in Jesus and in service to his community. And he acknowledges that what ministering looks like may shift in an increasingly changing world.

JAKES: I'm not hooked on a megachurch. I didn't get saved in a megachurch. I didn't start in a megachurch, and I'm not the face of the megachurch. I got saved in a storefront. So I love to do what I do, irrespective. There's always going to be change. As long as there is society and cultural changes, there will be changes. But the church has always survived. He said, upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And at the time he said it, he was outside. There was no building at all, and the church has survived. It is a concept. It is a fellowship. It is a living, breathing entity for which Christ died. And it doesn't matter the location, whether it's in a house or a barn or a tent like we used to do, or megachurch or mini-church.

What many people do not understand about the, quote-unquote, "Black church" is that it is still the gateway to the Black community, that there is no entity that sees more Black people on a weekly basis than the church. It's not that we all go to church, but we all know somebody in our family that goes to church. We can't say that about anything else. The club doesn't do it. Nothing else does it. The church does it. So if there are business people listening at me and they're trying to find a way to reach underserved communities but they're trying to avoid the church, I understand the business reason why you would. That's why I set up the T.D. Jakes Foundation, where you don't have to support my message, but you can help with my mission.

And so my mission is more than my message. And so I think churches have to be creative about their organizational construct to develop, like we did, a real estate ventures company, if that's what you want to do, or maybe if you're more into music, a record label. You have to reach the world. Jesus did it by boat. Jesus preached his sermons on a boat. Jesus preached in the desert, but that doesn't mean I have to stay in the desert or live on a boat in order to be effective to my call.

RASCOE: That's Bishop T.D. Jakes, who is also CEO and chairman of the T.D. Jakes Group. He's also author of the forthcoming book "Disruptive Thinking." Bishop, thank you so much for joining us.

JAKES: It's been a real pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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